region of New Zealand's South Island
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Oceania > New Zealand > South Island > Canterbury (New Zealand)

Canterbury is a region on the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand. The Canterbury Plains stretch from the Conway River in the north, just south of Kaikoura, to the great Waitaki River in the south, just north of Oamaru. The flat plains stretch from the Pacific Ocean in the east to the Southern Alps in the west, broken only by the volcanic Banks Peninsula.

Regions

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Map of Canterbury (New Zealand)

  Greater Christchurch
The area around Christchurch, including the booming towns of the Waimakariri and Selwyn districts and the scenic Banks Peninsula
  Mid and South Canterbury
The flat Canterbury Plains rising to the Southern Alps and Arthur's Pass
  Mackenzie Country
Glacial lakes at the feet of the Southern Alps
  North Canterbury
Whale watching in Kaikoura and hot springs in Hanmer

Cities

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  • 1 Christchurch – the largest city in the South Island
  • 2 Akaroa – swimming with dolphins in this town with a French heritage on Banks Peninsula
  • 3 Fairlie
  • 4 Hanmer Springs – hot springs, forest trails for hiking and biking, and other outdoor activities
  • 5 Kaiapoi – small town just north of Christchurch
  • 6 Kaikoura – whale watching and other marine activities
  • 7 Lake Tekapo – a lakeside resort village in a dark sky reserve (for its astronomical observatories), famous for lupins.
  • 8 Lyttelton – seaport town just over the Port Hills south of Christchurch
  • 9 Methven
  • 10 Omarama – a world famous gliding centre, and home to a sheep shearing show
  • 11 Pleasant Point
  • 12 Rangiora – small town just north of Kaiapoi
  • 13 Springfield – small inland town on the way to the Craigieburn ski fields and Arthur's Pass
  • 14 Timaru – the Canterbury's second-largest city
  • 15 Twizel – roadside town along SH 8, budget accommodation alternative to Mt Cook Village.
  • 16 Waipara – wine tours and historic trains

Other destinations

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Understand

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Canterbury was settled in the 1850s by colonists from England. The settlement was planned and developed by the Canterbury Company.

Parts of upper Canterbiry, known as the Mackenzie Country, is named after 1850s sheep rustler James Mackenzie. Hydro power stations were built at Waitaki in the 1930s and Lake Tekapo in the late 1940s. In the early 1960s, the advent of high-voltage direct current (HVDC) technology made it possible to export large amounts of electricity out of the South Island to the power-hungry North Island. Subsequently, the Mackenzie Country and thus Canterbury became a hive of hydroelectric scheme construction. The towns of Otematata and Twizel were established to house workers building the four dams, 50 km (30 mi) of canals, and six power stations which today produce one-sixth of New Zealand's electricity needs. When the scheme was finished in 1985, most of the workers' houses in these towns were sold off as holiday homes.

Mid Canterbury is where the Canterbury Plains rise up into the highest parts of the Southern Alps. It is bounded by the Ashley River in the north, the Waitaki River in the south, the Mackenzie Country to the west and the Southern Alps in the northwest.

 
On Banks Peninsula Track, which starts and ends in Akaroa

Greater Christchurch is what makes Chch and the many satellite towns surrounding Christchurch that are undergoing rapid expansion, especially since the 2011 Christchurch earthquake. Rolleston was only a small village on the side of State Highway 1 back in the early 1990s; today, the town has a population of over 13,000.

Banks Peninsula is named after Joseph Banks, a naturalist who visited New Zealand with Captain James Cook.

Visitor information

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Get in

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By plane

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  • Christchurch International Airport (CHC IATA) is the main airport serving Christchurch, Canterbury and the wider South Island. Regular flights link the airport with multiple cities across New Zealand, as well as Australia, the Pacific Islands and Asia.
  • Timaru Richard Pearse Airport is located 12 km (7.5 mi) north of Timaru. It is served daily by Air New Zealand Link flights from Wellington.

By car

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State Highway 1 traverses the length of the Canterbury plains.

Get around

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Rental camper van parked in Akaroa

By public transport

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Public transport, such as buses between towns is limited to the main routes between major centres. While it's helpful as a traveller to get around in the Christchurch area (including nearby towns such as Lyttelton), it is not a practical method of getting between places.

By car

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To explore out-of-the-way places you really need a car unless you are going on a tour group. The roads in Canterbury aren't too winding for NZ standards, generally well-maintained and have few potholes. Unlike Canterbury's Tasmanian counterparts, the roads are reasonably wide with wide shoulders and much of it is also utilised by freight.

There are three main highways used for getting between the Canterbury:

  • State Highway 1 – highway traversing the eastern length of the Canterbury Plains, following the coast. Primarily useful for travelling between Kaikoura, Christchurch and Timaru (plus onward destinations outside the Canterbury region).
  • State Highway 8 (plus SH 79) – highway linking SH 1 near Timaru to the Otago border just south of Twizel. It links up major points of interests such as Lake Tekapo and Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park.
  • State Highway 73 – although this road is far less utilised than the former two in question, this road links Christchurch with Arthur's Pass National Park.

By bike

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Bicycling is a practical proposition because the roads are relatively flat. Christchurch particularly has very bike-friendly streets, especially in Central City, but bicycle lanes in other cities is a bit of a far cry. Many intercity cycle routes utilise highways.

Canterbury was named one of the hottest destinations to see in 2021 by online travel platform, Vacaay.

  • Richard Pearse Memorial at Pleasant Point.
  • McAtamney Gallery, 47-49 Talbot St, Geraldine, +64 3 693 7292. 10.00am - 4.30pm daily. Modern and contemporary art gallery featuring New Zealand artists. Free entry.

Mackenzie Country

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The Southern Alps provide a magnificent backdrop to the Mackenzie Country. There are many beautiful lakes in the region and NZ State Highway 8 runs along the shoreline of two of the largest, Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki. The jagged snow-capped peak of Aoraki / Mount Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand, can be seen in the far distance across Lake Pukaki, from SH 8. For a closer look, NZ State Highway 80 runs along the west shore of Lake Pukaki to Aoraki Mount Cook National Park Village.

  • Lake Ruataniwha (4 km south of Twizel). When hydro project manager Max Smith wanted to give something back to the community, he built a world-class rowing venue in this artificial lake, despite never having seen a rowing race before. Regattas are held regularly on the lake during the summer months, but the two big draw cards are the National Championships, held in late February in odd years, and the National Secondary School Championships (Maadi Cup), held in late March in even years.

Some of the bays near Lyttelton can be popular watering holes for Cantabrians. Corsair Bay has one of the nicest beaches in the area, and is a great place to relax on a sunny day.

Alpine Pacific Triangle

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There is an area between Hanmer Springs, Amberley and Kaikoura (all about 150 km apart) that around the year 2000 was designated by local councils as the Alpine Pacific Triangle. It has a variety of activities.

  • Whale watching
  • Horse riding
  • Skiing
  • Hot pools
  • Jet boating
  • Bungee jumping
  • Walking
  • Diving

Alps

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There are many outdoor activities in the Alps, including:

  • Hiking in Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park.
  • Ski/snowboard at some of the small fields like Ohau.
  • Ski at Mount Hutt.

With much of the plains dedicated to farming, roadside stalls selling local produce can be seen in some places. However, similar quality produce is often available at similar prices in city supermarkets, so don't go out of your way and expect to get a bargain at the farm gate. More likely, you will find the unusual and rare produce at the farm gate, where it is grown in quantities too small to sell to a mass market.

Drink

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A few wine-making specialists exploit the unique climates and produce of their particular properties.

Stay safe

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Go next

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This region travel guide to Canterbury is an outline and may need more content. It has a template, but there is not enough information present. If there are Cities and Other destinations listed, they may not all be at usable status or there may not be a valid regional structure and a "Get in" section describing all of the typical ways to get here. Please plunge forward and help it grow!