Lyttelton is a port town at the north-eastern end of the Banks Peninsula. A tunnel through the Port Hills provides direct access from Lyttelton to Christchurch, a handy 12-kilometres (7.5-miles) away. If you’re visiting on a weekend, definitely keep your eyes peeled for the local markets. Otherwise, make the most of the town’s expansive harbour views and embrace the colourful shops and cafes that surround you.
Akaroa is a historic French and British settlement 75 kilometres (46.6 miles) from Christchurch. A scenic 1-hour drive over the Banks Peninsula will lead you to this charming little town. Wander the streets to see the remnants of its French colonial past come to life. If you’re feeling adventurous, go on a four-wheel drive tour around Flea Bay: home to the region’s largest penguin colony. Alternatively, board a cruise to get a glimpse of the local marine wildlife – if you’re lucky, you might spot a rare gem like the Hector’s Dolphin.
Kaikoura is a majestic seaside town situated 108 kilometres (67.1 miles) from Christchurch. It is the northernmost settlement in the Canterbury region, and famous for its natural beauty. A two and half hour drive to Kaikoura will enable nature lovers to encounter whales, dolphins, fur seal colonies, and albatrosses as they explore the seaside. If you’re wanting to get a hiking fix, Mt Fyffe and the Puhi Puhi Reserve are some of the best spots to visit.
An alpine village and national park nestled right at the heart of the Southern Alps, just under 150 kilometres (93.2 miles) from your departure point. More specifically, you’ll find it in the midst of the road that connects Greymouth to Christchurch, at an approximate two hours’ distance from the latter. Steep gorges, rushing rivers, lavish waterfalls, rocky mountains and lush forestry are some of the attractions you’ll get to see on a single visit. The inquisitive kea – a native bird known for its mischievous nature – also resides among this diverse alpine setting.
Hanmer Springs is the ideal place to unwind. The small town is located just an hour and half from Christchurch and is particularly renowned for its namesake thermal pools. These famed natural wonders were carved out of a fractured rock bed along the Hanmer fault. If you’re not one for soaking up the spas, there’s plenty of action to keep you busy: popular tourist attractions in the area include jet boating, bungy jumping, mountain biking and bush walking.
A world-renowned wine producing area that is within an hour’s driving distance from Christchurch. The Waipara Valley vineyards in the North Canterbury region are best known for Pinot Noir and Riesling varietals. Spend the day savouring the tastings, familiarising yourself with the local cuisine and getting to know the area’s interesting micro-climate and wondrous landscapes.
Part of the Waimakariri District, Oxford is a small town tucked by the foothills of the Southern Alps. Enjoy an incredibly picturesque 45-minute drive as you close in on the aptly-named, English-style rural village. The surrounding mountains and gorges are definitely worth exploring if you’re a keen hiker or cyclist – popular tracks and reserves include Pearson Park, Ashley Gorge Park, and the Ryde Falls Track. For a relaxed days’ outing, spend some time browsing Oxford’s exquisite boutique shops, cafés and eateries.
A one-hour drive from Christchurch via State Highway 1 will lead you to the town of Methven. This area is quite a hit among skiers heading to Mt Hutt – and is rife with activity throughout the winter season. Aside from getting your apres-ski fix, Methven is a good place for a day spa, golfing, hot air balloon rides, or an adrenaline hit with a jet boat ride down the Rakaia River.
Geraldine is an artsy country town in the Canterbury region. A two-hour, 140-kilometre (87-mile) drive south of Christchurch will reward you with plenty of interesting sights and attractions. From the township’s unique arts and crafts scene, to its highly regarded vintage car museum and a star observatory. In fact, keen stargazers will be interested to know that Geraldine is the starting point of the Starlight Highway, which leads visitors to Lake Tekapo and the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve. For a day’s expedition, you can try visiting the nearby Peel Forest Park or soak up the beautiful farmland backdrop.
Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park
Aoraki/Mount Cook is world-famous for being New Zealand’s highest peak, and for its cameo in a handful of blockbusters to boot. The stunning mountain and its national park can be accessed through a three and half hour drive that’s lined with dazzling sights: including Lake Tekapo, the Southern Alps, and Lake Pukaki. Aoraki/Mt Cook can be explored through walks, scenic helicopter rides or glacial trips from the local village. If you’re into a bit of history, make sure to check out the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre, which features a museum, 3D movie exhibitions and an awesome planetarium.