The Best Things to Do in and Around Christchurch

When in Christchurch, allow yourself enough time for a day trip to Arthur's Pass National Park
When in Christchurch, allow yourself enough time for a day trip to Arthur's Pass National Park | © Westend61 GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Amy Blyth
14 October 2020

New Zealand’s Garden City, as Christchurch is known, isn’t short of green spaces and English heritage – but there are plenty of other ways to enjoy your time in the city and beyond. Here’s our roundup of the best – from adrenaline-inducing sports and historic tram rides to visiting volcanic peninsulas, national parks and wineries.

Explore Akaroa and Banks Peninsula

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Akaroa Harbour, Banks Peninsula, New Zealand
© Andrew Bargery / Alamy Stock Photo

Head an hour south to Banks Peninsula, a landscape that was carved by volcanic eruptions more than 8m years ago. Trails lead through rocky valleys, bluffs and bays that are steeped in European and Māori history. The 1840 French settlement of Akaroa is a highlight, with French-named streets lined with colonial cottages. Sail the peninsula to catch a glimpse of diverse marine life including orcas, penguins, fur seals and Hector’s dolphin, one of the world’s smallest and rarest dolphin species.

See the city by tram

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A Christchurch Tramway tram on Worcester Street, Christchurch, New Zealand
© Ian Dagnall / Alamy Stock Photo

There’s no better way to tour Christchurch than by stepping aboard a restored, heritage-era tram. The burgundy-and-cream vehicles, which ran on steam or horsepower when introduced in 1882, now run on an electric loop around the city. Buy a full-day ticket to hop on and off as you please, accompanied by commentary from your driver. Among the 17 stops are the Canterbury Museum and Botanic Gardens, New Regent Street and Cathedral Square.

Ride along the Avon River on a punting tour

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Christchurch New Zealand Punting on River Avon. Under a closed bridge damaged by the 2011 earthquake. 2014
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Inspired by the English, punting on the River Avon has been a popular Christchurch pastime for decades. Board one of the flat-bottomed boats and let a guide, dressed in Edwardian clothes, punt you down the river past some of the city’s top landmarks. Float alongside the Botanic Gardens, Hagley Park and through the ever-changing city centre. Take in the weeping willows and birdlife as you navigate this 14km (8.7mi) river.

Take a day trip to Arthur’s Pass National Park

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Escape the city for a day trip to Arthur’s Pass National Park, which is surrounded by the jagged peaks of the Southern Alps. It’s a two-hour drive from Christchurch to the park, but worth it to hike one of the many trails through beech forests, along rivers and up to mountaintops. The Devil’s Punchbowl is a favourite walk with waterfall views. Look out for the Kea, a colourful alpine parrot, as you wander through the wildflower fields.

Spend the afternoon walking around the Botanic Gardens

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CHRISTCHURCH,  NZL - DEC 04 2015:The Heritage Rose Garden in Christchurch Botanic Gardens, New Zealand. It has a selection of rambling heritage roses that delight in the summer months.
© Rafael Ben-Ari / Alamy Stock Photo

Kick back at the Christchurch Botanic Gardens and discover 21ha (52 acres) of exotic plants and trees. The gardens were established back in 1863 with the planting of a single English oak to celebrate Prince Albert’s marriage to Victoria. Today, there are more than 10 bird-spotted gardens, including a fragrant rose patch and a New Zealand area home to native species. Signature sights include the Peacock Fountain, sculptures and a conservatory that houses tropical orchids, succulents and carnivorous plants.

Journey to Port Hills in the Christchurch Gondola

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View from the Tauhinu-Korokio Scenic Reserve and Christchurch Gondola near Christchurch in New Zealand
© Alan Smithers / Alamy Stock Photo

Take to the skies on the Christchurch Gondola, which provides sweeping views over the city and mountains to the Pacific Ocean. At the top, you can spend hours exploring walking trails that crisscross the Port Hills. Covered in green with pockets of bush and volcanic rocks, the hills are home to native wildlife with plenty of Māori and European history. The Bridle Path provides panoramic views of the area, while the Rapaki Track looks over Lyttelton Harbour and the city.

Hop on a jet boat down the Waimakariri River

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New Zealand is known for its high-octane sports, so get in the Kiwi spirit with a jet-boat ride down the Waimakariri River. These zippy boats can reach speeds of 48kmh (30mph) while traversing hairpin turns and executing 360-degree spins. Tours of up to an hour allow you to explore the river, which runs from the mountains to the sea. Visit deep canyons and braided, shallow sections of water while your driver points out the sights.

Sample produce from local wineries

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A vineyard near Waipara, in North Canterbury, New Zealand, in early morning sunlight. Tonemapped HDR image.
© travellinglight / Alamy Stock Photo

The bars in Christchurch may be well stocked with New Zealand bottles, but if you’re a connoisseur, there’s nothing like a day trip to the vineyards. Visit one of Christchurch’s nearby wine regions, including the Waipara Valley, Canterbury Plains and Waitaki Valley, all of which produce award-winning bottles of pinot noirs, rieslings and chardonnays. Enjoy tours and tasting sessions accompanied by fine dining featuring fresh, regional produce.

See landmarks from up above on a scenic flight

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Take a scenic flight from Christchurch to really appreciate Canterbury’s diverse landscapes. A short trip by airplane, helicopter or even hot air balloon will allow you to marvel at the region’s glaciers, mountains and coastline. Soar over various landmarks, from the white-tipped peaks of the Southern Alps to Lyttelton Harbour and the city centre. From above, you can also appreciate the changing architecture and design of Christchurch’s urban centre.

These recommendations were updated on October 14, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.