Canterbury stretches eastward over the Canterbury Plains from the Southern Alps to the Pacific Ocean. The area is a patchwork of farmlands, interlaced with large braided river systems, and the snow capped peaks of New Zealand’s highest mountains as a backdrop.
The local Ngai Tahu tribe has long lived in the region. Early European settlers first arrived in 1850, attracted to its potential as pastoral farmland. Today the fertile Canterbury Plains are New Zealand’s largest area of flat farmland.
The capital of the Canterbury region is Christchurch, just inland on the east coast and is the South Island’s largest city. Often described as New Zealand’s most English city, the city is built around beautiful parks and gardens and the pretty River Avon, which flows through its centre. The city has a host of attractions as well as a fine selection of shopping, cafes and restaurants. A short drive from the city centre is the seaside resort of Sumner, with its sandy beach. A drive over the Port Hills to the south of Sumner offers spectacular views of the city and Canterbury Plains, to the Southern Alps beyond. Lyttleton, on the southern side of the Port Hills, is a picturesque little town perched on the hills above Lyttleton Harbour. Further a field is the stunning Banks Peninsula and its picturesque town of Akaroa, with its French heritage.
Methven, to the west of Christchurch, is a base for Canterbury’s largest ski field, Mount Hutt. Nearby Rakaia Gorge is famous for its jet boating. Further west is the spectacular Arthur’s Pass National Park, an area of high mountain peaks and rainforests. The tiny settlement of Arthur’s Pass lies a few kilometres to east of the pass itself. It was originally a base for the builders of the road connecting Christchurch to the West Coast, then later for workers on the rail tunnel. Today it is a holiday retreat and a base for trampers, mountaineers and skiers at the nearby Temple Basin ski field.
To the south of Christchurch is Rakaia, built on the banks of the Rakaia River. This small town is the ‘salmon capital of New Zealand’ thanks to the abundance of salmon in its river. Further south is Timaru, on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. The town has a number of attractions for visitors including the popular swimming beach at Caroline Bay, several historic buildings, a museum and botanic gardens.
In the southwest corner of the region is the spectacular Lake Tekapo. The much photographed Church of the Good Shepherd stands at the southern end of the lake. Nearby Lake Pukaki has the same beautiful blue glacial waters, and on a clear day the views across the lake to the stunning Mt Cook are unbeatable. Nearby Twizel is a good base from which to explore this part of the region.