If you are going anywhere, east, west, north or south, then you will likely enter into the South Islands largest region: The Canterbury region New Zealand. And why would you not want to! This is a place that you can truly surf and ski, all in one day. Target your adrenalin by rock climbing and world-class mountain biking, or endeavour to find the best fish & chips, coffee, restaurant, or bar, all while strolling to the beach or riverside.
This article is dedicated to giving you the best information about the Canterbury region New Zealand, including the best beaches in Canterbury, travel advice, Canterbury walks, where to go, what to see and your ultimate guide to travelling the best region in the South Island- Canterbury! Let’s get stuck in!
What makes up the Canterbury region, New Zealand?
The heart region of the South Island needs no introduction. It calls home to some 628,000 of us! Don’t despair, 381,000 of those are in Christchurch alone. There’s plenty of space and room to move through – 45,000 square kilometres! Bordered between Kaikoura in the north, and Timaru in the south, my place of birth. Canterbury cannot be identified by just one title.
Dry rolling hill country? Yep. High country lakes and braided rivers? Oh yeah. Mountains? Are you kidding? Heck yeah! Grassed plains and endless beaches? Yeah, we got that covered too.
Also, home to an extinct volcano, the Canterbury banks peninsula rises out from the flats, to call the likes of quirky towns such as French Akaroa and Lyttleton home, while also the South Islands hub and largest city Christchurch – famous for earthquakes, but now put back together. You can have it all in a place like this, and not have to live on ski bum wages in Canada as I have done!
What you need to know about Canterbury weather
Do you want dry, sunny days to lay on the beach, or a snowy blizzard to look out to from within a warm Airbnb? Canterbury has both. The Southern Alps protect the eastern region from rain. The East Coast commonly sees rainfall of 600mm annually so it is rather dry!
It can also cause it to be extremely windy, and no doubt you’ll be familiar with the term ‘northwest wind’ soon, which can scale upwards of 80kmph, good for flying that kite huh? It does get a lot of sunshine hours with temperatures 30+ in February not uncommon. Even in winter, you can get crisp clear days starting anywhere from -5 to +15 degrees on the same day.
When to travel? Any time of year! But If you like summer, February is the best month, however, march/April can be gems with little crowds. If you like winter, August is the best month, with the best spring conditions in October.
The Canterbury region towns you need to know about
Canterbury is made up of North, central and southern sub-regions.
In the north, you can find Hanmer Springs and Kaikoura. The Lewis pass is in the Canterbury region which can take you west, and in its own has truly wild landscapes that you no doubt have seen in films.
Central is banks peninsula and Christchurch. You will also find Arthurs Pass here- Home to the native Beech tree and cheeky Kea. Porters pass and the Craigieburn range is the local outdoor spot, with mountain biking, hiking and 5 Canterbury ski fields to choose from. Be sure to check out Lake Coleridge, Mt Summers and the Ashburton lakes too, which are described below!
South Canterbury exists from the main town Timaru, and extends to the great hydro lakes, through to Burkes Pass and the Mackenzie district, where you will find Tekapo, Twizel and Mt Cook- where you’ll no doubt recognise the landscapes from the Lord of the Rings.
Travel times and how to get around the Canterbury region
Christchurch is the most popular spot in the Canterbury region, New Zealand, with an international airport to fly to/from and main highways leading everywhere. Get ready for some straight roads on the plains!
Christchurch – Hanmer Springs via highway 7 (1.45 hours)
Christchurch – Arthurs Pass via state highway 7 (1.58 hours)
Christchurch – Ashburton Lakes via road state highway 1 south-Thompsons track (1.54 hours)
Christchurch – Tekapo via highway 1-79 Geraldine pass 3 (1.47 hours)
Christchurch – Mt Cook Village via 1-79-8-80 Geraldine pass (333km 4.09 hours)
Christchurch – Timaru via highway 1 south (165km 2.06 hours)
Timaru – Tekapo via highway 8 (106km 1.19 hours)
Timaru – Kurow via highway 1-82 (112km 1.17 hours)
The best beaches in Canterbury
There are many beaches in Canterbury NZ to choose from! Some are great for surfing, others fishing, others swimming and some are ideal for seeing seals and penguins! You will be spoilt for choice when choosing a beach to visit in Canterbury.
But to narrow down the options, outlined below are the best beaches in Canterbury to add to your list!
- Sumner & Taylor’s mistake, for a quirky beach town experience. One of the best things to do in Sumner Christchurch is visiting the gigantic beach where you can enjoy a stroll with the dog or a family fun day. I really enjoy playing in the rocks at the end of the beach. Or grabbing a bite to eat at the beach bar. Taylors mistake is great for surfers and one of the best beaches in Christchurch! The Godley Head walk starts from Taylors mistake (one of the best Canterbury walks described in the Christchurch section of this article).
- Although I haven’t covered this family town in detail in this article you can’t beat the family-friendly and calm waters of Caroline Bay. It is actually one of the most loved beaches in the South Island! To discover more about Caroline Bay and Timaru check out Lee’s post about things to do in Timaru!
- Enjoy a swim along the waterfront beach in a picturesque setting looking back on the surrounding mountains. The beach is popular in summer but you have to be careful of the surf and only swim here when it is under 1m or when you see others in the bay!
- Akaroa has many beaches to enjoy a tranquil swim. Try French beach for its location right in the heart of Akaroa or go for a drive to Le Bons or Okains bay for a more private and secluded setting.
Attractions in each major town in the Canterbury region, New Zealand
Renowned for, you guessed it – thermal pools, this small little town resembles parts of North America, with mature pine forest and rugged mountains at its doorstep. You’re spoilt for outdoor adventure and activities here, with a quirky and bustling nightlife to boot.
Things to do in Hanmer Springs
- One of the best Hanmer Springs activities is stopping at the Hanmer hot pools (there are even natural pools if you know where to go!) Check out Lee’s post all about Hanmer springs to learn more about them!
- Amazing mountain biking for all levels, through the forest and along rivers, to alpine epics and downhill pursuits. Hire a bike from Hanmer Adventure!
- If you’re feeling adventurous. Take a taxi to the top of Jacks pass and enjoy the ride down. Or hire an E-mountain bike and do the jacks-jollies loop, or even head into the St James/Molesworth for a true epic!
- If you’re looking for what to do in Hanmer Springs look no further than Hanmer Springs Attractions. They offer jetboating, rafting, bungee jumping, paintball and sky diving to come soon! Grab your jet boat ticket here!
- Pitch and Putt at Hanmer Pitch and Putt. Think mini-golf meets real golf, chuck in two clubs and a chilly bin full of beers on wheels!
- Take the Jacks pass road over into the St James area. From here you are spoilt for choice in driving, hiking and mountain biking options.
- Take a hike up to Mt Isobel for a panoramic shot (allow 4 hours return). One of my favourite Hanmer Springs walks.
- For a less weary hike, go up Conical hill which starts right from town (allow 1.5hr return). Probably one of the most popular Hanmer Springs attractions!
Read more: Check out Lee’s comprehensive and easy to read article on things to do in Hanmer!
Hanmer Holiday Homes is a little secret and a local Airbnb where you can find that perfect cabin in the woods.
Booking.com will provide you with all types of accommodation for all budgets, from luxury apartments to A-frame wooded cabins.
Hanmer Springs Luxury Accommodation
- Scenic views motel – For beautiful mountain views!
- The St James Hotel- One of the best Hanmer Hotels! Premium 5 star!
- Hanmer Apartments – 2 bedroom cosy apartments!
Hanmer Springs Camping Grounds
- Hanmer Springs Top 10 Holiday Park – Nothing beats a holiday park only minutes walk from the hot pools!
- Alpine Holiday apartments and campground- An awesome location in the forest!
- Hanmer Springs forest park- A popular choice for groups in the forest with easy access to the bike park and walk to Conical Hill!
Hanmer Springs Backpackers
- Kakapo Lodge & Backpackers – A cozy place with all of the essentials only 2 minutes to the hot pools!
- Hanmer Backpackers- Another great backpackers option only minutes walk from the town centre.
The quirky seaside town where crayfish and chips are always on the menu. For people with a love for the ocean and mountains nearby, this is bound to be a place you will want to check out.
Things to do in Kaikoura
- One of the best activities in Kaikoura is hopping on a boat cruise to see the whales and dolphins! Grab your ticket here!
- Take a walk along the Peninsula walkway Kaikoura -One of my favourite Kaikoura walks. Learn more at the Department of Conservation website here.
- Learn to dive at Dive Kaikoura – Where my old flatmate will be sure to show you the beauty beneath the waves and catch you lunch!
- Enjoy a swim along the waterfront beach.
- Go surfing at one of the many surf spots. Learn more at Surf Seeker website here.
- Drive along the coastal highway (one of the most scenic in the country) and stop to spy some baby seal pups!
- Take a hike up Mt Fyfe, or perhaps even stay the night in the hut. Learn more at Doc website here.
- Hire a charter and go fishing for your lunch or dinner with Kaikoura Fishing Charters.
- Like essential oils? WildFlower Botanicals is an amazing shop for all things organic, be it essential oils, tea or organic grocery products. Check them out in-store or at WildFlower Botanicals.
Food and Restaurants Kaikoura
- Looking for what to do in Kaikoura? You can’t go past the Best fish and chip shop Coopers Catch!
- Try Seafood BBQ.
- The Beach House Café.
- Or the Whaler Bar and Restaurant for some awesome beer and food!
Comfort & Luxury
- Kaikoura Seaside apartments – For an epic seafront view!
- Kaikoura Gateway Lodge- Modern European style building in an ideal setting!
- Kaikoura Cottage Motels- One of the best motels in Kaikoura with a 1.7-acre garden to enjoy!
- Holiday Top 10- Again nothing can beat a classic Top 10 holiday park! This one has a heated pool!
- A1 Kaikoura Motel and Holiday Park- Located 5 minutes walk from Kaikoura beach and only minutes from the town centre.
- Try one of the DOC coastal camping sites along the coast south.
- Freedom camping can be found just 5 minutes drive south of the town. Find more freedom camping Kaikoura spots check them out on the app Campermate!
- Dusky Lodge & Backpackers- Awesome budget accommodation with a heated pool and hot tub!
- Dolphin Lodge Backpackers- Located 2 minutes from the town centre with clean facilities.
For something unique and unusual, try Wacky Stays Kaikoura to call a yurt, train carriage, colonial wagon, Indian tent or house truck home for a night!
If you asked anyone just a year ago, and Lee’s time while studying there, Christchurch NZ had a lot left desired, but then two major earthquakes would leave anyone a little shaken right? I have lived there for many years, and now it is finally back on its feet, as a major hub, full of life like a brand new city.
I tell people whenever I get the chance and recall a time with my sister standing on the gondola summit above Christchurch city, how lucky we are here. Cyclists grunting uphill, mountain bikers zooming past, climbers scaling cliffs below, runners and walkers out with their dogs. There was even the odd paraglider whisk past, heading down. Not many places in the world call that home.
Christchurch now has the rebuilt CBD and surrounding areas, which includes cutting edge architecture next to the Avon River, where you can check out hundreds of eateries, shops and bars that were missing from the total experience before the earthquakes!
There are now so many things to do in Christchurch and lots of awesome Canterbury walks! Outlined below are some options for you including free activities in Christchurch, the best Christchurch activities, eateries and more!
Things to do in Christchurch NZ
- Go kayaking or Punting on the Avon – Probably one of the most popular attractions in Christchurch NZ and arguably one of the most romantic things to do in Christchurch!
- Grab your mountain bike and take the lift up at Christchurch adventure park.
- Take the Christchurch Gondola in Ferrymead (one of the best things to do in Christchurch New Zealand).
- Ferrymead Heritage Park, for a Colonial village experience.
- Sumner & Taylor’s mistake, for a quirky beach town experience (One of my favourite Christchurch attractions).
- Looking for what to do in Christchurch? Look no further than a walk to the Godley heads, which looks out from the Banks Peninsula. And even better… it is one of the best free things to do in Christchurch! Learn more at the Doc website here.
- Drive the summit road of Banks Peninsula.
- Head over to Corsairs or Governors bay for a picnic and swim at the beach.
- Adrenalin forest at Brooklands an epic high ropes and adventure course in the trees!
- Go jet boating up the Waikmarakiri river.
- Visit the International Antarctic Centre, meet huskies and ride in a Hagland track vehicle.
- Smell the flowers at the botanic gardens, after all, it is the Garden City- Another one of the best things to do in Christchurch for free.
- Check out Hagley park, a gigantic park in the middle of the city.
- Looking for fun activities in Christchurch? Take a tram ride in the CBD and enjoy the sights.
- See native birds at Willowbank nature reserve.
- Looking for one of the many outdoor activities Christchurch has to offer? Take one of the many hikes up the port hills, such as Rapaki and Victoria Park.
- Visit the Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial.
Food & Eating
- Little high eatery – Not sure what to get? Go here to get a piece of everything! Think gourmet food in a cosy/upper-class food court. It is now one of my favourite things to do in Christchurch NZ.
- Riverside Market and The Terrace for a selection of bars, restaurants and a market – foodies paradise! Home to one of my favourite bars in Christchurch Kaiser Brew Garden!
- Lyttelton Market (One of the best things to do in Lyttelton) – Take the tunnel over to the port town for a unique and diverse farmers market. From 10am-1pm Saturdays.
- Winnie Bagoes Pizza bar in Ferrymead, a pizza lovers must.
- Strawberry fare, something different, and desert of course- One of the best restaurants in Christchurch NZ!
- For burger lovers, try Burgers & Beers, Velvet Burger or Shaka Bros – You won’t be disappointed!
Accommodation in Christchurch
Luxury – Motels apartments and Hotels, Christchurch
- Crowne Plaza Christchurch – 4.5-star Hotel in the CBD- A popular Hotel in New Zealand Christchurch for its location and spacious well-designed rooms.
- Sudima Christchurch City – 5-star Hotel in the CBD
- Peppers clearwater resort – Short drive to Christchurch airport with its own golf course!
- Sumner Bay Motel- An awesome option if looking to stay in Sumner for location and clean and tidy rooms.
- Camelot Motor Lodge- has a hot tub, an outdoor pool and only 5 minutes walk from Hagley Park! Offering self-contained accommodation near the heart of Chch city.
Alternatively, try Airbnb for some great and very affordable apartments/units! Perhaps stay in the small town of Lyttleton while you’re at it!
Campsites in Christchurch NZ
There are plenty of options for Camping in Christchurch, check out a few below!
- Christchurch Top 10 Holiday Park– Located in Papanui. They have awesome facilities such as an indoor pool, hot tub and games room!
- South Brighton motor camp– One of the most family-friendly places to visit in Christchurch! They have a flying fox!
- Awaroa/Godley heads DOC camping ground – on the peninsula looking back to the city and the southern alps! (I think this is the best place to stay in Christchurch!)
Backpackers in Christchurch
- Jailhouse Accommodation Christchurch – 2.2km from the city centre, literally in an old jail!
- Jucy Snooze – Know Jucy Caravans? Now they have a unique hostel that sports their Jucy flare, just 15 minutes walk from the airport
- Urbanz Christchurch – 0.3km from the city centre
One of the few places in New Zealand where you will be greeted with a bonjour over hello is in Akaroa New Zealand. This quirky French town is the gateway to the peninsula, where cruise boats commonly stop in. This adorable little seaside town has the unique French-inspired architecture, bustling little stores, boat cruises to see dolphins (one of the best things to do in Akaroa) and a scenic drive that you should take your time with. Akaroa is one of the easiest day trips from Christchurch.
Things to do in Akaroa Canterbury
- Take a day trip from Christchurch. The Akaroa to Christchurch drive is around 1.5 hours. The views from the scenic drive are worth it alone.
- Hike one of the many trails to the surrounding hills and get that coastal view from places such as Stoney or Purple Peak.
- Pack a lunch and spend time having a picnic or swim at one of the many beaches, such as French beach or go for a drive to Le Bons or Okains bay.
- Take a short hike to a Maori Pa (fort) site at Onewa Pa or to Newtons Waterfall right from town.
- Visit the Giant’s house – A quirky home and garden known for mosaics – One of the best Akaroa attractions.
- Check out the local Dolphins and other wildlife on a boat with Akaroa Dolphins or even swim with them at Black Cat Cruises.
- Sightsee some penguin colonies from a sea kayak or take a 4wd tour with Pohatu.
- Akaroa weekend market – Saturdays at 9 am-1 pm – One of my favourite Akaroa activities!
- Walk around the local shops and try some fudge at Pot Pourri.
Food & Eateries
- Murphy’s on the corner – for that iconic Fish & Chips by the beach.
- Ma Maison Restaurant & Bar.
- HarBar Beachfront Café.
- The Trading rooms Restaurant and Pantry.
- Pot Pourri gift shop & fudge.
Accommodation in Akaroa
Luxury & Motel
- Akaroa Waterfront Motels – Awesome self-contained apartments with patios looking out to Akaroa waterfront.
- Akaroa Village Inn- Private setting just 10 minutes walk from the town centre.
- French Bay House- A beautiful house offering a stunning sun terrace with views of the mountains!
- The Wharf – Boutique style accommodation with stunning views over Akaroa Harbour.
- Akaroa Top 10 Holiday park- Includes an outdoor pool!
- Okains Bay Campground – 22kms from Akaroa
Backpackers & Lodges
- Chez La Mer Backpackers- A stunning bright pink painted house in the heart of Akaroa!
- Onuku Farm Hostel – A unique Akaroa hostel with stunning views!
Be sure to add Akaroa Canterbury New Zealand to your list! It really is a hidden gem with so much to offer!
New Zealand’s most Iconic lake town, and the most photographed church in the country. Although I don’t recommend taking a swim in the glacier waters (unless you’re a fan of cold water therapy!), It is a beautiful town, and although a major tourist hot spot, you really do need to stop here, especially when you have some local advice! Canals, mountains, trails, oh, and an obvious lake await.
Things to do in Lake Tekapo
Enjoy the hike up Mt John, where you can get great views of the Mackenzie Basin, and stop in at the Mount John Observatory. It is probably one of the most popular Lake Tekapo walks starting by Tekapo Springs.
- Looking for what to do in Lake Tekapo? Look no further than a stargazing tour! Take a dark night sky tour – see the stars, milky way and the planets from the world’s clearest nighttime sky with Dark Sky Project. (Only running limited tours at the moment).
- One of my favourite Lake Tekapo activities is the Tekapo hot pools. Nothing beats relaxing in a hot pool looking out to beautiful mountain ranges! Plus chuck on some skates and go ice-skating all at the same place! – Tekapo Springs! Grab your Ice skating rink admission ticket here!
- Go fishing for trout and salmon in the lake and the hydro canals!
- Spend a day skiing at Roundhill ski field.
- Visit the famous Church of the Good Shepherd New Zealand. I would say this is one of the most popular Lake Tekapo attractions!
- Take the road less travelled to lake Alexandrina and McGregor. The drive and the lupin flowers are worth it!
- Go jet boating on the lake.
- Take an air safari and see the Tekapo area the best way – from the air.
- Go on a real adventure and do a multiday hike up the top end of Tekapo into either the Godley or Macaulay River. Check out more information on the Doc website here.
Food & Eateries
- Our Dog Friday – for burgers & beers!
- Dark Sky Diner.
- The Greedy Cow Café.
Lake Tekapo Accommodation
- Peppers Bluewater Resort – A stunning modern 4.5-star hotel close to Lake Tekapo shore! It is a luxury accommodation in a perfect setting.
- Lake Tekapo Motels and Holiday park – Great spot to park your camper not far from the water’s edge!
- Lakefront Lodge Backpackers – Literally on the lakefront!
- Airbnb for hundreds of homes/apartment choices!- Sign up here to Airbnb and grab $29 NZD off your first trip!
- Lake McGregor and Alexandrina camping grounds – A short 10-minute drive from Tekapo but totally worth it. I stay here when I get the chance!
For more information check out Lee’s article all about Lake Tekapo.
You’ve no doubt heard of Wanaka, well Twizel New Zealand could potentially be what Wanaka was like 20 years ago. My sister and I have a total bias to this place. Why? Well, where do we start? This was the destination that Peter Jackson chose in his films (LOTR) for good reason.
Aoraki Mt Cook is within view, as are the vast grassy plains. Hiding up the valleys are lesser-known lakes such as Ohau, where native bush and braided rivers hug the terrain. Twizel is not a place where you ask, “should we do something?” but “What should we do?” Indeed, you do have the paradox of choice here!
Inside you can find fine dining and good food, great beer and friendly locals. Just outside you have four different lakes to choose from, all within 30 minutes of each other. Mountain biking, skiing, boating, swimming, running, rock climbing, camping, hiking, hunting and the world’s largest trout/salmon fishery – what a mouthful! This old hydro construction town is an underrated gem, and people are starting to cotton on to this!
Things to do in Twizel NZ
- Walk the Twizel Walkway, the river trail or Pukaki flats for stunning views. Check out Mackenzie NZ for more information.
- Visit lake Benmore and go for a swim in one of the warmest of the lakes.
- Feed the salmon, or get yourself some at High Country Salmon.
- Take a Lord of the Rings tour at places such as Pelennor fields.
- Go Skiing at one of my favourite Canterbury Ski fields – Ohau.
- Grab a bike and take a day tour on the famous Alps to Ocean trail.
- Pack a picnic/towel and go swimming at The Old Iron bridge.
- Hike or take a mountain bike into Baikie hut, to the top of Ohau peak or other great trails. Learn more at the Doc website here.
- Grab a fishing rod and try to catch your own Salmon in the many high country canals.
- Go tubing down the Twizel river.
- Try an overnight or multi-day hike into the Hopkins valley, or the Ahuriri. Learn more at the Doc website here.
- Paddleboard or Kayak Lake Ruataniwha.
- Visit the Twizel market square and stop in one of the quirky stores or grab a drink.
- Stargaze- In Twizel, the Milky Way is visible all year round!
- Go Skydiving in one of the most scenic parts of the country with Skydive Mount Cook!
Food & Eateries
- Shawty’s Café Restaurant & Bar.
- The Top Hut – For a local pub with modern renovations.
- Ministry of Works Bar & Eatery.
Accommodation in Twizel
Luxury & Comfort
- Matuka Lodge – 5 Star hotel with incredible views!
- Lakestone Lodge – 5 Star hotel looking over Lake Pukaki.
- The Lakes Motel Twizel- Great location in the heart of Twizel.
- Lake Ruataniwha Holiday Park & Motels- Great family-friendly location right next to Lake Ruataniwha.
- Twizel Holiday park – 500m from the town centre with a range of accommodation options
- DOC Lake Middleton
- DOC Lake Poaka campsite
- Kelland pond & Wairepo arm.
Twizel backpackers & Lodge
- High country lodge and backpackers – Located right in the hard of Twizel. A great place to base yourself to explore the area!
The Mount Cook National Park is the rugged land of ice and rock. Home to New Zealand’s tallest mountain Aoraki, and many other peaks over 3000m. It is also home to the country’s longest glacier. If you’re going anywhere in the South Island or in the Canterbury region, New Zealand, then it’s compulsory to stop here, where there’s plenty of options for the most adventurous or the passive traveller.
Being so close to the towns Tekapo and Twizel, this is an easy day trip, or if you’re like my sister and me, you just keep going back!
Mount Cook things to do
- Go hiking in the country’s most scenic landscape. Try at least one of the following (click here for Doc walking tracks in Mt Cook).
- Hooker Valley track & Tasman Glacier lookout – achievable to all fitness levels. One of Lee’s favourite Mount Cook walks.
- Red Tarns track & Sealey tarns track for the more adventurous and lover of vertical!
- Muller hut for an overnight
- Take a scenic flight and explore the park the best way – from the air. You can even land on the Glacier!
- Visit the Sir Edmund Hilary visitors centre and pay tribute to the man who first conquered Everest.
- Go boating or kayaking on the Tasman Glacier lake and see the ice up close with Glentanner.
- Grab your rock climbing gear and check on Sebastapol bluffs. Try the guided climbing option with Alpine Guides.
- For trained personnel, take a ski plane or helicopter into the Tasman glacier and enjoy some backcountry skiing and mountaineering.
- Grab or hire a bike and start pedalling on part of the Alps to Ocean trail.
- Visit the Lavender farm on the way.
Mt Cook New Zealand Food & Eateries
- Chamois Bar & Grill.
- The Old Mountaineers Café.
- The Hermitage Hotel.
Where to stay in mount cook- Mt Cook accommodation
- The Hermitage Hotel- The most obvious accommodation in Mt Cook!
- Aoraki Mt Cook Alpine Lodge- Awesome location in the Mount Cook village.
- Aoraki Court – Awesome modern accommodation in Mt Cook village.
- YHA Aoraki Mt Cook Backpackers- The perfect budget-friendly accommodation in Mount Cook village!
- Camping Mount Cook –White Horse Hill DOC Camping ground.
New Zealand’s most beautiful hidden region is a real locals secret, where Lake Clearwater, Heron, Emily and Camp make up the Ashburton lakes. If you like wide-open high-country spaces with Lord of the Ring scenery then this is the place to be. Stepping away from the normal luxuries of life, you are rewarded with hiking peaks, swimming and fishing lakes, mountain biking and endless views, and the locals know it!
Things to do in Ashburton Lakes (Also known as the Hakatere Conservation Park!)
You are spoilt for choice for hiking options. Try the following;
- Climb to the top of Mt Barrosa 1364m (2hrs one way)
- Lake Clearwater circuit track (10.3km) and Mt Guy 1319m (4.4km)
- Lake Emily to Manuka Hut – 15km (5hr)
- Lake Heron track
- For something a little more adventurous, try along day, or overnight or multi-day hike to the following;
- Mt Somers track 26km circuit.
- Cameron Hut 15.km.
- Lake Emily to Glenrock stream 43km.
Alternatively, you can do some easy, but picturesque mountain biking. My favourites are;
- Lake Emily to Stour bridge car park – 15km mostly downhill!
- Lake Clearwater NZ circuit (10.3km).
- Lake Emily to Manuka hut.
- Lake Emma to Lake Camp (9.5km loop).
- Lake Emma to Balmacaan saddle (15km).
- Mystery lake track.
- Go Boating or swimming in Lake Camp.
- Visit Mt Sunday, home of Edoras in The Lord of The Rings (1.5km, 30 min one way).
- Go Kayaking on one of the many lakes.
- Try catching some trout by fishing at Lake Camp, Clearwater, Emma and Heron.
- Mt Potts Lodge – studio/en suite rooms and camping ground.
- Lake Clearwater Camping ground.
- Lake Camp NZ camping – Self-contained vehicles.
- Lake Clearwater & Baches try Holiday Houses.
- Lake Heron Station.
Arthurs Pass village is in the heart of the Southern Alps, and it’s pretty obvious on arrival. You are surrounded by incredible mountains, steep gorges and old beech forest. It makes you feel small, but the quiet town and ensuring activities are sure to leave you grateful for stopping. Waterfalls and picturesque hikes are the name of the game here!
Arthurs Pass to Christchurch drive takes around 2 hours so it is achievable in a day if you are looking at doing a scenic drive!
What to do in Arthurs Pass New Zealand
Try a short walk such as the following;
- The Devils Punchbowl Waterfall – 1hr return hike from the Arthurs pass village.
- Bridal Veil waterfalls – 40 Minutes.
- Otira River valley – 40 minutes one way.
- Bealey Valley track -1.5hrs return- One of the best things to do in Arthurs pass!
For something a little more adventurous try the following;
- Temple Basin Skifield – 3hrs return.
- Avalanche Peak via Peak track or Scotty’s track 3-4 hrs to the summit.
- Mt Bealey – 6-8 hrs return.
- Mt Aicken Route – 6-8hrs return (for experienced people only)/
- Bealey Spur track – 2.5hr to hut (Easy).
There are many walks in Arthurs pass. For an overnight or multi-day hike try some of the best options below;
- Cass Lagoon Saddle – 2-3 days.
- Avalanche Peak & Crow hut via Crow river – 2 days *one of my favourite Arthurs pass hikes! (expert).
- Carrington hut Route – 2 days (expert).
- Minga-Deception route – 2-3 days (expert).
- Mount bike the Mt White-Poulter hut route (13km grade 2/3).
- Try some Mountaineering on some of the many peaks and traverse routes.
- Go skiing at one of NZ’s best club fields – Temple basin ski field!
- Check out New Zealand’s alpine parrot – The cheeky Kea (you shouldn’t have to search far).
- On your way, check out Castle Hill Christchurch rocks or Cave stream!
Food & Eateries
Arthurs Pass Accommodation
Luxury & Comfort
- The Bealey Hotel –14km from AP. Motel & backpackers lodge. Famous for claiming to have seen a Moa!
- Arthurs Pass Motel and Lodge- Awesome location in Arthurs Pass with alpine views!
- Wilderness Lodge Arthurs Pass – Luxury and private accommodation in the heart of Arthurs Pass.
Backpackers & Budget
- The Mountain House YHA- The best budget-friendly accommodation in Arthurs Pass!
- Arthurs Pass Ecolodge – 14kms from AP in Bealey nestled amongst native bush!
Arthurs pass camping
The ultimate Canterbury Itinerary!
Any great South Island road trip takes you through the Canterbury region, New Zealand. Here I will give you two options that I myself would choose if I had a week. I think it is the best South Island New Zealand itinerary through Canterbury. I highly recommend a campervan, which is undoubtedly the best way to see the South Island in all its glorious remoteness.
Check out Lee’s article on how to find the cheapest campervan rentals.
7 day south island New Zealand itinerary in Canterbury. Starting in Kaikoura
If you’re starting in Kaikoura, you have likely got your own vehicle and have come from the North Island, via the ferry in Picton.
Day 1; Kaikoura
- Enjoy your first day and night in the coastal town. Take the morning a little easy with a stroll around the town centre and enjoy breakfast at one of the many cafes.
- Grab a snack to go and get a ticket on a Whale Watching Tour boat for $150 (starting at 10:30 am, allowing up to 3 hours) or try watching whales from above in a Helicopter Tour (from $350).
- If you’re after some lunch, try the seafood BBQ out by the Peninsula. Afterwards, go for a walk and check out the Peninsula coastal walkway 5 min – 3hrs.
- Cool off by taking a swim on the waterfront or grab your surfboard and have a go at one of the many spots along the coast!
- Finish off the day with some fish and chips from Coopers catch and enjoy the sunset on the beach.
Day 2; Travel to Hanmer Springs via the inland road
- Take the inland Kaikoura road and enjoy the 2-hour drive to Hanmer Springs.
- Stop at Hanmer Adventure and go jet boating up the Waiau River.
- Enjoy some brunch at Roasted Bean.
- Take a short hike up to Conical hill for a panorama of the area. Or try something even better and hike to the summit of Mt Isobel for a view like no other!
- After a day of adventure and perhaps some sore legs, go to the hot springs and chill out, or try some of the awesome slides on offer!
- Soak in the pools for as long as you wish and then enjoy dinner at one of the many restaurants on offer.
Day 3; Hanmer Springs – Arthurs pass
- Hire a mountain bike and spend half a day enjoying the trails such as the river trail.
Hanmer Springs – Arthurs pass
- Take highway 7 south (3.3 hrs 256km) or take highway 7 west over the Lewis pass and back around to Arthurs pass (3hrs45m 286km) for a truly scenic drive!
- Take a short walk to the Devils Punchbowl Waterfall and freshen up in the ensuring mist!
- Find something for a picnic and enjoy a dinner out on the top of the pass near Temple Basin or the Waimakariri valley by Klondyke corner.
Day 4; Arthurs pass
- Take the day and enjoy one of the larger day walks around such as up to Avalanche Peak or Temple Basin Skifield.
- Visit lake Pearson and take a swim! Or Walk through the amazing limestone boulders at Castle Hill New Zealand.
- Stop in at the Craigieburn Forest park where you can camp in the native bush overnight (Tents or campervans).
- Jump on your mountain bike and explore one of the many trails through the native bush!
Day 5; Arthurs pass – Tekapo
- Drive 3+ hours on the inland road through the Geraldine pass.
- Stop for lunch in Fairlie and grab one of their famous pies from the Bakehouse!
- Stretch your legs and take a hike up the track to Mt John Summit, to get a full perspective of the area.
- Head to the Tekapo Springs and enjoy a soak in the Hot pools.
- Camp at the Holiday Park and enjoy a drink watching the sunset, waiting for the stars!
Day 6; Tekapo – Mt Cook
- Drive 15km towards Lake Alexandrina. Stop and check out the lupins along the way. Go for a short walk around the lake or try a spot of fishing.
- Make your way 1.5hrs driving to Mt Cook Village.
- Enjoy a late lunch at the village or pack a picnic out in the valley.
- Put on your walking shoes and trek the Hooker Valley track to the lake. You will not be disappointed!
- Enjoy wine and cheese at the Hermitage or a picnic at White Horse Hill campground.
Day 7; Mt Cook
- Burn off that breakfast and hike to the Sealy Tarns. Named ‘stairway to heaven’ take a breath and brace for those 2200 stairs, they are all worth it!
- Take a tour of New Zealand’s longest Glacier and see the ice up close on a Kayak!
- Visit the Sir Edmund Hilary centre and enjoy another evening in the national park
7 Day Christchurch itinerary
Starting in Christchurch is the south’s main city and logical start point. Any international or domestic flight reaches here, where you can hire a vehicle and get all the services you require.
Day 1; Christchurch – Sumner
- Spend the morning on the Avon river, go punting or the Gondola, Kayaking, or make for the port hills and hike Rapaki track, or try some mountain biking at Victoria Park or the Adventure park!
- Stop off in the CBD and check out the riverside market, walk around the newly rebuilt area and enjoy something tasty for lunch!
- Make your way to the beachside town of Sumner and go to the beach obviously!
- Head over to Taylor’s mistake, where the road ends, and start walking on the Godley Heads trail. The views are exceptional!
- Stay in Sumner and enjoy a kiwi classic – Fish and Chips on the Beach (Go to Red Snapper).
Day 2; Sumner – Akaroa
- Take the harbour road, over into Lyttleton and drive 1.5-2hrs to Akaroa. Sit back and enjoy a great scenic drive.
- Stop in at Little River and grab a coffee at the local Café.
- Take a hike to the spot of a Maori Pa (fort) at Onewa.
- Wander the quirky French town or check out something weird at the Giant’s House!
- Enjoy some lunch near the waterfront such as HarBar Café.
- Dolphins, Dolphins or Penguins! Spend the afternoon on a boat cruise, or Kayak out to the Penguin colonies.
- Wine & dine yourself picnic-style on the beach and end a stunning day!
Day 3; Akaroa – Ashburton lakes
- Start the day right at Bully Hayes and enjoy a big breakfast.
- Pack a lunch, head west and drive 2hrs40 – 3hrs into the Ashburton lakes.
- Enjoy a picnic next to Lake Camp, or Clearwater.
- Hop on your bike and tour around Clearwater or try the Lake Emily loop. Alternatively, hike up Mt Guy for the best view of the area!
- The Sky here is great for stargazing – Set up camp, pull out a bottle of wine, and watch the stars come out!
Day 4; Ashburton lakes – Tekapo
- Take a short walk to Mt Sunday – The home of Edoras from the Lord of The Rings.
- Drive the 2.0 hrs to Tekapo. Make sure to stop for lunch at the famous Fairlie Bakehouse!
- Burn off Lunch with a hike to the top of Mt John and get an amazing Panoramic view!
- Spoil yourself and soak in the hot pools at Tekapo Springs.
- Set up camp and get ready for the stars in the best Dark sky reserve.
Day 5; Tekapo – Mt Cook
- Grab a coffee to go and take a walk around the waterfront, perhaps take a dip in a glacier lake!
- Enjoy the scenic drive 1hrs 15m to Mt Cook. Stop at the Lavender farm on the way for a Lavender ice cream in the fields.
- Put on your walking shoes and trek the Hooker Valley track to the lake. You will not be disappointed!
- Enjoy a wine and cheese at the Hermitage or a picnic at White Horse Hill campground.
Day 6; Mt Cook
Spend the entire day at My Favourite National Park!
- Burn off that breakfast and hike to the Sealy Tarns. Named ‘stairway to heaven’ take a breath and brace for those 2200 stairs, I promise they are all worth it!
- Take a tour of New Zealand’s longest Glacier and see the ice up close on a Kayak or see the park differently via a plane or helicopter and touch down on the Tasman Glacier!
- Park up and wait for the stars and milky way – On a clear night, you will see the mountains and the stars!
Day 7; Mt Cook – Twizel
- Drive the 50 mins out of the park to my favourite town, Twizel!
- Walk the river walkway.
- Check out Lake Ruataniwha by kayak or paddleboard! Pack a lunch and find a spot by the lake.
- Grab a fishing rod and try your luck in the canals, or try a bike ride along them for great views.
- Walk through the park square of Twizel and stop in for a beer or some dinner (I recommend The Top Hut).
Related: For an entire South island itinerary check out Lee’s South Island Road trip and travel guide.
The Canterbury region New Zealand is one of those places that only your imagination limits you from finding what you desire. I hope you consider this NZ South Island road trip. Take some time and explore one the country’s largest and most diverse landscapes, try one of the many Canterbury walks and activities. You’re sure to remember the experience and keep coming back!
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Evan is a paraglider, backcountry skier, trail runner and mountaineer who seeks outdoor adventures at any opportunity he can get. If you’re keen to learn more from him you can contact him via his email address: [email protected] or Instagram @ev_mckenzie.