Canterbury stretches from the silver sand beaches of the Pacific Ocean to the snow-capped peaks of the South Alps. In between are swathes of grassy pastures, alpine forests and clear, glacial rivers.
The main centre, and the largest city in the South Island, is Christchurch. It is known as the ‘Garden City’ due to the beautiful central Hagley Park with the River Avon meandering through. The resilience and creativity of residents has shone through following the earthquakes of 2010/11, with the Re:Start container mall, the Cardboard Cathedral and the many pop-up restaurants and bars being great examples of this.
An hour’s drive from the city is the Banks Peninsula with charming harbours in which the world’s rarest dolphin; the Hector’s dolphin often plays. It is also home to the historic village of Akaroa; the only French settlement in New Zealand.
North of Christchurch is Kaikoura, where the mountains meet the ocean. Seals, dolphins and sperm whales are the main draw card here and can be spotted all year round. Inland from here is the mountain spa town of Hanmer Springs; where visitors can delight in all manner of alpine activities and then ease aching muscles in the soothing mineral waters.
Heading south-west, inland from Christchurch will bring you to the Mackenzie Basin; home to numerous dazzling, turquoise lakes and a good base to explore the Mount Cook National Park (home of New Zealand’s highest mountain). The area is also home to the only dark sky reserve in the Southern Hemisphere, Mackenzie Region International Dark Sky Reserve. Light pollution is strictly controlled here making it one of the best star gazing locations on the planet.