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Christchurch and Canterbury Travel Guide

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  • Photo: Inna Kravets / Shutterstock

Plan Your Christchurch and Canterbury Vacation

Captain Cook sailed right past the Canterbury coast in 1770 and thought Banks Peninsula was an island. The Māori knew better, they were already well established (by some 500 years) around Te Waihora and Waiwera—Lakes Ellesmere and Forsyth.

In 1850 the English were back to colonize the land. John Robert Godley had been sent by the Canterbury Association to prepare for the arrival of

settlers for a planned Church of England community. That year, four settler ships arrived bearing roughly 800 pioneers, and their new town was named for Godley's college at Oxford.

Built in a Gothic Revival style of dark gray stone, civic buildings such as the Arts Center (originally Canterbury University) and Canterbury Museum give the city an English quality. This style, plus elements such as punting and cricket, often pegs Christchurch as a little slice of England. Though the city may have a conservative exterior, it has been a nursery for social change. It was here that Kate Sheppard began organizing a campaign that led to New Zealand being the first country in the world to grant women the vote. It has a growing immigrant population, has become known as the southern gateway to Antarctica, and is developing a keen arts community and a vibrant cuisine scene.

Beyond Christchurch the wide-open Canterbury Plains sweep to the north, west, and south of the city. This is some of New Zealand's finest pastureland, and the higher reaches are sheep-stations where life and lore mingle in the South Island's cowboy country. This is where young Samuel Butler dreamed up the satirical Erewhon—the word is an anagram of nowhere. But the towns here are no longer considered the back of beyond; communities such as Hanmer Springs, Akaroa, Timaru, and Geraldine are now favorite day-trip destinations. Arthur's Pass is probably the best place for a one-day-wonder experience of the Southern Alps while the Waipara Valley is now an established vineyard area, highly regarded for its Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and aromatics.

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Top Reasons To Go

  1. The Arts Christchurch’s galleries, museums, and cultural activities have had to be innovative and have risen to the challenge; thought-provoking art projects are dotted around the city. Expect the unexpected.
  2. The Great Outdoors You don’t have to go far to be among mountains, forests, rivers, and beaches. There are an abundance of places to hike, trek, cycle, mountain-bike, boat and ski; and it’s easy to hire any gear you need.
  3. Parks and Gardens In spring, numerous public and private gardens are open for viewing. Christchurch’s reputation as the Garden City with expansive parks and public gardens is only going to grow, as even more areas are put aside for parkland.
  4. Superb Skiing There are eight major ski slopes and a number of club runs within two hours' drive of Christchurch. Season usually runs from June until early October.
  5. Fantastic Festivals Festivals honor various professions, seasons, heritage days, wine and food.

When To Go

When to Go

November’s "cup and show week" is a wacky time, when locals kick their heels up at Riccarton Park and Addington Raceway for horse racing and...

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