The east coast of the South Island is dominated by the province of Canterbury and its major city, Christchurch. The province features rolling hills, extensive plains, a beautiful and spectacular coastline, the foothills of the Southern Alps and a wonderful feeling of space, fresh air and energy. From coast to country to city, Canterbury enjoys spectacular scenery and open spaces.

Christchurch has changed significantly since September 2010 when unprecedented seismic activity began to shake the garden city. In that month alone there were 2381 earthquakes recorded in the Canterbury region. In the following months thousands of tremors were felt on a daily basis, all of which were a precursor to the catastrophic events of 22 February 2011.

That fateful day began quietly enough, with only two minor tremors recorded between midnight and 12:51pm. Then a shallow 6.3 magnitude quake struck the central business district and changed the face of Christchurch forever. Buildings old and new were destroyed and hundreds of people perished.

A total of 446 quakes were recorded that day, with most centred on the city centre and the nearby Port Hills that flank the city to the southeast.

Today, what was once a stylish and contemporary city with 19th century buildings has changed forever. The extensive gardens that provide the basis for the name - The Garden City - are still flourishing and are well worth a visit, as they provide a nice balance to the destruction of the city centre.

One thing that hasn't changed is the history of the local Maori, Ngai Tahu, who contribute significantly to the region, having settled there from the mid to late 1600s.

Whalers and traders settled the region in the early 1800s and a series of indifferent land sales saw local Maori disenfranchised and disillusioned. As early as 1849 Ngai Tahu chiefs complained about the methods used in purchasing their lands. The resolution has led to Ngai Tahu having an important role in developing the South Island. Their investments include some of New Zealand’s leading attractions and their involvement has led to a degree of authenticity and quality that is a model for the industry.

During 1850 - 1851 the first organised groups of English settlers, the founders of Christchurch, arrived on the ‘first four ships’ into Lyttelton Harbour. Christchurch became New Zealand’s first city on July 31 1856. A carefully laid out and planned city, Christchurch nestles beneath the Port Hills and is easily explored (except for a few wobbly roads around the place).

Christchurch has many of the features of a wealthy English city with extensive gardens, delightful walks, a meandering river, extensive cultural activity and a stylish population. Its proximity to the sea and ski-fields and a positive and vibrant Maori culture, make Christchurch a unique city of spectacular contrasts.

There are many attractions for visitors from the modern, exciting Casino, to the sensational Antarctic Centre and award-winning Willowbank nature reserve. To top it all there is spectacular hot-air ballooning over the Canterbury plains.

Christchurch has two scenic harbours, Lyttleton & Akaroa. Lyttelton is just over the Port Hills (or through the tunnel from Ferrymead) and is home to the city's main container terminal. You can take a leisurely drive around the harbour stopping at Governers Bay or Diamond Harbour for a break. Akaroa is a small French settlement approximately an hour and a half drive from the city. Great cruises and excursions are available with visitors having the opportunity to swim with dolphins.

Approximately two hours north of Christchurch is Kaikoura, one of the world’s leading whale watch centres. Kaikoura is committed to preservation of sea-life and the ocean environment and a number of operators are able to offer whale-watch experiences.

Just 90 minutes northwest of Christchurch is the alpine village of Hanmer Springs, which provides a great base for local touring, jet-boating, mountain biking, skiing, bungy jumping and many other outdoor activities. Hanmer is especially well known for its relaxing natural hot springs.

Canterbury is a magnificently diverse region with extensive farming-sheep, dairy and crops; a growing wine industry; horse studs; abundant and flowing rivers; a tradition of sport and now a growing and significant culinary reputation.

We recommend taking some time exploring the region and discovering the beauty and diversity that makes Canterbury such a special place. 

Other popular destinations include: