From city explorations to stargazing and scenic reserves, we’ve rounded up 11 intriguing ways to explore the diverse Ōtautahi Christchurch and wider Waitaha Canterbury regions.
1. Paddle the Ōtākaro Avon River
One of the features of the Christchurch rebuild is an attempt to re-orient the city to the Ōtākaro Avon River, which winds through the city to the sea. Te Ara Ōtākaro is a generous pathway that you can walk or bike along, but it’s even more fun to get in amongst it! Airborn Paddling will set you up for a 3.2km though-city paddleboard float that starts near the Botanic Gardens and ends, conveniently, at the historic Pomeroy’s Pub and Brewery. Christchurch Sea Kayaking offers guided river tours, including a city to sea option, which passes through the former residential ‘red zone’ and out the estuary to the sea.
2. He Puna Taimoana
The New Brighton hot pools opened in 2020 to rave reviews from locals. There are five heated, saltwater pools, a separate two-metre-deep cold plunge pool and a sauna with a magnificent ocean view. It’s a perfect place to unwind after a stroll on the beach or out to the end of the 300m New Brighton Pier. There are limited numbers per session, so book online in advance. There’s also café within the pool complex and if you have kids in tow, the revamped beachside playground is just next door.
3. Street Art Tours
“Street art tells a story of what the city is, what is was, and what it could be.” This is the introduction to the Street Art Tours from the Watch This Space Trust – a fun new way to explore the city. You’ll discover Christchurch’s emergence as a street art destination and learn more about the artists and the inspirations behind the works. You’ll also learn about the history of urban art. Tours are flexible and can be tailored to your needs. The proceeds help the Watch This Space Trust keep their online map of local street art free and up to date.
4. Rooftop drinks at the Pink Lady
Take in the full 360 degree panorama of the emerging city of Ōtautahi from the newly opened rooftop bar, The Pink Lady. This Manchester Street building was designed by acclaimed architect Peter Bevan in the 1960s and saved from post-quake demolition to become home to the Muse Art Hotel and stunning rooftop bar. The bar has a small food menu and is famous for its cocktails and its impressive selection of pink wine (rosé). You may have to wait for a table (they don’t take bookings) but you can do so in the comfort of the ground floor café/bar.
5. Kura Tāwhiti / Castle Hill
Discover this otherworldly place just on the other side of Porters Pass, where you’ll feel like a character in a science-fiction novel as you wander through the dramatic limestone formations and clamber up and around boulders. This area has special cultural, spiritual and historical significance to Ngāi Tahu. Kura Tāwhiti is the first reserve in New Zealand established specifically to protect a plant – the Castle Hill buttercup. There are just 67 plants in existence and they are found only within this 6ha reserve. Castle Hill Reserve is on the edge of the Craigieburn mountains, an area famous for its skiing, mountain biking and rock climbing, but even a picnic will feel like an adventure in this unusual landscape. Carry on State Highway 73 a bit further and you’ll find Cave Stream Scenic Reserve with a 600m walking track through the pitch black cave passage – bring a torch and prepare to get wet!
6. Greystone Wines
Greystone is an organic winery in North Canterbury that draws its name from the limestone bedrock of its soils – a terroir loved by pinot noir. The diverse landscape of the vineyard allows Greystone to also grow chardonnay, riesling, gewurztraminer, pinot gris and sauvignon blanc. This vineyard has recently opened a cellar door and eatery with a set menu by licensed forager and head chef Mel Wright. The ever-changing, four-course menu is paired with wine tastings. Book in advance and make it a full experience by exploring the cycling and walking trail that runs through the vineyard.
7. Banks Peninsula foraging tours
Peter Langland is a local foraging guide who works with New Zealand’s top chefs and restaurants. He has written several guides on foraging and says the temperate micro climate of the Banks Peninsula along with sheltered coasts and fresh water make the area an excellent foraging ground. Peter’s Wild Capture Foraging Tour takes you on a three- to six-hour foraging tour of the Banks Peninsula to gather shellfish, seaweed and a variety of edible plants, which are then prepared at a local restaurant or out in the wild.
8. Discover Hinewai Reserve
The drive from Christchurch to Akaroa is worth the trip alone. Head through the tunnel to Lyttelton so you can experience both harbour views. Just before Akaroa, head up the Eastern Bays Road to Hinewai Reserve, a regenerating native forest and carbon sink run by a living legend – Hugh Wilson. Hugh decided in 1973 that cars were bad for the environment and hasn’t been in once since. At 74, he bikes everywhere. He’s been overseeing the regeneration of Hinewai since 1989. Walk the tracks and pop into the visitor centre.
9. Hike Mount Somers
Mount Somers has a network of tracks just an hour outside of Christchurch. There are multiple options, including two huts that link at 26km the full circuit. The terrain goes from regenerating beech forest to open sub-alpine tussock lands. The area features historic coal mines, impressive volcanic rock formations and deep canyons. Take on a multi-day adventure or just a 30 minute nature trail followed by a picnic or a stop at the famous Staveley Store and Cafe.
10. Stargazing in Tekapō
Tekapō, or Takapō as Ngāi Tahu call it, sits within the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, the largest in the world. In 2019, Ngāi Tahu Tourism opened the Dark Sky Experience - a multi-media stargazing and educational journey that can be done any time of day. The 45-minute experience brings together science and Māori navigation and mythology. See one of the world’s most famous Victorian telescopes – the Brashear Telescope – on display for the first time. If you’re in Tekapō into the evening, there is a guided stargazing experience at the Mt John Observatory.
11. Antarctic Audio Tour
Ōtautahi Christchurch is one of just five Antarctic Gateway Cities in the world. The city celebrated this last year with the launch of a free guided audio walk around the central city. You’ll hear stories about the whisky Shackleton left behind, about the Christchurch man who rescued dogs – and a fruitcake! – from a crevasse, about the Akaroa man whose epic sailing skills saved Shackleton’s entire crew from perishing, and much more. The tour is about 90 minutes and takes you along a 1.2km route through the city.