Enjoy a sunrise soak at He Puna Taimoana. © ChristchurchNZ 

Canterbury Kiwi Gems


The Canterbury region is vast. From the volcanic Banks Peninsula and wild Kaikōura Coast to the heart of the Mackenzie District and further afield to Hurunui or South Canterbury there is so much to discover. We've got 16 Kiwi Gems to kickstart your travel plans.

Kaikōura Cycle Trail

The Kaikōura Cycle Trail takes cyclists on a journey into the back blocks beyond this lovely coastal town. Following the edge of the Kaikōura plains, the trail skirts the Kōwhai and Hapuku Rivers, taking riders through diverse landscapes, highlighting scenes not available to fast-moving motorists. There are ten sections linked to create one long ride and designed to allow for shorter blasts, too; they’re all between 2.5km and 7.5km in length. Mountain bikes or e-bikes are needed for this one, as surfaces are sometimes a bit gnarly. Some effort will be required too, as there are some climbs involved, but you’ll be rewarded with sea views, mountain vistas, bird encounters and beach stops. For a completely different angle on Kaikōura, this is a satisfying, stimulating option.

Coastal Pacific 

Coastal Pacific is a five-hour train ride tracing the South Island’s east coast between Christchurch and Picton. Every twist and turn reveals spectacular and diverse landscapes, from mountains to the sea. You can listen to an onboard commentary detailing the history of the places you’re travelling through, step out to an open-air viewing carriage to look for whales, dolphins and other marine life along the Kaikōura coastline, learn how 2016’s earthquake buckled, twisted and spliced the land, pulling new chunks of seabed to the surface.  Rolling past pink pools of salt water at Lake Grassmere, through the fruitful territory of Blenheim, across wide farmland – each scene combines to make the Coastal Pacific one of the Great Journeys of New Zealand.

Watch This Space Street Art Tour

In 2016 Lonely Planet named Christchurch as one of the world’s top cities for street art. The best way to fully appreciate the abundance of artworks is on a Watch This Space Street Art Tour. Guide Reuben Woods is an art historian with a passion for (and PhD in) graffiti and street art – aka neo-muralism – relaying the complex history of this often misinterpreted art form and its place in urban environments. On a two-hour ramble around the central city streets you’ll marvel at incredible, large scale artworks by both local and international artists, exploring the meaning behind each and the awe-inspiring levels of skill required to create multi-story murals with spray paint, often in just a couple of days. To enhance your street art experience, download the Plain Sight app, which will allow you to experience several of the artworks with augmented reality. 

He Puna Taimoana

The New Brighton hot pools opened in 2020 to rave reviews from locals. He Puna Taimoana, adjacent to the ocean, has five heated, saltwater pools, a separate two-metre-deep cold plunge pool and a sauna with magnificent sea views. 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. For an extra special experience, secure your spot for a sunrise soak where you can catch the first light of day from the steamy warmth of the hot pools with a non-alcoholic cocktail in hand. There’s also café within the pool complex and if you have kids in tow, the revamped beachside playground is just next door. 


Within the Gothic Revival heart of the Christchurch Arts Centre you’ll find Fragranzi – a unique sensory experience where you can craft your own custom perfume. It is a fascinating process of science and maths – choosing from a seemingly infinite combination of fragrances. Tailor your perfume by adding individual scent strips to a 3D printed chalice, covering it with a glass top and smelling how the notes combine. You can adjust the fragrance by sliding each strip in or out, and just one millimetre can change the overall scent profile. The brainchild of Canterbury University’s professor of chemical engineering Conan Fee, Fragranzi explores the incredibly evocative nature of scent. Make sure you smell his signature fragrance ‘Endeavour’ with notes of geranium, bourbon, iris ivy and a base of tree moss and leather, it invokes ancient books and damp stone – like the scent of the Arts Centre itself. 

Iron Ridge Sculpture Park

Iron Ridge Sculpture Park is the home and workshop of Waipara artist Raymond Herber. Here, in what was once a disused agricultural lime quarry, the park has been painstakingly rejuvenated into a tranquil space filled with imaginative creations. Herber’s metal artworks and other sculptures carved from pale local stone sit amongst cultivated native plantings and a serene fish pond. Best experienced with a BYO picnic, the sculpture park has many interactive elements that kids will love, including self-pedal contraptions that activate fans or garden shears (the latter with a necessary safety shield installed). Make sure you climb to the top of the bluff to admire the marvellous Waipara views framed by Herber’s ‘Windswept Tree’ sculpture. 

Hanmer Springs Heritage Forest

Planted with exotic trees dating back to the 1900s, the Hanmer Heritage Forest is woven through with a network of walking, biking and bridle trails. Paths are lined with holly and ivy; larch and silver birch stand overhead. It’s a bit like walking through an English forest. You can choose from one of the three walking trails of varying lengths, though the 30-minute Forest Amble Sculpture Trail is a highlight. Wide, flat paths take you on an easy stroll that’s filled with sculptural surprises. Keep an eye out for carved wooden animals alongside the path or descending from the trees. The forest is also a breeding ground for kārearea, New Zealand’s native falcons between September and March with signs warning about potential dive bombings from protective parents.

Devils Punchbowl Falls

Experience the full force of fresh mountain water falling 131 metres at one of New Zealand’s most spectacular waterfalls. From the start of the walk near Arthur's Pass, follow the footbridge across the Bealey River. From the second bridge over Devils Punchbowl Creek you’ll have a good view of the waterfall. Wander through beech forest surrounded by native birdlife before climbing 150m up a series of steps to a viewing platform at the base of the waterfall. The track starts at the northern end of Arthur’s Pass Village, just off SH73 at the Punchbowl carpark and should take you approximately an hour, return. 

Coopers Knob

Coopers Knob, or Ōmawete as it is known in Te Reo Māori, is the highest point on Christchurch’s Port Hills, with panoramic views over the Canterbury Plains and Lyttelton Harbour. Access this craggy outcrop via some easy rock climbing on a short diversion from the Crater Rim Walkway. As its name suggests, this whole area is what remains of an ancient volcano, with Ōmawete being one of the largest tors, or large, freestanding rocks. Begin your 30 minute walk to Coopers Knob from the Gibraltar Rock car park on Summit Road.

Cathedral Cliffs

Like the Clay Cliffs of Ōmarama, or the Putangirua Pinnacles in Wairarapa, the Cathedral Cliffs at Gore Bay just outside Cheviot in Canterbury’s Hurunui District are a geological marvel, well worth a detour. From a roadside viewpoint you can admire the crumbling badlands cliffs with views across to the ocean at Gore Bay. Formed from siltstone and sandstone combined with harder gravel deposits that have naturally eroded over millions of years, the pillars and pinnacles are dramatic and otherworldly. The Cathedral Cliffs viewpoint is signposted on Cathedral Road when coming into Gore Bay from the south.

Ōtamahua Quail Island

Ōtamahua Quail Island is Canterbury’s largest island. Catch a ferry from Lyttelton to explore this 81-hectare island for a great day out. Named for the now extinct native quail – koreke – that was found here in the late 1800s, the island was also used as a quarry site, with basalt and rhyolite used for ship ballast and building. In 1975 the island was converted from farmland into a recreation reserve, and there are several walking tracks that will take you on a circuit of the island including intriguing historic sites. Find old stables, former quarantine barracks and views over the ship graveyard where more than 13 ships were scuttled. There is also a replica dog kennel site that tells the fascinating stories of explorers Shackleton and Scott who trained their dogs on Ōtamahua before travelling to Antarctica.

Little River Trail

The full Little River Trail stretches 60km from Christchurch City to the pretty village of Little River on the Banks Peninsula and is a Grade 2 flat and easy ride. From Hornby to Little River, the route follows the historic Little River Branch railway line which operated between 1875 to 1967. Take in the flat Canterbury Plains, the foothills of the volcanic Banks Peninsula and skirt around the edges of the vast Lake Ellesmere Te Waihora and the smaller Lake Forsyth Te Roto o Wairewa. The short detour to Birdlings Flat is recommended for great rock fossicking, with agate and gemstones often found here. The Little River Trail is suitable for cyclists of all abilities, and is family-friendly, though make sure you bring enough water for your ride as there is none available along the way. 

Leisure Time INP

Redeem your AA Member discount with Leisure Time Travel here

Ben Ohau / Gretas Stream

Immerse yourself in the spectacular scenery of Canterbury’s Mackenzie District on the Ben Ōhau (Ruataniwha Peak) and Gretas Stream Walk. The track includes the archetypal golden tussock country and views over the turquoise Lake Ōhau that make Mackenzie so picturesque, but also includes a unique pocket of native bush with beech and tōtara forest on the Gretas Stream descent. This is a five to six hour walk that includes sub alpine terrain with an optional detour to the 1,522-metre Ben Ōhau summit. Make sure you are well-prepared for a full day in the wilderness, with appropriate footwear, food and water. Plus pack windproof layers – Ōhau means ‘wind’ in Te Reo, so it can get breezy here.  

Cave Stream Scenic Reserve

Find Cave Stream Scenic Reserve on the banks of Broken River near Castle Hill in Canterbury’s Selwyn District. Choose from one of two short walks that lead to the remarkable limestone caves from the carpark. If you’re feeling adventurous, bring torches (two per person are recommended for safety reasons) and explore the pitch black 594m passage between the cave entrances, but be prepared to get wet! The water can get up to chest-height on an average sized adult – and significantly deeper after rain – so it’s not recommended for kids. If you’re not into spelunking, the intriguing karst landscapes alone are worth a visit, with sculptural limestone formations and photogenic ‘rillenkarren’ – water grooved rocks. 

Waimate Wallabies

In Waimate, you can get up close to hand-reared wallabies. Bennett’s Wallabies were introduced from Australia in 1874 in a misguided attempt to set up a local fur trade and their numbers quickly exploded in the dry South Canterbury climate. While wallabies are considered pests today, Waimate local Gwen Dempster-Schouten has been raising orphaned joeys since 1977, and running tours of her unusually-named facility – EnkleDooVery Korna Wallaby Park – since 1999. Visitors can meet the gentle resident wallabies in large enclosures and learn about the care required for these big-eyed marsupials.

Aigantighe Art Gallery

In Tīmaru you’ll find one of the South Island’s best art galleries, albeit one of the more difficult to pronounce. But despite it’s spelling, the Gaelic name of the Aigantighe Art Gallery is actually relatively easy to untangle – just say ‘egg-and-tie,’ which means ‘at home.’  Founded in 1956 by the Grant family who emigrated from Scotland, Aigantighe is home to the South Island’s third-largest public art museum collection, including a significant catalogue of British Victorian paintings. The gallery also has a permanent collection with works by New Zealand masters Colin McCahon, Frances Hodgkins and Charles Goldie, along with local artists and temporary exhibitions.

Looking for more travel inspiration? Check out these great Must-Do's in Canterbury: 

More stories like this

Find out more


Swim with seals in Kaikōura

Off the coast of Kaikōura you can frolic in the sea with friendly fur seals.  Read the story . . . 

Find out more

Get outdoors

Discover rocky outcrops and rare plants at Kura Tāwhiti Conservation Area

Not only home to striking geological features, Kura Tāwhiti Conservation area or Castle Hill in Canterbury’s Waimakariri Basin also has some of the rarest plants in New Zealand.  Read the story . . . 

Find out more

Free things to do

Take a trip back in time at Burkes Pass

Burkes Pass is a tiny heritage village in Canterbury’s Mackenzie Region, with a whole heap of character.  Read the story . . . 

Find out more


Soak and slide at Hanmer Springs

With soaking pools, rock pools, mineral pools, sulphur pools and serious waterslides, the range of thermal swimming options at Hanmer Springs is designed to cater to every mood and aquatic preference.  Read the story . . .