Like much of the country, Christchurch is a seaside haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Known as “the gateway city” to the South Island, Christchurch is the access point to Aorkai/ Mount Cook National Park, part of UNESCO’s Te Wāhipounamu World Heritage site. Two hours north along the coast is Kaikoura, a paradise for marine-enthusiasts and Marlborough is just two hours beyond that. 

Since the 2011 earthquake that leveled many parts of the city, Christchurch has reconstructed itself in the image of a town that’s cooler, hipper, and younger without relinquishing its past. Stone Gothic-revival architecture towers above microbreweries and shipping containers house take-away restaurants, perfect for a picnic in the greenscape of Hagley Park or the riverside botanic gardens. If the weather is nice, go punting along the river.

You can (and should) use your time in Christchurch as a base for exploring the Banks Peninsula and the French fishing village of Akaroa. In addition, the city is close to the tranquil hot springs at Hanmer Springs and world-class wines at Hurunui. The Canterbury Plains are also a spectacularly beautiful spot for a hike or bit of biking. 

With so much to see and do around New Zealand, you won’t want to devote more than a day or two here as a jumping off point for what’s next, but make the most of it. You’ll be glad you did.

Mount Cook and Lake Tekapo

Aoraki Mount Cook National Park forms part of the Southern Alps and is home to New Zealand’s highest peak. Mount Cook is a hiker’s paradise. For experienced climbers (who may seek inspiration for Sir Edmund Hillary who trained for climbing Mount Everest on Mount Cook!), the park is home to 23 impressive peaks. For those less technical and just looking for a soft adventure, there are handfuls of trails that enjoy vistas of huge peaks, glaciers (including the 27-kilometer long Tasman Glacier), and permanent snowfields as a backdrop. It’s simply stunning.

South-east of Mount Cook is Lake Tekapo with its milky-turquoise waters. Mount Cook National Park and Lake Tekapo are included in the International Dark Sky Reserve where the stargazing is spectacular. In July and August, on a clear winter’s night near the new moon, you may see the Southern Lights (identical to the Northern Lights, but in the southern hemisphere) from one of the observatories in the region. The lupins along the Lake’s shores burst into their (peak) pink and purple glory from mid-November to end-December. If you plan to travel around that time, go see them!

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