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Christchurch and Canterbury Holidays

From the lofty Southern Alps to the broad Canterbury Plains, the peaceful spa resort of Hanmer Springs to the bustle of the country’s most English of cities, Christchurch, this stunning region is one of contrast and diversity with experiences to match.

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With its international airport, Christchurch is the gateway to the South Island and the country’s second largest city. It is the hub of the Canterbury region and offers an environment that is both laid-back and action-packed. Possessing a stable sunny climate, the city’s parks and gardens are a key attraction year round and are renowned for their beauty, especially in spring.

Centered around the willow-lined River Avon, Christchurch is compact and easy to explore, with a refreshingly friendly buzz. But far from being a quiet backwater, this is a vibrant city where there is seldom a dull moment. There are numerous street performers, lively markets, music venues and theatres, as well as more cafes, bars and restaurants than any other New Zealand town, not to mention at least a dozen annual festivals.

For visitors, the Southern Encounter Aquarium, Science Alive Museum and award-winning International Antarctic Centre are a great draw, but what many remember most about Christchurch is its Englishness. The neo-Gothic architecture and streets named after British towns and poets give it the feel of a typical English university town. However, just take the gondola ride to the summit of 946m Mt. Cavendish for the panoramic view of the Alps, the Canterbury Plains and Banks Peninsula and you will soon know that this can only be New Zealand.

Close by is the once volcanic Banks Peninsula, now eroded into deep fjord-like inlets and sheltering the pretty town of Akaroa, with its French and English history, beautiful bays and harbour, and the opportunity to see playful Hector’s dolphins and other wildlife on a harbour cruise.

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Located about 2 hours drive north of Christchurch, Kaikoura is something of a success story. Only 20 years ago, the sleepy seaside town was on the brink of economic ruin. The local Maori community then set up the first commercial whale watching trips in New Zealand, taking visitors out by boat to see mighty sperm whales that gather in the deep waters just a few miles offshore. It is now New Zealand’s centre for whale watching and the first town to be awarded Green Globe 21.

Now, as well as these trips, you can view the whales from the air, swim with seals, snorkel with acrobatic dusky dolphins and watch a whole host of interesting sea birds. Kaikoura is also an excellent place to experience Maori culture, especially for those only visiting the South Island.

Add to this the dramatic scenery of the coast and its backdrop of steep mountains, which provide excellent hiking and the chance to ski New Zealand’s newest slopes, as well as some excellent seafood and it is not hard to see why Kaikoura is so popular with visitors.

Hanmer Springs

As the name might suggest, the peaceful village of Hanmer Springs is best known for its natural hot springs and forms the main thermal resort of the South Island. Set amidst a stunning alpine landscape that offers snow-covered peaks in the middle of winter and lush evergreen forest, Hanmer Springs is only an hour and a half from Christchurch, and is well-worth a visit at any time of year.

A draw for adventure seekers as well as those in search of relaxation, Hanmer Springs provides the base for a variety of leisure pursuits, including forest walks, horse treks, river and lake fishing, jet-boating, rafting and that New Zealand classic… bungy-jumping!

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Mount Cook

Known to the Maori as Aoraki, Mt Cook is the highest peak in Australasia and standing at an imposing 3,754m dominates the Southern Alps that separate Christchurch from Queenstown. Certainly an icon of New Zealand, Mt Cook has long attracted climbers and mountaineers, wishing to scale its heights.

South Island’s World Heritage Area, offers some good hiking opportunities for those who wish to explore the area further. These can be guided or unguided and the fact that the weather can be very changeable here makes the former a favoured option.

However, many of the people visiting Mt Cook have less lofty ambitions, choosing simply to enjoy the impressive views on clear days or on scenic flights, which are a great way to appreciate the grandeur of the place.