Christchurch is beautiful. But some may say that its surrounding areas are even better. How could you blame them? There are dolphins [which by itself would already be good enough to trump any city, right?], wineries and mountains all waiting to be explored at Christchurch’s doorstep. When crowds within the city boundaries start to thicken, head east. Down the road, the French village of Akaroa effortlessly paints a picture of romance and panorama. It is quaint, yet timeless as not to feel kitschy; comfortable, yet rugged enough for the weekend adventurer. Once all Vitamin Sea and D levels have been replenished, venture off on a hike around Hanmer Springs in the north-west. Thermal springs soothe sore muscles [especially after a long day skiing in winter], and a visit to a vineyard [or two] is always a good idea. Above all, the lack of light pollution in both places makes them an optimal stargazing site.
If you’re looking to explore the Christchurch City area before escapading out onto the countryside, click here to view my city guide.
Dolphin Swimming / Watching Jump aboard a Black Cat cruise and be in for a treat. Hector dolphins, the world’s smallest, are endemic to Aotearoa. There’s truly no time for second-guessing, as Akaroa is the only place in the country one can take a trip to swim with them.
Shamarra Alpaca Farm Fun fact: Alpaca fibre is three times warmer than sheep wool. Who knew? If you’re in for a cuddle or many more such fun facts, head out to Shamarra. Besides, the views aren’t too shabby either [read: spectacular!].
The Giant’s House The home of one of New Zealand’s greatest, most vivacious artists, Josie Martin, is equally joyous. Come for a glass of home-made lemonade and some cake or stay the night. One could spend many hours lusting over the mosaic works splattered across the house and garden. I, for one, did.
Walks There are dozens of trails, from multi-day tramps to light strolls all across the Bank’s Peninsula. Click here to pick your favourite.
Lighthouse Head along Beach Road for a unique angle of the French settlement.
Le Bons Bay One of my favourite beaches in New Zealand. There’s not much reception down there, so unplug and soak it all up. Feel like staying the night? Head over to Lavericks Bay for the ultimate glamping experience.
Quad Biking Get a group of friends together and push that comfort zone big time on a quad bike.
Mountain Biking There are trails galore. Click here to see more.
Village Cruisers For those of us who are in no need of an adrenaline rush, a village cruise will do just fine.
Walks The Hurunui District, which Hanmer Springs, is part of offers an array of trails and tramps best viewed on here.
Other Adventure Sports The choice is one of many. Head to the Hanmer Adventure Centre and go from there.
Thermal Pools & Spa Ask any Cantabrian local about Hanmer and the hot pools will be right on top of their list. Avoid the crowds by coming either very early or very late (open from 10 am to 9 pm). The massages at the adjacent spa are so good they should be compulsory.
[all vegan friendly]
Eden Restaurant, Hanmer Springs The name says it all. Fresh, hand-crafted, local goodness in a tranquil setting. Treat yourself for a special dinner!
Powerhouse Cafe Vegan brunch. Need I say more?
Bully Hayes, Akaroa Unexpectedly veggie friendly and tasty with a side of gorgeous harbour views.
Canopy Camping at Lavericks Bay Travellers who prefer a sense of uniqueness and groundedness will love this. I personally spent my Christmas break here and would return in the blink of an eye. Click here to see all Canopy Camping spots around the country.
Silo Stay Little Rivers Converted silos surpassing traditional accommodation standards with a stance on sustainability, design and otherness.
The Heritage Hanmer Springs Minutes from everything you need in town with well-spaced rooms and, its biggest drawcard, lots of greenery.
Get There and Around
Self-drive your way across Canterbury. If you are coming from Nelson, it will take you three to four hours to get to Hanmer. From there, it’s another 1.5h to Christchurch and to reach Akaroa, you’ll need yet another 1.5h. Be sure to stop at Birdlings Flat and Little River.
When to Go
This very much depends on the kind of activities you are after. In winter, skiers flock to the Hanmer thermal pools after a long day on the slopes, whereas the Banks Peninsula sees very few visitors during that time. Come summer and cruise ships transform quaint Akaroa to something a little more stressful. As always, shoulder season (spring/autumn) is preferred.
En route to your final destination, I suggest stopping by one of the many wineries for a sneaky little tasting session or a long lunch. Black Estate (south of Hanmer) is my favourite vineyard in the region.