Canterbury - McKenzie Country
Canterbury is the hub of the South Island and contains its largest city, Christchurch. It is also one of the driest and flattest areas of New Zealand. The moisture-laden westerlies from the Tasman Sea hit the Southern Alps and dump their rainfall on the West Coast before reaching Canterbury. The region is dominated by the expansive Canterbury Plains, dead-flat farming land backed by the Southern Alps.
Christchurch was hit by devastating earthquakes in 2011 which damaged a lot of the inner city's infrastructure, but the city is bouncing back remarkably and the creativity and community spirit has made the city a vibrant place once again. The city's botanic gardens receive international acclaim and a great place to relax before you start your journey or have concluded your journey, as you're most likely to start or end your tour in Christchurch. The nearby Banks Peninsula was formed by two giant volcanic eruptions and has a strong French influence. The picturesque harbour of Akaroa is well worth a visit.
In North Canterbury the thermal waters of Hanmer Springs have been attracting visitors for many years, but the region is also popular for outdoor activities including hiking, rafting, bungy jumping and skiiing in winter. All of this action means it is a favourite weekend spot for people from Christchurch.
The route to the West Coast from Christchurch goes via Arthur's Pass, a small alpine village amid some spectacular alpine scenery. Many of the park's day hikes offer 360 degree views of the snow-capped peaks, most notably the Devil's Staircase. However, the most memorable journey from East to West is undeniably via the scenic Tranzalpine Express train.
Further inland heading South, the high country from which the Mt Cook park rises is known as McKenzie country. The small town of Tekapo has sweeping views across the turquoise lake with snow-capped mountains as the backdrop, and is generally the first stop towards the Southern Alps. The night skies are the best in New Zealand and occasionally the Australis Borealis (southern lights) are putting on a show, so if you happen to be there when this extraordinary phenomenon occurs, consider yourself very fortunate!
Things you shouldn't miss in Canterbury
- Take a break at Lake Tekapo and soak in the grandeur of the magnificent Southern Alps.
- An exhilirating Canterbury Alpine Safari.
- A visit to Akaroa Harbour in Banks Peninsula.
- Lake Tekapo night skies.
- Soaking in the Hanmer Springs thermal hot pools
- Skiing at Mt Hutt in winter