5 Unmissable Day Trips from Christchurch
Christchurch is an ideal base for a South Island sightseeing extravaganza. Enjoying an enviable location in the north east of this spectacularly beautiful land mass, Christchurch is well-connected to most of the island, meaning that visitors can enjoy a host of excursions and day trips while still keeping their base in the city. If you’re planning to combine urban exploits with adventures further afield, don’t miss these five day trips from Christchurch.
1. Whale Watching in Kaikoura
One of the many reasons to spend time in the South Island is to encounter the amazing sea life that surrounds it and Kaikoura is widely regarded as the best place to enjoy a whale watching tour in New Zealand. This is a small, characterful waterfront town on the east coast, located around 180 km north of Christchurch, so is easily accessible in just a couple of hours from Christchurch.
A day tour from the heart of the city will treat visitors to picturesque views of the Canterbury countryside and winding coastal paths that flank the ocean. On arrival in Kaikoura, visitors take places in the boat before a short safety briefing ensures everyone is ready to set sail in pursuit of whales, dolphins and sea birds. Sperm whales are abundant in these waters and can be seen all year-round. It is also possible to catch a glimpse of humpback whales and the occasional orca who calls this area home.
The best time to spot migrating humpback whales, though, is the winter months of June and July, while killer whales can be seen between November and February. A guided tour is a brilliant way to explore the waters in more detail, learn about the different species of whales that inhabit Kiwi waters and, most importantly, watch these enormous, inquisitive marine mammals in action. Whales can be spotted from a distance thanks to the powerful jets of water they send rocketing into the air and modern boats also use tracking systems to maximise the chances of sightings.
After enjoying a whale watching tour, visitors can take a leisurely walk around the town of Kaikoura before heading to the famous fur seal colony a stone’s throw from the centre. Out at sea, it can be chilly and windy, so remember to pack a waterproof jacket and plenty of warm layers. A camera is also a must for those breaching, tail slapping, blowing, and spy-hopping moments.
Book your Kaikoura Whale Watching tour today.
2. Visit Akaroa
Akaroa is a quaint coastal town located to the east of Christchurch. A resort modelled on French design and architecture, it is a beautiful spot to sample local produce and grab a cup of locally-sourced coffee, meander around independent stores and learn all about the history and culture of New Zealand.
En route to Akaroa, buses taking tourists from Christchurch stop at symbolic landmarks including the Sign of the Takahe and Sign of the Kiwi, as well as scenic spots such as Governor’s Bay, Gebbies Pass, Lake Forsyth and Little River, so this is the perfect excursion to see as much of the area as possible. Day trips from Christchurch also include a tour of Barry’s Bay cheese factory and a delicious lunch at Bully Hayes restaurant.
On arrival, it’s clear that the harbour in Akaroa is the highlight, which offers a feast for the senses. Scents of fresh fish fill the clean, crisp air and there’s always a gentle buzz of activity as tourists stroll along the boat-lined front and fishermen go about their business. At the harbour, visitors embark on a scenic two-hour voyage, which affords scintillating views of the Banks Peninsula and the opportunity to spot wildlife, including dolphins, seals, and penguins.
On the trip home, the bus will stop briefly at Birdling Flat to allow travellers to take in unspoiled views of the south-facing cliffs of Banks Peninsula. Akaroa is a unique town and it has a very different aesthetic and vibe to other towns and cities in New Zealand. A charming seaside spot with a cosmopolitan, chic Gallic edge, this is a truly wonderful day trip.
3. Ride The TranzAlpine Train
Travelling by train is no ordinary experience in New Zealand. With endless acres of rolling hills, mountain ranges, glistening lakes, glimmering glaciers and rugged cliffs battered by powerful ocean waves, there’s something to see around every winding corner. The TranzAlpine experience is a total delight for train enthusiasts, as well as anyone who is eager to enjoy a snapshot of New Zealand’s breathtaking scenery. Running from Christchurch in the east to Greymouth in the west, this scenic route takes in the astounding beauty of the Southern Alps, transporting passengers to the famous backdrops of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Snaking its way through verdant glades and flower-filled meadows, the train makes for Arthur’s Pass, arguably one of the best viewpoints in New Zealand.
The TranzAlpine day tour includes lunch at Arthur’s Pass, a hair-raising jet boat adventure on Waimakariri River and a visit to a sheep farm for afternoon tea on the journey back to Christchurch. This unique train ride, routinely described as one of the world’s best rail journeys, provides views that are guaranteed to take your breath away, as well as an opportunity to see locations used in The Lord of the Rings movies and to get the pulse racing and the adrenaline flowing on a jet boat tour of the gorges of Waimakariri River.
4. Aoraki Mount Cook National Park
For those eager to get up and go early in the morning, a day trip to Aoraki Mount Cook National Park comes highly recommended. Boasting no fewer than 19 spire-like peaks standing at over 3,000 feet tall, this is the place to be for those keen to test their mettle on a hike or just enjoy a wander with serious views. A mesmeric landscape carved and moulded by glacial activity over thousands of years, this is a marvel that has to be seen to be appreciated.
The centrepiece, Mount Cook, is the tallest mountain in New Zealand, surrounded by a geographical wonderland that is scattered with lakes, streams, meadows and hills. The summit offers beautiful vistas of Lake Pukaki and in the winter, this is a hot spot for snow sports enthusiasts. During the warmer months, the crystal clear, azure lakes draw kayakers and canoeists to their shores.
Aoraki Mount Cook National Park offers a vast range of hikes and treks, which are suited to all levels of fitness and experience. Low-level wooden walkways are ideally suited to those eager to enjoy the views and travel at a more sedate, languid pace, while mountain treks are perfect for those who wish to push themselves in pursuit of the best views on offer.
Climbing is another popular activity in these parts and those who make it to the top of any of the imposing peaks are guaranteed to be rewarded with spectacular views. For those who have a little extra time available, a visit to nearby Lake Tekapo provides the perfect tonic to an energetic day in the dizzy heights of the mountain ranges. Back at sea level, the tranquil waters that ripple and rumble in the shadows of snow-capped peaks are surrounded by vast swathes of pink, purple and blue Lupins. For those keen to witness this wondrous sight, Lupin season runs from mid-November to December.
5. Blue Penguin Colony in Oamaru
Just three hours’ drive from Christchurch, Oamaru is a cute coastal town with a diverse range of activities and excursions. The town itself is characterised by colonial architecture inspired by British trends during the Edwardian period, but certainly the most exhilarating activity here takes visitors away from the narrow streets and stone buildings and into a helicopter to enjoy bird’s eye views of Otago, Canterbury and the surrounding countryside.
Oamaru town is also an attraction in its own right and is known in the area for its population of Little Blue Penguins. This species of penguin is native to the region and the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony offers the best opportunity to get a closer look at these fascinating little animals as they scuttle around the shoreline. Visitors can tour the colony during the day, which gives access to land-based breeding boxes, or as darkness falls. The night-time experience is hugely popular and enables visitors to watch the penguins coming in from the sea and making their way up the beach to the safety and security of the sandy rocks. Before the first penguins start to arrive after their day out at sea fishing, knowledgeable guides are on hand to provide information about these much-loved native creatures.
While in Oamaru, it’s also worth making the short trip to Koekohe Beach, which is famous for its imposing orb-shaped monoliths known as the Moeraki Boulders. These spherical rocks puncture the sand and provide a magical setting for painting, drawing, and photography. The beach is quiet with a wild, mysterious quality and it sometimes attracts marine animals including sea lions.
There’s no shortage of things to do in Christchurch but the city is ideally placed to take full advantage of the South Island and the incredible natural features, attractions, towns, national parks and beaches it offers. After exploring the city’s own must-see sights and spending a few days relaxing in the botanical gardens, riding the tramway and visiting the cathedral, why not get out and about by bus, boat or train and enjoy experiences ranging from whale and dolphin watching and jet boat rides to mountain climbing, hiking and penguin spotting.
There’s a world of sights ripe for exploration within easy reach of the bustling streets of the beautiful city of Christchurch. Find your favourite day trips from Christchurch for your New Zealand holiday.