Best Day Trips from Christchurch, New Zealand

The picturesque Avon River winds through the South Island’s largest city and some of New Zealand’s most photogenic landscapes surround it. Christchurch day trips delight the senses, with French-inspired fine dining in Akaroa and thermal pools for healing soaks in Hanmer Springs. 

Sip your way through the Waipara wine region or cycle across meandering country trails. The ocean takes centre stage in Kaikoura, where giant whales swim close to the shore and fur seals join intrepid snorkelers. These larger-than-life adventures are an easy drive from the street art scenes and trendy restaurants of Christchurch City. 

So, it’s entirely possible to shop and dine at the New Regent Quarter and kayak with dolphins on the very same day. 

Close your eyes and point at one of the following day trips in the Canterbury region. You can’t go wrong. 

Hanmer Springs

Hop in the car for a ninety-minute drive through alpine scenery straight from a postcard. Hanmer Springs is for heart-pumping action followed by the ultimate in relaxation. 

For family-friendly fun, kick off at the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa. While the kids zoom down the hydro-slides and spin out on the SuperBowl ride, you’ll soak in the natural hot springs or indulge in a spa treatment.  

Explore the village for a spot of shopping and a game at the mini golf course, where you’ll find unique Village Cruisers for a pedal around town. If white water rafting is more your speed, the Grade 2 Waiau River awaits, with guided rafts and jet boating rides available.

Rather take a gigantic leap? Hanmer Springs Bungy Jump provides the 35-metre-high platform for a scream-worthy plunge towards the river below. Don’t forget your comfy walking shoes for hikes along enchanting forest trails. 


Road trips from Christchurch lead to French-inspired history in Akaroa, which rests in the centre of the volcanic Banks Peninsula. You’ll delve into the unique atmosphere in the village framed by colourful colonial buildings, quaint museums and craft galleries, on the edge of sparkling Akaroa Harbour.

Just a short walk from the heart of the small town, the historic Akaroa Lighthouse decorates the landscape. Snap memorable photos from the balcony before choosing a restaurant – French cuisine is at the top of the list. 

The Akaroa Adventure Centre ensures you’re geared up for watery fun. Hire a kayak to paddle around the harbour or take a guided tour to find the best places to spot wildlife. Harbour cruises get you up close to the local Hector’s dolphins, with some tours allowing you to respectfully engage with them in the water – they’ll provide the wetsuit, you just have to bring the willingness!

If you love walking and cycling, you’re spoilt for choice. Take the Garden of Tane track for views of the harbour and a playground along the way. The French Cemetery track is a 45-minute circuit to see the oldest consecrated cemetery in New Zealand’s South Island. 

Read More: Swimming with Dolphins in Akaroa

Castle Hill

Castle Hill near Christchurch is one of the best things to do in New Zealand South Island

On a Canterbury day trip through the region known for the scenic Arthur’s Pass drive, enter the magical world of Narnia at Castle Hill. Boasting backdrops from the fantasy movie, the soaring boulders and rock formations of Kura Tawhiti are accessible via walking tracks that crisscross through limestone natural wonders. 

Named by the indigenous Maori tribe Ngai Tahu, ‘Kura Tawhiti’ means ‘the treasure from a distant land’. And this natural treasure is a playground for rock climbers, with bolted climbs available throughout the reserve. If you prefer to watch, choose a spot for a picnic between strolls to spot rare and endangered plants, like limestone wheatgrass. 

Resting in the Castle Hill basin, the 594-metre Cave Stream Scenic Reserve features two entry tracks lined with surreal rock formations. You’ll need torches for this thrilling trek of around an hour through the dark cave passage, where you’ll climb waterfalls and a rung ladder to emerge on the other side. 

Arthur’s Pass

In terms of places to go near Christchurch, Arthur’s Pass National Park is arguably the most famous. To discover the highest pass across the Southern Alps, drive or sit back and relax on the TranzAlpine train service. Along with magnificent mountain ranges, you’ll see innovative engineering – like waterfalls directed into chutes and the award-winning Otira Viaduct – and stop at natural wonders along the way. 

Strap on your hiking boots for the Arthur’s Pass Walk through beech forests and alpine meadows to the summit. The track joins other jaw-dropping options, including the Devil’s Punchbowl Waterfall Walk and the Dobson Nature Walk for blooming wildflowers.

Up for a challenge? The Avalanche Peak Route is for you. Though you might need the whole day to tackle it, the reward of views from 1,110 metres is worth it. Make sure you look out for the alpine parrot, the kea, wherever you go. 

You’ll find walking maps and information in the quaint village, including for trails in the nearby Temple Basin during the warmer months. This is a winter wonderland for adventure seekers though, as one of the oldest club-run ski areas in the country, and a hot spot for extreme snowboarding.


For an extraordinary glimpse at wildlife, Kaikoura is among the best places to visit near Christchurch. This is the home of majestic whales and playful fur seals frolicking in the sparkling Pacific Ocean.

Hop aboard a whale-watching boat to get up close to giant Sperm Whales year-round, and other species migrating at various times. Kayak around the peninsula or delve into the magical underwater world on a scuba diving adventure. 

Back on land, get your camera ready for a trek on the Peninsula Walkway, not far from the town centre. Be prepared for plenty of gasp-worthy stops to take in clifftop views with circling seabirds. You’ll start the walk near Point Kean, home to New Zealand fur seals generally seen lazing on the nearby rocks.

Pop into Fyffe House along the way, the town’s oldest building once used as a pioneer whaling station. The pink heritage landmark takes you back in time with artefacts and stories of the families who lived there. 

When it’s time for a dip, Kaikoura Beach rests along the town’s esplanade. Keep your eyes peeled for seals at Black Pebbles Beach. For a complete change of scenery, look forward to lavender ice cream at Lavendyl Lavender Farm.

And in winter, snow-tipped mountain ranges frame crisp winter days, humpback whales swim by, and skiers hit the slopes at Mount Lyford.

Related Reading: Free Things to do in Kaikoura

Washpen Falls

Within just a 60-minute drive, Washpen Falls offers short trips from Christchurch that are big on spectacular scenery. The conservation project is a natural wonderland for all ages, set on a working farm.

Discover it on the Adventure Walk from the Old Washpen Woolshed, a two-hour loop track that weaves through an ancient volcanic canyon. 

The reserve brims with wildlife and native plants, and it’s easily reached via boardwalks and stairs. Along with sweeping views across the Canterbury Plains, waterfalls and spring-fed creeks compete for the most photogenic scenes.

If you’re visiting in winter, the Mt Hutt Ski Field is only a 20-minute drive away, making it an excellent stop-off point on the way.

Waipara Valley

Wear your stretchy pants for a one-day trip from Christchurch to the Waipara Valley, often referred to as the ‘pantry of New Zealand’. Around 90 vineyards and 20 cellar doors ensure there’s ample opportunity to swirl and sip award-winning wine. 

The region’s restaurants keep you fuelled up for outdoor adventures too. Top picks on menus include seasonal produce from market gardens, honey and truffles. One of the best ways to explore it all is via the Waipara Valley Vineyard Trail, dedicated to walking and cycling all that food and wine off. 

Use pedal power to hop from vineyards to quaint farmhouses and panoramic views across rolling hills. Stop by at the Weka Pass Railway to see the historical steam train. 

To get off the beaten path, head out on the Tiromoana Bush Walkway, a three-hour loop to a remote beach through wetlands and forests. 

Alternatively, book a tour from Christchurch so you don’t have to worry about overdoing it on the wine tasting. This tour includes visits to three wineries, a delicious lunch, and transport to/from your hotel.


Just a short drive from Christchurch, immerse in the creative vibe of Lyttelton, a port town sprinkled with bohemian boutiques and cafes for indulging in custard squares while overlooking the harbour. In 1850, this was the spot where the city’s first European settlers arrived.

Follow your nose to coffee on London Street, the main thoroughfare for shopping and dining. On a Saturday morning, stroll to the tunes of live musicians at the fresh-produce-laden Lyttelton Farmers’ Market.

You might find buskers at Albion Square, with a playground and sculptures by the artistic locals. Stretch your legs through the Urumau Reserve in the hills, where the community plants native trees.

You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to picnic spots for long, lazy lunches. Set out on the walking track between Corsair Bay and Cass Bay, after making the most of playgrounds and tables. 

Related Reading: Best Things to do in Christchurch with Kids

Quail Island

All aboard a quick ferry ride from Lyttelton for day tours from Christchurch to Quail Island. You’ll land amid the secrets of history, including those of a former leper colony and a quarantine station once used by early European settlers. The Antarctic explorers Scott and Shackelton once used the island as a training ground for sled dogs. 

These days, it’s a recreational reserve with a focus on restoring native vegetation that attracts birds like the fantail and kingfisher. The island itself is named after the now-extinct native Quail, but it’s still a birdwatcher’s paradise worthy of your binoculars.

Walkways ensure you see all the sights with easy and casual strolls suitable for all ages. Find out about the history and where to see shipwrecks at the Visitors Centre. Then, wander into nature with snacks and swimwear for dips along the way. 

Do be aware of the limited ferry timetable before planning this excursion. Alternatively, book a Sea Kayaking day tour to Quail Island for a unique perspective.


Nothing quite prepares you for the dazzling turquoise water of Lake Tekapo, on a backdrop of alpine peaks. The colour stems from the rock-flour ground by glaciers. It’s enough to sit, stare and photograph, but there’s plenty to do in the Mackenzie Basin, around a three-hour drive from Christchurch. 

Start in town for a drink with lake views at a romantic restaurant. When you visit in summer, the scene explodes with the pink and purple splendour of blooming lupins. The picturesque backdrop makes swimming and paddleboarding irresistible. A slice of luxury awaits at Tekapo Springs, a complex adorned with hot pools, saunas and water play areas for kids. 

When you’re waterlogged, wander around to find the best photo spots. A ‘must have’ is one of the adorable Church of the Good Shepherd with its glistening lake backdrop.

As night falls, star gazing takes centre stage in the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. As far as romantic day trips from Christchurch go, Tekapo ticks all the swoon-worthy boxes. 

Mt Hutt

Can’t wait to hit the slopes? Voted as New Zealand’s Best Ski Resort for seven years in a row, Mt Hutt gives you something to brag about. Just a 90-minute drive from Christchurch, Mt Hutt is also one of the South Island’s highest ski areas and attracts serious thrill seekers. Never mind if you’ve never strapped on skis before, as both beginner and kids’ programmes have you carving up the powder in no time. 

Get a bird’s eye view on the Summit Six chairlift to the top of Mt Hutt, where Alpine Spas boasts the highest altitude spa in the country. If you’re travelling with the kids, hit the play area for Toboggan rides and snow fights.

Serious skiers and snowboarders love Jib Garden terrain park for jumps and rails. However, it’s the large terrain park Gunners Alley that attracts the freestyle professionals. 

Aoraki Mount Cook

Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, so named after New Zealand’s tallest mountain, is located in the Southern Alps, around a 3.5-hour scenic drive from the garden city. Strap on your hiking shoes and pack a picnic to tackle one of the many trails on offer, such as the Hooker Valley Walk, or the Tasman River Walk.

To see the grandeur from another angle, hop on a scenic flight and have your camera at the ready to capture the spellbinding views from above. Ever fancied walking on a glacier? Book a helicopter flight that includes a guided hike on New Zealand’s largest glacier.

If you’re going solo, or unfamiliar with driving in this part of the world, perhaps join a tour from Christchurch and leave the driving to the experts. A small group bus tour will transport you through the agrarian landscapes of Mackenzie Country to the vibrant shores of Lake Tekapo, past the alpine lake Pukaki with its famous view of the mountain, and finally into the National Park. It’s here you’ll partake in a walk to witness the splendour of the Tasman Glacier before beginning your return journey.

Book your tour to Aoraki/Mt Cook here.

Choosing a day trip from Christchurch is half the fun. Do you fancy spotting whales, hiking a summit or swanning around vineyards and sipping award-winning wines? From the volcanic shores of Akaroa to the natural wonders of Arthur’s Pass, you’re guaranteed a blockbuster movie backdrop no matter what you do.

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