Canterbury: Back down South

Supporting tourism in Canterbury will help Christchurch get through bad times.

Admire the icebergs on Tasman Glacier lake. Photo / Supplied
Admire the icebergs on Tasman Glacier lake. Photo / Supplied

While the nation's thoughts and sympathies are firmly with Christchurch residents trying to piece their city back together, wider Canterbury wants us all to know it is open for business. And that one of the best ways to help the city and region recover is to keep the tourist dollars circulating.

If you're planning a Kiwi break - maybe with the kids in the April school holidays or just a getaway with friends - here are some ideas for making the most of Canterbury.

AKAROA

While Lyttleton, Akaroa's sister town at the other end of the Banks Peninsula, was at the heart of last month's earthquake Akaroa has come out of it unscathed. The small French-styled settlement is about an hour's drive from Christchurch.

What to do: Banks Peninsula was named by Lonely Planet as one of the world's "top 10 places to learn to cook the local cuisine". Try it yourself and book at Akaroa Cooking School for a lesson in creating masterpieces out of stunning local produce.

If that doesn't take your fancy, try a harbour cruise to spot the small and rare Hector's dolphins. Back on shore you can stroll along quaint streets and visit Linton, better known as "the giant's house" B&B where artist Josie Martin has transformed the gardens into a mosaic wonderland.

If you're feeling more active, book to do the two- or four-day Banks Peninsula walk, a 35km private track around the spectacular and remote southeast bays of the peninsula. The season closes on April 27 and re-opens for next summer on October 1.

Where to stay: Akaroa is filled with B&Bs, hotels and apartments. Try Akaroa Cottages, part of the Heritage Boutique Collection, 1km from town.

Further information: See akaroa.com.

WAIMAKARIRI

Billed as Canterbury's country lifestyle destination, Waimakariri is a hub of good food, family activities and stunning gardens, a 20-minute drive from Christchurch. Turn off State Highway 1 on to the scenic SH72.

What to do: Pegasus Lake is a great place to take the kids. You can hire yachts, kayaks, surfboards, and sports equipment. The man-made lake has hot pools and a sunken-ship dive area. There are also cafes and bars.

If you want to support Christchurch and Canterbury boutique food producers displaced by the earthquake visit the Ohoka Farmers' Market at Ohoka Domain on Friday mornings. There is another market at Oxford on Sundays and if you want to know how to prepare that produce, book a cooking lesson at Jo Seagar's Cook School, also in Oxford.

Waimakariri is also something of a mecca for gardeners and art enthusiasts, with a number of tours through private gardens and galleries open to the public.

Further information: See visitwaimakariri.co.nz.

HANMER SPRINGS

Though it's most famous for its hot springs, Hanmer makes a great base for adventure and alpine activities.

What to do: Allow time on your way in or out of Hanmer to visit New Zealand's fastest-growing wine region of Waipara.

Hanmer is also a good place to try some mountain-biking - particularly the nearby St James cycle trail, a 64km track starting at Maling Pass.

There are also forest walks, bungy jumps, quadbikes and jetboat and rafting trips. And, after that, relax in the revamped hot pools.

Where to stay: Try the Heritage Hanmer Springs across the road from the pools, which has also been refurbished.

Further information: See hanmersprings.co.nz.

KAIKOURA

It's long been famous for it's whale-watching and from that Kaikoura, two hours from Christchurch, has developed a reputation for world class eco-tourism. It's also becoming a major Maori cultural centre.

What to do: As well as watching whales, you can swim with dolphins, go fishing or take guided wilderness walks. Try a bit of adrenaline-fuelled adventure with Sky Dive Kaikoura, which will show you stunning views over both the mountains and coast. Then try a Maori Tour.

Further information: See kaikoura.co.nz.

MACKENZIE COUNTRY

It's a bit of a hike inland to Mt Cook and MacKenzie Country, but the two-and-a-half-hour drive is breathtaking.

What to do: Visit Tasman Glacier - by boat or kayak on the terminal lake among the icebergs or by helicopter, landing on the ice. Then stop at Mt John Observatory - underneath one of the clearest night skies in the world, followed by a visit to the Church of the Good Shepherd on Lake Tekapo.

Further information: mtcooknz.com.

NEED TO KNOW

If you go: As of last week the National Crisis Management Centre lifted its advice against non-essential travel to Christchurch, but recommends travel to the wider Canterbury region, rather than the city itself, where possible.

Christchurch Airport is fully operational for domestic and international flights, but its website advises confirming your check-in and departure time with the airline. Air NZ is operating its full schedule of 10,000-plus seats a day in and out of Christchurch, plus additional services as needed to assist those needing to travel because of the quake.

Getting around: All car rental services based at the airport are operational. Many city-based offices are closed.

Go further: If you have a week or so to spend in Canterbury consider hiring a car and driving the Alpine Pacific Triangle, which takes in the food and wine treats of Waipara, along SH7 to Hanmer Springs, back to the coast at Kaikoura along SH70 and back to Waipara along the coastal stretch of SH1.

If food and wine are your key motivations, four food and wine trails are split across North Canterbury, South Canterbury, Mid-Canterbury and Selwyn, all taking in the best wineries, markets and boutique producers. More details can be found at canterburyfoodandwinetrails.co.nz.

Further information: For more ideas on travel within non-earthquake affected parts of Canterbury, see christchurchnz.co.nz.

- NZ Herald

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