The largest city on South Island is Christchurch and a must on any itinerary. Affectionately known as the Garden City, Christchurch is the gateway to South Island and has re-emerged as a vibrant, cosmopolitan and ever changing city following the earthquake of 2010.
The reason for Christchurch's 'Garden City' moniker is particularly evident in the award-winning Botanic Gardens. Although especially impressive in spring the gardens are gorgeous at any time of year with fine collections of exotic and native plants surrounded by expansive lawns and mature trees. Wrapping itself around the Botanic Gardens, sprawling Hagley Park is Christchurch's biggest green space and is a lovely place to take a stroll.
The Avon River flows gently through the city centre and a ride on an authentic Cambridge punt is an iconic way to sightsee. For views over the city, take a gondola ride to the top of Mt Cavendish, or alternatively, catch a ride aboard one of the beautifully restored heritage trams which trundle through the city. Be sure to stop off and explore the Canterbury Museum, admire the exhibits at Christchurch Art Gallery, discover the International Antarctic Centre or enjoy animal encounters at Orana Wildlife Park.
While many historic buildings survived the quake the city's cathedral was not so fortunate, but one of Christchurch's exciting new buildings is the Transitional Cathedral, which opened in 2013. Known as the Cardboard Cathedral due to the 98 cardboard tubes used in construction, it has been hailed as one of the most important buildings to be built in New Zealand for many years.
The open-air Container Mall (formerly Re:Start Mall) shopping mall is another innovative project to have emerged after the quake. A selection of boutique shops can be found in New Regent Street, Dress-Smart is the South Island's only dedicated outlet centre while malls include Westfield Riccarton, The Palms and Merivale.
Visitors are equally spoilt for choice when it comes to dining and nightlife within the city. New cafes, bars and restaurants are literally popping up all around the city, often in unique locations, including converted shipping containers and old warehouses. The city suburbs, such as Addlington, Riccarton, Merivale and Fendalton are also top spots to head for.
GMT +12 hours.
New Zealand dollar
Christchurch is approximately 26 hours from the UK (including a stopover).
From December to February, sunshine and high temperatures can be enjoyed in Christchurch, while brilliant autumn hues from March to May are often accompanied by excellent, settled weather. From June to August the temperatures dip to between 3 and 12ºC, while spring brings pleasantly mild temperatures and an amazing medley of colours.
Step aboard the TranzAlpine and experience the South island’s striking natural landscape on a journey between Christchurch and Greymouth. Along the way you’ll see epic vistas, travel the edges of the ice-fed Waimakariri River, traverse the Southern Alps and see miles of native beech forest.Your comfortable reclining seat has panoramic views through large windows which bathe the carriage in light. On board also is a licensed cafe and fantastic open-air carriage. Journey also available in reverse. The one way journey takes just under 5 hours, while the full day trip includes an hour in Greymouth before you rebound the train back to Christchurch. Available daily from Christchurch.
From £145 (one way) or 249 (return day trip)
Board a coach for a fun and informative 3 hour tour of Christchurch, which covers the central city highlights including the botanical gardens, Museum and Art Centre, the Avon River and the city’s transitional cardboard cathedral as well. Continue to Mona Vale, a historic homestead and gardens, soak up the views across the Canterbury Plains through the Southern Alps, then over the Port Hills to Lyttleton and the seaside suburb of Sumner. Available daily from Christchurch (excluding 25 Dec).
With the Pacific Ocean lapping at its wheels on one side and the Kaikoura ranges rising majestically on the other, the Coastal Pacific is undoubtedly one of the most astonishingly beautiful journeys in New Zealand. Your comfortable reclining seat has ample leg room and the carriage has panoramic windows for soaking up the views. Otherwise, head to the open-air carriage to step outside and feel the ocean breeze brush your skin, or sit back with a refreshing drink in the licensed cafe. All journeys are available in reverse. Christchurch to Picton takes just over 7 hours; Christchurch to Kaikoura is around 3½ hours; Kaikoura to Picton is just under 4 hours. Departures available daily between late Sep-late Apr.
From £59 (Christchurch to Kaikoura or Kaikoura to Picton one way) or £99 (Christchurch to Picton one way)