Canterbury region of New Zealand

Canterbury is the largest region in the South Island of New Zealand, and is known for its diverse and beautiful landscape. From the rugged coastline of Kaikoura, the vibrant city of Christchurch, to the snowy peaks and dramatic landscape of the Mackenzie Country and the Southern Alps, there is plenty to discover!

Infographic showing the most popular destinations in the Canterbury Region of New Zealand

An Overview of the Canterbury Region of New Zealand

Canterbury Location:Along the East Coast and center of the South Island of New Zealand
Bordering Regions:West CoastMarlborough and Otago
Region Size (km2):44,503.88
Population:666,300 (June 2023)
Main Cities and Towns:Christchurch, Timaru, Ashburton, Kaikoura
Most Popular Tourist Destinations:Kaikoura
Hanmer Springs
Banks Peninsula
Mount Hutt
Lake Tekapo/ Aoraki Mount Cook National Park

Highlights of the Canterbury Region

North Canterbury

North Canterbury is a region of contrasts, where you can experience the best of both the coast and the incredible mountains the South Island is known for. One of the most popular places to visit in Canterbury is Kaikoura, a charming seaside town where you can spot whales, seals and dolphins from the shore!


Kaikoura, Canterbury Region of New Zealand

Kaikoura is a small coastal town that is famous for it’s wild beauty and incredible marine life! It is one of the only places in New Zealand where you have the chance to spot whales, dolphins, and seals in their natural habitat. You can also enjoy the fresh seafood, especially crayfish, that Kaikoura is named after!

There are a number of awesome things to do in Kaikoura, including learning about it’s rich Maori and whaling history at the Kaikoura Museum, going seal spotting along the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway, or admiring the panoramic view from the Kaikoura Lookout!

Hanmer Springs

Hanmer Springs, Canterbury Region of New Zealand

Hanmer Springs in a charming resort town nestled inland in the North Canterbury region, and is known for its natural hot pools and stunning landscapes! It is the perfect place for a winter retreat, as you can enjoy the nearby adventure activities, such as skiing, bungy jumping, or biking, or spend your time relaxing and rejuvinating in the thermal pools and spa.


Waipara, Canterbury Region of New Zealand

The Waipara Valley is one of the premier wine regions in New Zealand, and is one to some of the best wineries and vineyards Canterbury has to offer! You can visit many of these vineyards, where you can enjoy a tour, wine tasting, or just visit their vineyard restaurant for a delicious lunch with views over the stunning landscape. This is also a great place to stop along the drive from Christchurch to Kaikoura.

Christchurch City

Christchurch, Canterbury Region of New Zealand

Christchurch is the largest city in the South Island of New Zealand, and the gateway to many attractions and activities in the Canterbury region! Nestled on the stunning coastline of the Pacific Ocean, Christchurch is known as the ‘Garden City‘ due to its beautiful Botanic Gardens, surrounding Port Hills, and relaxing green spaces. It also has a thriving center, filled with art galleries, museums, boutique shops and restaurants.

Banks Peninsula

Banks Peninsula, Canterbury Region of New Zealand

Banks Peninsula is a spectacular volcanic peninsula located along the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand, just south of the City of Christchurch. It is beautiful and remote, with two large harbors and many smaller bays and coves. The history of Banks Peninsula is fascinating, with Maori and French settlements seen in the charming town of Akaroa. It is incredibly scenic, and an awesome area to explore as a day-trip from Christchurch!


Akaroa, Canterbury Region of New Zealand

Akaroa is a small, charming town on the south-east of Banks Peninsula, nestled in the stunning Akaroa Harbor. It was founded by french settlers in 1838, and celebrates this history through the annual Akaroa French Festival. You can explore its historic buildings, magnificent harbour and passion for fine food (especially its cheese!) Akaroa is also known for it’s incredible marine wildlife, and one of the most popular activities in Akaroa is swimming with Hector’s Dolphins.


Lyttleton, Canterbury Region of New Zealand

Lyttleton is a quirky and charming port town on the north shores of the stunning Lyttleton Harbour, close to Banks Peninsula and Christchurch. It is filled with historic buildings, lively culture, and fantastic cafes and restaurants. One of the best things to do in Lyttleton is to visit its Saturday Farmers Market, which fills the main street with locally-produced food, flowers, arts and crafts, and – of course – coffee!

Mid Canterbury: The Canterbury Plains

Canterbury Plains, New Zealand

The Canterbury Plains are the largest area of flat land in New Zealand, and are located just south of Christchurch in the Mid Canterbury region. They are bordered by the Pacific Ocean and the Southern Alps, and are crossed by several braided rivers, such as the Rangitata, Rakaia, and Waimakariri. They have a diverse and beautiful landscape, which can be explored along the drive from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo.


Ashburton, Canterbury Region of New Zealand

Ashburton is a large town in the heart of the Canterbury Plains, about 80 kilometres south of Christchurch. It is a hub for the farming and agricultural industries of the Canterbury region, as well as a centre for culture and history!

Ashburton is also close to many popular attractions and activities, such as the stunning Ashburton Lakes, the Mt Hutt Ski Area, and the Rakaia Gorge.

Mount Hutt

Mount Hutt, Canterbury Region of New Zealand

One of the best things to do in winter is to hit the slopes at the Mount Hutt Ski Area! This is one of the largest and highest ski areas in the South Island, and has been voted New Zealand’s Best Ski Resort for several years in a row.

Near to Mount Hutt, you can also explore the nearby town of Methven, which has a friendly and vibrant atmosphere, and offers many dining, shopping, and accommodation options.

Rakaia Gorge

Rakaia Gorge, Canterbury Region of New Zealand

Rakaia Gorge is a gorgeous and dramatic canyon located only an hours drive from Christchurch, and is a outdoor adventured dream! This beautiful gorge was carved by glacial runoff from the Southern Alps, before it flows down the Rakaia River and into the Pacific Ocean. It is surrounded by a number of incredible walks, including the Rakaia Gorge Walkway and the Washpen Falls Track. If you are an adrenaline-seeker, you can also experience the thrill of jet boating, rafting, fishing, or kayaking on the river!

South Canterbury

South Canterbury, New Zealand

South Canterbury is the southernmost part of the Canterbury Region of the South Island of New Zealand, bounded by the Rangitata River in the north and the Waitaki River in the south. It has a diverse and beautiful landscape that offers something for every traveller, from the coast to the mountains. 


Timaru is a gorgeous coastal port-town in the heart of the South Canterbury region. You can explore the historical and cultural attractions of Timaru, such as the Aigantighe Art Gallery or the South Canterbury Museum. One of the highlights of Timaru is the stunning Caroline Bay, where you can relax on the sandy beach, or go for a stroll along the coastal walkway and enjoy the views!

Mackenzie Country and the Southern Alps

Mackenzie Basin District of Canterbury, New Zealand

The Mackenzie Basin is an vast and beautiful area of the Canterbury region, filled with golden tussock grassland, vibrant blue glacial lakes, and the snow-capped mountains of the Southern Alps. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in New Zealand, and is home to the magnificent Aoraki Mount Cook – New Zealand’s tallest mountain! The Mackenzie District has 4 major settlements: Fairlie, Mount Cook Village, Twizel, and Lake Tekapo.

Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo, Canterbury Region of New Zealand

In the heart of the Mackenzie Basin is Lake Tekapo, a vibrant turquoise glacial lake surrounded by the snowy peaks of the Southern Alps. Along it’s southern shores is the charming Tekapo Village, a popular tourist destination and a fantastic base for exploring the area! Lake Tekapo is popular for its hiking and stargazing, and is a part of the Dark Sky Reserve. There are lots of things to do in Lake Tekapo, including exploring the Mount John Observatory, enjoying the beautiful lupins, or visiting one of the local cafes or restaurants and soaking up the view.


Twizel, Canterbury Region of New Zealand

Twizel is the largest town is the Mackenzie District, and features many excellent cafés, bars, restaurants, and shops. It has epic views of mountains in all directions and the town is close to five lakes – including the stunning Lake Pukaki! It also makes a great base for explring the nearby attractions, such as the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, Lake Ruataniwha, or the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail.

Aoraki Mount Cook

Aoraki Mount Cook, Canterbury Region of New Zealand

Nestled in the heart of the Southern Alps, at the northern end of the stunning Lake Pukaki, is the Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. This national park is a dramatic and rugged land of ice and rock, with 19 peaks over 3,000 meters, including Aoraki Mount Cook – New Zealand’s tallest mountain! The park is a paradise for hikers and nature lovers, with fantastic walking and hiking trails like the popular Hooker Valley Track, glacier views, and rare alpine plants and animals. You can also visit the Mount Cook Village, which has a visitor center, a museum, and a range of accommdation options!