With its picturesque English gardens and winding Avon River, you could be forgiven for thinking that Christchurch lies in the heart of deepest Warwickshire. Instead, this charming southern city is New Zealand's third-largest and the perfect place from which to launch some South Island day trips.
Lying east of the Canterbury Plains and pressed up against the southern edge of Pegasus Bay, Christchurch makes the most of its scenic location. It's just a stone's throw from the beautiful Banks Peninsula and a leisurely drive to the fertile Marlborough Region, making this centrally-located city a gateway to some of the South Island's most popular day-trip destinations.
The Winding Road To Akaroa
As far as scenic drives go, they don't come much more breathtaking than the journey to Akaroa. Situated some 80 kilometres down the long and winding road from Christchurch, Akaroa's charm lies not just in its stunning seaside location or the curious French heritage reflected in its street names, but also in the fact it's reached via a series of curving switchbacks from Christchurch.
First approached via the small port town of Lyttleton – a charming locale in its own right – Akaroa's famous harbour teems with Hector's dolphins unique to the region – while the town itself is home to cosy cafes and a vibrant restaurant scene.
The Best Little Town In New Zealand
Proclaiming itself 'the best little town in New Zealand,' Oxford is a farming community close to the foothills of the Southern Alps. Its laidback rural ambiance belies a bustling cafe culture, with Oxford's main street brimming with busy restaurants and boutique shops and galleries.
Just a stone's throw from Oxford is popular swimming spot Ashley Gorge, a pristine river gorge which lures visitors into its cool crystalline waters on hot summer days, while the dense woodlands of neighbouring Mount Thomas Forest are equally popular with bushwalkers.
Coast To Coast On The TranzAlpine Express
The romance of the rail lingers over the TranzAlpine Express – a spectacular passenger train regularly voted one of the world's most scenic. Winding its way from Christchurch over the Canterbury Plains, the route is arguably at its most attractive as it trundles past the Waimakariri River gorge in the Southern Alps, before terminating at Greymouth on New Zealand's rugged West Coast.
An hour-long stopover in Greymouth means it's possible to enjoy the TranzAlpine Express in one day, departing Christchurch at 8.15am and arriving back in the city shortly after 6pm. And while Greymouth is a perfectly pleasant coastal town, for the majority of passengers the TranzAlpine Express is all about the journey, rather than the destination.
Sit Back And Relax In Hanmer Springs
An easy 90-minute drive north from Christchurch will soon land you in the spa town of Hanmer Springs. As the name suggests, this resplendent alpine village is home to some of the South Island's most popular hot springs and mineral pools.
Relaxation is the name of the game in Hanmer Springs, with multiple pools replenished by underlying natural hot springs which soothe weary limbs and busy minds. Located just 130 kilometres from Christchurch and boasting a wide range of accommodation, it's the perfect day-trip escape.
Through The Vineyards Of Marlborough
Not so much a day-trip as it is a comfortable day's drive, the Marlborough Region in the far north of the island is undoubtedly one of New Zealand's finest wine-tasting destinations. Renowned for its award-winning Sauvignon blanc wines, the region's most populous town is the decidedly fashionable Blenheim.
While Blenheim boasts plenty of its own attractions, it's the wineries that take centre stage throughout Marlborough. Small group tours are a popular means of travelling to the various cellar doors, in a sun-kissed region blessed with some of New Zealand's most popular wines.