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Top Ten Things to do in Christchurch with a Campervan

Not sure where to go on your South Island campervan adventure? We’ve put together a shortlist of the top 10 attractions.

Abel Tasman National Park (433 km north)

Abel Tasman is home to the South Island’s most spectacular coastal scenery, from pristine golden sand beaches to cragged granite cliffs. Don’t miss a photo opp with the suitably-named Split Apple Rock.

Akaroa (81 km east)

An easy detour east of Christchurch lies Akaroa, a tiny town on the Banks Peninsula brimming with French-inspired architecture. The highlight here is Akaroa Harbour, where you can swim with endangered Hector´s dolphins as they frolic in the bay.

Hokitika Gorge (281 km west)

Fluro blue water flows through Hokitika Gorge, a South Island hotspot for hiking and kayaking adventures. Cross over the suspension bridge for an uninterrupted view of this mind-boggling natural attraction.

Lake Tekapo (226 km west)

Azure waters of the glacier-fed Lake Tekapo lap against a tiny town of the same name. The snow-capped Mount Cook looms in the distance, best viewed from the Mt John Summit Circuit Track. Hot springs, a star-gazing observatory, and a photogenic old church enhance the magic.

Lake Wanaka (425 km south)

The South Island’s most iconic lake became Instagram-famous for a solitary crack willow tree. After photographing the gnarled #ThatWanakaTree, head up to Roy’s Peak for sweeping Mount Aspiring views. Ski bums mustn’t miss nearby Treble Cone.

Marlborough Sounds (377 km north)

Perched on the island’s northern tip, Marlborough Sounds is a maze-like network of dramatic sunken valleys. Take a boat tour or rent a kayak to experience this scenic stretch of coastline. Thirsty? The nearby Marlborough Wine Region produces top-quality whites.

Milford Sound (757 km south)

Some say Milford Sound is the eighth wonder of the world—and who are we to disagree? Take a boat cruise (or splash out on a scenic flight) to admire this fabulous fiord flanked by rainforests and waterfalls.

Mount Aspiring National Park (477 km south)

A Southern Alps highlight, Mount Aspiring National Park set the scene for Peter Jackson’s classic Lord of the Rings films. Glacial landscapes, deep ravines, and bountiful birdlife await in this vast, untapped expanse.

Mount Cook (322 km west)

New Zealand’s highest mountain rises 3,724 metres into the sky. Admire her majestic presence on a rugged walking trail or a winding scenic drive. Thrill seekers could embark on an unforgettable heli-hike tour of the nearby Franz Joseph Glacier.

Queenstown (483 km south)

Nicknamed the “Adventure Capital of the World,” Queenstown is the go-to destination for all adrenaline-inducing pursuits. From white-water rafting to bungee jumping and death-defying jet boat rides, you’re sure to get the heart pumping here.

The Christchurch Experience

From historical sites to tranquil gardens and intriguing museums, this enchanting South Island city has plenty of places to explore.

To appreciate the magnitude of the 2010/2011 earthquakes, visit Christchurch Transitional Cathedral. Constructed of cardboard and other temporary materials, this interim temple temporarily replaces the damaged Christchurch Cathedral. For more earthquake insights, pop into Quake City and the Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial.

Not all historic buildings collapsed in 2011. The Isaac Theatre Royal is a restored performing arts centre with a grandiose Edwardian style. At Riccarton House, an elegant Victorian-era homestead overlooks luscious lawns. Then you’ve got the Victoria Clock Tower, an ornate stone spire built to celebrate the Queen’s 60th Jubilee. To combine history and shopping in one outing, check out the colourful New Regent Street pedestrian mall.

Due to its British influence, Christchurch (A.K.A., the “Garden City”) is famed for its gorgeous verdant parks. The best is the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, home to an impressive selection of native trees and flowering plants. Surrounding it lies Hagley Park, a sprawling recreational space with leafy gardens and sports facilities. Small, scenic parks line the tranquil Avon River, which snakes through the city’s heart.

Christchurch has a respectable array of pristine natural spaces, too. Hikers and mountain bikers adore the undulating terrain at Port Hills. To spot squawking birdlife, try the marshy Travis Wetland Nature Heritage Park instead. Godley Head offers pristine coastal views, while the sandy Sumner Beach is your best bet for a dip.

Keen to take a peek at native New Zealand animals? Then try the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve. Or better yet, take a side trip to the nearby village of Akaroa to spot endangered dolphins frolicking in the bay.

If museums appeal, Christchurch has a respectable collection to choose from. Favourites include the International Antarctic Centre, the Canterbury Museum, and the Air Force Museum of New Zealand. Creative types mustn’t miss the Christchurch Art Gallery.

The antiquated Christchurch Tramway is a lovely old restored tram traversing many top city sites. A hop-on / hop-off ticket is a fun and convenient way to explore. For a bird’s eye view of the city, jump on the Christchurch Gondola.

Exploring the South Island from Christchurch

The strategically-situated city sits within a day’s drive of all the South Island’s jaw-dropping attractions. As a result, it’s a convenient base to rent a campervan and explore.

North of Christchurch

You don’t have to venture far from the city to marvel at the majestic Southern Alps.

Cruising two hours from the CBD gets you to Arthur’s Pass National Park, a dramatic expanse of towering mountains and quirky alpine villages. If you don’t fancy tramping trails, the drive into the park is among New Zealand’s most scenic.

Further west lies Hokitika Gorge, where a serene aquamarine river sits enshrouded by verdant rainforest. Hire a kayak to make the most of the experience. On the west coast, the seldom-visited Paparoa National Park is famed for its pancake-like stack of rocks.

Nelson Lakes National Park offers more splendid Southern Alps scenery—think beech forests, ice-capped mountains, and shimmering lakes. Up on the north coast, Abel Tasman National Park is a sun-lovers paradise of picturesque sandy beaches and dramatic granite cliffs. Don’t miss the iconic Split Apple Rock.

To the east, the Marlborough District is awash with scenic vineyards producing world-class Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Ditch the van for a day and join a boat or kayak tour through Marlborough Sounds. With 1,500 km of coastline, this labyrinth-like network of sunken river valleys is a sight to behold.

South of Christchurch

Directly west of the city lies Lake Tekapo, a tiny township straddling a spectacular lake of the same name. Soak away your stress in the bubbling Tekapo Springs or spot intergalactic constellations at the Mt. John Observatory. Snapping a pic of the iconic Church of the Good Shepherd is a quintessential South Island experience.

Beyond the lake, the ominous Mount Cook pierces through the horizon. Glaciers cover around 40% of this wild, outlying region, including the 10.5-km-long Franz Josef Glacier. Helicopter and hiking trips through Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park and Westland Tai Poutini National Park let you experience these Lord of the Rings-inspired landscapes firsthand. Hikers shouldn’t skip the mind-blowing Hooker Valley Track.

To the south lies Mount Aspiring National Park, where undulating trails tramp between towering peaks and lush river valleys.

The township of Lake Wanaka affords sweeping views of the Southern Alps, which cast a mirror image on its clear shimmering waters. A cragged crack willow, affectionately known as #ThatWanakaTree makes for an Insta-worthy photo opp (Roy’s Peak is another excellent vantage point). If you’re visiting during the ski season, Treble Cone is a top spot to carve fresh powder tracks.

A quick drive south gets you to Queenstown, A.K.A, the “Adventure Capital of the World.” Adrenaline-pumping pursuits include bungy jumping, river rafting, jet boating, sky diving, paragliding, and sledging, to name a few.

On the northern end of Lake Wakatipu, the quaint town of Glenorchy offers similar scenery with a more laid-back vibe. Hardy hikers mustn’t miss the world-famous 32 km Routeburn Track.

Milford Sound is well worth the detour. The snow-capped Mitre Peak protrudes through the centre, while lanky waterfalls plummet into pristine fjords. Jump on a boat tour to marvel at the scenery while cruising past colonies of cuddly penguins and fur seals.

Over on the east coast, Dunedin is a lovely harbourside town with Victorian and Edwardian architecture. On an adjacent peninsula, Larnach Castle harks back to the town’s Scottish heritage. Dunedin is also your best bet for spotting the technicoloured Southern Lights.

Not far north, Moeraki Boulders Beach lures curious onlookers with its perfect spherical-shaped rocks.

To spot cute little kiwis in the wild, jump on a ferry towards the remote Stewart Island.