Christchurch, the largest city on the South Island and the second biggest in New Zealand, is full to the brim of awesome activities – like riding the famous Christchurch Gondola and learning all about Antarctica at the International Antarctic Centre to more chilled-out things to do like wandering around quaint Little Regent Street.
And what’s great, too, is that if you tire of the hustle and bustle of city life, some gorgeous regions like Akaroa and the Banks Peninsula are only a short drive away. Plus, Christchurch is the gateway to some more well-known gems like Lake Tekapo and Arthurs Pass, and although these destinations are a long drive from the city, I still thought it important to include them on this list because they are two of the most beautiful places in New Zealand, in my opinion!
If you want to enjoy a day away from vibrant Christchurch – look no further than this blog post! I’ve included 13 of the best day trips from Christchurch here, and there’s a huge variety of options. In fact, there’s a day trip for every type of traveler on this list – from a wine tour through the incredibly scenic Waipara Valley to searching for wildlife like fur seals, whales, and dolphins in Kaikoura, and much much more!
This is the only guide you need to read for the best day trips from Christchurch!
The BEST Day Trips from Christchurch
1. Ride the TranzAlpine Train to Greymouth
One of the best day trips from Christchurch is one that requires the least effort, i.e., there’s no driving involved – simply hop aboard a comfortable train to the town of Greymouth! The TranzAlpine train journey from Christchurch to Greymouth is often referred to as “New Zealand’s most scenic rail journey” because, along the way, you will be treated to stunning views of the Southern Alps and Arthurs Pass.
Some of the highlights of the journey include the Old Brunner Mine, which was the site of a devastating mining disaster in 1896, the Canterbury Plains, and the Waimakariri River. Arthurs Pass train station is very pretty, too – with huge mountains surrounding it, so be sure to take some photos here!
The train also features an open-air viewing area, but the windows by your seat are huge, so you can still snap some great photos without moving from your comfy chair. There’s a cafe on board, too – ideal for snacks and refreshments on the long journey.
One-way, this train journey will take 4.5 hours which is quite lengthy, but it does cover a huge distance of 223 km (139 miles). You can return to Christchurch on the same day, with a very short stopover in Greymouth – but it will be a long day at over 9 hours. Therefore if your itinerary allows, I recommend spending the night in Greymouth.
The TranzAlpine departs on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from Christchurch Railway Station.
2. Wine Tour to Waipara Wine Region
Just over a 45-minute (58 km/ 36 miles) drive from Christchurch is one of my favorite wine destinations in the country – the Waipara! In fact, it’s considered the fastest-growing wine region in New Zealand, that’s because the climate here is ideal for wine growing, thanks to its high summer temperatures and year-round low rainfall.
Some of the best New Zealand wine is from Waipara. The most common varieties grown here are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Riesling, which is why I’ve included it as one of the top day trips from Christchurch!
Once you visit, you’ll find it hard to believe that the first vines in the Waipara here were only planted in 1975, and now, there are over 1300 hectares of vines! This fast-paced growth is thanks to the popularity of the delicious wines grown here across the world.
You can, of course, drive yourself to this stunning wine region, but that means that one of you can’t drive, which will be a real shame – did I mention the wine from here is some of the best wine I’ve ever tasted!
So, if you all want to sample the delicious wines, why not join a guided winery tour? There’s a variety of such tours on offer, and they all depart from Christchurch. Most are between 4-5 hours in duration. These tours usually provide a light lunch like a sharing platter in the price, which you can enjoy at one of the scenic wineries.
This small-group tour from Christchurch comes highly recommended because it’s a personalized small-group tour of 6 people maximum. Plus, lunch and all wine tastings are included.
Kaikoura is a small seaside town a 2 hour and 20 minute (180 km / 112 miles) drive from Christchurch. Thanks to the abundance of wildlife that calls this area home, it’s one of the most popular places to visit on the South Island. Expect to see blue-eyed penguins, sperm whales, dusky dolphins, and fur seals on a day trip here from Christchurch!
As you’d expect, most of the best activities in Kaikoura give you the chance to get up close to the aforementioned unique animals. In Kaikoura, you can go on a whale watching tour, or even swim with wild dolphins, or go kayaking to see the native fur seals!
In fact, one of the town’s major attractions is the fur seals, with tourists flocking in the hundreds every week to see Kaikoura’s most famous residents. I heard a local say that there are more fur seals in Kaikoura than people, and I believe it! The best place to see these creatures (without a guided tour) is on the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway. This 2-hour return track begins at the South Bay car park and ends at Kean Bay!
Another great thing to do here is a whale-watching tour. On the cruise, your knowledgeable guide will tell you about the native marine life and help you to spot them. You will more than likely spot fur seals, dolphins, and sperm whales. But keep in mind that a sighting isn’t guaranteed, as it does depend on the season. The whale season here runs from November to March!
Did you know that Kaikoura was the first place in the country to offer ‘swim with dolphins’ tours to the public?! So, why not book on a highly recommended tour here that gives you a chance to swim with the super-friendly dusky dolphins? You might even see some killer whales (or Orcas) if you do this tour between September and April. How cool would that be?!
This particular tour is 3 hours long, including 20-40 minutes spent swimming with the dolphins – the remainder of the time will be spent looking for wildlife from the boat and taking in the gorgeous views!
Related Read: If you have more time, consider spending a few nights in Kaikoura. The drive from Christchurch to Kaikoura is epic!
4. Adrenalin Forest Obstacle Course
Much closer to Christchurch, but still, a great day trip option is the Adrenalin Forest Obstacle Course, which is just under a 20-minute drive (17 km/ 10 miles) from the CBD. This fun yet heart-pumping obstacle course is essentially a playground in the trees, and this multi-level aerial course boasts a flying fox, a Tarzan jump, and a wrecking ball. It’s a great day out for the whole family.
On the tour, you can test yourself on over 100 different challenges, which vary in difficulty from beginner and child-friendly to more exciting obstacles – one of which is over 100 meters (328 feet) from the ground. So, if you have a fear of heights, stick to the easier tasks. And not to worry if you’re feeling nervous, you will be given a detailed brief before the tour, and you will have safety gear on at all times.
The best part is that tickets to the obstacle course are only $46 NZD, and you can expect to spend around 3-4 hours on the course.
Afterwards, why not head to the nearby Travis Wetland Nature Heritage Park which is the last remaining freshwater wetland in Christchurch. It’s just an 11-minute drive from the Adrenalin Forest Obstacle Course, and here there’s an easy loop trail where you may spot wildlife like eel, fish, and kereru as well as lots of birdlife such as pukeko, fantail, swallow, kingfisher, and the white heron.
Akaroa is one of the prettiest little towns in the country and is well-known for being the most “French town in New Zealand.” It’s located a little under a 1.5 hour ( 81 km/ 50 miles) drive from the CBD. The French vibes are everywhere here, from the historic, colonial buildings to the French street names.
The harbor (and jetty) here are famous too and are a photographer’s delight with the volcanic Banks Peninsula in the background! In fact, Akaroa Harbor is located within the caldera of a sunken volcano, which makes it a haven for wildlife like dolphins, whales, and seabirds.
Therefore, one of my top recommendations for Akaroa is to go swimming with hector dolphins. On this boat cruise, you can swim safely with these friendly creatures, plus you will likely see fur seals and penguins on the journey too. A wetsuit, flippers, and snorkel gear are provided free of charge. It’s definitely a bucket-list-worthy experience and one of my favorite activities from my time in New Zealand!
If you don’t want to drive to Akaroa, then you should consider joining this full-day tour which includes a boat cruise, swimming with dolphins, as well as a few hours to explore Akaroa town. Plus, cheese tasting in Barry’s Bay is also included in the price. Allow 9 hours for this tour which includes pick up and drop off to central Christchurch is provided – the tour costs $315 NZD.
In the town itself is what I think is one of the quirkiest attractions on the South Island – the Giant’s House. It’s difficult to explain it if you haven’t been, but it’s essentially a historic house with a colorful, interactive mosaic garden filled with unique sculptures. In fact, it was recently named a Garden of International Significance.
Another of my top recommendations for Akaroa is to walk the Akaroa Head Scenic Reserve Walk to see the historic Akaroa Lighthouse. It’s a short walk at 1 km return and will take most people 40 minutes to complete. Along the way, you’ll be treated to unspoiled views of Akaroa Harbor, and you can see white-flippered penguins and fur seals up-close at Little Haylock’s Bay, which can be accessed via an iron ladder!
6. Drive Arthurs Pass
New Zealand is full of stunning road trips, but one of the best and most scenic drives is the journey from Christchurch over Arthurs Pass. The Arthurs Pass drive itself is just 45 km (28 miles) long, but because it takes an hour to drive to the start from Christchurch, I recommend allowing a full day for this awesome journey. Plus, there are so many epic stops on this road trip that you’ll want as much time as possible to truly experience it.
Arthurs Pass is the highest pass over the Southern Alps and climbs up to a whopping 900 meters (2,953 feet)! The road is a great example of engineering and features bridges, viaducts, and even redirected waterfalls!
Some of the must-see stops on Arthurs Pass include Bridal Veil Falls, a stunning waterfall that’s 108 meters (354 feet) tall, plus the 10-minute walk into this waterfall is very scenic! Another awesome waterfall you must stop at along the way is the uniquely named Devil’s Punchbowl, a 131-meter tall (430 feet) waterfall that can be accessed via a 20-minute walking trail that begins from the parking lot. I reckon this is one of the best hikes on the South Island.
Perhaps the most famous stop on the Arthurs Pass is the Otira Viaduct, a spectacular 440-meter-long (1,444 feet) bridge. To get the best photo of this impressive structure, stop at the car park just off Highway 73.
If you love hiking, then you’re in for a treat, there are heaps of incredible hiking trails on this road, and they all vary in length and difficulty. One of my favorites is Avalanche Peak, which is 6 km (3.7 miles) long and is rated as difficult. It will take most people between 5-6 hours to complete this one. Whereas if you’re after an easier option, the Arthurs Pass walking track is perfect, it starts from Arthurs Pass village, and the scenery along the trail includes waterfalls and mountain views.
Another must-stop is the teeny-tiny Arthurs Pass Village which is home to the Wobbly Kea – great for delicious food and coffee and Challenge Arthur’s Pass Cafe and Store for some snacks and souvenirs.
Take your time on this road trip (allow 9 hours plus) and snap plenty of photos!
If you don’t like the idea of driving the winding Arthurs Pass route yourself, then booking a full-day guided tour is a great option for you. This private tour is 7-hours long and it means you can sit back, relax and take in the breathtaking scenery of this famous drive! Pick-up and drop-off is included from your Christchurch accommodation.
7. Road trip around the Banks Peninsula
Another awesome road trip that I just had to add to this list, and it starts just 80 km (1 hour and 20 minutes) from Christchurch, this Banks Peninsula road trip is a fun and easy way to escape the city. On this journey, you’ll be treated to rolling farmland, ocean views, and even volcanic landscapes.
This is definitely one of the most epic day trips from Christchurch! And the great thing is you can make it as long or as short as you like, depending on how many stops you want to make. I recommend turning it into a full-day affair with stops at Lyttelton, Wainui Beach, and Shamarra Alpacas. I’ve also thrown in an excellent hike – the Onawe Track for good measure!
Just 20 minutes from Christchurch CBD is the sleepy town of Lytellton, that’s home to quirky Cafes, boutique stores, and an excellent farmers market which is held every Saturday. Spend some time here strolling the town’s main street – London Street, and grab a coffee at Lyttelton Coffee Company. Then, walk over to Te Ana Marina via the pathway to take in the scenery and watch the boats.
There’s plenty of hiking on offer in the Banks Peninsula, and a great short hike is the hour-long Onawe Pa Track which starts in Duvauchelle and is rated as easy. A small section of the trail is along the beach, so avoid doing it at high tide, or you’ll get wet. After that comes the uphill section, which is accessed through a gate (it’s well-signposted). The viewpoint at the top of the peninsula is epic, with views out to Akaroa Harbor and the surrounding Banks Peninsula.
Close to French Farm is Wainui Beach, a sandy beach that’s very popular with local families. It sits opposite Akaroa making for picture-perfect views. It’s a great spot for sunbathing thanks to the sand dunes behind, which shelter the beach from winds, and during the summer months, it’s a popular surf spot.
And finally, one of the most unique things to do on the Banks Peninsula is to visit Shamarra Alpacas, where you can join a farm tour and meet the alpacas. There are over 170 alpacas here, and you can even cuddle a baby alpaca. Beware though, these creatures are full of attitude and may spit! There’s also an on-site gift store where you can pick up some alpaca-related gifts.
If you’re short on time but still want to see the beautiful Banks Peninsula, then, this hour-long helicopter tour is ideal! It includes a stop in a remote alpine location, and along the journey you’ll be treated to views of Sumner Cliffs, Quail Island, and Akaroa! The tour starts from Christchurch Helicopters, next to the airport!
8. Quail Island
A short 15-minute ferry ride from Lyttelton (which is 16 minutes from downtown) is the unique Quail Island, or Otamahua, as the locals call it. The island was named after the now extinct Quail (or koreke), which was a small bird native to this area.
Up until 1975, the island was leased out for farming, but thankfully from then, it opened to visitors who come here to see the unusual flora and fauna and the abundant birdlife like the fantail and the kingfisher. So, if you’re a nature lover, this is an ideal day trip for you! Plus, you might be lucky enough to see the cute blue-eyed penguins who tend to laze on the beaches around the island.
On a sunny day, Quail Island is one of the best places to go in Christchurch – because the beaches here are typically crowd-free, and the waters are calm (but cold!). Yep, the water temperature here averages just 13 Celsius (55 Fahrenheit), so if you plan to go for a dip, prepare to feel refreshed after! My top tip is to pack a picnic and relax on one of the beaches here for the day!
Fun fact – early European settlers used Quail Island as a quarantine island for lepers. It was also used by famed explorers Ernest Shackleton and Robert Falcon Scott, who used it to train their ponies and husky dogs prior to exploring Antarctica.
Ferries to Quail Island depart from Lyttleton, and you can book your tickets online in advance. They cost $15 NZD for adults each way and are free for children under 16.
A 2-hour (162 km/ 100 miles) drive from Christchurch is the lovely, big town of Timaru which is built around the golden sand of Caroline Bay. Timaru is rich in history and Maori culture and is home to the fascinating South Canterbury Museum and the Aigantighe Art Gallery, which is the third-largest art gallery in New Zealand, as well as plenty of gorgeous hikes and beaches.
What I found most interesting is that many of the buildings in the town were built with volcanic bluestone – making for some very cool buildings. Timaru is certainly worth a day trip from Christchurch, in my opinion!
One of the best things to do in Timaru is to walk along Marine Parade at dusk to see native blue penguins! You must stay behind a roped section to view these creatures (it’s for their safety). If you’re struggling to find the right spot – just keep an eye out for a large group of people, and you’ve likely found it! From this spot, you can watch the adult penguins waddle from the ocean to the beach to feed their babies who are nesting on the beach!
Another not-to-be-missed activity in Timaru is to book a guided tour with Te Ana Maori Rock Art. This tour is short and sweet at just an hour long, and during these 60 minutes, your guide will point out the stunning Maori art painted on caves at some of the most fascinating cultural sites in the region.
It’s such a cool thing to do, and you’ll learn heaps about the culture and history of the native Ngau Tahu people, which is the largest Maori tribe on the South Island. Back at the Rock Art Center (where the tour starts), you can create some rock art and even hold a Moa bone! I should add that you do need to drive yourself to these caves (transport from Timaru is not provided!)
Related Read: Timaru is one of the best stops on the drive from Christchurch to Dunedin!
10. Hanmer Springs
An hour and 45 minutes (133 km/ 83 miles) drive each way is easily doable in a day, but I recommend leaving Christchurch early so that you can fit in all the awesome things to do here!
First up, why not take a thrilling jet boat ride on the Wairau River – your driver will expertly navigate the narrow sections and white water rapids with ease. And you’ll even be treated to some white-knuckled 360-degree spins along the way. It’s a 30-minute ride, and children over 3 years can join this fun tour!
Another awesome adventure activity in Hanmer Springs is a 35-meter bungy jump from a bridge over a fast-flowing river – this is the only bungy in Canterbury! There’s also quad biking, white water rafting, paintballing, and helicopter tours available in Hanmer Springs.
After all that thrillseeking, I’m sure you’ll be itching to unwind, so why not book into the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa, a water park that boasts two huge pools, hydro slides, and two aquatic thrill rides?! There’s also a lazy river! So, that’s the kids sorted. As for the adults, there’s a variety of hot pools and aqua therapy areas, or why not indulge in a treatment from the onsite spa?!
11. Beach day at Sumner Beach
A short 20-minute (13 km/ 8 miles) drive from Christchurch is Sumner Beach, a beautiful white sand beach that’s over 400 meters (1,312 feet) long. Because of its size, it typically appears crowd-free, which I love! Spend a sunny day here relaxing on the beach, go swimming, or stretch your legs on the busy boardwalk that runs the length of the beach. Along this boardwalk, you’ll find Cafes, restaurants, and some boutique stores.
If you’re a surfing fan, then hit up Scarborough Beach at the east end of Sumner, which is popular with local surfers and has some pretty big breaks. This beach is not suitable for swimming though, only surfing!
It’s worth mentioning that although it’s generally safe to swim here, but there can be strong currents from Avon Heathcote Estuary, so only swim between the flags. Lifeguards patrol this beach between November and March!
After working up an appetite, treat yourself to some delicious lunch at Joe’s Garage Sumner – I highly recommend the Teddy Best Sandwich, a yummy chicken sandwich on ciabatta bread, or Joe’s Fried Chicken. They also serve excellent coffee here!
Sumner beach is one of the best free things to do in Christchurch, it’s such a vibrant and bustling beach, and I love spending time here during the summer.
Next up is the popular tourist town of Tekapo, which at a 2 hour and 45-minute drive (225 km / 140 miles), is the furthest day trip option from Christchurch on this list. But I still think it’s worth including because not only is the scenery here breathtaking but for such a tiny town, there’s so much to do in Tekapo! You will need to leave Christchurch early, though, to make this trip worth your while, ideally at 7 am or earlier!
Lake Tekapo has everything you need for a fantastic day out – delicious restaurants and a ton of awesome activities; plus, it really is one of the prettiest towns (and lakes) in the country!
Some of my favorite things to do in Tekapo include gazing at the stars from a hot pool to photographing the most beautiful church in the whole of New Zealand! Did I mention it’s one of my favorite places to visit on the South Island? Every year I come here to see the famous lupin flowering season – the peak lupin season runs from mid-November to the end of December, and it really is a photographer’s idea of heaven!
At Tekapo Springs, you can relax in 3 different hot pools, which are shaped like and named after popular areas in the region. There’s Ohau which is 36.5º C (97.5º F), Pukaki at 37.5º C (99.5º F), and Tekapo – an adults-only pool which is the hottest at 38 º C (100.4º F). There’s also an Aqua Play Area which has two colder pools, ideal for kids as well as; that you can treat yourself to a steam and sauna room and a cold plunge pool.
Situated right on the lake, the Church of the Good Shepherd is a must-visit while in town. Not only is it free to visit, but it also boasts the most spectacular backdrop of the lake and Mount Cook! Because of this, this tiny church can get very crowded so aim to get here early in the morning or in the evening (just before you leave for Christchurch) for a more peaceful experience!
As for food in Tekapo, I love Jack Rabbit, which is situated at the Northern end of the lake; here, they serve strong coffee and a yummy breakfast and lunch menu. Plus, on a sunny day, be sure to nab a seat on their large, bright patio and take in the views of the lake.
A great guided tour once you reach Tekapo, is this 3-hour 4×4 adventure, which accesses private backcountry farms, and offers phenomenal views along the ride of Lake Pukaki and Mount Cook! You can opt for a morning or afternoon departure time!
Related Read: Tekapo is one of the most popular stops on the road between Christchurch and Queenstown.
13. Willowbank Wildlife Reserve
Willowbank Wildlife Reserve is a fun day out for the whole family in Christchurch, and although it’s just a 20-minute drive from downtown, you will easily spend the full day here.
This reserve is huge and is divided into 3 categories: farmyard, New Zealand, and Zoo/Exotic animals. There are so many animals here, so if you’re an animal lover, this is a great day trip option from Christchurch!
Willowbank is very popular with tourists because it was the first place in the world to open a glass-free nocturnal house for kiwis. The Nocturnal House is open from 10:30 am every day. As mentioned, there’s no glass surrounding these creatures, like in other kiwi sanctuaries across the country, and you are guaranteed to see the elusive kiwi!
Here too, you can get up close to llamas, alpacas, Clydesdale horses, miniature horses, peacocks, and more in the farmyard section. While in the New Zealand section, you’ll find tuatara, possums, and native birds like the kea, kaka, and the morepork. This is also where the North Island Brown Kiwi Sanctuary is housed. Lastly, in the Zoo/Exotics section, there are iguanas, emus, gibbons, and a ring-tailed lemur.
Visiting the reserve costs just $32.50 NZD per adult and $12 NZD per child (but children under 5 are free) – which is a bargain because you can easily spend the whole day here!
Related Read: Another epic wildlife experience is Zealandia in Wellington – it’s one of the best day trips from Wellington!
Where to Stay in Christchurch
Christchurch, although not a large city by international standards, is for New Zealand. As with any large city, picking the right place to stay for you is really important. There are lots of different areas to choose from when deciding where to stay in Christchurch. The two main choices are either out by the airport for a convenient trip back home or in the heart of the city where all the action happens.
One of the best places out by the airport is the Jucy Snooze Christchurch. It’s actually located within walking distance of the airport! Another cool hotel close by is the Commodore Airport Hotel Christchurch. Although a short drive away they offer a free shuttle and have amazing reviews.
In the city center, the Crown Plaza Christchurch is perfect for those wanting a typical luxury stay. It’s a large hotel with amazing views of the city. For budget travelers, the social but comfortable Urbanz is a good option. Although cheap, it’s located in the heart of the city and only a couple of minutes’ walk from Hagley Park.
Additionally, there are plenty of Airbnbs and holiday homes to rent for a few nights in Christchurch. You can’t pass up the opportunity to stay in a luxury 3-bedroom home (like this one) right near the beach with incredible views!
Thanks for reading!
Christchurch is one of the most popular cities to visit in New Zealand, and it’s no wonder why – firstly, it boasts hundreds of amazing activities within the city itself and secondly, a short drive away are some of the cutest little towns and beaches on the South Island. Visiting the “city of gardens” as it’s also known is a must-do in my opinion! I hope this list of the best day trips from Christchurch has given you inspiration for your upcoming vacation!
Is there anything we’ve missed in this detailed guide to the top day trips from Christchurch, let us know in the comments below!
If you enjoyed this blog you may also like to read my other South Island travel guides: