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8 BEST Shore Excursions from Lyttelton, New Zealand (Top Tours in 2024!)

8 BEST Shore Excursions from Lyttelton, New Zealand (Top Tours in 2024!)

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Lyttelton is one of the most popular destinations for cruise ships in New Zealand. This charming port town is located only 20 minutes south of Christchurch on the South Island. From there, you can choose from several awesome tours, each introducing you to a new aspect of the region.

Many tours combine a city sightseeing tour with a fun activity like a farm visit or a jet boating adventure, while others take you away from the city and into the stunning grip of the Southern Alps.

If wine tours, playtime with lambs, city tours, penguin feeds, or train trips sound like your cup of tea, read on! I have outlined the absolute best shore excursions from Lyttelton that will make the most out of your short time here!

Don’t have time to read the full article? There are so many activities around Lyttelton that it can be difficult to decide what to do with your time in port. We recommend taking this combo tour to visit all of the best places in Christchurch before heading to the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve to see the iconic Kiwi Bird! The best part about this tour is that they are flexible around your cruise times and guarantee to get you back to the port on time!

BEST Shore Excursions in Lyttelton, New Zealand  

1. Christchurch City Sights 

A tram travels down New Regent Street in Christchurch, New Zealand
A tram travels down New Regent Street in Christchurch, New Zealand

Cruise ship passengers can make the most of their fleeting stop in Lyttelton with this Christchurch city sightseeing tour. This 3.5-hour shore excursion from Lyttelton to Christchurch is a refreshing way to get to know the sights and sounds of the city.

We started the day wandering through the manicured landscapes of Mona Vale, a historic homestead with charming gardens. The next stop is the iconic Sign of the Takahe, a neo-Gothic historic building perched up on a hill. This vantage point offers panoramic views of Christchurch and the Canterbury Plains – by far one of my favorite places for photo opportunities to capture the region’s beauty!

The excursion then takes you to the heart of Christchurch, where the vibrant Cathedral Square awaits. You will step into the city’s rich history and witness the juxtaposition of traditional and modern architecture. Just before we got too tired we took a break at Riverside Market where we couldn’t get enough of the local flavors on offer.

What makes this tour so great is its Worry-free Shore Excursion Guarantee. The default departure time says 8:30 am, but the time will change to fit your cruise ship’s arrival and departure times. If for any reason, you don’t make it back to the ship in time the company guarantees to get you to your next port of call. This tour costs around $90 NZD and includes pickup/drop off from the cruise ship dock, comfortable transportation, and a fabulous guide and driver.

We love booking our shore excursions through Viator, because they offer free cancelation up to 24 hours before (which is much better than the company’s direct booking cancelation policy of 7 days!).

2. Christchurch Sights with Willowbank Wildlife Reserve 

Monkeys at Willowbank Wildlife Reserve
My favorite is the monkeys! Photo credit: Willowbank Wildlife Reserve

If you want to extend your exploration of Lyttelton and Christchurch, check out this comprehensive 6.5-hour shore excursion which builds on the highlights of the half-day tour mentioned earlier. This extended journey adds an exciting wildlife encounter to your itinerary, making it one of my personal favorite day tours from Lyttelton. Any tour that includes a Kiwi Bird sighting goes straight to the top of my list!

After a delightful morning exploring the city, the tour takes a fascinating turn towards the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve for the final two hours of your adventure. Here we had the chance to meet New Zealand’s iconic national bird, the elusive kiwi, in its natural habitat.

Willowbank Wildlife Reserve goes beyond the ordinary, introducing you to a diverse array of exotic animals, including deer, wallabies, otters, gibbons, and lemurs. It’s a rare opportunity to observe and connect with wildlife from around the world in a setting that prioritizes conservation and education.

Included in the tour price of $145 NZD is everything mentioned on the previous tour plus your entrance ticket to this unique sanctuary. This extended tour not only provides a deeper insight into the cultural and historical tapestry of Christchurch but also allows you to create lasting memories at this fascinating wildlife center!

Related Read: Another popular cruise ship port in New Zealand is Auckland. If you are visiting there too, make sure to check out all of the best things to do!

3. Christchurch Sightseeing with Antarctic Center 

Blue Penguins at the International Antarctic Centre in Christchurch, New Zealand
Aren’t they cute! Photo credit: International Antarctic Center

Dive deeper into the wonders of Lyttelton and Christchurch with another option for an extended 6.5-hour shore excursion. This tour still covers all the highlights from the half-day city sightseeing tour but adds an unforgettable experience at the International Antarctic Centre. Despite having been on countless icy adventures, this Arctic Center still provided me with a fun and unique experience!

After an enriching morning exploring Christchurch, the tour concludes with a visit to the International Antarctic Centre. One of the most unique experiences at the center is the hyper-realistic Arctic Storm room that sets off every hour. The room is at a constant -8°C (17°F) with a freezing -18°C (around 0°F) windblast that pierces through. 

By far my favorite part of the tour is the exhilarating ride in an all-terrain Hagglund vehicle, simulating the rugged Antarctic terrain. You could feel the thrill of a polar expedition without leaving New Zealand, driving over ice, down hills, and through water. You can also watch adorable rescued Blue Penguins dart through the water and huddle together in their icy enclosure. We topped it off with a 4D cinema experience, putting us right in the center of the Arctic.

This extended tour costs $170 NZD including admission, transportation, and the city sightseeing tour. It provides a comprehensive exploration of Christchurch’s cultural and historical gems but also adds an exciting Antarctic adventure, making it a perfect choice for those seeking a blend of education, adventure, and entertainment. 

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4. Christchurch Sightseeing with Jet Boating 

View of Lyttelton Harbour from Sign of the Bellbird
The view of Lyttelton Harbour from the Signe of the Bellbird and Crater Rim

My fellow thrill seekers out there will love this combo tour, starting with a day of sightseeing in Christchurch and ending with a jet boat ride that is sure to get your heart racing! It is yet another variation of the first Christchurch Sightseeing tour we mentioned but includes a 30-minute jet boating escapade on the Waimakariri River.

This is a white-knuckle ride with a powerful jet boat that glides over the river’s rapids and twists through the stunning gorge. With the Southern Alps as your backdrop, this adventure is a perfect blend of adrenaline and natural beauty.

The Waimakariri River Jet Boating experience offers an up-close encounter with the region’s rugged landscapes, showcasing the untamed beauty of New Zealand’s South Island. The rush of the wind in my hair as we navigated through the river’s twists and turns is something I won’t soon forget.

This shore excursion is priced at $230 NZD which includes all transportation, the sightseeing tour around the city, and the jet boating experience. You can sit back and enjoy the ride with pick-up and drop-off from the port in Lyttelton and a guide that will entertain and inform you along the way.

Why I Book Tours on Viator

Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! I almost always book all of my tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:

  • Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
  • Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
  • Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
  • Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.

Check out the Viator website here

5. Christchurch Sightseeing with Sheep Farm 

Bailey sits and enjoys the view at Ohinetahi Viewpoint in Christchurch, New Zealand
Just enjoying the view!

If you are looking for something a bit more laid back, this city and countryside tour is just the thing for you. This tour seamlessly blends urban exploration with a touch of Kiwi countryside charm by including a stop at Toby Hill Farm.

After a morning immersed in Christchurch’s treasures, the journey takes a scenic turn into the countryside. You will witness the artistry of sheep shearing during a demonstration, showcasing the skilled hands that transform fleece into coveted wool. Marvel at the agility and intelligence of working sheepdogs as they deftly guide the woolly inhabitants around the farm.

Cap off the day with an authentic afternoon tea or coffee, featuring home-baked treats, in the company of the farmers. You don’t get more country than this! Engage in conversations about life on the farm while creating connections with the land and its caretakers. The tour costs $195 NZD and includes transportation, a knowledgeable guide, and delicious snacks and tea/coffee on the farm.

6. Waipara Wine Tour with Lunch 

Grape vines in the Waipara Wine Region
This is one gorgeous place to taste wine!

There are a few things that New Zealand excels at: rugby, sheep sheering, and wine. So wine-not (see what I did there?) make the most of your Lyttelton shore excursion by going on a tour of the south island’s wine country!

This half-day tour winds its way through the picturesque Waipara Valley, a region celebrated for its dry climate and nutrient-rich soils making it one of the best wine regions in New Zealand. We were able to get familiar with the area as we explored three different wineries and sampled a variety of wines such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay.

One of my favorites was a delightfully crisp Sauvignon Blanc, perfect for a warm summer’s day. I was also partial to a velvety Pinot Noir that would be the perfect compliment to a serving of famous New Zealand lamb. We had the chance to engage with knowledgeable winemakers who passionately shared the secrets behind each bottle, enhancing our appreciation for the artistry in every sip.

A highlight of the tour is the included lunch at Waipara Springs Winery, where local produce is expertly paired with the vineyard’s finest creations, creating a culinary experience that complements the wine-tasting journey.

This intimate experience is limited to only 20 people, ensuring a personalized and immersive adventure. The excursion only operates from October to May and costs $170 NZD which includes pick-up/drop-off at the port, transportation between wineries, sampling fees, and lunch!

7. Arthur’s Pass Day Tour 

Bailey at the Otira Viaduct Lookout on Arthurs Pass, NZ
Otira Viaduct Lookout on Arthurs Pass, NZ

I know some cruise ship passengers try to avoid cities on their shore excursions and this full-day trip to Arthur’s Pass is the perfect escape from the confines of your cabin. And if you are anything like me, you are first in line when there are epic viewpoints on the itinerary!

Your adventure begins at Toby Hill Farm, nestled against an alpine and high country backdrop. Here you get to immerse yourself in the workings of a sheep farm as skilled sheepdogs showcase their herding prowess. You will marvel at the precision of a sheep shearing demonstration and savor a delightful morning tea.

Next, the journey unfolds towards the iconic Arthur’s Pass National Park. Traverse west via a scenic road that winds through Springfield, Castle Rock, and onward to the picturesque park. At the Otira Viaduct Lookout, you can take in the awe-inspiring beauty of the Otira Gorge, capturing memorable moments with photo stops along the way. The tour continues to Arthur’s Pass village, where you have the option to indulge in a delicious lunch at an additional cost or explore the charming area on your own.

This tour is priced at $295 NZD without lunch and $330 NZD with lunch. Revel in the beauty of the New Zealand countryside, from the rustic charm of Toby Hill Farm to the alpine grandeur of Arthur’s Pass National Park – this 7.5-hour tour promises an enriching and visually stunning experience!

Related Read: Tauranga is a popular cruise ship port on the North Island. If this is on your cruise itinerary, be sure to check out all the great things to do here!

8. TranzAlpine and Arthurs Pass Tour

The view from the TranzAlpine Train to Greymouth
Take in the views from the comfort of your carriage!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: train tours are my favorite! The TranzAlpine railway in New Zealand is also regarded as one of the top 10 rail journeys in the world so this shore excursion is an absolute must.

Our tour started with transportation to the town of Springfield (no Simpsons in this one though!), where we boarded the renowned TranzAlpine train. We rolled ahead towards the Southern Alps to Arthurs Pass, with unreal views from all sides as the gentle clickety-clack of the tracks almost puts you into a meditative state. 

Upon arrival at Arthurs Pass, we continued by road, winding through the snow-capped Southern Alps within the Arthurs Pass National Park. We were treated to even more unbeatable views, making photo stops along the way, and exploring the historic village of Otira. After this exploration, we returned to Arthurs Pass for a scrumptious lunch and leisure time to discover the village’s charms.

The day was far from over as this excursion also included a visit to Toby Hill Farm for afternoon tea. We got to experience the rich rural traditions with sheep shearing and sheepdog demonstrations. The tour is priced at $450 NZD with lunch, and $415 NZD without.

Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand

Bailey stands in front of a right green JUCY campervan
JUCY is one of my favorite campervan rental companies (read below for a discount code!)
Bailey stands behind her Mad Campers campervan cooking in the kitchen at Piha Beach
I also really like Mad Campers!

Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!

You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:

  • Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
  • Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It’s what most budget travelers use for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping…and be prepared for an adventure of a lifetime! My favorite campervan rental company is JUCY because they have a huge selection of campervans to choose from, plus multiple pick-up/drop-off locations. You can browse JUCY’s campervan selection online here. Alternatively, you can easily compare all campervans available in NZ on Motorhome Republic here.

EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT CODE: I’ve managed to snag a discount code for 5% off for my readers if you book your campervan or motorhome through JUCY or Star RV! Simply click here to select your JUCY campervan, or click here to select your Star RV motorhome, and then use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off – it’s that easy!

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance!

If you’re looking to save money on travel insurance, we currently use and recommend SafetyWing. We’ve been using their coverage since 2018 and they’ve had our backs when we needed emergency flights and got sick overseas.

SafetyWing is one of the cheapest providers out there and covers everything from medical costs to lost luggage, travel delays, and emergency flights. A huge difference we’ve found between them and other companies is that they let you take out a policy AFTER leaving your home country. We’ve also found it handy that it’s a monthly payment rather than a lump sum and you get a refund for unused time.

SafetyWing has helped us out in some scary situations before and their affordable coverage has given us peace of mind.

Book your travel insurance with SafetyWing here!

Thanks for reading!

Bailey poses for a photo at New Regent Street in Christchurch, New Zealand
Thanks for reading!

I really hope this guide has helped you decide which Lyttelton shore excursion is best for you! If it has, then check out some more of my blogs. I have so many more in-depth articles on New Zealand, including road trips. I’ve also listed some of my most popular guides for you to check out here:

One Week Queenstown Itinerary: How to Spend 7 Days in Queenstown

40 Best Hikes on the South Island of New Zealand

The BEST Time to Visit New Zealand – Weather & Activities

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