Guide to Christchurch: A One Week Itinerary

February 23, 2016

It’s been a busy few weeks around here! Summer is in full swing. I have a really cool story about winning a competition which gained me entry to a super awesome bike race, but that’s for next time. I just sent my wonderful parents off to Tahiti this morning after their two week visit to New Zealand… busy, busy!

I had big plans with my parents to see a few different parts of the country and show them some really New Zealand stuff, but this thing happened. I call it: New Zealand Weather. Christchurch was stunning; sunny, warm, calm. The rest of the country was raining. Flooding. Deluging. Sliding. You get the picture.

We decided it would be a lot nicer to stay local and warm (i.e.: within approximately 2 hours of town!), than try to be soaking wet tourists. And this left me with a challenge. Find lots of stuff to do in and not far from Christchurch.

So without further ado, I bring you my personalized Guide to Christchurch: A One Week Itinerary. (One week because we actually did sneak off to Dunedin for a few days before the weather went nuts!)

Upon Arrival at Christchurch Airport, you’ll want to sort out a Christchurch Car Rental. You will absolutely need a car to enjoy this region of New Zealand!

Day 1: Explore Christchurch on Foot

On your way from the airport, try checking out the Antarctic Centre or the NZ Air Force Museum. Both are on the way to the city centre. Once in the city, find the iSite located within the colorful re:START mall. Here you will see shipping containers repurposed into stores, painted and stacked like legos. The iSite will be able to provide a map which may help with navigating post-quake Christchurch.

Take in what is left of the Christchurch Cathedral. Walk north to darling New Regent Street for a coffee and shopping. Or head east to the stately Christchurch Botanic Gardens (my personal favorite!). Punting on the Avon River from the Antigua Boat Sheds is a popular activity, or if the handsome boys dressed like Italian boatsmen isn’t your thing, spend some time at the Canterbury Museum, located within the gardens.

Lunch at the new visitor’s center inside the gardens is highly recommended. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge graced the grand opening of this building with their ribbon-cutting abilities! After lunch, meander back towards the city center and take in the (free!) newly re-opened Christchurch Art Gallery.

Trendy restaurants and bars pepper Victoria Street, or the young and young at heart may want to check out the very hip Strange’s Lane for evening food and drink. Lastly, those with a larger budget can take in a show at the Isaac Theatre Royal.

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Day 2: Explore Christchurch’s Beachy Side

Drive east out to the seaside suburb of Sumner. This area is great for hole in the wall surf shops, gelato carts, and beach-front beer bars. Walk a few kilometers from one edge of the beach to the other, or join the locals for a mild surf. I like the coffee at Dot Com Cafe, but the views at The Beach Bar.

Take a short and steep drive (or better yet- hire a bike!) up Evan’s Pass from Sumner to Summit Road. From here walk, drive, or cycle out to Godly Head Reserve. There are mountain bike trails for the brave, and historical walking tracks for the curious. Go back in time seeing the bunkers here, and learn about Godly Head’s role in protecting Lyttelton Harbour during WWII.

For those on bikes or foot, take the seaside path down to Taylor’s Mistake, a secluded and stunning beach known for it’s superb surfing conditions. This is a great place for a picnic! It can also be accessed by car from Sumner.

If you’re done with Sumner, head back into Christchurch for dinner. However, I’d recommend sticking around for the evening and taking in a movie at the old-timey Hollywood Cinema. And if it were up to me, definitely dinner and drinks at the local hangout, Clink.

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Day 3: Akaroa

A one hour’s drive from Christchurch, Akaroa is the perfect place to start the real explorations and if need be- test out those left side of the road driving skills! The drive, once out of the city, is fairly rural and very straight forward. I’d highly recommend stopping at the Raspberry Cafe in Tai Tapu, which is on the way, for a caffeine and cake fix!

The drive itself is incredibly scenic, and there are several enticing spots to stop along the way, including a cheese factory. Akaroa itself is known for two things: being settled by the French (so… pastries!) and being home to Hector’s Dolphins, the world’s smallest dolphin! I’d recommend swimming with the dolphins first, which can be very easily arranged, and then eating at one of the many darling French inspired cafes.

With a fully belly, shop till you drop along the water’s edge and in the historic downtown shopping area. Or for the adventurous, drive out to the headlands for extremely scenic hiking or biking. Dinner could easily be had in Akaroa as well, but I prefer driving up the hill to the Hilltop Tavern, which has the best view in town of Akaroa Harbour… and the pizza and beer don’t hurt either!

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That’s the view looking down from the Hilltop Tavern to Akaroa! Wow!

Day 4: Craigieburn

Ready for an adventure? If you enjoy hiking or mountain biking, Craigieburn is your spot! A 2 hour drive from Christchurch, you’ll find yourself suddenly surrounded by mountains and native New Zealand bush. It’s actually incredible how quickly the city falls behind and rugged nature takes it’s place!

On your way to Craigieburn, don’t miss getting a classic New Zealand lunch to go from the Sheffield Pie Shop. The DOC website will be helpful in planning your hike. If you need information about the best mountain bike trails or where to rent a mountain bike, well, contact ME!

On the way to Craigieburn you’ll see the jaw-dropping, utterly stunning Castle Hill Reserve, with limestone outcroppings the size of 2-3 story buildings! This place is heaven to climbers and boulderers, but trust me, it is fun for everyone! Middle Earth anyone??

And make sure you load up on snacks from the Sheffield Pie Shop, because before you’re done in this area, Cave Stream Scenic Reserve is a must-do. Who doesn’t want to hike up a stream that’s through a cave, and scale a waterfall? For free? I wrote a whole blog post about it, have done it four times, and still can’t say enough about how fun it is! But come prepared, a head torch, sturdy shoes, and warm clothes are a must.

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Day 5: Kaikoura

Ok, it’s another big drive day, but totally worth it! Kakoura is 2-2.5 hours north of Christchurch. This may be the one time I’d suggest an overnight stay.

Just the area itself is incredibly scenic. I could spend half a day just shopping and taking photos of the insanely blue ocean. About 20 minutes to the north there’s a seal colony for your total entertainment, and during the winter months, that waterfall that acts as a baby seal babysitting center. (Wait, what?! You heard me. Click here for the blog about that.)

What Kaikoura is really famous for though, is the whale watching. There’s both boat and airplane options for viewing the sperm whales that frequent the ocean due East of Kaikoura. I did the boat option, where they basically guarantee you’ll see a whale. We saw several! It’s not cheap, but if it’s in the budget at all- I urge you to go!

Ok, Kaikoura is also pretty famous for it’s crayfish. It’s not really my thing, but it’s their thing. So add that to the culinary itinerary if it’s yours!

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Day 6: Gore Bay and Wine Tasting

On your way back from Kaikoura (or a 90 minute drive north, then east from Christchurch) is the little community of Gore Bay. This is a quiet spot, but a great place to relax, fish, explore, do a little hiking, or accidentally stay for a week. On the way out, don’t miss the photo-op of Cathedral Rock. There’s no big scene here, but it is a pretty neat geologic formation.

Making your way back to Christchurch, stop at a few local wineries. This area, about 6o minutes north of the city is called Waipara Valley, and the regional wines are excellent. They specialize in resiling and pinot noir, though many wine makers branch out to different varietals as well. My favorite wineries in the region are Black Estate ($5 tasting fee), Greystone/Muddy Water Wines (free), and Torlesse Wines (free).

After choosing a bottle to take picnicking, the place to get the food is Pukeko Junction Cafe. I can’t say enough about their food, and their chocolate brownies are the best in New Zealand. Not even kidding.

Upon arriving back in Christchurch, take an evening stroll at one of the city’s many parks, such as Bottle Lake Forest or Victoria Park.

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Day 7: Drive from Lyttelton to Diamond Harbour

Lyttelton is just a 15 minute drive south, via a tunnel, from Christchurch. Here, treat yourself to breakfast at the Mushroom Cafe or world’s best coffee at Lyttelton Coffee Company. Enjoy the working port community feel, and if you stay until lunchtime, definitely have fish and chips on the harbour!

From Lyttelton, drive west along Governor’s Bay Road. Stop in Governer’s Bay at She Chocolat for the region’s best handcrafted chocolates. Rent a paddle board or kayak in Cass Bay and paddle out to Quail Island if you’ve been spending too much time in the car!

Onwards from Governer’s Bay, the road circles Lyttelton Harbour via many scenic bays, eventually ending in Diamond Harbour. This is another great option for keen road cyclists! Diamond Harbour is small, but offers scenic options for wine sipping or ice cream demolishing!

As the sun sets, circle back around the harbour for dinner in Lyttelton at Freeman’s Dining Room, or a beer at the hippest spot in town, Civil and Naval. Craft beer geeks appreciated!

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That’s it! There is your guide the 7 seriously awesome days spend in and around Christchurch. I’ll throw in a few honorable mention ideas here, which could easily be exchanged for those less interested in whales or caves or French things!

Willowbank Wildlife Reserve – I actually can’t say enough good things about this place. Really beautifully designed, it feels like native forest as you walk through and see birds and creatures both from New Zealand and introduced. The best part, KIWIS! You can see Kiwis. In their own habitat, totally unaware of you existing. Kiwis!!!! Enough said, right?!

TransAlpine Train – I’ve never done this because I never seem to have $300 laying around. BUT. For those perhaps mobility challenged, or monetarily un-challenged, this could be for you. This train journey, from Christchurch to the West Coast and back (over night stay possible if you like) is supposed to be really freaking beautiful. Like, best of New Zealand, how did I get here, is this a Peter Jackson movie… beautiful.

Costal Pacific Train – Same train, same prices, going north/south instead of east/west. Also supposed to be ridiculously amazing.

Riccarton House and Bush – A little piece of native bush (with one seriously awesome farmer’s market on Saturdays) right in the middle of town. For those not keen on longer drives, this is a way to see a snippet of why you should get out in the mountains! Also, intricate ornamental gardens and a historic homestead.

Now go get out there and explore! Emails with questions or comments always appreciated!

This post was commissioned by Budget Rent A Car, however every single idea and opinion of where to go and what to do is entirely mine. So don’t you worry, just go!!!

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  • Reply Deb Gregory March 18, 2016 at 9:14 am

    You are an amazing writer! Loved reading this

  • Reply Mat May 15, 2016 at 6:04 pm

    We used this when we arrived. Thanks!

    • Reply June 13, 2016 at 10:49 am

      So happy to help!

    Come on, you must want to tell me something!