Christchurch blooms along the fertile riverbanks of the Avon, lending it the name "The Garden City." However, since the earthquake in 2010, its citizens have mockingly dubbed it "The Rocking City" instead. Rightly so, because Christchurch is set in a mesmerising landscape formed over millions of years by dramatic volcanic and tectonic activity. It’s the perfect starting point for a number of adventures.
11 milesToday, the Port Hills are easily accessible by road, but once they were a barrier to European settlement in Christchurch. Arriving in the natural harbours of Lyttleton, they faced volcanic remnants roughly 12 million years old. The 3- to 5-hundred-metre-high summits now provide the most beautiful views over Christchurch and the coastal landscape.
Take the Dyers Pass to the Port Hills and from there navigate to the Bridle Path road, the pass used by the first settlers. From here, take the Christchurch Gondola up to the summit of Mount Cavendish to reach the highest point of view in the region.
The Tranzalpine, Springfield
43 milesOperated by the KiwiRail, this is one of the world’s most scenic train voyages. Towering viaducts and narrow passes take you through New Zealand’s Southern Alps along the ice-fed Waimakariri River. Every corner of the track promises a new tantalising view of the dramatic and varied landscape.
Drive until you reach the foot of the Alps, and hop on the train at Springfield at 9:15 a.m. The train only rides once a day and returns after a one-hour stop in Greymouth, on the opposite coast from Christchurch.
The Giant's House
52 milesShards have never brought Josie Martin bad luck. The local artist of Akaroa has been working on her project since she started sculpturing in 1993. She covers her large terraced gardens with huge mosaic sculptures and objects, rightly called "giants."
Her colourful work has been featured in many magazines and documentaries and celebrated for its positive pulse and playful joy. She also opens her villa from 1880 for visitors, where more eccentric objects are on parade.
61 milesChristened by the Dalai Lama as The Spiritual Centre of the Universe, Castle Hill has a tranquility about it unlike any other region around Christchurch. It is located in the middle of the Kura Tawhiti Conservation Area, home to the Ngai Tahu. The absence of forest makes the presence of limestone boulders stand out like an old castle ruin, hence the name.
Some of the rocks still carry traces of 500-year-old charcoal drawings, left by the Waitaha people. The area was later deforested for the grazing of sheep and cattle by the first settlers. Reach Castle Hill with a beautiful drive over the Alpine State Highway 73 towards Arthur’s pass, which is also worth a visit while you’re in the area.
142 milesWhile not just around the corner, this lake is certainly worth the scenic drive. It is hard to believe the pictures of the near turquoise blue water, but even the amateur photographer returns with surreal images. The colour is thanks to the fine rock powder scraped by ice water from the surrounding rock formations.
The massive Mount John provides a beautiful snowy backdrop for the lake, with spectacular reflections. However, the best view is enjoyed from the top of mountain itself. Just follow the signs to the Mt John Observatory.