With a population of over 350,000 Christchurch is the largest city in the South Island and is the international gateway to the South Island. Christchurch is also the main city in the Canterbury region. Other towns include Kaikoura, Ashburton, Leeston, Rolleston, Timaru, Fairlie, Temuka, Methven, Rakaia, Geraldine, Rangiora and Oxford.
Maori history suggests that people first inhabited the Canterbury area about a thousand years ago. These first inhabitants were moa hunting tribes.
The first European landed in Canterbury in 1815, 45 years after Captain James Cook sighted what he named ‘Banks Island’, later found to be a peninsula. In 1840 the first Europeans settled on the plains and whaling ships were operating out of Lyttelton by 1850.
About the region
Positioned on the east coast of the South Island, Christchurch is known internationally as 'The Garden City'. Christchurch's well-established expansive parks and public gardens are a major attraction and make the city an attractive place to live. The centrally-located 161 hectare Hagley Park, the Botanic Gardens, the four leafy inner-city avenues, Victoria Square and spectacular gardens such as Mona Vale on the banks of the River Avon are examples of all that the city has to offer to earn this name. The annual floral Festival held in February each year celebrates this love of flowers and gardens and is one of the most popular festivals on the annual calendar.
The Canterbury region runs from Kaikoura in the north to Waimate in the south. Canterbury is home to a wealth of stunning scenery and dramatic landscapes, an area of real natural beauty. From Christchurch you can discover all that Canterbury has to offer.
To the east of the city lies the open ocean and Banks Peninsula, featuring sheltered bays, sandy beaches, bush clad valleys, rocky coastline and high, wild places. Boating, tramping, a visit to the wineries and the French settlers' harbourside village of Akaroa are key peninsula attractions.
To the west of Christchurch are fertile plains and rivers, forested foothills and lakes. Beyond them lie the tallest mountains in Australasia, the Southern Alps, strung out parallel to the coastline. This almost impenetrable divide is the only route across country to the West Coast. Along the way you can find some fantastic ski fields.
If you head to Canterbury’s north you will find green rolling hills, forests and long, empty beaches. The whale watching centre of Kaikoura is about 2 hours drive away. Mt Hutt, the premier commercial ski area close to the city, lies to the south west.
Historically agriculture has been the mainstay of the Canterbury economy, especially sheep and dairy farming, and it is still very important today. Canterbury has also become a centre for technology based industries. The University of Canterbury is based in Christchurch and attracts many students. Tourism has also become important to the region and Christchurch is a very popular destination for Japanese weddings and honeymoon couples.
Points of interest
- ♦ Festival of Flowers – a myriad of colours February/March each year
- ♦ Banks Peninsula – take in the stunning scenery
- ♦ Whale watching – take a trip up the coast for Christchurch to experience whales first hand in Kaikoura
- ♦ Punting – a relaxing way to explore the city as your float along the Avon River.
- ♦ International Antarctic Centre – an insight in to life on the ice
- ♦ Akaroa – take a cruise from the quaint harbour village