Christchurch is the largest city on New Zealand’s South Island, named by the English setters after Christ Church college in Oxford, and indeed it has a very genteel English feel to it. The River Avon meanders through the city centre whilst enormous Hagley Park and Christchurch botanical Gardens offer a peaceful escape from the busy streets. The city was rocked by two major earthquakes in September 2010 and February 2011 and sadly a number of the historic buildings in the city centre, along with hundreds of homes, were destroyed. However, the initial response to re-building Christchurch was both creative and inspiring, with a cardboard Cathedral, a pop-up mall, shipping container shops, and artwork appearing on newly exposed walls.
Whilst work is still ongoing to re-construct the city, it provides a good resting place on your journey around the South Island with many charming attractions. Away from the city centre there are several laid-back beach suburbs, popular with surfers, but also home to some lovely boutique shops, galleries and cafés, and on the surrounding hills there are several parks with walking trails that boast fantastic views over the city and ocean.
East of Christchurch stretches Banks Peninsula, two extinct volcanic cones that have created a hilly promontory fringed with delightfully secluded bays. The main winding and scenic road takes you to Akaroa, a sleepy little town for most of the year but a popular spot in the summer for wildlife viewing. Akaroa Harbour is home to a pod of the rare Hectors Dolphin and therefore is a great place to go looking for, and even swim with them.