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Christchurch, or Ōtautahi as it is known in Maori, is the largest city on the South Island of New Zealand.
For many, it is their gateway to the South Island to experience all that it has to offer. Located about half way down the east coast of the south island, not only is it a great place to start and end a trip, it can also act as a fantastic base to explore the variety the south island has to offer if you decide to make Christchurch your home.
Christchurch would be a great place to base yourself. It has an international airport that also has fantastic flight connections to the rest of New Zealand. Within the city it has shopping centres, a university, rollings hills and a beach that’s great for surfing as well as having plenty of job opportunities.
You can take day trips for hikes in the southern alps, head to the ski fields or explore Akaroa.
After living in the South Island for three years I’m spending a lot of time and around Christchurch I know these destinations well.
But once you’ve done everything that’s close, where you should go from Christchurch for a weekend away?
These ideas are all an extended drive or a short flight away from Christchurch if you have a few days in which to explore. Some can also be combined together if you really wanted to use your time up!
Best Destinations for a Weekend Away from Christchurch
Mount Cook is my favourite place in New Zealand.
The beautiful mountains the incredible lake and the many hikes available make it a perfect place for the weekend from Christchurch. You can stay in Mount Cook Village itself at the world-famous Hermitage hotel or a cheaper option may be to stay 40 minutes away in Twizel. If staying in Twizel you have a beautiful drive including that view that you would’ve seen on Instagram many times before as you head up to Mount Cook.
There are options for helicopter flights, heli hikes and heli skiing in winter. Or if you’re looking to use human power plenty of walks in the area. My favourite day hike in New Zealand is the Hooker Valley track which takes you up to Hooker Lake with incredible views of Mount Cook.
|Driving Time From Christchurch||4hr|
|Flying Time From Christchurch||N/A|
|Highlights||Hiking the Hooker Valley track|
Dunedin might be most famous for being a university town, the home of Speights beer and Six60 but that isn’t all there is. With plenty of beautiful nature around the city such as on the Otago Peninsula, where you may be able to see blue penguins or sea lions.
If history is more your thing, visit Larnach Castle the only Castle in New Zealand. Thanks to its Scottish heritage (Dunedin comes from the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh) there are plenty of Victoria and Edwardian buildings for you to admire in the city centre. With many small museums such a such as the Otago museum, Settelers Museum and the sports museum Dunedin has something for all tastes.
|Driving Time From Christchurch||4hr 45 min|
|Flying Time From Christchurch||1hr|
Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of New Zealand and quite possibly the world. The home of the AJ Hackett bungee jump, the first commercial bungy jump in the world, is just one of the ways to get the adrenaline pumping. Other extreme options include the Canyon Swing, helicopter flights (including heli golf), white water rafting and skydiving over Lake Wakatipu.
Once your adrenaline has peaked, Queenstown also offers other ways to relax. Have a drink at the Ice Bar, relax at the Onsen hot pools or enjoy some of the best spa and hotels in New Zealand.
If that isn’t your thing, there’s still plenty of bars and restaurants for you to enjoy in the centre with many going on until the early hours of the morning if you so wish.
|Driving Time From Christchurch||6hr|
|Flying Time From Christchurch||1hr|
|Highlights||Too many to list!|
Franz Josef is the place I called home for three years and is it a worthy mention for a weekend away from Christchurch. With plenty of hikes in the area, activities such as quad biking and horseriding and a light selection of bars and restaurants Franz Josef has everything you need for a weekend away.
Of course the main attraction is to view the Franz Josef Glacier, one of the most accessible glaciers to view in New Zealand. A short 30 minute walk will take you to the viewpoint to see if Franz Josef Glacier. Sadly it is no longer possible to walk onto the glacier as global warming has taken its toll but various signs indicate where the glacier was at various points in history.
For those that want to get a little bit closer to the glacier, helicopter tours are available to land on the glacier or heli hiking for those wanting to walk on the ice for an extended time.
|Driving Time From Christchurch||5hr|
|Flying Time From Christchurch||N/A (Option of flying to Hokitika then a 2 hour drive)|
|Highlights||Heli hiking on the glacier|
If staying warm and dry are your thing and the weather is bad in Christchurch, Nelson is the place to go! With over 2400 hours of sunshine per year and the beautiful Tahunanui Beach, it makes a great option for a sunny weekend away.
It’s also the jumping off point for Abel Tasman National Park, one of the 9 Great Walks in New Zealand. Enjoy a boat tour from Motueka, take a kayak out and leisurely stroll back or spend days hiking the entire trail. If that isn’t enough, Nelson Lakes National Park is also nearby for more world class hiking.
Nelson has a thriving arts see and plenty of craft beer options will leave those looking for a good drink staggering back to their accomodation.
|Driving Time From Christchurch||5hr 30 min|
|Flying Time From Christchurch||55 min|
|Highlights||Abel Tasman National Park|
Unfortunately, Kaikoura may be synonymous with the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that happened in 2016, but not all the roads have been repaired it is a beautiful place not too far from Christchurch to spend the weekend. The main treat here is whale watching or dolphin watching taken many forms. Boat tours can be taken out to experience the whales up close.
For those that are too impatient to go across the sea you can take a helicopter and see the whales that way. For those on a budget and you can also talk about the peninsula and see the seals that as well.
|Driving Time From Christchurch||2hr 25 min|
|Flying Time From Christchurch||N/A|
There is plenty to see and do in and around Christchurch to last a while.
If however you are looking at spending some time away from the city for a few days, these are great options that won’t have you travelling for long. You can try and combine some of the options here such as heading to Mount Cook and then down to Queenstown, or up to Kaikoura and continuing to Nelson for your weekend.
Whatever type of activity you are looking for, you’ll find it not far from Christchurch!
Have you ever been to Christchurch? Where else would you go on your weekends away from the Garden City?
Check out my other posts on New Zealand:
- 11 Best Things To Do on the West Coast of New Zealand
- The 5 Best Hikes Around Franz Josef, New Zealand
- 6 Best Weekend Trips from Christchurch
- A Night On Fox Glacier
- What to do with 48 hours in Christchurch: The Perfect 2 Day Itinerary
- 12 Best Day Hikes on the South Island, New Zealand
- How To Book A Helicopter Flight in Franz Josef
Dan is an avid traveller from London. His first big adventure was in 2010 living in Malaysia for 3 months and becoming a divemaster. He has been on the road almost constantly since 2015 travelling to destinations that aren’t on the mainstream tourist trail.