Christchurch Rental Car Travel Itinerary
As the second largest city in New Zealand and the gateway to the South Island, Christchurch is a popular destination for travelers and holiday-makers. Mountain ranges, vast windswept plains and rugged coast lines are just the beginning.
Don’t know where to start? Take a look at our local travel itinerary for the best places to go, what to see, what to do and where to eat when visiting Christchurch.
Pick up your hire car at the Christchurch International Airport and hit the road!
- After arriving at Christchurch Airport, visit the nearby International Antarctic Centre where you can have an up close and personal Penguin Encounter and a thrilling ride on the Hagglund all-terrain vehicle. The Antarctic centre is open every day from 9am to 5.30pm
- Take a walk around the corner to Spitfire Square Shopping Centre at lunch time and choose from an assortment of excellent options for the hungry traveller. Burger Fuel, Little India, Mexicali Fresh, SuRa Sushi and The Coffee Club are just a taste of the multicultural choices on offer.
- For the afternoon’s activities choose from The Air Force Museum of New Zealand (perfect on a rainy day) or Willowbank Wildlife Reserve (ideal for a sunny afternoon). The Airforce Museum is free to enter, we highly recommend the behind the scenes tour, or ask about the ‘Museum Hunt’ worksheets at the Welcome Desk – perfect for getting the kids involved.
- Willowbank provides visitors with a rare opportunity to see five of New Zealand’s top native birds (Kea, Takahe, Kiwi, Kaka and Weka), along with other rare and exotic species. Time it right and see the various animals and birds at feeding time. Check out the onsite café for some delicious snacks and drinks.
- Stay on at Willowbank for the Ko Tāne Māori Cultural Performance and Hangi dining experience. See authentic Maori dance, Poi and weapon demonstrations, join in and learn for yourself – the perfect way to end the day.
Eat well, take a tour, feed a Giraffe… what more could you want from a day out and about?
- Grab an early morning breakfast at the Addington Coffee Co-op on Lincoln Road (the pancakes are a must!) and start the day of adventure off right.
- Then get on board the ‘Safari Shuttle’ and take a tour around New Zealand’s only open range zoo, Orana Wildlife Park. See a variety of interesting animals, both native and exotic and get up close and personal with the Giraffes at feeding time.
- Make lunch just that little bit special with ‘High Tea’ at Terra Viva Café, or choose from their delicious all day menu. Terra Viva provides loads of gluten free options, along with vegan, vegetarian, egg free and dairy free choices. Don’t miss their southern German inspired “Flammekueche”.
- After lunch head east to the opposite side of town and step back in time at the Ferrymead Heritage Park. Stroll around the early 20th century inspired village and experience a slice of Christchurch’s history. Steam trains run the second Sunday of every month and Trams run on Saturdays and Sundays.
- Time to wind down before dinner with a leisurely stroll along the beach at Sumner. Just 10 minutes’ drive from the Heritage Park. Dip your feet in the water, feel the sand between your toes and enjoy the fresh sea air.
- Ready for dinner! Sumner and Ferrymead have a great selection of dining options, with everything from traditional Kiwi fare at The Watershed Bar and Restaurant and inventive Japanese style food at Kenzo Japanese Restaurant through to modern Bengali style restaurant – Nobanno.
Let’s get out of the city for the day and hit the slopes.
- Whether experienced skiers and snowboarders or just beginners, Christchurch offers several good options over the winter season (June – September). Mt Hutt Ski Area is the closest for an easy day on the slopes, or try the Roundhill Ski Fields at Tekapo (3 hrs drive) for a scenic overnighter.
- If skiing is not your thing then how about a scenic balloon flight? The Canterbury Plains, Southern Alps and unique Canterbury coastline make for some stunning scenic vistas, particularly when viewed from the air. Ballooning Canterbury are the people to see, expect to pay around $400 for a one hour flight, the whole experience takes 4-5 hours in total.
- Late back to town and need a little something sweet – try Strawberry Fare, famous for its fantastic late night dessert menu, the Rollickin Gelato Café on New Regent Street or for something extra special Pescatore at The George Hotel.
Taking it to the north, lets go inland for some relaxation and rejuvenation.
- Making the 1 ½ hour scenic drive inland on State Highway 7 to the resort style township of Hanmer, travellers can look forward to a long soak at the renowned Hanmer Springs Hot Pools. The thermal waters of the pools are said to be therapeutic and are a great way to relax and unwind.
- The hot pools are open daily from 10 am to 9 pm, no need to pre-book unless you want a private hot pool. Swimwear is available for hire and is necessary along with towels. Kids will love the hydroslide, family pool and dedicated children’s area.
- Hanmer provides plenty of options for eating out, with everything from bakery style food to fine dining. We recommend the Powerhouse Café for great gluten free lunch options, Corianders for a hearty dinner and Salt n Pepper for an awesome big breakfast.
Ready to venture a little further afield? Let’s hit the road.
- Heading north out of Christchurch take State Highway 1 and make your way to Kaikoura, the coastal village world-renowned for whale watching and its marine wildlife. Check out the coastal land movements from the recent earthquakes, take a scenic flight or get in a spot of fishing – the options are boundless.
- Local attractions include things such as the Little Garden of Memories, Takahanga Pa, and the Maori Leap Cave. There are also plenty of great walks and mountain biking opportunities in the area. The Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway is a really good way to see some of the local wildlife and explore the coast line. This 3 hour loop track begins and ends at the Point Kean car park.
- From fish and chips to Indian to pizza and handmade icecream, Kaikoura has something for everyone when it comes to eating out. The region’s specialty is fresh crayfish, delicious served fresh from the ocean, or try local delicacies Paua, Whitebait or Scallops.
Turning around and making your way back towards Christchurch, it’s time to go south to Timaru, take your time and enjoy the ride.
- Taking the inland scenic route along Highway 72, via Oxford, Mount Somers and Peel Forest makes for a nice change of scenery. Stop along the way (just a short detour) in Methven and enjoy a cafe lunch and some warm local hospitality.
- For the adventurous types there are a range of activities on offer in the area such as tramping, mountaineering, skiing and fishing. The Peel Forest Scenic Reserve provides plenty of walking tracks for different abilities, or for an intermediate track Mount Somers is a good choice.
- Upon making it to Timaru, take some time to explore the historic home and gardens of Timaru’s Aigantighe Art Museum, the Botanic Gardens and waterfront area known as Caroline Bay. Find miniature train rides, an aviary, and playground along with sandy beach are great for stretching the legs and getting some fresh air.
Banks Peninsula here we come!
- Driving northwards again, this time making your way along the Banks Peninsula to the quaint little French inspired settlement of Akaroa. Perhaps most famous in wildlife circles for its Hectors Dolphins, taking a Dolphin spotting cruise or swimming with the dolphins is high on many visitor’s bucket lists, be sure to book ahead for this.
- Spend the morning exploring the cute French named streets, French inspired architecture and quaint little shops. Choose your favourite looking cafe for a leisurely breakfast and good coffee – everywhere is good you can’t go wrong here.
- After breakfast it’s time for some time on the water, go for your Dolphin spotting cruise or try Stand Up Paddle Boarding or Kayaking – both popular choices. Hiring equipment and gear is easy from waterfront, instruction is provided, full day or hourly hire is available.
- Alternatively, drive around to visit the area’s bays and beaches. Nearby there are several secluded bays that make for great picnic destinations and swimming spots. Okains Bay up over the hill is our top pick, the beach is perfect for swimming and there is a sheltered inlet great for the kids to play and swim.