Christchurch is one of the best places to seek out a fun day trip – one the whole family will enjoy! There are plenty of excellent day trip destinations all within easy driving distance, with fun activities for all ages as well as some pretty amazing scenery to see along the way.
Need to know where to go on a day trip from Christchurch? Take a look below at our top 10 destinations with handy guide to drive times and things to do on the way and when you get there.
1. Hanmer Springs
Drive time 1 hour 45 minutes
The small alpine village of Hanmer Springs is one of the most popular day trip destinations from Christchurch. At just 90 minutes’ drive north of Christchurch the drive is an enjoyable length with plenty to see along the way. Stop off at Culverden for a coffee and burger at the tea rooms on the way and from there it’s inland following the Waiau River and on towards Hanmer Springs.
Upon arrival at Hanmer you will find a great selection of outdoor adventure activities such as mountain biking, rafting, jet boating, quad biking and even bungy jumping. There are also some great little activities within the town to keep you busy such as the A-Maz-N-Golf adventure maze and mini golf combo, the Hanmer Springs Animal Park and the Hanmer Springs Golf Club.
Those looking for something a little more relaxing can enjoy a soak in the famous Thermal Hot Pools (and take a turn down the hydroslides if you’re game!). The hot pools are a must-do when visiting Hanmer and provide a great place to relax after a long day exploring the forest walks or out on the bike trails.
2. Mt Somers
Drive time 1 hour 30 minutes
Mt Somers is a short drive inland from Christchurch, crossing the scenic Canterbury plains you will head south at first down through Rolleston and Dunsandel, turning inland at Rakaia. Snow is likely at times during the winter months so pack accordingly and prepare for all kinds of weather particularly if you are intending to tackle the great outdoors.
During the summer months there won’t be much in the way of snow, but what you’ll find instead are an abundance of hiking trails and some of the most stunning panoramic views of the Canterbury plains. Bring a picnic lunch and enjoy finding the perfect spot to stop for a snack and don’t miss the historic Blackburn coalmines and keep an eye out for the Staveley Lime Kilns on your way.
Take a short detour to the alpine town of Methven for a long lunch and great coffee or to refuel. Mount Hutt, Mount Taylor and the Hakatere Conservation Park are all nearby if you wish to explore this great alpine back country a little further.
3. Okains Bay
Drive time 1 hour 40 minutes
Located on the beautiful Banks Peninsula, Okains Bay is a fantastic road trip destination for families and groups. The sheltered bay includes a beautiful wide beach, shallow lagoon that’s safe for kids to splash around in and the pine forest near the water is home to a lovely secluded and sheltered campground – if you feel like staying overnight.
Pack a picnic lunch and spend some time on the beach or swimming if the water is warm or wander about the rocks. There are also lots of walks in the Okains Bay area and a small museum to explore (found on the road into the bay – you can’t miss it!)
Throughout the summer there may be attraction operators such as kayak and canoe hire available for exploring the bay by watery means. There are toilets at the Bay but these are associated with the camping ground, and be careful the drive down the Summit Road to the Bay is quite steep.
Drive time 1 hour 30 minutes
Up and back over the hill on the Banks Peninsula roughly 90 minutes’ drive from Christchurch, you will find the French inspired settlement of Akaroa. Set on a beautiful harbour, surrounded by spectacular volcanic hills, Akaroa is a popular spot for couples and families with plenty to see and do for all ages.
You can enjoy boat cruises, dolphin watching, 4WD safaris, walking tracks and plenty of wonderful cafes and restaurants to sample, many with a distinct French influence. Take a farm tour for something a little different and see a working farm in action or go horseback riding –the choice is up to you!
Akaroa is a popular day trip choice for locals and visitors alike, the drive is very scenic and as much a part of the experience as reaching the destination. The roads are narrow and windy in parts and care is needed for all drivers.
5. Castle Hill Basin
Drive time 1 hour 25 minutes
Taking State Highway 73 across the Canterbury Pains, through West Melton, Darfield and Springfield and on towards the Southern Alps you will find the Castle Hill parking area about 100 km from Christchurch.
If you like walks and a touch of history then this one is a must do whether you are a local or just visiting Christchurch. The Castle Hill Basin is part of the Kura Tawhiti/Castle Hill Conservation Area which is located inland towards the mountains from Christchurch.
The area holds cultural, spiritual and historical significance to local Maori and hidden among the ancient limestone rock formations are traces of 500-year old charcoal drawings. The walk itself isn’t very long, but take a picnic lunch and make a day of it and head on a little further to the Craigieburn Forest Park for more walking opportunities.
Drive time 2 hours 40 minutes
Heading north this time, the quaint seaside town of Kaikoura is just over 2 ½ hours’ drive from Christchurch. This trip will take you through Rangiora, Amberley, the Greta Valley (South Island wine country) and on through Cheviot (South Island farming country). While driving up the coast is all part of the journey, upon arrival in Kaikoura you will find plenty to see and do.
Fishing is immensely popular along with hiking the nearby hills, swimming with dolphins and seal watching. There are multiple opportunities dive or snorkel and even do a spot of whale watching – there really is something for everyone.
Don’t miss grabbing some fish and chips – try Cods and Cray for locally caught fresh seafood at its best. Check out Fyffe House for some local heritage from the 1800’s (the walk to Fyffe house is just 45 minutes from the town’s centre; there is an entry fee $10).
Drive time 2 hours 20 minutes
Heading south the drive to Timaru takes you parallel to the East Coast for most of the way passing through Rolleston, Rakaia and Ashburton along the way before reaching the coastline at Timaru. This seaside town offers a peaceful look into the inner workings of some of New Zealand best artists, gardens, parks and historic places.
At just over 2 hours from Christchurch, Timaru makes for a nice day out for the whole family, enjoy the waterside attractions of Caroline Bay, check out the botanic gardens, aviary and take a walk around the reserve. On a hot day take a dip in the refreshing waters or just cool off under the shade of a tree while enjoying an icecream from the local vendor.
Check out the museum before the day is out, do a spot of shopping or even try your hand at fly fishing with a local guide. On your way back to Christchurch stop off at the Shearers Quarters Café on Seadown Road at Temuka and play a round of Mini Golf, Petanque, outdoor Chess or just catch up with the resident farm animals.
8. Arthurs Pass
Drive time 2 hours
It’s straight into the middle of the Southern Alps we go with this one so pack your jacket and walking boots! Crossing the wide open Canterbury Plains, you can see the mountains from a long way off and it only builds the anticipation. Grab a pie at Sheffield, fuel up at Springfield and let’s go!
The drive through the eastern side of the Alps to Arthurs Pass is all part of the adventure; you will come across lakes, rivers, waterfalls, interesting bridges and more! The Arthurs Pass Village is situated in the Arthurs Pass National Park so the place is literally surrounded by untouched native forest at its best.
The famous Otira Rail Tunnel which provides train access to the western side of the Alps begins in Arthurs Pass – this 8.5 km tunnel was painstakingly built back in the 1920’s. There are numerous hikes and walks all through the area – taking a walk you will likely see some of the excellent birdlife in the area including the inquisitive native Kea, along the way. The Temple Basin Ski Area is nearby, as well as the Devil’s Punchbowl Waterfall, the Bealey Spur Track and the Waimakariri River are all popular spots to look out for or you can find out more about the great range of walks at Arthurs Pass here.
9. Mount Cook
Drive time 4 hours
Taking a day trip to Mount Cook is a popular choice for many visitors to Christchurch. On a good day road to the mountain offers spectacular views and a glimpse into the stunning alpine landscapes New Zealand is famous for.
You will strike out across the Canterbury Plains, pass by the edge of Lake Tekapo and drive alongside Lake Pukaki all before reaching the beautiful mountainous Mount Cook Village. Upon arrival at the Village you will find various alpine walks beginning near the village, flightseeing tours and Tasman Glacier tours along with the opportunity for some awesome stargazing if you are able to stick around for night fall.
At just over 4 hours, this roadie is an epic one and is best attempted when the driving is shared. There are few amenities at the Mount Cook Village so stock up on supplies for the day before you head out, or there is petrol and a small supermarket at Tekapo.
Drive time 3 hours 30 minutes
From one coast to the other driving from Christchurch to Greymouth is one of the best road trips in New Zealand – in fact many visitors come to the South Island just to make this epic drive. All up, you are looking at about 3 and a half hours to get there but allowing extra time for stops along the way is a good idea, and you are going to want to stop trust me!
Some of the highlights are the rolling green farmland of the Canterbury Plains, Castle Hill, Arthurs Pass, the Otira Viaduct and the countless waterfalls, lush forest and alpine landscapes you’ll encounter along the way. If travelling in winter it is possible you’ll come across snow at the road side!
Upon reaching the West Coast, there is plenty to see and do for the day including a visit to the Shantytown Heritage Park, a Treetop Walkway, jet boating, hiking, quad biking, cave rafting, scenic flights and you can even head down the coast a bit and check out the Franz Joseph Glacier.
Need transport for your Christchurch day trip? USAVE Truck Rental offer a range of spacious and affordable van and minibus rental vehicles ranging from 8 seater people carriers to 12 seater coaches perfect for larger groups as well as all the usual selection of quality rental cars.