Nature, wildlife & eco-tours
You want nature – Canterbury's got nature and we make it so easy for you to experience our natural splendour – so what are you waiting for?
Our sweeping plains, weaving waterways and pristine coastline are home to a rich tapestry of flora and fauna, and some of the world's most spectacular wildlife. And there's so many ways to experience it. Whether you want to swim alongside our majestic marine mammals, or stroll serenely through native bush, Canterbury is a must-visit for nature buffs.
Right in the heart of Christchurch, you'll find a tranquil pocket of nature that many locals are yet to discover. Just 4km from the centre of town lies Riccarton Bush, a protected, ancient native kahikatea forest, where Canterbury tree weta and great-spotted kiwi live among 600-year-old trees.
You can even check out the icy enchantment of Antarctica while you're here. The International Antarctic Centre, just beside Christchurch International Airport, offers an interactive experience of all the chill and adventure of the frozen continent, and the chance to see little blue penguins up close at the Penguin Encounter.
If you're seeking the 'wild' in wildlife, New Zealand's only open range zoo, Orana Wildlife Park, is the place to head. Just on the outskirts of Christchurch, here you'll find more than 70 different animal species from New Zealand and around the world, spread over sprawling park-like grounds, with some exciting animal encounters on offer.
At nearby Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, come and take a journey into natural New Zealand, with scores of native animals, alongside introduced species. For one of your best chances to see our elusive national bird first hand, check out the Kiwi viewing area.
Take a rugged coastline, add stunning mountain scenery and a swag of wildlife, and you've got Kaikoura, a nature lover's paradise. Just 2.5 hours' drive from Christchurch, this is the whale watching centre of New Zealand, so make sure you head out on the water to catch a glimpse while you're here.
Get up close and personal on a swim with dusky dolphins, watch penguins on the go, seals basking lazily in the sun, or look upwards for the imposing wing span of the royal albatross. For the ultimate New Zealand wilderness experience, join a guided walk through the privately owned Puhi Peaks Nature Reserve.
Akaroa & Banks Peninsula
Akaroa, 75km south east of Christchurch, is the only place in the world where you can swim with Hector's dolphins - the world's smallest and rarest dolphin. Nature tours from Akaroa also take in many other feathered and flippered friends – including fur seals, white-flippered and yellow-eyed penguins.
New Zealand National Parks
The vast National Parks of Arthur's Pass and Aoraki / Mount Cook present thousands of hectares of New Zealand nature at its finest. In a short walk, or multi-day hike, come and immerse yourself in native bush as far as the eye can see, alongside craggy alpine flora and fauna, to the tune of native birds overhead.
Aoraki / Mount Cook Mackenzie
The Mackenzie district is world renowned for its clear sky and freedom from light pollution. In 2012, over 2,575 square kilometres of Aoraki Mackenzie night sky was recognised as the world's largest, gold status International Dark Sky Reserve. Take a guided tour up to the observatory on the summit of Mount John, above Tekapo, for a journey into our superb night skies and views of astrological wonders.
Waimate in South Canterbury is the spot to find out all about our Australian imports - wallabies. This is one of the few places in New Zealand where you'll find them in the wild. Visit one of the area's nature parks and check out the predominant local species of these lanky, hopping creatures.