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Exploring Canterbury's History & Heritage

If you love to discover gems and tales of old, there's plenty of history and heritage to soak up in Canterbury.

Christchurch has its fair share of places to check out legends and artefacts from days gone by, and our regional towns proudly display their past for visitors to take a step back in time.

Canterbury Museum

Through the doors of a beautiful historic building in the centre of Christchurch you'll find the Canterbury Museum. Home to outstanding Māori exhibits, a fascinating Antarctic collection, a Christchurch Victorian Street, and interactive learning for children in Discovery. For an iconic Kiwi story, don't miss Fred and Myrtle's Paua Shell House.

Local museums in Canterbury's regional towns also provide fascinating looks into the unique early life and development of each district, and locals love to tell yarns of a bygone era to visitors.

Sign of the Kiwi

The Sign of the Kiwi, originally called Toll House, is a small building at the top of Dyers Pass on the road between Christchurch and Governors Bay. It was built in 1916–17 by Harry Ell as a staging post and opened as a tearoom and rest house.

Flanked by open parkland and native bush, the category one heritage listing is a popular destination for locals and tourists.

Nowadays it's the perfect location to soak in the history and take-in amazing views of Christchurch and the Canterbury Plains over a coffee or treat from the cafe.

Riccarton House & Bush

A tranquil 12 hectare reserve located just 3.5 km from Christchurch city centre. In 1843 the area known to Maori as Putaringamotu – “the place of an echo” – became home to the pioneering Deans family, the first Europeans to settle the Canterbury Plains. Take a tour of Riccarton House, visit Deans Cottage, or stroll through the verdant bush and park grounds before enjoying morning/afternoon tea or lunch in either the Drawing Room restaurant or outside in our courtyard.

South Canterbury

South Canterbury is home to some of the country's greatest concentrations of remaining Māori rock art sites. At Te Ana Māori Rock Art Centre, you'll gain an insight into the area's rich cultural heritage and mythology, and journey through time and spiritual worlds. Check out some of the region's Māori rock art first-hand with a guided tour to some of the natural art galleries hidden within ancient limestone caves and rock shelves.

Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre 

Kiwis are justifiably proud of our very own Sir Edmund Hillary – the first man to climb Mount Everest. The Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre at Mount Cook Village is a tribute to this great explorer, ambassador and humanitarian. It's also a showcase of the history and splendour of the Aoraki / Mount Cook Mackenzie region. Mount Cook Magic, is definitely worth viewing. This unique 3D cinematic experience will take you soaring high across the Southern Alps, scaling some of New Zealand's highest peaks, and skiing the Tasman Glacier.

Aviation history

If you're into the history of things that fly, you're well catered for in Canterbury. In the Christchurch suburb of Wigram, the Air Force Museum of New Zealand brings the rich history of New Zealand military aviation to life. Here you'll find one of the world's leading military aviation collections – with literally millions of items to commemorate, inspire and enjoy.

Temuka people have long debated whether local man Richard Pearse flew before the Wright brothers. Decide for yourself with a trip to the monument and replica of his plane, or a visit to South Canterbury's Aviation Heritage Centre. At the Ashburton Aviation Museum, discover aircraft ranging from historic to modern jets.

Transport history

If land travel is more your thing, at Ferrymead Heritage Park you can learn about Christchurch's affinity with trams, and ride on one of several electric trams, or a stream train. Take a journey into Christchurch life in the early 1900s at the park's Edwardian township, and visit speciality museums including the Hall of Wheels.

Yaldhurst Museum, just south of Christchurch, provides a real treat for classic car and road transport enthusiasts, including an impressive collection of horse drawn vehicles.

At Pleasant Point Museum and Railway you'll see fully operational steam locomotives, and the world's only Model T Ford Railcar. And don’t miss the Vintage Car and Machinery Museum in Geraldine.

Make sure you get a local's perspective on things while you visit our museums and heritage attractions – they'll often have some fascinating tales that didn't make the history books.