Christchurch is also a strong cultural centre. Within easy walking distance from the city centre, or accessible by tram, you'll find the Arts centre, the Canterbury Museum and the Robert McDougall Art Gallery on the edge of Hagley Park. Other popular Christchurch attractions include the International Antarctic centre, Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, Christchurch Wildlife Cruises, Christchurch Casino and the Christchurch Gondola. Not far from Christchurch, situated on Banks Peninsula is the village of Akaroa. Here you can stroll past quaint old buildings on streets with French names which serve as a reminder of the attempt at colonialisation by France in 1840.
Popular activites are harbour cruises, water activities including swimmming with the dolphins and visits to craft shops and the nearby winery, cheese factory and herb farm. North of Christchurch is Hanmer Springs, an alpine spa at the base of the pristine Amuri mountain range. The picturesque township contains nearby walks, skiing, bungy jumping, jetboating and the relaxing thermal pools complex. Kaikoura, a small village north of Christchurch, is one of the few places where you can view whales and over 200 species of marine life in their natural habitat. The sights are truly unique - hundreds of fur seals sunbathing on a rocky shore, spectacular leaping dolphins and the most awesome of mammals, the sperm whale. Organised whale watching trips and swimming with the dolphins are available. Activities and Attractions For a totally different mode of travel why not try a snow tractor? The International Antarctic center, offers the visitor a doorway into the world's last great wilderness area. There is an adventure course plus a "Snow & Ice" Experience which gives visitors the feel of being "on the ice". Situated just eight minutes walk from Christchurch International Airport.
On the way into the city and only 5 minutes drive from the airport, Willowbank Wildlife Park has the only viewing area not behind glass for the national icon bird, the Kiwi. Join a guided tour through the bush-like setting and encounter a variety of rare birds including Kea, Kereru (wood pigeon), Whio (blue duck) and Weka. At almost 500 metres above sea level, the Christchurch Gondola offers unprecedented views of the Canterbury Plains, Christchurch, the Southern Alps, Lyttelton, and the distant Kalkoura Peninsula. Cafe, restaurant, function venue, shopping and a "Time Tunnel" await visitors at the hilltop destination. Start your ride from the gondola base. Just 15 minutes from the central city you can see Hector's dolphin, the world's rarest and smallest dolphin. The best view of these delightful anifnals is to be had aboard the Christchurch Wildlife Cruises catamaran "Black Cat" as it cruises Lyttelton Harbour. The trip passes sites of early Maori and European settlements, visits shipwrecks and looks at evidence of the volcano that formed the harbour. A free shuttle from Cathedral Square connects with the daily cruises. The historic French Village of Akaroa is an 80 minute drive from Christchurch. Join Akaroa Harbour Cruises on board the "Canterbury Cat" cruising Akaroa Harbour, home to the Hector's Dolphin, the White Flippered Little Blue Penguin and other sea birds. Highlights of the daily cruises include visits to a salmon farm, Cathedral Cave and the sites of Akaroa's early Maori, French and British settlement. Swimming with dolphins available from November to April. Nowhere else in New Zealand can you get this close to one of the world's most magnificent mammals - the Giant Sperm Whale. Whale Watch Kaikoura will take you on its specially designed boat to meet this awesome creature in its natural environment with Dusky dolphins, Fur seals, sea birds and, in season, other species of migratory whales that frequent the Kaikoura coastline. Tours operate all year from the Whaleway Station Road. Hanmer Springs Thermal Resort is the natural place to unwind. Enjoy the many mineral pools that range in temperature from 95° - 110°F (36° - 42°C). Children have their own area and there is a family activity pool featuring water toys and waterslides. Methven in Central Canterbury is New Zealand's finest ballooning location. Situated south west from Christchurch en route to Queenstown, Aoraki Balloon Safaris will take you on a magical sky experience with pristine views of Mt Cook, the Southern Alps and a 300km panorama of the Canterbury Plains. The flight concludes with a champagne-style breakfast.