Christchurch’s nickname is the Garden City. That means: lots of pretty gardens and parks! You’ll find that there are lots of great outdoor activities in and around Christchurch. This post will highlight my 10 favourite outdoor activities in and around the south island’s largest city. Some of these places would be considered “off the beaten track” by tourists, but they’re all well known by locals.
1. Quail Island
Quail Island is a relatively large island in Lyttelton Harbour, which is a bit south of Christchurch. It’s a great day trip destination and various viewpoints on the island offers great harbour views. Easy to moderate hiking trails go all over and around the island. Along the way, you’ll come across interesting historical sites. There’s a grave shipyard which you can explore at low tide. Alternatively, dig into the story of this island’s historical role as a leper colony.
You can get to Quail Island by taking a ferry from Lyttelton Harbour. Either travel to Lyttelton Harbour by car, or take bus 28 from the city center towards Lyttelton.
2. Banks Peninsula
Visiting Banks Peninsula is another great outdoor activity near Christchurch. Good for a day trip, but to be honest, you need to do multiple day trips to get a good impression of the area. There are lots of bays to explore in the peninsula; the southern bays are especially nice, but a bit difficult to get to. The picturesque town of Akaroa is a good place to get some lunch. My favourite hiking trail is the Onawe Track, which is fairly close to Akaroa Town.
The drive to Banks Peninsula will take you approximately two hours. I would not recommend public transportation (if there even is any) as you won’t be able to get anywhere without a vehicle on the peninsula.
3. Birdlings Flat
Birdlings Flat is a quiet pebble beach which you’ll come across on your way to Banks Peninsula. Swimming is prohibited because of dangerous currents, but it’s a fine beach to hang around for a bit. It looks quite boring at first: no tourists, no shops, no nothing… But I actually quite like it! Dig into the pebbles near the waterline to find the colourful and transparent ones. Enjoy the beach without all that pesky sand getting everywhere. You might even spot a (lost?) seal if you’re in luck.
4. Sumner Beach
Sumner Beach is a great place to cool down on a hot summer day. Not only is there a beach area; there also is a rather large rock that you can ascend. Underneath is a cave-like opening where you can escape from the burning sun. Dogs aren’t allowed on the main beach but they are allowed to run around behind the cave rock.
5. Brighton Beach & Pier
Brighton Beach and the pier are located in New Brighton in the eastern outskirts of Christchurch. There’s a pier, there are shops and snacks and drinks are readily available.
6. Hagley Park & Botanic Gardens
Hagley Park lies in the heart of Christchurch and is a great place for a stroll or some biking without venturing out of the city. The botanic gardens are located inside the park and the Avon River forms its natural perimeter. You’ll easily spend an hour or more exploring these gardens and their flowers, plants and displays.
7. Godley Head Park
Godley Head sits at the entrance of Lyttelton Harbour and historically was an important coastal defense site. You’ll still see remnants of WWII-era defense mechanisms such as gun emplacements and bunkers. Several easy to moderate walks trace the park. On a clear day, the area offers amazing views. An excellent outdoor day trip not too far from Christchurch city!
8. Cashmere Hills & Victoria Park
The Cashmere Hills are located in the south of Christchurch city. If you’re looking for a demanding workout, get a bicycle and make your way to the top of the hills by riding up along Dyers Pass Rd. Somewhere near the top, you’ll find a viewpoint which provides almost panoramic views of the area and Christchurch. Continuing upwards, you’ll find Victoria Park; an area abundant with hiking and mountain biking trails.
9. Bottle Lake Forest Park
Bottle Lake Forest Park is a pine tree plantation north of Christchurch. It’s a good for hiking, biking and horse riding. It’s alright to spend a morning or an afternoon. You’ll easily get lost in this forest as the grid road structure can be confusing at times. Foreign tourists who are short on time had better spend their time elsewhere as this place essentially just is an average forest. I didn’t think too much of it, but it’s nice for some quick exercise!
10. The Groynes
The Groynes is a fairly large park north of Christchurch, close to the Waimakariri (“Waimak”) river. It’s a great place for a day out. There are walking tracks, fishing spots, a dog exercise area and picnic/BBQ spaces.
I hope you enjoy these outdoor activities around Christchurch! For more information about most of these places, check the Christchurch City Council (CCC) website. Bring good weather and some snacks and you should be alright! Post any recommendations in the comments :).