Enjoy the outdoors of New Zealand's South Island on this quick, five-day trip. Begin in Christchurch and go punting on the Avon River, stroll Hagley Park, and zipline through the Adventure Park. Next, tour the Banks Peninsula, where time stands still. Discover the bays, villages, galleries, and cafés, as well as Akaroa, nestled in the heart of a volcano. Go swimming with Hector’s dolphins and view little blue penguins on a night tour. Then, head to Hanmer Springs for a therapeutic soak or two in the thermal pools, take a scenic hike, or go mountain biking along New Zealand High Country and Hanmer Forest Park.

Highlights

  • Go punting, ziplining, and sightseeing in Christchurch
  • Join a night tour to see the little blue penguins in Akaroa
  • Hang out and swim with Hector's dolphins on the Banks Peninsula
  • Enjoy a relaxing soak in the many thermal pools in Hanmer Springs

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival & Tour Christchurch Christchurch
Day 2 Banks Peninsula Exploration Akaroa
Day 3 Discover Akaroa on Scenic Walks Akaroa
Day 4 Thermal Pools, Biking, & Hiking in Hanmer Springs Hanmer Springs
Day 5 Departure From Christchurch  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival and tour Christchurch

Go punting on the Avon River
Go punting on the Avon River

Welcome to New Zealand! On your first day in the South Island region of New Zealand, explore the world-famous Christchurch, also known as the “Garden City.” Expansive parks and public gardens are attributed to the founding fathers. However, in 2011, the central city and some of the neighboring eastern suburbs were devastated by the earthquake. Although many of the multi-story, historic buildings experienced destruction, rebuilding efforts are now fully underway. Despite reconstruction efforts, there is still plenty to explore in Christchurch. Consider the below when structuring your self-guided tour. 

Start off by strolling through Hagley Park. This park has been at the heart of Christchurch since the 1850s and is now the most significant central city park. It offers a diverse range of entertainment and recreational facilities close to the city’s center.

Next, visit the central and unifying public space of Cathedral Square, which has been a landmark and a cultural magnet for more than 150 years. The space provides the perfect backdrop for events, with open spaces, historic architecture, and heavy foot traffic, despite being under reconstruction.

For a fun activity, consider punting on the Avon River, where a guide will give you a tour via a flatbottom boat, which is similar to a gondola ride. 

In the afternoon, embark on a journey through Antarctica without leaving Christchurch at the Antarctic Centre. Experience snow and ice, a storm, learn about life in modern-day Antarctica and Scott Base, and hang out with penguins. For some added fun, take a trip on the Hagglund ride, as well as a fascinating simulated 4D cruise.

To continue the adventure, take the Zipline Tour at Christchurch Adventure Park. The zipline is dual-lined, which means you can race others through the park. With four stages ranging to up to a half-mile in length, this exciting way to experience Port Hills rivals no other. You can also take a tour that lasts about 2.5 hours and includes sites of geographical and historical significance, as well as some breathtaking heights.

In the early evening, visit Sumner Beach. This family-friendly destination is great for a walk on the beach or a refreshing dip in the water. The best local swimming spots here are Taylor’s Mistake and Corsair Bay.

When night falls, take a trip on via the Tram Restaurant, the only restaurant tram in New Zealand. You can experience a unique way to view the inner city while enjoying a delicious dinner.

Day 2: Banks Peninsula exploration

Visit the little blue penguins at Royal Albatross Centre
Visit the little blue penguins at Royal Albatross Centre

Today, make your way to the Banks Peninsula. There is a different vibe on this peninsula, where it sometimes feels like time stands still. Discover the picturesque bays, seaside villages, boutique galleries, and cafés. The highlight of this peninsula is Akaroa, a historic French and British settlement nestled in the heart of an ancient volcano. Explore the village with its colonial architecture, galleries, craft stores, and more.

If you are interested in local wildlife, visit Hector's dolphins, the smallest dolphins in the world. You can even go for a swim with the playful natives. Additionally, embark on an evening tour of the little blue penguins at the Royal Albatross Centre to see them in a natural and undisturbed way. This is not a penguin parade, as the penguins are not acclimated to lighting, and will bolt back into the sea if people or lights are around. See penguins up close, including chicks in-season, while artificial nests are monitored. There is also a number of yellow-eyed penguins breeding along the bay often spotted on the tour.

Day 3: Discover Akaroa on scenic walks

Views of Akaroa
Views of Akaroa

Today, enjoy more of Akaroa at your leisure. If you did not get a chance to tour the Banks Peninsula in its entirety yesterday, continue with your discovery. Or, visit with the native dolphins and penguins. 

If you are interested in a walk, Akaroa is the starting point of the Banks Track. The area is home to plenty of other day walks, too. You reach altitude here quite fast, and the views over the caldera are stunning. 

The evening is on your own to enjoy.

Day 4: Thermal pools, biking, and hiking in Hanmer Springs

Soak in the thermal pools in Hanmer Springs
Soak in the thermal pools in Hanmer Springs

Today, visit Hanmer Springs, which is great year-round, with a different color palette, depending on the season. Expect beautiful natural landscapes, surrounded by forests and mountains.

Visit the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa, which offers a wide range of experiences, from soothing indulgences to exciting family fun. There are several pools—nine open-air thermal pools, three sulfur pools, and four private thermal pools, as well as a sauna/steam room, and a freshwater heated pool. There is a popular family activity area, complete with water slides, water toys, and a picnic area, too. Get a multi-entry pass, so you can have one last dip in the hot pools under the stars after dinner—they’re open until 9 pm.

For a nice stroll, there are different short walks you can embark on, like one to Conical Hill. There are full-day hikes, too, such as climbing Mt Isobel. You can also grab a mountain bike and head for the hills. Explore the New Zealand High Country or Hanmer Forest Park up close via a mountain bike rental. Hanmer Springs is a great place for mountain biking, with excellent tracks available for all fitness levels.

Day 5: Departure from Christchurch

Farewell, Christchurch!
Farewell, Christchurch!

Today, it's time to head back to the airport in Christchurch. Board your flight home with a newfound love for adventuring in New Zealand.

Map

Map of South Island Tour: Christchurch, Akaroa, & Hanmer Springs - 5 Days
Map of South Island Tour: Christchurch, Akaroa, & Hanmer Springs - 5 Days