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9 Free Things to Do in Canterbury

10 June 2016 | Mri Grout

Arthur's Pass:

  • Broken River Cave - Also known as Cave Stream, this 594 metres long cave is located only a few minutes drive north of Castle Hill, making it a fantastic way to start or end a free day of activities. One should note, however, that the stream is fairly cold and normally always running through so make sure to bring proper clothes and waterproof flashlights (preferably headtorches so your hands are free to navigate the 3 metre waterfall inside, but don't worry; there is a ladder). Also, a number of lives have already been lost in this wild cave of New Zealand, so please only enter at the downstream opening (the one that goes against the water's flow) and never cave alone. If one is properly equipped with headtorches, sturdy shoes, and a caving buddy then even the inexperienced can make it through this cave stream if they so desire.
  • Castle Hill - Located an hour and a half from Christchurch on one's way to Arthur's Pass is a good-sized area covered in limestone boulders. These rocks got their unique structures after the waters of the Oligocene era dried up, an event that took place around 35 million years ago. They're an island-wide hotspot for sport climbing and bouldering, but I still have no idea how given how smooth the rocks are. And if you're looking at the picture above and thinking, "Hey, that place looks sort of familiar..." it's because Castle Hill was used as the grounds of Narnia's: The Lion, the Witch, and The Warddrobe's epic last scene. Reenactment, anyone? :P

  • Devil's Punchbowl Falls – The funneled water from the mountains takes a 131 metre plunge as it cascades over the cliffsides of Arthur's Pass. The top of this beauty can easily be seen from the road and a quick hike up quite a few steps will bring you near the sheer power of this beast. A platform was erected for the sole purpose of viewing this waterfall and its position is a work of art as you get to see the falls' path carving out both above and below you.
  • Otira Viaduct Lookout - When traveling from Christchurch to Arthur's Pass the lookout is up a small hill right before the giant bridge. It offers amazing views of the valley below and the strength and impact of human intelligence has never been so unmistakable than when seen in the design of this viaduct. But the real hidden treasure here is the dozens or so keas (New Zealand mountain parrot) that call this lookout home. Used to humans oowing and awwing over them, the keas will get quite close (but not touching close) to photographers, locals, and backpackers alike...just make sure you keep an eye on your car (or any other rubber material) while you're here. We learned this the hard way: being distracted by the beauty of one bird will leave you (and your car) open to attack by the other keas. Luckily for us, we noticed them tearing into the car's doors before they could make it leak, but unluckily for them not fast enough to save them from the poison of the rubber they ate.

natural bridge of Lover's Leap on Banks Peninsula paragliding at Twin Towers lookout in Christchurch seal pups by the hundreds on Kaikora's coastline
Lover's LeapTwin TowersKaikora


  • Banks Peninsula Chasm & Lovers Leap - Two coastal rock structures situated only a few hours south of Christchurch. The Banks Peninsula is worth visiting for its beautiful hills alone, but these natural bridges, chasms, and imposing cliffs turn it into a magical landscape where one can't help but to sit back and relax.
  • Godley Head - Situated on the coast of Christchurch, this hike is already well worth taking for the amazing views of the ocean. Throw in the many fortified structures left over from WWII, the mountains of Banks Peninsula sitting in the distance, and a bright sky full of sunshine, and you have the perfect free thing to do around Christchurch.
  • Taylor's Mistake - Flown in a NE wind, Taylor's Mistake is a local paragliding hotspot located on the coast of Christchurch. It has a relatively large lauching area where top-landing is possible, even when there are a handful of students bobbing about, as well as a designated bottom landing. The local crowd here is really open to travelers from abroad and there isn't a requirement to join a club before flying here (or rather, there wasn't in 2014). But even if you don't fly, it's a great spot to have a picnic with the gorgeous viwes of the ocean below and the paragliders above.
  • Twin Towers Lookout - Flown in a SW wind, this is a lesser used paraglider site than Taylor's Mistake. It's located at the very top of Mount Pleasant and doesn't have a designated bottom landing field. However, the views of Banks Peninsula are to die for and it's by far, my favourite picturesque place in all of New Zealand. GPS: 43.35.17 S, 172.43.34 E


  • Ohau Waterfall - Located 27 kilometres north of Kaikora is a large carpark right on the coast. Across from it is a hidden waterfall with very little signage about it until you're parked, but make no mistake - this place is freaking amazing and well worth the stop, especially during the winter months when hundreds of seals and their pups call Ohau home. The best time to view these marine creatures is between the months of May to October, when they cover the coastline and the water of the falls. However, please note that getting too close to these wild pups may kill them as their parents will abandon them - a survival instinct that when combined with a horde this big, could be a death sentence for their children as there's a good possibility they'll never find them again.

Free things to do in new Zealand