There’s nothing quite like New Zealand’s South Island.

Natural beauty is in abundance, from snow-capped mountains and icy glaciers to sandy beaches and wild ocean.

Exploring the island is a must while visiting New Zealand, and luckily, Christchurch is the ideal starting point for doing just that.

As the largest city on the South Island, you are perfectly poised to explore the surrounding areas.

From discovering wildlife in Kaikoura to marveling at Mount Cook, check out the 14 best day trips from Christchurch.

1. Arthur’s Pass Day Tour with TranzAlpine Express Train

Arthur’s Pass is one of the most famous sites in the whole country and this day tour lets you explore it!

Surrounded by the Canterbury Plains and the Southern Alps, there is no location more scenic.

This incredible train journey will take you through Arthur’s Pass.

Along the way, you’ll stop for lunch in an alpine village.

To top it off, the train tour ends at Waimakariri Gorge, where you’ll board a jet boat and whizz around the gorge.

Finally, you’ll stop at a sheep farm for afternoon tea.

Tour details

  • Duration: 9 hours 30 minutes
  • Departure Time: 8:00 am
  • Inclusions: Hotel pick up and drop off, afternoon tea, local guide, air-conditioned vehicle

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2. Lord of the Rings Journey to Edoras

Calling all Lord of the Rings fans!

Channel your inner Aragorn and embark on the Middle Earth adventure of a lifetime.

This day tour from Christchurch will take you to Mount Sunday.

Some fans might recognise this as the location of Edoras, the capital of the Rohan people.

Soak up the breathtaking views of the mountain and even walk to the summit.

You’ll also have the option of posing for photos with replica props from the movies.

Tour details

  • Duration: 9 hours
  • Departure Time: 9:00 am
  • Inclusions: Hotel pick up and drop off, picnic lunch, driver/guide, live commentary

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3. Akaroa Day Tour

Head southeast of Christchurch to the picturesque town of Akaroa.

Set on the breathtaking Banks Peninsula, this town is filled with spectacular scenery.

You can expect to see dramatic rock formations that were the result of volcanic eruptions.

Akaroa Village is set on the edge of the crater, which you will explore by boat.

Experience a nature cruise that will take you right beside the amazing formations.

You’ll also get to see birds, dolphins, and other forms of sea life.

Tour details

  • Duration: 9 hours 30 minutes
  • Departure Time: 9:00 am
  • Inclusions: Hotel pick up and drop off, lunch, driver/guide, air-conditioned vehicle

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4. Akaroa Swim with Dolphins Tour

If you’ve always dreamed of swimming with dolphins, now’s your chance!

The waters around Akaroa in the Banks Peninsula abound with dolphins.

This tour allows you to enjoy these playful creatures up close.

You’ll cruise into the Akaroa Harbour with your guide, which is where you’ll hop into the water.

In a full wet suit and snorkelling gear, you’ll get to swim with Hector’s dolphins in the wild.

Afterwards, there will be plenty of time to explore Akaroa Village (you’ll even get to taste some local cheese).

Tour details

  • Duration: 9 hours
  • Departure Time: 8:45 am
  • Inclusions: Hotel pick up and drop off, cheese tasting, live commentary, wet suit and snorkelling gear, air-conditioned vehicle

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5. Kaikoura Wildlife Tour

Kaikoura is a New Zealand town known for its astounding wildlife.

Located on the east coast of the South Island, this is the New Zealand spot to go whale watching.

Once you arrive, you’ll understand why.

All types of whales swim in these waters, including dolphins, orcas, and sperm whales.

Day tours also include visits to a fur seal colony.

The day will finish with a wine tasting in North Canterbury.

Tour details

  • Duration: 11 hours
  • Departure Time: 8:00 am
  • Inclusions: Whale watching tour, wine tasting, air-conditioned vehicle, lunch, live commentary, fur seal colony viewing

Whales Dolphins Albatross Official Site

6. Kaikoura Quad Bike Tour

See another side of Kaikoura on this quad bike tour.

Though most people visit Kaikoura for the whale watching, quad biking is one of the most fun activities that the town offers.

This action-packed tour is sure to get your heart racing!

Drive along the grassy slopes of Kaikoura’s rugged coastline.

Each guest will be riding a 4-wheel all-terrain vehicle.

With the ocean on one side and the hills on the other, this is sure to be an excursion you’ll remember forever.

Tour details

  • Duration: 11 hours
  • Departure Time: 7:45 am
  • Inclusions: Professional guide, refreshments, use of quad bike, hotel pick up and drop off

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7. Waipara Wine Trail Tour

New Zealand’s wine is famous around the world.

This day tour from Christchurch offers a glimpse into this world of wine.

A 5.5 hour wine trail tour will take you to the region of North Canterbury, home to some of the best wineries in the country.

Specifically, you’ll receive tasting at numerous boutique vineyards including Mud House, Torlesse, Pegasus Bay and Waipara Springs.

Both white and red wine will be served, along with food pairings.

Fun fact: this region is the fasted growing wine region in New Zealand.

Tour details

  • Duration: 6 hours
  • Inclusions: Wine tasting, hotel pick up and drop off, live commentary, lunch, air-conditioned vehicle

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8. Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Jet Boat Day Trip

New Zealand is a great place for some R&R.

This day tour to Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools allows you to do just that.

However, to kick things off, you’ll be treated to a jet boat ride through Waiau Gorge at Thrillseekers Canyon.

Next are the hot springs, which is where relaxation and rejuvenation await.

Nestled in a valley, it’s a beautiful sight to behold.

You’ll enjoy lunch at the Garden House Cafe before returning to Christchurch.

Tour details

  • Duration: 8 hours 30 minutes
  • Departure Time: 8:30 am
  • Inclusions: Hotel pick up and drop off, lunch, driver/guide, entry fees

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9. Mount Cook Full Day Tour

Marvel in the beauty of Mount Cook, New Zealand’s tallest mountain.

This day tours begins in Christchurch and will take you all the way to the impressive Mount Cook.

Along the way, you’ll pass by the Canterbury Plains, MacKenzie Basin, Lakes Tekapo and Pukari, and the Tasman Glacier.

You’ll even stop for a wine tasting along the way.

Once you arrive at your destination, you’ll enjoy lunch at the Hermitage in Mount Cook National Park.

After lunch, you’ll have the option to explore the mountain by foot or alpine flight.

Tour details

  • Duration: 13 hours
  • Departure Time: 8:00 am
  • Inclusions: Hotel pick up and drop off, live commentary, air-conditioned vehicle, local guide, lunch, morning and afternoon tea

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10. Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki Day Tour

Lakes Tekapo and Pukaki are two of the most stunning lakes in the entire country.

On this day trip from Christchurch, you’ll get to see both lakes in one day and learn all about their history from a professional guide.

As this is a private your, you’ll also get to set the itinerary to and fro.

Typical tour highlights include cheese sampling at a local factory in Geraldine, a visit to Salmon Farm, a drive to the summit of Mt. John, and a stop at Tekapo Springs.

In essence, all in one day, you can relax in a hot pool, sample some local food, and discover the island’s impressive natural beauty.

Tours range from 10 to 12 hours and leave at 8:00 am.

Tour details

  • Duration: 10-12 hours
  • Departure Time: 8:00 am
  • Inclusions: Hotel pick up and drop off, entry fees, professional guide, private tour, refreshments, WiFi

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11. Merino Sheep Farm Tour

New Zealand is famous for its many sheep inhabitants.

What this translates to is the famous Merino wool.

This day tour allows you receive an authentic New Zealand farm experience.

Get up close and personal with Merino sheep and even local alpacas.

Once on the farm, you’ll also learn about the family’s 130 year history and how they produce their incredible wool products.

If you’re looking for a snapshot into New Zealand country farm life, this is the tour for you.

Tour details

  • Duration: 4-6 hours
  • Departure Time: 9:00 am
  • Inclusions: Entry fees, air-conditioned vehicle, private transportation, full commentary, authentic farm experience

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12. 2-Hour River Trail Horse Trekking Trip

Whether you’re a horse lover or want to live out your wildest Legolas fantasies, a horse trek through New Zealand is an excellent way to spend the day.

This 2-hour horse river trail ride begins just 45 minutes from Christchurch.

You will be riding on a 2000-acre, high country sheep farm situated in Kowai Bush, Springfield.

This horse riding adventure is perfect for families and riders of all levels.

The trail will take you along the Waimakariri River Canyon.

You can also expect to spot lots of sheep and birds along the way.

Tour details

  • Duration: 2 hours
  • Departure Times: 10:00 am or 2:00 pm
  • Departure Point: Rubicon Valley Horse Treks
  • Inclusions: Morning or afternoon tea, local taxes, wet weather gear, 2-hour horse trek

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13. Waimak Gorge Jet Boating Trip

Get a little wet and wild on this jet boating tour.

If you’re after some action-packed fun, this is the day tour for you.

The Waimakariri River Gorge is one of the most gorgeous parts of the entire South Island.

On this tour, you’ll be jetting around its pristine turquoise waters, as you take in the dramatic slopes of the gorge that surrounds you.

Your tour will begin in Christchurch, where you’ll be transported through the Canterbury Plains to the foothills of the Southern Alps, where the gorge awaits.

Once there, you’ll board the jet boat that will take you around on the shallow river flats of the Waimakariri River.

Tour details

  • Duration: 1 hour
  • Inclusions: Jet boat ride, driver/guide, hotel pick up and drop off, life jacket

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14. Guided Walking Tour & Picnic on Banks Peninsula

If you’re looking to explore the coast near Christchurch, Banks Peninsula is the place to do it.

This peninsula was formed after two volcanic eruptions.

Today, what’s left are dramatic cliffs, turquoise blue water, and jaw-dropping rock formations.

This 1-day tour from Christchurch will transport you straight to the peninsula, where you’ll be awe struck by the beautiful views.

Enjoy a warm beverage at a local cafe and then start walking!

The highlight of the walk is Crater Rim, where you’ll be able to spot the Pacific Ocean, Pegasus Bay, the Southern Alps, and Lyttelton Harbour.

Tour details

  • Duration: 6 hours
  • Inclusions: Hotel pick up and drop off, bottled water, snack, lunch, local guide, coffee or tea, backpack and walking poles, National Park fees, transportation by mini van

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New Zealand’s South Island is absolutely breathtaking, and Christchurch is a great city to use as a base when it comes to exploring other parts of it.

Between Mount Cook, the Banks Peninsula, Kaikoura, and more, there are plenty of top-notch day trips from Christchurch.

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Emily is a freelance writer from Canada and it was during her time studying History that she became interested in travel. Countries I've visited include the United States, Mexico, the Cayman Islands, New Zealand, Costa Rica, the United Kingdom, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Germany, Sweden, Poland, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Switzerland.