New Zealand's east coast is centred on two main areas – the whale watching town of Kaikoura and, to the south, Christchurch and the Banks Peninsula. In between are attractive country towns and hot-spring spas, as well as mountains and rivers that provide an often-breathtaking backdrop for a range of outdoor pursuits. This stretch of coastline is also well suited to a self-drive, with easy-to-navigate roads following the coast all the way from north to south. And, if you feel like catching the train instead, the Coastal Pacific railway provides a scenic alternative.
The coastal town of Kaikoura is is one of the best places in the world for watching whales and dolphins. Sightings vary, but close encounters with giant sperm whales can be enjoyed year-round. Migratory humpbacks, pilot whales and orcas can also be seen depending on the season. Other species to watch out for include Hector's dolphins and vast pods of their bottlenose cousins, sometimes thousands strong. It's all set to a backdrop of snow-dusted coastal mountains, creating a truly special setting.
Breaching humpback whale, Kaikoura
The 'Garden City' of Christchurch is the second largest city in New Zealand and the gateway to the Canterbury region. It has long been regarded as the country's most 'English' city, mostly due to its neo-Gothic architecture and the winding River Avon, complete with punting students and weeping willows. When an earthquake struck the city in 2011, several buildings were destroyed. But now, after an extensive rebuilding project, the city is back to its vibrant best.
The sleepy settlement of Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula is around an hour's drive from Christchurch along the scenic Summit Road. It's something of local's secret, drawing far more locals than overseas tourists, but it's well worth a detour. Expect fine food, some wonderful walks, pretty gardens and craft shops, all set in a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere. There are some interesting wildlife-viewing possibilities in the region, too, from catching sight of fur seals to swimming with dolphins.
Akaroa, New Zealand