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The best “non-ski” winter activities in Canterbury

When you’re learning to ski or snowboard, you probably won’t want to spend all day, every day on the slopes. Give your legs a well-earned break and try one of the many other winter activities in the Canterbury region. Here are some of the best:

  1. Jet boating through Rakaia Gorge

    For the ultimate wind-in-your-hair thrill, a jet boat trip through the spectacular Rakaia Gorge with Discovery Jet has to be top of the list. Conveniently located a one-hour drive from Christchurch, the gorge has been a popular jet boating spot for more than 20 years. Hang on tight as an experienced driver weaves through an intricate network of braided river channels, skimming past stony banks and plunging into spray-filled 360-degree spins. The scenery isn’t too shabby either – the sapphire blue Rakaia River is surrounded by towering limestone cliffs and the majestic snow-capped Southern Alps. See www.discoveryjet.co.nz

  2. Soak in a hot spring

    Could there be a better antidote for weary ski legs than a dip in a hot spring? Thankfully, Canterbury has some of the best in the country. The biggest is Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa, a sprawling outdoor complex with seven open-air thermal pools, three sulphur pools, four private pools and a heated freshwater pool. There’s also a spa, sauna and steam room, plus an activity area for the kids. Head south towards Queenstown and you’ll find Tekapo Springs, which has three hot pools with dramatic views of Lake Tekapo and the Two Thumb mountain range. See www.hanmersprings.co.nz www.tekaposprings.co.nz

  3. Whale watching in Kaikoura

    Get up close and personal with the world’s largest toothed predator on a cruise with Whale Watch Kaikoura. Sperm whales are the star attraction on this year-round activity but if you’re lucky you might also see New Zealand fur seals, dusky dolphins and killer whales. The company uses custom-designed catamarans with Hamilton jet units to minimise noise and eco-friendly internal propellers. The cruises are also popular with bird lovers as the region attracts the largest concentration and variety of seabirds in New Zealand, including 13 species of albatross and 14 species of petrel. See www.whalewatch.co.nz

  4. Food and wine

    Given Canterbury’s rich farming heritage, it’s hardly surprising the region has evolved into a world-class food and wine destination. Pick up a Food and Wine trail map from an i-SITE visitor information centre and explore the award-winning wineries in the Waipara Valley, only 45 minutes north of Christchurch Airport. Well known for its spicy pinot noirs, it also produces delicious riesling and pinot gris. Championing the region’s local produce are restaurants such as Roots, an intimate eatery in the port town of Lyttelton that serves a seasonal degustation menu crafted from locally sourced ingredients. And if you find yourself in Kaikoura, it’s basically illegal to leave without trying the crayfish and mussels from Nin’s Bin, a cute caravan with mesmerising views of the ocean and mountains. See www.canterburyfoodandwinetrails.co.nz www.rootsrestaurant.co.nz

  5.  The world's largest dark sky reserve at Mt John
     Dolphin watching in Kaikoura
     Nin's Bin Local Crayfish Food Truck
     Relaxing in the Omarama hot tubs
     Exploring the Tasman Glacier by boat
  6. Shopping spree

    Thanks to the proximity of Canterbury’s ski fields to Christchurch, you can easily take a day off to indulge in some retail therapy. The city has a delightfully eclectic range of options, from open-air markets to bespoke boutiques to a colourful container mall. Start with The Tannery, a former industrial space that’s now a precinct of independent boutiques, then move onto the innovative Re:Start Container Mall, which was a beacon of retail hope after the earthquake in 2011. Art-lovers should check out the local artists in Chambers Art Gallery and foodies will want to visit the Farmers’ Market on Saturday to sample the region’s wide range of home-grown produce. See www.restart.org.nz

  7. The TranzAlpine Rail Trip

    Surely one of the world’s most scenic rail day trips, the TranzAlpine crosses the country from Christchurch on the east coast to Greymouth on the west. Starting in the fertile farmlands of the Canterbury Plains, the route skirts the Waimakariri River, leaping spectacular gorges before climbing 700 metres into the magnificent snow-capped Southern Alps. After traversing the range at Arthur’s Pass, it descends into lush beech rainforest before arriving at Greymouth, where it stops for an hour before starting the return journey. Top tip: bring plenty of memory cards. See www.kiwirailscenic.co.nz

  8. Scenic flights

    To truly appreciate the scale and scenery of the Southern Alps, you need to get airborne. Air Safaris has been running sightseeing trips in this region since 1970 and its award-winning Grand Traverse of Mount Cook and the surrounding glaciers delivers more than 200 kilometres of jaw-dropping scenery. Want to set foot on a glacier? Not a problem – Mount Cook Ski Planes and Helicopters offers flights that include a glacier landing. Finally, for the full retro experience, don a leather flying jacket and goggles for an open-air spin in a biplane with Red Cat Flights. See www.airsafaris.co.nz www.mtcookskiplanes.com www.redcat.co.nz

  9. Go golfing

    Ranked as one of New Zealand’s top five golf courses, Terrace Downs is an 18-hole championship course nestled in the foothills of the Southern Alps. Featuring a sheltered parkland-style front nine and a links-style back nine, there’s plenty of variety and no shortage of challenges thanks to 10 lakes and more than 60 bunkers. What really sets the course apart, though, are the spectacular views of Rakaia Gorge and the surrounding mountains. The 16th hole is particularly striking with a mesmerising vista of Rakaia River and Mount Hutt. Keeping your eye on the ball will be harder than ever. See www.terracedowns.co.nz

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