New Zealand’s second largest city is attractively sandwiched between mountains and sea. It’s a pretty mix of heritage buildings, cafes and gardens and will be part hosting the Rugby World Cup in September and October 2011.

What to see and do

A pleasant introduction to Christchurch is a punting tour on the river Avon (www.punting.co.nz). Alternatively take the heritage tram which circuits the city, hopping off at museums and galleries.
Christchurch Airport boasts a special training campus for Antarctica-bound researchers. Get your own taste at the International Antarctic Centre where you can see exhibits, 3D films and rescued penguins, brave a sub-zero storm and ride an all-terrain vehicle (www.iceberg.co.nz) .

You’re guaranteed to spot the elusive kiwi at Willowbank Wildlife Reserve which has its own breeding programme. There’s also a Maori cultural experience on site (www.willowbank.co.nz). For more communing with nature, take a hiking trail in the Port Hills, accessed by a scenic Gondola ride (www.gondola.co.nz).

Where to eat

In landscaped gardens beside the river, Mona Vale Homestead (www.monavale.co.nz) is perfect for lunch or a post-punt high tea and will even set you up with a picnic basket. Another scenic spot is Hinton’s the ‘cellar door’ of the Hinton Estate Vineyard where you can lunch before browsing gardens and a classic car collection. (www.hintons.net.nz).

Award-winning Hay’s Restaurant (www.foodandwine.co.nz) serves modern New Zealand food and is particularly known for its organic lamb raised on the owners’ farm. Your meal comes with musical accompaniment at Octagon, a stunning converted church (www.octagonlive.co.nz)

Where to drink

Christchurch’s entertainment district SOL Square (www.sol.net.nz) contains several music venues, restaurants and bars including former bootleg distillery Cleaners Only and wine bar Vinum Shed. You can Find Belgium’s finest at the retro-styled Belgian Beer Café (www.belgianbeercafe.net.nz) but for something local it has to be wine – Pegasus Bay is among accessible vineyards (www.pegasusbay.com). If you’re up late try your luck at Christchurch Casino before retiring to one of its two bars (www.christchurchcasino.co.nz).

Where to stay

The Hotel Grand Chancellor is within strolling distance of central Cathedral Square and its 26 floors have views to the Southern Alps. (www.ghihotels.com). Also centrally located, the Worcester of Christchurch has just two suites, furnished with antiques (www.worcester.co.nz).

Just outside the city, another heritage option is Otahuna Lodge which is set in 30 acres of botanic gardens (www.otahuna.co.nz). A more affordable country experience comes at Pete’s Farmstay in the Canterbury Plains where you can watch sheep being sheared and cows being milked and muck-in should you wish (www.petesfarm.co.nz).

From Christchurch…

Christchurch offers its own wildlife cruises but a day trip to Kiakoura is best for whale-watching and dolphin encounters. Aoraki Mount Cook national park is home to glaciers and the country’s highest peak.

One of the loveliest journeys in New Zealand can be made on the TranzAlpine train, between Christchurch and westerly Greymouth, which also stops at Arthur’s Pass – a location for the Narnia films. The TranzCoastal train travels between Christchurch and Picton. (www.tranzscenic.co.nz)