Flights to Otago and Canterbury: Mountains, water and wildlife

Back to nature

Marvel as a whale flips its tail, picture-perfect against a Kaikoura mountain backdrop. Or hide in a hide to watch a penguin waddle ashore at night. But beware! On holiday in Otago and Canterbury you might also meet a grumpy sea lion. Feeling fit? Climb Aoraki/Mt Cook, New Zealand's highest mountain. Or take it easy on a relaxing glacial fiord cruise.

Get cultured

The darling little town of Oamaru was once a thriving port and has now been restored to its Victorian splendour. Stroll around lovingly-preserved buildings, dress in Victorian garb like the locals and dodge wobbling penny-farthing bicycles. Get literal at the quaint childhood home of the late Janet Frame, one of New Zealand's most celebrated writers.

Eat and drink

Flights to Otago and Canterbury reveal long coastlines, braided rivers and huge, glassy lakes. See where this is heading? Fish, and lots of it. Pause in Moeraki for paua (abalone) fritters. Call at a rickety caravan near Kaikoura for just-caught (and cooked) crayfish. Catch your own river-run salmon. If you’re more turf than surf, slap your chops round tender Canterbury lamb, complemented by a gutsy Central Otago pinot noir.

Meet the locals

Scottish-flavoured Dunedin is more than just a university town, but by all means rub shoulders with the hundreds of scarf-clad students downing Speight’s beer and meat pies in the city’s pubs. Be inspired by can-do Cantabrians getting on with life after earthquake devastation, and practise your French with the amiable locals of Akaroa.

Fast facts

Did you know? New Zealand came close to being called Nouvelle Zélande when, in 1838, Maori chiefs signed a deed selling most of Banks Peninsula to a French whaling ship commander. The deal fell through, but Akaroa retains its Gallic flair.

Key dates: Early Maori knew about them, but the presence of thermal waters at Hanmer Springs wasn't fully revealed until 1859, when farmer William Jones noticed a strange fog on his morning walk. And a spa was born.

Population: Otago and Canterbury are New Zealand’s largest – and emptiest – regions. The entire South Island is home to just 24 per cent of the country’s population.

Where? A big chunk of the South Island is taken up by Otago and Canterbury, which claims most of the east coast and extends all the way inland to the Southern Alps.