Here are our Top 10 Free Activities in Christchurch & Canterbury


1. Margaret Mahy Playground

Opened in 2015, the Margaret Mahy Playground–named after one of New Zealand’s most popular children’s writers–is the largest playground in the southern hemisphere. Covering over 16,000 square metres, families can find something fun for all ages. Spend all day enjoying the  picnic spots, free BBQs, water play areas, giant climbing structures, huge slides and more!

There are almost 300 playgrounds in Canterbury. Check the Playgrounds in Christchurch map to explore a different one every week!

2. Lyttleton

The quaint colonial settlement of Lyttleton is only a short drive from Christchurch city and a great family day trip. Drive under the hills, through New Zealand’s longest road tunnel to discover the Port of Lyttleton and its historic township. Watch the ships unload, explore the nearby bays, or head off on one of the many picturesque walks available. For a more educational family day out, how about a heritage site hunt! There are a number of historical sites to discover in Lyttleton, from the Antarctic Dog sled port statue to Grubb cottage, the oldest surviving domestic dwelling dating back to 1851. Some of the heritage sites are open for visitors during the week so be sure to check the Lyttleton website for details.   

3. Botanic Gardens

With 21 hectares of greenery to explore, the Botanic Gardens is well worth a day trip. Take a packed lunch or grab a bite at one of the cafes, then relax on a blanket while the kids’ enjoy the playground. From mid-November until the end of March an outdoor paddling pool is available for cooling off on sunny days. Wander the rose and herb gardens, or visit the banana trees in the Cuningham house conservatory and experience the heat and humidity of a tropical rainforest!

4. The Beach

Canterbury offers a number of beautiful, long sandy beaches for strolling, swimming and playing on. Sumner Beach is a favourite with its holiday-feel shopping area and relaxing atmosphere, while New Brighton Beach has the added bonus of a 300m pier (the longest in Australasia) for the kids to run along and a modern library right on the beach, perfect for taking a break from the sun. Even in winter the beaches are wonderful areas to explore. Wrap up warm, grab some fish ‘n chips and enjoy the dramatic sea views! Check here for a full list of some of the best beaches around Canterbury

5. Ashley Gorge

Only 45-60 minutes from Christchurch city, Ashley Gorge is fantastic for camping or day trips in summer. Its beautiful surroundings and steadily flowing river make it the perfect setting for summer family barbeques, swimming and fishing. Nearby, the Glentui Loop track is an hour-long family friendly walk for those wanting to explore. And just ten minutes down the road from Ashley Gorge is the township of Oxford–just in case an emergency ice-cream stop is needed!

6. Oxford

The scenic drive out to Oxford is a treat in itself. 30-45 minutes out of Christchurch, Oxford’s attractive township boasts cafes, a museum, an art gallery and number of easy family-friendly walks close by. Beautiful in summer or winter (you might even get to play in snow!), Oxford makes for a great day out and about.

7. Springfield/ Lake Lyndon and Porters Pass

On highway 73, just over an hour from Christchurch City, families can enjoy a snow-filled wintery adventure! Check the weather, grab your sleds and spend the day flying down the small snow-covered slopes of Porters Pass. Stop for a play and photo opportunity at Springfield’s giant donut and then keep your eyes peeled for the perfect snowy spot. There are plenty of places to choose from right next to the road and nearby Lake Lyndon offers toilets and a picnic area to have a lunch break, build a snowman and start a snowball fight! Lake Lyndon sometimes freezes over in winter too which can be an added experience for the kids.

8. Canterbury Museum

Located in central Christchurch, right next to the Botanic Gardens, Canterbury Museum is a free family activity to be enjoyed over and over again. The historic museum blends old and new in a way that make every room an experience. From the recreated late 1800s Christchurch Street, the huge Allosaurus skeleton, to the kids’ Discover Centre there’s something for everyone to learn and love. To see what’s on now check out the Canterbury Museum official website.     

9. Broken River Cave and Castle Hill

Cave stream–or Broken River Cave–is a popular and relatively easy beginner caving experience for families. 100km from Christchurch, Cave stream is an exciting experience but one that you definitely need to plan for. Older children and fit, inexperienced cavers can walk upstream and feel the excitement of the pitch-black caves, the rushing water and the climb at the end, but it can be dangerous if you are not well prepared or go through when the water is too high. Check the doc website for tips and advice on making your trip a fun one, not a risky one. Nearby, historic Castle Hill is a great spot for bouldering and adventuring. You may even discover one of the 500-year old charcoal drawings hidden in the limestone outcrops!

10. Imagination Station

With a brand new space in the Christchurch Central library, the Imagination Station is Lego heaven! Six building tables, two building pits and unlimited blocks means your kids can let their imaginations go wild. Spend as long as you want building and then take a trip around Turanga–the brand new Central library. Try out New Zealand’s largest digital touch-wall, or give Augmented Reality a go with the Bookbot challenge.

For more information on things to do on wet and cold days in Christchurch check out our blog with Top 10 tips