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Christchurch

Christchurch may have a reputation for being the most English and the most conservative of New Zealand's major cities, but it's far from quiet and subdued -- and let's not get carried away with hype: It's not that English. A river, a few parks, and old buildings do not, England make. That said, it's a picturesque city that's worth more than a cursory glance.

Christchurch's modern airport provides the gateway to the South Island, affectionately known as "The Mainland" by those who live here. It is the third-largest city in New Zealand -- a prosperous place that is home to 337,000 people who enjoy the lowest annual rainfall of any of the four major cities, the greatest temperature extremes, and 2,120 hours of sunshine annually.

With one-eighth of its area devoted to public parks, reserves, and recreation grounds, and with the 186-hectare (459-acre) Hagley Park smack in its center, you shouldn't be surprised to find Christchurch tagged New Zealand's Garden City. This verdant core, along with the Avon River, a spread of Victorian architecture, and the avenues and squares, are almost entirely responsible for the reputation of "Englishness." Plus, with over 50 adventure products to offer, the city is a mecca for anyone who likes a racy edge to his or her holiday. Whether you choose leisurely days discovering the city's cultural foundation or adrenaline-pumping outdoor activities, you'll find that conservative old Christchurch can dish up a few surprises.

The province of Canterbury, stretching from the Southern Alps to the Pacific Ocean, has legendary physical attractions, from ski fields and fishing rivers to the Port Hills tramping tracks and east coast beaches. Day-trip options from Christchurch include Kaikoura, Akaroa, Hanmer, Arthur's Pass, and Methven -- each presenting its own version of provincial hospitality, rural escapism, and heart-stopping outdoor adventure.

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