The Southern Alps run much of the length of the South Island forming a climatic barrier between the west and east coasts. Christchurch is the South Island's largest city. It is the gateway to the South Island, which has some of New Zealand's most stunning scenery. The Canterbury region includes a large central portion of the east coast of the South Island, centered around the city of Christchurch. The Christchurch hinterland of highly productive farmlands extends from the silvery beaches of the east coast to the jagged peaks of the Southern Alps on the western horizon. Christchurch city is located midway down the east coast of the South Island, just north of Banks Peninsula. As the South Island's largest city (population 337,000) and main international gateway it is a vibrant, cosmopolitan place with exciting festivals, theatre, modern art galleries, great shopping, award-winning attractions and a host of activities.
Its Gothic revival cathedral, gray-stone nineteenth century buildings, tree-lined avenues and extensive leafy parks have preserved the grace and charm of an earlier era. The Otago Coast stretches from the Waitaki River to the mighty Clutha River, on the South Island's eastern coast. About halfway between is Dunedin, built around Otago Harbor, which indents Otago Peninsula. Dunedin, with a population of 112,000, is the South Island's second-largest city and the commercial center for the Otago region. Its name is the old Gaelic one for Edinburgh - appropriate since Scottish Presbyterians established the city. It is a gracious city whose numerous grand 19th century and Edwardian buildings are unrivalled anywhere in the Southern Hemisphere.