Canterbury, New Zealand

Region of New Zealand
Canterbury Region

Canterbury Region within New Zealand
Coordinates: 43°36′S 172°00′E / 43.6°S 172.0°E / -43.6; 172.0Coordinates: 43°36′S 172°00′E / 43.6°S 172.0°E / -43.6; 172.0
Country  New Zealand
Island South Island
Established 1989
Seat Christchurch
Territorial authorities
  Chairperson Margaret Bazley
  Region 44,508 km2 (17,185 sq mi)
Demonym(s) Cantabrian
Time zone NZST (UTC+12)
  Summer (DST) NZDT (UTC+13)
A map showing population density in the Canterbury Region at the 2006 census

Canterbury (Māori: Waitaha) is a region of New Zealand, located in the central-eastern South Island. The region covers an area of 44,508 square kilometres (17,185 sq mi), and is home to a population of 600,100 (June 2016).[1]

The region in its current form was established in 1989 during nationwide local government reforms. The Kaikoura District joined the region in 1992 following the abolition of the Nelson-Marlborough Regional Council.

Christchurch, the South Island's largest city and the country's third-largest urban area, is the seat of the region and home to 65 percent of the region's population. Other major towns and cities include Timaru, Ashburton, Rangiora and Rolleston.



In 1848, Edward Gibbon Wakefield, a Briton, and John Robert Godley, an Anglo-Irish aristocrat, founded the Canterbury Association to establish an Anglican colony in the South Island. The colony was based upon theories developed by Wakefield while in prison for eloping with a woman not-of-age. Due to ties to the prestigious Oxford University, the Canterbury Association succeeded in raising sufficient funds and recruiting middle-class and upper-class settlers.[2] In April 1850, a preliminary group led by Godley landed at Port Cooper—modern-day Lyttelton Harbour—and established a port, housing and shops in preparation for the main body of settlers. In December 1850, the first wave of 750 settlers arrived at Lyttelton in a fleet of four ships.[2]

Following 1850, the province's economy developed with the introduction of sheep farming. The Canterbury region's tussock plains in particular were suitable for extensive sheep farming. Since they were highly valued by settlers for their meat and wool, there were over half a million sheep in the region by the early 1850s. By the 1860s, this figure had risen to three million.[2] During this period, the architect Benjamin Mountfort designed many civic and ecclesiastical buildings in the Gothic Revival style.

Canterbury Province

Main article: Canterbury Province

The Canterbury Province was formed in 1853 following the passing of the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852. It was formed from part of New Munster Province and covered the middle part of the South Island, stretching from the east coast to the west coast. The province was abolished, along with other provinces of New Zealand, when the Abolition of the Provinces Act came into force on 1 Nov 1876.[3] The modern Canterbury Region has slightly different boundaries, particularly in the north, where it includes some districts from the old Nelson Province.


The area administered by the Canterbury Regional Council consists of all the river catchments on the east coast of the South Island from that of the Clarence River, north of Kaikoura, to that of the Waitaki River, in South Canterbury. It is New Zealand's largest region by area, with an area of 45,346 km2.

Canterbury was traditionally bounded in the north by the Conway River, to the west by the Southern Alps, and to the south by the Waitaki River. The area is commonly divided into North Canterbury (north of the Rakaia River to the Conway River), Mid Canterbury (from the Rakaia River to the Rangitata River), South Canterbury (south of the Rangitata River to the Waitaki River) and Christchurch City.


Canterbury is home to 600,100 people according to Statistics New Zealand's June 2016, 13 percent of New Zealand's population. It the most populous in the South Island and the second most populous region in New Zealand (after Auckland).[1]

The median age of Canterbury's population is 39.9 years, two years above the New Zealand median. Around 15.5 percent of the population is aged 65 or over while 18.7 percent is aged under 15. There are 97.5 males for every hundred females in Canterbury.[4]

Urban areas

Urban area Population
(June 2016)[1]
% of region
Christchurch 389,700 64.9%
Timaru 28,800 4.8%
Ashburton 19,850 3.3%
Rangiora 17,350 2.9%
Rolleston 13,100 2.2%
Lincoln 5,240 0.9%
Temuka 4,330 0.7%
Woodend 3,040 0.5%
Waimate 2,920 0.5%
Geraldine 2,460 0.4%
Oxford 2,140 0.4%
Darfield 2,140 0.4%
Kaikoura 2,080 0.3%
Methven 1,860 0.3%
Leeston 1,810 0.3%
Amberley 1,760 0.3%
Pleasant Point 1,370 0.2%
Twizel 1,230 0.2%
Rakaia 1,190 0.2%

Culture and identity

Largest groups of overseas-born residents[5]
Nationality Population (2013)
 United Kingdom 34,719
 Australia 8,520
 China 7,380
 Philippines 4,647
 South Africa 4,107
 Netherlands 3,087
 India 2,937
 South Korea 2,904
 United States 2,754
 Samoa 2,523

At the 2013 Census of Population and Dwellings, 86.9 percent of Cantabrians identified as of European ethnicity, 8.1 percent as Māori, 6.9 percent as Asian, 2.5 percent as Pacific Peoples, 0.8 percent as Middle Eastern/Latin American/African, and 2.0 percent as another ethnicity (mainly 'New Zealander').[6]

Just under 20 percent of Canterbury's population was born overseas, compared to 25 percent for New Zealand as a whole. The British Isles remains the largest region of origin, accounting for 36.5 percent of the overseas-born population in Canterbury. Around a quarter of Canterbury's overseas-born population at the 2013 Census had been living in New Zealand for less than five years, and 11 percent had been living in New Zealand for less than two years (i.e. they moved to New Zealand after the 2011 Christchurch earthquake).[5][6]

The Cardboard Cathedral in Christchurch opened in August 2013 as the transitional pro-cathedral for the Anglican Diocese of Christchurch. Anglicans make up 14.8 percent of Canterbury's population.

Around 49.7 percent of Cantabrians affiliate with Christianity and 3.3 percent affiliate with non-Christian religions, while 44.5 percent are irreligious. Anglicanism is the largest Christian denomination in Canterbury with 14.8 percent affiliating, while Catholicism is the second-largest with 12.7 percent affiliating.[6]


Crossing the Macauley River, Lilybank Station, Canterbury, New Zealand, 1977.

The Canterbury region’s economy is diversified into agriculture, industry, fishing, forestry, tourism and energy resources such as coal and hydroelectricity.[7] Its agriculture sector is also diversified into dairy farming, sheep farming and horticulture particularly viticulture.[8] The strength of the region's agricultural economy is displayed every November at the Canterbury A&P Show. The show coincides with the regional anniversary day and Cup Week. During the interwar period, agricultural productivity was boosted by the introduction of mechanization, lime and the improvement of seed stocks. Canterbury is also New Zealand's main producer of cereal crops such as wheat, barley and oats. As of 2002, the region produced 60.7% of the nation's supply of wheat, 51.1% of its barley stocks and 43.7% of its supply of oats.[8]

The region's viticulture industry was established by French settlers in Akaroa. Since then, wine-growing is concentrated into two regions: Waipara and Burnham.[8] Recently there have been vintages from plantings from Kurow further to the south. White wine has typically predominated in Canterbury from Riesling, Sauvignon blanc, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, and to a lesser extent Pinot blanc and Pinot gris. Pinot noir has had some success in the province particularly in Waipara.

The manufacturing industry is the second-largest contributor to the Canterbury economy. With so many agricultural businesses, there is especially room for development and innovation in products for this sector, as well as construction and engineering as a result of the 2011 Christchurch earthquake. 2,000 local manufacturing companies employ 23,000 workers, contributing an estimated $2.2 billion NZD to the national GDP.[9]

The sub-national GDP of the Canterbury region was estimated at US$15.074 billion in 2003, 12% of New Zealand's national GDP.[10]


The Canterbury Plains seen from Mount Hutt

Like much of the Canterbury-Otago tussock grasslands the Canterbury Plains have been highly modified since human settlement and now support a large agricultural industry. Prior to the arrival of Māori settlers in the 13th century, much of the modern Canterbury region was covered in scrub and beech forests. Forest fires destroyed much of the original forest cover which was succeeded by tussock grassland. By the 19th century, only ten percent of this forest cover remained and the European settlers introduced several new exotic grass, lupin, pine and macrocarpa that gradually supplanted the native vegetation. Much of the native vegetation was isolated to the alpine zones and Banks Peninsula. Recently, the amount of forest on Banks Peninsula has increased from a minimum of about one percent of its original forest cover.

The amount of dairy farming is increasing with a corresponding increase in demand for water. Water use is now becoming a contentious issue in Canterbury. Lowland rivers and streams are generally polluted and some of the aquifers are being overdrawn. The Central Plains Water scheme is a proposal for water storage that has attracted much controversy. The Canterbury Water Management Strategy is one of the many means being used to address the water issue.

The Canterbury mudfish (kowaro) is an endangered species that is monitored by the Department of Conservation.

Politics and government

Local government

The Canterbury region is administered by the Canterbury Regional Council. The area includes ten territorial authorities, including Christchurch City Council and part of the Waitaki District, the other part of which is in Otago. Following the local government reform of 1989, Kaikoura District was part of the Nelson-Marlborough Region. That region was later abolished and replaced with three unitary authorities. Kaikoura was too small to function as an independent unitary authority and was moved under the jurisdiction of the Canterbury Regional Council in 1992. However Kaikoura remains part of Marlborough in the minds of many people. In 2006, the Banks Peninsula District was merged into Christchurch City following a 2005 referendum.

Parliamentary representation

The Canterbury Region is covered by eleven parliamentary electorates which consists of ten general electorates and one Maori electorate. The city of Christchurch as a whole consists of five of these electorates, while the electorate of Waimakariri contains a mix of Christchurch and exurban Canterbury. The Port Hills and Wigram electorates are currently held by Labour Party members Ruth Dyson and Megan Woods respectively. Christchurch East is held by Poto Williams. Meanwhile, Christchurch Central, Ilam and Waimakariri are currently held by the governing National Party's Nicky Wagner, Gerry Brownlee and Kate Wilkinson, respectively. In contrast to Christchurch, much of the surrounding Canterbury region is dominated by the National Party due to its ties to rural farming and business interests.

Under the Maori seats system, Canterbury is part of the large Te Tai Tonga election which covers the entire South Island, the surrounding islands and most of Wellington in the North Island. It is currently held by Labour Party MP Rino Tirikatene.

Following the 2006 Census, several boundary changes were implemented in the Canterbury region. Rakaia and Aoraki were renamed Selwyn and Rangitata respectively while the Banks Peninsula was reconstituted as the Port Hills. The large Kaikoura electorate covers all of the Marlborough Region and is represented by National MP Colin King. The substantial Waitaki electorate coveres most of South Canterbury and neighbouring North Otago. Rangitata and Selwyn are held by National MPs Jo Goodhew and Amy Adams while Waitaki is represented by Jacqui Dean who also represents much of the Otago region with the exception of the Dunedin North and Dunedin South electorates.

Members of Parliament for Canterbury
Electorate Established MP Party
Christchurch Central 1946 Nicky Wagner National
Christchurch East 1996 Poto Williams Labour
Ilam 1996 Gerry Brownlee National
Kaikōura* 1996 Colin King National
Port Hills 2008 Ruth Dyson Labour
Rangitata 2008 Jo Goodhew National
Selwyn 2008 Amy Adams National
Te Tai Tonga* 1996 Rino Tirikatene Labour
Waimakariri 1996 Matt Doocey National
Waitaki* 2008 Jacqui Dean National
Wigram 1996 Megan Woods Labour


State Highway 1 runs the length of Canterbury, connecting north to Blenheim and the Cook Strait ferry terminal at Picton and south to Oamaru, Dunedin and Invercargill.

Christchurch International Airport, located in Harewood on the northwester outskirts of Christchurch, is the region's main airport. Regular flights operate from Christchurch to most major centres in New Zealand, as well as Australia, the Pacific Islands and eastern Asia. Timaru's Richard Pearse Airport serves South Canterbury with daily flights to Wellington.


Canterbury is served by 292 primary and secondary schools educating around 94,000 students from ages 5 to 18. Around 13 percent of students attend state-integrated schools and 5 percent attend private schools, with the remaining 82 percent attending state schools.[11]

Both Christchurch and Timaru have single-sex state secondary schools. Rolleston is currently the largest town in New Zealand without a secondary school; its first, Rolleston College, is due to open in January 2017.

Canterbury has two universities: the University of Canterbury located in western Christchurch, and Lincoln University located in Lincoln.


The region is home the Crusaders who play in the Super Rugby competition. The Crusaders also represent other provinces in the upper South Island, but are based in Christchurch. They were formerly known as the Canterbury Crusaders.

In provincial rugby Canterbury is represented by three unions; Canterbury, Mid Canterbury and South Canterbury. For Historical reasons players from Kaikoura District still play for the Marlborough Rugby Union which is part of the Tasman Provincial team (Nelson/Marlborough Unions combined).

The Canterbury Wizards are Canterbury's cricket team in New Zealand's State Championship.

Other sporting teams include the Canterbury Tactix (Netball) and Canterbury United (Football).

Film location

Canterbury was the location used in the filming The Lord of the Rings for the fictional city of Edoras, Rohan, on Mount Sunday, as well as Helm's deep backdrop, several miles down the valley.[12]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 "Subnational Population Estimates: At 30 June 2016 (provisional)". Statistics New Zealand. 21 October 2016. Retrieved 21 October 2016. For urban areas, "Subnational population estimates (UA, AU), by age and sex, at 30 June 1996, 2001, 2006-16 (2017 boundary)". Statistics New Zealand. 21 October 2016. Retrieved 21 October 2016.
  2. 1 2 3 John Parker, Frontier of Dreams: From Treaty to Nationhood (1830–1913), Auckland, NZ: Scholastic (NZ) Ltd, 2005 (ISBN 978-1-86943-681-0), pp. 58–59
  3. New Zealand Provinces 1848-77
  4. "2013 Census QuickStats about a place: Canterbury Region – Age and sex". Statistics New Zealand. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  5. 1 2 "Birthplace (detailed), for the census usually resident population count, 2001, 2006, and 2013 (RC, TA) – NZ.Stat". Statistics New Zealand. Retrieved 23 January 2016.
  6. 1 2 3 "2013 Census QuickStats about culture and identity – data tables". Statistics New Zealand. 15 April 2014. Archived from the original on 24 May 2014. Retrieved 25 January 2016. Note some percentages (e.g. ethnicity, language) may add to more than 100 percent as people could give multiple responses.
  7. Wilson, John (2 March 2009). "Canterbury region: Industry". Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 11 June 2010.
  8. 1 2 3 Wilson, John (2 March 2009). "Canterbury region: Agriculture after 1900". Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 11 June 2010.
  9. "Christchurch Manufacturing Jobs". Retrieved 9 March 2015.
  10. "Regional Gross Domestic Product". Statistics New Zealand. 2007. Retrieved 18 February 2010.
  11. "Directory of Schools - as at 2 August 2016". New Zealand Ministry of Education. Retrieved 2016-08-16.
Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Canterbury (New Zealand).
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