Canterbury, New Zealand

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 617,700 (June 2018).[1]


Canterbury Region
Canterbury Region within New Zealand
Coordinates: 43.6°S 172.0°E / -43.6; 172.0
Country New Zealand
IslandSouth Island
Territorial authorities
  ChairpersonJenny Hughey (TPC)
  Region44,508 km2 (17,185 sq mi)
 (June 2018)[1]
  Density14/km2 (36/sq mi)
Time zoneUTC+12 (NZST)
  Summer (DST)UTC+13 (NZDT)
HDI (2017)0.925[2]
very high · 4th

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 University of Oxford, the Canterbury Association succeeded in raising sufficient funds and recruiting middle-class and upper-class settlers.[3] 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.[3]

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.[3] During this period, the architect Benjamin Mountfort designed many civic and ecclesiastical buildings in the Gothic Revival style.

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.[4] 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.


Historical population
YearPop.±% p.a.
2018 est.624,200+2.09%
Source: [1]

Statistics New Zealand estimates the population of Canterbury is 624,200 as of June 2018. The region is home to 12.8% of New Zealand's population.[5]

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.[6]

Urban areas

Culture and identity

Largest groups of overseas-born residents[7]
NationalityPopulation (2013)
 United Kingdom34,719
 South Africa4,107
 South Korea2,904
 United States2,754

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').[8]

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).[7][8]

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.[8]

Ethnic groups of Canterbury residents, 2013 census[9]
   New Zealand European418,98381.1
   European (not further defined)3,0000.6
Pacific peoples12,7202.5
Middle Eastern/Latin American/African4,3740.8
   New Zealander10,0501.9
Total people stated516,360100.0
Not elsewhere included23,0734.3


The Canterbury region's economy is diversified into agriculture, industry, fishing, forestry, tourism and energy resources such as coal and hydroelectricity.[10] Its agriculture sector is also diversified into dairy farming, sheep farming and horticulture particularly viticulture.[11] 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.[11]

Canterbury has 25,065 hectares of horticultural land, the largest area in New Zealand. The largest crops are potatoes (4,330 ha), peas and beans (2,700 ha), wine grapes (1,770 ha), berries (1,100 ha), and onions (1,000 ha). The region produces half of the New Zealand's mushrooms, nuts and berries.[12]

The region's viticulture industry was established by French settlers in Akaroa. Since then, wine-growing is concentrated into two regions: Waipara and Burnham.[11] 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.[13]

The sub-national gross domestic product (GDP) of Canterbury was estimated at NZ$35.39 billion in 2017, 12.4% of New Zealand's national GDP.[14]


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. From a minimum of about one percent of its original forest cover in circa 1900, the amount of forest on Banks Peninsula has increased.

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.[15]

Government and politics

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.

National government

The Canterbury Region is covered by ten general electorates and one Māori 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, Wigram, Christchurch Central, and Christchurch East electorates are currently held by the governing Labour Party members Ruth Dyson, Megan Woods, Duncan Webb, and Poto Williams respectively. Meanwhile, the Ilam and Waimakariri electorates are currently held by members of the opposition (National Party's) Gerry Brownlee and Matthew Doocey 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. The large Kaikoura electorate covers all of the Marlborough Region and northern Canterbury and is represented by National MP Stuart Smith. The substantial Waitaki electorate covers 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.

Under the Maori seats system, Canterbury is part of the large Te Tai Tonga electorate 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.

Judicially, the region is served by four District Courts at Christchurch, Ashburton, Timaru and Kaikoura, and two High Courts at Christchurch and Timaru.[16] The Christchurch High Court also hosts a divisional court of the Court of Appeal.


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 northwest 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.[17]

Both Christchurch and Timaru have single-sex state secondary schools.

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 Kings are Canterbury's cricket team in New Zealand's State Championship. Other sporting teams include the Mainland Tactix (netball), Canterbury United FC (football) and Canterbury Rams (basketball).

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.[18]

See also


  1. "Subnational Population Estimates: At 30 June 2018 (provisional)". Statistics New Zealand. 23 October 2018. Retrieved 23 October 2018. For urban areas, "Subnational population estimates (UA, AU), by age and sex, at 30 June 1996, 2001, 2006-18 (2017 boundaries)". Statistics New Zealand. 23 October 2018. Retrieved 23 October 2018.
  2. "Sub-national HDI - Area Database - Global Data Lab". Retrieved 13 September 2018.
  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
  4. "New Zealand provinces 1848-77".
  5. "Subnational Population Estimates: At 30 June 2018 (final)". Statistics New Zealand. 15 November 2018. Retrieved 21 November 2018.
  6. "2013 Census QuickStats about a place: Canterbury Region – Age and sex". Statistics New Zealand. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  7. "Birthplace (detailed), for the census usually resident population count, 2001, 2006, and 2013 (RC, TA) – NZ.Stat". Statistics New Zealand. Retrieved 23 January 2016.
  8. "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.
  9. "Ethnic group (total responses), for the census usually resident population count, 2001, 2006, and 2013 Censuses (RC, TA, AU)". Statistics New Zealand.
  10. Wilson, John (2 March 2009). "Canterbury region: Industry". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 11 June 2010.
  11. Wilson, John (2 March 2009). "Canterbury region: Agriculture after 1900". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 11 June 2010.
  12. "Fresh Facts: New Zealand Horticulture" (PDF). Plant & Food Research. 2018. ISSN 1177-2190.
  13. "Christchurch Manufacturing Jobs". Retrieved 9 March 2015.
  14. "Regional gross domestic product: Year ended March 2018 | Stats NZ". Retrieved 26 June 2019.
  15. "Mudfish: New Zealand Freshwater Fish". Department of Conservation. Retrieved 22 February 2019.
  16. "Contact a court — Courts of New Zealand". Retrieved 27 June 2019.
  17. "Directory of Schools - as at 3 April 2019". New Zealand Ministry of Education. Retrieved 9 May 2018.
  18. (DOC), corporatename = New Zealand Department of Conservation. "Lord of the Rings locations".
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