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Canterbury, New Zealand facts for kids

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Region of New Zealand
Canterbury Region
Canterbury Region within New Zealand
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
 • Region 44,508 km2 (17,185 sq mi)
 (June 2016)
 • Region 600,100
 • Density 13.4830/km2 (34.921/sq mi)
Demonym(s) Cantabrian
Time zone UTC+12 (NZST)
 • Summer (DST) UTC+13 (NZDT)
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).

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. 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.

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. 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. 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).

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.

Urban areas

Urban area Population
(June 2016)
 % 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
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').

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).

Cardboard Cathedral 09
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.


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.

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