Story: Canterbury region

Page 16. Sport and leisure

All images & media in this story

With so much flat land, Christchurch has always had many playing fields. Hagley Park was the birthplace of many sporting codes in Canterbury, and Lancaster Park (later Jade Stadium) was the focus of Canterbury sport from its opening in 1881 until it was irreparably damaged in the 2011 earthquake. In 2012 Rugby League Park in Addington was upgraded to host major rugby union, rugby league and football games until a new stadium opened the edge of the rebuilt CBD..


A cricket club formed as early as 1851, foreshadowing Canterbury’s domination of the game. The New Zealand Cricket Council was formed in Christchurch in December 1894 and administration has centred on Christchurch ever since. Following the 2011 earthquake, a new venue for top-level cricket was developed at Hagley Oval.


The Canterbury Rugby Football Union (1879) was the first in New Zealand. It remains the main Canterbury union, although Mid-Canterbury is a separate union competing in the Heartland championship.

In the 20th century, rugby was the most popular sport in Canterbury. Lancaster Park was its home, and many provincial and national touring sides battled it out with the local team in its distinctive black and red colours. The Christchurch-based Crusaders have won more Super Rugby titles than any other franchise.


The Christchurch Lawn Tennis Club was founded in 1881, and there were at least eight clubs by 1886. Anthony Wilding, who won four consecutive Wimbledon men’s singles titles (1910–13), gave Canterbury its leading place in the nation’s tennis history.

Racing and trotting

By the late 1880s Riccarton Racecourse was known as the home of the New Zealand Cup and the Grand National Steeplechase. Cup Day in early November was timed to coincide with the Agricultural and Pastoral show, and it remains a key event.

In 1896 the New Zealand Racing Conference was set up in Christchurch, where it was based until 1930. Trotting began at Lancaster Park in 1886, and Christchurch was soon regarded as the country’s trotting capital. The centre for trotting is now at Addington.

Other sports

The Pioneer Bicycle Club (1870) was probably the first in New Zealand. The Canterbury Rowing Club held regattas on the Avon River from the 19th century. And both the New Zealand boxing and hockey associations were formed in Christchurch in 1902.

In the 1900s swimming and surf clubs formed at Canterbury beaches. Later, other individual sports such as hang gliding and jogging became popular. Skifields at Mt Hutt and on the Craigieburn Range have made skiing a very popular Canterbury sport.

Peter Snell at Lancaster Park

Lancaster Park (later Jade Stadium) hosted many major sporting events. One of the most exciting was when Kiwi runner Peter Snell set world records for the 800 metres and half-mile on 3 February 1962. In the same race Snell set an unofficial world record for the 660 yards.

Commonwealth Games

The most important single event in Christchurch’s sporting history was the 1974 Commonwealth Games. It was considered one of the most successful and friendly games ever held, and television coverage gave the city international publicity.

How to cite this page:

John Wilson, 'Canterbury region - Sport and leisure', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 15 June 2024)

Story by John Wilson, published 14 Sep 2006, reviewed & revised 6 Jul 2015