South Canterbury generally refers to the area south of Christchurch, from the Rangitata River, over to Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park in the west, to Waimate in the south and up to the towns around the eastern port of Timaru. Much of the Canterbury Plains area is contained in South Canterbury, although mountains feature more prominently the further west you go. The landscape is largely rural, much of it agricultural, yet still with some spectacular backdrops, particularly in the north of the region.
Timaru is just 2 hours south of Christchurch and is built on a volcanic base, giving it a hilly feel despite it being on the coast. The town has ample shopping, the Botanic Gardens, art galleries, parks, historic buildings, and is home to the South Canterbury Museum, which details the area's history through all ages of Maori and European settlement, as well as more recent social history.
There's a wonderful beach at Caroline Bay, which also has a boardwalk with shops and cafes, and is popular with families. The town also has the region's best selection of bars and restaurants; particularly recommended are Steak at Customs House and the great international menu at Ginger & Garlic, overlooking Caroline Bay. Further inland, heading towards Lake Tekapo, is the excellent Opihi Vineyard and Cafe, and further still, the village of Fairlie.
Farming is the major industry here, although tourism is catching up, thanks to the beautiful landscape, and it's handy position on the road towards Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. Due east, between SH-79 and SH-1, is the town of Geraldine, a quaint, arty place, popular with painters and writers, and full of craft shops, studios, cafes and its own cinema. You can't stop by here and not pop into the Verde Café Deli for a vanilla bean pancake.
Nearby is Peel Forest, one of the main locations for Peter Jackson's filming of "The Lord Of The Rings" trilogy, and the Rangitata River to the north which is great for adrenalin junkies who need their fix of white water rafting. Between Geraldine and Timaru is Temuka, a buzzing little dairy town, with good facilities like a skate park, swimming pool, and plenty of outdoor sports fields. This is proper residential New Zealand, so if you want to know what it feels like to actually live like a Kiwi, head to Temuka.