Christchurch to North(westcoast) or South (westcoast)?

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Moved here from Ireland. Just looking for some information on what would be the best way to travel and paddle and meet good people. Travelling from CHC around start of Feb in a van.
Competent paddler (grade 2-4/5) but havent done anything really in the last two years.
Looking for a good place to ease back into it and to find some people to paddle with and then travel to the West Coast. Will have a playboat and hopefully will come across a creekboat just before I go. Any ideas or suggestions I'd appreciate it.