Christchurch is most certainly an underrated hiking destination.
Best of all, you can access the northern half of the region from Christchurch and be back in town for dinner and drinks. If you are prepared for an overnight stay then your range extends to the Mackenzie District and West Coast.
An hour’s drive gets you to the Canterbury Foothills – an extensive set of mountain ranges east of the Main Divide.
Another hour gets you to the Southern Alps, including Arthur’s Pass and Lewis Pass, both routes to the West Coast.
The volcanic Port Hills are just on the edge of town, and beyond those extends the rest of the Banks Peninsula.
My wife and I moved to the region in early 2020, and managed to enjoy 50 different regional hikes as day trips from Christchurch, with still more to do.
Having checked our so many incredible hikes, we’re excited to share with you some of the best areas to head off on a tramp, along with a sample walk in each of these spots to whet your appetite.
Throw your hiking boots on and get ready to hit the trails.
The Most Memorable Christchurch Walks
Each of these walks is located either within Christchurch or an easy drive. We recommend scanning over them too al choose the best options for you.
There is no doubt that Canterbury offers up plenty of amazing tramping!
The Canterbury Foothills
Flanked by the Southern Alps to the west, and the flat-as-a-pancake Canterbury Plains to the east, the Canterbury Foothills are a smorgasbord of mountains, plains, braided rivers and glacial lakes.
Many of the peaks are starkly beautiful patchworks of tussock grass and scree, some with stands of native beech and podocarp forest on their lower slopes.
This really is a beautiful part of the country.
You’ll find many well-maintained tracks in the area, but as much of the country is open, experienced trampers can extend their options considerably.
Let’s start in the south and work our way north…
South of the Rangitata River
There are a few good hikes in Peel Forest Scenic Reserve, south of the Rangitata River, that are also very accessible from Ashburton and Timaru.
Little Mt Peel – One of the Best Christchurch Walks – Views Galore!
Summit via Deer Spur Track: 9.2km return with a 1,000m change in elevation
Time: 4-5 hours
Climbing Little Mt Peel (1,311m) offers heaps of variety; lush native forest on the lower slopes transition through increasingly stunted vegetation as you climb to the alpine summit. The views over the Canterbury Plains are unparalleled, and in all other directions are countless wrinkly hills and mountains (that are equally stunning).
The usual route up Little Mt Peel is on the Deer Spur Track; most people choose to return this way too. Following this route will take between 4 and 5 hours return for most trampers.
If you want a bit of variety then take the more challenging South Ridge Track either up or down and connect to Deer Spur Track, making a circuit of it.
Ashburton Lakes and Mt Somers
North of the Rangitata River lie the wide-open expanses of the Ashburton Lakes district. East of here, you’ll find the volcanic topography of Mt Somers. Much of the area is preserved in Hakatere Conservation Park.
As you’d expect (because it is on this list, after all) this is a great Canterbury walking location.
Woolshed Creek Hut
Circuit Walk: 11.5km with a 700m change in elevation
Time: 6 hours
The route to Woolshed Creek Hut from Woolshed Creek car park, on the western flanks of Mt Somers, is one of the more unique walks in Canterbury. The many highlights include deep cut and rugged gorges, bluffs, waterfalls, and views of the surrounding peaks.
To gain a bit of height and make it a circuit, use the Bus Stop and Rhyolite Tracks for the outward leg. We then suggest you return along the Miner’s Track, where you’ll get the best views of the gorges. Walking it this way (anti-clockwise) will keep the sun at your back as you gaze at the best scenery on offer from each track.
You’ll need around 6 hours for the circuit, or a bit less if you go in and out on the Miner’s Track.
Lake Coleridge & the Rakaia River
Lake Coleridge is the biggest lake in the Canterbury Foothills, and the Rakai is one of the country’s largest braided rivers. Sandwiched between the two is Peak Hill, a modestly sized mountain with some of the biggest views in the foothills.
Unsurprisingly, this is an amazing place to go hiking!
Summit: 6km return with a 650m change in elevation
Time: 3 hours
For just moderate effort you’d be hard pressed to get better views than those from the summit of Peak Hill. At first there’s a short but steep climb onto a ridge, but from there it’s fairly easy walking to the summit. You’ll be rewarded with great views the whole way too!
It’s a fairly popular walk by Canterbury standards, so consider getting there early if walking on a weekend.
We’d encourage you to think twice about doing this walk in high winds as it’s very exposed.
Peak Hill will take you approximately 3 hours return.
Selwyn & Waimakariri
The foothills north of Lake Coleridge are generally the most accessible from Christchurch.
There’s plenty of tussock and scree on offer in Korowai/Torlesse Tussocklands Park, and also further west in Craigieburn Forest Park – both of which are easily accessed off SH73. It’s a sometimes barren landscape, but the scale is grand and makes for satisfying tramping.
In contrast, on the edge of the plains (to the north of the Waimakiriri River) is a band of native and non-native forest. There you’ll find tracks to the summit of a handful of smaller peaks (Mounts Oxford, Richardson, Thomas and Grey). These destinations are a touch less spectacular than other locations on this list but they’re still worth a visit.
Summit: 4.5km return with an 800m change in elevation
Time: 3 hours
Difficulty: Moderate to hard
Starting at the high point of Porters Pass (942m) west of Springfield, a lightly marked route ascends steeply through tussock and then scree to the summit of Foggy Peak (1,741m). The views are excellent here, with the Canterbury Plains to the east, Craigieburn Range to the west, Big Ben Range and Lake Lyndon to the south, and the rest of the Torlesse Range to the north-east.
This can be a satisfying climb in winter, although you might need an ice axe and crampons. The trail takes approximately 3 hours return.
Many walkers are satisfied with reaching Foggy Peak. Nevertheless, experienced trampers can walk along the broad ridge north-west towards the range high point of Castle Hill Peak (1,998m).
The last bit is quite steep, but in the right conditions it is a safe enough climb to this excellent vantage point. Give yourself an extra 3 hours return to reach Castle Hill Peak (and be sure to pack plenty of snacks and water).
Arthur’s Pass National Park
There are more famous national parks in New Zealand than Arthur’s Pass, but this fabulous landscape that it’s still well worth the accolades it receives!
State Highway 73 runs right through this national treasure. You’ll find tracks dotted along each side of the highway, with some a little further afield, providing access through beautiful native forest to the dramatic alpine landscapes above.
Whatever you do, don’t just drive through this area as you cross from one side of the South Island to the other!
Avalanche Peak – A Challenging Christchurch Walk
Circuit to Summit: 5.5km with a 1,100m change in elevation
Time: 6-8 hours
Difficulty: Moderate to hard
This challenging circuit route to Avalanche Peak (1,833m) is probably the signature walk in Arthur’s Pass. The views of high rugged peaks and deep forested valleys are classic New Zealand wilderness.
The views from almost any other Arthur’s Pass mountain are just as good, but this is the only peak in the park that has marked routes all the way to the summit. This makes it a great first mountain to climb in the area – because of that, you should expect to be joined by quite a few others, at least in good weather.
You have a choice of two routes to the summit: the Avalanche Peal Track (which starts opposite the visitor centre) and Scotts Track (which starts a few hundred metres north along the highway). It is generally recommended to ascend on the Avalanche Peak Track and descend on the Scotts Track. Allow between approximately 6 – 8 hours for this walk.
Pro Safety Tip: If conditions are less than ideal then we suggest you stick to Scotts Track. If conditions are really bad, then give this walk a miss altogether. People have died on these routes, and avalanches are a risk in winter and spring. As always, no tramp is worth your life.
Bealey Spur Track
Bealey Spur Hut: 12km return & 600m change in elevation
Time: 4-5 hours
An easier and safer walk than Avalanche Peak is the Bealey Spur Track to Bealey Spur Hut. This lovely walk takes 4 to 5 hours return.
There are a couple of great viewpoints along the way, but we recommend continuing on roughly an hour past the hut to an unnamed peak at 1,545m to get 360 degree views of the area.
This walk is fabulous any time, but as you can see, it’s especially magical in the snow!
Hanmer Springs & Lewis Pass – Home to Unmissible Christchurch Walks
There are some great walks just behind the hot springs resort town of Hanmer Springs, including a few tracks to the summit of Mt Isobel, reputedly the most climbed mountain in Canterbury. The colourful heath plants give this dry landscape its own uniquely beautiful character.
Another 30 to 40 minutes west you’ll find the much wetter climate of Lewis Pass, and a taste of the West Coast. It’s less rugged than Arthur’s Pass, but for many people the combination of forested u-shaped valleys, scenic tarns and grassy mountain tops make this a favourite hiking destination.
Lewis Tops 5.5km with a 700m change in elevation (1,568m ASL). Unnamed Peak 10.5km with a 800m change in elevation (1,580m ASL
Time: 4.5/6 hours
A great introduction to the area is the tracked then poled route up onto the Lewis Tops right at Lewis Pass (on the border with the West Coast).
It’s a straightforward climb to the tops (the peak is at 1,580m), and then easy off-track walking past picturesque tarns with views over many mountains and glacial valleys.
Continuing on to the unnamed peak at 1,580m will take roughly 6 hours return. If you decide to turn around at Lewis Tops, expect the tramp to take you 4.5 hours.
Port Hills & Banks Peninsula
The volcanic topography of the Banks Peninsula juts out into the Pacific Ocean to the south-east of Christchurch. The landscape has been much altered by farming, but patches of it are protected in nature reserves, and the coastal scenery is very attractive.
Handy to Christchurch, this is a great place to head out walking.
Crater Rim Circuit at Lyttelton
Circuit via Stan Helms Track: 8km with a 500m change in elevation
Time: 3-3.5 hours
It’s possible to put together a gorgeous circuit tramp, starting in the charming port town of Lyttelton and climbing up onto the hills at the back of town. There are excellent views over Christchurch and out to the Canterbury Foothills on one side, and over Lyttelton Harbour on the other.
It really is gorgeous!
You could do this walk in either direction, but we like to do so in a clockwise direction.
Start by climbing on a roughish track up through Urumau Reserve on the eastern edge of town, then up and over Mt Pleasant. From there you can return down the Major Hornbrook Track, or for a longer loop, continue on past Mt Cavendish and take the Bridle Path or (quieter Stan Helms Track) back into town.
You can fit these loops into half a day quite happily.
With so many memorable Christchurch walks, which will you choose next?
Post by Edward Hathway of Hiking Scenery