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Walk Your Way Around Canterbury New Zealand

Updated on September 17, 2014
View across Travis Wetland, Christchurch, New Zealand
View across Travis Wetland, Christchurch, New Zealand

Despite now being known as shaky central, Canterbury is a great place to explore on foot. If you want flat land for walking you'll find it on the Canterbury Plains. For hill walks the Port Hills provide amazing views across the plains to the Southern Alps and the sea.

Waterside walking is easy to find here - enjoy a stroll along Canterbury's sandy beaches or try one of the lake walks around Lake Coleridge or Lake Pukaki. If you're looking for shorter walks in central Christchurch city the Botanical Gardens is close by. Or you might want to get a pack on your back and go tramping (hiking) in the majestic Southern Alps.

Whatever your length of stay in Canterbury and your level of fitness, you'll find plenty of opportunity to stretch your legs and enjoy wonderful scenery.

Rose Garden, Christchurch Botanical Gardens
Rose Garden, Christchurch Botanical Gardens

Walking in Central Christchurch City

Yes it is safe! Well, most everything that might have once hit you has fallen by now. And the cordons are falling too - street by street the no-go 'red zone' shrinks and we can explore the city by foot. It is a changed city but one that is rising from the ground in exciting and inspiring ways. Visit the vibrant ReStart container mall. Stroll along the restored art deco charm of New Regent Street. Pay respects to the shattered Christchurch Cathedral.

If you're staying in Christchurch city, which you certainly can post-quake, make sure you visit our gorgeous Christchurch Botanical Gardens, bordered by the Avon River and Hagley Park. Here you can grab a quick ten minute walk or enjoy wandering for an hour or more. Entry to the 21 hectares of parkland is free and there's a lot to see while you walk the many pathways, including wild birds and sculpture.

Hagley Park, Christchurch, New Zealand
Hagley Park, Christchurch, New Zealand | Source
Banks of the Avon River, Christchurch, New Zealand
Banks of the Avon River, Christchurch, New Zealand | Source

The Avon River winds its way through the city, providing a beautiful pathway along which to discover central Christchurch. Close to the Botanical Gardens is the Arts Centre, which was once open to visitors all week. However, since being damaged in the Canterbury earthquakes, there is limited access to the site and sadly the arts, crafts and produce market has moved to a new location. Hopefully one day it will return.

Only one or two of the original Arts Centre buildings are still open. I'm happy to report that the incredible Canterbury Cheesemongers is trading from one of them - an essential visit for cheese lovers!

You can still walk around the perimeter of the Arts Centre - the experience is arresting more for the damage than for the impressive Gothic architecture. Across the road is the Christchurch Art Gallery, which will hopefully open soon. So don't be dismayed, there is still lots to see on foot within just a short distance. Especially if you want to see quake demolition and rebuild! There aren't as many cafes and bars in the area as there were before February 2011 but the Canterbury Cheesemongers and the nearby Coffee House are enough to satisfy any hungry foodie.

Christchurch Arts Centre after the 22 February 2011 earthquake
Christchurch Arts Centre after the 22 February 2011 earthquake | Source

Have You Visited Christchurch?

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Christchurch Earthquake! - From the safety of your armchair...

Old Bucky & Me: Dispatches from the Christchurch Earthquake
Old Bucky & Me: Dispatches from the Christchurch Earthquake

Jane Bowron is renowned for her punchy journalism, so it is our very good luck that she decided to write about her earthquake experiences.

 
Earthquake (Christchurch, New Zealand: 22 February, 2011)
Earthquake (Christchurch, New Zealand: 22 February, 2011)

I think every Christchurch resident will have looked at this one!

 

Christchurch Botanical Gardens

Twisty tree, Christchurch Botanical Gardens
Twisty tree, Christchurch Botanical Gardens

Walks Around Christchurch City

Close to central Christchurch and the Botanical Gardens are two historical homesteads that are now open to the public.

Mona Vale offers more than 5 hectares of gardens and historic architecture, and is a popular place for walking and picnics. You'll find Mona Vale close to the north-west edge of Hagley Park. Though the Mona Vale homestead has been damaged in the quakes, the grounds are still open to foot traffic.

A walkway at Mona Vale, Christchurch, New Zealand
A walkway at Mona Vale, Christchurch, New Zealand

Further west of Hagley Park is Riccarton Bush. This preserved stand of original native forest is an oasis in the bustling city, with a walkway open through the tall kahikatea trees. Here you can also explore the grounds of historic Riccarton House, which offers morning and afternoon teas. Luckily the building has survived and there is a bustling Farmers Market here on Saturdays, plus an Artisan Market on Sundays.

I haven't made it to the Sunday Market at Riccarton House yet but the Saturday Farmers Market is fantastic. Live music, dewy fresh veges, hot gourmet porridge and steaming coffee. The vibe makes it a regular drawcard for us and so many others. Don't miss it!

On the outer edges of the city you can explore another example of preserved native habitat at Travis Wetland Nature Heritage Park. The freshwater wetland park preserves around 16 hectares between Cathedral Square and the Pacific Ocean, and is accessible via a walkway around the perimeter. I haven't visited since the quakes, so can't let you know if any parts of the track are closed. I will find out and report back!

On the other side of the city, closer to Christchurch International Airport there are many popular walkways at Groynes Reserve. This area offers a combination of waterway, lake and farmland tracks. I haven't been here for a while but suspect some areas may still be out of bounds. We will visit soon...

Travis Wetland, Christchurch, New Zealand
Travis Wetland, Christchurch, New Zealand
Harry Ell walkway, Christchurch, New Zealand
Harry Ell walkway, Christchurch, New Zealand

The Port Hills and Lyttelton Harbour

The Port Hills provide a great place for anyone wanting hill walking with a panoramic view of the Canterbury Plains or views into Lyttelton Harbour and Banks Peninsula.

So far since the main Februrary 2011 quake I've walked the Harry Ell track up past VIctoria Park but haven't explored the other tracks we used to visit. I'll find out more about their condition and report back. Until then, the info below is probably best read for historical interest only as I'm not yet sure it is all still accurate. Many tracks experienced rock falls and slips, so conditions have changed since this was first written.

Victoria Park on the Port Hills is a popular base for hill walks. From here one well-used walk follows a track along Dyers Pass to the historic Sign Of The Kiwi, one of several stone 'resting houses' built by Harry Ell in the early 20th century. The Kiwi offered refreshment to travellers at the top of the hill until the earthquakes but since then is cordoned off. You will need to carry your own snacks now! The Harry Ell track is an easy track through a range of landscapes, and it is suitable for all ages and levels of fitness.

The photo above shows part of the Harry Ell track on the Port Hills. The track takes around 45-60 minutes return and provides extensive views of the Canterbury Plains and Southern Alps. You can begin the track at the historic Sign of the Takahe resthouse just below Victoria Park, or you can join the track further up the hill at Victoria Park itself if you'd like a shorter walk. If you don't feel like stopping after an hour, there are plenty of other tracks you can join from the Harry Ell that explore more of the Port Hills and Summit Road.

Another perennial favourite is just over the hill from the Summit Road in picturesque Governors Bay. This walk covers about 3km between the Governors Bay jetty and the Alandale carpark. Originally this track was the local bridle path and I think may have been built by prisoners from Lyttelton Gaol. It is still unsealed and retains some of its olden day feel with views across the harbour towards wild golden hills. Flat terrain, easy walking - a no brainer when you feel like stretching your legs in a beautiful place. And the jetty is just down the hill from She Cafe and Chocolaterie, very convenient.

Governors Bay walkway, Lyttelton Harbour, Canterbury, New Zealand
Governors Bay walkway, Lyttelton Harbour, Canterbury, New Zealand

Rapaki Track

There are many well-loved trails in the Port Hills. One of these is Rapaki Track, which sees walkers and mountain-bikers climbing from the base of the hills to the Summit Road.

Rapaki Track is an unsealed track that is fairly steep in places. It is around 3.5 km from the base of Huntsbury HIll to the Summit Road that runs along the top of the Port Hills. It doesn't take long before you are well above the city and able to get some great views across the Canterbury Plains.

Hillside Along Rapaki Track

Hillside Along Rapaki Track
Hillside Along Rapaki Track

Barnett Park Cave Trail

One popular track leads to a historic cave above Barnett Park in the suburb of Redcliffs, near Sumner Beach. When open to the public this is an interesting and easy walk, and you gain height quickly for good views out over the sea. There are plenty of amenities nearby - not far from the park you'll find inviting craft galleries, and there are public toilets, a playground and a carkparking area in Barnett Park itself.

As you can see in the photo below you'll see the cave clearly from the bottom of the hill. The trail to the cave is a loop of around 4km, and it should take around 60 minutes from Barnett Park up to the cave and then down the other side of the valley back to the bottom.

Hopefully this track will open again soon.

Cave Walk

Cave Walk
Cave Walk

Bridle Path

Another trail follows the path used by early colonial settlers into newly established Christchurch city in the 19th century. This is the Bridle Path and was still well-used until the February 2011 earthquake. I don't think it has reopened yet, but will confirm this.

The track runs between the port of Lyttelton and the suburb of Heathcote. The Heathcote end of the Bridle Path is next to the Christchurch Gondola, which has recently reopened. Once the track is reopened you can take the gondola to the top and return to the carpark down the Bridle Path - all the great views without as much foot work!

The Bridle Path is roughly 2.5 km long, and takes between 1-2 hours to walk its full length over the hill between the base of Christchurch Gondola in Heathcote and Lyttelton's Bridle Path Road.

The Bridle Path, Heathcote

The Bridle Path, Heathcote
The Bridle Path, Heathcote

Godley Head

At the eastern end of the Port HIlls is Godley Head. This overlooks popular surfing bay Taylors Mistake and the entrance to Lyttelton Harbour. There are several walking tracks here that offer stunning sea views. Be prepared to see penguins, as there is a growing penguin colony at Boulder Bay near the end of the Head.

Godley Head

Godley Head, Christchurch, New Zealand
Godley Head, Christchurch, New Zealand

South Brighton Spit

Pre-quake view of South Brighton Spit from the hills. Christchurch, New Zealand.
Pre-quake view of South Brighton Spit from the hills. Christchurch, New Zealand.

Beach Walks Around Christchurch

For more sea views you can choose from any beach along the long Canterbury coastline. Close to Christchurch city there are several popular beaches. One is Sumner beach, which is nestled under the Port Hills. Sumner is a busy little seaside suburb with cafes, restaurants and boutique shops. The beach front here is perfect for a comfortable half hour's walk. Don't walk past Cave Rock on the shoreline without checking out its interior caverns and rock pools. You will have to look from a distance though, as the caves are still cordoned off.

The photo at the right here shows you the view looking east up Sumner Beach towards Cave Rock and Scarborough Hill.

Just past Sumner and over Scarborough Hill is the beautiful Taylors Mistake beach. This small beach is popular for swimming and surfing. It's also a great base for walking to Godley Head.

For a good long beach walk you can't beat New Brighton. The beach borders the Avon and Heathcote Rivers' estuary at its southern end near Sumner, and follows the curve of Pegasus Bay. New Brighton shopping centre is a great place to grab a snack and start your exploration of New Brighton beach. Your first stop on the beach from here should definitely be the New Brighton Pier. On it you can walk 300 meters out over the ocean for an incredible view of the Pacific Ocean, the Kaikoura Ranges to the north, and Banks Peninsula to the south.

Longer Walks Near Christchurch

If you'd like to spend a few days exploring on foot, one option is the guided walk from Christchurch city to Akaroa on Banks Peninsula that is offered by Tuatara Tours. The walk covers 42 kilometres over three days and your accommodation and meals are provided. All you need to carry is a day pack - the tour will transport your other bags to the next destination.

If you want to discover more of Banks Peninsula don't miss the famed Banks Peninsula Track. You can choose a two-day walk or a four-day walk through 35 kilometres of hilltops, farms and coastal tracks behind Akaroa. Accommodation is provided and you can opt to have your pack carried. Highlights include a penguin tour at Pohatu Marine Reserve and a 'bath under the stars' at Stony Bay.

The photo above is taken from the Banks Peninsula Track showing the heads at Flea Bay, which is part of the Pohatu Marine Reserve.

See the Banks Peninsula Track

See the Christchurch to Akaroa Walk

According to their website Tuatara Tours are still offering this three day walk package, which covers some of the Port Hills as well as Banks Peninsula. Unfortunately Godley House, the beautiful historic building where walkers used to stay on night one, has been badly damaged. I'm sure Tuatara Tours will have found somewhere equally comfortable, though Godley House was irreplaceable. Learn more about this original accomodation at the Godley House website.

More about Banks Peninsula

Canterbury Ranges and Lakes

The Southern Alps extend through the western edge of Canterbury and provide a lot of opportunities for walkers who want to explore further afield from Christchurch. There are many special areas to visit. One of these is Craigieburn Conservation Park, which extends between the Waimakariri and Wilberforce rivers.

The area offers a selection of short nature walks of 10-20 minutes and longer day walks or sub-alpine hikes of several hours through incredible alpine scenery. You can explore extremes of landscape, from forests of native beech trees and tussock grasslands to eroded rocks and rockys mountains. Walkers, climbers and photographers alike particularly value the limestone outcrops at Castle Hill - you may have seen this area in the movie of 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe'.

Geology isn't the only scenic attraction here - there are beautiful rivers and lakes in the district too. Lake Tekapo, Lake Pukaki and Lake Coleridge are all popular scenic destinations in the High Country of Canterbury and well worth visiting.

Dramatic Landscapes at Flock Hill

Dramatic Landscapes at Flock Hill
Dramatic Landscapes at Flock Hill

What's Your Favourite Walk in Canterbury?

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      isabella lm 8 years ago

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