This is a guest blog by Ashlyn Oswalt. Ashlyn is an American expat who’s been living in New Zealand for a year. She’s a keen tramper and enjoys going on day-trips around the Christchurch area. She’s shared her top five day trips for people who are thinking of getting out and about in nature this winter.
As the Christchurch cold chill sets in, it can be tempting to store your tramping boots for warmer days. It’s tough to deny the appeal of sitting by a warm fire at home, but if you’re itching to spend the day outdoors, check out these five day trips from Christchurch. A few hours of fresh air can help keep the cabin fever at bay.
If you want to keep your first cold weather venture close to home, try the Ōtamahua/Quail Island track, under an hour’s drive from Christchurch. This 2.5 hour walking loop is great with kids in tow and offers a scenic walk through abandoned shipwrecks, barracks, and old homestead sites. If you’re looking for a shorter walk, the Ōtepatotu Scenic Reserve walk offers stunning views and a bit of a climb for a mere hour of your time. For those looking for more of a challenging full day, the Mount Herbert Walkway offers a 6-8 hour advanced hiking challenge, with an additional 3.5 hour walk to a hut should you wish to stay the night. Enjoy views of the Port Hills, Mt. Grey, and Mt. Thomas – and be home in time for dinner!
Craigieburn Forest Park
Arthur’s Pass is an obvious day trip from Christchurch, but it’s neighbour Craigieburn Forest Park often offers a quieter experience. Featuring a range of walks for all ability types, the whole family can enjoy a day in the Southern Alps foothills. Shorter walks include the 20 minute Nature Walk, which strolls through beech forest and makes itself home to many native birds. The four hour summit to Helicopter Hill showcases the views of the Craigieburn and Torlesse mountain ranges, while offering an incline sure to warm you up. If you’re a skilled winter tramper, try tackling Camp Saddle, which crosses saddles and ridge-lines, offering a wide range of stunning Southern Alp views.
Oxford is a true hidden gem, full of walking and biking tracks with great views, and just an hour outside of Christchurch. If you’re looking for a long, challenging tramp to shake out the winter blues, try the eight hour round trip Mt Oxford Track, which will reward you with glorious views of the Canterbury Plains. For less of an incline heavy walk, try the Ryde Falls Track, which varies between 4-6 hours and offers an undulating stroll through native forest. Ending at a five-tiered waterfall, the effort is well worth the reward.
Mount Hutt Area
Mount Hutt is an obvious choice for skiing, but with an under-two-hour drive from Christchurch, the area is great for winter tramps, too. Scotts Saddle, a two hour climb ending at the ski field road offers views over mid Canterbury. The Rakaia Gorge Track is a popular 3-4 hour walk along the rim of the gorge, featuring points of geological interest and old mining remnants.
With a car ride clocking in just under three hours from the centre of Christchurch, Kaikōura is an ambitious, but highly satisfying, day trip. Strolling the Kaikōura Peninsula Walkway is a great way to stretch your legs after the trip. The walkway offers various scenic stops, viewpoints, and walk lengths, so walking at whatever pace your party is comfortable with is simple. For a more challenging day, Mt. Fyffe offers rewarding views of the Kaikōura peninsula and plains, and takes about eight hours round trip on foot, and less on mountain bike.
So pack up the car, lace up your tramping boots, and shake out those winter blues. Be sure to prepare yourself for winter temperatures by wearing warm layers and packing plenty of water and snacks. As always, make sure to tell someone your plans, and be sure to reward yourself with a warm pie once you complete your trek!
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Enjoyed staying at Merhven Resort and spending a day at Mount Hutt. Signing my friend’s kid to a full day of ski class with a 2 hour lunch break was enjoyable for Cheyenne. You’ll also have some personal time to practice or play in the snow. I too signed up for a day’s lesson and what’s nice was it’s either a 4 hours group class with a 2 hours lunch break in between or a 2 hours group class and or a 1 hour personal private class. The view on the shuttle up & down Mount Hutt is also spectacular and alittle thrilling if you area afraid of looking out to the side of the mountains. Mount Hutt was memorable for us.
Raikaia Gorge is directly west of Christchurch on SH 77 from Darfield (take SH 72 from Christchurch northwest to Darfield). SH 77 will take you along the Canterbury foothills and some great native forest areas through Colgate and Glentunnel to Windwhistle. Rakaia Gorge is not far from there on SH 77.
Rakaia Gorge is a bit overly ‘touristy’ these days with jet boat tours, a camping ground and a golf course. As a kid I used to scale the cliffs looking for amethysts and in this I was quite successful. This whole area of Canterbury is a Miocene/Oligocene volcanic hotspot with Clent Hills, Mt Somers, Colgate, Rangitata Gorge and Gawler Downs (Hinds River) all yielding some great agates, agatised wood and even some sizable amethyst geodes. But you can’t just hack away at the cliffs. These days you’ll need permission from landowners. In conservation areas you are unlikely to be granted permission.
On the way over the Canterbury Plains there are also some amazingly terraced flood plain landscapes (post-glacial), something I’ve never seen in any other part of the country. The rangitata Floodplain is the bast example I can recall.
Just a little further west are the extensive forests of Alford Forest and there are great walks there. Then of course you can go further to Geraldine and back inland to 770ha Peel Forest Park, into one of the very few remaining examples of podocarp-hardwood forest left in Canterbury with some truly majestic totara, matai, kahikatea and even good examples of southern rata (very rare east of the Alps). The forest is also rich and lush of a kind more fitting in Westland except for the absence of akakura (scarlet rata vine) and kiekie, and many of the mighty tree ferns like mamaku.
On the farmland at Geraldine there may still be remnants of the extensive podocarp forest that once existed, now in the form of lone kahikatea, matai and totara in pasture. I haven’t been there for decades and I’m not sure whether they still survive.
You can get a full day exploring Peel Forest alone and the same exploring the contrasting podocarp/beech forest of Alford Forest. In neither place are the walks that arduous.
In approximately the same place where you might explore the Rakaia Gorge you can get to see these other amazing places.
Thanks Martin! Peel Forest is a terrific recommendation. Lee and I are big fans of the walks in there. But also the DOC campsite – it has delightful sites in an extensive, bush-fringed area, with hot showers and excellent kitchen facilities including stoves and fridges, so definitely a next-level campsite. The perfect place for a good, old-fashioned family holiday with fresh air and adventure. We stayed last a couple of months ago, and even it Autumn is was a stunner.
Just to add, when I was studying for my major design for my Diploma in Landscape Architecture in 1979 I spent over two months exploring the Peninsula daily. I barely scratched the surface!
There are so many different aspects to the Peninsula’s landscape and historic character (including St Luke’s church at Little Akaloa Bay) and the historic trail from Little River, Barry’s Bay (great cheeses), Duvauchelle and Akaroa itself. These are more drives than walks but they give people a starting off point for more detailed explorations on foot.
Check out the walnuts too in the hinterlands near Akaroa. These are now over a 160 years old and are descendants of original French walnuts. Their nuts are particularly tasty.
Sure, none of these are exactly natural features but still paint a picture of the early settlement of the Peninsula and its French and German components.
In Lyttelton Harbour, the landscape is different again. The north-facing harbour offers a different climate with a different pattern of natural regeneration taking place. At Governor’s Bay, there is a mixture of exotic and regenerating native forest. When I visited the area to collect seed in the 1990s the bush areas were loud with bellbird song!
Also, from Gebbies Pass check out the hobgoblin outcrops of pale rhyolite rock which frame the journey from Gebbies Valley over to Teddington in Lyttelton Harbour. On the way there from Christchurch those interestered in geology and gemstones might want to check out McQueen’s Valley and its outcrops of Oligocene andesite (the earliest instance of volcanism on the Peninsula). Because of its proximity to later Rhyolite flows and the associated hydrothermal activity, these andesites contain agates, onyx and other chalcedony minerals. When I was a school student I used to visit the McQueen’s Valley Road with a mate and we found agates on the unsealed road surface itself which was cut directly from the outcrop itself. This has since been tar-sealed so these agates are now largely inaccessible, but there is a red rock outcrop by the road which yields small agates. Infrequent grading over the years had brought more agates to the surface
For Christchurch people the Peninsula is readily accessible and this is increasingly important if we want to reduce our carbon footprint. Even to the top of the Summit Road from Christchurch near the Signs of the Takahe or Bellbird, it seems like another world begging to be more widely explored. This might be an important means of chilling and reconnecting in the times post-earthquakes and battles with EQC and the insurance companies. The wondrous and inviting Peninsula landscapes will reinvigorate the spirits of even the most stony-hearted people. So make use of this other aspect of Christchurch City and all it has to offer, that is a total contrast to the Christchurch urban area.
I have to agree with Ashlyn here. Banks Peninsula is a special place as far as I am concerned and always has been since I was a small child. Being from Christchurch it was a treat to be told by Dad, “Let’s go to the native bush” which meant Prices and Kaituna Valleys. Christchurch only had Riccarton Bush back then to remind people of what a tiny part of the indigenous landscape of Christchurch might’ve looked like so I was keen to explore beyond the city limits.
I have walked the Mt Herbert Walk, from the standard route via the paper road and from the head of Kaituna Valley where the Herbert Peak Scenic Reserve was tantalisingly visible, but where access was steep and rugged.
Banks Peninsula is one of the best kept secrets and hopefully still off the over-used tourism circuit. Okains and Le Bons Bays are my favourite places and the walk along the coast from the eastern side of Okains Bay to Raupo Bay is a highlight and I recommend it highly. Okains and Raupo Bays have beautiful and safe bathing beaches, too, to cool people down after a sweaty summer walk. Northwest Bay is an isolated cove near the eastern headland of Okains Bay and is so remote that I used to enjoy nude bathing there with my girlfriend back in the 1970s. It was also notable for it ring of same-age mature karaka, so obviously planted by early Maori.
What is extremely encouraging has been the high level retirement of farmland near the Akaroa Summit Road to regenerate to native forest. When I explored these areas with Dr Brian Molloy in 1979 he was negotiating with local land owners to retire the Akaroa Volcanic summit ring to form a contiguous ring of native forest. In this he was highly successful, but he has largely been unrecognised. So this is a shout-out for him. Go Brian!
Better known is the Hinewai Nature Reserve managed for 30 years by the eccentric (but supremely fit – legend has it that he used to travel the 85km from Otanerito Bay to Christchurch by bicycle!) Dr Hugh Wilson. When I was exploring the Peninsula in 1979 for my Major Sudy in Landscape Architecture, I visited Otanerito (Long) Bay and saw this area as a gorse-infested patch, bright yellow in the flowering season. It was then part of the Otanerito Station (a farm), but the whole area has become a restoration icon with the potential to showcase what could happen with the right (mostly hands off) management. This is accessible from the Cab Stand from Akaroa to Le Bons Bay, but with a hard right turnoff to Otanerito Bay. The beach itself is not accessible by car, but is well worth a visit on foot. The land owner gives permission, but respect the privilege and DON’T leave gates open! The sand is a glorious red-orange and waters are so crystal-clear they look deceptively shallow. Be warned, however – Banks Peninsula waters in these more eastern bays are often quite cool, compared with (say) Okains Bay, but are rich in koura, paua and are great for fishing. The landscape is absolutely superb and the waters as seen from the road very blue and clear. So pay this seldom visited bay a visit.
The other fantastic thing about the Peninsula is how positive land owners have become about pest and predator control with tui making a solid return after a very long absence. Blue penguins and spotted shag are also a growing feature of the coast.
Yes, there are lots of places to explore on foot and, for the amateur botanists, there are some special endemics like Heliohebe lavaudiana and Celmisia mackaui which may still be found on rocky outcrops that have been protected from access to browsing animals. These are very interesting and attractive species. However, the great claim to fame for the Peninsula was once some of the richest and densest eastern dryland podocarp hardwood forest in the country and such forests of Little River and the valleys of Pigeon and Little Akaloa Bays built Christchurch, so dense in the desired podocarps were they (and even included rimu and miro in their flora, apart from the usual matai, totara and kahikatea). The good news is that some of these forests are making a return through slow regeneration from a kanuka low forest base. Dryland eastern podocarp forests are almost extinct as a type, but a notable remnant may be seen in the easily-accessible Kaituna Valley Scenic reserve. When Cyclone Giselle devasted the area in April 1968 many of the magnificent matai and kahikatea trees succumbed, but enough remained for visitors to appreciate what these forests must’ve looked like when giant moa roamed through them. They are rich in many divaricating shrub and small tree species and deficient in most of the treeferns and climbers found west of the alps. The best example of such forests, however, are not found in the South Island at all, but the Paengaroa Scenic Reserve near Taihape.
Another good walk might be the eastern headland of Akaroa Harbour itself. Within it lies a very steep-sided valley (mostly accessible by boat) that is still home to some of the most southerly nikau in New Zealand. To see more easily what these nikaus looked like (they are distinctly different in form to their North Island and Westland counterparts) there are some very early planted specimens in the Akaroa Township and they add to the historic character of this beautiful village. These were from a locally indigenous source and indicated the popularity of native plants before exotic species became readily available.
So by all means explore Banks Peninsula’s walking tracks and trails. But don’t see the sights for what they are now, but what they might look like in 50-100 years time when they are well on the way to becoming amazing and unique restored habitats for a number of species and truly natural landscapes of a unique type.
Kaikoura is a huge day trip on its own, and you’d be lucky to squeeze the Peninsula walkway in. And that sure is a lot of carbon for a big day out. And then, Mt Fyffe? C’mon DOC. You know better than this!
Fair point, we love to host outside contributors on this blog and opinions expressed by guest authors are theirs alone.
We do encourage more people to get out and explore our nature though, but to do so in a safe and sustainable way. Thanks for the reminder.