Biking Christchurch's Port Hills

Phil's Best Kept Canterbury Secret #16

Christchurch's Port Hills are one of New Zealand's truly 'otherworldly' landscapes - and (much to the satisfaction of locals!) certainly one of the South Island's best kept secrets.

Only 10 minutes from Christchurch city centre, the hills begin, with an endless network of tracks for running and mountain biking, and views that stretch from the Pacific Ocean to Southern Alps.

The Port Hills form the northern rim of the ancient Lyttelton volcano, separating the port of Lyttelton from the city of Christchurch and surrounding Canterbury plains. The tussock grasslands and rugged rocky outcrops form a stunning contrast with the patchwork plains that lie beyond. From the Port Hills, views that stretch all the way from the Pacific Ocean to the Southern Alps and Kaikoura ranges are breathtaking.

Locals and visitors alike enjoy so many aspects of this dramatic landscape - especially its opportunities for mountain and road biking, walking and trail running. Botanists explore the crater rim forests, rock climbers dangle down volcanic bluffs and paragliders cruise over tussock slopes. Photographers delight at the opportunities and families take advantage of the various orienteering courses that have been established in these hills for weekend adventures. Local conservationists have helped to return much of this special environment to its original glory with the planting of native bush and restoration projects.

The appropriately named Summit Road provides a linkage between the reserves and parklands that dot the hillside; it's a scenic drive that stretches to Godley Head toward the Pacific and to Akaroa along the ancient crater rim that is known as Banks Peninsula. The names of the hillside features suggest the adventures that await; from Worsley Spur and Kennedys Bush (established 1906), to the Anaconda and Rapaki Tracks (perhaps the Port Hills' most popular boulevard).

The Port Hills volcanic origins give them an otherworldly beauty - blazing gold in summer, lush green in autumn and dotted with lambs in springtime. The summits are between 350 and 500m above sea level, and the tracks are endless - locals and visitors alike could spend a long time exploring, by bike or on foot, with access to hidden bays, surf beaches and charming seaside cafes.