Mountain biking, para-gliding and scrambling through war battlements are just a few of the activities on this other-worldly hilltop which separates Christchurch City from Lyttelton Harbour.
Created by the northern rim of the ancient Lyttelton Volcano, the Port Hills are known to Maori as Nga Kohatu Whakarakaraka o Tamatea Pokai Whenua – the flaming rocks of Tamatea Pokai. The once heavily forested landscape was virtually stripped, mainly by European colonist farmers, in the 18th and 19th centuries. Pockets of bush remain, but the hills are now largely pastures, with masses of volcanic rock bursting through the green at regular intervals creating an out of this world landscape.
From Godley Heads the eerie remains of World War 2 battlements can be seen and explored via a short walk down the Lyttelton side of the hill. The Sumner side takes you down to the charming Boulder Bay baches and beach. All you’ll need for a pleasant day exploring is a pair of good shoes, a jacket and a bottle of water.
The Summit Road has many walkways, however the Bridle Path is by far the best known of these. Near the Lyttelton Tunnel, the steep walkway was where the early settlers first crossed the steep, often muddy track to the Heathcote Valley. It is now a popular walking track, and was the only route home for many residents following the February earthquakes when the tunnel and roads were temporarily closed.
The Christchurch Gondola has been a hugely popular attraction since its opening in 1992 however it is currently closed for geotechnical reports following the earthquakes. The Gondola usually swings above the Lyttelton Road Tunnel, which at 1,970 metres is the longest road tunnel in New Zealand. Hopefully the Gondola will be running again later in 2012 or early 2013.
Paragliding is available for those wanting an extreme flying experience, and the multi-coloured gliders make a spectacular sight from on a fine day. Tandem flights begin around $180; booking is essential. Try Parapro on 0800 548 323 for lessons and flights, or Nimbus Paragliding on 0800 111 611 for flying lessons.
The Port Hills are a mountain biker’s dream, with trails to match all skill levels. Many tracks run through the crumbling ruins of 18th century stone buildings and rock outcrops; please check which tracks are open as this area is still under geotechnical surveillance. Road cycling is also hugely popular, with the Sign of the Kiwi at the top of Dyers Pass Road a favourite rest stop. The Sign of the Takahe is a magnificent Gothic Castle set in landscaped gardens on Dyers Pass Road. Unfortunately both these heritage 1 listed buildings are closed indefinitely due to recent earthquake activity, however they can be viewed from the road.
All this is easily accessible by road, from Cashmere, through Heathcote Valley, or from Sumner or Lyttelton. For an extreme-fun day out, try the Port Hills of Christchurch!