This is a walker’s city. The beaches, hills, rivers and urban spaces can be easily accessed from your Christchurch accommodation and walking is perhaps the best way to experience post-quake Christchurch. Here are five suggestions for walks you can do around the city.
Extending from New Brighton all the way to the outlet of the Avon-Heathcote Estuary, South Spit is a wild and wonderful place to experience the outer edge of the city. On the seaward side of the spit, surfing is a popular sport and the beach break here attracts surfers from all over the city. The wind surfing is also good, and the on-shore breeze enables practitioners of this sport to execute some spectacular moves. As you walk further east, the landscape gets wilder and more open. Wide expanses of tussocks wave in the breeze beneath gnarled macrocarpas and beach houses crouch behind the dunes. As you walk around the end of the spit, you look across to Sumner Beach only a few metres away but separated by the strong currents of the estuary’s outlet. This is a great place for bird-watching. From August to March, thousands of Eastern Bar-tailed Godwits can be seen on the estuary margins along with dotterils, pied stilts and gulls. The estuary side of the spit is a calmer place, with a wide sky and views across the city to the Southern Alps. A complete circuit of the spit will take around three hours. You can park your car at various places along the way or take a bus from Downtown Christchurch all the way to the end of the spit.
The heart and lungs of the city, Hagley Park has always been a tranquil place in which to escape the bustle of the city. Covering an area of 165 hectares, the park was created in 1855 by the Provincial Government. According to the government's decree at the time, Hagley Park is "reserved forever as a public park, and shall be open for the recreation and enjoyment of the public." The park has many entrances but the best one can be found on the west side of Christ’s College. From the carpark beneath giant trees, a graceful arched bridge leads over the Avon River and into the park past the Botanic Gardens Café. From here, you can turn right and follow the river in its long meandering loop eastwards through the park, or walk straight ahead into the Botanic Gardens. The banks of the Avon are especially pretty in August as the daffodils and snow-drops begin to emerge and the warm sun reflects off the waters of the river. The Botanic Gardens supports thousands of plants, gathered from around the world and across New Zealand since 1863. Some of the largest, tallest and oldest trees in New Zealand can be found here. Amid the varied colours and forms there are intriguing artworks and memorial plantings that celebrate events from local and international history. For a more strenuous walk, a cycle/footpath follows the entire perimeter of Hagley Park and it will take you around an hour to walk right around.
Less well-known than Christchurch’s other main river, the Heathcote River was once the main highway for Christchurch’s industry. A swampy, serpentine river, the Heathcote winds its way along the eastern side of the city and there are many walks along its banks ranging in length from hour-long wanders to full-day explorations. A very good brochure titled Heathcote River Walks is available from the Christchurch City Council. A favourite walk is the Cashmere Riverside Walk which is a lovely stroll along grassy banks, over timber footbridges and through a stand of native forest. For a more historic walk, the Woolston Wharves and River Walk takes you past the sites of wharves and jetties where Christchurch’s produce was loaded and unloaded in the early days. Eventually, the Heathcote River drains into the Estuary and there are many interesting walks to be found out there. All you have to do is wander off and explore.
Vast forests of native lowland podocarp forest once covered the Canterbury Plains. The 600-year old Kaihikatea trees found in Riccarton Bush are a remnant of these forests. Created in 1914, the Riccarton Bush reserve comprises 12 hectares of native forest, parkland and historic buildings. The reserve is renowned for the fact it includes Christchurch’s last remaining stand of low lying Kahikatea forest as well as Matai and Totara trees. Apart from Peel Forest, in South Canterbury, this is the only native stand of lowland Podocarp forest left in Canterbury. The land the reserve is on was owned by Canterbury’s first colonial settlers, John and William Deans, who arrived in Lyttleton from Scotland in 1843. It was gifted to the people of Christchurch by the Deans family, fulfilling a wish expressed by John Deans before his death in 1850 for the forest to be preserved. Visitors can walk through the bush along a network of signposted tracks and boardwalks. The roar of the city is muted by the thick foliage and the air is full of the scent of native Jasmine which weaves its way through the undergrowth. The reserve is open daily and access is available at the main entrance off Kahu Road, Riccarton.
Located beside the Brooklands Lagoon, on the northern edge of the city, Spencer Park offers a wide variety of recreational walks ranging from beach strolls to the Adrenaline Forest Obstacle Course. The tracks around Brooklands Lagoon are good way to learn about the varied bird-life found in the area. Winding through reedy marshes and across swampy flats, the well-graded tracks a easy going in all weathers. For a longer outing, the three-hour Waimakariri River Mouth Walk takes between three and four hours and leads to the wide shingly beach where the big Waimak meets the sea. This is a spectacular place of space and light and is especially impressive on windy days. If you feel like it, you can walk from Spencer Park all the way to South Spit. Now that’s a good bit of exercise!