Guide to the Best Canterbury Walks and Half Day Hikes
Don’t miss out on these Canterbury Walks!
Canterbury, New Zealand is a diverse region that is incredible for walking and hiking. You can have sweeping coastal walks, climb mountains into the snow, go deep into the bush and forest, and there are plenty of great Canterbury walks for kids. So whatever you are looking for, you will surely find the Canterbury walk for you.
All of these walks in this article have great views, or something a little special or unique. There are hundreds of Canterbury tracks to walk in local areas, but we really believe these are the best of them, making these Canterbury walks destinations on their own. There are no official New Zealand Great Walks in Christchurch or Canterbury (DOC Great Walks), but I do think this selection of Canterbury hikes are pretty great.
The Canterbury region is actually a large area. There are many Christchurch hikes, as well as walks around Canterbury. The whole region can be split into
- North Canterbury (Oxford, Waimakariri)
- Hurunui District (Hanmer Springs, Waipara)
- Selwyn District (Rolleston, Lincoln, Arthurs Pass)
- Mid Canterbury (Ashburton, Rakaia, Ashburton Lakes)
- South Canterbury (Timaru)
- Mackenzie Region (Lake Tekapo, Lake Pukaki, Mt Cook)
Contents of this Article
We have tried to cover a few walks in each region. This Canterbury Walks article focuses on the best walks in Canterbury, split into
- Short Walks under two hours
- Half day walks (and a few overnight hut walks, a half day each way)
- We have also included many dog walks, Christchurch and Canterbury
There are some multi day hikes in Canterbury, but we are not discussing these in this article. For further Canterbury activities and Canterbury tourist attractions, check out these articles below
Short Canterbury Walks under two hours
McHughs Forest Fairy Door Walk, Darfield
There is nothing more magical than watching a child’s eyes light up in wonder and this is why the emergence of fairy door walks is so exciting. Just out of Darfield, about 45 minutes from Christchurch is McHughs Forest. The new Magical Doors Walk is just that, absolutely magical. The whole walk takes about an hour to toddle around and there are over 40 doors to find.
If you are looking for “dog friendly walks canterbury” then this is a good one. You can take dogs on a lead and it is stroller friendly too.
To find out more information about this toddler walk near Christchurch, click here
Riccarton Bush, Christchurch
You would be surprised to know there is a bush walk right in the central city. Once there, it really does feel like a completely different place, yet it is only minutes from Riccarton Mall. Who would have guessed? This short Christchurch bush walk is less than 1km, so would take little legs 20-30 minutes to explore. It is a stroller friendly walk too.
It is a great stroll while visiting the Saturday Farmers Market at Riccarton House. Kids will also enjoy completing the Kiwi Guardians activities. There are signs to learn about native trees and birds, as well as a code word to go online and get a free Kiwi Guardians medal for completing the activity. If you love a nature walk, bring your mum or your grandma for a nice walk in Christchurch.
For more fun Canterbury activities for kids, click here
Mt Sunday, Lord of the Rings film location, Ashburton Lakes
Mt Sunday is an easy 90 minute return walk in the Ashburton Lakes region in Mid Canterbury. A remote location where you will find few people, but that’s what makes the area more magical. You will feel like you have the place to yourself, which makes it feel like a real adventure.
The walk is mostly flat with a short steep hill at the end. There are 360 degree views at the top which are breathtaking (although often windy). This Mt Sunday walk was also a Lord of the Rings film location. You will have to use your imagination as there is nothing left, but keen film goers will easily recognise it as Edoras, the capital of Rohan.
For more on this easy walk in Canterbury, click here: Mt Sunday
Jacks Point Lighthouse Track, South Canterbury Walk, Timaru
Starting from Scarborough Rd, just south of Timaru, follow this coastal track to the beautiful little lighthouse. The track is pretty flat and sandy, but easy for most. There’s something about the crashing waves that is so therapeutic. If you head around dusk, you might be lucky enough to see the little penguins frolicking on the beach. This South Canterbury walk will take about 40 mins return to the Jacks Point Lighthouse, plus stops.
Awa Awa Rata Reserve Short Walks, Methven
The Awa Awa Rata Reserve has a number of short walks that are suitable for all age levels. Kids will enjoy the flat 15 minute track that meanders by the stream. Those wanting more of a workout can head up the Opuke track, which will take about 20 minutes to the top. You can come back down the same way, or find another return track. We often do a 1 hour loop. Some of the tracks are quite rocky and muddy after the rain, so I find hiking boots quite helpful in that weather. If you are after a longer hike, head from here up to Scotts Saddle which reaches the Mt Hutt Summit Road. The best views are here on this track.
For more information about the Awa Awa Rata Reserve near Mt Hutt Skifield, click here: Awa Awa Rata Reserve
Mt John Summit Walk, Lake Tekapo
If you are looking for a Canterbury Walk with incredible views, then you cannot miss the Mt John Summit Track at Lake Tekapo. The walk starts from Lake Tekapo, next to Tekapo Springs and walks up to the summit of Mt John, near the observatory. The views of the azure blue water of Lake Tekapo from above are breathtaking. It’s my absolute favourite of Lake Tekapo walks, so don’t just fly through Tekapo. Stay and explore when the tourist buses have left .
This walk will take about 90 minutes return and includes a walk through the sheltered forest before heading onto the exposed hillside. You can stop for coffee at the Observatory Cafe and soak in the views from there.
For more information on this walk and other things to do at Lake Tekapo, click here: Best Things to do in Lake Tekapo
Hanmer Springs Fairy Door Walk, Hanmer
Hanmer Springs is a great Canterbury day trip or weekend away from Christchurch. The Hanmer Fairy Door Walk is a short 20 minute walk in Brooke Dawson Park, Hanmer Springs. Young kids will enjoy finding the fairy doors all along the track by the stream. All the little doors open and sometimes people have left behind little treats or coins. So we highly recommend hiding something as you leave to bring the magic alive for the next group of children. This is a stroller friendly walk too, but good luck keeping the toddlers in it.
To find out more about this Hanmer Springs Walk, click here: Things to do in Hanmer Springs
Rapaki Track, Christchurch
The Rapaki Track is one of the most popular Christchurch hikes for locals. You will find regulars powering up the hill, or mountain biking to the top to take in the beautiful views over Banks Peninsula. If you haven’t completed this Christchurch walk before, allow about 2 hours return. It is an uphill offroad 4wd style track (although no vehicles allowed)
Some people do take a stroller but the large gravel makes it very difficult to push. I’ve tried it and would rather take a frontpack or a backpack with kids. If you want a longer walk, you can link up to the Crater Rim walk, Christchurch from the Summit Road.
The highlight of this walk is the views of the city and Banks Peninsula, while getting a workout on the way.
To find out more about how to get here and more about what I believe is one of best walks in Christchurch, click here: Rapaki Track, Christchurch
Rakaia Gorge Viewpoint, near Methven
The whole Rakaia Gorge Walkway track is about three hours return, but if you don’t have that much time, or you have young kids, then the Rakaia Gorge Viewpoint is a great short walk in Canterbury.
It will take adults about 30 minutes each way and younger kids about 45-50 minutes each way. The track is undulating but the hills are no more than a few minutes long so completely doable for all. The track runs alongside the beautiful Rakaia Gorge and sits under the mountains of Mt Hutt. It is particularly beautiful here after a good snow.
Washpen Falls, Windwhistle, Selwyn District
Washpen Falls is a private hike near Christchurch (about an hour away). There is a small charge to access this track but we have found it completely worth it. Not only do you get access to walking sticks for your walk, there is a map with over 20 key locations, highlighting volcanic rock, information about native birds, caves and even former maori sites.
The Washpen Falls track takes you to a fantastic viewpoint overlooking the Canterbury Plains and sea, then down to the namesake Washpen Falls. You follow a flat (ish) track along the stream as you head back to the carpark, via a lake with a rowboat you can borrow. You will truly be surprised by the diversity of this walk. It’s also a great short walk for kids in Canterbury, so bring them along. Our kids love this one!
To find out more information this waterfall walk, Canterbury, click here: Washpen Falls
Castle Hill, Arthurs Pass
To be fair, these Castle Hill walks don’t have a defined track, but it is a good place to walk and explore, especially with kids. I just have to include it as there are many Canterbury locals who were shocked when I mentioned this was in their backyard. This is one of my favourite Arthurs Pass Walks with kids, so make sure you bring them along (or the kid within)
It is a 5-10 minute walk from the carpark to these rock formations and many little trails to explore. You can walk up to the top to the hills and just take in the views over Arthurs Pass. This is another walk that is beautiful in the winter as the snow capped mountains are so picturesque.
For more information about this easy walk around Christchurch and how to get here, click here: Castle Hill
Bottle Lake Forest, Christchurch
If you are searching for Forest Walks, Canterbury, you surely would have come across Bottle Lake Forest. It is a tangled web of tracks for walkers, mountain bikers and is a dog friendly Christchurch walk.
I prefer walks with hills and views for days, but I understand that is not to everyones liking, so this Christchurch forest walk is good for those hoping for a flat trail, a lot in the shade of the trees and those with good navigation. Okay, that last part isn’t exactly true, but do take a screenshot of the map on your phone as I’m sure it’s not only me who gets lost here. One of the nice things about this walk is that you can access the forest from a number of points and it will take you out to the beach if you walk far enough.
You are also allowed to have your dog off their leash here which I know will appeal to dog owners.
Devils Punchbowl Falls, Arthurs Pass
Devils Punchbowl Falls is a 1 hour return walk right in Arthurs Pass Village. This Canterbury waterfall is 131m high and one of the largest waterfalls in Canterbury. There are quite a few stairs on this walk, however it isn’t too long, so should be doable for most. Most kids would be fine with this walk, just pop the little ones in a backpack or take them for a shoulder carry.
This is a great Arthurs Pass walk, or pit stop when heading through to the West Coast. For more information on this waterfall walk in Canterbury, click here: Devils Punchbowl Falls
Tasman Glacier Viewpoint and Tasman Lake Tracks, Mt Cook National Park
Canterbury has its own beautiful glaciers right in her backyard. Many people travel all over the world to see glaciers and we have one right here in New Zealand that you can see from this FREE walk. That’s pretty cool right?
The Tasman Glacier Viewpoint track takes about 40 minutes return. The walk is a combination of flat gravel track and a whole lot of stairs. While you may huff and puff a bit to get to the top, the views of the Tasman Lake and glacier are totally worth it. If you want to actually access the Tasman Lake, you will head back down and follow the other trail. This will take about an hour return and you may get to see icebergs up close from the shore.
These walks are kid friendly, and if you are lucky, you will see the famous Kea, our native mountain parrot who likes to hang out on this scenic walk.
For more information on this beautiful Canterbury walk, click here: Tasman Glacier Viewpoint
Ashburton River Trail, Ashburton, Canterbury
The Ashburton River Trail is a lovely flat track, sheltered by the forest, running alongside the Ashburton River. It has many access points so your walk could be as long or as short as you like. It’s a great place for kids to run free, away from the roads, or to bike on the soft forest floor.
To find out more about one of the loveliest Ashburton walks, click here: Ashburton River Trail
This would easily be the most popular Hanmer walks, because although it is quite steep, it’s pretty short and has the most beautiful views over the Hurunui District. Compared to the much harder Mt Isobel Track, this is the fastest way to a great view, so the best bang for your buck. Allow 45-60 minutes return for this walk plus time to relax at the top.
These Hurunui walks both have beautiful views. To find out about this Hurunui walk and more things to do in Hanmer Springs, click here: Conical Hill Hanmer Springs
Lake Pukaki Kettlehole Track
One of the shorter Lake Pukaki walks, the Kettlehole Track is rather unique. Lake Pukaki is one of most beautiful glacial lakes, easily identifiable by its dreamy blue coloured water, so any walk near this lake is a win for me.
However the Pukaki Kettlehole Track is a little different as it takes you to a big hole (called a Kettle Hole) In simple terms, the Tasman Glacier (yes way up in the Mt Cook National Park) towered above this location over 20,000 years ago and a large block of ice got “buried” here and after it melted, it became a “kettle hole” If it still had water, it would be a kettle lake. So this unique walk makes my list for being rather different with cool fun facts.
The short walk will take about an hour to complete (1km) and runs along farmland and a 4wd gravel track.
Lincoln Wetlands Walk
The Lincoln Wetlands walk, also known as the Stepping Stones Walk is a dog friendly Canterbury walk, just out of the township of Lincoln. Start the walk by creeping through the reeds across concrete stepping stones. Kids will love this little adventure, just be careful not to step in the water. Then walk around the wetlands lake, take a picnic on the grassy open space or play fetch with your dog.
The whole walk around the wetlands can take around 40 minutes, but you can easily walk out and back along the stepping stones for a much shorter walk. A great short walk with kids and a good place to exercise your dog.
Bridal Path, Port Hills Walk, Christchurch
The Bridal Path is an amazing Christchurch walk that heads from the Christchurch Gondola, up and over into Lyttelton. (often called the Christchurch Gondola walk) You can walk from either direction, or just head up and back. The walk up to the top from the gondola side is very steep, but will take only 20-30 minutes. But you will be rewarded with great views of the city and Lyttelton. It is one of the shorter hikes in Christchurch, but longer doesn’t always equal better.
For those not wanting to walk up the steep hill, you could also go up on the gondola and walk back down. Many also walk from the Christchurch side, over to Lyttelton and take the bus back around. So there are plenty of options depending on how much time you have. If you do spend some time in Lyttelton, make sure you treat yourself at our friends, the Glamour Cake bakery.
Click here for more fun Things to do in Christchurch
Half Day Walks in Canterbury
Godley Head Walk, Taylors Mistake, Christchurch
The Godley Head Track is just over the hill from Sumner, starting from Taylors Mistake, a popular Christchurch surf beach. The Godley Head walk is about 3 hours return for adults, or about 4 hours with kids.
The coastal track is about 10kms long, and if you’re lucky you might even see dolphins at sea or penguins on the isolated beaches below. At the top of the heads you can explore the gun emplacements left over from WWII or find the Kiwi Guardian medal post, for your free Toyota Kiwi Guardians medal.
If you aren’t keen to walk this whole track, you can drive out to Godley Heads and explore the peninsula and WWII relics from there, without having to do the full loop track.
For more information on this Taylors Mistake walk and one of the prettiest Christchurch walks with dogs, click here: Godley Head Walk
Peak Hill, Lake Coleridge, Mid Canterbury
Peak Hill is one of the toughest walks on my list but believe me, the hard yakka is totally worth it. When I first completed this walk, I was amazed that this view was right here in my backyard and I even likened it to Roys Peak, without the boring side of the walk.
This advanced track is very exposed, so pick your day carefully. I walked this track in 2.5 hours up and 1.5 hours down. The first hour is the hardest and is a steep rocky uphill climb, but it is gentler walking across the ridge and the final climb isn’t as bad as it looks. You will be able to see all over the braided rivers, Canterbury Plains, the snowy alps and beyond. It’s very remote so you are likely to be only one of a few people completing this hike.
To find out more about this Canterbury hike, click here: Peak Hill Canterbury
Woodills Track, Banks Peninsula Walk, Akaroa
The Woodills North and South track can be combined for a 2.5 hour loop track walk, starting and ending right in Akaroa township. If you are looking for Canterbury walks with dogs, then this a good one, as you can take dogs on a lead.
The views over the Akaroa Harbour are great from this walk, and you will discover beautiful historic buildings on the southern part of this track. Parts of the Woodhills North track are only marked by markers and it can be a little confusing if you haven’t done it before, so make sure you pick up an Akaroa Country Walks brochure with the detailed info from a DOC visitor centre or information centre before you leave. Head on over for a lovely half day walk near Christchurch.
Rakaia Gorge Walkway, Methven
The Rakaia Gorge Walkway is a three hour return walk on an up and back track. It starts near the historic Rakaia Gorge Bridge and winds its way along the gorge side track to the final viewpoint, high above the Rakaia River. The track is undulating but not too difficult (but enough for a bit of a workout if you get what I mean)
The highlight is easily the blue green waters of the Rakaia Gorge, where you will often see the Discovery Jet zooming past. The turnaround point is just below Terrace Downs High Country Resort, which has a great cafe and restaurant.
For more on this Mid Canterbury walk and how to find the tricky starting point, click here: Rakaia Gorge Walkway
Hooker Valley Track, Mt Cook National Park
The Hooker Valley Track is one of the best walks in Canterbury and after exploring this region, is still one of my favourite New Zealand walks. This 3 hour, 10km return track is flat and a very easy walk for all ages. It is a great walk for kids as there are three awesome suspension bridges, the Hooker Lake with icebergs, all sitting under the majestic Mt Cook, New Zealand’s tallest mountain. This walk really has it all, I couldn’t recommend this enough.
For more information about this walk (the best hike in Canterbury – have I convinced you yet?) Click here: Mt Cook Walks
Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway, Kaikoura
The Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway is a 3 hour return loop track, but you don’t have to do all of it. The most scenic part runs from Point Kean to South Bay and is a very easy, mostly flat walking track. In fact a large part of it is on grass, which is quite rare, so great for kids to explore.
The whole loop track will link from South Bay all the way back through the town and back to the Point Kean carpark, but you could also walk down to Whalers Bay and along the shoreline (keep your distance from wildlife, there are lots of seals in this area)
The coastal views are beautiful, it really feels like a breath of fresh air up here. Many people only stop briefly in Kaikoura and totally miss out on this great place and in the height of summer, we didn’t come across too many people (another win!)
The Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway is one of the most beautiful Kaikoura Walks.
Woolshed Creek, Mt Somers Track (popular overnight walk, Canterbury)
Woolshed Creek is a popular day hike or beginners overnight hut hike about 40 minutes from Ashburton. It is located at one end of the Mt Somers Track (a 2 day hike, including Pinnacles Hut, a harder hike than this one) Annoyingly there are many different hike duration estimates, but when we walked this with kids and it took 2 hours, 20 mins up including stops, and 2 hours down. I would estimate that fit adults could do this in 3 hours return for a day trip.
The hike is a good uphill climb for the first hour, then much more pleasant after this. You will find old coal mines and historic artefacts scattered through the hike up, making it more interesting and there are lovely views over the mountains from here.
Woolshed Creek Hut is a modern hut and even has double glazing so is very comfortable for first time overnight stays. It is a popular overnight family walk near Christchurch, so book your hut in advance online.
For more information on this day walk or about what you will need to stay overnight at Woolshed Creek, click here: Woolshed Creek Hut Walk
Packhorse Hut, Christchurch
Packhorse Hut is another great destination overlooking Banks Peninsula and it has two tracks to reach it. The Kaituna Valley Track is shorter but much steeper. It takes about 60-80 minutes to climb from here and includes a few shallow stream crossings. The Gebbies Pass track is longer and will take about 2 hours to reach the hut, but is much more scenic. There are sections through the forest, opening up into farmlands and a nice ridgeline walk to reach the hut. I preferred the Gebbies Pass track, even though it was longer.
For more information on the Packhorse Hut, walking track Christchurch, click here: Packhorse Hut Christchurch
Little Mt Peel, Geraldine, South Canterbury
All I can say is that Little Mt Peel is the biggest liar out… Little Mt Peel is not little at all, just smaller than Big Mt Peel. There is nothing little about this walk, she’s a big uphill climb with views out over Mt Hutt, the Canterbury Plains and further out to the distant mountains.
This is not one to be taken lightly and is a good tough climb. Be aware at over 1000m, this is an alpine climb and weather conditions do change quickly. There is a hut to shelter in if things do turn for the worst, however it is not designed to stay in overnight. DOC suggests it takes 2-3 hours one way and I would definitely allow 5-6 hours return. With kids and stops, this walk took us 7.5 hours return, so do allow enough time. It’s a pretty epic Canterbury day walk so bring your hiking boots for this one.
For more information on the Little Mt Peel hike in Canterbury and other Peel Forest walks, click here: Little Mt Peel
Mt Thomas Walk, Oxford
A popular walk in North Canterbury is the Mt Thomas Track. It takes about 2 hours to reach the summit or to extend this, head back via the Wooden Gully or Ridge Tracks. It’s a hard steep climb up the ridgeline to Mt Thomas but you are rewarded with great views. If you are in the area and looking for a shorter walk, try the 1 hour return Kereru track which is great for families.
For more information on North Canterbury walks, click here
Trig M Track, Arthurs Pass
The Trig Mt Track from Starvation Gully is a great short-medium walk near Arthurs Pass. Its a beginner level uphill hike up to the Trig point that overlooks Lake Lyndon and the beautiful mountains. Its about an hour from Christchurch so could easily combine it with an exploration of Castle Hill nearby.
This is a great beginners hike, but it still isn’t incredibly easy. It does start with a good steep uphill for the first 20 minutes and then a more comfortable incline after this. The final push to the top is steep for a short time too. But the track is very easy terrain, a 4WD style path and its easy to follow. The track will take about 2.5-3 hours return.
For more information on the Trig M Track click here
Sealy Tarns Track and Mueller Hut, Mt Cook National Park
The Mueller Hut track is an epic hike in Mt Cook National Park. Not only are the views from Mueller Hut stunning, experiencing the stars up in this region, a Dark Sky Reserve, is an unbelievable experience. This could be a Mt Cook day walk, however most like to stay overnight in the hut (or camp but its super rocky)
The hike to Mueller Hut is tough and starts with the Sealy Tarns track. 2200 stairs to climb, 2 hour to the Sealy Tarns and another 2 hours up across rocky scree and unstable footing to Mueller Hut. This hike is definitely weather dependent and the hut must be booked in advance in summer. Check with the Doc team at Mt Cook Village for up to date weather conditions. It is recommended only to attempt this Canterbury hike from October-April as there are avalanche risks. (unless you are an experienced mountain climber)
An amazing hike, but be well prepared. The Mountain Safety Council have a fantastic video here to learn more about it.
Canterbury weather varies throughout the region. Especially if you are heading into the mountains and alpine regions, do not take these walks likely. The best source of Canterbury weather is with Canterbury Weather Updates. They cover smaller regions and are more accurate than other sources.
Canterbury High Country weather is very volatile and changes quickly. Even if you are doing an Arthurs Pass day walk, the weather here at this higher altitude is often much colder (or hotter) than just 40 minutes down the road. You can view webcams around the region to help you plan and if you need more information on hiking in the mountains and inclement weather, check out the Mountain Safety Council advice here.
Other Walks near Canterbury
There are a few walks near Canterbury that just fall off the Canterbury Map (technically) but if you are out exploring, then you may be close by
- Deep Stream Track, Lake Aviemore
- Omarama Clay Cliffs short walk
- Elephant Rocks and Anatini (short walk and rock formations)
- Also if you after some great outdoor gifts including our hiking equipment recommendations then read our article: Outdoor Gifts
For other DOC walks or full day walks, Canterbury, that we haven’t covered, click here