Best Day-Tramps in the Canterbury Foothills

Some of New Zealand’s finest and most underrated day-tramps are to be found in the Canterbury Foothills, easily accessible from Christchurch.

Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury

Flanked by the Southern Alps to the west, and flat as a pancake Canterbury Plains to the east, the Canterbury Foothills are a smorgasbord of mountains, plains, braided rivers and glacial lakes. Many of the peaks are starkly beautiful patchworks of tussock grass and scree, some with stands of native forest on their lower slopes.

There are many well maintained tracks in the area, but much of the country is pretty open, so experienced trampers can extend their options considerably. You can get to pretty much anywhere in the Canterbury Foothills from Christchurch in a day-trip: driving times are between 50 minutes and a little over 2 hours for the furthest walks.

Following are a selection of the best walks in the region – just click on the titles or pictures to view my original blog posts. First are a selection of the best moderate hikes, then harder walks for an even more epic tramping experience. We got a lot of these walk ideas from the Canterbury Foothills and Forests tramping guide.

Best Moderate Day-Walks in the Canterbury Foothills

Peak Hill

Peak Hill ascent, Canterbury NZ
Admiring the views from Peak Hill.

A popular walk up Peak Hill (1240m) to excellent 360 degree views over Lake Coleridge, various mountain ranges, and braided river valleys.

Woolshed Creek Hut

Woolshed Creek Hut Circuit, Mt Somers area
Gorgeous gorges on the Woolshed Creek Hut Circuit.

Excellent gorge scenery and grand mountain vistas await you on this moderate walk to Woolshed Creek Hut on the western side of Mt Somers.

Mt Somers and the Pinnacles Circuit

Mt Somers & Pinnacles Circuit, Canterbury
Looking back along the final ridge to the summit of Mt Somers.

A classic circuit walk taking in two major attractions, the summit of Mt Somers (1688m) with great views, & the spectacular Pinnacles rock formations. Definitely at the hard end of moderate, a worthy shorter option is to visit Mt Somers and return the way you came.

Little Mt Peel

Little Mt Peel Circuit, Peel Forest Scenic Reserve
Wrinkly views west from Little Mt Peel.

A 1000m climb through a variety of native vegetation takes you to the summit of Little Mt Peel (1311m) with great views of the Canterbury Plains & surrounding mountains.

Coal Hill

Coal Hill Track, Mt Peel Conservation Area
View from the summit of Coal Hill.

The Coal Hill Track takes you up steeply through tussock grass to the summit of Coal Hill (1617m), with excellent views the whole way.

Rangitata Gorge on the Tenahaun Track

Rangitata Gorge on the Tenahaun Track, Canterbury
The Rangitata River

An unexpectedly attractive walk through the Rangitata Gorge on the Tenahaun Track, to a viewpoint over mountains to the west.

Moorhouse Range Tops

Moorhouse Range Tops, Tenahaun Conservation Area
Rangitata River from the Moorhouse Range

Excellent views of the Rangitata River and north-east towards Mt Taylor from the top of the Moorhouse Range (point 1153m).

Mt Lyndon Cloudy Hill Traverse

Mt Lyndon Cloudy Hill Traverse, Korowai Torlesse Tussocklands Park
Views from Mt Lyndon.

A traverse of Mt Lyndon (1489m) & Cloudy Hill (1442m), with beautiful views of Lake Lyndon, & of impressive mountain ranges in all directions.

Best Hard Day-Walks in the Canterbury Foothills

Mt Oakden

Mt Oakden ascent, Canterbury
The Wilberforce Valley viewed on my way down Mt Oakden.

Really spectacular views the whole way up Mt Oakden (1633m), including braided river valleys, Lake Coleridge & mountains galore. A real classic.

Mt Potts

Mt Potts Circuit, Canterbury
View from the summit of Mt Potts.

Fabulous views of the Southern Alps and surrounds from the summit of Mt Potts (2184m), in the upper Rangitata Valley.

Castle Hill Peak via Foggy Peak

Castle Hill Peak and Foggy Peak, Korowai/Torlesse Tussocklands Park
Lake Lyndon viewed from Foggy Peak, on the way back from Castle Hill Peak.

Stark and ruggedly beautiful scenery on this classic Canterbury tramp up Castle Hill Peak (1998m) via Foggy Peak, in Korowai Torlesse Tussocklands Park. Going as far as Foggy Peak is of just moderate difficulty.

Red Hill

Red Hill via Porter River, Korowait/Torlesse Tussocklands Park
Views towards the Rakaia Valley from Red Hill.

Spectacular views from the summit of Red Hill (1641m), climbed via the atmospheric Porter River Valley. Not a long walk but off-track and hence a bit slow going depending on the conditions.

Mt Harper

Mt Harper Circuit, Hakatere Conservation Park
One of my favourite shots of the day. Sophia in the foreground and the impressive Ben McLeod Range in the background.

This circuit walk up Mt Harper (1829m) offers wide open views of the Ashburton Lakes District & the Rangitata River, with the Southern Alps providing the backdrop.

Steepface Hill

Steepface Hill ascent, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury NZ
The Rakaia River and Lake Coleridge viewed from Steepface Hill.

Really excellent views over the braided Rakaia River and countless mountains on this big ascent up Steepface Hill (1876m) in Hakatere Conservation Park.

Black Mountain

Black Mountain, Te Kahui Kaupeka Conservation Park
A close up of various peaks around Cassandra Col, including The Thumbs (2546m) on the left.

Spectacular views of barren 2500m high peaks, glacial valleys & the Rangitata River, from the summit of Black Mountain (1809m).

Rat Hill via Redcliffe Stream

Rat Hill via Redcliffe Stream
Views of the Black Hill Range from Rat Hill.

An attractive and varied walk through native shrublands besides Redcliffe Stream & up to the summit of Rat Hill (1450m) for views of rugged high peaks.

Mt Oxford

Mt Oxford Loop, Oxford Forest Conservation Area
Descending from the summit of Mt Oxford.

A varied loop walk with great views from the summit of Mt Oxford (1364m), plus beautiful beech forest and a nice waterfall on the return leg. There are shorter moderate options available.

Mt Cloudsley

Mt Cloudsley via Long Spur, Craigieburn Forest Park
Clouds on Mt Cloudsley in the Craigieburn Range.

Great views in all directions as you climb to the accessible high peak of Mt Cloudsley (2107m) in the Craigieburn Range near Castle Hill.

Mt Taylor

Mt Taylor ascent, Canterbury
Looking west from the summit of Mt Taylor 2333m.

Stark and rugged scenery on this epic day-hike to the summit of Mt Taylor (2333m), the highest peak in the Canterbury Foothills.

Mt Peel

Mt Peel via Middle & Little Mt Peel, Canterbury NZ
Little Mt Peel viewed from Middle Mt Peel.

A long walk to the summit of Mt Peel (1743m) via Middle & Little Mt Peel. Great views of the Canterbury Plains and surrounding mountains.

Ben More

Ben More Tops Circuit, Korowai/Torlesse Tussocklands Park
Climbing up onto the Ben More Tops.

Rugged scenery as you ascend to Ben More (1655m) along broad ridges on this circuit walk in Korowai/Torlesse Tussocklands Park.

Godley Peak & Moorhouse Peak

Godley Peak & Moorhouse Peak via Homestead Hill, Palmer Range
Nice sky on the way up to Godley Peak & Moorhouse Peak.

A big walk to the two highest peaks in the Palmer Range, Godley Peak (2087m) & Moorhouse Peak (2025m). Scree and tussock in all directions.

Mt Cheeseman from Texas Flat

Mt Cheeseman from Texas Flat, Craigieburn Range
Mt Olympus viewed from Mt Cheeseman

Fabulous views await those who climb steeply to Mt Cheeseman (2031m), a peak on the crest of the Craigieburn Range.

Mid Hill via Lagoon Saddle

Mid Hill via Lagoon Saddle, Craigieburn Forest Park
Views from the summit of Mid Hill in Craigieburn Forest Park.

Great views and nice variety on this walk to Mid Hill (1831m) in Craigieburn Forest Park, with forest, tussock, a rocky ridge & lots of tarns.

Mt Enys & Mt Cloudsley Circuit

Mt Enys & Mt Cloudsley Circuit, Craigieburn Range
Epic views from Mt Enys (2194m) over the lumpy topography east of Lake Coleridge.

A long circuit over Mt Enys (2194m) & Mt Cloudsley (2107m), the two highest peaks in the Craigieburn Range. Fabulous views from the tops.

Mt Hutt via Steepface Hill

Mt Hutt via Steepface Hill, Canterbury

Big views on this big walk up Steepface Hill and on to Mt Hutt (2185m), one of Canterbury’s iconic high peaks.

Mt Harper & Cairn Hill Circuit

Mt Harper & Cairn Hill Circuit, Hakatere Conservation Park NZ
Ben McLeod Range and Rangitata River from the Harper Range.

Great views on this circuit visiting Mt Harper (1829m), Cairn Hill (1589m) and Lake Emma in Hakatere Conservation Park.

Hamilton Peak & Nervous Knob Circuit

Hamilton Peak & Nervous Knob Circuit, Craigieburn Range
Walking along to Nervous Knob from Hamilton Peak.

Fabulous views from the Craigieburn Range tops at Hamilton Peak (1922m) & Nervous Knob (1820m) on this sometimes steep circuit walk.

Castle Hill Peak Circuit via Mt Plenty

Castle Hill Peak Circuit via Mt Plenty, Korowai Torlesse Tussocklands Park
Views from near Mt Plenty, enroute to Castle Hill Peak.

An alternative circuit route up Castle Hill Peak (1998m), over Mt Plenty, and returning via Foggy Peak for variety. Spectacular views the whole way.

Black Hill Circuit

Black Hill Circuit, Hakatere Conservation Park
The Rakaia and Wilberforce Rivers from the summit of Black Hill (2067m).

This long walk to Black Hill (2067m) via Turtons Saddle offers seriously good views of the Rakaia River and countless mountains in all directions.

Mt Catherine to 1877m

Mt Catherine to 1877m, Hakatere Conservation Park
The Arrowsmith Range from point 1877m on Mt Catherine.

Spectacular views from pt. 1877m on Mt Catherine, of the Southern Alps, other peaks in the Canterbury Foothills, & the Ashburton Lakes area.

Mt Torlesse

Mt Torlesse ascent, Korowai Torlesse Tussocklands Park
Junction peak (left) and Back peak (right), from Mt Torlesse.

Spectacular views from Mt Torlesse (1961m), taking in other peaks in the Torlesse Range, including nearby Castle Hill Peak.

Mt Izard from Texas Flat

Mt Izard from Texas Flat, Craigieburn Range
The final climb to the summit of Mt Izard.

Climb to the 2019m high peak Mt Izard in the Craigieburn Range for excellent views of neighbouring Mt Cheeseman and countless other peaks.

Mt Sinclair

Mt Sinclair ascent, Te Kahui Kaupeka Conservation Park
Mt Sinclair’s tarn and point 2061m.

An adventurous route up past a very scenic tarn to the summit of Mt Sinclair (2065m) with spectacular views, especially to the north. It’s all scenic enough that you might see tourists visiting the tarn by helicopter!

Mt Catherine via south ridge

Mt Catherine via south ridge, Hakatere Conservation Park
Looking over point 1877m to the Arrowsmith Range, amongst other ranges.

Excellent views & good variety on this long ridge walk up Mt Catherine (2085m) from the south, with scenic options to return via scree slopes, streams & the TA.

Author: Edward Hathway

I'm a clinical psychologist and keen hiker.

4 thoughts on “Best Day-Tramps in the Canterbury Foothills”

  1. I just found this site while looking for some detail on the Klondyke Valley track in the Victoria range. Great photos and some good detail & map of the route between the Spur track & the Valley Track. Just what I needed.

    Also great to see the list of ‘Best…….’. I’ve done many of them over the last 50 years but there are a few new ones for me to consider. Thanks for that.

    1. Cheers Daryll. Glad the blog is useful. I went pretty hard over the past 3.5 years so I’ve clocked up a lot of peaks in that time. The blog helps actually. I feel like a collector, always looking for the next new walk. 😀

  2. Thanks for the inspiration 🙂 I’ve recently moved to the W Coast and am always looking to check out Canterbury tramps when the weather’s not so great over this side. Appreciate you compiling these articles, Jules (tinytramper)

    1. Hi Jules. I’ve read your blog before a few times. I think the last time was reading about Bush Stream, which we failed to cross (didn’t even consider it) when climbing Mt Sinclair. Was happy others had also failed to cross it. 😄

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