One of my earlier walks in Canterbury was up Red Hill, with fabulous views of Lake Coleridge and surrounds. Opposite Red Hill is the taller Blue Hill (1946m) in the Craigieburn Range, a steep climb on mostly scree from the Porter Heights Access Road, which provides access to the ski field. From there a very easy ridge walk gets you to nearby Willis Peak (1962m; which is unnamed on some maps). The views from these two peaks are similarly good, those from Willis Peak being a particularly impressive jumble of lumpy arid mountains, backed by tall peaks in the Southern Alps. To extend your adventure and views you can complete a circuit by circumnavigating the Porters ski field, descending to the road on a spur from point 1997m.
I walked this route in late spring when the mountains were mostly bare of snow. I’ve never seen so much scree in my life. I don’t mind a bit of scree, although you can get too much of a good thing. There’s no doubt this would be a better walk in winter, but you’ll probably need some winter gear and experience. Track notes at the end.
Blue Hill – Willis Peak – Porters Circuit: The Scenery
In November the road was locked 3km from the base of the mountain, so we had to walk from there. In winter the road will almost certainly be open for access to Porters ski field. (When we climbed Red Hill the road was locked near the base of Blue Hill, but that was fine as we wanted to start from that spot anyway). You might be able to sort out the gate situation by referring to the Porters website.
We walked the circuit clockwise, but if I did it again I’d probably go anticlockwise for an easier gradient on the ascent, and a straightforward descent down Blue Hill on scree. Nevertheless, going clockwise means you climb the peaks early on, and could return back down the same way for a shorter walk.
The walk up Blue Hill is initially very steep, at first on tussock and then on quite soft scree. I used my walking poles to haul myself up. The gradient eases off as you climb higher, and the scree becomes coarser. Walking on the tops is very easy. The descent from 1997m involved a few sections of scrambling. Nothing too difficult, but care is required and it slowed us down a bit.
Roughly 14.5km and 1500m change in elevation; it will take roughly 7 hours.