Blue Hill – Willis Peak – Porters Circuit, Craigieburn Range, Canterbury NZ

Big views on this circuit around Porters ski field, taking in Blue Hill (1946m) and Willis Peak (1962m) in the Craigieburn Range.

Blue Hill Willis Peak Porters Loop, Craigieburns

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

Blue Hill Willis Peak Porters Loop, Craigieburns
Lots of scree on the way up.
Blue Hill Willis Peak Porters Loop, Craigieburns
You can see our whole route along the road besides the Porter River, then up the hill from the corner of the long switchback on the right.
Blue Hill Willis Peak Porters Loop, Craigieburns
Arriving at the summit of Blue Hill.
Blue Hill Willis Peak Porters Loop, Craigieburns
Sophia on Blue Hill (1946m).
Blue Hill Willis Peak Porters Loop, Craigieburns
Panorama from the summit of Blue Hill. Red Hill on the far left, The Mount Hutt Range centre left on the other side of the Rakaia, and of course Lake Coleridge on the right.
Blue Hill Willis Peak Porters Loop, Craigieburns
Rugged and barren views from Willis Peak (1962m).
Blue Hill Willis Peak Porters Loop, Craigieburns
A panorama west from Willis Peak.
Blue Hill Willis Peak Porters Loop, Craigieburns
Close up of the lumpy topography.
Blue Hill Willis Peak Porters Loop, Craigieburns
Views roughly south from Willis Peak.

Blue Hill Willis Peak Porters Loop, Craigieburns
Top of the Porters Ski Field.
Blue Hill Willis Peak Porters Loop, Craigieburns
Happy smiley snow face, and Mt Enys, the highest mountain in the Craigieburn Range. I climbed Mt Enys earlier in the year on a long loop.
Blue Hill Willis Peak Porters Loop, Craigieburns
Just about to start our descent.
Blue Hill Willis Peak Porters Loop, Craigieburns
The tussock and scree making for a patchy, spotty design on the mountain sides.
Blue Hill Willis Peak Porters Loop, Craigieburns
Very trapezoidal. Blue Hill on the left, and Willis Peak on the right.
Blue Hill Willis Peak Porters Loop, Craigieburns
You can just see Sophia descending the spur from 1997m. It was a touch scrambly in places and she was taking her time.
Blue Hill Willis Peak Porters Loop, Craigieburns
Our route down on the left.
Blue Hill Willis Peak Porters Loop, Craigieburns
Looking up the river from the locked gate where we parked our car, towards Blue Hill and the spur we descended (further right). As we drove off Sophia realised she wasn’t wearing her glasses. After a search of the car I decided she had left them at a pool 3km up the road where she had washed her face. So after some melodramatic huffing and puffing I set off for the 6km round trip to go and retrieve them. I tried running most of it, if you can call what I did running. It’s hard enough running in my big hiking boots, but after a big day out I didn’t have much left in the tank. Anyway, at least they were there.

Track Notes

Blue Hill Willis Peak Porters Loop, Craigieburns
You might have to start at the locked gate on the Porters Heights Access Road, as we did. We walked the circuit clockwise but I think anti-clockwise might might be easier. Navigation is fairly straightforward.

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.

Author: Edward Hathway

I'm a clinical psychologist and keen hiker.

One thought on “Blue Hill – Willis Peak – Porters Circuit, Craigieburn Range, Canterbury NZ”

  1. I never knew Mr Willis had a peak named after him. We met him one time as he had a bach near Dracophyllum Flat and we were doing a navigation exercise that popped out on his land. I think he was with Mr Hamilton and they were looking for a key to the tractor shed!

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