As you may have guessed by now, I prefer spending my time in the outdoors, literally as far away as possible from something as crowded as a city. Yet, I've been calling Christchurch/Ōtautahi in New Zealand my home for a while now. With the following lines I'm dedicating this place my own wee love letter. A place by definition a city but holding quite a variety of outdoor gems.

Not just to get a bit more green, movement and Vitamin D into our daily lives while spending our time here. But also to have moments away from the noise a city very often can present. Moments to take deeper breaths, maybe put the phone aside for a bit and explore the parts of us that make us what we are: natural beings.

Below is a list of reasons why this place has managed to catch a spot in my outdoor loving heart. Places I visit on a regular basis when here, recommend to anyone living here, as well as travellers passing through.

With each place you'll get an overview about the point of interest, a few snapshots to tickle curiosity, ideas on how to spend your time there and other useful information.

A quick word ahead: This article focuses entirely on a selection of CHCH's (CHCH = CHristCHurch) outdoor gems. Obviously there is A LOT more to this city. But for the purpose of this text, it'll be "only" my personal outdoor/activity highlights.

So, as always, grab yourselves a cuppa something, enjoy the scroll and keep on reading if you want to find out more.

Highlight #1: The Botanic Gardens in Hagley Park

To me, this is the heart of the central city.

On a rainy day in spring, when there are only a few other humans around who dare to get wet and go for a walk, you can literally see all the green, yellow, pink, blue, purple, all the colours, coming back to life after some colder months. There will be an abundance of ducklings learning the art of living, waddling towards anything that catches their curiosity, while some stressed out duck parents try to make themselves heard. Spring and cherry blossom trees as far as the eye can see. Giving not just the Botanic Gardens but the entire North Hagley Park a pinkish shine, partnered with a smell that makes you think you've just dipped your nose right into a bundle of roses, magnolias or alike.

Then again, in autumn, some of the impressive - and very, very old - trees loose their cover, their branches showing networks that more than once have left me in awe. Not to mention, also colours, colours, colours. The ground covered with fallen leaves.

Winter and summer are also pretty enjoyable for a visit. The warmth of summer or an early winter's morning with mysterious mist hovering over the Avon river flowing along the edges of the gardens. There's just something about spring and autumn that make this place almost magical.

I recommend a short run/walk through North Hagley Park, using the entrance by Lake Victoria to enter the Botanic Gardens.

From here on I suggest going by the motto "where your heart guides you" or better "where your eyes guide you". Look around and walk wherever you're curiosity leads you. You'll see birds doing their thing - if you're not aware yet New Zealand's birds tend to spend their time on or close to the ground. There'll be trees covering a surface (much) bigger than my apartment. A peace bell with an interesting story. A bridge that looks just too perfect for a picture. A wee wetland conservation area that makes you forget for a moment that you are, in fact, in the centre of one of New Zealand's biggest cities. The entrance from Rolleston Avenue borders the Canterbury Museum. A little off topic gem: The museum (and the boy's school next to it) is located in an older type of (and super British looking) building that Christchurch used to have lot more of. Before many of the older buildings fell down due to the impacts of the 2010/2011 earthquakes.

If you do want to get informed before visiting the Botanic Gardens, you can check out this link. There you can also find detailed information on anything around this place.



Highlight #2:Mt Vernon via Dry Ridge, Marette Taylor and Valley Tracks

The cark par at the end of Hillsborough Terrace in Hillsborough is a little less than 8km away from the central city. It's also a good starting point to leave a bike and walk up Mt Vernon via the Dry Ridge, Marette Taylor and Valley Tracks. You can read more about the different tracks here.

The total distance of this walk, one way, is a bit more than 4km with a total elevation of 420m all the way up to the summit of Mt Vernon. It's a nice wee walk to enjoy some views of the entire city, the Pacific Ocean, Lyttelton/Diamond Harbour and the Southern Alps. Pretty rad for a first overview of Christchurch, I'd say.

Even if you're not much into walking, you can either run up the trail (pretty nice training) or choose one of the MTB tracks, the Rapaki track being one of them. This is also an option for the way down if you're up for a loop and don't want to walk the same way down as up.

This area being used for farming, there's also a high chance you'll have some sheep encounters on the way. Get ready for staring contests.

Once we reach Summit Road, there'll be rewarding views onto Lyttelton, Diamond Harbour and a small island called Otamahua/Quail Island. Combined with Akaroa, these are part of the Banks Peninsula. An area created by the eruption of a volcano and flooding of its crater. From here it's only a couple hundred metres to the top of Mt Vernon. At 462m more a peak than a mount. If weather and wind conditions permit, I usually have a summit matecito (a hot tea beverage, often shared amongst each other - a habit I picked up in South America). Doing so while enjoying some 360° views.



Highlight #3:Travis Wetland / Ōruapaeroa

If you liked the wee wetland conservation area in the Botanic Gardens you will love this:

116 hectares of wetlands. To give us just a glimpse of what the area that is now labelled as Christchurch used to look like. Before this land was drained and filled to make housing and farming possible, it had been a mixture of river gravel beds, sand dunes and wetlands - a paradise for all kinds of life: birds, native bush, trees, and more.

As an act of conservation the Christchurch City Council bought this piece of land from private landowners and turned it into a protected area with the aim to restore the diversity it once had.

Coming from the city centre the trip to Travis Wetland invites to another bike ride. This time almost entirely along the Avon River/Ōtākaro. Doing so, you'll pass through one of the residential red zones. Areas highly damaged by the 2010/2011 Canterbury earthquakes and marked unfeasible for building as a result. Areas so abandoned it strikes me every single time I bike through.

But let's focus back on the actual highlight for this trip. There's a high chance you'll be greeted by some pukekos when entering the circuit that loops around the wetlands. Pukekos, another bird species in NZ who prefer to spend most of their time on the ground. Obviously.

The short loop of no more than 3.5km gives options for many sit downs to watch birds, relax and take some deep breaths. About halfway through the walk, starting from the car park at the end of Beach Road, you'll find a viewing platform - a simple reminder of just how big the city's landmass is. From personal experience, so far, this place is pretty quiet, especially during weekdays. Perfect for either a short or longer run over multiple laps. The beach is also only a couple kilometres away from beforementioned car park.

Check out this link if you want to read more about Travis Wetland.

Another location that invites to a more trailish kind of run, or simply walk, is the last, but not least, highlight of our digital Christchurch outdoor exploration tour.



Highlight #4:Godley Head Loop Track / Awaroa

This destination in the "Garden City" sits a bit further away from the city centre. Nevertheless, it's one of my favourite spots.

Not only does the Godley Head Loop Track offer a nice option for a wee trail run. You will also come along some pretty rad views of CHCH, the Pacific Ocean, a few bays and Banks Peninsula. Oh yeah, and a bit of history. Halfway through the loop you'll be passing gun emplacements from WWII.

But let's start at the beginning. I recommend starting the loop from Taylor's Mistake beach. Maybe enjoying the sound of the waves while sipping on a cuppa coffee or tea, watching the one or other surfer before heading off. The loop track is a bit more than 9km. Wear and bring clothes according to weather conditions. The track is exposed which means you will get all the sun on a cloudless day (sun screen!). But you will also get all the wind, all the rain,... without any trees or alike as protection.

While there are a few ups and downs the track is easy to walk and well maintained. You may not even become aware of these being all into the views.

Most of the walk is on top of cliffs with a few opportunities to scramble down and, i.e., see some old baches (holiday houses). There's also a penguin colony located close to Boulder Bay. As far as I know, you can only get there via a tour guided by some of the researches.

Once you reach the actual Godley Head you can decide to either turn around and catch the views from another perspective. Or you complete the loop via the Black Rock and Pilgrims Way Coastal tracks. Check out the DOC's webpage here for detailed information.



This finishes up our little outdoor tour of Christchurch - for now. Don't forget, this was just an overview, we haven't even touched on the topic of climbing yet. Maybe, I'll get to that in a future post...


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