Fancy adding some sublime strolls to your summer sightseeing in the South Island? The possibilities are endless, but here are four top options in close proximity to some of the South’s holiday hotspots.
1. Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve (from Blenheim)
Blenheim is deeply proud of its sunshine capital status. If you can tear yourself away from Marlborough’s world-class vineyards, take a short drive to Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve, a pocket of ancient forest, cut through by the dazzling turquoise-hued Pelorus River. Most of the tracks are wide and gentle, even built to a standard suitable for wheelchairs. My pick of the bunch is the 45-minute Circle Walk. This languid loop enrobes you in the beauty of the forest, with drop dead gorgeous views of the Pelorus River, complete with the Insta-worthy swingbridge.
Need a place to stay? Quality Hotel Marlborough makes the perfect base from which to discover everything Blenheim and the surrounding region have to offer. Walk to wineries and the town centre with ease.
2. Onawe Peninsula (from Christchurch)
From Christchurch, if you’re heading over to the French-influenced waterfront village of Akaroa, as the harbour first comes into view make tracks for Onawe Peninsula. Jutting out into the harbour like an elongated pyramid, it’s connected to the mainland by only a thin ridge reminiscent of a dragon’s spiny backbone. Geologically theatrical with a riot of patterned rock colours, it’s actually a volcanic plug inside Akaroa Harbour. Take the opportunity to strike out on the one-hour return walk. Just be sure to time your walk for low or mid tide, to avoid getting wet feet before heading up the slope to the summit. One hundred and ninety years ago it was the walled site of a Ngāi Tahu pā, which was captured by Te Rauparaha – chief of the Ngāti Toa in 1832. Today it’s a place so silent, a shout hangs in the air, and the scenery is blow-your-socks-off gorgeous. Don’t let the ‘summit’ reference put you off. It’s a gentle ascent and even a moderate degree of fitness will see you breeze up to the celestial look-out point, where the views will truly leave you pinching yourself.
Need a place to stay? Choice Hotels offers a superb range of Christchurch accommodation options to suit every budget. Econo Lodge Canterbury Court is located on the southern side of town, and is a convenient departure point for the drive to Akaroa.
3. Washpen Falls (from Ashburton)
From Ashburton, Canterbury’s all-time favourite day walk – Washpen Falls – is within easy reach. You’ll need a moderate degree of fitness to scale the uphill sections of this riveting two-hour adventure walk, which is privately owned and costs $10 per adult, $5 per child, payable at the entrance for track maintenance (the payment includes a map and walking stick). This fascinating trek starts at Old Washpen Falls Woolshed and takes you through the Volcanic Canyon reserve filled with lush native bush and wonderful birdlife. At the top of the climb you’re rewarded with heart-stirring views across the Canterbury Plains to the sea. As you descend back down the canyon, the track takes you alongside sparkling spring-fed creeks and stunning waterfalls, which create the longest tributary of the Hororata River. A rustic covered shelter beside the lake blends beautifully with the surroundings and is the perfect spot for a post-hike thirst quencher!
Need a place to stay? Quality Suites Ashburton is located on the eastern approach into town, just opposite the Ashburton Racecourse. The accommodation is contemporary in style, and each suite has a fully equipped kitchen. Amenities include free Wi-Fi and onsite parking.
4. Memorial Walkway (from Timaru)
Pocket-sized Timaru lives and breathes the seaside. Salt spray seasons the air in this South Canterbury city, and if you’re eager to stretch the legs, head to the northern end of Caroline Bay where the glorious Memorial Walkway leads you across the Benvenue Cliffs and to historic Blackett’s Lighthouse. This gorgeous structure dates back to 1878 and marks the origins of the port’s development. Clad in narrow kauri weatherboards, it remains one of the last standing timber lighthouses in New Zealand. The ravishing ocean views intersect with some striking geology further north of the Dashing Rocks walk, where the ancient lava flows of Mount Horrible spill into the sea and give rise to a rocky platform of basalt columns. These fluted volcanic rocks are like giant natural artworks. They were a popular Māori fishing spot and early Europeans would use the point as a trusty coastal whaling lookout. It’s a stirring spectacle and fitting end to the Memorial Walkway hike.
Need a place to stay? Modern and comfortable, Timaru’s Comfort Hotel Benvenue features plenty of amenities – including an onsite restaurant and bar, late check-out and free parking. The hotel is just a short walk from the waterfront and lighthouse.
About the writer
As a writer, Mike Yardley mixes his life-long passions for travel and current affairs. Born and based in Christchurch, he is a travel editor and syndicated columnist for several newspapers nationally, and can be heard as a contributor on New Zealand’s number one radio station – Newstalk ZB.