Mountain biking in Christchurch's Port Hills

Anyone passionate about mountain biking in New Zealand will choose to live in Christchurch. Why? The answer is two simple words. PORT HILLS.

When I moved to New Zealand in 1996, I never intended to stay in Christchurch for more than 12 months. Last week I clocked up 15 years. So many people have asked me why I can't seem to leave the South Island, or even the city known its for "Ocean to Alps" views.

The answer is two simple words: Port Hills.

I grew up in flat, tropical southwest Florida, USA, where the Sunshine Skyway bridge is the only qualifying "hill." This helps explain why I find Christchurch's landscape not only inspiring, but positively addictive.

The appeal of the hills here is not just about the views, or the natural beauty - it's about access. Because Christchurch doesn't know the meaning of "rush hour," when you finish work in the city centre at 5 (which we do), we're in the hills less than 20 minutes later. And that's not even in a hurry (we don't know much about that either).

Christchurch's Port Hills form the northern rim of the ancient Lyttelton volcano, separating the port of Lyttelton from the city of Christchurch. The volcanic crater is one of two from which Banks Peninsula (Horomaka) was originally formed over 12 million years ago. The Port Hills range runs approximately east-west and rises to summits of between 350 and 500 metres above sea level.

It's mountain biking paradise.

In no particular order, these are five of my favourite reasons to head into the hills - on two wheels of course.

1. Kennedys Bush

It isn't as accessible as "people's choice" Rapaki Track (fast friends have been known to get from Cathedral Square to the top of Rapaki in under 30 minutes flat). However it's worth the grunt up Kennedys Bush Road in Halswell, or a zig zag up the Crocodile, to find one of the most rewarding farm tracks in the South Island. Turn around at the top and it's a quick downhill home, or follow Summit Road along the top and drop down via Rapaki or Huntsbury Hill instead. Challenging: but not impossible. Technical: 0.

2. Godley Head

Head up Evans Pass Road (or Captain Thomas Track if you're dead keen) on a quiet Sunday morning to pick up the track (look left) to Godley Head, which you'll usually have all to yourself. This takes you all the way out to Godley Head and the gun emplacements, for some local history and heavenly ocean views. Even on a rainy day this is one of the most spectacular views in the world - take a picnic, some photos - and trust the tussock. It's a great track for falling off since the tussock-covered ground is soft and forgiving. Challenging: medium. Technical: yes.

3. Worsley Spur

I love this track because some day if I do make it to the top, I'll know I've achieved something. If there were a scale from "friendly" to "unfriendly" in mountain biking terms, Rapaki would be on one end and Worsley would be at the other. Just follow Worsley Road to the end - and head up. Challenging. Technical.

4. The Traverse

This is "our local." You'll run into friends and catch great views "from Ocean to Alps." Our morning before-work ride takes us up Rapaki, along the Traverse and down Dyers Pass Road (down through Victoria Park is another option, but with work waiting I go 'safety first.') Challenging: mild. Technical: friendly single track.

5. Victoria Park

You'll see shuttle buses of 14-year-olds doing the Saturday morning circuit and wonder if you're missing out. If downhill is exciting then follow the queue; this will quickly become your base camp in the Port Hills.

Situated on the ridges and valleys descending from Sugarloaf, Victoria Park has panoramic views of Christchurch, the Canterbury Plains, Pegasus Bay and the Southern Alps. The park has a vast array of tracks for walking and wheelchair as well as mountain bikes.

Victoria Park is a great place for families with picnic and play areas and a dog park.

Plus there's a permanent orienteering course, which starts from near the visitor centre.

When you come to Christchurch, if you love the outdoors, then come with two wheels. If you don't bring your own, there are plenty of city and Port Hills cycle tours, cycle hire and locals to help you find your way.

For official visitor information on Christchurch City and the Canterbury region, visit www.christchurchnz.com

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