Living in Christchurch and using it as our base to explore the incredible country of New Zealand we were desperate to get out and experience the incredible scenery. Working and saving for our road trip around the country we were itching to explore, so we began searching for the best Christchurch walks and happened upon Rakaia Gorge. This incredible icy blue river carved into the rugged scenery of Canterbury with the snow-capped Mt Hutt in the background was all we had ever dreamt of when we first imagined our time in New Zealand. The Rakaia Gorge being only an hour from the city has to be the best day trip from Christchurch offering an incredible 10km hike through real alpine scenery so close to the city. This area is also known for the ski field at Mt Hutt but this is also one of the many other great things to do in Methven.
An incredible experience traversing the Icy blue waters of the Rakaia Gorge
Heading out of the city early in the morning to get a head start on the hike we had hoped for the forecast beauty of a sunny and crisp winters day in New Zealand. Instead we were greeted with thick low cloud and fog, hanging to the peaks and sweeping across the vast Canterbury planes whilst the ever accurate weather app still showed full sun! On our hour-long drive from the city our hopes of capturing this lesser known of New Zealand’s Alpine beauties in all its glory seemed to fade with time. Arriving in Methven the sleepy ski village was eerily quiet, we decided to get something to eat and wait it out hoping the fog would burn off with the late morning sun. Good job it’s so close to the city that we could easily come again which is why its the best day trip from Christchurch for us!
As if by magic after an hour or so of hanging around in Methven the clouds parted and the sun pierced the low hanging fog, the mountains suddenly appeared like a mirage from behind the curtain of cloud, the greens became more vibrant and the blue sky radiated. The scene around us was now incredible and we couldn’t wait to begin our hike. Since heading over here we had been on the look out for Christchurch walks and this was the best of the lot!
A short 10 minute drive outside of Methven towards Christchurch and Mt Hutt the Rakaia Gorge is easy to find and has a convenient parking area across the road from the start of the trail. Many people head out to Mt Hutt for skilling but don’t realise this walk is also a great day trip from Christchurch too and one of the many other things to do in Methven!
From the moment we set foot on the trail we were amazed by the views of the gorge, the water flowing through the braided river below us was mind-blowing. The bright blue is a result of the minerals picked up over the length of the rivers journey from glacial melt to being forced through this narrow canyon before continuing on to the ocean. Trees line the easy-going trail, vast pines frame the scene of snow-capped mountains and the flowing glacial river, the New Zealand we had always imagined over these years of planning and slow travel through Europe, Asia and Australia towards this amazing place.
It’s unbelievable really how close to our adopted home of Christchurch Rakaia Gorge really is, we had expected these scenes to greet us only on our planned road trip through the Southern Alps of Mt. Cook National Park, Queenstown and Milford Sound, it reminded us a lot of our experience in Interlaken, Switzerland. There are some great Christchurch walks around the city but this has to be the ultimate day trip from Christchurch and one of the best things to do around Mt Hutt if you want a break from Skiing! If you are in the city and want to do some of the best Christchurch walks then this is the area to come!
As the trail winds its way around the gorge the view of the river and mountains changes constantly, providing views you just want resist but snapping away at! The main trail culminated at an incredible viewpoint overlooking the entire jaw dropping scene, a great place to take a break and just soak in the sheer beauty of Aotearoa (That’s the Maori name for New Zealand). If you were pushed for time or struggle with walking then you could quite easily walk the 2km here just for this view and head back and still get to experience some of the beauty of Rakaia Gorge. This has to be one of the best Easy hikes in New Zealand by far!
From here the trail cuts more inland, crossing open fields more reminiscent from a scene out of “The Sound Of music” than Lord Of the Rings. These sections allow you to delve into the forests of New Zealand, venturing deep under the cover of several native trees and shrubs. There is a real feeling of wilderness in here, the native flowers, birds singing in the trees above and the sheer lack of other visitors unlike the more popular areas of New Zealand. Here you will can take a short diversion to see the remains of the disused Snowdon mine which adds a historical fascination to this walk alongside the spectacular beauty of the area.
After hopping across a stream the loop at the end of the track begins, it climbs above the forest and once again offers the vast sweeping views of the valley below. There are two options here for the hike, we took the steeper but shorter section towards the upper look out and the longer more meandering route back down. The first offers the far superior views and isn’t too challenging though it’s more of a hike than the alternative route but for us it has some of the best views of the trail and part of why this is one of the best Christchurch walks.
The great thing about a walk that loops and goes back on itself is that when it’s as incredible as this you can experience it twice in one day! By the time we got back to the car after one of the most wonderful 10km hikes we’ve ever done we were in even more awe of the country we are lucky enough to call home for 12 months and ever more keen for our road trip! Also, despite starting late because of the weather we were able to get back to the city for a reasonable time which is why its a perfect day trip from Christchurch. The Rakaia gorge is great if you’re looking for one of the best easy hikes in New Zealand.
How to get to Rakaia Gorge from Christchurch
Getting to Rakaia Gorge from Christchurch is pretty straightforward and takes around 1hr 15 mins and is around 88km. The time and distance of the walk away makes it a perfect day trip from Christchurch. You could also base yourself in Methven if you are here for skiing too, which is 10 minutes away. Rakaia Gorge and the surrounding area is likely somewhere we’ll come back to a few times whilst living in Christchurch, a bit like how we would regularly go down Great Ocean Road when living in Melbourne!
From the city take state route 73 through West Melton and towards Darfield before turning on to route 77 towards Methven and Mt. Hutt. Along this route you will come across the parking for Rakaia Gorge before the bridge crosses towards the town.
How hard is the Rakaia Gorge hike?
The Rakaia Gorge hike is 10km long and takes around 3-4 hours and is one of the best Easy hikes in New Zealand!
The path itself is quite easy-going especially in the earlier sections before becoming undulating towards the end. The final loop does have two routes one which is more challenging than the other. We took the shorter steeper trail to maximise the light on the mountains as we started later than expected due to the weather. But taking the longer but easier track up and the steeper one down is probably better! The ease of walking given the amazing views make it easily one of the must do Christchurch walks and one of the best Easy hikes in New Zealand.
It’s hard for us to say as we hike challenging trails often and have done many mountain hikes, but for us this felt like an easy trail. We met a few older people and children on there who were taking their time but managed it quite well which is why its one of the best Christchurch walks as its so assessable and one of the most stunning easy hikes in New Zealand.
For more info on the trail check out the government website: www.doc.govt.nz
Tips for the Rakaia Gorge hike: the best day trip from Christchurch
The view of the mountain range is better with the morning light so try to get on the trail early to make the most of one of the best Christchurch walks.
If you are pushed for time or not too good at walking, a great thing to do would be to take the 2km section of the trail to the Rakaia river lookout and then heading back, this section is very easy and has some amazing view!
Head into Methven before starting the hike for some food and drink as there is nowhere near the trail to buy some or any water. The view back towards the gorge of the mountains is also incredible so it’s worth the ride from the town!
If you are skiing at Mt. Hutt then this is one of the best things to do in Methven on a day taking a break from the slopes!
This is a great walk all year round. In the winter the mountains will be covered with snow but the town will also be busier with the ski season. In the summer the weather will likely be better but the snow won’t be there! For us the winter time is the best time of year to make the most of one of the best Christchurch walks.
On this river you can take a Jetboat which is a wonderful way to get some adrenaline and take in the views from a different angle. What many people do is to take the boat to the end of the walking trail before walking back.
The walk and parking are completely free so apart from the petrol it is a great thing to do around Christchurch on a budget.
Download the App Maps.me, it is an offline map (be sure to download the map for the region when you have WIFI if you don’t have data). Maps.me is great for showing trails as well as roads and also marks off view points along the route.
Wear good shoes, bring water and food/ trail bars etc and wear appropriate clothing as well as suncream in the summer.
What is your favourite day trip from Christchurch and have you been to Rakaia Gorge?
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