The Port Hills are a prominent feature of the central Canterbury landscape, being visible for many kilometres from the north and west.
The crest of the Port Hills varies somewhat in height, being lowest at the eastern end. Two road passes traverse the Port Hills from Christchurch. Dyers Pass (elevation c. 330 m), almost due south of central Christchurch is the more prominent of the two passes. Evans Pass (elevation c. 200 m), which is near the eastern end of the Port Hills, normally connects Sumner and Lyttelton but has been closed since the 2011 Christchurch earthquake caused significant damage to Sumner Road on the Lyttelton side of the pass.
Between Evans Pass and Dyers Pass are several significant summits, including Sugarloaf (494 m), recognisable by the television transmission tower on its summit; Mount Cavendish (448 m); and Mount Pleasant (499 m), the highest peak in the northern arc of the Port Hills. West of Dyers Pass, the Port Hills curve away southward and become even higher, rising to 573 m at Coopers Knob. From Coopers Knob the crater rim descends to Gebbies Pass (elevation c. 160 m). The hills south and east of Gebbies Pass are regarded as part of Banks Peninsula proper rather than the Port Hills.
Several suburbs of Christchurch extend onto the northern slopes of the Port Hills, including Cashmere, Mt Pleasant, Heathcote Valley and Sumner. Other parts of the hills are used for farming and forestry, as well as a significant number of scenic reserves created for recreational and conservation purposes, following an initiative by Christchurch councillor Harry Ell at the turn of the 20th century. In 1948 the Summit Road Scenic Society was formed to continue development and maintenance of the reserves.