From Lyttleton Harbour, it is just a quick 10 minute ferry ride across the turquoise waters to tranquil Diamond Harbour. On a glorious May day, my partner and I set off on the trail up Mt. Herbert, the highest peak on Banks Peninsula at 919m. From the pier, it is a short walk up the road before the path turns off and down onto a rocky beach where there is a glorious view back across the water to Lyttleton Harbour on the far side. Like Quail Island a few weeks before, there was still evidence of a recent storm, and the usual path was closed. Even the path that was still open involved a bit of scrambling up over the remains of fallen trees and we had to get our hands dirty just to get back up to the main road. On another day, the track would be open and easily followed, but on this day, we had to backtrack down the road to reach the path again.
The next section followed a stream up through a copse, and again it was really muddy, and in one small section, the path had collapsed slightly, but eventually coming out at a back road, on the other side was the start of the main hike. I’d previously hiked Mt. Herbert via the Orton Bradley Park as I had read that it was the most interesting route up. To be honest, I prefer the route I took this time partly because there is more of a view for more of the hike, and also because it is a more popular route which meant lots of friendly, encouraging faces as we went. We had set off relatively late meaning that the early birds were already on their way down as we began the climb up.
A large part of the route is through private farm land, following a path that varies from little more than a sheep trail to a 4×4 trail higher up. Sections of the lower trail were still muddy from the storm a few weeks prior and it made for boggy diversions to avoid the worst of it. The incline came in fits and starts, seeming to level out at times prior to the next hill, but overall the ascent was quite steady. By the time the 4×4 track was reached, we were in amongst livestock, with some bullocks choosing to test their machismo on the passing hikers. A group of men ahead of us were charged by a particularly challenging one. My days of working on a farm had taught me how to handle them and I wasn’t going to take any bull from him (pun intended). He and the others let us be.
The view to the summit from this route was rather deceiving. The higher we climbed, the more convinced I was that we should be near the top, yet every ridge we reached revealed the next hidden ridge behind it. This upper section felt slightly tedious in its monotony, the one downside to which the other route won over. It was lunchtime, and we were both eager to stop and eat, but didn’t want to rest ahead of the summit. Eventually we reached the path that splits to head round to the shelter, and took the fork that headed directly up the final steep section to the summit. Dodging gorse bushes on the way, we finally summitted to be met by lots of other hikers milling all over the place, eating and taking pictures, and we found a flat spot that we could stop for a bite to eat. Being May, it was cold at the top despite the sunshine, and we had to wrap up to keep the wind from slicing us in two. It was the first mountain of this height that my partner had hiked and we took in the view over Lake Ellesmere & Banks Peninsula in one direction, and Lyttelton and Christchurch in the other.
As we headed down the way we came up, the clouds had rolled in from Pegasus Bay and Christchurch was suddenly barely visible through the sea fog. Facing out towards the harbour, it was a beautiful view on the descent too. We missed a turn in the path, staying on the 4×4 track too long, meaning we had to cut across an open field to get back to the field that we were supposed to be in. It was easy to negotiate our way though, being very open and easy to spot where we needed to get to. Back through the lower muddy sections and down through the muddy river-side walk we returned to the main road and opted to follow this down to the pier to avoid the tree scramble we had negotiated on the way up. Calling in to the local shop we partook of some ice cream before heading down to the ferry. We had just missed the ferry and thought we were in for a long wait till the next one, however we lucked in because the ferry returned straight away due to too many people waiting for it first time round. It was a beautiful run across the water back to Lyttleton, looking back up towards the summit that we had reached that day. Whatever route up you choose, it is a satisfying hike up with a view that is well worth the effort.