MistyNites

My Life in Motion

North Coast 500 – Reaching Caithness

For many years of my life, every March, for one enjoyable week, my family decamped to Aviemore in the Cairngorm National Park. Always falling within a few weeks of my birthday, and meaning a week out of school, I always looked forward to it, and it signalled the transition from winter into spring. Over the years, we experienced blizzards, unseasonably hot weather, and everything in between. It was a good base for hiking and exploring not just the park itself, but further afield to the Moray coast and occasionally popping further north to Sutherland and Caithness. Throughout the later years of high school and university when exams took precedence, I skipped this holiday, returning back for long weekends when I moved to Aberdeen following graduation. I have so many happy memories from this region, so I was eager to pop back there on my trip home to Scotland.

Aside from those brief forays to the eastern Caithness coastline, I had never visited the most north-western portion of the Scottish mainland. A few years ago, a rebranding for tourism promotion, saw the birth of the North Coast 500, a destination route that circles from Inverness north to John O’Groats, west to Cape Wrath, south to Applecross and back east to Inverness. It seemed the perfect route to make a road trip out of revisiting some old favourites as well as exploring some new places.

I left Glasgow early to make headway north to Aviemore, which was the inevitable first stop on my trip. I could have stayed here for days but there was too much to see and too little time so I had to suffice with just a few glorious hours in the middle of the day. I headed first to Rothiemurchus estate for lunch, then popped down to the shores of Loch Morlich for the view that I have witnessed a hundred times over. Loch Morlich from the western shoreIt never grows old: the ducks waddling along the shoreline whilst the Cairngorm Mountain Range dominates the skyline across the shore. Loch Morlich from the southern shoreOn this occasion, I couldn’t actually see the summits as the clouds were low, but I lingered here just long enough to feel satisfied, before heading off to another favourite spot: Loch An Eilein.

Loch An EileinThe name literally means loch with an island, and in this case, the small island contains the ruins of a 15th century castle. There is a circular walk around the loch which I’ve done previously, but again I just didn’t have the time. Beautiful Scots Pine forestI had to be satisfied with walking along the south-eastern bank, through the beautiful pine forest until level with the island, where I looked hopefully for red squirrels, listened to the bird life and then headed back to my car for the drive north. Castle on the island, Loch An EileinI drove slowly through Aviemore centre, noting what had changed in the 5 years since I’d last been there, and then, back on the A9, I pushed on to Inverness and the Kessock bridge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kessock bridge across the Moray FirthInverness was always a regular visit on those Aviemore vacations, but I bypassed it, crossing the expanse of the Moray Firth to Kessock, and continued to count the miles down to my next stop: Dornoch. If I’d been here before, I had no memory of the place. Made famous because of the visit of singer Madonna and Guy Ritchie prior to their wedding, it was quiet and almost deserted when I got there. Dornoch Castle hotelI was still finding it strange seeing historic buildings again, and the main square was surrounded by them. Dornoch CathedralThe cathedral itself is 13th century, and what is now the town’s main hotel was built in 1500. Dornoch Cathedral and graveyardThese both pre-date the European settlement of New Zealand where I now live, and boy have I missed old buildings!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dornoch beachAfter wandering around the town square, I headed down to the beach which was blustery but otherwise peaceful. Seals at Loch FleetThen it was time to mosey on, and keeping close to the coast, I stayed off the main road, and travelled down single-track road past Embo and up towards Loch Fleet where I spied a group of seals on a sand bar. Finding my way back to the main road, it wasn’t much further to my first night’s stay in Golspie. Normally a hostel or hotel kind of girl, I had booked a B&B, and what a delightful place it was. Set back from the road in well-maintained grounds, my room was not only delightful but my hosts were lovely. It is a shame that this is to be their last season as a B&B as it was a fantastic place to stay.

Carpet of flowers on Big Burn walkOn the recommendation of my host, I headed to Big Burn walk on the north end of the village, where the evening sun pierced through the trees, illuminating the carpet of blue bells and white flowers under foot. The waterfall at the end of the Big Burn trailAn easy walk led through the woodland to a small gorge where a waterfall spilled its way down the rock face. Fish and chips by the beachBack in the village centre, I located the fish and chip shop, and partook in some good old Scottish cuisine of fried food washed down with the legendary Irn Bru whilst sitting on a bench by the beach. It was a gorgeous evening, and this far north at the height of summer, there was daylight till after 11pm, so I was in no hurry to go back inside, choosing to soak up the rays until the shadow from the nearby hill made me cold.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had an early start the next morning, heading behind the village to the start of the hike up the notable hill behind Golspie. For miles around, the large statue of the 1st Duke of Sutherland can be seen where it stands atop this hill. It is a highly controversial structure, given that this particular Duke and his wife played a pivotal role in the instigation of the Highland Clearances, an event in the 18th and 19th centuries when large numbers of crofters and their families were forced off their land with little notice, to be replaced by sheep which were deemed to be of greater economic use of the land. Brutality was common, and it was an event that saw large emigrations of Scots to other countries across the world, as well as playing a part in the decline of the Gaelic culture. The Duke of Sutherland is a title that is bandied around with distaste when discussing the regional history, and with statues normally being erected for heroes, this one is much disapproved of, and I wondered who came up with the idea in the first place.

Roe deerNevertheless, it is an enjoyable hike to see it. Following mountain bike trails in the forest below, my early start meant I had the place to myself and I was startled by a deer jumping out the foliage in front of me and running away, pausing briefly to eyeball me before disappearing out of sight. Duke of Sutherland statueWhen out of the forest on the other side, the path climbs up the hillside until eventually reaching the base of the statue. Golspie from near the summitThere was a swirling low cloud, so the statue repeatedly disappeared out of view on route, and at the summit, the air felt cold. The view changed as the cloud lifted and fell, and by the time I’d returned back to my B&B, I felt I deserved the cooked breakfast I was presented with.

 

 

 

The best local attraction is Dunrobin Castle, immediately north of Golspie, and I think it is probably one of Scotland’s most beautiful castles. Golspie from the pierWhen I reached there after first taking a walk along Golspie beach, the cloud had completely gone and the whole coastline was basking in glorious sunshine, making the pale exterior stand out against the blue sky. Dunrobin CastleThe exterior as seen today is from the 19th century and inside are artifacts from the Sutherland Clan who owns it. Dunrobin CastleI walked around it with due awe but it was really out in the gardens, looking back at the castle above that its beauty shone out. An outbuilding in the grounds housed one of the most macabre yet interesting collections of taxidermy that I have ever seen, and after wandering around the grounds for a while, I joined the gathering crowd for a falconry display that was included in the entry price, and well worth seeing.

 

 

Gorse in flower at HelmsdaleI couldn’t believe my eyes on the drive north where the gorse was plentiful and in full bloom. The yellow flowered bushes sprawled across the hillsides in every direction and in the sunshine, it was just stunning. This view went on for mile after mile after mile, until eventually, turning off the main road north in favour of the road to Wick, the countryside became sparser and the clouds started to roll in. Here, it seemed more wild and desolate, with the effects of the weather extremes becoming evident the further north-east I went. I had planned on visiting the ruins of Sinclair castle near Wick but missed the turn-off and opted to plough on instead of turning back. End to End at John O'GroatsFinally reaching John O’Groats in time for a late lunch, it was blustery and cloudy. This didn’t deter the steady stream of people who posed by the directional marker which marks the end of the Lands End to John O’Groats route. It had been a long time since I was last here, and now there are a few more developments in the vicinity with a choice of eateries, accommodation and tourist shops. It is also possible to take a day trip to the Orkney Islands from here, so there is enough to hold tourists here for an hour or two at least.

 

The obligatory photoI had a lovely lunch before posing for my obligatory photo, and then I headed east to Duncansby Head, the north-eastern tip of Caithness. Coastline at Duncansby HeadFrom the car park by the lighthouse, not only can you see the Orkney Islands, but a roughly-defined walk takes you south along the coastline, home of hundreds of breeding seabirds, to the distinctive Duncansby Stacks, Scotlands answer to Australia’s 12 Apostles. Coastline at Duncansby HeadsYou can walk as far south as you want. Duncansby StacksThe Right to Roam Act means that as long as you don’t worry livestock and leave gates as you find them, you are not limited by the pasture fence line when exploring the outdoors in Scotland. Duncansby StackThe coastline cut in and out in steep gullies where fulmars were the dominant seabird nesting on the cliffs. There was plenty of movement to watch as these birds, related to the albatross, glided on the wind, and squawked noisily at each other as they landed. Once at the Stacks, I could see a few seals hauled up on the rocks near their base, even spotting one swimming in the surf.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lamb at Duncansby HeadBeing summertime, the lambs were aplenty and when I returned to my car a sheep was using one of the cars in the car park to scratch an itch on its butt which looked highly amusing. But it was time to head off as I had a ferry to catch. Not far to the west of John O’Groats is the unassuming Gill’s Bay which is little more than a pier and a scattering of buildings. Pentalina at Gill's Bay ferry terminalBack in the sunshine, I watched as the Pentalina, the Pentland Ferries owned vessel, backed into its berth and unloaded. Waiting my turn, I boarded, ready for my return to the land of the Vikings, a place that I had such vague memories of from my childhood. It had been a long time coming, but finally I was heading back to the Orkney Islands.

Glasgow’s Miles Better

When I was a kid growing up in the 80s in the suburbs of Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, there was a well known advertising campaign to promote the city as a tourist and commerce destination. Featuring Mr Happy (from the Mr Men) and the slogan ‘Glasgow’s Miles Better’ it epitomises the feeling of many residents when it comes to comparing themselves to that other city in the central belt – you know the one: the capital city that is Edinburgh. If you speak to the people of Edinburgh, they protest having no such superiority against Glasgow, but speak to any Glaswegian and most of them will jokingly wit about Edinburgh’s shortcomings and all the things that make Glasgow so much better. I’m a proud Glaswegian, born and raised, and have spent many a trip abroad regaling to people why they need to step away from the enticing vista of Edinburgh’s Castle and Princess Street Gardens, and come explore Glasgow and further afield. It seems from speaking to a lot of travellers, that Scotland draws many people to the capital city and Loch Ness (home of the mythical monster), and little else, which is a constant frustration.

I lived, grew up and studied in Glasgow until an employment opportunity took me away in my 20s. It is now 10 years since I have lived there, but I’m still a Glaswegian at heart and was excited at the prospect of playing tourist in my home city on my return there at the end of May. Armed with a walking tour outline on my phone, and hitting it off with the weather, I set off to see some spots I’d not visited before, as well as revisit some old haunts from my youth.

Arriving by bus into Buchanan bus station, I found my way to the top of Buchanan Street where a busker was playing the bagpipes, which immediately made my heart swell. It doesn’t matter where I am in the world, I always feel immensely patriotic and emotional when I hear the bagpipes. Glasgow Royal Concert HallThe sound of even badly played pipes, always takes me to a place where I feel at home and connected to my past. I sat for a while on the steps of the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall which sits at the top of the street, and from here there is a view both down the slope of Buchanan Street and along Sauchiehall Street, 2 of Glasgow’s shopping streets. I had all day and was in no hurry, and having been devoid of one of my favourite clothes shops for many years, it was only right to do a little bit of shopping in H&M. Who knows when I’ll be in one again.

Glasgow City ChambersIn part following the Mural Trail, and adapting it for sightseeing purposes, Buildings around George SquareI passed George Square, the large expanse in front of the City Chambers, which is often used for seasonal events. Buildings around George SquareThe sun was out, and so were the pigeons and people enjoying a morning coffee and catch-up on what was a public holiday. Buildings around George SquarePast the University of Strathclyde, I followed High Street, passing my favourite mural of a man with a bird on his hand, and continuing up to Glasgow Cathedral, a building I’d never visited before. ManFree to enter, there was a lot of tourists milling around, and I took my time admiring the stained glass windows, Glasgow Cathedralsomething which I always love to look at inside churches. Stained glass window, Glasgow CathedralIt’s a beautiful cathedral inside and out, and sits next to the entrance to the Necropolis.Stained glass window, Glasgow Cathedral

Inside Glasgow Cathedral

Inside Glasgow Cathedral

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cathedral and Royal Infirmary from the NeropolisThe Glasgow Necropolis is reached by crossing over the bridge behind the cathedral and then picking a route up the hill. Pushing up daisies in the NecropolisIt has a reputation for an area of crime, with people being robbed and beaten here, but on such a sunny day on a public holiday, it was full of locals and tourists alike sunning themselves on picnic rugs or wandering around the gravestones. Glasgow Cathedral from the NecropolisIt is a green space within the city and known as a deer-spotting location, as well as being elevated enough to act as a natural viewing spot for a panorama over the city and suburbs beyond. Royal Infirmary from the NecropolisI felt perfectly safe wandering around, absorbing the sun’s rays and soaking in the view. Behind the Cathedral, the large Royal Infirmary nestled beside it, and in the far distance, the hills beyond the southern suburbs with their windmills atop were evident through the haze on the horizon.

 

 

 

Gravestones in Glasgow NecropolisI meandered around for a while, looking at the various prominent and distinct headstones and monuments, before heading back to the Cathedral. Monuments in Glasgow NecropolisOpposite here is the St Mungo Museum and adorning the immediate area is the symbol of Glasgow from the city’s coat of arms: Glasgow Necropolis‘Here’s the bird that never flew, here’s the bell that never rang, here’s the tree that never grew, here’s the fish that never swam’. Glasgow SymbolsNot far from here there is a juxtaposition between the old buildings of Glasgow and modern architecture, particularly around Strathclyde University.St Mungo Museum

Modern Architecture - Strathclyde University

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Church in Merchant CityThe Merchant City is a well known area for socialising, rife with bars, cafes and restaurants. Merchant SquareIt is a popular part of the city but an area that I rarely frequented when I lived there. I went to university in the west end, and lived in a suburb to the south, so there was little reason to go there. I wandered through it, admiring the buildings, but didn’t linger long. While searching for a mural down an alley way, I stumbled across an old fashioned sweet shop which sold many of my favourites from my childhood. I stocked up on soor plooms, cola cubes, rhubarb rock and more, and continued on my happy way.

 

 

 

 

 

St Andrew's CathedralWandering along the Clyde walkway, the good weather had brought many people out to the riverside. River ClydeIt’s not the prettiest of rivers, being rather discoloured and often the river banks are littered with rubbish and trolleys, but turning a blind eye to all that, Road bridge crossing the river Clydethere was much to see from bridges and churches to buildings and murals, and now, the walkway extends all the way to the relatively new transport museum further down the Clyde.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lighthouse signageAfter a while, I left the river behind and cut north back into the city, finding myself at the Lighthouse on Mitchel Lane. Glasgow rooftopsAnother one of the city’s free attractions, I’d never been here before and decided to head in to go to the viewing platform. Glasgow rooftopsA centre for design and architecture, it acts as an exhibition and gallery space and was originally designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. I was starving by this point, not satiated by sugary treats, and stopped in the cafe for lunch. I had followed the signs to the viewing platform on the sixth floor, accessible only via lift. Indoors, it was a small space, a little cramped with the amount of people there, but it was an interesting view over the city rooftops that isn’t normally seen. I noticed some people in another outdoor viewing platform another floor up in an older looking building, but didn’t know how they’d gotten there. I later discovered that it was another part of the Lighthouse, and was a little annoyed that I’d missed out on this.

 

 

 

 

Central StationBack outside in the glorious sunshine, I made a convoluted path back to the Clyde walkway, passing the beautiful exterior of Central Station, a familiar site from my many years of commuting in and out of the city during my late teens and early twenties. BT BlobsI was sidetracked by some strange colourful blobs outside of the BT offices, before I found myself at a bridge that had appeared in the years after I had left the city and was living to the north in Aberdeen. Tradeston BridgeThe promenade felt lively and inviting, and was decorated with bright pink banners declaring ‘People Make Glasgow’. Clyde walkwayI felt Glaswegian and I felt like I was at home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Corner of Sauchiehall StreetHeading up to Sauchiehall Street and on to Cowcaddens underground to complete the mural trail, I hopped on the underground to head west. Glasgow UniversityThe underground had been upgraded since I last was on it, and I had a brief moment of feeling stupid as I couldn’t work out what to do with my ticket at the barrier, whilst the staff in the booth waved frantically at me trying to give me silent direction. Kelvingrove Art Gallery & MuseumEmbarrassed, I breathed a sigh of relief when it let me through, and I headed to Hillhead, another regular haunt from my youth. I crossed University Avenue, looking up towards the tower of the building where many of my exams were held, and continued down the hill past the restaurant I ate with my family on the day of my graduation, and round the corner, crossing the River Kelvin, and onto Argyle Street, sidling through the crowds to reach Kelvingrove Museum & Art Gallery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SpitfireThis was a place where I’d last visited as a kid with my mum and my brother. Kelvingrove HeadSince then it had been closed down, completely renovated and reopened a few years ago. Kelvingrove headsYet another free attraction in Glasgow, I’d heard good things about it, and was particularly keen to see the ‘Heads’ installation. Like many museums, it has its set exhibits and a changing exhibit, but there are a few key pieces that the museum is famous for, including an Asian elephant and a spitfire. I was quite hot and just a little sunburnt by this point in the day, so I wasn’t really fussed about spending a lot of time here. I just wanted an overview, so wandered round admiring and looking at the displays, but didn’t particularly spend much time reading the information or descriptions that went with them. I particularly liked a painting in one of the galleries that contained every known stereotype or classically Scottish object within the one image. As the guide who was there commented, you could look at the piece multiple times and still see something new each time, the picture was just so immense.

 

 

 

Stewart Memorial FountainRound the corner from the museum lies Kelvingrove Park which was unbelievably busy given it being a public holiday and such cracking weather. Glasgow UniversityFrom the skate park to the fountain and everything in between, there was barely an inch of grass free to sit on with families and friends everywhere making the most of the cracking summer weather. Grey squirrelI was overjoyed to spot an ice cream van and joined the long queue to wait patiently for my ’99’, and boy did it taste good. University quadrangleI people watched for a while, before taking a trip down memory lane by walking to Glasgow University. Glasgow UniversityHere, it was eerily deserted, being outwith term time. Exams were over, and only graduations awaited in a couple of weeks’ time. I watched a grey squirrel cry out in the trees as I walked below the high tower of the main building, cutting through the arches into the quadrangles and round to the entrance gate before heading past my old student union where a hundred memories flashed through my head. It felt a lifetime ago since I’d last been there, and it might as well have been, for all that has occurred in the 11 years since I left the university life behind. It felt almost strange being there, and I headed through the busy Ashton Lane, all the pubs spilling out onto the cobbled street, and back to Hillhead underground.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back at Buchanan Street underground station, I got stuck again trying to exit the barriers. It wouldn’t accept my ticket and with the ticket office at the far end of the floor, I was left on my own, jumping up and down and waving like an idiot trying to grab their attention. Several commuters looked at me strangely on passing, assuming I didn’t know where to put my ticket, yelling instructions at me in a tone that suggested I was stupid. Eventually a more sympathetic commuter saw my plight and went over to the ticket office to point me out to the staff. Like Cowcaddens before, they gesticulated from a distance where to put my ticket, not realising this wasn’t my problem. It felt like the longest time before eventually they pressed a button and all the barriers released, finally letting me escape. It seemed the underground did not want to be my friend that day.

Back out in the sunshine, I had one last place to go on my trip down memory lane. Heading down Buchanan Street briefly and cutting through Exchange Place, I rounded the side of the Gallery of Modern Art (another free attraction) to find one of my favourite and most iconic statues in the city: the Duke of Wellington atop his horse, standing oh-so-proudly… with a traffic cone on his head. Duke of Wellington statueOriginally started as a joke in the 80s, it has become so iconic that it now features on souvenirs and in guidebooks for the city. The city council has tried many tactics to discourage and stop the practice, removing the cone repeatedly, only to have it replaced within hours or days, and attempts to implement more extreme measures to stop the practice have been met with petitions from locals and celebrities alike. There are few Glaswegians who even know what it looks like without its cone, and having passed it so many times when I was younger, I felt it was about time I actually took a photograph of it as a memento. There was something warming about seeing it in the flesh again after all these years.

Cutting past George Square once more, I retraced my steps from the morning back to the Royal Concert Hall, picking up a much needed iced tea for the bus ride home. It drove through suburbs of familiarity as I headed to my parent’s house, pleased with my day as a tourist in the sun. It might not have the visual draw of Edinburgh’s Castle, but Glasgow still has my heart and certainly has plenty to offer. My day tour had merely touched the surface of things to see in the city, but it had been immense fun playing tourist in my home town.

Glasgow Mural Trail

As my home city of Christchurch continues to rise from the ashes, I have become a fan of the many street art murals that have appeared on the bare walls of new and old buildings alike. With varying styles, themes and colour palates, they grab your attention and make you smile or make you think. So when, after 3.5 years, I made a return trip to the city of my birth in Scotland, I was surprised to discover that the country’s largest city, Glasgow has its own share of street murals.

A great resource for walks in Scotland, both urban and country, is the Walk Highlands website which gives detailed descriptions as well as maps to highlight the route and sights on the way. It was here that I found out about the murals trail and decided to integrate it into a day of sightseeing that I had planned in the city. It’s been 10 years since I lived in Glasgow, and sometimes I think it is just pure fun to play tourist in your own home town, so armed with the directions, I set off.

Having caught the bus into Buchanan Bus Station, it was an easy walk to the recommended starting point on upper Buchanan Street. There is no mural here, but it is a good central place to start and end the trail due to the locality with transport, shopping, and refreshments all nearby. Turning onto West George Street, and heading past George Square, Rogue One and Art Pistol’s Hip-Hop Marionettes adorn the wall near Strathclyde University’s student union. Just beyond here, the walls of Strathclyde University itself have become a massive canvas with a myriad of murals covering the many walls, some at eye level and others spanning the huge multi-floored expanse of the gable-ends.

Hip-Hop Marionettes, Rogue One & Art Pistol

Hip-Hop Marionettes, Rogue One & Art Pistol

Lecture Hall, Artist Unknown

Lecture Hall, Artist Unknown

Strathclyde University, Artist Unknown

Strathclyde University, Artist Unknown

Strathclyde Wonderwall, Artist Unknown

Strathclyde Wonderwall, Artist Unknown

Strathclyde Wonderwall, Artist Unknown

Strathclyde Wonderwall, Artist Unknown

Strathclyde Wonderwall, Artist Unknown

Strathclyde Wonderwall, Artist Unknown

Strathclyde Wonderwall, Artist Unknown

Strathclyde Wonderwall, Artist Unknown

Strathclyde Wonderwall, Artist Unknown

Strathclyde Wonderwall, Artist Unknown

Strathclyde Wonderwall, Artist Unknown

Strathclyde Wonderwall, Artist Unknown

Equatorial Telescope, Art Pistol, Rogue One & Ejek

Equatorial Telescope, Art Pistol, Rogue One & Ejek

Land-Ship; Art Pistol, Rogue One and Ejek

Land-Ship; Art Pistol, Rogue One and Ejek

Where George Street meets High Street, a short walk to the left revealed one of my favourite murals on the trail, that of an exceptionally realistic painting of a man with a bird on his hand. Retracing my steps back down to High Street, I turned onto Ingram Street, where a little along the way, a massive mural, Fellow Glasgow Residents, overlooked a car park. As beautiful as this mural was, the fact that it was part of an active car park made it difficult to look at it properly, or take photos of it, as there were vehicles parked everywhere. With multiple images within one mural, I feel that it could be looked at multiple times and still not notice every detail.

Man, Smug

Man, Smug

Fellow Glasgow Residents, Smug

Fellow Glasgow Residents, Smug

Fellow Glasgow Residents, Smug

Fellow Glasgow Residents, Smug

Fellow Glasgow Residents, Smug

Fellow Glasgow Residents, Smug

Fellow Glasgow Residents, Smug

Fellow Glasgow Residents, Smug

Fellow Glasgow Residents, Smug

Fellow Glasgow Residents, Smug

Fellow Glasgow Residents, Smug

Fellow Glasgow Residents, Smug

At the end of the car park, turning left onto Candleriggs in the heart of the Merchant City, one of the murals painted for the Commonwealth Games of 2014 is very prominent about a block down on the right. At the bottom of the street, turning right onto Trongate, a laneway near an old-fashioned sweet shop hides a very large and colourful spaceman. Turning left on Stockwell street towards the River Clyde, the Clutha bar, unfortunately well known due to a tragic accident involving a helicopter crashing through its roof in 2013, has its outer wall adorned with murals too.

Badminton, Guido Van Helten

Badminton, Guido Van Helten

Space Man, Recoat and Ali Wylie

Space Man, Recoat and Ali Wylie

Clutha Bar; Art Pistol, Rogue One & Ejek

Clutha Bar; Art Pistol, Rogue One & Ejek

Clutha Bar; Art Pistol, Rogue One & Ejek

Clutha Bar; Art Pistol, Rogue One & Ejek

Following a brief walk along the Broomielaw, the trail turns up Ropework Lane and onto Howard Street which has a massive mural that curls around the lower portion of the building, round onto Dunlop Street. Again, the parked traffic made it a little difficult to appreciate it all, but it was certainly colourful. Back on the Broomielaw, and over onto the Clyde walkway which forms a promenade along the north bank of the River Clyde, the trail heads west past a large tiger and the amazingly realistic Five Faces that adorn the road side of the five pillars supporting the railway bridge.

Big Birds, Artist Unknown

Big Birds, Artist Unknown

Big Birds, Artist Unknown

Big Birds, Artist Unknown

Big Birds, Artist Unknown

Big Birds, Artist Unknown

Big Birds, Artist Unknown

Big Birds, Artist Unknown

Big Birds, Artist Unknown

Big Birds, Artist Unknown

Big Birds, Artist Unknown

Big Birds, Artist Unknown

Glasgow Tiger, Artist Unknown

Glasgow Tiger, Artist Unknown

Five Faces, Smug

Five Faces, Smug

Five Faces, Smug

Five Faces, Smug

Five Faces, Smug

Five Faces, Smug

Five Faces, Smug

Five Faces, Smug

Five Faces, Smug

Five Faces, Smug

Backtracking slightly to head up Jamaica Street, along Argyle Street to the east, and up Mitchel Street, is a mural of a taxi. However, on closer inspection, the mural is not just of the taxi itself, but indeed all the bricks of the wall have been painted on too. Immediately up from here is a large mural of a woman with a magnifying glass and beyond that, the almost ironically placed Wind Power which was partly hidden by the rubbish and refuse of the local businesses. Detouring along Mitchel Lane, a hidden panda appears, and then the trail continues up Mitchel Street further before heading along Gordon Street.

The World's Most Economical Taxi, Rogue One

The World’s Most Economical Taxi, Rogue One

Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Smug

Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Smug

Wind Power, Rogue One & Art Pistol

Wind Power, Rogue One & Art Pistol

Glasgow's Panda, Artist Unknown

Glasgow’s Panda, Artist Unknown

Passing Central Station, the train station serving the south of the country, turn left down Hope Street and then right onto Argyle Street where a clever mural appears on the left, almost looking like a noticeboard to begin with until you notice the extras. This one is expansive, along not just one wall, but wrapping around onto York Street. Returning to the Clyde Walkway by the Broomielaw, the supporting structure of the broad M8 motorway is adorned with a massive mural of a swimmer, another piece created for the 2014 Commonwealth Games. This one is so large, it is best appreciated from the other side of the road.

Gallery, Smug

Gallery, Smug

Gallery, Smug

Gallery, Smug

Gallery, Smug

Gallery, Smug

Gallery, Smug

Gallery, Smug

Gallery, Smug

Gallery, Smug

Swimmer, Smug

Swimmer, Smug

Heading north, keeping the M8 to the right, the Clydeside Expressway is crossed via a footbridge, and there is a section of the trail with no murals, this route serving merely as a connector between the south and north sections of the trail. Always with the motorway to the right, eventually crossing the busy Sauchiehall Street, a detour past the bank uncovers a crocodile underneath a footpath. Following Sauchiehall Street east until Rose Street, the Cowcaddens underground station is reached via an underpass which is decorated with a mural, as is the underpass on the far side of the underground. From here the trail returns back to Buchanan Street.

Glesga Crocodile, Klingatron & Art Pistol

Glesga Crocodile, Klingatron & Art Pistol

Hand Shadow Puppets, Rogue One

Hand Shadow Puppets, Rogue One

Hand Shadow Puppets, Rogue One

Hand Shadow Puppets, Rogue One

Hand Shadow Puppets, Rogue One

Hand Shadow Puppets, Rogue One

Hand Shadow Puppets, Rogue One

Hand Shadow Puppets, Rogue One

Hand Shadow Puppets, Rogue One

Hand Shadow Puppets, Rogue One

Hand Shadow Puppets, Rogue One

Hand Shadow Puppets, Rogue One

Hand Shadow Puppets, Art Pistol

Hand Shadow Puppets, Rogue One

Hand Shadow Puppets, Rogue One

Hand Shadow Puppets, Rogue One

Hand Shadow Puppets, Rogue One

Hand Shadow Puppets, Rogue One

Shadow Puppet, Art Pistol

Shadow Puppet, Art Pistol

According to the website, the distance covered is 9.25km, or 5.75miles. It can be walked in half a day, or can be interspersed with refreshment stops to make it longer. On this particular day, I was playing tourist and visiting some of the city’s major tourist attractions. I incorporated this walk into my sight-seeing, taking detours to attractions where necessary, and therefore I easily made this trail into a fantastic day trip. Since that day, I’ve found so much more street art in Greater Glasgow too, but this trail is definitely a very good starting point. Even without going off the trail to visit attractions, this trail actually offers a reasonable overview of the city, and I think it is a fantastic way to discover the city of my birth.

Mount Barrosa

Despite being the last month of autumn, the weather in New Zealand’s South Island has remained relatively warm, meaning a lack of snow on the mountain tops, and an extension to my hiking season. With a multi-day hike coming up in July, I am aware that I need to keep up some degree of fitness, despite the dark nights tricking my body into a sense of hibernation. Already several weeks on from my last hike up Avalanche Peak, some good weather again coincided with a day off work, and I set off on the now-familiar route south-west from Christchurch.

About an hour and a half’s drive away, lies the small village of Mt Somers which nestles at the base of the mountain with the same name. From here, Ashburton Gorge Road winds west into Hakatere Conservation Park. Before the sealed portion of road ends, beyond which lies Mt Guy and Mt Sunday, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it car park denotes the starting point for the Mt Barrosa summit track. Arriving mid-morning on a Sunday, I had the place to myself.

Start of the hike

Initially passing through private land, the path marked by orange poles follows the fence line before crossing a small stream once and then twice to the base of the mountain. Here a stile marks the transition onto public land within the Hakatere Conservation Park. Immediately the climb starts, winding through low scrub, following a reasonably worn path marked out by orange poles. It feels like altitude is gained quite quickly without feeling too exhausting and, as many of the hikes have had, I was constantly accompanied by hopping crickets.

On the ascent

Like Mt Guy, the lack of anything other than ground vegetation, meant it was an exposed walk the whole way up. With the sun quite low in the sky in May, several portions of the trail were in shadow in the morning, but on a summer’s day, this would have been a hot one. But aside from the exposure factor, I found the hike a little uninteresting with little to look at other than the jumping crickets and the path before me. The neighbouring gullies were in shadow and the nearest birds sounded far away.

Neighbouring slope

After about 40mins, a little interest came in the form of some rock formations that the path skirted round, and each lower ridge had a differing size of rock point jutting up. Stopping to take in the view which is mostly behind you as you climb, the valley below started to open up more and more. I could see my lonely car in the car park for over the first hour of the hike, getting smaller and smaller, until the path skirted another rocky outcrop and crossed slightly over the mountain front.

The valley below

Shadows and light

One of many rocky outcrops

I reached a false summit about 1.5hrs after leaving the car behind, and only now could I actually see the summit of Mt Barrosa ahead of me. The steepest section of the hike was behind me by this point, but the path quality deteriorated from here on in, where large sections involved simply making a bee-line for the next orange pole, as it continued the ongoing climb. Now the view up the valley revealed Lake Clearwater and Mt Guy as well as Lake Heron, and this remained my view the rest of the way up.

View from the false ridge

Looking towards the summit ridge

Panorama from the mountain flank

Looking upwards

Although the gradient of the hike was not as steep as the lower section, there was a lot more scree and boulders underfoot, but the orange poles did enough to guide you in the right direction. However, when the ridge line was finally reached, even the orange poles disappeared. A fence split the ridge line in two, and it was easy to follow this until the unmarked summit (1364m) was reached. A lonely orange pole stood proud at the top, and clusters of large rocks made for an interesting summit.

Nearing the summitMt Barrosa summit

Rocky panorama

Summit panorama

I have read on some sites that from the summit, Aoraki/Mt Cook is visible, but I don’t believe this is true. There was certainly a distinctive mountain top on the horizon, but I think this is most likely Mt D’Archiac or another peak. In my mind, Mt Cook is both too far away and behind too many tall peaks to be visible from there. What is visible though, is Mt Somers and the tramping track that skirts its circumference, as well as a plethora of other mountains. Looking east, the Pacific Ocean was just visible through the haze.

Mt Somers

Mt Guy

With little to no wind at the summit, it was pleasant, and I loitered up there on my own for quite some time, enjoying the solitude and the view. It had been a while since I’d enjoyed a quiet summit, having hiked many popular routes this summer. Retracing my steps the way I had come, meant that after negotiating the upper reaches where the lack of distinct path meant a lot of foot watching, the lower portions meant I could enjoy the view a bit more. By now early-afternoon, the sun had shifted so that the shadows played out differently on the return leg. I found myself almost skipping down, and was surprised to spot another car in the car park as it came back into view. Only at the very bottom, back at the stile into private land, did I come across the occupants: a family out walking their dogs, and the only people I met on the hike. I reached my car 4hrs 5mins after leaving it behind. The Department of Conservation (DOC) sign at the bottom lists the hike as 2.5hrs to the summit. I reached the top in about 2hrs 10mins, only a little ahead of the normally generous timing, but the ease at which I came down, meant the return leg was only about an hour. Then it was a simple case of enjoying the rest of my snacks as I headed back home to Christchurch.

Heading back down

Descending towards the false summit

Ashburton Gorge

The valley below

Mural City

As life starts to wind down towards the inevitable short days of the winter months ahead, I’m spending more time around my hometown of Christchurch on my days off. Having spent many summer days out hiking or exploring the country, I recently spent some much needed down time wandering around the city that continues to pick itself back up again post-earthquakes. After the success and vibrancy of last year’s Spectrum Street Art Festival, I was pleased to see it was running again this year, and especially keen to see the new murals that have popped up around the place. Sadly, many of last year’s have either gone or been hidden, including my favourite, and the most popular, Ballerina. But the rebuild must go on.

Jacob 'Yikes" Ryan & BMD, Hereford Street

Jacob ‘Yikes” Ryan & BMD, Hereford Street

Jacob 'Yikes' Ryan, Hereford Street

Jacob ‘Yikes’ Ryan, Hereford Street

 

BMD, Hereford Street

BMD, Hereford Street

 

Artist Unknown, Cashel Street

Artist Unknown, Cashel Street

 

Toothbrush, Ikarus & Jacob Yikes, Cashel Street

Toothbrush, Ikarus & Jacob Yikes, Cashel Street

 

Artist Unknown, off Colombo Street & Battersea Street

Artist Unknown, off Colombo Street & Battersea Street

 

Embassy, Wongi, Colombo Street

Embassy, Wongi, Colombo Street

 

Love, Artist Unknown, Brougham Street (now gone)

Love, Artist Unknown, Brougham Street (now gone)

 

Artisti Unknown, Hereford Street

Artist Unknown, Hereford Street

 

Figure, Deow, Buchan Stret

Figure, Deow, Buchan Stret

 

Close up, Sofles, St Asaph Street

Close up, Sofles, St Asaph Street

 

Close up, Sofles, St Asaph Street

Close up, Sofles, St Asaph Street

 

Sofles, St Asaph Street

Sofles, St Asaph Street

 

For Madelane, Elliot Frances Stewart, Mollett Street

For Madelane, Elliot Frances Stewart, Mollett Street

 

Splash, Artist Unknown, YMCA Building, Hereford Street

Splash, Artist Unknown, YMCA Building, Hereford Street

 

Monsters, Berst, Gloucester Street

Monsters, Berst, Gloucester Street

 

Vexta, Cashel Street

Vexta, Cashel Street

 

Ikarus, Hereford Street

Ikarus, Hereford Street

 

Multiple Artists, Hereford Street

Multiple Artists, Hereford Street

 

Cookie Monster, Emma, Hereford Street

Cookie Monster, Emma, Hereford Street

 

Ikarus, Hereford Street

Ikarus, Hereford Street

 

Yikes, DTR & Leeya, Hereford Street

Yikes, DTR & Leeya, Hereford Street

 

Artist Unknown, Hereford Street

Artist Unknown, Hereford Street

 

Yikes & DTR, Hereford Street

Yikes & DTR, Hereford Street

 

Late Bloom, Artist Unknown, Hereford Street

Late Bloom, Artist Unknown, Hereford Street

 

RIP Prince, Jacob Yikes, Hereford Street

RIP Prince, Jacob Yikes, Hereford Street

 

Yikes & DTR, Hereford Street

Yikes & DTR, Hereford Street

 

Ikarus, Hereford Street

Ikarus, Hereford Street

 

Jacob Yikes, Hereford Street

Jacob Yikes, Hereford Street

 

Avalanche Peak

Shortly after moving to Christchurch in New Zealand’s South Island over 4 years ago, I read about an enticing peak nestled within the Southern Alps near the village of Arthur’s Pass. I was keen to get up it but life and a dramatic change in fitness got in my way. But after spending the Southern Hemisphere’s summer hiking as many peaks within reach as the weather would allow, I finally felt that Avalanche Peak was within grasp. Only the seasons have turned, meaning shortening days and cooler weather and a risk of wind and snow about the peaks grows ever more likely. I had started to think that it would have to wait another year, when thankfully, some good weather coincided with a day off, and I realised my luck had turned.

And what a perfect day it turned out to be. The little alpine village of Arthur’s Pass is just over a 2 hr drive west from Christchurch, but nestled as it is amongst an impressive mountain range, its weather system is so very different to that of the Canterbury Plains to the east, and even with the MetService website suggesting all would be well, you are never sure what you are going to get until you get there. The west coast road from Christchurch to Greymouth is one of my favourite drives in the country. There are so many scenic routes to choose from in New Zealand, but this is the road I’ve travelled the most and it never fails to impress.

Over Porter’s Pass from where Trig M is reached, past Lakes Lyndon and Pearson, and onwards to the little settlement of Bealey Spur from where the track of the same name begins, the road winds round the towering mountains and along river beds until, shaded by the hulks of Mounts Bealey & Rolleston, Arthur’s Pass appears. Directly behind the village, the steep slope of Avalanche Peak disappeared above.

There are two routes up Avalanche Peak: the Avalanche Peak track and Scott’s track. The first begins behind the Department of Conservation (DOC) visitor centre, and the second begins just north of the village. Due to the nature of the track, it is recommended to only ever go up the Avalanche Peak track, and not to descend by this route, meaning it should either be hiked as a loop track (up Avalanche Peak track and down Scott’s track), or ascend and descend the same way via Scott’s track. My friend and I were both happy to hike a loop, so we parked at the visitor centre and set off on the marked path behind the building that hugged the tree line.

The start of the Avalanche Peak track

Avalanche Peak route map

Almost immediately after entering the trees, the Avalanche Peak track sets off on a steep incline through the forest. Several other people were heading up at the same time and the whole way up we were playing tag with them as each of us hiked and rested at our own pace. Early on, a stream flowed down the lower rocks in a series of pretty waterfalls, but otherwise for the first hour, most of the hike involved concentrating on your feet as the best foot hold up tree roots and rock faces was sought out. Despite being physically tiring, I was enjoying the process, although it became a lot nicer of a hike when the tree line was reached after not quite an hour and a quarter. Once out of the tree line, the view in all directions was phenomenal. Ahead on the path, the various lower ridges could be seen snaking into the distance. To the left Mount Bealey, and to the right the glacier-clad summit of Mount Rolleston dominated the skyline, and behind us, the valley below opened up.

Avalanche Creek waterfall

Nearby Mt Bealey

Looking north

Looking south

It was now easy to see that this hike was extremely popular. With little wind on a gorgeously sunny autumn day, there were plenty of people strewn along the path both ahead and behind us. The higher we got, the steeper the drop-off either side became but it was an easy path to follow. Several bluffs created a dramatic vista, and later on, like so many mountains I have hiked recently, a scree slope appeared near the top. On this occasion, the path picked its way up the side of the scree, making for a winding, though relatively easy passage. In fact, despite being classed as an alpine hike requiring experience in back country navigation, this was actually not really a technical hike. Only as the summit became within reach, did it change quality.

View south from the Avalanche Peak track

Hikers ahead on the upper slopes of Avalanche Peak

Mt Rolleston peaks up behind the slope of Avalanche Peak

Avalanche Peak route disappearing up the slope

Yellow poles mark the route

Avalanche Peak's scree field

At the top of the path next to the scree field lay a cluster of large boulders that needed to be scrambled over, and then the narrow ridgeline of Avalanche Peak opened up before us. The width varied between a narrow track on a ledge next to some rocks that only 1 person could sidle along, to wider areas that a few people could sit on. As it was, the unmarked summit (1833m altitude) could sit about 6 of us comfortably whilst allowing a little space for others to move around us. Summiting just shy of 2hrs 45mins after starting, I joined my companion who had made it in less time, and we joined some others in a spot of lunch at the summit with a ream of mountain tops for company. It was simply stunning, and worth every drop of sweat on the way up.

The path already travelled

Hikers in the distance on the narrow ridge of Avalanche Peak

Arthur's Pass National Park

Sitting on the rocky summit of Avalanche Peak

The glacier on nearby Mt Rolleston

Summit view south

Summit view north & east

Summit view west

With the lack of wind, despite being autumn, it wasn’t too cold at the top, and there was little rush to leave. We saw some hikers head off the track onto the lower ridge that leads to Mt Rolleston, and still there were more and more people arriving on the upper reaches of Avalanche Peak. After about half an hour we set off, back across the narrow ridgeline towards the boulder cluster, and here the two tracks split. The Avalanche Peak track had been dotted with yellow poles, but this time, we followed the orange poles down Scott’s track.

Track across the summit ridge

Views over Arthur's Pass National Park

Whilst still steep in places, it was a much easier track to follow down, initially dropping off down the side of some impressive bluffs before rolling down a gentle slope towards the treeline. From this track, the Devil’s Punchbowl waterfall was clearly visible across the valley on the opposite mountain, and it remained in view for most of the hike down. It was easy to see the west coast road continue north through the valley from here, and only now as we reached some of the lower slopes, did the wind pick up a little. It took only an hour to reach the treeline again, from where it was just another hour to reach the end of the track on the west coast road.

Bluffs in Arthur's Pass National Park

Hikers on the Scott's track above the bluffs

Tiny hiker next to large bluffs

Mountain tarn

Looking across to the far side of the valley

Looking back up Scott's track

Although the path wound its way through the lower forest, the canopy was still open enough to afford a good view for the vast majority of the descent. There was still a lot of need to watch footing through tree branches, streams and over rocks, but there was plenty of opportunity to soak up the view and the image of the waterfall changed as the perspective altered and I took my time going down to enjoy this. My companion reached the end of the track a little ahead of me as I had gone a little snap happy, but still, we were back in the village in a respectable 5.5hrs.

The far side of the valley with waterfall framed int he trees

Descending towards the west coast road

Devil's Punchbowl Waterfall

Arthur's Pass village in the valley

Full height of Devil's Punchbowl waterfall

Although for most people, Arthur’s Pass village is a convenience stop on route from coast to coast, it does have a few places to sleep as well as a couple of cafes, a small convenience store and a train station, so it is a useful place to make as a base for exploring some local hikes. Aside from the nearby mountains, there are also a few lower-level hikes, and the most popular is the walk to the base of the Devil’s Punchbowl waterfall. The DOC website lists the Avalanche Peak as 4-5hrs each way which is certainly being generous, but it is definitely a hike requiring a good bit of fitness, and the upper sections definitely need respect in poorer weather conditions. But steep as it was, this is now a firm favourite amongst the many hikes I’ve now down in New Zealand.

Mount Somers

With autumn starting to kick in and the end of daylight savings fast approaching, I am becoming increasingly aware that my hiking season is creeping towards its end. Once the snow starts to fall on the mountain tops and the evenings start to draw in, there won’t be the same opportunities to bag summits. With almost all of the remaining peaks on my list being within Arthur’s Pass National Park, I was dismayed to read the weather forecast for my one weekend day off was dismal and I resigned myself to a weekend without a hike. But after looking at the neighbouring regions’ forecasts, I discovered that there was the possibility of completing my list of summits in the eastern peaks by heading to Mt Somers.

About 1.5hrs drive south-west from Christchurch is the village of Mt Somers, from where a road heads deep into Hakatere Conservation Park, where I had previously visited Mt Guy and Mt Sunday. Not far from the village itself is also the turn-off to 1 of 2 car parks from where the Mt Somers track can be reached. I have been keen to walk this track which is a multi-day walk that circumnavigates the lower slopes of Mt Somers, but I just haven’t had the time. On this occasion however, I decided to tackle the summit itself, and this is best reached from the other car park near the village of Staveley.

The car park was quite full when I got there early on a Sunday morning, but with a few options for tracks from here, I wasn’t sure whether I would end up bumping into anyone else, but even as I set off on the Mt Somers (south face) track, another two cars pulled into the car park behind me. Despite being autumn, it was going to be a hot day and it wasn’t long before I was sweating. The Department of Conservation (DOC) sign at the start noted a 5hr hike each way so I was mentally preparing myself for a long day.

Start of the hike

The first 40mins of the walk was within a tall forest, and there was a good amount of altitude gain immediately via a variable quality of track. There were plenty of tree roots and fallen branches to act as trip hazards, meaning a lot of time was spent watching my footing whilst overhead several plump kereru (wood pigeons) flitted through the trees. Shortly after leaving the car park behind I was overtaken by an older man who was power walking the track. His only belonging was a regular-sized bottle of water which looked rather small considering he was also heading for the summit. Still, he was much fitter than me, steaming ahead in no time at all.

Forest track

When the trees finally broke under the glare of the hot sun, the dramatic peak of Mt Somers was fully visible, as was the Canterbury Plains below. Through shoulder-height vegetation, the rocky path picked its way over a series of ever-higher knolls giving a fantastic and ever changing perspective on my target summit as well as the surrounding peaks. I passed a hiker heading to the car park about an hour into my hike, but otherwise there was just the sounds of nature to keep me company. I looked towards the peak and struggled to pick out where the summit route might go, and then before I knew it I had reached the junction where the summit route started. The predicted time from DOC was 2.5hrs to this junction and another 2.5hrs to the summit, but I had made it there in just 1hr and 45mins.

The first sighting of Mt Somers

The path disappearing into the trees

Canterbury Plains

Mt Somers

Mt Somers towering over the Canterbury Plains

The changing face of Mt Somers

Straight away the quality of the track changed, becoming very rocky, uneven and slightly overgrown in places. After a very brief zigzag through some lower bush, it very quickly began to climb and even early on there were patches of scree to negotiate. There was a regular need to grab onto bushes to haul myself up or steady my balance as I negotiated the slippery slopes. I hadn’t been going for long before voices on the wind alerted me to other people coming up behind me. Our paces weren’t too dissimilar in the first third of the hike so they maintained the same distance behind, however as the climb grew rougher and the boulders to negotiate grew bigger, they started to catch up.

The start of the summit track

View from the lower slope of Mt Somers

Rocky path up the slope of Mt Somers

Rocky slope of Mt Somers

Sometimes the path was obvious and other times not so much, but before long I’d reached a low ridge where it was possible to catch my breath as I finally was able to pause and soak up the view. The Canterbury Plains stretched off around me, and looking up towards the summit, the hike looked increasingly tough. All I could see was the track disappearing into a field of boulders and a steep drop either side. The summit looked still so far away. But I pressed on, and now I could see other hikers (including the man who had passed me by at the start of my hike) picking their way down from the top, and as one passed me whilst I struggled to see a route up the rocks, he told me to just make a line for the top and stick to it. There were vague signs of feet having been through some patches already, but it really was just a case of focusing on the orange pole at the top and just finding the easiest route up to it. But it was easy to get distracted and veer off to the side in search of an easier foot hold, and the couple who had been behind me all this time, overtook me. They seemed to keep a side-ways glance on me to make sure I made it, and then as if satisfied that I was on the right course, they disappeared over the ridge out of view.

The view from the first ridge

The lower ridge above the Canterbury Plains

The track disappearing into a boulder field

I felt triumphant at the top, as boulder scrambles for me are always a bit of a mental challenge, and whilst still having some way to go, I’d achieved most of the altitude by now, and it was simply a matter of traversing the boulders across a long ridge line, until the trig point (1688m) was within reach. The couple were already hunkered down against the wind that was present at the top, and I passed them by making a beeline for the monument further along the ridge. A stone cairn dated 2000 sits atop a directional marker box which contains a visitor’s book, surrounded by a wooden frame with a misspelled inspirational quote around it. Wrapped around Mt Somers is a ream of mountains stretching off into the distance and I could see the poor weather hanging over the inner Alps and shrouding the distant summits. It was a little cold with the wind so I found a semi-sheltered spot to protect myself whilst I paused for some lunch.

The view from the top of the boulder field

Boulders high above the Canterbury Plains

Walking across the ridge line to the summit

Monument at the summit

Year 2000

Monument & trig marker on Mt Somer's summit

I had summited about 3.5hrs after leaving the car park, and as time at the summit ticked on, more and more people appeared. In the end, it turned out to be a very popular walk that day, but everyone I spoke to agreed that it had been a challenge. This is definitely a hike for fit and experienced hikers only. But the reward was the sense of achievement and that view which spanned all the way out to the Pacific Ocean as well as Christchurch and Banks Peninsula in the far distance. There was no haze to cloud the view that day, and I felt like I was on top of the world.

Mt Somer's summit panorama

Mt Somer's panorama

Mt Somer's Trig panorama

Mt Somer's Trig overlooking Canterbury Plains

Mt Somer's trig

Eventually though, it was time to start the descent, and this involved as much attention to footing as the route up had. There was still a steady stream of people coming up as I picked my way down off the ridge line, and I gave a group that were struggling a bit some words of encouragement as I passed. Looking downhill, the path that had appeared vague at times looked a little more obvious with the benefit of perspective, but again I had to lower myself over rocks, squat down to slide on my feet and grab hold of branches and bushes as I gingerly picked my way down. The same couple from before overtook me on the lower slope and we all acknowledged that this hike was as much of a challenge coming down as it had been going up.

Starting the descent

The steep slopes of Mt Somers

The top of the boulder field

Back at the track junction after about 1.5hrs, it was then a pleasant walk back across the knolls and back into the forest below. The clouds had rolled in a little so the sun felt weaker but I was still warm enough. Getting a little tired, I found myself tripping over the tree branches in the lower slopes and I had to go back to concentrating on my footing to prevent twisting an ankle. I was very pleased to turn that last corner and find myself back at the car park. To date, this is the highest mountain I’ve hiked in New Zealand, and whilst it is definitely achievable for many, it is also not a hike to be taken lightly. Classed as an advanced hike by DOC, it is tiring and physically demanding with a large proportion of boulders and scree to negotiate. But at the end of it all, 6.5hrs after leaving it behind, I sat back in my car triumphant and more than a little pleased with myself.

Green cricket

Panorama from the Mt Somer's (south face) track

Heading back to the forest

Rock formation above the Canterbury Plains

Trig M

Sometimes you have to take a gamble and choose to ignore the weather report. In my experience, even the most reliable of weather forecasts can struggle at times to give an accurate description of what is going on in the mountains. Especially the Southern Alps where there are so many forces working together to affect the wind direction and the rainfall. With a day off work, I got up with a plan in mind, looked out the window and was disappointed. The thick clouds above Christchurch was not what I had been hoping for. But as I sat eating breakfast, wondering what I could do instead, I noticed the clouds change, and whilst the forecast for the mountains was still rather questionable, I decided to take a chance and stick to my original plan.

About 1.5hrs to the west of Christchurch is Porter’s Pass, the gateway to the Southern Alps and the west coast beyond that. As I left the Garden City behind, I realised to my dismay that the mountains weren’t even visible. Mentally set up for a hike, I pushed on passing country town after country town until there was just about 20kms to go. The sun was trying to push through the thick cloud, and as the kms ticked by, I considered turning around until suddenly the cloud bank broke and I was greeted by glorious sunshine and blue skies over the mountains. I had made a good call.

As the west coast road delves into the mountains and starts to gain a bit of altitude, on the east of the Porters Range is a hairpin bend at which a low-key pull-in denotes the start of the Coach Stream track in the Korowai/Torlesse Tussocklands Park. Following the small stream through a valley and marked by orange poles, it crosses the stream twice before starting a steep climb up, first through private land then conservation land, as it winds its way up to a ridge line. Every now and again a glimpse of traffic heading up to Porter’s Pass is seen and behind me in the distance, I could see the enormous cloud bank still hanging gravely over the east coast.

Start of the hike

Map of the two tracks

Following the coach stream through the valley

Crossing onto the private Benmore station

View on the way up to the ridge

There are some interesting rock formations in the area but a lot of the surrounding mountains appear barren or have brown or green shrubbery covering their slopes. The easy to follow track through tussock was dotted with the occasional alpine plant but the low shrubs meant it was fully exposed. After following a ridge for a while, the path curved onto a neighbouring ridge and then sneaked up the side of a copse where the quiet was temporarily breached by birdsong. Not much further up the track I was surprised to reach a Department of Conservation (DOC) sign marking the junction with the Starvation Gully track, a shorter route from another starting point along the west coast road. The information that I had read on this track had stated 3hrs from the pull-in to the summit of Trig M, and yet here I was just a little over 1hr, at a sign saying I was only an hour away.

Rocky outcrops

Porters Range

Near the copse

View from the track junction

Track junction

Now, the view got more interesting and it wasn’t long before I could see the trig on a nearby peak. Not only that, but I could now see up the neighbouring valley that contains the west coast road heading towards Arthur’s Pass National Park, as well as peer down on Lake Lyndon which nestled in the valley below. There was some cloud starting to build up overhead but it was still pleasant and I covered the rest of the easy, though occasionally slippery, track up to Trig M (1251m) in just half an hour. Wandering around the peak I realised I could see Mt Hutt towering over the Rakaia river valley and realised how relatively close I was to Peak Hill which I had hiked a few weeks earlier.

Looking towards the summit

Looking towards the summit

Lake Lyndon

Trig M summit

Summit panorama

Looking towards the Rakaia river valley in the distance

It was a good enough day to keep hiking but going any further meant going off piste so I decided on this occasion to stick to the marked route. Following lunch at the summit, I retraced my steps soaking up the view of the valley and the lake below. As I came down from the peak and headed back towards the route junction, a cloud band blocked the sun and the temperature dropped a little. It was still a very pleasant walk and as my altitude dropped, eventually the sun reappeared. I was not far away from dropping back into the valley when I passed two German tourists coming the other way. I was astonished to see one of them wearing jandals (flip-flops/thongs), especially knowing there was a few slippery stony sections up ahead for them. I am regularly astounded to see people ill-equipped for hiking in the mountains, and these two girls had nothing but water with them, although at least they had that!

Porters Pass panorama

Lake Lyndon

Return hike

Dropping altitude

Beautiful views in every direction

I soaked up the view the rest of the way back and I reached my car just 1.5hrs after having left the summit behind. Having expected a 5-6hr hike, I had completed it in just 3hrs 40mins including time spent at the summit. It was a relatively short walk compared to what I have been used to of late, but it did mean that I was home in time to enjoy a nice coffee and treat at one of my favourite coffee shops before closing.

Little Mount Peel

It didn’t take long for me to realise that this walk was something special. Nearly two hours south-west from Christchurch, nestled within Peel Forest, is Blandswood Road, where a small car park denotes the start of a myriad of walks. It just so happened to be my birthday and I was excited to be spending it summiting a new mountain.

I took the last spot in the car park, and set off up the steep Lookout Road where a Department of Conservation (DOC) sign denotes the start of the Fern walk. A gently graded stroll through the forest brings you to a junction where the Deer Spur track begins. It is possible to continue on the Fern walk which disappears into the forest for a low altitude walk, but my target for the day was Huatekerekere or Little Mount Peel, the lower of three Peel peaks. Once on the Deer Spur track, the path started to work its way up the hillside, initially still within the forest. It was a broad and obvious track for the most part, with a few high steps to negotiate, but after about 40mins, the forest opened up and the path was noticeably narrower.

Start of the Fern walk

Start of the Deer Spur Track

A brief break in the trees in Peel Forest

Peel Forest track

From the beginning it was a busy track. I had read that it was one of Canterbury’s most popular walks and this was well evidenced on that day with the regular stream of people either coming down or visible going up in the distance. After a small tarn, it wasn’t long until the view appeared, and what a view it was. As with most of the hikes that I’ve done, a haze clung over the Canterbury Plains behind me, but inland and either side were mountains, and it was stunning. From that first sighting, the peak of Little Mt Peel looked unachievable and distant. There were so many lower ridges to negotiate but I put those thoughts aside and ploughed on. The first ridge gave some welcome relief from the previous climb and I paused briefly to soak up the view.

Little Tarn

Little Mt Peel summit in the far distance

Panorama from the Deer Spur track

From then onwards, despite the constant climbing, I really enjoyed this hike because there was just a stunning view all around. I came across a family with two young children, the youngest being just 5 years old, and was impressed to see them negotiating this mountain on their own two feet. They stopped regularly meaning I eventually overtook them and about the same time it became possible to make out the summit trig and the nearby shelter in the distance. Shortly after passing them, the wind picked up and a bank of low cloud formed and whipped up and over the ridge I was heading towards, hiding the summit from view. I had previously experienced this a few months prior when hiking up Mt Thomas and I had learned that with patience, this kind of cloud is usually dispersed in a short space of time.

Cloud riding the ridge

View north

Sure enough, by the time I reached the altitude of the cloud bank, it was already lifting, and ahead of me I saw a hiker who was close to giving up. The summit was still 2 ridges away, but was tantalisingly close, and he sat off the track trying desperately to catch his breath whilst his friend continued. A descending hiker encouraged him to keep going, letting him know how close he was, and with the two children not far behind me, he seemed to get a second wind, and pushed on shortly after I passed him. The second last ridge involved a bit of hauling up a boulder face, and I reflected on how good a work-out I was getting. The last ridge was a walk in the park, and sweaty yet satisfied, I found myself crossing that last section with the hut and summit right in front of me.

Summit hut & trig just about visible

The path already travelled with the Plains below

View north near the summit

Nearly there!

Approaching the summit

The Tristram Harper Memorial Hut appears to perch on the side of the mountain a short distance below the summit. I bypassed the track to it and made the final ascent to the trig marker that stood proud on the summit (1311m). Despite the cloud building up inland, it was a fantastic view. Mt Peel and Middle Mt Peel were clearly visible, looking deceptively close and achievable, and both to the north and the south, other mountain ranges rolled off into the distance. The haze persisted over the Canterbury Plains, and above them, the hut and the lateral saddles of Little Mt Peel rolled down to meet them.

Tristram Harper Memorial Hut

Looking inland towards Mt Peel

Summit panorama looking south

Summit track heading off towards Middle Mt Peel and Mt Peel

Being such a popular walk, I didn’t have the summit to myself for long. There was plenty of people milling between the hut and the summit, so after enjoying some lunch, I left it behind for the next lot of people. I had previously made the decision to descend via the South Ridge Track, making the whole walk a loop. Everyone else was heading down the same way they’d come up (Deer Spur Track), and having read a warning on the DOC website that the South Ridge track was only suitable for experienced hikers with back country navigational skills, I had spent a lot of the hike up, trying to pick out the track on the opposing ridge for the descent. From the summit, I could see it disappearing in the distance, and felt it looked perfectly achievable so decided to stick to my guns.

Just below the summit was the hut which I discovered contained the family with the two young boys and the hiker who had nearly given up. They were all chatting away, and after signing in to the guest book, I left them to it. A DOC sign on the side of the hut pointed towards the South Ridge track and I picked my way through some undergrowth towards the drop toilet, from where the track split off. I peered over the edge, decided it was doable, and made the commitment to follow through. I had read in a blog that this would be a steep descent, so I knew there would be no backtracking once I’d started. Straight away, I found myself having to lower myself gingerly over boulders but it was such a beautiful day, it was easy to follow the orange poles disappearing into the distance.

Canterbury Plains

Summit trig from the shelter

Tristram Harper Memorial Hut from the start of the South Ridge track

South Ridge track disappearing into the distance

The South Ridge Track involved a rapid descent, and the track was so overgrown, that I spent a lot of the time staring at my feet to watch my footing, that I hadn’t realised how quick the descent had been until I stopped on a lower ridge to admire the butterflies that were everywhere. The mountains to the south were beautiful, a viewpoint that hadn’t been afforded from the Deer Spur track, and looking back towards the summit, the hut and trig point were like little dots on the horizon. As the altitude dropped away, the track became more and more overgrown in places, and at times I found myself chest deep in bushes barging my way through the under growth. I focused on the orange poles to guide me through, but I stopped regularly because there were butterflies everywhere and the view all around was again exceedingly stunning.

The track through the vegetation

Panorama from the South Ridge track

Hiking the South Ridge track

Little Mt Peel summit from the South Ridge track

Mountains to the south

Eventually though, I hit a basic little post with an orange arrow to guide me off the ridge, and I started the final descent back into the forest. The view remained briefly before I was encompassed by trees again. This final section was quite steep and I negotiated several sections in a crouched position to prevent me slipping, but even then, I found myself on my butt twice. This is not a track I would have wanted to take in the opposite direction. Within the forest, with nothing but trees to look at, I sped up a little, eager to reach the waterfall. Finally the path broke out at Emily stream, crossed the stream and headed up the embankment on the other side. Just a few minutes later, I reached the end point of the track where it met the Emily Falls track.

Little Mt Peel summit

Leaving the ridge behind

It was only a couple of minutes walk to Emily Falls which were pretty, but not easy to see without crossing the stream to the other side. There were few flying insects to annoy me, so I enjoyed watching the water for a while before retracing my steps. Back at the track junction, the DOC sign detailed 45mins back to Blandswood road, and I pushed on, still with a slight skip in my step. I was a little confused when the path came out at a stream and seemed to just disappear. An orange arrow pointed to the left but all I could see was the stream. Picking my way up the stream, I found another orange arrow letting me know I was heading in the right direction. After a while though, the stream got harder to negotiate and I found it strange that I was supposed to be following it so far. I decided to back track towards the last arrow, and in doing so had a differing viewpoint which allowed me to realise I’d walked past the path leading out of the water.

Emily Falls

Emily Falls

Walking up stream

Finally back on track, after climbing up the bank, it was an easy walk through the lower forest, past the turnoff for Rata falls, emerging back onto the lower section of Lookout Road just above its junction with Blandswood Road where my car lay waiting. The DOC sign detailed a 3hr ascent on Deer Spur Track (versus a 3.5hr ascent on South Ridge Track), with half an hour less for the descent on each path. I surprised myself by reaching the summit in just over 2 hours, and after spending about 45mins at the top, I made it back down again in about 2.5hrs. I’m glad I did the loop, but having done it once, I’ll stick to the Deer Spur track both ways next time. On a clear and non-blustery day, the South Ridge track is definitely achievable by anyone of reasonable fitness, but with exposed sections, and parts that are quite overgrown, it is not a track to be done on a windy or low visibility day. But with such views, and an enjoyable climb up, this hike quickly jumped to the top of my list of favourite hikes to do in Canterbury.

Track junction

Peak Hill

It’s a great feeling when you finally achieve something that you’ve wanted to do for a long time. Whilst some of the mountains I’ve been hiking of late have been only recent discoveries, there are a few that have been on my radar almost as long as I’ve lived in the country.

I’m becoming a regular user of Canterbury’s back roads as I make the weekly trip from Christchurch to various peaks within the eastern border of the Southern Alps. About an hour and a half south-west of the Garden City, along an exceedingly long and winding road lies Lake Coleridge, nestled snugly in a valley between some mountains. The road itself snakes near the Rakaia river which flows past the base of Mt Hutt, one of the region’s most popular ski centres. Before the village of Lake Coleridge, it turns briefly north, before turning inland again down a long, but reasonable quality of unsealed road.

Peak Hill is very much visible from some distance away, and eventually a small patch of grass is reached to pull up in where a Department of Conservation (DOC) sign marks the start of the hike. Having studied the route on Topomap.co.nz, I was a little disappointed to discover that the loop track on the website didn’t exist on the DOC map, as I much prefer walking in a loop rather than going up and down the same route. Pushing my disappointment aside, I headed off under the glare of the sun. Like Mt Guy a few weeks prior, there was not a single piece of shade the whole way up.

Start of Peak Hill track

Peak Hill track map

Crossing a stile into private land, the fence line is followed to the right and then up the side of the paddock until another stile takes you onto conservation land. From the very beginning, there is a lovely view all around of the surrounding mountains as well as the wonderful blue of Lake Coleridge which appears almost immediately on the hike. Once on the conservation land, the incline begins at a constant, though reasonably comfortable rate. Orange poles lead the way, although for the most part, the trail is well trodden, with just a few patches of scree to negotiate higher up the first section.

Lake Coleridge

Peak Hill Conservation Area

Climbing Peak Hill

The changing shape of Lake Coleridge

An information board on a low ridge makes for a nice spot to pause and admire the lake below. From here, the path follows a fence line up and over a number of lower ridges, including a section which is quite exposed. There was a bit of wind about and it buffeted me slightly as I continued my ascent. The view is relentless with an increasing amount of the lake becoming visible as well as the Rakaia river valley upstream, making this an exceedingly appealing walk.

Peak Hill summit in the distance

Lake Coleridge panorama

The path up the ridge

Lake Coleridge on the ascent

After about 1.5hr, I reached the windy summit (1240m). An information board details how the ice field used to lie in this valley in the previous ice age. Peak Hill itself would have stuck up above the ice like a little island. No matter the direction you look, there is something beautiful to look at, be it Mt Hutt across the Rakaia river, the snow capped peaks inland, or Lake Coleridge with its flanking mountains. I had the summit to myself, something which I’m always happy about, giving me the chance to eat my lunch with only the sound of the crickets and the wind for company. It was a gloriously sunny day, but the wind meant the need for an extra layer whilst I relaxed at the top.

Information board at the summit

Looking inland from the summit

Lake Coleridge from the summit

Mt Hutt range from the summit

Looking towards the Southern Alps from the summit

After about half an hour, with the wind beginning to whip up in a frenzy, I retraced my steps. This time, the exposed ridge had me feeling the brunt of the wind as it became strong enough to push me slightly. Any stronger and this section would become dangerous. That aside, it was a pleasant hike down with the lake full frontal, and as I reached the information board, I came across the only other hikers on the mountain that day. I’m still taken aback at times to see people out hiking that are totally unprepared. Here were two hikers, one of whom was clearly struggling with the gradient, out on an exposed mountain with no visible water supply, and heading off to an exposed summit in the afternoon on a windy day. Especially in this case when the DOC sign at the bottom warns about the weather and need for water on this hike.

Peninsula jutting into Lake Coleridge

Rakaia river

Spider's web near the trail

I reached my car after about 3hrs very satisfied with this hike. Despite its exposure to the elements, the constant view from start to finish, as well as the gradient gain make this an exceedingly enjoyable hike, and ranks near the top of my favourite hikes in Canterbury.

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