It is a good 1.5hr drive north-west of Christchurch, to the car park that is effectively in the middle of nowhere. In February, I was still in training for the upcoming Kepler Track, and was making use of the good weather on weekends to get some walking in. I had read about this walk and was keen to get up there. In the Waimakariri District north of Oxford, lies the Mt Thomas Forest Conservation Area, within which lies Mt Richardson. The track starts at the Glentui Picnic Area, a hilly grassland surrounded by bush at the end of a gravel road. By the time I got there mid-morning, there was already several cars parked up.
The only toilet on the walk is at this picnic area, and the typical back-country drop-toilet is well hidden amongst the trees. The walk itself starts off as a stroll through forest land, along the same path initially as a loop track that stays lower down in the valley. After a brief walk, the two paths go their separate ways and after a while, the Richardson Track starts to climb upwards. The path is rocky and uneven in places as it continues upwards, and the forest is thick, hiding away any view of how far up you’ve climbed. In February, still in summer, the wasps were everywhere. They buzzed round my feet as I walked, and flitted round my head and body as I continued uphill. This is not a walk to be done if you are afraid of wasps, at least not in the summer time anyway.
Eventually the trees open up a little and a first glimpse over the Canterbury Plains is seen. The path flattens out for a while in a false ridge, making a nice break from the tedium of climbing uphill. From here on in, it was fantastic. The trees were more open allowing the sunshine to beam down from above, and allowing more of a view of the surrounds. Where it hits the final incline, the path is particularly unstable – not a big deal on a good day, but worthy of caution after a rainfall. Finally the treeline broke open and I was at the summit, at 1048m altitude. The plant life was noticeably alpine, but still quite thick, and there was a slight chill even on such a sunny day. I soaked in the view whilst enjoying my lunch. The only other people I came across on the walk were some hunters who appeared at the summit at the same time as me, dressed in camouflage, carrying a rifle, and with their retriever dog in tow. This was not a typical pig-hunting dog, so I’m not sure what they were in search of, but they merely passed by and headed down the track.
Looking west from the summit, the Lees Valley and Puketeraki Mountain Range provide a stunning backdrop, and the mountains roll across the horizon as far as the eye can see. A few of the distant peaks had a splattering of snow following a recent cold front, or Southerly as they are referred to here, that had passed through. From the summit there are a few hiking options: return the route you came up, or continue along the Blowhard Track, coming out at an entirely different road, or splitting off from this track, down the Bypass Track to return to the Glentui picnic area. The Blowhard track started off initially through similar forest, but quickly it changed into a drier, almost desert-like soil with sparser vegetation and some steep sandy slopes to negotiate. In a few places where the soil had eroded down steeper sections and plants didn’t grow, the true path was a little bit ambiguous. In one particularly eroded section, someone has created a stone arrow to indicate where to go. When I reached this intersection, I was down in a dip and did not immediately see this sign, but on the bank it was clearer.
Further along the lower ridge, the view was mainly over the Canterbury Plains to Pegasus Bay in the far distance and the vague outline of Christchurch’s buildings evident through the low haze. This section is a pleasant exposed track and continues like this for some time until the tree line is reached again. Those trees near the summit contained a large quantity of Old Man’s Beard, which of all the lichen species, requires the purest of air to grow. Shortly after returning to the trees, the turn off for the Bypass track is found. This is the steepest part of the whole walk, and the reason that it is recommended to do this circuit in a clockwise direction. It is through forest the whole way down, and eventually joins up with the Glentui loop track. From the intersection, you can head back to the car park in either direction of the loop. I chose the longer route which involved a bit more incline as it looped along the embankment. It seemed a poorly worn track in this section, and at one point there was a rather large fallen tree blocking the route which had to be climbed over. Eventually, it cuts down to the river where a bridge crosses over it, and then there is a final winding climb back up to the bottom of the picnic area.
On various websites, I read quite a variety of times for this walk. The Department of Conservation signs can be variably generous with their guides on what to expect time-wise. I took 2hrs to summit, and completed the whole walk in 4hrs, including a lunch stop. On the DOC website it recommends allowing 4-6hrs for this walk. I enjoyed this hike, and preferred it to Mt Herbert, probably because I found it an easier walk, although the views from both are equally fantastic.