MistyNites

My Life in Motion

Archive for the tag “Banks Peninsula”

Canterbury Tales

Having spent months recuperating from a back injury, and following a winter getaway to Samoa, there was still another 2 months of 2019’s winter to get through, and I was in need of a pick-me-up to help me through. As much as I prefer the New Zealand summers to those of my native Scotland, every winter, I pine over the lack of central heating and the absence of snow. I remember great dumps of snow and driving through blizzards where I used to live in Aberdeen, and as a result, one of the surprising things I come to miss from home, is those crisp winter days waking up to fresh snow fall. Year after year in Christchurch I’ve found I have to grit my teeth to get through the months of May to September, and so it was important I find something to occupy my days off work and make up for all the lost weekends earlier in the year. I created 2 random lists: a geographical breakdown of Canterbury, and a list of possible activities. Then, with the aid of a random number and letter selector, every weekend, I simply had the Internet pick a letter and number for me, and the rest was up to my imagination to combine the activity and the location.

First up was a scenic drive round to Diamond Harbour. The winter sunshine sparkled on the still water within the harbour and the surrounding slopes reflected through the gentle ripples. It’s a drive that always delights, and there’s so many scenic options to get you there. After stopping at a boat ramp to get some photographs, I headed back via Allandale Reserve where the receding tide exposed a mudflat, much to the delight of a myriad of wading birds that picked away for food. In the time that I spent there, the sun dipped behind the Port Hills and I could see as I headed home that a lot of cloud had moved in over the city. This created perfect conditions for a glorious sunset, and as the sun lowered in the winter evening, the sky turned an incredible orange. In a pre-COVID lifetime when planes still flew regularly, I watched as an Air New Zealand plane approached the airport from above my back garden, framed against a sky full of fire.

 

A couple of weekends later, I headed inland to Castle Hill Scenic Reserve, a little beyond Porters Pass on the West Coast road. It’s always a popular place to be, and now at the end of July, there was snow on the nearby peaks. It had been a while since I’d last stopped here, but there’s so many options for routes to take through the giant boulder field, and with a few patches of standing water around, there was some great opportunities to catch the snowy reflections. We skirted round the foot of them and round the side, past a boulder which has a graffiti inscription from 1869 on it. There were snowy peaks to be seen on the far side also, and we picked our way through the lower trails before climbing up onto the hillside at the back of the main boulders. A temporary tarn again provided more gorgeous reflections but we didn’t get such a beautiful spot to ourselves for long. With the sun low for the winter months, there were parts of the area in permanent shade and as we crossed one such spot I went flying, landing on my bum, having slipped on a spot of iced-up mud. With the boulders themselves casting a long shadow on the front side, I had to be so careful picking my way back down again so as not to fall flat on my face.

 

One of the great things about this adventure ‘game’ I was playing was that it led me back to some haunts I hadn’t visited in a while, as well as discovering a couple of new places. With another sunny weekend day the following weekend, my randomly selected region led me to a cute little wetlands on the edge of Lincoln, a relatively short drive outside of Christchurch. I previously worked in Lincoln for a short spell back in 2012 when it was just a little village, but in the years since it has expanded immensely with a plethora of new housing developments spreading out from the original core. The wetlands is right on the edge and was the location for me to practice a bit of macro photography. The waterway itself was still, reflective and surrounded by reeds and other typical plants, but I was on the lookout for flora and fauna that would allow me to practice my photography. As I walked close to the plants at the water’s edge, I found a jumping spider, the only arachnid that I like, and was quick to welcome it onto my hand to try and capture it’s cute little features. It would have been better to have my tripod and two free hands but I was able to get a couple of reasonable shots as it hurried across the back of my hand. On the far side of the wetlands, the shade meant there was some ground frost, and I probably looked a little weird to any passersby as I hunkered down on the wet grass to try and capture the water droplets.

 

The following day I took a drive to the far side of Lake Ellesmere via a nice cafe I hadn’t been to before, where the map suggested there would be a nice spot to enjoy the lakeside. I was hopeful to sit and do some wildlife spotting, but what I found was a gypsy camping site, and a rather flooded park. There was also no bird life to be seen so disappointed, I started to head through the back roads to come home, only to find myself at a ford. I just drive a little car so I wasn’t keen to drive through the river, and right on the far side were some workers doing some road upgrades, so I especially didn’t want to make a twat of myself by getting stuck in the water. It meant a massive detour to get back to the city, so I decided to make a drive out of it anyway, skirting round to the road towards Little River, but turning up Gebbies Pass and up onto Summit road. The weather was perfect for views down onto Lyttelton harbour and I was once more grateful to have so many beautiful spots within easy reach of the city. I stopped at several of the pull-ins to enjoy the view. I was already starting to get excited about the impending spring but there was still one more month of winter and one more adventure to be had before the promise of spring would come.

Return to the Mountains

After a poor night’s sleep camping through strong winds, I left Mt Thomas scenic reserve behind and continued past Glentui and Ashley Gorge to reach Oxford. I didn’t have enough supplies for the day, but thankfully the supermarket was open and I could stock up before continuing to the Coopers Creek car park to start the day’s hike. I’d hiked Mt Oxford many years ago and knew it was an arduous hike. In my head I figured I’d just hike the summit track and return the same way, so I left my car behind to start the long hike through the valley to reach the start of the climb.

The lower section is among forest and here I was overtaken by a man running the trail. Like the day before, I felt a little unfit as the track became steep, trying to tell myself it was just the heat. I’d set off before 9am but the sun felt hot above me. At the first break in the trees however, I looked behind me and realised a blanket of fog was creeping across the Canterbury Plains. The higher I got, the closer the cloud bank got, such that as I reached the more open upper ridges, the Plains were completely obliterated from view. It was pretty cool, a phenomenon I’ve seen only a handful of times from above the cloud line. Like the day before, it got windier the higher I got and the edge of the blanket seemed to wisp around itself, fingers creeping and retreating into the gullies between the lower ridges.

 

Mt Oxford is a series of false summits until at last the track rolls onto the true summit at 1364m (4475ft). I had to hunker down to shield myself from the wind while I ate some food, watching the cloud roll in and out and the wisps puff up and then retreat. I’d summited a little after 11.30am and with so many hours ahead of me, I knew I should do the longer route back across the far ridge, even though I remembered how much I hated its monotony last time. Despite this, I was in training, and needed to keep the momentum going, so despite knowing I’d get frustrated, I took off across the summit, bracing against the wind.

It’s an easy but exposed track to follow across the bare ridge before it eventually cuts back into the forest. I recalled from last time that the time on the sign underestimated this section so this time I was prepared for that. As I reached the forest once more, I could see how much the cloud had piled in and how much it was desperately trying to push up the mountain side. It was mesmerising to watch though, and I paused for a bit to do so before losing sight of it as the trees closed around me. As the track cut down the mountainside it became eerie as soon I was within the cloud. It was cooler suddenly and any gaps in the trees offered no views other than the wisps of cloud that swirled around. It made the descent through the forest much more enjoyable as I simply breathed the mist in, merely guessing where I was with my sense of altitude dimmed.

 

When at last I reached the Korimako track that I’d taken to Ryde Falls the last time I’d been here, I continued straight this time, taking an alternate route towards a different car park then cutting away to trudge the long route back to Coopers Creek. This alternate route was muddy and undulating, but it was busy because it formed a loop track to Ryde Falls, which seemed popular. The low cloud continued the whole arduous slog back, and I finally returned to my car about 7hrs after setting off.

 

The following week, I joined two local walks together, parking at the Christchurch Gondola car park to hike the Bridle Path over the Port Hills to Lyttelton Harbour. The Bridle Path is a popular local walk, but it is rough and steep underfoot, making it a good slog that isn’t to everyone’s tastes. It zig-zags its way up to summit road and from there it zig-zags its way down the other side, reaching the road by Lyttelton tunnel. I’ve walked this track from end-to-end as well as just up to Summit Road and back, and on several occasions have combined it with trips to the gondola station. This time, I was heading to the harbour, grabbing food at a local cafe before heading down to the port to catch the ferry across to Diamond Harbour.

 

Once on Banks Peninsula, a track leads from near the wharf deep into the lower forests and up a gradual slope to reach farmland where the most popular route up to Mt Herbert leads from. I’ve hiked Mt Herbert multiple times, using 3 different routes up, but this one I’ve done the most. The ferry ride over is an added bonus to this hike that I like to tack on, but it does mean the hike has to be to a timetable in order to catch the ferry back over at the end of the day. Once again there was a recurring theme of feeling slow. I’ve definitely noticed that hiking with poles takes me longer than hiking without them. But with my knees starting to show wear and tear, I feel that using them is a necessary evil. But it is hard to accept at times that I’m not making records when I return to hike mountains I’ve previously summited. Despite the amount of walking I was doing lately, I couldn’t help feel that it was my fitness that was the problem.

Having caught the 11am ferry, I was relatively late to head up through the farmland, and I watched sadly as several people sped ahead of me and several people passed me heading down. The route however was familiar and I knew what to expect ahead. When at last I reached the summit (919m/3015ft), there was hardly anyone around and I might as well have had it to myself. Mindful of the ferry times I didn’t stay up long before heading back down. Going down was straightforward, but as is often the case, the clouds had piled in over Christchurch and it looked a little dull. What I hadn’t realised was that there was a music festival on at Diamond Harbour so when I reached the pier there was a massive queue for the ferry. Normally only once an hour at this time of the day, the ferry company thankfully agreed to do multiple runs to lighten the load. I wasn’t successful at making it on the first sailing, but was able to get on the second one. I still had the return hike over the Bridle Path to do, so I was eager to get back and get going. When at last I reached my car once more I’d been on my feet for 8hrs and was eager to be done.

 

Just 2 weeks later, I found myself on my final training hike ahead of the toughest hike of my life. I was to leave the country in just 2 days and the anticipation was starting to get real. I took the familiar drive into the Canterbury foothills and found myself on the edge of a cloud blanket that was slowly creeping in from the east. This last hike was a return to Mt Somers, a hike that I’d found challenging the first time round, and one that was a decent length and steepness to make me feel like I was getting a good last workout. Again I felt my poles slowing me down and I took longer to hike the lower slopes through the forest and across the rising ridges to reach the summit route junction. I focused on the task at hand, aware of people overtaking me regularly. Wisps of cloud had initially hugged the side of the mountain and as I climbed I saw the cloud holding off a little distance away.

 

It was another scorching day, and the 30 degree heat got the better of me. I was struggling, wheezing for breath and having to stop often. I’m not entirely sure what was wrong those last few hikes. It had been hot, but it wasn’t the first time I’d hiked in the heat. I was using poles, but they shouldn’t have made me tired and breathless. I’d had a vaccine ahead of my travels but that had been weeks before. Something just wasn’t right, I felt super unfit now despite the regular hikes and it was starting to concern me. Up and up I went, struggling but stubborn. I reached scree and then boulders and the marked route became a matter of picking a way up and across between distant orange poles. When at last I reached the final push towards the summit, I saw that the clouds had moved in, and like the few weeks prior at Mt Oxford, they tried desperately to sneak up the side of the mountain. I needed a break and rested at the summit, but as the clouds crept higher up the slopes, I was conscious of the fact that I needed good visibility to follow the markers in a few of the lower sections. I was caught between catching a break and wanting to rush back down before I risked losing my way.

 

It had taken me so long to get up there, that I was one of only 3 people left at the summit. The other 2 started to head down as I finished my food, and wary of getting into trouble if the clouds became a problem, I didn’t waste much time following suit. It was a needless worry in the end. As much as the clouds tried to wisp upwards, they never really made much progress, and I made better time on the descent, watching the blanket gradually dissipate as I neared its altitude. By the time I was back down at the track junction to follow the Mount Somers Route back to the car park, I had a clear view across the Plains. It took me 8hrs from start to finish, a lot longer than I’d taken the first time I’d gotten up. I was disappointed, but I headed as usual to grab my favourite post-hike treat: nachos and ice-coffee at C1 Espresso in Christchurch. Hiking is a good excuse for me to have a bit of a pig-out afterwards. I wouldn’t be surprised if I eat more calories after a hike than I actually lose on the hike. Maybe that was my problem. Maybe that was why I was struggling on these last few hikes. But there was no time left to wonder. Because 2 days later, I was off on a great adventure.

Pigeon Bay Walkway

After 7 years of living in Christchurch, and within a week of gaining my New Zealand citizenship, I was still finding new places to explore. I’d noticed a coastal track while looking at a topographical map and decided to make the hour drive to Pigeon Bay on the Banks Peninsula. It was a gorgeous sunny day, and in hindsight, I wish we’d left sooner to make more of a day of it. Reaching the end of the road and the start of the track, the Department of Conservation (DOC) sign stated it to be a 5hr walk to the point and back, and we simply didn’t have enough time to walk the whole thing before I had to get back for a class.

There was a sailing race on in the harbour as we trekked across the farm land following the orange poles, and up onto the dirt road that led us out past the glistening blue water. The views were simply stunning – there’s just nothing like the blues of New Zealand’s waters under a blue sky. It undulates a little, with a little more altitude gained as it follows the slope of the hill out to sea. We made it about halfway out to the point before having to turn back but even although we didn’t complete the full hike, it was a gorgeous spot to be.

Coastal Canterbury

At the end of a 90 minute scenic drive from Christchurch, nestled in the remnants of an old volcanic crater, lies Akaroa within the harbour of the same name. Banks Peninsula is the result of historical volcanic activity resulting in the creation of Lyttelton harbour and Akaroa harbour on opposing sides of the peninsula. It is a beautiful drive to reach Akaroa and my brother had plenty of opportunity to take in the Canterbury countryside as we wound our way first round then up and over the hillsides, past the many bays to reach the town. Originally settled by the French before the English claimed New Zealand, it does its best to retain a bit of French flair, with French street names and French flags. It is a great day or overnight trip from the Garden City and always a great place to take visitors.

 

Despite a cruise ship being in the harbour, it wasn’t as oppressively busy as it can be on cruise ship days and we’d arrived early enough to have little problem finding a park. We headed first away from the main pier and down to the little pier and round past the domain and recreation ground where a track led round a few bays to a picnic table. Returning back to town we passed remnants of the whaling days, and the town’s war memorial before following the sweeping bay round to where the main eateries are. Coming from Scotland, where fish suppers are notoriously good, it’s been hard to find a worthy contender in New Zealand. Thankfully, I’ve found a pretty good one near where I live, but Akaroa Fish & Chips is a reasonable place to go to, and I insisted to my brother that we ate there. The place is always busy and table space is at a premium, so even although it wasn’t quite the lunchtime rush yet, we still had to sit on the wall to enjoy it.

 

Loaded up with food, we cut down to the main pier to wander along past the cruise passengers who were busy loading on and off the transfer vessels that were ploughing back and forth across the harbour. The end of the pier is a good spot to look back onto the town from and admire the towering hillside that juts up behind the town. Further round the headland is a lighthouse and we hugged the roadside round the coast to reach it. It was a busy little place, and I’ve never really gone anywhere further round, but my brother wanted to keep wandering so we continued along the road until eventually a path took us up the hillside a little to the Britomart monument. From there, we headed back to town via a bush walk up past the cemetery.

 

Akaroa is one of the few places in New Zealand to see the rare Hector’s dolphin, the smallest dolphin in the world alongside its even rarer cousin the Maui dolphin. Averaging 1.4m in length, they are distinctive in having a round dorsal fin instead of the usual pointed one, and although occasionally seen close to the town, the best way to see them is on a harbour nature cruise. I’ve done this several times here, and usually take people that visit us out on this trip, but my brother wasn’t really fussed so we meandered back to the car and instead I drove him up Lighthouse Road which has a steep incline but also has a great viewpoint from an S-bend where there is a crude pull-in. There were sheep grazing just across the fence, the grass was green, the sky was blue, and a good expanse of Akaroa and the harbour lay below us.

 

Seeing as it was November, we still had many hours of daylight ahead of us, and with blue skies overhead, I drove us out of Akaroa and cut up to Summit Road to take the high road back home. The gorse was in full bloom creating a vast yellow wave across the hillside. Although it is introduced and classed as a pest species here, it certainly reminds me of my homeland and it added a dramatic edge to the landscape. Driving Summit Road, we got sneak peaks of the Pacific Ocean at times, but mainly the view was down over the harbour as we followed the curvature of the mountain. There were so many viewpoints to stop at, and whether my brother wanted to or not, I stopped at many of them before we eventually found ourselves back at the junction with the road to Little River.

 

Through the other side of Little River, when the turn-off came, I took the road to Gebbies Pass to cut across and join the Summit Road that overlooks Lyttelton harbour and the city of Christchurch. Again there are plenty of places to stop and admire the view, including the place where my best friend got married, near the Sign of the Bellbird. There was still plenty of scars from the bush fire that had swept across this area 9 months prior. The regeneration was very evident but it will take a long time for the bush to reach the level it was before. Eventually we snaked down Dyers Pass Road and back home.

 

The next day was more hazy than the previous ones, and giving him the options of walks in the area, my brother decided to go to Spencer Park where a walk leads up past wetlands to the mouth of the Waimakariri river. Although it was decidedly grey, it was a pleasant enough walk, and we managed to spot a spoonbill and a kingfisher amongst the usual ducks, herons and gulls that were frequenting the area. My partner joined us to begin with, but had to leave early to go to work, whereas my brother and I kept walking north for some time until we couldn’t be bothered going any further, at which point we turned around and headed back.

 

It was an easy drive from there to New Brighton beach where we had lunch at the Salt on the Pier cafe. Unfortunately, the pier was under repair at the time so we couldn’t walk far along it. Nearby though, a dune walk heads off across the dune tops towards the southern end of New Brighton beach. There were plenty of flowers in bloom offering a distraction from the sea view, but eventually we cut down to the beach itself and continued to walk down till it ends at the mouth of the estuary that receives the run out from the Avon and Heathcote rivers. The rock structure at the end of Sumner beach looked tantalisingly close being as it was around low tide, but the current of the estuary mouth was clearly very strong and any attempt to swim the gap would be foolish. As we cut back up we came across a dead fish that a black-backed gull very eagerly tucked into after we had passed by. It was the very definition of sushi.

 

In the time it had taken us to walk down the beach and then back again, there were a few windsurfers in the waves that hadn’t been there before. A couple of them were particularly acrobatic, leaping surprisingly high in the air as they zipped over and around the waves that rolled onto the beach. We watched them as we walked. New Brighton unfortunately suffered a lot in the 2011 earthquake and is in need of a good dose of investment, but the waterfront area around the pier was at least undergoing some much needed repair when we were there. Heading home, we had our road trip ahead of us the next day: a 10 day drive round the South Island’s highlights. I’m always eager for a road trip and always eager to explore my adopted homeland, so I was excited to get going.

Family Time

A couple of weeks after returning from an epic 35 days in Australia, I was overcome with the worst bout of anxiety I’ve ever had. This wasn’t the same as the post-holiday blues, although the addition of that certainly wouldn’t have helped, but rather a condition I’ve been living with for a couple of years now. I struggled through week after week, but I was particularly glad to have something in the future to look forward to. A couple of months after my return home I found myself back at Christchurch International Airport, this time to pick someone up, rather than to head off abroad myself. After over 5.5 years living in New Zealand, I was excited to have one of my brothers fly over to visit. He is the first of my family to come and see the place I now call home. It was a gorgeous warm, sunny November Saturday when he touched down and I was eager to whisk him out the airport and get him out and about.

I know well the importance of adjusting to the local time zone, so being mid-afternoon, I was keen to keep him active for a good few hours before letting him wind down for the night, so we headed on a drive out to the eastern suburb of Sumner for a walk along the promenade. It is one of my favourite low intensity walks to do on a nice day and it was nice and easy to let my brother stretch his legs after being cramped up in a plane for hours on end. At the far end of the promenade under the hillside that leads to Taylors Mistake, he was able to partake in his first experience of Tip Top ice cream from the hole in the wall whilst I enjoyed an iced coffee from the cafe next door. After walking the length of the promenade we found ourselves at Cave Rock. The tide was too far in to let us walk through the cave so instead my brother and I climbed up the steps to the top of the rock. For all my visits to Sumner, I’d never actually been up here. It had been fenced off for some time following the earthquakes and I hadn’t really paid attention to the fact that the fencing had gone. It was a great view along both aspects of the beach.

 

We drove home via Evans Pass Road, snaking up the Port Hills out the back of Sumner, detouring to the car park at Godley Head. This is the end of the Taylors Mistake walk, another great walk to do in the area, and even from the car park itself, there was a great view across the blue shimmering waters of the mouth of Lyttelton harbour. The grass of the surrounding hillsides was still green ahead of the browning that occurs every year in the dry summer months. Following Summit Road we followed the contours of the hillside before cutting down Mount Pleasant Road and heading back home. I made home-made pizzas which were cooked on the bbq and enjoyed outside with a cold drink in the lowering sunshine, something that was not the norm for my brother, and by 9pm he’d dozed off on the couch.

 

The next day was another sunny day, and my brother decided to spend the day exploring the city that I call home. My partner and I took him first up to the Cashmere Hills suburb where he could get an overview of the city below him. As usual, the distant Southern Alps were shrouded by haze on the horizon, but the city below was very clear and we could point out various places to him. From there, we headed into the city centre to go exploring. I’ve very much taken the city to heart. Although I moved here in the year following the destructive earthquakes and therefore did not know what it was like before, I’ve seen it change and adapt over the years and I’ve watched it push through the hardship and start to rebuild again. When I first moved to Christchurch, the city centre was fenced off and guarded by the army just 1 street away from where I lived at the time. As the months and years passed, bit by bit the fences went down, buildings were felled and new ones have sprouted up in their place. Whilst it’s still not fully functional, the city has really come on so far, and I feel that you can only really appreciate the progress and gains if you’ve lived through all that. I continue to hear and read about fly-in, fly-out tourists that just don’t rate the place and I can appreciate that a single snapshot of the city in time might not sell it that well. But I for one wouldn’t be anywhere else right now, and I was determined to show the place off to my brother.

 

My partner and I have annual passes for the trams and it seemed only right to take a tram at least for some of the route, so cutting through the colourful New Regent Street, we jumped on at Cathedral Junction and looped past the Cathedral, round the river bank and along Cashel Street to High Street. We got off here and wandered down past some street art to the junction where there is a video arcade game on the side of the Vodafone building. There’s always somebody playing it whenever I pass so I was a little excited to discover it vacant when we got there and duly jumped on to have a go. After my partner had a go, I was a little saddened to see they had removed the retro tennis game from the nearby pedestrian crossing which had been another quirky thing in the city. Heading back towards Cashel Street we cut up to Cathedral Square, where my brother could witness the sad state of the abandoned cathedral. Even now in 2018, the cathedral remains in ongoing limbo, a sad eye-sore that blots the regenerating landscape around it.

 

We jumped back on the tram to head along Worcester Boulevard, jumping off outside the Art Gallery. The nearby cafes were brimming with people sitting out enjoying the sunshine and we too were getting a little hungry. We grabbed lunch at Bunsen, one of so many great cafes in the city and wandered round the quadrangles of the historic Arts Centre before moving on to the Botanic Gardens. My partner headed home but my brother and I continued our wanderings, following the river and cutting in and out of the various garden zones where the flowers were blooming well in the spring weather. I love the gardens in spring time when everything looks at its best and there were plenty of people punting or kayaking along the river.

 

After admiring the plant life for a while and watching the ducks by the river bank, we followed the river downstream past the memorial wall that lists the names of all who perished in the 2011 earthquake. Beyond there, we wandered along Cashel Street via the Re:Start container mall which has since been removed to make way for an indoor market. The containers were one of the first retail stores to open in the city post-earthquake and they became a symbol of the defiance of the city as well as a quirky tourist attraction and retail zone. They moved twice across differing parts of Cashel Street before ending up by the Bridge of Remembrance. It was sad to see them go some months after my brother’s visit, but I can’t wait for their replacement.

 

Cutting up past New Regent Street again we stopped for a refreshment then headed past the Margaret Mahy playground and down to the Transitional (Cardboard) Cathedral and beyond to the white chairs that represent everyone who died in the 2011 earthquake. There had been some strong winds recently and several of the chairs had been blown over which I set about fixing whilst my brother looked around. Then, with aching feet from walking all day, we cut back to the bus exchange which is very similar to the one in our home city of Glasgow, before walking out of the city and meandering home. With the sun still out in force, it was another chance to enjoy sitting out in the garden for the evening. Ahead of us was a few more days in Canterbury before setting off on a South Island road trip.

Mount Herbert via Packhorse Hut

Once upon a time, two large volcanoes stood side by side on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island. As they eroded, the craters formed two large harbours which today are known as Lyttelton harbour and Akaroa harbour. The volcanic remains have become the mountainous playground of Banks Peninsula, a stark contrast to the flatness of the Canterbury Plains which sit immediately to the west. Christchurch, the south island’s largest city, nestles just the other side of the Port Hills, making the peninsula a perfect spot for getaways from the city.

Standing proudly behind Diamond Harbour, Banks Peninsula’s tallest peak, Mount Herbert is a great choice for hiking. With a choice of four main routes up, I am slowly but surely working my way through the route options. I first summited Mt Herbert via Orton Bradley Park, a track that requires private transport to get to the starting point, and since then, I took the most popular route up from Diamond Harbour which can be reached by public transport from Christchurch. I later found out about another route up from Kaituna Valley and this again requires your own transport to reach the starting point. Unlike the other two routes which start from the northern aspect, this third route starts from the south.

From Christchurch city centre it is a 45min drive curving round the side of the Port Hills on the Akaroa road before cutting up the Kaituna Valley road past open farmland, eventually arriving at Parkinson’s Road. It was a hot sunny February day when I pulled up around 11am and there was barely any space left to park. I had planned on setting off earlier to beat the heat, but as often happens on a Sunday, I’d enjoyed a bit of a lie in before eventually getting out of bed. So as I stepped out my car, the dashboard thermometer was already reading 26oC. It was going to be a scorcher.

The track I was kicking off on was to take me to one of the Department of Conservation’s (DOC) huts called the Packhorse Hut. Even this hut itself has a few options to reach there, and being within easy reach of Christchurch, it is a popular destination for people to go for a night. As such, it requires to be booked. The DOC sign stated a 2hr walk to reach the hut, and the track starts off across private farming land. Stiles are provided to cross the fences meaning gates don’t need to be touched, and at the time I was hiking, stock was everywhere. It is important not to worry stock when passing over private land, but sheep being sheep, they often make it very hard to get past them without them getting spooked.

 

There is quite a long and relatively gentle meander across the farmland before finally the wide track zig-zags across a stream and starts climbing. And once the climb starts, it just keeps on going. The summer just passed did not offer much opportunity to get up into the mountains unlike the summer before, so despite hiking the Queen Charlotte Track just 2.5 months prior, I was out of shape once more. The gradient of this hike should have been well within my capabilities but instead I found myself huffing and puffing in the heat and needing to stop often. Once the trees parted though, the view opened up more and more and looking behind me the Pacific Ocean was glinting in the sunlight through a gap in the hillside, and in front of me lay the distinctive peak of Mt Bradley. Now I started to enjoy the hike.

 

There was plenty of other people on the track heading both up and down, although most people had been sensible enough to head off hours before me, so most of the people I saw were on their way back from the hut. When I reached the Packhorse Hut there were several people milling about inside and out, and others still could be seen on the track up from Gebbies Pass to the north. Directly in front was the Port Hills across the harbour, behind which lies Christchurch, and just peaking into view was the head of Lyttelton Harbour.

 

Built of local volcanic stone in 1914, the Packhorse Hut is one of four stone huts built as a resthouse for a proposed walking route between Christchurch and Akaroa. The brainchild of Harry Ell, a city councillor and member of parliament in the early 1900s, he was well known for his interests in recreation and conservation, and played a role in the creation of many of the reserves that now exist on the Port Hills. Whilst only three of his resthouses came to pass in his lifetime, a fourth followed after his death and all of them still stand to this day. The Sign of the Kiwi at the top of Dyers Pass road is a cafe, having recently reopened following the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010/2011. The Sign of the Takahe lower down Dyers Pass road is a restaurant, although it still remains closed for repairs following the earthquakes. The Sign of the Bellbird off Summit road started life as a tearoom but now is really just a shelter. It is a great picnic spot, although unfortunately after someone set fire to the roof in 2015, it is now completely open to the elements. And the Sign of the Packhorse is what is now the DOC run Packhorse Hut.

 

After taking a quick look inside before stopping for a snack, I still had some way to go to reach Mt Herbert. It was by now about 1pm, the sun was high and the DOC sign related a 3hr hike to Mt Herbert summit. This was longer than I’d anticipated but at least there were still many hours of daylight ahead. From the hut, the track follows the Summit Walkway which has recently been renamed with its Maori name to Te Ara Pataka. The track followed the curve of the land towards a small section within the bush which was some welcome respite from the sun, but before long it was back out in the elements and the zig-zags began. About 210m (689ft) altitude gain is achieved through a series of zig-zags up the slope of Mt Bradley. Here I met a group of people coming back from the summit who seemed surprised to see me and enquired about how well equipped I was and how much water I had. It put a hint of doubt in my mind that somehow this hike was more than I thought it would be.

 

Finally though, I was on the relative flat below the bluff of Mt Bradley’s summit. The view from the track up had been impressive enough, but from this higher altitude it was stunning. Although it undulated, it stayed roughly around 720-730m (2362-2395ft) with lots of bush on either side although nothing above to shade from the sun. I was now on the lookout for a nice lunch spot but there was nowhere to stop and sit. Both ahead and behind me the track was empty of people. Most of the people at the hut turned back there, so this section of the walk was devoid of people compared to the lower section. After some time of hugging the mountainside, the track dipped slightly and went into a copse. The shade was welcome so I found a large rock to sit on to have my lunch.

 

I was in a total reverie munching away when a loud and angry yell made me jump. Somebody unseen had yelled an obscenity so loudly that I had a momentary fear about who was approaching. As the unseen man grew nearer I heard more anger, albeit at a lower volume and then round a corner in the path came a man in his 20s. He asked how far the summit was and although I wasn’t sure exactly, I surmised that it was probably 60-90mins away based on the DOC sign and how long I’d been walking for. He swore again, complained about the track dropping altitude when it was supposed to be going up and stomped off, leaving me in peace once more. As he must have also come from the Packhorse Hut, regardless of which route he took to get there, he will have passed at least one sign with a distance marker to the summit, so I couldn’t understand why he was so annoyed, when it is clearly stated the length of the hike at each stage. At least he was wearing proper shoes and had a backpack. I’ve seen many tourists hiking up mountains in jandals (flip-flops) with either no water or just a small bottle in their hand.

Finally moving on myself, it wasn’t much further till the path came out at a fence line on a low ridge past the far side of Mt Bradley. Crossing the stile, I could now see Lyttelton Harbour again, and as the path meandered on, I found myself at the junction with the track down to Orton Bradley Park. Now I was on familiar territory. Some way on I came across Mt Herbert Shelter, a small hut just off the path. It has a nice view from the front deck, but I was keen to get to the summit so I pushed on without stopping. A little up the track I passed the angry man on his return trip who still looked thoroughly grumpy, and finally I was at the familiar turn-off for the summit. It was the last push up to a relatively deserted summit. This is a popular mountain to hike, so normally the summit is busy, but after 3pm as it was, it was quite late on in the day. With a predicted high of 29oC, everybody else had been much more sensible and set off earlier in the day.

 

At 919m (3015ft), there is a beautiful 360o view over Banks Peninsula and Lyttelton Harbour as well as out to the Pacific Ocean. As always, Christchurch was under a haze but the Southern Alps mountain range was still visible in the far distance. It is a broad summit, so there is plenty of space to walk around to see different aspects and I noted that the DOC signage had been updated since I’d last been there to include its Maori name of Te Ahu Patiki. From here it is possible to continue hiking along the Summit Walkway towards Port Levy, and this is the 4th route up to Mt Herbert, and the only one I am yet to walk.

After a while it was time to head home. It had taken over 4hrs to summit, but as always the downhill is easier, and although the section below the bluffs of Mt Bradley felt like it went on forever, I was back in my car in just 2.5hrs. As I passed the Packhorse Hut, there was a family setting up a tent outside, and I met some people hiking up when I reached the flat section across the farmland. They were heading to the hut and back but had waited to escape the heat of the day. It had been a scorcher for sure, and I had worried I would run out of water, but in the end all was well. Of the 3 routes I’ve done, this is the longest one to the summit, but it was good to explore somewhere new and I always enjoy discovering New Zealand’s myriad of mountain huts.

Bridle Path

Following a gloriously dry and warm spring, during which a near-drought situation arose in Christchurch, the summer has rather failed to start. What should be one of the best months of the year has fizzled out amongst rain, wind, and extreme jumps in temperature, meaning that my hope for a summer full of hiking is rather failing to fulfill itself. With the nearby Alps either clouded over or too windy on a regular basis, I decided to look closer to home to give me my fix. Within the boundaries of Christchurch, in the suburb of Heathcote is the gondola that takes people from the city side of the Port Hills up to a viewing platform on the summit of Mount Cavendish. From here there is a stunning view both back over the city nestled against Pegasus Bay, and also down into Lyttelton Harbour within Banks Peninsula.

In Heathcote, right next to the gondola, is the bridle path, a historical route where European settlers used to trudge over the hill from Lyttelton to Christchurch. It is a popular path, mainly with walkers, but it is also a shared mountain bike track too. I’m yet to see a single biker stay on their bike the whole way up. The path is steep and covered in loose stones, and no matter the weather, it is impossible to walk this route without breaking a sweat. It is definitely not a walk to be considered without a water supply.

Information board on the bridle path

 

Following the major earthquakes of September 2010 and February 2011, there has been a lot of rockfall in the area, and the once distinctive Castle Rock to the right of the path has lost a large part of its structure. Previously another walk branched off the bridle path near the bottom, but nearly 5 years on, this walk remains closed, deemed as too unsafe. Even the bridle path itself has a section in the lower portion with a no-stopping sign due to rockfall risks. Frankly, I think any path around mountains, cliffs or rocks carries some inherent risk, and therefore I don’t see why these paths need any more warning or concern than any other walk, but that is just my opinion.

The remains of Castle Rock

Closed track in a rockfall zone

Rockfall zone below Mount Cavendish

 

The steep climb starts reasonably early on and maintains itself up a winding path that snakes high above the entrance to the Lyttelton tunnel, until eventually it reaches summit road, off to the side and below the top of the gondola. Looking north, the expanse of Pegasus Bay becomes visible and the city of Christchurch sits by its side. If the sky is clear enough, the Southern Alps span the horizon. Cross the road, and below lies Lyttelton harbour, the mountainous terrain of Banks Peninsula behind it. From here, there are plenty of walks to choose from. The most popular is to follow the Mount Cavendish bluffs track, part of the crater rim track, which rock-hops its way up to the gondola building. Behind here, other paths continue onwards, or there is a cafe, shop, and viewing platforms within the gondola building to take a break and soak up the view. Back at summit road, the crater rim also heads off away from the gondola as part of a very long day walk round what was originally a volcanic crater, and there are two paths down the hill to Lyttelton, one of which is the continuation of the bridle path.

View from summit road looking over Pegasus Bay

Hiking the crater rim to the top of the gondola

Panorama over Lyttelton harbour from the gondola viewing platform

 

On this particular occasion, I was on a mission. I headed over the brow and followed the bridle path down a similarly steep path to the port town. This side is littered with patches of old rockfall, a testament to the power of nature. Whereas on the way up, the view is mainly behind or to the side, on the way down, it is right in front of you the whole way. On a sunny day, the water is a beautiful blue colour, and dependent on the tides, there is a large mud flat beyond Quail Island that is exposed in the depth of the harbour at low tide. The whole way down, I could see my objective: the port.

Lyttelton Port

Flowers on the walk

 

When the path meets suburban back street, you are still quite high up, and it is a steep walk down the pavement until eventually a flight of steps takes you down to the main road right by the roundabout where the Lyttelton tunnel exits. I headed straight to the port and joined the queue. On this particular day, there was a once-in-a-lifetime experience of an open day on the HMS Protector, an Antarctic ice-breaking patrol vessel that was in port for repairs. It proved very popular with long queues, but I had made it in plenty of time and thankfully didn’t have to wait long. Going to Antarctica constantly feels just out of my reach. I don’t have a relevant profession to work there, and now with chronic back problems for the past 2 years, I would fail the stringent medical even if I did. Going as a tourist remains financially unreachable at this stage of my life, so I have resolved myself to be an utter groupie. Without knowing it at the time, I moved to New Zealand and happened to settle in the city which is New Zealand’s gateway to the continent, and as such, I have had the pleasure of attending enough Antarctica-themed events to keep me satiated… almost.

HMS Protector

HMS Protector

 

After chatting with some of the crew and wandering round the ship, I headed back to town in search of brunch. Lyttelton varies between bustling little port town and sleepy suburbia depending on what is going on at the time. It suffered a lot of damage in the earthquakes, and the port itself is currently undergoing a major upgrade. This used to be where the visiting cruise ships would dock, but now they skip by and pull in at Akaroa round the coast. But it is still a busy port, especially for the export of logs to China. For people, it is also where boats cross the harbour to Diamond Harbour (from where Mount Herbert can be reached), Quail Island and out to the mouth of the harbour on a nature cruise.

Full of delicious food and coffee, I retraced my steps to the bridle path and worked my way back up the hill and over the other side. The signs at each end list 45mins to summit road, or 1hr 30mins from end to end, but even taking my time and stopping for photos, I was just over an hour each way. With the weather continuing to be grey day after day, it was nice to reacquaint myself with a local gem.

Rapaki Track

It had been a while since I’d headed up this highly popular track within easy reach of Christchurch’s city centre. Starting from the end of Rapaki Road, off Centaurus Road, the first challenge is finding a place to park. With no car park at the bottom, it is street parking only, and at busy times, the entire length of Rapaki Road can be crammed with cars. Part of the reason I hadn’t been in a while, despite living less than a 10 minute drive away, is that it is a very exposed track that winds its way up the Port Hills to Summit Road, and on hot summer days where temperatures can get above 30oC, it would be foolish to go up at any other time than early morning or into the evening. Even setting off before 10am on this autumn day which eventually reached 31oC was pushing it quite a bit.

 

The Rapaki Track is a track of thirds: the initial steady climb up the side of one hill, the flattish section along the false ridge line, and the final push up the steepest section of the track towards Summit Road. Taking roughly 1.5hrs return, it is a nice short walk to do whilst still requiring a bit of effort. Don’t let the shortness of the walk fool you though. The footpath is well marked but quite stony so a proper pair of shoes are recommended, not jandals (flip-flops/thongs depending on which part of the world you hail from).

After a brief walk through the shade of some trees, a bike grid denotes the entry onto grazing land. The path snakes steadily up on the side of the hill, which depending on the time of year, can range in colour from a brilliant green to a starchy yellow. On this most recent of walks, it was dry and yellow as Canterbury is currently in a drought. Whilst cattle are across a fence if they are there, sheep can wander more freely and have been known to be on the path side of the fence. The track is shared with bikers too, so it is best to stick to the left at bends to prevent being caught off guard by a bike whizzing down the hillside. Dogs are allowed on this track, but due to the proximity to grazing animals, are allowed only on a lead (although it is exceedingly common to see this flaunted!).

 

The steepest section is the final section, and depending on recent weather, can occasionally be slippery in places, but the reward at the top, after crossing another bike grid, is the view over the far side of the Port Hills into Lyttelton Harbour with Quail Island directly below and the Banks Peninsula’s highest point, Mt Herbert, directly behind. The view can look quite different dependent on the tide as the innermost aspect of the harbour forms a tidal mud flat at low tide. I will never get sick of the sight of Lyttelton Harbour no matter which part of the Port Hills I go up.

 

Returning the same way, the view on the steep section is of the blue expanse of Pegasus Bay and the glistening of the Pacific Ocean. This view persists till the flat section where it disappears behind the hill, and from then onwards, Christchurch’s city centre pokes upwards, as the houses get nearer and nearer. It may not be the most distinctive of skylines, but it is still a nice vista to look at on the way back. This is certainly a recommended inclusion to any visit to the Garden City.

Alternate Mount Herbert

From Lyttelton 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 (3015ft). 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 Lyttelton 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 Lyttelton, 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.

Quail Island

Nestled in the depth of Lyttelton harbour on Banks Peninsula, lies Quail Island. Once the home of a (very small) leper colony, it was subsequently used as an animal quarantine station where dogs and ponies trained prior to several expeditions to the Antarctic continent. Now, just a 10 minute ferry ride from the mainland, it is a great day out for a family-friendly walk with plenty of places for a picnic at the end of it all.

 

Up the hill from the pier, it is merely a case of choosing to go round the island clockwise or anti-clockwise. Heading anti-clockwise, some old buildings are nestled amongst the trees. Some of them were old stables for the horses, and a building with an interpretation room is just a little further along the track. Once out of the tree line, there is a 360 degree view of the surrounding Port Hills and Banks Peninsula for large sections of the coastal track, and the ferry company Black Cat Cruises, provides a leaflet and map of the island detailing important sites to visit on the way round.

 

Continuing in this direction, there are some dramatic sheer volcanic cliffs, a reminder of how the island (and the peninsula as a whole) was formed. This is also one of the best vantage points to view back towards Lyttelton and the mouth of Lyttelton Harbour. Scattered along the path round this coastline are various remnants of the early inhabitants, from rusty machinery to old quarries, one now filled with water.

 

Opposite Governor’s Bay, the Quail Island coast was used for scuppering old ships, and a collection of 8 ship wrecks can be seen just off a stony beach. Round from here, on the more southern facing coast, the beaches are sandy. The first one to come across is the more secluded one, accessible down the hill, and just a stone’s throw away from the neighbouring King Billy Island.

 

After passing another quarry and the sole grave from the leper colony, the path became a bit more of an adventure. Visiting on Easter weekend, a storm had blown through the week previously, and there were a lot of trees down occluding sections of the path. With a long detour to take to avoid this, we simply climbed over and under the large trunks, getting a few scratches along the way. The path had a closed sign at the other end for those walking clockwise round the island, but there had been nothing at the end that we came from. It wasn’t too much of a problem for us, but a few families that were coming behind us struggled to negotiate the fallen trees with their young children and picnic bags. The reward though, was reaching the main swimming and picnic area at a time when many other people were leaving. This southern facing coastline looked across to Diamond Harbour and Mt Herbert, the highest peak on the Banks Peninsula. It is a beautiful spot to soak up the sunshine whilst enjoying a picnic, and we spent the rest of our time sunning ourselves first by the beach, and then a little round the coast on a grassy ridge near a dilapidated pier.

 

Quail Island is a fantastic place to go for a lovely non-strenuous walk within the beautiful surrounds of Lyttelton Harbour and the Banks Peninsula. Accessible only in the summer months, it is a popular day trip, so don’t go there expecting solitude, but it is easy to find a place for that all important peace and quiet.

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