MistyNites

My Life in Motion

Archive for the tag “Banks Peninsula”

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.

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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. The view from Rapaki RoadStarting 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).

Rapaki TrackAfter a brief walk through the shade of some trees, a bike grid denotes the entry onto grazing land. Leaving the houses behind on a greener dayThe 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. The early part of the hike on a greener dayWhilst 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!).

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summit Road - the walk downReturning the same way, Pegasus Baythe view on the steep section is of the blue expanse of Pegasus Bay and the glistening of the Pacific Ocean. Nearing the bottom of the steep sectionThis view persists till the flat section where it disappears behind the hill, Heading down the hillsideand from then onwards, Christchurch’s city centre pokes upwards, as the houses get nearer and nearer. Christchurch skylineIt 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.Returning through the woods

Alternate Mount Herbert

From Lyttleton Harbour, it is just a quick 10 minute ferry ride across the turquoise waters to tranquil Diamond Harbour. On a glorious May day, my partner and I set off on the trail up Mt. Herbert, the highest peak on Banks Peninsula at 919m. Lyttleton Harbour from Diamond HarbourFrom the pier, it is a short walk up the road before the path turns off and down onto a rocky beach where there is a glorious view back across the water to Lyttleton Harbour on the far side. Like Quail Island a few weeks before, there was still evidence of a recent storm, and the usual path was closed. Even the path that was still open involved a bit of scrambling up over the remains of fallen trees and we had to get our hands dirty just to get back up to the main road. On another day, the track would be open and easily followed, but on this day, we had to backtrack down the road to reach the path again.

The next section followed a stream up through a copse, and again it was really muddy, and in one small section, the path had collapsed slightly, but eventually coming out at a back road, on the other side was the start of the main hike. I’d previously hiked Mt. Herbert via the Orton Bradley Park as I had read that it was the most interesting route up. To be honest, I prefer the route I took this time partly because there is more of a view for more of the hike, and also because it is a more popular route which meant lots of friendly, encouraging faces as we went. We had set off relatively late meaning that the early birds were already on their way down as we began the climb up.

The track in the lower sectionsA 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. Livestock PaddockThe incline came in fits and starts, seeming to level out at times prior to the next hill, but overall the ascent was quite steady. The surrounding mountainsBy 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 4x4 section of the trackThe 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. The view from the summit with Mt Bradley to the leftBeing 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. Lyttleton Harbour from the summitIt 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. Cutting through the lower farmlandFacing 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. Cutting through farmlandIt 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. On the ferry looking back to Diamond Harbour with Mt Herbert behindWe had just missed the ferry and thought we were in for a long wait till the next one, however we lucked in because the ferry returned straight away due to too many people waiting for it first time round. It was a beautiful run across the water back to Lyttleton, looking back up towards the summit that we had reached that day. Whatever route up you choose, it is a satisfying hike up with a view that is well worth the effort.

Quail Island

Nestled in the depth of Lyttleton harbour on Banks Peninsula, lies OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAQuail 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.

The view west from Quail IslandUp 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 a 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.

Volcanic CliffsContinuing 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 Lyttleton and the mouth of Lyttleton Harbour. Overgrown historyScattered along the path round this coastline are various remnants of the early inhabitants, from rusty machinery to old quarries, Old quarryone now filled with water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking across to Governor's BayOpposite Governor’s Bay, the Quail Island coast was used for scuppering old ships, Shipwrecksand 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. King Billy Island across from the beachThe 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. Beach on Quail IslandThe reward though, was reaching the main swimming and picnic area at a time when many other people were leaving. Looking across to Mt HerbertThis 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, Looking towards Diamond Harbourand 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 Lyttleton 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.

Mount Herbert

In August 2013, I suffered a debilitating back injury. I was in a lot of pain, and left unable to bend or sit which limited my mobility greatly. With a compressed vertebral disc in my lower back, it has taken months of rehabilitation with spinal manipulations and muscle work to get me where I am today: still prone to flare-ups of discomfort, but much more mobile, and starting to get my fitness back. In October 2013, I was supposed to have been hiking a 4-day track through the Southern Alps in Fiordland, but still unable to sit for any length of time, I couldn’t contemplate the 8-hour drive to get there, never mind the hiking and camping at the other end of it. I was gutted, and now, coming out the other side, I can admit to how much my reduced mobility and flexibility was getting me down. Since the turn of 2014, despite some temporary set-backs, I have been trying to reclaim my fitness in preparation for hiking the Kepler Track in March. The Port Hills and Banks Peninsula to the south of Christchurch is riddled with walking tracks which have allowed me to start working on my endurance, and I’m finally starting to feel like myself again.

Mt Herbert, at 919m is the highest peak on the Banks Peninsula and sits almost directly across the water from Lyttelton Harbour, near Diamond Harbour. It can be reached from sea level either from Diamond Harbour itself, or by cutting through Orton Bradley Park at Charteris Bay. I had read that the route from Diamond Harbour was rather uninteresting, so opted to head for Orton Bradley Park, a private farm park that is open to the public, and run by a charitable trust. I had taken part in a Zombie Run through here last year, and recalled seeing the signs for Mt Herbert whilst I was there. Looking across Lyttleton Harbour from the driveway at Orton Bradley ParkAbout a 40-minute drive away from the city of Christchurch it is reached by taking the winding Dyers Pass Road over the Port Hills and passing first through Governor’s Bay and round the head of the bay to Charteris Bay. A donation is requested from users of the park on entry.

From the upper car park, the path winds through Orton Bradley Park, through woodland and skirting farmland. The door in the woodsThe strangest thing about this section of the hike, is the door in the middle of nowhere. Unattached to any wall or building, it stands solitary, straddling the walking path, painted purple on one side and red on the other. It is a rather random structure to come across whilst out hiking. Orton Bradley ParkOn from here, the Mt Herbert track splits from some of the other walking tracks in the park and the sign indicates the summit is a 3hr 50minute walk away. Looking at several sites online, there is a bit of disparity as to the hiking time for this walk, but dependent on walking speed, a minimum time of 5 hours needs to be allowed for the return journey, especially if a bit of time is to be spent at the shelter and summit.

Skirting past Mt BradleyAt the tip of Orton Bradley Park, the track crosses over onto private farmland, and from here onwards, there are a lot of stinging nettles to wade through and cowpats littering the sometimes vague track. This is also where the height starts to be attained, and the track meanders upstream before winding round rock faces and the natural contour of the land. Looking down over Charteris BayAs it snakes back and forth across the hillside, there is a stunning view back towards the sea inlet at Charteris Bay. The water here is a beautiful turquoise blue and at its tidal margins it takes on a milky appearance. Mt BradleyTo the west, the rising bluff of Mt Bradley dominates the view. The final section to the ridge and the Mt Herbert shelter that sits astride there, zig-zagged so much I felt it would never end. Mt Herbert ShelterWhen the shelter finally came into view, my pace quickened and I arrived to find it empty. On such a beautiful day, I’d barely passed a soul and was surprised to get there in the early afternoon and not find it containing some fellow trampers enjoying a picnic lunch. The view from Mt Herbert ShelterThe view from the shelter looks north towards Lyttleton and the Port Hills beyond; and south towards the other peaks of the Banks Peninsula as well as Lake Ellesmere. Drop ToiletOut the back of the shelter, a lonely drop-toilet, long since missing its door, provides one impressive view from the throne.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mt Herbert summitAfter a brief respite and no clue how long the walk to the summit would take (it is strangely missing from the directional board at the shelter), I set off on the final slog, only to find that it was a not-very-arduous 15 minute walk away. Diamond HarbourFrom the summit I could see multiple groups of people making their way up and down the Diamond Harbour route; it seemed much more popular. Lyttleton HarbourThere was a 360 degree view over the landscape, with a large portion of Lyttleton Harbour visible and I could see that a sea fog had rolled in from the Pacific and was shrouding the city of Christchurch which was just visible over the Port Hills. Mt Bradley as viewed from Mt Herbert summitFrom here, there is an ongoing track to Port Levy Saddle, another 1hr 40minute hike, according to the DOC sign, and had I left earlier in the day, I would have walked this extra section too. As it was, I didn’t have time, so I’ll keep it in mind for a return trip. At this time of year, most of the ridges rolling across the Banks Peninsula are brown in colour, having lost their greenness with the ongoing dryness of the summer months.

 

 

 

 

Walking back to Mt Herbert shelterAfter returning to the shelter to enjoy some much needed lunch, The bluffs of Mt BradleyI headed back down the route I had come up, meeting only 1 other person on the way, and stumbling across a dead cow which I had somehow managed to walk past without noticing on the way up. Passing back through the door in the woods5 hours after starting (2hrs 40 minutes up, 2 hrs down and a 20minute rest at the shelter), I got back to my car and found an information board detailing the walks around Orton Bradley Park. Mt Herbert is definitely worth the effort on a clear and sunny day.

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