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Archive for the tag “Lyttelton harbour”

Taylors Mistake to Godley Head

Being able to look out over the sea and hear the sounds of the ocean makes me happy, so it probably comes as no surprise that one of my favourite local walks to do is a coastal gem. Heading east from Christchurch’s city centre, the road soon joins the coast of Pegasus Bay and follows the coastline to Sumner, a popular outer suburb. Cutting through to the far side, the road cuts steeply and hairpins its way up and over the headland to reach the end of the road at Taylors Mistake, a beach nestled deep within a bay. There is little here aside from the beach itself and an amenities block, but with a walking trail, mountain bike tracks and surf breaks, people are drawn here in droves and the car park can often be overflowing.

The coastal walk to Godley Head takes about 3hrs return to follow the same track in both directions. It can be made shorter by taking a short-cut back across the shared-use bike tracks but I always like to maintain that closeness to the sea. The start of the track can either be reached by cutting across the large green field and behind the row of beach shacks, or by going down to the beach and walking to the far end where a set of stairs cut into the hill lead you up to the same place. Once on the track, it quickly leads away from the beach, providing a multitude of views back over the beach itself.

 

The headland varies from green to brown depending on how dry the season has been, and it is regularly cut into by the sea creating a weaving track as it hugs the coastline above the dazzling blue water. There have been a few upgrades since I moved to Christchurch in 2012 and as it is so popular, it is a very well maintained track and usually busy with people, especially on sunny weekend days. Eventually it passes a cut-down to a bach that is down the hillside and nestled among the trees, and beyond this side-trail, the main track starts to zig-zag up the hillside to reach the eastern end of the Port Hills. Suddenly, the entire Pacific Ocean opens up in front of you and the track begins to cut south.

 

With the expanse of the Pacific Ocean to your left, the mouth of Lyttelton harbour becomes increasingly visible and beyond that, the disappearing coastline of Banks Peninsula. Again the track ziz-zags up the hillside where it reaches the remains of a World War II gunnery. The port within the harbour was protected by this coastal armament in case of attack from the ocean or the air. More often than not the main part of the World War II remains is locked up behind a chained gate, but sometimes it is open to the public. The last time I walked the track, it was closed for an undefined period for the purposes of preservation.

 

Once past that, the track cuts briefly inland past some buildings and through a small copse of trees before snaking its way towards the mouth of Lyttelton harbour, and from here, it passes yet more World War II remnants as it hugs the harbour coastline towards the car park at Godley Head. Godley Head marks the end of Summit Road, the road that traverses the summit of the Port Hills, and as such, this track can be approached from either direction. Near the Godley Head car park, a small bench provides a glorious view, and if you time it right, there may be some ships going in or out of the harbour to offer an added bit of interest. Then, it is simply a matter of either reversing the route back round the coast, or crossing the road from the car park to join one of the shared-use mountain bike tracks to take the short-cut back.

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.

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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