My first walk back in N.Z. Something I’d been dreaming about for a while. Its strange when you’ve been thinking about a forthcoming event for such a long time, that when it finally happens you’re in a bit of a daze. It was in such a daze that I left my girlfriend’s mum’s house and headed out for my walk. Full of jet-lag and anticipation. I’d planned this walk even before I’d landed after the 24 hour flight.
I started from the Christchurch suburb of Beckenham and would head for the hills! The Port Hills to be precise. A range of hills that separate Christchurch City from the port of Lyttelton, popular with locals and tourists alike. My plan would be to head to the top of Mt Vernon via the Rapaki Track and back in time for lunch.
After walking through the quietness of suburbia, my walk would really start at the Mount Vernon Valley Track Car Park- at the end of Hillsborough Road. This would then lead me on the gradual northern slopes of the Port Hills. The accessibility of the track is superb, which is why it’s such a popular walking, cycling and running track in Christchurch. Within 15 mins from the front door, I was walking through the car park and at the trailhead.
Straight away I was immersed in native bush. The sounds that had once become so familiar when I’d lived in New Zealand were filling my ears again. Bell bird, Fantail and Tui all producing their strange calls over the hum of cicadas.
Quickly after starting, I realised I wasn’t quite on the right track and needed to head to the other side of the steep valley. This was easily rectified by taking a track called ‘Roger’s Seat’ that I saw would connect up with the Rapaki Track. Passing a beautifully positioned bench that faced the city (Roger’s Seat), I was soon on the main track.
The Rapaki Track isn’t a hidden gem or Christchurch’s best kept secret. Its well known to the locals. But, it’s still a fantastic route by any stretch. Bikes and fellow pedestrians use this track for recreation now, but the current track follows the route Maori once used to get to the small settlement of Rapaki from Otautahi (Christchurch).
The well maintained track and the gradual ascent made for a leisurely walk, giving me time to take in the fantastic views of Christchurch. The Southern Alps providing a beautiful backdrop to the city.
The Rapaki Track stretches out in front as you climb. Bush quickly gives way to the parched grassy slopes and gnarled, weathered tips of the hills. The slopes on which I was walking are part of a volcano that would have been very active some 6 million years ago, but now (thankfully) extinct and showing its age through wind blown scars and tors.
With one last, slightly steeper section, the path hits the crest of the hill. Now, I don’t know what I was expecting, but, I had a pretty big shock when I reached the road at the top of the track. The view towards Banks Peninsula was incredible. Maybe for the people that live around there and have grown up with it, it’s not so impressive. But for me, someone who hasn’t, it was spectacular. In fact, I’m sure any Cantabrian would still find it one hell of a view.
I sat on a rock to take in the view for a while. Lyttelton Harbour looked so serene in the early morning sun, with the water as calm as a mill pond. Sat on this little perch overlooking the harbour, I was introduced to more of New Zealand’s residents. Swallows flew just above the grass looking for insects and sitting on barbed wire just asking me to take photos of them.
Then, perhaps New Zealand’s most famous resident (after the Kiwi and Frodo of course) made itself known. Yes, the sheep! I think for my first walk back in N.Z it was appropriate to see some wooly jumpers.
After a short rest, it was time to do the last climb up to the summit of Mount Vernon. This just meant following the road slightly west and then heading up the ‘Crater Rim Walkway’ signposted to the summit. At only 462m, it’s not exactly the tallest lump. However, the views from the top were panoramic. From here you could see a huge swathe of the Southern Alps and the beautiful Banks Peninsula. A few snaps and a swig of water later, I was heading back down Mt Vernon and towards the direction I had come.
Back onto the Rapaki Track, but with a slight variation. On the return journey, I decided to vere off the Rapaki Track and take the Valley Track which runs parallel to the Rapaki- but on the other side of the Valley. I actually somewhat preferred the return journey. It was quieter on the Valley Track, just a small single path hugging the bottom of the Valley.
Once again, the track went back into the bush. This gave me the chance to stop for a while and take some photos of the array of birds that were present. Fantails whizzed around my head almost constantly. Saying ‘Haha, you can’t get a photo of me!’. Well, eventually one stayed still long enough for me to get a quick snap.
The path then led me back to the car park where I started the trail. I sat for a while to contemplate about the last few hours and think about how to blog about it.
After having looked forward to this walk for such a long time, it didn’t disappoint. Not that it ever could. This walk was just a reminder of what N.Z has to offer the walker. From a quiet suburb to a breathtaking view and back again, all in one morning. I’m just itching to get out and explore as much as I can of this country. I know there is so much out there to see, and a whole lot to learn!
On Foot Notes
Map Needed: Topo50 map BX24
More info on the history and also for volunteering opportunities in the Port Hills- Summit Road Society