Mangawhai Cliffs Walkway, Mangawhai- Northland

We all know that the best laid plans of mice and men go awry. A fact of life it seems. So after meticulously planning a weekend of hiking on the foot-hills of the Southern Alps, it shouldn’t have come as surprise to me to see the departure board at Auckland airport display the word cancelled next to my flight to Christchurch. Not that I’m complaining, I’ve caught endless amounts of flights and this is the first time I’ve had a cancellation. A good ratio, really. I was due a cancellation. It doesn’t stop the urge to get outside though, and with my heart set on getting into the hills, I had to come up with an alternative as to not waste that most precious of things, two days off.

So, I would be looking for a walk to do nearer to home. Something that meant I wouldn’t waste my weekend driving, but wouldn’t be a disappointing alternative to the drama of the South Island. In the end, I decided on a walk that I’d wanted to do for a little while. Not a mountain ascent with snow dusted peaks, but a completely different type of walk altogether.

Elishea and I would head to Mangawhai Heads. I knew of a popular walking track there that would head along cliffs and back along the beach. Nothing like what I thought my weekend’s walking would be like, but not necessarily a bad thing. Coastal walks, just like tramps in the hills, provide the platform to observe nature on a grand scale.

We parked at the Surf Club near the foot of the walk. Straight after getting out of the car, it was clearly a good decision to have come. The ocean and beaches along this coast are stunning. Soft and golden sand with a more tropical feel than the rugged wild coast to Auckland’s west.

The walk is only a 6 mile or so ramble and if you time it correctly (which we had) it means a walk along the cliff tops and a return along the shore. Soon after leaving the car park we headed for a short section along the beach before climbing a path the led up the cliff.

Ascending the cliff gave great views of the ocean to our right. The scattering of islands out to sea looking like wild out-posts and storybook treasure islands. To our left is a typical Northland scene; the terraced hillsides of luminous-green grass being munched by herds of cows.

In between these two landscapes was the habitat in which our track took us through. We walked along the cliffs in a narrow strip of bush that seems sandwiched between sea and farm. Gnarly pohutakawa trees cling to the side of the rock- some of a great size that must be ancient. Nikau palms line the sides of the track that leads along the edge of the cliffs. Every now and then, we were treated with a beautiful view of a cove way-down below. Each one empty of people and a reminder of New Zealand’s fantastic emptiness of people.

Eventually, the path began to wind steeply down to the water. Brought down to the water’s edge, we now had the pleasure of a gentle walk back along the shore. With the tide on it’s way out, this was easy enough. If you are planning to do this walk, you will need to check the tide times and make sure that you have enough time to walk along the shore without getting caught out by the incoming tide.

Luckily for us, the tide had retreated and left behind a series of rockpools and their inhabitants. Crabs scuttled under rocks as our shadows loomed over the pools. Star fish of various sizes lay at the bottom patiently waiting for the return of the tide. All of this life attracted lots of seabirds. Shags sat on the rocks looking as though they were admiring the views out to sea. White-faced herons and kingfishers stood over pools waiting for a unlucky creature to scurry within reach.

With the light gradually fading, we began the last stretch of beach at the end of our walk. As dusk developed and the shadows lengthened, the nocturnal animals began to stir. Just as I had started to day dream about seeing a kiwi plodding along the beach, there was a rustle in the bushes. Where the bushline met the sand. A brown lump. Perfectly kiwi-sized. Could it be? Of course not! If anything, it was the very enemy of the kiwi. A plump possum stood staring right at us. Mouth wide open, mid-chew, a petrified possum sculpture.

Possums are a real pest here in NZ and their introduction to Aotearoa in 1837 has been catastrophic for native wildlife. First introduced to NZ to establish a fur trade, they rapidly got out of control and are now trying to be managed with the hope of one day eradicating them. With no natural predator and an appetite for bird eggs, leaves and even native insects and invertebrates such as weta and land snails, it’s meant that possums have had little control. An alcoholic left behind the bar, if you will. Hopefully, with DoC setting the goal of being predator free by 2050, NZ will one day be free of these cuddly-looking (if not damaging) balls of very soft fur.

With the sun below the horizon, we ended our walk. A fantastic stretch of coast. Completely unique and as diverse as it gets. From the disappointment of missing out on peak-bagging in the mountains came a walk in quintessential New Zealand. I missed the chance to see rock and snow and instead got sand and water. Two different states of the same thing. This weekend reminded me of the everlong feud between North Islanders and South Islanders. Both so sure that their island is the best. The south championing it’s mountains and fiords, while the North shout of it’s volcanoes and beaches. I must say, that I completely agree with them both.

On Foot Note

  • Map Used: TopoNZ50- AY1 Mangawhai
  • This is a good opportunity to pick up a few bits of plastic you might see along the shore. We managed to grab a handful while walking along the beach. It’s easy to do and that little piece of plastic you stop and pick up might just save a seabird’s life.

Lake Wainamu, Waitakere Ranges- Auckland

I’m not a New Zealander. I’ve spent enough time here to grasp some of it’s quirks though, and having a Kiwi partner for many years has meant that I’m lucky enough to now live here and have visited multiple times in the past. I’ve seen a lot of the country and walked through spectacular scenery. One thing that never gets old for me, though, is the sheer quantity and diversity of the landscapes within this cluster of islands in the South Pacific. Nature seems to be on steroids in this part of the world. You don’t have to travel for long before you’re confronted with some sort of mountain, gorge, volcano, beach, lake, cove, glacier, fiord, hot spring or waterfall. My recent trip to a popular and relatively local walk recently reminded me of this.

Although much of the walking tracks west of Auckland are closed due to Kauri Dieback, I thought that I’d still make the most of the tracks that are still open. One such track that has remained open is Lake Wainamu. Less than 40 mins from Auckland CBD, it was an obvious choice for a relaxed day walk.

A real contrasting landscape of different textures and colours. It would be the second time I’d visited the Lake- the first time nearly 5 years ago. I remembered the expanse of black sand dunes and impressive lake, but at the time I didn’t know about the track that skirts the edge of the water. So, Elishea and I would do the route that would take us over sand dunes and around the lake’s edge.

Piwakawaka (Fantail) introducing us to the area

Parking at the car park on Bethells Road, we were pleased to see spaces and that the walk would be relatively quiet. From the car park, we followed the stream for a short while before beginning the section across the dunes.

These dunes are seriously big. Created over the last 4500 years, they have gradually hemmed in a series of lakes, of which Wainamu is one. It’s an interesting landscape that you don’t come across everyday. In the centre of these dunes you’d be excused for thinking you were in a desert. They have the rolling wave-like look of the arabian deserts in films. Although, once we made our way over the crest of a large dune, the lake came into view. The stark black sand is in complete contrast with the other sides of the water. All around the lake is a vivid green, made up of nikau palm, kanuka and manuka bushes, while the direction from which we came is void of colour.

Once we’d walked to the lake’s shore, we began the track that leads around it’s edge. It’s a nice and easy amble along a fairly well maintained path. Every now and then, glimpses of the lake are framed by foliage.

I was expecting the rest of the walk to be similar until we reached the sand dunes again. But, because this is New Zealand, the walk would have another trick up it’s sleeve. Once we arrived at the opposite end of the lake, we were greeted to a waterfall that I hadn’t clocked on the map. Waitohi falls is a series of cascades, that after much rain I can imagine are quite impressive. Our visit, being after a particularly dry spell, meant the falls were modest, yet still relaxing and a lovely quiet spot to stop for a while.

Overlooking the falls is a Maori pou- a beautifully carved post that portrays the ancestor Kowhatukiteuru. Kowhatukiteuru was a skilled pa (fort) builder, who belonged to the Te Kawerau a Maki, the iwi of this area. He built some of the last remaining examples stone pa that sit above Lake Wainamu.

We ate our lunch in the good company of Kowhatukiteuru overlooking the falls. With lighter backpacks we said farewell and continued our circumnavigation of Wainamu. More manuka and fragrant kanuka trees were lining the sides of the path back to the dunes.

Once we approached the dunes we could see them from a different angle. No longer on top of them, from this perspective, walking towards them was like heading towards a giant tsunami of sand. A wave frozen in time just before it breaks.

Back at the dunes edge, with the wall of sand towering over us, we decided to follow the river back to the car instead of heading up and over. What a good decision it was. Following the river really accentuates the contrasting colours and textures that sit side by side. The river creates the border where sand stops, and grass and trees begin. On our left, a formidable wall of sand. On our right, a small farm surrounded by bush. To the left sand. To the right green. The only thing separating them, the small river bed we walked along.

It’s not long before the river led us back to where we began our walk. A walk of contrasts, colours, history and natural beauty. A walk where elements meet and make vivid distinctions. A walk that surely could only be done in Aotearoa.

On Foot

Route

Map Used: NZTopo50-BA30 Helensville

History of the Te Kawerau a Maki Iwi

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The Pinnacles, Kauaeranga Valley- Coromandel

Driving up the gravel road, along valley bottom to the beginning of our walk, you could see that there is a wildness to this place. A clear river flows and thick bush covers the valley sides. We drove for a long time on the unsealed road, past the DoC (Department of Conservation) visitor centre and past many DoC Campsites. Tramping tracks lead off in different directions from the road but we were heading to the road end to begin our walk from there, like many others.

The Pinnacles walk at the foot of the Coromandel Peninsula is a popular walk with tourists and Kiwis alike. It was voted as one of the 101 must-dos for Kiwis and the tracks that lead to the Pinnacles hut and neighbouring summit are never void of visitors. Luckily for us, we arrived so early at the beginning of the walk that we could park with ease. The starting point for this walk is at the very end of the road, next to the Trestle View Campsite. A lot of people that do the walk up the Pinnacles do it over two days. They do the first leg up to the Pinnacles Hut run by DoC, and then climb to the summit and back down again the following day. We, however, would be walking up and down in the same day- leaving early to have plenty of daylight.

After a quick check that we had everything, we were off. The track is very well maintained by DoC as it is such a popular walk. It begins with a very gradual climb as the track hugs the side of the valley. In the early hours, the track was quiet except for the occasional Tui and the river flowing in the background. A peaceful place. However, this area was once a hive of activity. If I’d have been walking up this track over a hundred years ago, the sounds of the Kauaeranga Valley would have been of chopping, sawing and the calls of ‘TIMBER!’. See, the Kauaerange Valley was the site of a huge logging industry. Huge in it’s scale of industry and in the trees themselves. The majestic Kauri tree was highly prized by Maori for it’s straight and voluminous trunk that would be used to make Waka (traditional canoes). However, once the Europeans saw how truly magnificent these trees were, they quickly begun clearing huge swathes of bush and making the most of the colossal amounts of timber available. This led to a network of tracks and dams along the valley all designed to shift wood from the places up the valley where it was felled, down to the valley bottom, ready to be shipped of to nearby Auckland to make villas or ships.

The bush that can be seen on the walk is not the original forest that the early settlers would have encountered, but a regeneration that has occured since the last of the axes and saws left the valley. Remnants of the original giants still occur on the walk however, and not long after the start of the walk we pass by a giant Totara tree. It gives a glimpse at what the first humans in these parts would have encountered.

The path continued to climb along the true left of the stream until we reached an impressive suspension bridge. A long stretch of steel and wood took us over the river below. Gradually, we began to get glimpses of how much height we had gained.

The track continued to climb until we reached our first rest stop at Hyrdo Camp Junction. It’s a small track junction with a few logs to sit on next to a stream. As good a place as any to stop for a rest. It was nice to see a tomtit darting around the clearing as we sat and munched on our snacks. The sound of bellbird and wax eye had been the soundtrack to the walk so far, and it was good to see a real diversity of birdlife along the way.

There was still more climbing to be done. We left our snacking spot and immediately began to ascend again. This time, however, we weren’t climbing too long before the track levelled out. We walked over a plateaued area that gave us our first real taste of the views we could expect from the top.

It’s straight out of Jurassic Park. Dense forest on a canvas of gnarly rock formations. It’s as close to the set of the Spielberg sagas as I’ve ever seen. Obviously, there were no dinosaurs in sight as we headed to the Pinnacles Hut for another rest and to polish off our lunches, but, looking out at the expanse of green I felt like I wouldn’t have been surprised to have seen one.

The Pinnacles Hut isn’t what most people have in mind when they think of a New Zealand backcountry hut. Created and maintained by DoC, it’s a lot more fancy than the small historic hunting bivvies that crop up across the NZ wilderness. Large dorms, kitchens, toilets, communal areas and even a barbeque! We weren’t staying here the night, but I feel it would have been quite comfortable if we had. After a nosey around and something else to eat, we were ready to tackle the last section of the climb.

From the Pinnacles Hut to the top of the Pinnacles isn’t very far, but it does involve a lot of stairs, a couple of ladders and the last section up to the summit is somewhat of a scramble. With each step though, the pain in the thighs is rewarded in the form of spectacular views.

I thought that I might find the ladders that lead you to the summit a bit of an eye sore. Although, I actually found then quite fun and a real different feature for a day walk. Scrambling up rock and holding onto branches we eventually emerged at the summit.

Some places aren’t done justice by photo or description and the summit of the Pinnacles is one of them. I could barely take in the 360 degree views and the scale of the landscape. All I can say is that we were very grateful to have had a clear day to have seen this panoramic scene.

With the summit beginning to get a little crowded, we decided to start making our way down. It was easier going down and this time we descended the stairs facing out at the view.

It was a long tramp back to the car. Well worth every second though. There is an alternate route that you can take back where you fork off at the Hydro Camp Junction via the Billygoat Track. We, though, decided that we’d go back the way we’d gone up as we just didn’t feel up to the extra couple of miles that the alternate route adds on.

This celebrity of a New Zealand tramping track turns out to be worthy of it’s fame and popularity. I often feel cynical about ‘must dos’, but the pinnacles walk is just that. There are endless amounts of tracks and routes through the Coromandel Range. Many will provide equal opportunity for spectacular views with less people and more isolation. I think though, being around a whole host of different people all partaking in the right-of-passage hike to the same spot in the landscape is quite special. I think for anyone wanting to get a quick taste of what the Coromandel has to offer, this walk would be perfect.

On Foot Note

Route

Map Used: BB35- Hikuai

Kauaeranga Valley DoC

101 Must-Do’s For Kiwis

Goldie Bush Walkway and Mokoroa Stream Track- Waitakere Ranges, Auckland

A waterfall is a bit of a staple for a walk in NZ. With over 280 named waterfalls and rapids, it’s hard to pick a walk that doesn’t come across some form of tumbling H2O. Luckily, living in Auckland, there are quite a few just within an hours drive- some even in the city! It may rain a wee bit in NZ, but it has it’s up sides.

A waterfall that I’d yet to visit was Mokoroa Falls. At the Northern edge of the Waitakere Ranges, this waterfall and track (unlike many of its neighbours), was open after a closure period due to Kauri Dieback. DoC (Department of Conservation), who manage the Goldie Bush Scenic Reserve in which the falls sits, have reopened it after they improved the tracks to stop the spread of the disease.

Beautiful Koru

The plan was, for myself and my partner (Elishea), to head to the Goldie Bush Car Park, then take the Goldie Bush Walkway and the Mokoroa Stream Track to the waterfall. Then, just a short ramble along the Mokoroa Falls Track back to the car. It looked to be a fairly short, but varied route. 6 km in total. It turned out to be constantly interesting, engaging and beautiful.

From the car park, the work that DoC have done in the area is evident. An extensive Kauri Dieback cleaning station and lots of information for visitors to learn about their role in preventing the spread. After cleaning our boots, Elishea and I began walking down a shaded and well laid track. On such a hot day, we were grateful for the cover of the bush from the sun. A real diverse and interesting mix of plant life passed by as we walked.

Rimu and kauri trees gave way to nikau and ponga, and then back again. Every now and then, there were stick insects making their way across the track in their awkward and comical way. It was just great to see and hear a place so alive. Tuis called above in the canopy, but barely audible over the deafening cicadas.

Before long, we’d come to the end of our section on the Goldie Bush Walkway and were ready to switch to the Mokoroa Stream Track instead. To signal this change, there was another NZ staple. The swingbridge. Suspended high over the Mokoroa Stream, we made our way across and down to the stream and began heading almost back on ourselves. The swingbridge is always a great addition to any walk. It gives you an excuse to stop for a while and a platform to take it all in from. Also, being above the canopy, a different and higher perspective too.

So, after the swingbridge we dropped down to the stream, where we would follow it upstream to Mokoroa Falls. The track is easily followed, but you do need to keep an eye out for the orange markers that point where to go next. As with any walking track, there are places where people have either taken a wrong turn, or tried a short-cut. These all leave their trace and it’s important to not make the same mistake as others and look ahead to where the orange markers are.

There are a couple of things to mention about this track. One, you are most definitely going to get your feet wet! The track crosses the stream many times on the way to the waterfall and try as you might, you’re not going to make it all the way without getting soggy toes. That being said, it’s advised not to do the track after periods of heavy rain as the stream may be too fast flowing. The final thing is that the track does require a good level of fitness. There are small scrambles up and slippery rocks to manoeuvre. DoC describe it as an ‘Experienced tramper’s track’, so just be sensible.

After many crossings of the stream, seeing a kingfisher or two and some stunningly serene pools, we arrived at Mokoroa Falls. Not just a dribble, this is beautiful cascade measures nearly 11m high. Although we’d had some very dry weather just recently, it was still quite a sight.

A great place to stop, have some lunch and empty some of the stream out of our boots. Ahead of us was still a short walk back to the car which involved climbing a set of steps up to a viewing platform.

A lone shag that was feeding in the pool below the falls

Fueled up and ready for the last leg, we ascended the steps to the platform. From the edge of the viewing platform the view was even more impressive. It showed the lush valley in which the stream sits and the full extent of the falls. Eventually though, we had to tear ourselves from this watery scene and make our way along the Mokoroa Falls Track, back to the car.

It was a short amble back to the car from the falls. I can honestly say, I didn’t want it to end. It was one of the most diverse, engaging and exciting walks I’d been on in a long time. A real feast for the senses. For a hot day, I can’t think of a better walk than the one we did. Shaded by bush while cooling off in the stream. Also, with a waterfall, swingbridge, a few scrambles and a bundle of wildlife- all in under 7 km!

All of this, only 38 mins from our front door in Auckland City. The Waitakere Ranges have done it again. Auckland’s wild west proving that you don’t have to go too far to get in touch with nature or have a little adventure.

On Foot Note

Map Used: NZtopo50- BA30- Helensville

Route

DoC Track Update
Goldie Bush Walkway
Mokoroa Stream Track

Kauri Dieback Information

Upper Mangatawhiri Reservoir- Hunua Ranges Regional Park

It was hard to believe, as I drove along the Southern Motorway out of the hustle and bustle of Auckland City, that my Sat Nav thought I’d be at my destination in 25 mins. At that moment, I was surrounded by trucks and cars, but I’d soon be surrounded by ponga and nikau trees. It was the Hunua Ranges that I’d decided to spend my day walking in. Its somewhere I’d been about five years previous and had been struck by its lush, steep valleys and vast reservoirs.

Sure enough, I pulled off the busy motorway and began driving through a familiar NZ scene of dairy farms and small villages towards the dark-green band of hills in the distance. Soon I was on an unsealed road heading to the edge of the Hunua Ranges. Driving down into the Wairoa Dam Otau Road Car Park, I was surprised to see only one car there. It was to be quiet walk.

My plan for the day was to walk to the Mangatawhiri Reservoir via a few different tracks. After parking the car in an eerily quiet spot, I sun-screened up and threw my backpack over my shoulders. But, before beginning my walk, there was a Kauri Dieback cleaning station that needed some use.

Just one of many Kauri Dieback cleaning stations

Kauri Dieback. A disease that threatens one of the most (if not the most) magnificent living things I’ve ever seen, the Kauri tree. A true giant. Mature Kauri can have a diameter of over 4m and be up to 50m tall! Kauri can live for 2000 years and the largest Kauri (Tane Mahuta in Waipoua Forest, Northland) is thought to be anywhere from 1250-2500 years old! Kauri Dieback is something that you’ll be very aware of if you live in the northern part of the country, but those from overseas may not be. The cause is from a pathogen that hangs around in the soil and attaches itself to Kauri tree roots. Eventually, it starves the Kauri of the nutrients and water it needs to survive. Unfortunately, this nasty pathogen is mostly spread by humans and animals such as pigs. To help fight the spread of Kauri Dieback, its imperative that people use the Kauri Dieback cleaning stations that are now set up at the start of most trails that head through areas with Kauri. I started my day walk at one such station and made sure all my gear was free from any dirt before heading onto the trail.

I was following a section of the Wairoa Loop Track to begin with. Tramping alongside streams and climbing gradually through dense bush. This first section of the walk was everything I wanted and expected from a walk around this area. Winding through the humid and lush forest, I was constantly stalked by fantails and tomtits.

After a pleasant section in which I kept crossing the small stream over little bridges, the track steadily started to climb as it stopped hugging the flowing water. Soon I emerged from the Wairoa Loop Track and onto a wide grassy road. Due to Kauri Dieback, the rest of the Wairoa Loop Track had been closed. So, I turned right and followed Repeater Road until I saw the next track I would take on my left. The Challenge Track.

So, this was where I made a few rookie errors. Turns out, that this track is really for mountain bikers. Not that I saw any mountain bikers on it, and I can kind of see why.

When I started down the Challenge Track, passing the nicely placed Repeater Campsite, I thought ‘This is a bit overgrown… Oh well, I’m sure it’ll get better!’. It didn’t. If anything it got worse. I pressed on far enough to make it pointless to turn back and spent the next 2 and a half miles being bushwhacked and beaten by various plants. I love to see native NZ plants on a walk, but it was a bit much being hit in the face by them for over an hour.

It was a relief to get to the end of the Challenge Track. Lesson learnt and knees bleeding, I continued down the antithesis of the previous track. Now, I walked down a wide unsealed road that no doubt is used by logging trucks and forestry cars. After a short spell on the Wairoa Hill Road, I turned onto the Waterline Road, leading me on a winding and steady descent all the way to the Upper Mangatawhiri Dam.

Following the edge of the reservoir, I would get glimpses now and then of the water framed by huge ponga trees. Ready for a sit down and something to eat, I arrived at the Dam and sat to eat my lunch.

A impressive structure. Finished in the 1960’s, it’s the second largest in the Auckland region. Along with a further five reservoirs in the Hunuas and five in the Waitakere Ranges, it supplies water to the people of Greater Auckland.

The walk back to the car from the dam would be on gravel roads like the one I had been walking on. It involved a couple of climbs, and apart from the views nearer the higher point of the road, was fairly uneventful.

Arriving back at the car park I had a lot to reflect on. On the entire 12 mile route that I had walked, I’d not seen a single person. It was great to be able to head out somewhere so close to a major city like Auckland and still find solitude. I also realized from the day’s walk that I have a lot to learn. Maybe reading a few reviews of tracks such as the Challenge track might stop me from walking down an overgrown mountain bike trail and getting whacked by toetoe and ferns.

It’s frustrating not being able to use certain tracks that have been closed due to Kauri Dieback and having to use some of the slightly less exciting roads on the route. But, to put it into perspective. It would only take a pinhead size amount of a pathogen on a tramper’s boots to bring down an entire area of Kauri. Once the tracks have been updated with better drainage and surfaces, they’ll reopen in the future. This is a very small sacrifice to save a tree whose antecedents have been in NZ some 135 million years. Kauri are one of the most ancient trees in the world, so to close tracks for a year or so to ensure their survival is sensible if you ask me.

The Hunua Ranges are a little slice of the wild within a 1 hour drive of Auckland City. I’ve only touched the surface of what the Hunuas have to offer, and I’m sure I’ll have more than a few tramps in this neck of the woods over the years.

On Foot Notes

Map Used: NZtopo50- BB33- Hunua

Route

Hunua Ranges Regional Park Information

Hunua Ranges Track Closure Map

Kauri Dieback Information

Rapaki Track- Port Hills, Christchurch

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.

Bell Bird singing away

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).

View of Christchurch from the track

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.

View of Banks Peninsula from the Summit

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.

Wax Eye/Silver Eye

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.

Curious Fantail

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

Rapaki Track/Mount Vernon Tracks- Christchurch City Council

More info on the history and also for volunteering opportunities in the Port Hills- Summit Road Society