Port Hills, Christchurch
If you would like to visit a wildly romantic garden with a Christian theme, then this is it!
St. Cecilia Chapel is an enchanting little trellis structure in the heart of Gethsemane Gardens. High on a hill and close to heaven, the chapel overlooks the Pacific Ocean. Romantic pathways lead you through the gardens, which have a Christian theme.
The Bridal Path takes you under arches to the little chapel. On the uphill side, the garden spells Gethsemane in a series of trellis fences and rock walls. The gardens are intertwined around the letters.
The Rosary Maze on the lower side spells Jesus and below that we have a little Jerusalem and a Prayer Garden in which the Lords Prayer is written out in box-hedging.
Our early settlers used this track from Lyttelton and over the hill to Heathcote and Ferrymead back in the 1850's and onward. The track is fairly steep especially on the Christchurch side so would have been very difficult to move the horse & carriage up and over.
These days the track is used constantly by walkers and runners plus the occassional MTB person who is on the very keen side. The walk up and over takes no more than 35 mins so it's a quick hike with spectacular views over both Christchurch and Lyttelton at the top.
Victoria Park is located above Christchurch on the Port Hills and is a great place to go for a photo safari. It is located on Cashmere Hill and is an easy walk from the Sign of the Takahe if you get here via the number 10 Bus. The park is named after an English Queen and was opened way back in 1897 to celebrate the queen's silver jubilee.
The park has been in place for many years and is the scene of one of Christchurch's more famous murders in 1954 (check out the movie Heavenly Creatures) when a Christchurch Girl's High schools girl and her friend killed her mother.
There are many paths and tracks in and around the Park including the Harry Ell track and nearby Bowenvale track being a favourite of local mountain bike riders. There are several picnic tables a children's playground and visitors' centre which information on the tracks and display of the area's history and geology.
We spent a whole day around the Port Hills behind Summner and the northern rim of the drowned volcano that created Lyttleton Harbour, driving along the harbourside and Summit Road in both directions from Lyttelton.
Travelling east the road had taken us out to Godley Head with its wonderful views of the Pacific coastline. Heading west out of Lyttelton, we followed the harbour quite a way before taking to the hills again, the road taking us higher and higher as we made our way to Gebbies Pass and looked down onto the west side of the Banks Peninsula - lying in bright sunshine 9good weather always moves in from the west in this part of the world).
Back on Summit Road again we were often in, and then above, cloud. The breaks in the mist and the cloud revealed beautiful views and the mist certainly didn't stop us getting out of the car and walking in this lovely green and peaceful place, stopping at the site of the old Sign of the Bellbird resthouse, its stones now reconstructed into a simple walkers' shelter at Kennedy's Bush - the first area in the Port Hills to be designated a scenic recreation area.
The ideal end to the day came at The Sign of the Kiwi, an old-fashioned teahouse that is something of an historic marker along the route. More great views, yummy home-made scones, jam and cream and a pot of tea hit the spot.
The Sign of the Kiwi is a great place to stop in at after a walk on the hills or just on a nice day. The staff are really friendly and there are plenty of options on the menu so you're bound to find something you like.
This is none of the well-known walks of the Port Hills but it is also very nice. However, on the lower slopes you have to look out for mountainbikers as you share a track. When it gets steeper you have your own track. This is where it gets a bit strenuous.
While walking uphill you always have Mt. Sugarloaf in view. The tracks leads over volcanic rocks, along flax and other native plants. In higher altitudes you are in tussock grass landscape. The last part of the track is on farmland.
The return trip to a Summit Road carpark (great view over Lyttelton Harbour) takes about 2 hours. At the top you can continue along the Summit Road to the Sign of the Kiwi and walk back down the hill on another track. This would add another hour to the trip.
The Bowenvale Ave access is also good for less strenuous walks. Before it gets really steep you can take a turn to Victoria Park and have a more relaxed walk. And there are more options. Very good map at the start of the walks near the carpark.
If you walk to the Summit Road sturdy shoes are highly recommended, as the higher you get the more sheep and cattle droppings are dotted on the ground, so just for the case you admire the landscape and take photos instead of staring to the ground all the time... ;-)
Obviously some of the Bowenvale tracks are also great for mountainbikers, and many guys we saw were had serious downhill gear. There are many special MTB tracks. On the shared access track are many gates to slow down the downhillers a bit, so they do not pose too big a risk for walkers. But for your own safety you should not stroll around in the middle of the track and whistle a happy tune ;-)
From the City Centre: Drive to the end of Colombo Street towards the Port Hills, turn left at the roundabout into Centaurus Road (before Colombo St would continue uphill as Dyers Pass Rd.; the right turn would lead to Princess Margaret Hospital). Bowenvale Ave is the 6th or 7th road to the right. Carpark at the end of the street.
The Port Hills are full of interesting walks and things to do. During winter they are often covered with snow and nice to look at but very tricky to drive on. Be careful of the conditions when you go exploring around the Port Hills as bad weather can come in quick and catch you out.
This photo was taken from the central city looking past the Westpac building to the snowy tops of the hills.
This track is an easy walk going from the Sign of the Takahe to the Sign of the Kiwi some 3.2 km's further up the hill. There is plenty of car parking at either end so you can choose if you want the uphill portion first or last. If you are not travelling by car you can take the number 10 bus up to the Sign of the Takahe (which is this buses last stop before changing direction) for $2.50.
At the Sign of the Kiwi there is an okay tea rooms selling items such as ice creams & camera film plus there are toilets and drinking fountain so you don't really need to pack food or water. If you are feeling more adventurous you can cross the road and walk on eof the tracks around 'Sugarloaf' which has the main Television transmission centre and aerial. There are also walks back through Victoria park, around the Crater Rim and down Bowenvale Valley though if you have parked your car somewhere you will probably think twice about the last two tracks.
The below website has more info including a good map of the track and more info on the facilities.
This track starts just over the road from the Sign of the Kiwi and up to the left of Sugarloaf giving you great vistas of both the Canterbury plains and Lyttelton Harbour. The track is steep to start with and levels out a bit as you carry on up and around the peak. A couple of side tracks branch off to the right - the first being Mitchells which is a nice walk through bush and trees so you have options for which direction you want to go around the peak. If you carry on up to the top of Cedric's you will arrive at the Sugarloaf Car Park. From here you have the option of taking one of the tracks down into Victoria park on your left or carry on to the right and toward Summit Road. The first valley you will come to if you go right is Bowenvale which is over the road on your left.
The Sign of the Kiwi is located up Dyers Pass Road on what is known as Coronation Hill ( named after the coronation of King George V in 1911). Coronation Hill was acquired by Henry George 'Harry' Ell with the track under his name running between the Sign of the Takahe and Sign of the Kiwi. The sign itself is on the left front of the photo below.
The Sign of the Kiwi was officially opened on 9 June 1917 and operated as a tearoom and rest house until the 1940's when it was closed to the public by the Department of Lands and Survey. In the 1950's the Council built public toilets and partially restored the building. Today the Sign of the Kiwi serves as a shop providing refreshments.
Also located here is a remnant of the Toll Gate established by Harry Ell in 1922 to raise funds for the construction and maintenance of the road to Kennedys Bush.
The sign of the Kiwi is one of four 'rest houses' situated around the Port Hills with the others being the Sign of the Takahe, Sign of the Bellbird (Kennedys Bush) and Sign of the Packhorse (Kaituna Valley).
The city of Christchurch is located on a broad plain (ie. very flat land!!) but surrounding Christchurch are beautiful hills. It is possible to drive up there. They make for a fantastic picnic spot and provide awesome views of the city below.
These off the beaten path tips were from my road trip with Rosie (rozehill). She drove me around the surroundings of Christchurch. The first stop was at the Cup, a very nice coffee house in Cashmere. The view from the Cup is amazing. You can look out over the city and on a clear and sunny day you can even see the mountains far away in the background.
The Port Hills were once covered with native forest. Following colonisation of european settlers, the land was extensively burned and cleared to produce rolling hills for settlers livestock. Personally I dont think the land is very suitable for keeping animals, many parts are incredibly steep which makes you wonder how they round their sheep/cows up.
My favourite track at Mt Vernon Park is Gorge Track, it winds along a river, through native trees and bush and a pine plantation, and up onto grassy hills.
Mt Vernon Park was bought by group of concerned residents years ago when the council put the land up for sale. These people bought the land so it could be revegetated and maintained, and used for public purposes, with bike tracks and walking tracks across the area. The land that had been used for grazing was leased out to farmers, as the group is a non profit organisation and had to fund their rehabilitation projects. One of these groups I am involved in is the Mt Vernon working party, that meet every thursday at 1:30 pm in the carpark and carry out weeding and rehabilitation.
Port Hills are a range of hills on Banks Peninsula that seperate Christchurch and Lyttleton. The highest point is Mt Herbert at almost a km high (which is not higher then Mt. Kosciusko). Pine plantations dot the gentle slopes and valleys of the hills.
The port hills are a nice place to go for an afternoon drive, to visit the port town of Lyttleton, view Quail Island, where once a Leper colony was situated, or go for a pleasant walk.