Saturday, November 22, 2008

2008. Mount Vernon, Christchurch

2008. Ferry Road roundabout, Christchurch, with Mount Cavendish left, Witch Hill middle & Mount Vernon right

After nearly fourteen years' residence in Christchurch NZ, I got around to climbing 462m Mount Vernon in the Port Hills. I drove to Mount Vernon Park carpark, and started walking up the Dry Ridge Track, which went steeply up to Farm Track and Gorge Track.

Dry Ridge Track passed through native shrub plantings, then zig-zagged up the steep, rocky, dry ridge to a cave, (used by ancient trekking Maori), then went through a small gate, then around the base of the ridge until the track reached the dry ridge top, where I found a bench and a stainless steel plane-table overlooking Christchurch.

The plane-table with engraved viewpoints and directions, dedicated to the memory of Bill and Marjorie Dukes, showed that Christchurch's rugby stadium in the CBD was due north.

While walking up Mount Vernon ridge, I looked across the valley on my left, and saw I was walking higher than Rapaki Track on Montgomery Spur. The southerly blew over the ridge, but I was warm with scarf and Aussie Driza-Bone parka. Trackside, I saw spikes of small pink flowers, edged in white, accompanied by clover, at the lower end of the ridge, which I hadn't seen anywhere else in the Port Hills.

Farm Track was an easy walk through tussock grassland up the ridge. By a small dam, in the distance on my right, I saw a shelter at the head of a gorge, but I didn't walk the side track up to the shelter. I followed the Farm Track which kept below the ridge crest to avoid the southerly wind. Shorn sheep lay on the grass, also avoiding the wind.

I passed a water tank on my left, and walked under electricity pylons crossing the ridge in pairs. By that time I was hot, so I stripped off my scarf, parka and jandals and walked barefoot on the cool green grass.

There were no walkers on Farm Track except me. A brown rabbit hopped across. Two Aussie black-an'-white magpies sauntered ahead. Shorn sheep still lay on the grass. No black sheep. The higher I walked, the better my views of Christchurch and Canterbury Plains became. Low clouds obscured Southern Alps.

2008. Sheep Pens, Top of Farm Track near Summit Road, with Witch Hill & The Tors behind

A farmer had left hay bales beside Farm Track for his sheep, but he also left blue plastic string and green plastic wrapper to flutter in the wind. So much for conservation. I passed lots of Californian thistles, and climbed over a style by a locked gate.

Shorn sheep wore plastic red tags in their left ears. Their lambs were unshorn with curly fleeces. Sheep pens were near Summit Road, and I passed through three more gates, one left wide open. By Summit Road I enjoyed the cooling southerly, and to my left I looked at Witch Hill, The Tors and Castle Rock. Like the Alps, Mount Cavendish was obscured by clouds.

2008. Top of Mount Vernon overlooking Farm Track & Christchurch

2008. Top of Mount Vernon overlooking Rapaki Track, Avoca Valley & Avon-Heahcote Estuary, Christchurch

I crossed Summit Road and Mount Vernon Track, and climbed the easy track to the top of Mount Vernon, a big grassy plateau. On Lyttelton side was a rocky knoll, where despite the wind, on the top rock I lunched on KB's steak pie and CocaCola.

2008. Top of Mount Vernon overlooking top of Rapaki Track, Summit Road, Witch Hill, Castle Rock & The Tors

2008. Top of Mount Vernon overlooking Quail Island & Banks Peninsula

2008. Top of Mount Vernon overlooking top of Huntsbury Track, Summit Road, Scott Scenic Reserve & Sugarloaf with TV transmitter

I had all-round views and took snaps of Quail Island near Lyttelton, Witch Hill, The Tors, Castle Rock, Mount Cavendish, Avoca Valley, Avon-Heathcote Estuary, Christchurch CBD, Summit Road and Sugarloaf with its TV transmitter on top. It took me 1.5 hours walking from the carpark to the top of Mount Vernon.

2008. Lamar Track information board off Summit Road, below Mount Vernon, Port Hills, Christchurch

Near the sheep pens off Summit Road, I detoured on the circular Lamar Track, designed by the Port Hills Park Trust Board for wheelchair disabled people to enjoy Port Hills views. I came across a grey-haired lady, wearing shorts and parka, digging up Californian thistle with a spade. Nearby, I found a white memorial pole with a bronze plaque stating:

"John Alfred Archie Lilly
Perished 30th March 1882
Aged 8 Years 4 Months"

2008. Pole Monument on Lamar Track overlooking top of Rapaki Track, Summit Road, Witch Hill & Banks Peninsula

There were several wooden benches around Lamar Track, and more in the middle, where two stainless steel plane-tables stood with engraved viewpoints and directions. There were no disabled people enjoying the views. A big expense for 5000 wheelchair people in NZ, in addition to all the disabled carparks wherever I went.

2008. Shelter near top of Mount Vernon Park Gorge, Port Hills, Christchurch

On Farm Track again, on my dawdling way down, I detoured to the shelter I'd seen by the gorge on the way up. As there was no path to the shelter from the upper ridge, I followed sedges down a green watercourse to the shelter, which got me away from the ridge southerly for a while.

Like Valley Track shelter in the valley on the opposite side of the ridge, the shelter near the gorge head had a wooden bench, wooden decking and kitsch-painted, corrugated iron roof. I found both shelters intrusive, pointless and a waste of money. If I wanted a rest, I sat on one of millions of rocks around me. If I was worried about sun or rain, I wore a hat or parka.

2008 Dead Sheep near top of Mount Vernon Park Gorge, Port Hills, Christchurch

I looked down the gorge for Albert Stream, unseen, then walked along a track returning to Farm Track, and found a dead sheep lying beside the track: a large lump of white fleece, with an arched neck, dry hole for an eye, and teeth in a dry-lip rictus. The rotten, sweet smell of death.

Farm Track by the small dam was windy again, and the grey lady with her spade caught up with me. Wordless, she loped left down Bike Track going to Albert Terrace entrance of Mount Vernon Park. I rejoined Dry Ridge Track on the right. As I'd dawdled and detoured twice down Mount Vernon tracks, the walk back to my car took me 1.5 hours.

Ten weeks later during Waitangi long-weekend, Leah and I climbed Mount Vernon from Lamar Track carpark. Leah stood on the topmost rock and raised her arms to the sky. She'd also got around to climbing Mount Vernon after nearly 14 years in Christchurch. La Nina had browned the Port Hills and Banks Peninsula. Temperatures for the next few days were forecast in the mid thirties Centigrade.

Content & pics Mark JS Esslemont.

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