In 1995 after our arrival in Christchurch, I worked for three months as a labourer in the tree section of a nursery in Avoca Valley, a warm, north-facing valley in the Port Hills. Witch Hill rose above Avoca Valley head, like a witch's hat with the top cut off. One snowy October day I saw Witch Hill speckled with snow. While blistering nor'westers blew, I saw Witch Hill change from spring green to summer khaki.
I drove along Cashmere Road and Centaurus Road to the end of Hillsborough Terrace, and parked my car at Mount Vernon Park carpark below Port Hills. Mount Vernon Park had two valleys separated by a ridge, stretching from the Port Hills. As I wanted to climb to the top of 421m Witch Hill, I walked Valley Track to the left of the ridge.
Despite midday sun and blue sky, the southerly in my face was cold and cut through my jersey. The southerly rippled grass and tussocks on the ridge. The plantings at the start of Valley Track were mainly pittosporums, manukas, dodoneas, lace barks and cabbage trees. Cabbage tree blossom scent wafted on the wind. I passed a left turnoff sign to Rogers Track, and followed Victoria Stream past caves on either side of the "stream" - slimy, stagnant pools.
After passing through three gates, I came across a shelter with two wooden benches on two wooden decks and kitsch "wildlife" paintings on the shelter's corrugated iron roof. From the shelter, I snapped Christchurch down Valley Track.
2008. Valley Track, Mount Vernon Park, looking towards Christchurch
Beyond the shelter, Valley Track narrowed and veered leftwards, upwards to Witch Hill, so I lost sight of Christchurch. Despite knobbly rocks and hazardous underrunner holes in underfoot clay, I had Valley Track to myself, except for a ewe and three lambs. After a fourth rickety gate and fence, plantings stopped, and the valley became tussock grassland, sprinkled with sedges, bracken, foxgloves and Californian thistles.
Above left, I saw walkers and joggers on Rapaki Track, which paralleled Valley Track. When I joined Rapaki Track, I passed two women sitting beside Valley Track.
2008. Valley Track looking up to Rapaki Track & Witch Hill (The Dog's Head - Maori)
2008. Jogger on Rapaki Track overlooking Christchurch, Avon-Heathcote Estuary & Pacific Ocean
Rapaki Track got steeper as it neared Summit Road. I could see why Maori called Witch Hill "The Dog's Head," as it had a head, ears, brow and long snout when seen from Rapaki Track. While I drank CocaCola at a bench a jogger passed me, but I caught up with him when he sat panting near Summit Road.
I snapped Avoca Valley, when I saw the nursery where I'd worked far below, and beyond was Lyttelton port's container depot. Near Summit Road I snapped a DOGS ON LEAD sign, and watched three smartly dressed walkers go down Rapaki Track with ski-pole walking-sticks.
2008. Top of Rapaki Track, Montgomery Spur, Port Hills, Christchurch
2008. Cliff at base of Witch Hill, Port Hills, Christchurch
I crossed Summit Road, briefly joined Crater Rim Walkway and found a track up Witch Hill. Dodging sheep dung and cow pats, and seeing blue and white NZ harebells, Wahlenbergia gracilis, like on The Tors, I boulder-hopped to the top of Witch Hill. The climb from the carpark to the top of Witch Hill took me 1.5 hours.
2008. WW1 Memorial, Top of Witch Hill, Port Hills, Christchurch
2008. From Top of Witch Hill: Summit Road, The Tors, Castle Rock in Port Hills, Christchurch
On top of Witch Hill I had 360 degree views over murky, cloudy Christchurch, (Alps clouded over); Avoca Valley; Castle Rock and The Tors; Rapaki and Quail Island. On top of Witch Hill was a WW1 memorial stone bench, with two bronze plaques above the bench, topped by crenellations. The top bronze plaque quoted Rupert Brooke's poem "The Dead:"
"Blow out, you bugles, over the rich dead!...
And we have come into our heritage."
Rupert Brooke died of blood poisoning on his way to Gallipoli.
The bottom bronze plaque facing Christchurch recorded the names of seven "English" Kiwis from Christchurch, and where they died: Messines (2), France (2), Laventi (1), Gallipoli (1), Magdhabar Syria (1). The memorial gave me shelter from the cold wind. Behind the memorial, facing Rapaki, a third bronze plaque recorded the names of two Maori soldiers from Rapaki who died in Gallipoli and Auckland.
2008. From Top of Witch Hill: Rapaki Track on Montgomery Spur, above Avoca Valley, Port Hills, Christchurch
2008. Top of Witch Hill view: Rapaki, Quail Island, Charteris Bay, Mount Bradley on Banks Peninsula, Head of the Bay, Governors Bay
After walking about Witch Hill's rocky plateau, and snapping Castle Rock and The Tors, Rapaki and Quail Island, and Avoca Valley again, I walked down Rapaki Track with the southerly on my back. I passed two walkers going up and several mountain bikers riding up or down.
Near the end of Rapaki Track, I went left down Rogers Track and zig-zagged down to Mount Vernon Park carpark. On the way down, I passed a man slogging upwards, leashed to his Alsation. My descent from Witch Hill took 1 hour.
Content & pics Copyright Mark JS Esslemont.