Two days before New Year, I drove up some of Dyers Pass in the Port Hills, and was the first car parked in Victoria Park for the day. I wanted to walk Harry Ell Walkway up to Sign of the Kiwi, then return via Thomsons Carpark on Summit Road and MTB Jump Park.
While our sons grew up in Christchurch, we'd walked low lengths of Harry Ell Walkway, and we'd had picnics and short walks in Victoria Park, and sons and wife had enjoyed the big slide in the kids' playground. Whenever our overseas family and friends visited, we took them up to Victoria Park to view Christchurch, Canterbury Plains and the Alps.
I started at 9am to avoid summer heat. I looked at the information board below the Visitor Centre, and the white marble plaque on a stone base which stated:
WAS OPENED ON 22ND JUNE 1897
IN COMMEMORATION OF
THE DIAMOND JUBILEE OF
HM QUEEN VICTORIA
BY THE HON WILLIAM ROLLESTON
FOR MANY YEARS SUPT
2008. 19th Infantry Battalion & Armoured Regiment Memorial, Victoria Park, Christchurch. Port Hills Sugarloaf TV Tower backdrop
I liked the native plants with plastic name labels in the rockery below the Visitor Centre, which I briefly visited. Walking through pines behind the Visitor Centre, I crossed a road and walked along the short, leafy MEMORIAL TRACK, which rejoined the road further on. Across the road, on the backrest of a big, stone seat a bronze plaque stated:
REST AND PONDER
ABOUT EIGHTY PACES
BEHIND THIS PLAQUE IS
THE MEMORIAL TO THE
19TH INFANTRY BATTALION
AND ARMOURED REGIMENT
HANMER MARBLE AND
BLACK ITALIAN GRANITE
SYMBOLIZE THESE MEN
ON FOREIGN SOIL
TREES FROM THE COUNTRIES
IN WHICH THEY SERVED
STAND AS SENTINELS
IN 1953 THE AREA
THIS SEAT WAS ADDED IN
1978 BY THOSE SURVIVING
LEST WE FORGET
2008. Hanmer Pink Marble, 19th Infantry Battalion & Armoured Regiment Memorial, Victoria Park, Christchurch. Canterbury Plains & Alps backdrop
A female walker passed me, while a grey-haired man mowed memorial grass while seated on a noisy mower. I walked up memorial stone steps past the pink Hanmer marble rock, on which the Italian black granite plaque repeated the memorial's purpose. I preferred the backdrop of four stands of sentinel trees, each with a wooden board in front, stating the tree and war zone it represented:
Crete. Greece. Italy
Atlantic. North Africa
Before the cedar and Spanish fir sentinels, a stone, semi-circular, memorial "desk" stood, which had seven bronze plaques on top, showing a key to the memorial, explaining battles fought, and two Rolls of Honour for the 19th Infantry Battalion and 19th Armoured Regiment.
After walking down the road a bit, I joined Harry Ell Walkway, where four ladies jogged out of the trees, no eye contact, nor greetings. A male jogger panted after them. On the HARRY ELL WALKWAY wooden sign, a blue and white plastic sign warned: DOGS MUST BE ON A LEASH
Cool, leafy Harry Ell Walkway passed through tall exotic trees like pines, cedars and firs, with native shrub understory. The rooty, stony track continued above Dyers Pass road. Several male and female joggers and walkers passed me going up or down. Few made eye contact, few smiled, few greeted. A male jogger passed down with a muzzled, leashed dog. A smiley, girl jogger passed down with a leashed dog too.
Below pylons I drank water at a fountain beside the busy track. A stubby, black-haired woman, with mauve lipstick, jogged upwards, and later smiled at me when jogging down.
2008. Cashmere Valley seen from Harry Ell Walkway, Christchurch
Around a corner Dyers Pass narrowed, and when I passed a family with two infant girls picnicking on a wooden bench, they all smiled. I retraced my steps round the corner, snapped a pic, and on my return the parents made no eye contact. Must've thought I was another psychopath, as a Kiwi psychopath was recently sentenced in Christchurch law courts for murdering a local deaf woman.
2008. Marleys Spur & top of Cashmere Valley seen from Harry Ell Walkway, Christchurch
I passed fruiting apple trees and pink escallonias. More joggers and walkers, including Asians in hats, passed me. I was the only walker in jandals and silence. At a stone bench below trees, a bronze plaque stated:
ERECTED BY THE
SUMMIT ROAD SCENIC SOCIETY
IN RECOGNITION OF THE VISION OF
GEORGE WALDEMAR SKELLERUP
WHICH MADE POSSIBLE THE
PLANTING OF THIS RESERVE
14TH OCTOBER 1960
I passed through more exotic trees and native bush, and stepped over a dog turd. The next jogger was in for a surprise.
2008. Signs, Top of Harry Ell Walkway with Top of Marleys Spur behind
2008. Cabbage Tree, Top of Harry Ell Walkway with Christchurch & Alps backdrop
2008. Summit Road Foxgloves above Thomsons Shared Use Track, Port Hills, Christchurch
At the top of Harry Ell Walkway, a board stated 35 MINS, but I took longer as I'd admired views and plants along the way. I watched a family with three youngsters start walking downwards, then I walked up Summit Road, and was passed by inevitable MTBs and cars below Sugarloaf.
I passed a THOMSONS SHARED USE TRACK sign on my left, and on my right by the THOMSONS RESERVE sign I sat on a wooden stile and drank CocaCola beneath black pines. A strong resin smell pleased me, while I watched a motorcyclist on a blue motorbike pull into Thomsons Carpark, strip off his leather gear, and smoke beside a rock overlooking Christchurch, Canterbury Plains and the Alps, oblivious to my presence across Summit Road.
2008. End of Thomsons Reserve overlooking Summit Road, Thomsons Carpark & Christchurch
2008. Thomsons Carpark Information Board below Thomsons Carpark, Port Hills, Christchurch
Flax, cabbage trees and toe toe grass plantings were below Thomsons Carpark. A black, white, red sign on a locked gate shouted MOUNTAIN BIKERS!... and warned MTBs not to wreck tracks by riding in the wet. While I read the information board, a gaggle of females emerged from pine trees at the end of Bowenvale Traverse Track - ages ranged from teenagers to leathery old dames, with adjustable aluminium "ski pole" walking sticks. One was leashed to a corgi. Some must've been walkers I'd seen weeks before on Bowenvale Valley Track.
2008. Tracks below Thomsons Carpark, Port Hills, Christchurch
I had a choice of five downward tracks: THOMSONS SHARED USE TRACK; LATTERS SPUR TRACK; MODERATE MTB; DIFFICULT MTB; BOWENVALE TRAVERSE TRACK.
I took the DIFFICULT MTB track, where a red triangle ordered: PEDESTRIANS GIVE WAY Pedestrians! I went down stony "steps" to trees, where on a tree trunk a sign ordered:
EVEN A MATCH
IS A MENACE
(Pic of a match)
2008. Fire Warning Sign below Thomsons Carpark, Port Hills, Christchurch
I walked down through Douglas firs and cedars, passed some MTB jumps and found a tall gum tree with a water fountain and two picnic tables below, with magnificent views over Christchurch, Canterbury Plains and the Alps. A grey-haired man loped past in the midday heat, not bothering to stop for a drink.
2008. Track below Thomsons Carpark going to Victoria Park, Port Hills, Christchurch
I turned right towards the trees again, where a fallen sign warned:
DOWNHILL MTB TRACK
OTHER USERS PLEASE GIVE WAY
PORT HILLS RANGER SERVICE
2008. MTB Jump Park Information Board, Port Hills, Christchurch
I crossed a sheep grid and joined a track I'd walked weeks before, which took me through gums, dry leaf litter and the strong smell of eucalyptus oil. I passed the MTB Jump Park, sans MTBs, where a man constructed a new plank-jump. After the sunny glade and seven tracks choice, I walked straight ahead and passed three sweaty Asians: two girls fanned themselves with twigs. By a locked gate, rejoining THE 19TH MEMORIAL road, I passed a sign I'd seen on the way up:
ACCESS TO UPPER EAST SIDE BUSH
On the gate, a red, white, black sign warned: MOUNTAIN BIKERS!...
2008 Track near 19th Infantry Battalion & Armoured Regiment Memorial going to MTB Jump Park, Port Hills, Christchurch
Back at Victoria Park Carpark, the number of cars had increased to twenty, with picnickers on the grass and in the picnic area, and kids playing on the slide and climbing equipment. Four Asians in hats began a walk in 30 degree C heat that blistered road tar. Beneath an oak tree, I slipped my shoes off, enjoyed cool grass under my feet, and finished my CocaCola. My circular walk had taken three hours, including long stops along the way.
The day after New Year in cool, late afternoon, Leah and I walked the empty tracks in two hours. We didn't linger at The 19th Memorial, and on the top we walked Thomsons Shared Use Track through trees below Summit Road.
On our way down gusty winds shook the trees. We had glimpses of a rain storm over Canterbury Plains obscuring the Alps. I carried our CocaCola. Leah carried a shiny, red apple to eat along the way. Fruiting, pruned apple trees alongside Harry Ell Walkway put Leah off eating her Eve apple.
Contents & pics Copyright Mark JS Esslemont.