I parked my car near Ferry Road roundabout and Heathcote Bridge, where Tunnel Road crossed Heathcote River and went up Heathcote Valley to Lyttelton. I wanted to walk the old towpath beside lower Heathcote River along Devil's Elbow, a tight bend, then past a big bend up Heathcote Valley which included salt marshes, before Heathcote River Estuary joined Avon-Heathcote Estuary.
2009. Heathcote Wharf by lower Heathcote River & Heathcote Bridge. Avoca Valley backdrop, Christchurch
I started at the site of the old Heathcote Wharf (1852) which was later named Steam Wharf (1856). By Heathcote Wharf site, a bronze strip round a white stone bollard stated:
THIS BOLLARD MARKS THE SITE OF
THE STEAM WHARF 1856
THE CANTERBURY PILGRIMS' ASSOCIATION
16th DECEMBER 1940
2009. Heathcote Wharf Info Board, Christchurch
Nearby A PATHWAY FOR TRAVELLERS info board stated:
"For centuries Maori used Opawaho (Heathcote River) to travel between settlements, and to reach food and resources in the estuary and wetlands nearby.
The sailing vessels bringing settlers from Europe travelled at first to Christchurch Quay near Radley Bridge.... but it was a slow journey around the long meander of Woolston Loop.
Using the Heathcote Wharf (built here in 1852) cut out the Woolston Loop and this reduced sailing time.
In 1856 small ships powered by both sail and steam regularly called here and it became known as Steam Wharf.
In only a few years, the railway replaced the river as the main transport highway. Later still, railway gave way to road." (CCC)
2009. Native Plantings on Towpath, lower Heathcote River. Pine Shelter Belt on opposite bank
2009. Ferry Road Businesses & Native Plantings, lower Heathcote River Towpath, Christchurch
I walked downriver along a gravel track with the backs of Ferry Road businesses on my left and Heathcote River on my right. Ducks and cormorants swam and fished in the water. Native plantings on both sides of the track buffered Ferry Road traffic noise. A male jogger and two middle-aged women walking their dogs passed me.
2009. Lower Heathcote River Towpath, Christchurch
2009. Glasswort, Sarcocornia quinqueflora, on bank of lower Heathcote River, Christchurch
As it was low tide, I saw thousands of mudflat snails, Amphibola crenata on river mud. On the opposite bank I saw farmland behind a pine shelter-belt. I crossed a wooden footbridge, and a businessman wearing a suit greeted me in passing. Two male cyclists passed too.
Near Charlesworth Street I wandered a mudflat, and on the riverbank I saw halophytic glassworts, Sarcocornia quinqueflora, which formed a mat binding riverbank mud. A kayaker paddled past, going downriver.
2009. Towpath Cyclist amongst cabbage trees, lower Heathcote River, Christchurch
2009. Lower Heathcote River Kayaker. Heathcote Valley backdrop, Christchurch. Flotsam & Sea Rush, Juncus maritimus, foreground
2009. Marsh Ribbonwood, Plagianthus divaricatus, by cabbage trees, lower Heathcote River, Christchurch
By Heathcote River Devil's Elbow, the track curved beside sea rushes, Juncus maritimus, which was the dominant salt marsh halophyte. All along the riverbank, marsh ribbonwoods, Plagianthus divaricatus, lined the track, amongst cabbage trees, flax, dodoneas, olearias and pittosporums.
2009. Footbridge over Salt Marsh, Heathcote River Estuary. Horotane Valley & Avoca Valley backdrop, Christchurch
2009. Salt Marsh, Heathcote River Estuary. Heathcote Valley & Horotane Valley backdrop, Christchurch. Sea Rush, Juncus maritimus, dominant halophyte
2009. Salt Marsh, Heathcote River Estuary. Heathcote Valley backdrop, Christchurch. Sea Rush, Juncus maritimus, dominant halophyte
I crossed another wooden footbridge over a tributary creek, and admired views of north-facing Heathcote Valley, Horotane Valley and Avoca Valley in the distance beyond Heathcote River salt marshes.
2009. Heathcote River Estuary & Salt Marsh. Heathcote Valley & Horotane Valley backdrop, Christchurch
2009. Shag, Heathcote River Estuary, Christchurch
2009. Shag on mudflat, Heathcote River Estuary, Christchurch
A young woman walking her black dog passed me while I stood on a riverside wooden platform viewing shags: one perched on a river pole; another stood on a mudflat drying its outstretched wings. Someone had smashed the info board on the platform.
Someone else had gathered river-rubbish and dumped it on the riverbank for collection. On the lower reaches of Heathcote River, the quantity of rubbish and graffiti was less than what I saw on other walks by Woolston Loop and Woolston Barrage.
2009. Heathcote River Estuary rubbish. Avoca Valley backdrop, Christchurch
2009. Heathcote River Estuary. Horotane Valley & Avoca Valley backdrop, Christchurch
2009. Heathcote River Estuary Salt Marsh. Horotane Valley backdrop, Christchurch
Behind Ferry Road businesses, I walked beside an avenue of macrocarpas, while Heathcote River curved a big bend round salt marshes in the lower Heathcote Valley. Beneath a macrocarpa, I watched a white faced heron pecking for prey in river mud.
2009. Heathcote River Estuary Salt Marsh. Heathcote Valley & Horotane Valley backdrop, Christchurch
2009. Low Tide Heathcote River Estuary by old Ferry, overlooking Ferrymead & Horotane Valley, Christchurch
2009. High Tide Heathcote River Estuary, overlooking Ferrymead, Heathcote Valley & Horotane Valley, Christchurch
On the last bend Heathcote River flowed past Ferrymead Park, a heritage village, on the opposite bank. Near Ferrymead Bridge where Heathcote River joined Avon-Heathcote Estuary, I stopped at the old Ferry site viewing platform and read an info board describing the history of FERRY ACROSS THE HEATHCOTE, where early European settlers had crossed Heathcote River, after trekking over Port Hills Bridle Path from Lyttelton, trudging down swampy Heathcote Valley... and slogging to Christchurch along potholed, muddy Ferry Road.
2009. Old Ferry Info Board, Old Ferry Site, Heathcote River Estuary, Christchurch
All that was left of the Ferry was concrete and stones on the riverbank and more stones on the opposite riverbank.
2009. Heathcote River Estuary Wildlife Info Board, Old Ferry Site, Christchurch
Another info board was headed LOWER HEATHCOTE RIVER - A RICH FOOD BASKET. The board listed halophytes I'd seen in the salt marshes, including a sea blite, Suaeda novae zelandiae, which I didn't see.
The board also listed birds, most of which I didn't see: kingfisher; godwit; white faced heron; shoveler; Caspian tern; spur wing plover; South Island pied oyster catcher; pied stilt; little cormorant; black cormorant; mallard duck; black backed gull; paradise shelduck.
2009. Old Ferry Site, Settler's Reserve. Ferrymead Bridge in distance, Ferry Road, Christchurch
I crossed another wooden footbridge by the grassy entrance to SETTLERS RESERVE on my left, and walked right to Ferry Road where a sign stated:
2o09. Settlers Reserve near Ferrymead Bridge, where Heathcote River Estuary joins Avon-Heathcote Estuary, Christchurch
I returned to my car the way I'd come. The walk took me 1 hour 45 minutes, with many stops to view birds, plants, river and valleys.
Coda: The 2010-2011 earthquakes damaged Ferry Rd businesses.
Content & pics Copyright Mark JS Esslemont.