Well our third choice of routes from Picton eventually got us to Lyttelton. Along the way we have experienced the huge disruption to transport resulting from the magnitude 7.9 earthquake that hit the north east of the South Island in November 2016. The primary detour route is not coping with the volume of heavy transport which is much heavier due to the concurrent loss of the rail ink. It is a challenging drive.
Earthquakes have also recently reshaped the historic town of Lyttelton that we chose to stay in. Much of the town was badly damaged or destroyed, particularly by the second Christchurch quake in February 2011.
On many of the vacant lots in the CBD, pictures display what occupied the land before the earthquake
The majority of the houses have either had extensive renovation or have been completed rebuilt. A few are still waiting their turn and some have just left vacant land and some hints that a house once stood there.
We decided to stay in Lyttelton because it was close to Christchurch and being located on Banks Peninsula, offered nearby walks around the surrounding Port Hills.
The geography is actually similar in many ways to Santorini in that it was formed by an ancient but massive volcanic eruption. Rather than the towns sitting on, and spilling down, the crater rim as they do in Santorini, here they were built by the sea ramble up the sides of the crater.
There is no flat land so the town is built on the steep hillsides of the surrounding amphitheater. Driving on the mostly narrow residential roads is a challenge and finding parking for the car is an even bigger one. The car and bikes are some distance from our Airbnb. However, the hills do make for a much more interesting urban and rural landscape to explore.
On our first day, which surprisingly started clear and sunny, we decided to make the most of the perfect conditions and climb up to the crater rim. It was a steep climb of about 450m (1,500ft) but we were rewarded with spectacular views of not just the Peninsula but also a large chunk of the north east of the South Island from the Alps to the Coast.
Having puffed our way up, Ruth (yes Ruth) got all enthusiastic and wanted to walk more of the Crater Rim track. We came to a gondola terminus which provided an excellent coffee for Cliff and some type of rocket fuel for Ruth. She wanted to ‘soldier on’, we passed the planned route down and headed on hoping for what I could vaguely recall was a second track back down to the town. After a further four kilometers along the rim we could still not see any obvious route down. Then we spotted a human, someone running along what was now a very narrow track. They confirmed that there was a route back to Lyttelton, take a right turn down there somewhere.
You have probably guessed how it all unraveled from there. My GPS app did not show the track, it was not signposted but I did notice on my maps a road heading back to Lyttelton. We would have to take that. We met an explosives crew (the type that blow things up) not far from the track junction with the road. “The road is closed and they are blasting rock along it, they won’t let you through and we don’t know of any track in this area” was the helpful advice.
Ruth was sure that she had spotted what looked like a track about 1km back, the first route to the town, that we had walked past some time earlier, was now at least 6km behind us, 1km sounded a better option. So we retraced our steps and found what looked to be a track but no signage to confirm where it went. We decided to give it a go and ultimately found ourselves descending along a track that was decidedly not Cliff and Ruth friendly. The camera was stowed in the pack as I needed both of my hands to ensure that I wasn’t going to tumble down onto the town, some distance below. After we passed the point of ‘it is not worth turning around’, I heard a yelp from Ruth. I turned expecting the worst with cries of “did you lock the car” and “water plants when you get home” as she fell to her demise. Ruth, being a very practical person she is, would always say something important such as this as her last words.
She had tripped but her upper body was still on the path, just the legs had slipped off the track. After retrieving her, checking that there was no damage and a helicopter was not required, we resumed and ultimately arrived back at sea level in one piece. Despite our somewhat harder (than intended) adventure, we deemed it a great walk, very different to the others so far. Our walk back through town revealed lots of interesting architecture to explore.
I checked the walking paths information brochure later and noticed the tiny little bit of information that had failed to register, the directional arrows. The path we climbed up was the preferred route down, the path we came down was only recommended for going up. Oh well, I will pay a little more attention to the finer detail in future.
We have had three consecutive days without rain and it was actually quite warm today. We spent some time today catching up with Cliff’s daughter, Ashleigh, who now lives in Christchurch. She took us and the the two grandchildren to the beach, fortunately we did not have our swimwear, but the kids enjoyed their swim.