By Sam Rowland, Technical Advisor
Te Ara Pātaka/Summit Walkway is a thirty-five kilometre track which starts at Gebbes Pass or Kaituna Valley and weaves along the tops of Banks Peninsula, finishing at the Hilltop Tavern.
It can be done in two days easily, but I recommend leaving Friday afternoon and staying in Packhorse and Rod Donald Huts. It’s not often we get the opportunity to ‘get off the beaten track’ as it were, so take the time to appreciate all this experience has to offer.
On a warm February weekend Kate Alderslade and I decided to explore this magical part of the Peninsula. We’ve put together 10 reasons to plan your next trip to Te Ara Pātaka:
1. The Red admiral butterflies
The Kaituna Valley to Packhorse Hut Track is at times lined with stinging nettle (Urtica), not the best to walk into, but it is the host plant of one of New Zealand’s most stunning native butterflies, the red admiral. The track was crowded with them fluttering effortlessly around us. I had never seen so many in one place.
2. Packhorse Hut
Packhorse Hut is constructed of old stone, with a red roof and window frames nestled in the gully overlooking the sea across to Lyttleton Harbour. The hut was repaired after the earthquake and is very tidy and well laid out (we had a full hut and never felt crowded). The 360 degree views are marvellous. The gully is open to the weather and although it was a nice day there was a blowing gale which cooled things off. Even so, the wind blowing through the Tussocks make the most relaxing sounds making this hut a complete sensory experience – if you have never experienced it, try out this unique spot.
3. Sunsets on the hills
Have you ever been to Victoria Park in Christchurch and watched the sunset? Pretty cool right? Now, imagine that times 100. Sunsets are so much better fully surrounded by nature.
4. Sunrise from the highest point of the Peninsula
On Saturday we got up a 4:30 am to start the hike to Mount Herbert Shelter to watch the sunrise. When we walked the track from Packhorse Hut to Mount Herbert Shelter it was at times narrow, and you needed to keep a close eye on track markers so you didn’t wonder off the path, but now the local DOC team have clearly marked and widened the track. It is worth getting up before the sun to see what nature has to deliver. The soft pink tones creeping over the not too distant horizon and the sound of the morning bird chorus around Mount Bradley was divine. It was so grounding and a real reminder of the beauty around us every day, something we all need more of.
5. The golden sea of Tussocks
At some points of this walk all you can see are vast quantities of tussocks shimmering in the sun. Untouched nature in this state is simply therapeutic.
6. The DOC Reserves
This walk takes you through 8 DOC reserves. It is a real change of scenery from farmland or tussock grasslands. You can spot many native trees which were in full berry as we walked by. We nature-nerd out with some plant ID and partook in some totara berry eating till we could do no more! These reserves are a unique and sacred part of our New Zealand heritage, something worth taking the time to appreciate.
7. The Totara Graveyards
A stark reminder of what the peninsula used to hold. These graveyards have dead totara trunks either emerging from the earth or lying on the ground. At some points dead trunks towered over regenerating vegetation below. It is a sight that gives us a wake-up call to the impact we have on our natural environment, and our potential to regenerate it.
8. The stunning views that occur all the time
Constant views of sea, bays, townships, birds gliding effortlessly in the wind and cows! Both flora and fauna are bound so effortlessly into mankind, that if you blur your vision – you get a glimpse of the environments untouched past. Bring your camera – so many moments worth savouring.
9. The Rod Donald Hut
A new private hut brought by the Banks Peninsula Rod Donald Trust (named after the Member of Parliament). This hut has been recently renovated and provides very comfortable living. Again the views from this vantage point are stunning.
10. To explore your backyard
Immersing yourself in the outdoors is proven to lower your cortisol levels, decrease depression and more. You do not need to go far to experience the beautiful outdoors New Zealand has to offer – and experience the stillness our natural habitat brings once we step outside the noise of daily life. This walk is right on Christchurch city’s doorstep and is accessible to all trampers – novice and experienced alike. You will get to experience native invertebrates, birds and plants as well as see many views that Banks Peninsula offers openly. Take a weekend away from your busy schedule, pull a few mates/family/yourself together to go and explore your backyard! Even better, the walk finishes at the renowned Hilltop Tavern, popular spot for its view overlooking the Akaroa Harbour – beer is a great motivator after 3 days in the bush!