"You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you" - Isaiah 55:12

15 February 2016

Lewis Tops, Lewis Pass National Reserve - 6-7 February 2016

A long weekend and a fine weather forecast...ingredients that make an overnight tramp a winning recipe.
After giving Julia a couple of options, it was agreed to head for the Lewis Tops, a trip I'd been keen to do for some time, having driven the highway countless times over the years. 

Most people park at the well known St James Walkway carpark, located right on Lewis Pass itself. The track starts across the road and about 100m up the road from the carpark. However, this carpark is prone to vandalism (as we experienced when doing the Zampa Tops trip) so I was reluctant to park there overnight. Fortunately there's another option, if you're in the know, located at the summit of the highway, and it was here that we parked.
The track used to start from here, and that section still remains and links up with the main track so this is still a good option.

Leaving the car we set off into the bush. Initially the track was rough as it's no longer the main track but was easily followed, and in only 5 minutes we had joined the main track. Vibrant, soft mosses lined the track, making it delightful walking as we sidled round for a short distance before starting the climb proper.
It was quite a steep climb up through the bush, with very little respite, and made for quite slow going on what had become a rather hot afternoon. After about 20 minutes there was a break in the bush cover, allowing decent views across the valley - a hint of what was to come higher up. This break helps to form a lookout of sorts, and would make a good option for walkers just wanting a very short stroll up to take in the views on offer - there's even a seat at the end of a short side track!
 Thankfully it was only a short break, and we happily plunged back into the shade of the bush as we made our way up.
It became evident that quite a few others had had the same idea as us. We passed a couple quite early on, carrying their 2 and a half year old up for a night out on the tops. As we made our way up, our numerous stops meant others caught us up, and so we discovered there were 14 of us spread out through the bush. As it turned out, we were all moving at quite a similar pace, and so kept passing each other as each group took their turn at stopping for a breather.
The highlight of the climb through the bush would have to be seeing a kea taking a tree to task. We stood for several minutes watching, enjoying seeing the bird in a different way than we'd seen them in the past. We were surprised, although shouldn't have been given it was a bird!, at how nimble it was hopping from branch to branch, all the while gnawing away on the trunk, oblivious to its' captivated audience (or was it putting on a show for us?).

After 90 minutes we reached the bushline. Any concerns over it being blazing hot were quickly dispelled, as a lovely cool breeze was blowing over the tops, balancing the heat of the sun.
Above bushline the climbing continued, as we set off up a steep face that rose wall-like in front of us. Once at the top the gradient eased. I for one was pleased, having assured Julia it would once out of the bush, but we weren't done yet. A series of knobs had to be passed until finally we topped out on the highest one - Pt 1568m.
The views were all encompassing. Being the highest point along the ridge, a 360 degree panorama unfolded around us, sweeping round from the Freyberg Range to the north, to the Spenser Mountains, the Opera and Libretto Ranges, and round to Mt Technical and The Apprentice further along the Lewis Tops. Away to the west in the distance we could make out the Paparoa Range, beyond which lies the West Coast.

Once over Pt 1568m, the route was a delightful amble across undulating tops. A short distance beyond Pt 1568m lay the first tarn along the tops. Although it's a reasonable size, and looked beautiful, it sits quite a way below the main ridge so I was hoping to continue on to a larger tarn, which Julia was happy to do.
After passing a couple of very small tarns nestled in a slight depression along the ridge, we passed over Pt 1561m and there was our tarn, sparkling in the afternoon sun. It looked a glorious spot so we dropped down off the ridge to scout out a campsite. There were several lovely spots on offer, but we chose almost the ultimate in backcountry real estate - a spot on the tip of a small finger of land jutting out into the tarn. It meant we had water on all sides which was pretty nice.
We set up and whiled away the afternoon in the sun drinking coffee, taking photos, and just soaking up the tranquility of the place. Despite the fact that there was several parties on the same route we had the tarn to ourselves - one of the joys of there being a tarn in nearly every hollow along the tops, everyone was able to enjoy their own space.

As evening closed in, so did the cloud. We watched it slowly spilling over the tops of the Libretto Range, before it found its' way to us. The drop in temperature, and the dampness of the cloud, sent us into the tent, retiring early for the night.

Opening the tent door the next morning saw us greeted with a truly majestic scene. The evening cloud had cleared, leaving a serene yet moody landscape, the brooding skies reflected in the still waters of the tarn.
We spent a good hour or so wandering round, watching the day begin to reveal itself, before returning to the tent for breakfast and then to pack down.

The return trip was a delight in the cool of the morning, although by the time we started to descend off Pt 1568m down to the bushline the heat was becoming noticeable.
This descent illustrated how steep the climb up had been. While I didn't notice it so much going up, when faced with descending the true nature of the terrain was revealed. Once back in the bush though we made fast time, reaching the car 40 minutes after entering the bush.

A glorious trip, the Lewis Tops on a fine day are a trampers paradise and well worth the effort required to reach them.

Vibrant mosses line the lower part of the bush track

First views across towards the Freyberg Range

Julia gaining height

Climbing above bushline, Trovatore (1737m) across the valley

Up the steep face we go, with Cannibal Gorge running away in behind

Reward for all the climbing

Looking across to Mt Freyberg (1817m)

The first tarn, below the ridge between Pts 1568m and 1561m

Cruising along the tops

A couple of small tarns along the ridge

Looking west down the Maruia River

Our home for the night, with Mt Technical (1870m) rising behind

Approaching the tarn we camped beside, with the Lewis Tops rambling on ahead of us

Sweet campsite at 1500m

Time for a cuppa!

Relaxing in the afternoon sun

Looking along the Lewis Tops to The Apprentice (1678m)

Alpine flowers grow abundantly here

Dinner prep on a glorious evening

A wonderful spot in the late evening light

Cloud starting to spill over the Libretto Range...

...and soon over our way too.

A moody yet serene scene welcomed us as we opened the tent
Campsite on a peaceful morning

Looking down into Deer Valley below us, and along the Lewis Valley

First rays of sun as it rises over the Libretto Range

The sun starting to show through the cloud
Wonderful sun rays across the valley

A great morning to be in the mountains

Sun kissing the tops of the Freyberg Range as we look on from a field of alpine flowers

Looking west down the Maruia Valley at dawn

Sun bursting through the cloud above the Libretto Range

Sun bursting through the cloud above the Libretto Range as we return for a cuppa


Leaving the tarn, our campsite was at the end of the finger of land out in the tarn

The Lewis Tops, with some others spots visible

An indication of the sheer drop down on the Maruia side

Passing the first tarn again on our way back up to Pt 1568m

Trovatore (1737m) and Travers Peak (1724m), seen from Pt 1568m

Looking down the line of the Lewis Pass Highway, with the Libretto Range marching off into the distance

Maruia River Right Branch

Crown Copyright - Land Information NZ

Access: Drive on SH7 to Lewis Pass and either park at the main signposted carpark or at the hidden layby at the summit of the road.

Time: Carpark to bushline 1hr 30mins, bushline to campsite 1hr, return 1hr 40mins

Map: BT23 Lewis Pass

Hut: None

1 February 2016

Akaroa-Christchurch Hospital - 24 January 2016

This epic 76km walk was the brainchild of a young lady, Sara, from church, whose husband Dean had a diving accident in early 2015. As a result of the accident, a bubble lodged in his brain, sending him into a coma and completely paralysing him. Doctors indicated he would likely lose his sight, probably never walk again, and could quite possibly die. Instead, by the grace of God, he pulled through, has no visual problems, and has learned to walk again. To mark the 1 year anniversary of the accident, the walk was arranged to represent the hardships and mountains that have been overcome along his journey. In addition, it was a fundraising walk, with monies raised going to the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service, without which Dean would certainly have died. The walk signified that it's a long way to walk to get help without the rescue helicopter. Donations can still be given through the page found here.

With the accident occurring off Akaroa Heads, we started at Jubilee Park in Akaroa, where Dean was initially transferred to be picked up by helicopter.
We set off at 4am in strangely warm conditions, 22degC, and made quick work of the 10km stretch of undulating road to Duvauchelle. From there, as anyone familiar with the area will know, it's up the hill. A short distance up we turned off at the signposted turnoff to Pigeon Bay, and from there linked onto the Duvauchelle Stock Route and along to Hilltop. It was a reasonable climb up, during which I quickly realised that this was not going to be a day for stopping to take numerous photos as I usually do when tramping - every stop saw me fall further behind the lead bunch who were setting a cracking pace.
From the hilltop, we descended what's known as Harmans Track, a 4WD route down into a pleasant valley that enabled us to avoid the main highway which is a little narrow on the hill. The valley at the bottom was a nice area, one rarely visited I imagine, as travelers would usually be racing by on their way to Akaroa or beyond.
Emerging from the valley, we then had a 4km or so stretch on the main highway, which was getting busy now, before arriving at Little River at around 9am. 25km down, and the first of the two major hills now behind us.

Awaiting our arrival in Little River were all manner of people - supporters, families, some folk from the Westpac Helicopter Events Team, and a TV3 news crew! Word was getting out about this group of walkers!
After a quick (all too quick!) refuel we were on the move again, leaving the highway to walk the Little River Rail Trail. This trail, frequented by walkers and cyclists, generally follows the main highway, making it very accessible for those wanting to do a short section of it. This also aided our support vehicles, who could stop every few kilometres to check how everyone's water and food supplies were going.
The rail trail is flat, and in my opinion a rather uninspiring trail. The only alternative would have been the highway, which is no more exciting or interesting as the two run side by side almost and would have been significantly more hazardous! It just meant that the section along the rail trail was a fairly monotonous plod, made more enjoyable by being in the presence of good company.
One advantage of the trail being so close to the road was that people could join the walk, do a section, then jump off and be picked up almost anywhere they felt like. One major downside to the trail is that it runs alongside Lake Forsyth, which has got to be one of the most disgusting pieces of water in Canterbury. Logging on the hillsides above the lake had led to increased levels of erosion, bringing more sediment into the lake. As a result, the lake is now extremely shallow, which in turn means warmer water allowing algae to thrive. Toxic blooms have literally poisoned the lake...it's not a pleasant waterway.

Once past the lake, the trail led us round the bend near Birdlings Flat to a good parking area where we stopped for lunch at almost exactly midday, 8 hours after leaving Akaroa.
Lunch, for me, came at a much needed time, as I had found the final stretch leading up to our stop point quite challenging. It was the first, and only, time on the walk that I felt I wouldn't make it. It wasn't that the terrain was hard - far from it - but I was running on empty due to the fact that we'd been pretty much constantly on the go for 8 hours.

After a short lunch, not wanting to stop for too long and tighten up, we struck out along a long, straight stretch of the rail trail again, heading across the flats towards first Kaituna, and then on towards Motukarara. With lunch on board I felt revitalised, and enjoyed striding out along this section, despite the somewhat repetitive nature of it, and was feeling great when we regrouped where the trail crossed Seabridge Rd, the point where we were to leave the rail trail.
Avoiding a blind corner on the highway, we cut across a paddock to join the main road again and happily marched along it to Millers Rd, where we turned and started to make up our way towards the road up to Gebbies Pass.
Gebbies Pass is quite a low saddle (at around 160m altitude) that can be crossed to reach the head of Lyttelton Harbour. The climb up is on a fairly easy gradient, steepening just a little towards the top. Having made enquiries earlier in the day about this section I knew the real climb was about to begin - a long slog up the Summit Rd to where it bisects Coopers Knob and Gibraltar Rock.
On a typical day this would be an easy climb, but with 55km already behind me I knew it was going to be a challenge, so I decided to stick to my own steady pace rather than try and keep up with the lead group. This was a decision I'd made quite early in the day, feeling there was no point in trying to match the faster pace of others with such a long day in front of me. Although it meant that for long periods of the walk I was on my own, I was comfortable in the knowledge that by doing so I would give myself a much better chance of completing the entire walk...and I don't mind my own company anyway!
After starting comfortably, the climb up the Summit Rd steepened as we went up, winding its' way up towards and around some rocky outcrops before the gradient eased nearer the top as we sidled under Coopers Knob. The view from the high point on the road, near Gibraltar Rock, made it worthwhile, stretching right across Christchurch to the Alps, and just around the next bend we could see the entire city - our goal was now in sight, we just had to get down there.

With the climbing behind us, the section along the Summit Rd was an easy amble, following the undulating road as it passed under Cass Peak, then round through the Kennedys Bush Reserve, and on to the Sign of the Kiwi at the top of Dyers Pass.
Here I was met with the joyous sight of my family waiting, an emotional moment for me, but one that gave me renewed energy for what I anticipated to be a hard descent down the steep road.

I'm not too familiar with the track network on the Port Hills, so was pleasantly surprised to find that initially we weren't using the road for our descent, instead heading into the bush onto the Harry Ell Track, that took us from the Sign of the Kiwi down to the entrance to Victoria Park. This track was superb, leading gently downhill on a very well formed track, much nicer than the expected descent on the hard road.
At this point though, only partway down, we moved out onto Dyers Pass Rd for its' steeper lower section down to Colombo St. My family were providing great encouragement along here, driving ahead then cheering as our small group approached and passed, and it made the foot-jarring descent much more enjoyable.

Once down on the flat streets of Christchurch it was an easy road to the finish. We went up Colombo St then turned onto Strickland St, which runs on an angle up to Brougham St. After a short walk westwards on Brougham we turned up into Selwyn St, which took us right to our destination - the helipad at Christchurch Hospital. 76km and 16 and a half hours after leaving Akaroa, I'd made it!

Waiting for us were numerous supporters as well as the Westpac Helicopter Events Crew, who were generously cooking a BBQ for us. A few short thank you speeches and we were done.
Congratulations to all who took part, whether in doing the full walk, a short section, or providing support, you all contributed in one way or another.

Remember, this was a fundraising walk for a fantastic cause, so if you feel the urge to donate, head to the page here.

The route from Akaroa (lower right) to Christchurch Hospital (top left)

Looking back to the lights around the harbour from the stock route, 2 hours into the journey

Akaroa Harbour at dawn

Akaroa in the distance - we've come a long way in 3 hours

Akaroa Harbour and Heads away to the right

Media interviews at Little River

Another short pit stop where more new faces joined, the toxic Lake Forsyth in behind

A few of the new faces, looking fresh!

Dean & Sara, one of the few moments she was standing still all day!!

At the top of the Summit Rd, Gibraltar Rock standing prominently

Akaroa to Duvauchelle section

Duvauchelle to Little River via the Duvauchelle Stock Route and Harmans Track

Little River Rail Trail

Route to Gebbies Pass and high point of the Summit Rd

Summit Rd to the Sign of the Kiwi