Crater Rim WalkwayClassification : Walk
IntroductionThe Crater Rim Walkway is an attractive and rewarding walk. It passes through some of the finest remnants of native forest on the Port Hills as well as areas planted in a mixture of native and exotic trees. Along the well formed tracks there are magnificent views over Lyttelton Harbour (Whakaraupo) and along the summit ridge the hills clearly show the volcanic nature of the land, while views over Christchurch City and the plains are equally impressive
DistanceSign of the Takahe - Sign of the Kiwi 3.2 km
Sign of the Kiwi - Bridle Path 6.9 km
Sign of the Kiwi - Coopers Knob Scenic Reserve 7 km
TimeSign of the Takahe - Sign of the Kiwi 55 mins
Sign of the Kiwi - Witch Hill 1 hr 25 mins
Witch Hill - Bridle Path 1 hr 40 mins
Sign of the Kiwi - Sign of the Bellbird 1 hr 30 mins
Sign of the Bellbird - Coopers Knob Scenic Reserve 1 hr 30 mins
The Port Hills of Christchurch, adjacent to Dyers Pass Road and the Summit Road.
AccessVictoria Park Road, above the Sign of the Takahe; Sugar Loaf Scenic Reserve, opposite the Sign of the Kiwi. Parking areas along Summit Road.
Public TransportBuses run from the Square to the Sign of the Takahe.
FacilitiesParking at the Sign of the Takahe and at the Sign of the Kiwi. Limited parking areas along Summit Road.
Refreshments available at the Sign of the Takahe, cold drinks and confectionary at the Sign of the Kiwi.
Walking shoes are recommended on the walkway and warm clothing should be carried as the weather can change rapidly.
Note: Many sections of the walkway are on private land. Please show your respect to co-operating landowners by keeping to the track and disturbing stock as little as possible. Dogs and horses are prohibited on the walkway.
Takahe to KiwiThis section of the walkway commences south-east of the Sign of the Takahe above Dyers Pass Road, and follows the H.G. Ell Track which was named in commemoration of Harry Ell, the major force behind the creation of the Summit Road and the first reserves on the Port Hills. The Sign of the Takahe, just below the track, is one of a series of rest houses Ell planned to erect along the road. Four rest houses were built, the Gothic style "Takahe" being the most elaborate. The Sign of the Takahe incorporates aspects of Canterbury's history in the heraldic emblems of early settlers, governors and supporters of the Summit Road Scheme. Some of the emblems are featured on the external ornamentation of the building.
As the track rises to Dyers Pass it runs along the edge of the three reserves, the largest and most developed being the 74 hectare Victoria Park. Each of the reserves, Elizabeth, Victoria and Thomson Parks is a mixture of open tussock land and areas of native and exotic trees. Most of the native vegetation in these parks has been planted, with major contributions coming from Christchurch school children involved in Arbor Day projects.
The walkway emerges on to the Summit Road slightly above the intersection with Dyers Pass Road. From here one has the choice of travelling east towards the Bridle Path, or continuing south from the Sign of the Kiwi to Coopers Knob.
The Sign of the Kiwi is another of Harry Ell's rest houses, and first opened in 1917. It now serves as a souvenir and refreshment stop, and is the home of the Christchurch City Council's Port Hills ranger. From the "Kiwi" there are fine views of Christchurch, the Southern Alps, and parts of Lyttelton Harbour.
Sign of the Kiwi to the Bridle PathThis section of the walkway commences on the Governors Bay side of Dyers Pass Road, opposite the Sign of the Kiwi. It crosses Sugar Loaf Scenic Reserve via Mitchells Track, passing through some of the best native forest of the Summit Road reserves, featuring whiteywood (mahoe), broadleaf (papauma), lemonwood (tarata) lancewood (horoeka) and Coprosma.
Excellent views of Lyttelton Harbour (Whakaraupo) are provided from both Mitchells and Gilpins Tracks, with the latter crossing Sugar Loaf (Te Pohue) above the walkway. The reserve is easily identified by the 120 metre television mast sited on the summit.
From Sugar Loaf the walkway crosses pasture a few metres above the Summit Road, passes an old stone wall and heads into Scott Recreation Reserve; ana ttractive area planted in a variety of exotic shrubs and trees. The reserve overlooks the suburb of St Martins and to the north-west, Victoria Park.
Travelling gently uphill from Scott reserve the walkway zigzags over the tussock and rock-covered flanks of Mt Vernon. These northern slopes are gently contoured with a series of ascending terraces to the domed summit. Lookout points along the track provide glimpses of the southern aspect, which by contrast is rugged and precipitous.
From Mt Vernon the walkway skirts around the steep, rocky knob of Witch Hill (Te Upoko-o-Kuri, or head of a dog) and is flanked by an impressive bluff (Te Ahi-a-Tamatea), popular with rock climbers. Usually known as Rapaki Rock, the bluff is a notable example of the volcanic dykes which are common in the hills. Maori legend explains it as the remains of a sacred fire called down by Tamatea, who passed through the area about 600 years ago. The southern end of the dyke (outside the reserve) was quarried for building stone for the growing settlement of Christchurch. On the summit of Witch Hill is a stone seat erected in memory of Canterbury men, including those from the Rapaki Pa below, who died in the First World War.
Adjacent to Witch Hill Scenic Reserve is the old Rapaki Track which was an important access route between the plains and harbour for Maori people. Many European settlers also used the track until the Bridle Path was cut in 1850. Today only the city side of the track is formed, connecting the Summit Road with the Christchurch suburb of Murray Aynsley.
From Witch Hill to the Tors Scenic Reserve, the walkway crosses tussock covered farmland which is privately owned. Lying above the Summit Road, the Tors Scenic Reserve includes an isolated tor, which along with Castle Rock (Te Tihi-O-Kahukura) across the road, is particularly popular with rock climbers. Castle Rock is an exposed dyke with well developed columnar jointing.
Access to the trig point on the Tors is via a steep tussock slope on the reserve's south side. A number of small shrubs and native herbs grow in the reserve including Hebe lavaudiana, found only on Banks Peninsula. From the Tors, the track descends a broad ridge to meet the Bridle Path.
The Bridle Path was built in 1850 by Captain J. Thomas on behalf of the Canterbury Association. Its function was to provide a route from Lyttelton (Ohinehou) over the hills and into the Heathcote Valley for Canterbury colonists who were due to arrive later that same year. Always a steep and difficult track, it was not until January 1851 that its whole length could be used by both pedestrians and horses.
Settlers made constant use of the Bridle Path until the opening of the Sumner Road to Lyttelton via Evans Pass (1857) and the Lyttelton rail tunnel (1867) offered easier routes between harbour and plains.
Nowadays the path still runs over the hills from the Lyttelton road tunnel entrance, on the city side, to the edge of Lyttelton township.
At the junction of the walkway with the Bridle Path is a six sided stone memorial to the pioneer women of Canterbury. Here one can sit and gaze over the harbour, before returning back along the walkway or taking the Bridle Path either down to Lyttelton or to Heathcote.
Sign of the Kiwi to Coopers KnobThe walkway begins adjacent to the Summit Road, a few metres south of the Sign of the Kiwi, and travels through private land on both side of the Summit Road. Upon recrossing the road onto the harbourside the walkway enters Hoon Hay Park Scenic Reserve. The reserve consists of an area of rough grassland and bracken which runs up from the road, giving an excellent view over the plains. Further along, downhill and back beside the road, there are magnificent views over the harbour, including out to the heads and over Governors Bay.
Adjoining Hoon Hay Park is Kennedy's Bush Scenic Reserve. At the northern tip of the reserve, across the road from the walkway, is the beginning of Kennedy's Bush Track. The track, 4km in length, follows the old Kennedy's Bush Road and provides access to Halswell.
A short distance uphill an alternative route branches off left from the walkway. The walkway itself curves around Mt Ada near to the road, passing through tussock, flax, bracken, broom and gorse covered land which is part of the reserve, before rejoining with the other branch.
The other, more interesting route, known as Ella's Track, heads away from the road onto private land and around the other side of Mt Ada, affording splendid views over the harbour. After a short while the gorse and bracken vegetation is left behind for more attractive native bush which includes whiteywood, broadleaf, fuchsia (kotukutuku), lancewood and a variety of ferns. The track then curves around to rejoin the walkway and the road.
At this stage the bulk of Kennedy's Bush Scenic Reserve - the first Summit Road reserve established by Harry Ell - can be viewed across the other side of the road. The original bush is mainly dryish, mixed broadleaf forest, featuring whiteywood, ribbonwood, kowhai and mountain pepper, as well as areas of kanuka. Since its reservation over 150, 000 native trees and shrubs have been planted.
The reserve extends for a short way onto the walkway side of the road, although there is not much actual bush present. There is the odd native tree, especially ribbonwood, and shortly before the Signof the Bellbird there is a particularly impressive totara which stands alone on the hillside close to the road. Also of note are the pink volcanic rocks along this part of the walkway.
The Sign of the Bellbird is the third and last of the Harry Ell rest houses to be passed on the walkway. It lies in Kennedy's Bush on the plains side of the road, about five minutes' walk south from where the two route rejoin. From the "Bellbird" there is an excellent view over the valley below and across the plains.
The Sign of the Bellbird was originally built in 1913 as a cottage for the bush caretaker, and it was extended in 1915 to become a tearoom. It was unoccupied during the Second World War, and was destryed by vandalism during the latter years of the war, but stones froim the original cottage have been used to make the present stone shelter, behind which are remains of the original "Bellbird".
From the Sign of the Bellbird the walkway proceeds through the last of Kennedy's Bush above the road and onto private land. The walkway heads away from the road, around a hillside with views over the harbour, through thich gorse and bracken, and patches of native bush which include broadleaf, fuchsia, whiteywood, montane totara and mountain pepper.
Cass Peak (546m) which rises aboe the walkway makes an impressive sight due to the red volcanic rock of the bluff facing the walkway. On top of the peak are a radio transmission station and navigational aids.
Adjacent to the peak, on both side of the road, is the small Cass Peak Scenic Reserve. The smaller section of the reserve, situated above the road, contains the only surviving fragment of montane forest on the Port Hills, featuring montane totara, fuchsia and mountain pepper. The larger part of the reserve, below the road, is in scrub and forest.
On the way to Coopers Knob Scenic Reserve the walkway crosses private land belonging to the Living Springs Trust, a camping and convention centre. The walkway runs near to the road, across tussock and grassland and through the occasional area of bush. A sign reading "Caution Hang Gliders Landing" warn walkers of a possible aerial threat to their safety during the walkway's progress through an expanse of tussock.
A walk up a hillside shortly before Coopers Knob reveals a panoramic view of lake Ellesmere and the plains.
The walkway reaches its present terminus at the beginning of Coopers Knob Scenic Reserve. However, there is a walking track linking the Coopers Knob and Ahuriri Bush Scenic Reserves.
Coopers Knob (575 m), an outcrop of volcanic rock, is the highest point of the Port Hills and the reserve provides expansive views of the plains and Southern Alps. On a clear day Mount Cook may be seen due west.
The reserve consists of two almost adjoining areas. The first, which the walkway passes through, is a small area of tussock grassland, while the larger area, on which Coopers Knob is situated, features a mixture of tussock grassland, native bush, shrubs,and bracken. Around the higher points are a few snow tussock, the only ones found on the Port Hills.
The Crater Rim
Looking along the top of the Port Hills as they curve around Lyttelton Harbour, it is not difficult to see the volcanic origin of the area.
The summit of the hills is in fact the rim of the Lyttelton vlocano which was built up over a period of about two million years, activity starting aboout 12 million years ago. At its zenith the volcano reached about 1500 metres above sea level.
Since then the volcano's large basin-shaped crater or caldera has been hollowed out by erosion. Sea levels rose in the 10,000 years since the last glaciation partly drowning the crater and forming Lyttelton Harbour (Whakaraupo).
The volcanic rock of the hills contains many fascinating formations, including "dykes", ie ridges formed of molten rock which forced its way up through cracks in the volcano wall. Often their greater harness has meant that as surrounding rocks have eroded away over the years, the dykes are exposed as spectacular outcrops, such as Rapaki Rock, and Castle Rock.
Generally the dykes radiate out from the volcanic centre which is near Quail Island (Otamahua) in the middle of the harbour. The island is a recreation reserve and can be seen clearly from the walkway as one looks towards the head of the harbour.