Mount Herbert Walkway
Classification : Track
Mount Herbert rises on the southern side of the crater rim of Lyttelton Harbour to a height of 919 metres above sea level, and is the highest point on Banks Peninsula. From the summit, a bird's eye view of Canterbury spreads beneath the traveller's gaze, ranging beyond the miniature Lyttelton below and the wide sweep of the hedged and road-dissected plains, to the angular mass of the Southern Alps and the Marlborough mountains, the highest peaks clad in perpetual snow.
To the south-east the tumbled hills of the peninsula rise around Akaroa Harbour, Lyttelton's twin volcanic crater. Three million years younger than the Lyttelton volcano, Akaroa erupted nine million years ago and during the next million years buried much of the eastern and south-eastern flanks of the older volcano, the lava overflowing into the crater to build the slope fron Diamond Harbour to the tops, up which the walkway climbs.
The Maori name for Mt Herbert is thought to be Te ahu-patiki, and the Chatham islanders maintain a belief that their ancestors came from the foot of the mountain.
The WalkwayThe Walkway begins at Diamond Harbour, climbs close to the summit of Mt Herbert, and descends to Charteris Bay through Orton Bradley Park. Apart from the walk itself, the geology and plant life of the area is particularly interesting, the first because of the volcanic origins of the hills, and the second because of the survival of remnants of the original podocarp-broadleaf forest within three reserves close to the summit of Mt Herbert.
Diamond Harbour SectionBeginning a short distance from the road leading from the Diamond Harbour wharf on Stoddard Point, the walkway slopes down to a tiny rock-bound beach backed with tall eucalypts and pines, their roots exposed along the cliff. The swimming is excellent in the deep green water of this small cove which Mark Stoddart found so appealing on arrival in 1851. A man with a poetic streak in his nature, Stoddart was fascinated with the sun glittering on the water and so named the bay Diamond Harbour. Turning inland beside a small creek, the track climbs beside it between rocks and trees and shrubs to Marine Drive.
Visible from this road a short distance along the path, on the opposite bank of the stream, a huge karri tree spreads its branches over the valley floor. An Australian hardwood, Eucalyptus diversicolor, this beautiful tree is believed to have been brought to New Zealand in Mark Stoddart's pack and planted by him in the late 1860s. It maybe the only specimen in New Zealand. Beyond the karri along the stream bed, willows and gum trees give some shade to the path on the way to the last road crossing on Bay View Road, a link between Charteris Bay and the Purau Bay Road. Across the road the walkway begins its long ascent towards the summit of Mt Herbert.
Mt Herbert SectionThe summit of Mt Herbert is flat, and therefore a very good vantage point from which to study the view. A short distance to the south-west a small shelter of Scandinavian design blends with the landscape and below it the bush of the Herbert Peak Scenic Reserve falls away into the Kaituna Valley. The Reserve protects probably the most valuable bush on the peninsula. With a rainfall approaching 180 centimetres, the climate suits the trees so that there are hundreds of very big matai, kahikatea and mountain and lowland totara as well as a wide variety of broad-leaved trees and some interesting varieties including pahantea, the New Zealand cedar, Libocedrus bidwilii; toii, the broad-leaved cabbage tree, Cordyline indivisa; and climbers or lianes, the beautiful white-flowered clematis, Clematis paniculata, puawhananga being perhaps the most well-known.
Orton Bradley Park SectionFrom the shelter, the walkway drops down steeply across grassland to the farm access track leading through scrub to a bush track to the Orton Bradley Park boundary, Mt Bradley, 855 metres, being by-passed. The park covers an area of 653 hectares from the harbour frontage of Charteris Bay to the slopes of Mts Herbert and Bradley. The walkway follows the main valley floor track through the centre of the Park, passing Big Rock, a bushy crag with a fine view of the valley; a quarry with springs matted with the floating fern, Azolla rubra; and picnic grounds, before reaching the nucleus of the park, the groups of historic farm buildings including a stone cottage inscribed with the date 1848. An avenue of mixed kinds of introduced trees leads to the grass where the walkway ends.
Vegetation of Mt HerbertThe most common tussock on the slopes of Mt Herbert is Poa caespitosa, whereas Festuca novae-zelandiae is plentiful on the often foggy tops. Other plants include two sedges, Carex lucida, and C. virgata and the "golden-eyed grass", Hypoxis hookeri, which spens the summer underground and adds and retains one corm a year so that ite minimum age may be counted. A mat plant related to this vegetable sheep grows in very dry places. Almost like moss in appearance, it is called Raoulia monroii.
Near the 600 metre level a small circular cairn marks a change in the tyoe of vegetation. The small rock lovage, Anisotome enysii, is very common among the rocks, and plants of a sub-alpine nature begin to appear as the altitude increases, among them being the sedge, Carex wakatipu; and near the top grows Raoul's plantain, Plantago raoulii and a very small Gunnera with runners and greenish flowers - Gunnera monoica. The snow groundsel Senecio lyalli, and the mountain foxglove, Ourisa macrophylla, also grow here.
The slopes of Mt Herbert and Mt Bradley above Diamond Harbour, Church Bay and Charteris Bay within Lyttelton Harbour, 30km from Christchurch.
Track. Although the lower levels are of walk standard, the final climb to the summit requires a moderate level of fitness.
The walkway track is marked with orange and white posts; those in Orton Bradley Park have red-banded tops.
6-8 hours including lunch rest in the Top Shelter
By road from Christchurch via Governors Bay. By ferry from Lyttelton. A regular ferry service operates daily between Lyttelton and Diamond Harbour. Public road transport is unavailable apart from tour buses.
Limited parking at Diamond Harbour and associated roads. Parking within Orton Bradley Park. Shop at Diamond Harbour. Toilets at beginning and end of the walkway, and at the top shelter.
Note : Much of the walkway is over private farm land. Please respect these properties and do not interfere with, or damage, any livestock, crops, fences, or trees.
The walkway may be closed from the end of the August school holidays until Labour weekend for lambing, and may also be closed during periods of high fire risk.
I walked this track on a scorchingly hot day in the middle of summer, which was probably not the most sensible thing to do. The Mt Herbert track is not an easy stroll but rather an all-day uphill trek, and quite a hard slog in some of the steepest bits. Despite the fact that I thought I was going to die of heat exhaustion on the way up, I would still have to say that the view from the top made the effort well worth it. When you finally reach the summit (and they've saved the steepest bit till last) you can do a complete 360 degree turn and see the entire peninsula - Lyttelton, Akaroa in the distance, Diamond Harbour, and numerous other bays and inlets. Standing on the highest point of the peninsula gives you a truly awe-inspriring perspective on the land below.
There are a number of places that you can start from - you can take the track from the very bottom of Diamond Harbour or pick it up from one of the road crossings before the farm track starts. We decided to start from sea level, and picked up the track from the swimming cove at Diamond Harbour. The first part of the track, from the beach to the farm track, is by far the shadiest part on the way up. Much of the farm track is mercilessly exposed, so take plenty of sunscreen (and remember to reapply frequently) and lots of water to drink. You can get more water from the shelter at the top, so don't worry if you drink all the water on the way up.
You can either go back down the way you came or walk down through Orton Bradley Park. The descent through Orton Bradley is also quite steep in places, but goes through some beautiful bush. The track meanders by the river and there are some lovely spots to stop and dunk your feet. The track is signposted, but we found these difficult to spot at times and wandered a little way off the track once or twice. Once you get to the bottom, the real challenge is getting back to Diamond Harbour. We managed to hitch a ride back, but if you have to walk it's a bit of a distance.
The track takes 6-8 hours, and a bit longer if you have to walk back to Diamond Harbour. It's a challenging but enjoyable walk, but perhaps best done on a day that is not searingly hot. A cooler, cloudier day would make the walk more comfortable.