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Post-work Packhorse

19 January 2016

By Mark Megaughin

With summer in full swing biking adventures are abound, but just recently it felt like the regular post-work rides in the Port Hills of Christchurch haven't quite been doing justice to our long summer evenings. Something needed to be done to make full use of summer’s offer, before autumn started to absorb the advantage, and I had just the plan. With Tim and Neil on board we were good to go; an overnight mountain bike trip to Packhorse Hut (the closest DOC hut to Christchurch), leaving straight from work and being back behind our desks the next morning before our bosses realised we had gone.

Leaving the city centre we dodged rush hour traffic through to Halswell Quarry and the base of the hills. The narrow singletrack of the Crocodile Track quickly gives way to the wider Kennedys Bush Track which steadily put vertical meters between us and the daily grind, carrying us up to the Summit Road. Although tarmac, the Summit Road was a peaceful affair with the quiet only punctuated by the occasional whiz of a passing road cyclist going the other way. We passed Sign of the Bellbird, the third of four rest houses built between Christchurch and Akaroa in the early 1900’s; Packhorse Hut was the fourth in Harry Ell’s stalled plan, and is in far better condition with Bellbird being sadly torched last year.

From the high point of the Summit Road we roared down towards Gebbies Pass, our 2.5 inches of soft rubber fighting the rough tarmac and generating levels of grip which would have ripped the planet off its axis had we all leaned the same way through a corner.

Gebbies Pass marks the start of the Packhorse Track; a fun, if pinchy, singletrack which strikes up through open hillside and a forestry block currently in various stages of felling, clearance and replanting. Even with the forestry works in progress it is an interesting ride with the cool and dappled light of the forest replaced in sections by expansive views of the harbour. After about 40 minutes of solid climbing through the trees the track sidles across open hillside and the feeling of disconnection from the city really grows; it was thoroughly satisfying to feel this remote on a worknight. The track cuts through a huge volcanic dyke before a final rise to Packhorse Hut. Sitting solidly on Kaituna Pass the hut is built of stone and was recently refurbished and earthquake strengthened. Apparently the original rock for the hut was hauled up from Kaituna Valley on a sled by a team of men and six bullocks. We felt somewhat pathetic given our breathlessness after hauling nothing but a dehydrated meal, some muesli and a sleeping bag to the same elevation.

Having arrived in good time we sat and took in the views back across the harbour towards Lyttleton and our usual evening playground of the Port Hills. As the sun set, more distant ranges became bathed in the brilliant amber glow, with the peak of Manakau being the last to receive the warmth of the day’s sun. We retired to the hut to munch through our dinner; washed down with some short whiskies and some long tales before hitting the bunks.

Retracing our tracks in the early morning light, the ride started with an fun sidle across a steep hillside which left us glad we had done our waking up before leaving the hut. Swooping singletrack followed as we descended back to Gebbies Pass before committing to the climb back onto the Summit Road. As a reward we picked off The Flying Nun, Sesame Street and Ponos, some of the city's classic singletrack, enroute back to the city centre.

As I slid back behind my desk, bang on 9.30 am, my colleague turned and asked ‘Good evening?’, ‘Yeah...’, I replied, ‘...the best of the summer so far...’. The boss didn’t have a clue.

Nitty Gritty
  • 32 km each way. 3-4 hrs there, 2.5-3.5 hrs back 
  • 1200 m ascent on the way there, 700 m on the way back 
  • Weekday nights are best for the ‘get away from it all’ experience, the hut bulges at the seams at weekends 
  • Packhorse Hut can now be booked at www.doc.govt.nz