My favourite Walk: A walk up the Rapaki Track before sunrise
“WHAT? You haven’t walked up Rapaki Track?” An exclamation I have heard often of one of the Port Hills’ most popular tracks.
“Fantastic walk – oh the views,” I’m told, “but you’ll never have it to yourself.”
Which is precisely why I have never walked up Rapaki Track. I love gazing over those breath-taking Canterbury mountain views without irritating jibber jabber spoiling the moment.
But therein lies the dilemma. I really want to walk up Rapaki Track, but how to do it and avoid the masses?
And then it comes to me. Go when no one else wants to. Before sunrise on a wintery Monday morning. Fool proof!
I arrive at 6.30am, surprised to find that I take the last parking space at the top of narrow Rapaki Road although I suspect that a lot of the cars belong to the houses perched precariously on the hillside below.
The first part of the well signposted, open pathway is enclosed in trees and I curse myself for not thinking to bring along a torch as my eyes strain to adjust to the pitch blackness. My heart thumps anxiously and I start to question my decision to come alone.
Adopting a brisk speed-walk, I soon come out of the trees and breathe a little easier.
The track is wide and shingly, very easy to find my way even in this gloom. This is farmland, and bunches of tussock grass punctuate the fields on either side.
There are farm gates every so often, but alongside each is a very smart little cattle grid for walkers and bikers. So thoughtful and very easy to negotiate.
I am delighted to find my plan has somewhat worked and the track stretches ahead of me – deserted. Lovely.
I notice a light heading towards me. It’s a man, probably in his 70’s, dressed in full lycra, hurtling past on a bike with
comically giant tyres at a horrendous speed. I whip out my phone to check for a signal, should I need to call the emergency services. I try not to think about skin on gravel and what I might do should the unthinkable happen.
Although the path is all uphill I stop regularly to turn and look behind. Christchurch’s white and orange glistening lightshow below is a mesmerising wonderland.
The morning being so still, I am able to hear the sound of the traffic hissing its way through an early Monday morning, sounding rather like the gentle lapping of ocean waves on a beach.
As I climb further, the sound of the traffic begins to diminish, and is replaced by the tinkling of running water which must be coming from the valley on my right. The odd bird hops along the track in front of me, but there is very little birdsong, perhaps because of the lack of trees up here.
Light begins to creep in as the sun starts its ascent, coming up over a ridge and throwing a sharp golden line across the hill on my right. Watching it move I am reminded that the sun is not coming up, but that we are turning.
The speed that the golden glow grows is remarkable. Can we really be moving that fast?
A wonderfully wind free morning, I find myself completely overdressed in far too many layers: hat, gloves, scarf, which I remove as the gradual uphill climb warms me to the bones. Each
stop to catch my breath reveals a little more – the Port Hills, the city, beach, ocean, mountains.
A double row of huge steel power pylons, under different circumstances, may be seen as a blot on the landscape. But today they have an enchanting beauty about them. The rich glow as the rising sun catches them. The way they stand, tall and strong, silently carrying power across the mountains.
Everyone on the track seems to be here for exercise. Monday morning daybreak is not a time for casual wanderers. The age of passers-by gets younger as the morning gets lighter.
A group of teens pounds past me heading uphill. Where do they get the energy? Oh, what I could achieve if I had that stamina!
At last I reach Summit Road – the top of the track. Turning to look back, the reward for all that hard work is a view that just doesn’t stop. It goes on and on, right out to sea.
I turn left, heading along the closedto-traffic part of Summit Road and find just past a row of trees, the very best views of all. There is so much to see, it is difficult to take it all in at first.
The entire sweeping coastline is now in full sun with snow-capped mountains a glistening line across the horizon. New Brighton pier is a tiny needle piercing the ocean, behind it the wetlands reflecting pinks and purples from the sky.
Crossing over Summit Road I discover a stunning view down into Lyttelton Harbour, Diamond Harbour and Quail Island. Houses cling to the edges of the land along the water line, as if they have been washed down the mountains and collected at the bottom.
There is no sound up here at all. Not even birds. I can barely hear the faint thrum of traffic from the city; a dog barks way off in the distance, and perhaps a distant seagull? The air is so chilled and fresh, my nose has never felt so clear.
The wind really begins to pick up now, and at last I am grateful for all the extra layers I brought and start pulling them back on again. You can certainly feel the snow up on those mountains now.
Advertised as a 45 minute walk, it has taken me nearly an hour and a half to walk up here but I make no apologies for that.
This is a walk to savour and dawdling is highly recommended. As is a winters morning visit at daybreak.
A walk up the Rapaki Track before sunrise
Above: The view at sunrise from the track. Below left: The entrance to the track. Below right: A view looking back to the Christchurch CBD.,
Above: and below: The track on the way to the top.
Above: The view from the Summit Road.
Below: The rising sun hits the top of the hills first.