"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

29 March 2016

Packhorse Hut, Te Ara Pataka - 26 March 2016

After a long break from tramping, Easter weekend was the perfect opportunity for all of us to head out as a family. Packhorse Hut was the destination, chosen for a number of reasons: it offered a fairly easy walk for the kids, an interesting hut, great views, and it's an area I've not visited at all.

There are numerous routes to the hut, which is nicely located on Kaituna Pass. The easiest approach is the track from Gebbies Pass, while a shorter, but steeper, route climbs from the Kaituna Valley. For those seeking a longer day out, tracks leaving Orton Bradley Park near Diamond Harbour can be followed, either via Mt Herbert or by skirting under Mt Bradley's northern slopes.
We chose the Kaituna Valley route, confident in the kids' ability to make the 400m climb to the pass.

From the carpark on Parkinsons Rd, which branches off the main road up the valley, we set out across pleasant farm land. It wasn't long before we entered the section of bush that hugs the stream draining the pass. The bush was delightfully cool, and the air resounded with bird song, making for very enjoyable tramping as we gradually worked our way up the valley.
There are a couple of small streams to cross through this section, which are generally able to be negotiated with dry feet. I have, however, heard reports of trampers facing a knee deep crossing, so be warned if significant rain has recently fallen.

On leaving the bush we began to climb more steeply on a bulldozed track. Although short lived, this was a moderately steep section that proved a tiring exercise for our youngest. I offered some respite, in the form of a shoulder ride, an offer duly accepted by Lincoln, but as I slogged up the steepest part of the track I quickly regretted making it, and found myself quite drained by the time the gradient eased. It was just the break Lincoln needed though, and he was happily trotting off again as we continued up towards the hut.
With the steepest part behind us, it was straightforward travel on the grassy upper slopes that led us up onto Kaituna Pass and to Packhorse Hut, wonderfully sited right on the pass.

Packhorse Hut (also known as Sign of the Packhorse) was built in 1916, sits at around 450m altitude, and contains 9 bunks. A local visionary, Harry Ell, had a grand idea of a walkway along the tops from Christchurch to Akaroa. This track was to be furnished with 15 or so rest houses along the way, but unfortunately he never saw the dream realised. Nowadays we are able to enjoy the legacy of that vision, not only in the form of Packhorse Hut, but also in the iconic buildings along the Port Hills - namely the Signs of the Takahe (located partway up Dyers Pass Rd), Kiwi (on Dyers Pass), and Bellbird (on the road between Dyers and Gebbies Passes). These buildings all serve different purposes than their original use but are, nonetheless, reminders of the grand dream of one man.
Ell would, I'm sure, be pleased that his vision has, in part, been fulfilled, with the recently renamed Te Ara Pataka (formerly Summit Walkway) linking Gebbies Pass with Hilltop above Duvauchelle on the Christchurch to Akaroa road. A new hut (Rod Donald Hut), along with Packhorse Hut, provides walkers on the route with comfortable accommodation, although it must be noted that overnight stays at both huts must be booked in advance.

We spent an hour or so up at the hut, having lunch and just enjoying being out in the hills again. There were people coming from all directions - it really is a popular spot for day walkers. While it would have been nice to have spent the night up there, the hut was booked out so after resting, eating, and photographing the hut from all angles(!), we packed up and started our return journey.
There's an advantage to the inward leg being all uphill, and for the most part the kids and Julia enjoyed the ease of downhill travel. The only exception was heading down the steepest section, where the strains of a steep descent took their toll on young legs. That aside, it was a comfortable, and quick, trip back to the car, and the end of a fun day out as a family - highly recommended!

A lesson on walnuts was the first order of the day!

Setting out across pleasant farm land

Looking down into Kaituna Valley

Bush remnant beneath the slopes of Mt Bradley

Lunch at Packhorse Hut

View from the hut down to the head of Lyttelton Harbour

Packhorse Hut, and the slopes leading up towards Mt Bradley

Packhorse Hut with the Remarkable Dykes behind

The hut perched on Kaituna Pass

The hut perched on Kaituna Pass

Port Hills, Teddington, and the Head of the Bay

Looking across towards Gebbies Pass

Packhorse Hut

Stove in Packhorse Hut

Stonework construction

The hut and its' view to Lyttelton Harbour - a bit of a hazy day unfortunately

Starting our descent back down the valley

The steepest section of track

Regular lolly stops keep little legs going!

Crown Copyright - Land Information NZ

Access: Take SH75 towards Akaroa. Turn left at a signposted turnoff into Kaituna Valley, then look for Parkinsons Rd on your left as you drive up the valley. Park at the designated carpark and stick to the marked walking track.

Time: Kaituna Valley to Packhorse Hut 1hr 20mins, return 45mins

Map: BX24 Christchurch

Hut: Packhorse Hut (9 bunks)


  1. Great trip that, the hut looks in good conditions since the earthquake repairs. Hey, I missed you by a week, I'm walking the Summit Walkway this weekend and will be at Packhorse Hut on Saturday the 2nd April. Always one of my favorites, this will be my 9th visit...

    1. Yes the hut is in great condition. This was my first visit to this part of the world, other than what we covered on our Akaroa to Christchurch epic. Really enjoyed it, will have to come back and do the whole walkway sometime. Shame we missed you...one day our paths may cross!