Family tramp to the Packhorse Hut

Hero eager to start the tramp up to the Packhorse Hut

I’m a bit of a newbie to tramping but I have the willingness to get stuck in and put one foot in front of the other to get to the summit of any mountain under 1000m. I have no desire to climb Mount Cook or anything but I would be pretty keen to cross off most of the day walk mountains or big hills in the Canterbury area.

I’m no stranger to sweating it up a hill as I have done the Coast to Coast run a number of times, reached the summit of Mount Fyffe, Mount Thomas, Mount Somers, Mount Oxford, Mount Vernon, and various other steep tracks across the South Island. I’m just not experienced in carrying a 20Kg pack with a tent, food, water, cooking equipment, sleeping mats and bags etc.

Anyway, my sister put the question out there. Did I want to walk up to the Packhorse hut with all the kids. That is my 8 year old son and her 10 year old twin girls and her younger 6 year old daughter. Of course I was keen. I love a good outdoor adventure and any excuse to get my son out in the great outdoors and off the Playstation.

I’m a bit of a gear head and so the first thing I did was go out and get myself and my son a new tramping pack and sleeping mats.

The other essential tramping requirement is a tent so we got a 2 person Duolight tent from Macpac. It packs up super small and hardly takes up any room in my pack. It also weighs a mere 2.3Kg. Perfect for carrying up hills.

So with bags packed we headed out in convoy to Kaituna Valley. We initially drove past the turn off to the carpark and had to back track. We must have driven a good 5Km further up the road and hit a dead end. Scratching my head, I realised we’d gone too far.

We parked up the cars and had a quick lunch snack and pack check. With everything in order and packs absolutely chokka, we started the walk.

Good thing we didn’t bring the Pug
The bucket hat brigade.

The track started off pretty easily. A wide 4WD track with a gradual gradient and quite a few soft cows patties to avoid. I demonstrated to the kids that there is nothing to be afraid of with cow patties. They’re just digested piles of grass. A little crusty on the outside but soft and warm on the inside. The kids were not impressed. We managed to avoid standing in any and reached the first of many small stream crossings. We have had quite a lot of rain lately so the streams were fast flowing and deep enough to be a challenge for the kids. There were strategically placed rocks so they could rock hop across to the other side and it was a good exercise for them in decision making. Which rocks were stable enough to stand on. Which rocks were not too slippery and which rocks were just far enough apart that they could hop from one to the other without getting their feet wet.

Three of the four children made it across but the 6 year old needed a little help, but not too much. It was a good lesson in confidence building and decision making.

One of the stream crossings. Autumn the 6 year old eyeing up her first move.

The day started to get hotter and hotter and pretty soon we were taking off layers and guzzling down the water. There were a few moments of grizzly behaviour and stubbornness but we eventually got up the first half of the walk and stopped for a food break and a bit of a rest.

Chocolate almonds and water. Ready for stage 2 and the steepest part yet to come.

We found a shady spot next to some pine trees and had a rest, took some photos, ate some chocolate and muesli bars and hydrated ourselves. We could see the next part of the walk ahead of us and it looked pretty steep.

These kids are pretty used to steep hills as they have walked the Bridle path and the Pipeline many times. They also have a lower centre of gravity so it should theoretically be much easier for them than it is for me. Also, I am carrying a 20Kg pack and theirs weigh 6Kg max!

Head down, small steps. Burning calves.

Once we got to the top of the steep clay track we could almost see the summit. It was still a far distance away but we knew we were so much closer. It was a bit deceptive from here on as it seemed like the track levelled off but it was still hard going. The last kilometre was across grassy farmland with sheep. We were pretty sure the same sheep were following us as we kept seeing a Ewe and two lambs around every corner and every bush. At this point it was clear who the competitive kids were as they were continually battling for first place. I was struggling to keep up with my 8 year old son. He’s pretty fit you see. A very keen competitive cross country runner so he has good fitness and good endurance. He left all of us behind. I was in second place and my 10 year old niece Julia was in 3rd place. It is always a race with Hero but if that’s what it takes to get to the top, some good friendly competition, then I’m all for it.

Hero looking back down the valley at the laggers and where we started the track.
First to the orange marker and the hut is now in sight

We made it. It was a glorious day, hardly any wind and we were the only ones there (well, at least for 2 minutes when the next group arrived). At least we had first pick of a suitable tent site. Choosing a tent site was tricky as there was not a lot of flat, soft ground. Avoiding clumps of tussock and rocks, we found a spot to pitch the tents.

I had not yet had a trial run at pitching my new tent so it was going to be interesting as I am not one to follow instructions. I just pull out the parts and guess where they go.

Pitched perfect! Just the right size for me and my boy.

Ten minutes later the tent was up! It was so easy and quick to put up on my own. I was very pleased with myself. There was just enough room for me and Hero and our packs. But then I found out we were to have an extra overnight guest. So our two person tent became a three person tent. I guess two half people make a whole.

With the tent pitched and after a nice relaxing lie down in the warm glow of the tent, it was time to sort out some dinner. I was pretty organised and I already had dinner prepared. Pasta salad with cherry tomatoes, cucumber and a lemon olive oil dressing. A side of grapes and some fresh cheese buns. Delicious.

My sister is a little more experienced at camping. She had her little gas cooker and made a hot cooked meal and a coffee.

Cooking up a storm and a brew.

After dinner we went for a walk up behind the campsite and explored some lesser used overgrown tracks. My sister decided to hike right up to the top of the hill and get to the craggy rocks. It was bit too steep and hot to go any further and someone had to mind all the kids. We did our own exploring and the kids were so excited to show me the dead rotten carcass of a sheep. They stared at it for ages, pondering it’s demise and the process of returning to nature. I just couldn’t get over the smell of it.

The views were incredible at the top. You look down over Lyttelton Harbour and Lake Ellesmere. Looking out across the Port Hills you can see the Southern Alps in the distance and beyond the Lake are the vast Canterbury Plains. We were to be treated to a pretty epic sunset.

Lisa and Summer waiting for the sunset.
Sunset. Canterbury skies and tussock

With a nice hot cup of tea we sat and watched the sun set in the West. It was rather spectacular.

The kids were running around with some new friends and following a baby hedgehog in the tussock, unaware of the magnificent sunset that the adults were taking in.

With the sun down, it was time to climb into the sleeping bags and hopefully get a good night’s sleep. Two is cosy, three’s a crowd. Not really, it was fine. We all had a good sleep and it was actually quite comfortable.

We woke at the crack of dawn, as you do. It was a little breezy and cooler in the morning so we were keen to pack up and head back down to the cars. Also, I desperately needed my morning coffee. The plan was to go to Little River for breakfast and coffee so the quicker we packed up and the faster we walked, the sooner I would get that first sip of coffee that I so crave in the morning.

The kids all ready to head back down after a good night’s sleep.
Morning light at the Packhorse Hut

It took half the time to walk down as it did going up, for obvious reasons. And I was hurrying them along with the thought of coffee and breakfast.

When we got to the bottom, the kids were playing hide and seek and I played along with them until the giggles rang out from behind the bushes. Game over! At the farmhouse by the carpark there was all this noise in the tops of the Eucalyptus trees. Looking up, I saw dozens of white cockatoos high up in the trees and flying around free. I wondered if these were wild cockatoos or if they belonged to the farmer. Whatever, it was pretty cool. I’ve never seen parrots flying free in Christchurch before.

We went to the Little River Gallery and Lisa and I got our coffees and the kids an ice cream and we were satiated.

A quick stop at Birdlings Flat Beach before saying our farewells and heading back home.

Chasing the waves at Birdlings Flat

Another fun family adventure comes to an end. Good times.

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