Sunday, 19 May 2019

Clutha Gold Trail and other adventures – Part 1

We recently made another trip to the South Island, from 17 to 29 April 2019. There were two reasons: one was to attend a three-day Scottish Country Dance school during the Easter weekend in Owaka, in the Catlins; the other was to bike the Clutha Gold Trail, from Lawrence to Roxburgh. We also did a bit of cycling around Owaka, and some touristy drives around the Catlins. On the way down we biked in Christchurch, and on the way back we biked in Dunedin.

We were away for 13 days, so I wrote up this story in four parts. Here are the links for Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

Wednesday 17 April – Wellington to Christchurch

On Wednesday 17 April we boarded the Bluebridge ferry to Picton. It was an uneventful crossing (unlike our return trip, but more about that later). Along the Kaikoura coast, we briefly stopped at Ohau Point, where there is now a very impressive new lookout, from where one can view a seal colony.

The new lookout at Ohau Point

This area suffered some of the worst damage during the Kaikoura earthquake in November 2016, when more than 100,000 cubic metres of rock had come down and covered SH1. The repairs and improvements that have been made since then have been phenomenal. 

Seals basking and swimming. The white parts of the rocks were pushed up during the earthquake (photo by John)

Along the newly repaired road there is the beginnings of a cycle track. Hopefully it will one day extend from Ohau to Kaikoura, 25 km further south. There are still a lot of roadworks going on along this stretch of coast.

The future cycle track is on the left of this photo

Thursday 18 April – Christchurch

We stayed in Christchurch for two nights so that we would have a day to cycle around the city. We set off from our accommodation in Riccarton, and rode through Hagley Park and the Botanical Gardens to the city. At this time of year the trees in the gardens were showing their beautiful autumn colours.

Autumn colours in the Botanic Gardens (photo by John)

It is just over five years since our last cycling visit to the central city, and much has changed since then. In 2014 there was still a lot of evidence of the February 2011 earthquake, with damaged buildings everywhere, “deconstruction” and rubble clearing still very much ongoing.

Even now, there are still a few historical buildings that have not yet been repaired, nor pulled down. One of these is the Old Municipal Chambers on Oxford Terrace, a Category 1 heritage building, registered with Heritage NZ. Built in 1885, the building is also known as Our City Otautahi. It is closed, and braced, and still awaiting decisions as to its future.

The Old Municipal Chambers on Oxford Terrace (photo by John)

However, today, many new buildings have sprung up to replace the damaged ones, and a lot of construction is still happening. There is now a beautiful City Promenade alongside the River Avon, perfect for pedestrians and cyclists, though every so often they have to watch out for the Historic Tram that runs through there on its circuit around the city centre.  

New buildings line the promenade. On the left is the new “state-of-the-art” Convention Centre,
due to be opened in October 2020 (photo by John)

The City Promenade is on the eastern side of the Avon River, and extends for two kilometres. Towards the end of the Promenade, we carried on along Oxford Terrace. We meandered along, following the river, and looking for the cycle track that would take us to New Brighton.

We came upon a road closure – a gate across the road, a big sign “Road closed”, but a gap left for pedestrians and cyclists. We had found the beginning of the trail.

The orange sign says “Pedestrians, cyclists and authorised vehicles access only” (photo by John)

The reason the road was closed to ordinary traffic was that it was “munted”, i.e. badly damaged during the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. There were stretches of cracked asphalt, and areas of gravel, potholes, footpaths that were broken up and taken over by weeds, a few fences and leaning lampposts. To the left of us was the River Avon, to the right were large areas of grass, dotted with trees. It dawned on me that this must be the “Red Zone”

The quake-damaged road (photo by John)

I stopped to talk to a gentleman walking his dog, and asked if this was the Red Zone. He confirmed that this was indeed the zone that had been abandoned after the quakes. He told me that thousands of tonnes of silty soil had been removed from the area where “liquefaction” had bubbled to the surface. Hundreds of houses were bulldozed, and the damaged land eventually levelled and grassed. Only the trees that were in people’s gardens remain. (There is poignant article about the red-zoned areas in Christchurch here)

I talked to this gentleman about the “Red Zone” (photo by John)

Now the abandoned roads alongside the river are being used by pedestrians and cyclists, and is now called the Avon Trail, or Te Ara Ōtākaro. The logo of the trail is very clever – symbolising the river as well as a footprint. Some of the time, the track runs atop a stopbank between the river and the road. There is a good map in this link

An information board about Te Ara Ōtākaro (photo by John)

The Te Ara Ōtākaro logo is painted on the road at intervals (photo by John)

The trail follows Oxford Terrace, at Fitzgerald Avenue, it crosses to the other bank and follows River Road as far as Swann’s Road, where it crosses back onto Avonside Drive. As shown on the logo, Avonside Drive follows two large loops of the river. All the land within the first loop is now red-zoned. Halfway around this loop we came across the twisted remains of the Medway footbridge, which illustrates the devastating power of the quakes.

The ‘munted’ remains of the Medway footbridge

Information board about the bridge

After the second loop, the trail takes a shortcut through Porritt Park, then picks up Avonside Drive again. Round another bend in the river, and the trail crosses Avondale Road and becomes Hulverstone Drive, until you get to Anzac Drive. From here the trail is on cycle paths alongside main roads – Anzac Drive, Wainoni Road and bridge, and New Brighton Road, which leads you to the New Brighton shops and Pier.

Close to the city, there are lots of trees – oaks, poplars and weeping willows – sporting their gorgeous autumn colours. Further out there are fewer trees. We saw lots of geese, and quite a lot of ducks, but the geese seemed to predominate. Half the time you could see only their white tails up in the air as they dived for food.

All along the way, there was the sad sight of abandoned side streets. No houses, weeds growing though the cracked surface of the roads and footpaths, all that remains is a few lampposts still standing, the street signs, and the redeeming features – the trees.


On 28 September 2019, a beautifully reported documentary about the Red Zone, entitled "Red to Green: The stark evolution" was published online. In August 2019, The Government announced a  recovery plan, entitled "Ōtākaro Avon River Corridor Regeneration Plan", which looks very exciting. I do hope it will all come off as planned, though it may take many years ...

Ogilvie Place, off Hulverstone Drive - one of the many abandoned streets (photo by John)

At New Brighton, we looked at the Pier, had lunch at the café at its base, and had a wander around the shops. The shopping centre seems fairly depressed – not as bright and breezy as I remember it from over 45 years ago when we lived in Christchurch and this was the only suburb to have Sunday shopping. After that we returned the way we had come.

On the way back – seven kilometres to the central city (The whole trail is 11 km each way)

One of several pump houses along the river. The torn-down sign on the ground says
Tell us how you would reuse the Bangor Street No 3 pump house” (photo by John)

Back to civilization, and the City Promenade or Te Papa Ōtākaro/Avon River Precinct. We rode past the new Margaret Mahy Family Playground. Being the school holidays, it was very busy with excited children and parents/grandparents. Opened in December 2015, it is full of innovative play equipment, with some of the designs having been suggested by the children of Christchurch. It is named after the famous Christchurch children’s author, Margaret Mahy. We did not venture into the playground, but I took a photo of the information board.

The Margaret Mahy Family Playground

All along the promenade there were beautiful mosaics of Māori weaving patterns embedded in the footpath. These are the “Woven Mats of Welcome – Ngā Whāriki Manaaki. They refer to the whakamanuhiri process of welcome for all visitors to Christchurch. The weaving patterns were designed by expert weavers and adapted using stone pavers.

This is pattern No 12 – “Hapū, from the mountains to the sea”

Further along, we came to the Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial – a beautiful, peaceful area on the south bank of the river, with a wall of pale grey Carrara marble, engraved with the names of the 185 people who perished as a result of the earthquakes. At the base of the wall, small tokens of remembrance had been left by friends or relatives – flowers, stones, shells, chestnuts, photos and a teddy bear. A 50-minute video about the design process and construction of this memorial in this link is well worth a watch.

The Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial “Oi Manawa”

Names of victims of the quakes and tokens of remembrance

A special feature at the entrance to the memorial was a large greenstone boulder – kōhatu pounamu – mounted on a plinth carved with a with a river design. The pounamu was sourced from the a remote valley in South Westland and gifted by Te Rūnanga o Makaawhio, a Ngāi Tahu sub-tribe. 

The Kōhatu Pounamu has water running over it to show up the beauty of the greenstone (photo by John)

Finally, we headed back to our accommodation and made our way along Rolleston Avenue, past the entrance to the Botanic Gardens and the Canterbury Museum. There, all along the fence, was another reminder of the ordeals the citizens of Christchurch have suffered – the shocking mass shootings at two of the city’s mosques on 15 March. The thousands of flowers that had been brought by mourners and well-wishers had been removed, a month on from the tragedy, but other tributes – cards, plants, painted stones and messages – were still there. A very moving display of sympathy and solidarity with the Muslim community.

Tributes to the victims of the mass shootings at two mosques (photo by John)

Messages of love take many forms

Feeling somewhat chastened by all this tragedy, we made our way back to our motel through the tranquil paths of Hagley Park. All up, we had biked 41 km.

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