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Okuti Valley to Hilltop and Montgomery Park Reserve - 17 November 2019

The Okuti Valley to Hilltop track, to my shame, is an area relatively close to Christchurch that I was quite unaware of. Linking up at Hilltop, it forms an extra segment to the 35 kilometre Te Ara Pataka - Port Levy Saddle Track which connects to the Packhorse Track and Gebbies Pass via Mts Herbert and Bradley, adding another 7.5 km to the marked route.

We started at the Okuti Valley Reserve, a small remnant of lowland forest that once graced the whole area. The track breaks out of the bush onto a short secondary road section and then, with a steady but easy climb following a poled farm track, it wends its way to a saddle near the base of French Hill, followed by a gentle descent to Hilltop, taking around two and a half hours. About half-way up, the hillside is littered with the skeletons of totara and kotukutuku that once covered much of the Peninsula; still a poignant reminder of the mid to late 19th Century colonial zeitgeist when cocksfoot and clover took priority over the forest, which, in the main, was clear-felled and burned.

Close to the Hilltop Tavern, it was suggested within my earshot, that it is a leader’s tradition to buy a round of beer when a hostelry is passed on foot. Feigning deafness (which is partially true) and since I’d also left my wallet in the car, I managed to sidestep this quaint custom as we headed off to the Montgomery Park Reserve just along the road to see the Big Totara and then lunch at the Reserve lookout with its box-seat view of Akaroa Harbour.

For those that have never seen the Big Totara before, it is very impressive and worthy of a visit. With a circumference of 8.5 metres, it may, according to the Department of Conservation be around 2000 years old, making it probably the oldest in the country, although the supporting evidence is sketchy. Incidentally, with a breast height diameter of 2.5 metres it only comes in at third place in the South Island Totara stakes (pardon the pun), being pipped by another in the Hapuku River Valley near Kaikoura at 2.8 metres and the largest tree at 3 metres which is in Peel Forest.

An easy amble back the way we came completed a very pleasant day where the weather was perfect - not too hot or windy, and the scenery was at its Banks Peninsula best.

Picture 6

We were: Kerry Moore, Iain Chinnery, Norman Burden, Penny Coffey, Joy Schroeder, Wendy McCaughlan, Jill Fenner, Darcy Mawson, Dan Pryce, John Robinson, and Graeme Paltridge (leader) PGP.