I have a love-hate relationship with mornings. That is to say I love sleeping and hate having to get up. But every now and then (read very infrequently) I feel motivated enough to get up at some miserable hour to head off for a mission. Having been suffering from the dreaded ‘wilderness withdrawals’ I had big plans for my Monday off work and set out to come up with a plan to make the most of the fine weather forecast. I knew I wanted to do a good bit of trail running and to try and push myself a little harder than I normally would. I figured a day trip to Diamond Harbour sounded like just the ticket. Diamond Harbour you say? Hardly sounds like a hardcore outing. Certainly it isn’t the first thing to come to mind when you think of trail running, but what ensued was a fun day filled with technical trail, a good dollop of climbing, and views to rival any.
The plan was simple: park the car in Lyttleton, head up the bridle path to the crater rim, then follow the crater rim all the way around to Gebbies Pass, cross the road and follow the trail up to Packhorse Hut, traverse behind Mt Bradley and over Mt Herbert, then drop down to Diamond Harbour and catch the ferry home. Simple enough right?
Of course in reality some parts were a bit trickier than I had first anticipated! The travel is initially easy going up the bridle path and around as far as Gebbies Pass. You can either run the road or take the Crater Rim track (which generally follows the road) - I have to admit to running the road for the majority of this first section. Once you hit Gebbies pass you are on trail for the rest of the trip and I saw no need to tire my legs any more than necessary before hitting the harder (and higher) portion of the day. When I was planning the trip I had initially wanted to start in Diamond Harbour and run back to Lyttleton but all the trip reports I could find were for the other direction. I’m picking this is because if you go the other way you end up with a soul destroying slog up to the crater rim from Gebbies Pass. Seriously you can see the next 5km of road stretching out and up in front of you into eternity. Definitely type 2 fun.
From Gebbies pass you turn left (towards the head of the bay) and cross the road. You will see a gravel area and a 4wd track that leads you to the track to Packhorse Hut. The track when I went was in a miserable state. Christchurch had been hit with record breaking rain in the weeks prior to this trip and the track showed it. In most places it flowed with water and I ran into significant sections where the track had washed out entirely. Still all things considered the track was enjoyable, initially climbing through pine plantation before popping out into tussock and up to Packhorse hut. I arrived at Packhorse Hut 4 hours in at 10:30am feeling pretty good and happy with how the day was progressing. After smashing down some food and refilling my hydration bladder I started on the climb up to Mt Bradley.
The track here climbs somewhat steeply and then traverses under the mountain and around towards Mt Herbert. This is where the fun started. All that rain I mentioned earlier? Yea that froze. The track would have been perfect for ice skating but it proved less so for running. As this part of the track is south facing it gets hardly any sunlight and as such had frozen solid and wasn’t thawing anytime soon. I ended up holding on to any foliage I could and sidling above or below (watch out for the bluffs!) the track to get past the worst bits. When I finally made it back into the sun on the saddle between Mt Bradley and Mt Herbert It had taken me about 40 minutes to cover less than 1.5km. Thankfully here the ice made way for snow and I passed the Mt Herbert Shelter around midday.
The final 9km from here drops down from the summit through farmland directly into Diamond Harbour. I must admit that I found this section a bit tedious; constantly dodging cow crap and trying not to fall over in the mud. It would definitely be more enjoyable if it were a bit drier. The old pins were starting to tire somewhat by now too so I was happy to be on the home stretch. The track crosses Marine Drive and drops down alongside a stream directly to the ocean. Once you pop out at the water's edge there is a track to follow the 500m around to the ferry wharf. I ended up using the last of my energy sprinting this to try and catch the rapidly approaching ferry. I got a few strange looks from the locals as I ran down the wharf covered in mud and no doubt looking somewhat haggard. My total time for the day was 7 hours and 15 minutes and distance was just over 43km with about 1700m of climbing. The ferry costs $6.50 and is a hell of a lot quicker.