The Sign of The Packhorse

March 18, 2015

This weekend I had a really awkward work schedule. Off Friday (but Scott works normal-person hours), work Saturday 3-11pm, off Sunday. Talk about a disruptive schedule! But in true Kiwi fashion, we made the best of it…  with a cheeky overnight trip to the Sign of The Packhorse.

Sign of The Packhorse. Sounds Game of Throne-sy doesn’t it?


Along with another adventurous couple from my work, we set off from Christchurch at 4pm on Friday. 1 hour later, we were ready to hike. It was at this point that Scott was reminded why I’m not to be left in charge of packing. Between the 2 of us we had two very heavy packs. For one night. But we wouldn’t be hungry. Or thirsty. Or cold.

I wrote about New Zealand’s hut system before, but I’d like to reiterate how awesome I think it is that this exists. Over the last couple of hundred years, Kiwis have built hundreds of backcountry huts. Some are serviced (fire wood, potable water) and others are truly a place to take shelter over night in harsh alpine conditions.

The Sign of The Packhorse is a hut located about half way between Christchurch and Akaroa. It was built by Harry Ell, a prominent Cantabrian who at the time had a vision of a road from Christchurch to Akaroa via the summit of the hills. There were to be 14 huts for rest along the way. As it turns out, only 4 got completed, and 2 of those were basically destroyed in the Christchurch earthquakes. The Packhorse Hut is situated in a saddle just below Mount Herbert (I just love that name. Herbert. Ha ha.) and overlooks Lyttelton Harbour.

So back to our journey… Which as it turns out, was a one hour tramp straight up a hill, basically.



We didn’t stop much along the way, as the sun is setting by about 8pm these days.

And probably more realistically because between the four of us we had 8 beers, a bottle of champagne, and 2 flasks just waiting to be consumed.


No photographs, please.


I said, no photos.




Humans… just can’t teach them.

Most of the walk was on a farm road, with just a few moments of trail in native bush. We saw a few fantails and bellbirds, but the rest of the wildlife was bovine.

As we reached the summit, I looked back at the valley where we had come from. The ocean opened up in the background, with idyllic farmland and forest closing in on where we had come in from.


And looking the other way… the hut. And the storm.


Sign of the Packhorse, Canterbury, New Zealand



The fact that the rain falling down was directly over Christchurch was not lost on us, and we took a moment to properly celebrate.

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We were incredibly excited to find we had the hut to ourselves (they are first come, first serve. General admission tickets to any hut can be purchased at i-Sites throughout NZ). We had a look around at the 2 separate bunk rooms, the amazing fireplace, and the view over the harbor. We unpacked and ate a smorgasbord of snacks that would never have been appropriate to bring on a real backpacking trip. And then we relaxed. (Drank beer.)


I really appreciate the cute trim color.


Firewood and axe provided, and a long drop in the distance…


Super awesome (and warm) fireplace


Mats are always provided at huts, so no need to carry around those crappy sleeping pads!

The rest is really just history, lost to Panhead IPA, Tuatara Pilsner, Oh Brother Pale Ale, Stella, Speights, Akarua Sparkling Wine, some real nice whiskey (Cheers, Ollie!) and ginger wine.

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The wind blew like hell all night, though I don’t think we got much rain. We awoke early when a group of trail runners barged in to see if anyone was staying (thanks, guys…) then ran off up the hill.

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Though it could have been worse weather, we opted for a short morning exploration, then a quick cruise down the hill and to the closest cafe for breakfast! With Rachel and I both working the second part of the weekend, we felt pretty chuffed that we’d gotten a weekend get-away in… in approximately 14 hours!





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