Helicopter Hill – Craigieburn

We moved as one. In synchronicity. Together. As a pack. The team we were meant to be. Up ahead were the two humans, Ian and Kat, leading the way. To my rear was Rusty, another canine, and although new to these types of adventures, keen as mustard and eager to explore. I turned to Rusty to get some clarification on the ‘keen as mustard’ idiom, seeing as he’s an older and wiser dog than myself and… god damn it! He’s wandered off again. Is it going to be like this all day?

For today’s adventure, there would be no hunting, no chasing after bicycle machines, or being the centre of attention. For today, we were taking Rusty on his first outing. Rusty moved in with the humans and me several weeks ago. I will be the first to admit that I wasn’t overly thrilled with a strange dog suddenly appearing in my territory, especially one with a penchant for humping. But we talked things over, worked through our differences, and once his balls were removed, we got along much better.

His first taste of the great outdoors would be Craigieburn, more specifically Helicopter Hill, and before you ask, I have no idea why it is called ‘Helicopter Hill’. Presumably it’s the go to place for landing and launching hot air balloons, but one can only guess.

An hour and a half’s drive from Christchurch, we arrived at the Craigieburn Recreation Ground. The sun was shining, spirits were high, and I was excited to finally have all of us out together on a walk. Too often it’s just Ian and I, and don’t get me wrong, he’s a nice guy, but his company can be a little trying. I explained all this to Rusty, while we waited in the car for the humans to finish faffing about. He nodded in agreement, as most do, but seemed more interested in exploring rather than being out together as a team. I was happy to sacrifice the usual hunting, chasing and general fun stuff for the opportunity to be a pack for a few hours. I just hoped Rusty wouldn’t become too impulsive.
We left the recreation ground and immersed ourselves in the surrounding forest, following the Mistletoe track that would take us to the summit of Helicopter Hill. The root covered, loamy track climbed at a gradual incline through skinny, pale trees and over small streams. Being the social type, I was enjoying the time the four of us were spending together; which typically lasted several minutes before Rusty once again detected something in the air, several hundred meters away, which absolutely had to be investigated. As he bolted off into the undergrowth, to the sounds of ‘Rusty’ and ‘RUSTY! COME HERE!’ echoing around the forest as the humans shouted after him, it was only a matter of time before I was required to step in.

The humans looked at me. I looked back at the humans. I looked at the newly formed path that Rusty had just made, that disappeared into the greenery. I looked back at the humans. They continued to look at me. I rolled my eyes and darted off in an attempt to locate Rusty. Inevitably I would find him scrutinising a patch of moss, or inspecting a small pile of leaves. Escorting him back to the path, he would apologise for breaking from the pack and running off into the forest. I responded with a deep breath and reminded myself that this was all new to him. Together once more, we continued up the footpath for another good three minutes before the process was repeated again.

After an hour of this, we arrived at the base of the final climb to the summit, and also the limit of my tolerance. Taking a few moments to refuel on water and snacks, we left the shade of the trees and moved out into the heat of the day. The track became noticeably rockier and steeper, with several sections requiring the humans to go onto all fours. Rusty and I looked on inquisitively, as they scrambled over loose stones and small boulders, before the path settled down into a more solid, less steep ascent to the top.

After another 200 meters we had reached the hot air balloon landing pad, and were greeted with a 360 degree, panoramic view. Mountains surrounded us in all directions, painted in pale colours. Grey scree slopes blurred into fields of tussock. Patches of dark green littered the landscape, indicating where the forests had been able to get a foothold. I sat myself down and savoured the moment, reflecting on how we had conquered the hill as a team. Moving as one. Never leaving a man be… Where’s he gone now?

What was meant to be a lovely time spent at the top of the hill, admiring the view and looking out for fast approaching hot air balloons, was instead spent hunting for Rusty, as he aimlessly wandered off again and again. As I reached the end of my patience, it suddenly occurred to me that this was probably the closest thing I was going to get to hunting. True, it may have been a slightly watered down, tame version of what I’d seen in the movies, but it was still technically a hunt. With renewed enthusiasm, I darted through the scrub, attempting to locate the excitable one and herd him back to the summit.

It continued this way back to the car park, where we had begun 2.5 hours earlier. The path off the summit was a little tricky to descend in places, owing to the rocks, but once we were back within the trees, it was plain sailing to the recreation ground. Rusty and I came to an agreement that he could go off and explore until the humans called out his name, which would then be my cue to go hunt him down and bring him back to the pack; meaning Rusty would get a chance to explore and I’d get a chance to hunt. Everyone would be a winner.

Well, I have no idea what the humans wanted to do, probably have a nice relaxing walk through the forest, which if that was the case, they now know not to bring two dogs with them.

Approximate Track Stats

Distance: 6km

Height Gain: 500m

Time: 2.5hrs

Map courtesy of www.topomap.co.nz

The Perfect Work Week

I glance at the clock in the corner of my computer screen; the small white numbers read ‘3:05pm’. I look over to my cell phone on my desk, hoping to see a green, flashing light, indicating that I have received a message, but the phone sits there lifelessly. I return back to the Excel sheet I have open and attempt to concentrate on work. Minutes pass as I resist the urge to check the time or signs of a blinking light. I finally cave, and check the time again… 3:06pm. God damn it!

So far every day this week had been like this; initial excitement, followed by nervous anticipation, quickly followed by disappointment. Friday was shaping up to be no different. The green light suddenly bursts into life. I fumble with the phone to view the message ‘we’re on!’. I smile to myself and quickly start packing up my things. What had started out as an innocent idea several weeks ago, had steadily evolved, over multiple lunchtime conversations, into what had now become known as ‘The Perfect Work Week’.

Christchurch has the convenient geographical properties of a surfable coast line and a long stretch of 400 meter high volcanic hill tops, offering all manner of outdoor activities (it also has endless, uneventful flat plains that need at least an hour’s worth of driving to get anywhere interesting, but the less said about that the better). A plan had formed that involved completing an activity each evening, taking advantage of all the possibilities that Christchurch has to offer. At the time of its inception, there was probably a well-meaning intention for doing it, such as raising awareness for a particular charity, or showcasing all of Christchurch’s potential to a wider audience. But as the week drew closer, it became more about doing it because it was interesting and fun, as opposed to anything noble or useful.

Matt was the driving force behind the logistical side of things, and had put together the following itinerary:

Monday – Paragliding

Tuesday – Rock Climbing

Wednesday – Mountain Biking

Thursday – Surfing

Friday – Tubing

It may be apparent that all the activities are outdoor based, presenting a bit of a challenge when, say, a weather bomb is forecast for the same week. However, as we were about to find out, forecasts and reality exist in two different dimensions.

As paragliding was the most weather dependant, it was decided to make it Plan A for each evening. Plan B was another activity if it wasn’t going to go ahead. The call would be made at 3pm via Facebook, resulting in lots of phone checking and finger crossing from around 2:30pm each day.


First day, first activity. There was excitement over the social media group as 3:00pm neared and the skies were clear. That initial buzz lasted until about 3:01pm, when we got the message that paragliding was cancelled due to strong winds up on the Port Hills. Not to worry, our Plan B for high winds on the Port Hills was… rock climbing on the Port Hills. Admittedly not the best option, but seeing as rock climbing was the only activity we couldn’t do in the rain, and it wasn’t raining, it was selected by default. And besides, how bad can 30km/h winds be?

‘Worse than expected’ was the agreed upon answer as one by one we reached the top of the climb, to be greeted with howling, gale force winds. We were climbing at a location known as Cattlestop. Perched up on the Port Hills, it consists of a number of smaller crags that snake their way down to the Christchurch suburbs below. Being north facing, the spot provided panoramic views of Christchurch and the Canterbury Plains stretching all the way to the Kaikoura’s and Torlesse Range, with the deep blue of the ocean gently caressing the East coast. However, also being north facing, meant that the crag provided zero shelter from the Nor’ West wind that was currently raging through Canterbury.

We had opted to climb at the Footware crag, due to its selection of easier climbing grades, with names such as ‘Flip Flop’, ‘High Heels’ and ‘Jandals’, implying their ease. Evidently the grades hadn’t factored in the potential wind element and with a roaring in my ears, and loose chalk from my chalk bag covering my face, I battled with the rope to secure an anchor to allow others to climb.

I abseiled to the bottom of the crag, and with a rearranged hair style and wild, open eyes, I muttered something about the climb being fine, and took myself to the side to take a moment to gather myself after the shock of climbing in a wind tunnel. I watched several members of the group ascend the ropes that had been set up, resembling the storming of a castle. This seemed an apt metaphor judging by the far away stare they all came back down with, looking like they had come back from battle.

Strangely, after the one climb, most people seemed content with cowering amongst the local vegetation out of the wind, having a beer and enjoying the view, thus bringing the first day of activity to a close. Considering the circumstances, we decided to chalk the evening up as a success (clever climbing based pun intended).


Tuesday afternoon started with hope, but ended in dismay, as we were once again forced into our Plan B, due to continued high winds. As far as Plan B’s go, this wasn’t a complete disaster as it involved mountain biking at the newly built Adventure Park. Opened in December 2016, the park provides Christchurch with 50 kilometres of mountain bike trails, several kilometres of of zip line action and the fastest chair lift in the Southern Hemisphere, at least according to the marketing information on the web site. What it actually offers is a very lazy, convenient way of riding downhill, to the point that the concept of cycling uphill becomes almost folklore. Unfortunately the same high winds that had cancelled the paragliding had also resulted in the chair lift being temporarily closed.

As we discussed possible Plan C’s, none of which involved cycling the uphill track to the top and all of which involved going to the pub instead, word spread that the winds had died down and the chair lift had been reopened. It’s not very often I click my heels together in a Marry Poppins-esque kind of way, but I felt the occasion called for it as we boarded the chair lift to success.

One of the Adventure Parks selling points is its notorious 6km long jump track, known as Airtearoa. The track twists and turns its way down through the pine forest and is liberally peppered with large, imposing jumps and drops to be negotiated. The most suitable description I can think of for it is ‘terrifyingly exciting’. There is a genuine feeling of relief when you make it down to the end in one piece, especially when you consider the amount of recent ACC claims that have been lodged due to the new trail. Sweating and shaking, as the fear is replaced with an endorphin high, there was normally a good 30 seconds recovering at the end of the track before someone casually suggested ‘so… Airteroa again?’ – which is generally how the evening panned out.


It was around this time that reports of the impending weather bomb (the technical term for bastard high 100km/h winds and shit loads of rain) starting to appear.  The forecast was predicting apocalyptic like conditions for the evening, so we didn’t even bother entertaining the notion that paragliding would be going ahead. We did however need a Plan B. Anything aquatic based seemed a little ambitious seeing as we would need something resembling an Ark to safely take to the water. So we opted for the safer option of a walk. Not the most thrilling of activities I’ll admit, but a weather warning is a weather warning.

Slightly apprehensively, we arrived at Taylors Mistake, a small bay nestled towards the end of the Port Hills, equipped with waterproof gear, emergency rations and holy water, to be greeted with glorious sunshine. How a forecast can be so spectacularly wrong I’m not entirely sure, but in any case, it meant that we were to have lovely conditions for a walk along the Godley Head track. The walk starts in Taylors Mistake and follows the rugged coastline around the head of the Port Hills, providing various nuggets of history along the way. Remains of WWII gun placements still exist, a reminder that even in the depths of the southern hemisphere they were preparing for the worst.  The sun and no rain continued to beat down on us, as we circled around the Port Hills to view into Diamond Harbour, surrounded by steep hill sides slipping into the sea. The charm of the area is that it is so close to Christchurch, yet completely disconnected from it, providing a small sense of exploration and isolation. What should have been at best an average evening, and at worst a write-off, became instead an unexpected highlight of the week.  There’s a lot to be said for lowering expectations.


Another day, another paragliding cancellation. Although this time it wasn’t a massive surprise, seeing as the ridiculously named ‘Weather Bomb’ was still lurking, with the hooves of the four horsemen just audible in the wind. More importantly however, was that we were now running out of activity options, with only surfing and tubing left. Videos were emerging of a flooded Waimakariri River, so currently that was out. So what better activity to do when high winds and rain is predicted? Well that would be surfing, but only because we had already climbed earlier in the week.

And what a surf it was too! The waves were a few feet high, clean and breaking nicely, ideal for a group of novices trying their hand at surfing. We monopolised a small area of the surf and cheered each other on as one by one we clambered onto our boards and wobbly surfed for all of about two and a half seconds. If a load of beginners in the water wasn’t annoying enough for the local surfers, then the appearance of one of our mates bobbing about in a giant, inflatable swan probably was. Still, we are all out there to have a good time, and plenty of waves for everyone, I kept repeating to myself, as another long boarder careered through the middle of us.

The weather held for an hour or so, before the clouds darkened and big rain drops began to fall from the sky. Thus signalling that it was time to retreat to the pub to toast to another evening of success, and discuss at length whether it really matters that it’s raining when you’re already surfing?


‘We’re on for paragliding’. I was not expecting this. I’d come accustomed to my 3pm disappointment and felt slightly confused with this new, excited emotion. As I cycled home against a stiff head wind, it did seem surprising that it was going ahead. It appeared that the paragliding people also thought this too, as by the time I got home at 4pm, an update had gone out informing us that paragliding had now been cancelled. Thank god for that I thought, as I was now able to return to my familiar, disappointed state.

One problem remained, how would we make the tubing work? Matt set out scouting a number of options. Tubing the Waimakariri River was out, based on the fact that the car park we were meant to meet at was currently under record levels of water, which therefore didn’t bode overly well for tubing the river.

Plan B was the famously polluted Avon River. Again, not overly ideal I’ll agree, but we had run out of options. And so it was that a number of dog walkers and tourists armed with video cameras got the pleasure of witnessing 14 idiots in wet suits slowly riding inflatables down the Avon.


The river casually meanders through Christchurch at a leisurely rate of knots, passing through the city centre and the Botanical Gardens, which is where we had decided to set sail from. The sun attempted to force its way through the cloudy sky, resulting in the average temperature being maintained at a just about tolerable level for a good time. As inflatable sofas, dinghy’s, tyres, a ball pit complete with slide, a desert island complete with palm tree, and the swan again, gradually got ushered along by a gentle current, the inhabitants of said inflatables laughed and joked their way downstream.

It was only a matter of time before disaster struck, as one by one the inflatables began to fall apart. No doubt a result of the cocktail of pollutants that are present in the Avon and absolutely nothing to do with the misuse and overloading they were subjected to.

The evening was spent wrapped up in down jackets and scarfs as we enjoyed a chilly summer nights BBQ, which neatly provided an overall summary for the week – even in a week of predicted weather bombs,  good times can still be had.