Thursday, December 17, 2009

Godley Head Hike

On Thursday, two days before I head down to Antarctica, I decide the weather is too fine and I will be gone for a while so taking an afternoon off work and packing to go hiking is a great idea.

I had been to the New Zealand Antarctic Clothing distribution centre that morning and had loaded up on down jackets, snow pants, mittens and gloves galore, and boots the size of my head (all of which I'm sure you will see pictures of later). Although there were images of vast expanses of ice and snow floating around in my head, the sun was shining down and the temperature was just wonderful. So on the way back to school as I drove down Memorial Ave. and sighted the Port Hills through the trees, I knew there was only one thing worth doing that afternoon.

I got home from school at around lunch, wolfed down some leftover tourtiere and Stephen and I packed some water and a couple of apples into the bag and headed out the door. The car was warm from soaking up the suns rays all morning, so we were down to our shorts and t-shirts already (especially sitting on our sheep skin seat covers). The drive is about 20 minutes from our house, and the last 10 minutes are the best as it winds along the spine of the ancient volcanic rim covered now with grasses and the odd thistle. We parked at a little pull off before the actual parking lot, where a trail met up with the road briefly before dropping down to the far side of the crater. With our water and my camera over our shoulders, we set forth under the sun.

Walking along the winding trail was wonderful. We watched ships come and go into Lyttleton Harbor, fishing boats being harangued by gulls, little pockets of flowers tucked into the wind protected nooks and crannies between rocks, and absolutely no one else. Half an hour later (I stopped a lot) we came up over a crest and were looking down into the parking lot at Godley Head. Godley Head is an old gun emplacement put there during the second world war to protect Lyttleton Harbor from the enemy. There are old cement bunkers littered all over the place, and down below (where we were heading) there was a small system of caves that went through the cliffs.

We wandered through the three buildings along the trail and then wove our way down towards the sea. Back and forth we followed the switch back track almost to the rocks being blasted by waves at the bottom. Before we could feel the spray however we found the trail disappearing into the hillside. Looking into the darkness, you could see a tiny prick of light at what I presumed was the far end, and little shadows of light trickling in along the entire length. The wind coming from the tunnel was cool on our hot faces and chilled the thin veneer of sweat on my face. I put on my cardigan adn stepped into the cool dark passage. The walls were rough and crumbled when you touched them. Every so often there was a side passage that took you a few meters and opened out to the sea a surprising distance below. At one of the openings we found a small birds nest tucked up into a rocky hole in the wall. Further down a sock lay wet and lonely on the floor.

We emerged minutes later back into the bright sun and onto a hill side covered with daisies, foxgloves and many more flowers. We ate our apples at the end of the trail, a small concrete pillbox nestled safely into the rocky wall of the cliff, and then headed back up the trail.

The return hike was wonderful with a faint wind at our backs helping to push us along the trail. We walked over the top of the rim this time and looked back towards Sumner and Christchurch and further out the Southern Alps as they climbed the back of the South Island. We sprawled out in the grass back at the car and watched the wisps of clouds moving overhead. A wonderful afternoon. But now I was exhausted and had LOTS of work and packing to do (in fact I still do).

One more sleep til I take off for the most southerly continent. I'm both excited and nervous. Lots of work to do there and a completely new experience. I'm sure it will pass by far too quickly and before I know it I'll have only the pictures and stories left. But really, that's all we ever have left from any experience and that's what makes us . . . us.

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