Port Hills track not for the fainthearted

THE BEAST: A cyclist is forced to walk up one of the more troublesome parts of Worsleys Track.
THE BEAST: A cyclist is forced to walk up one of the more troublesome parts of Worsleys Track.

Any future makeover for the Port Hills track known as "the beast" would be most welcome, writes Steuart Laing.

For most of its 2.6km length, Worsleys Track (or Gorse Track) heads in direct fashion along a flat ridge from the end of Worsleys Rd.

The ridge, officially named Worsleys Spur, is one of the few named spurs in the Port Hills so could be worth a visit for this reason alone. Because the track follows the line of a legal paper road, it attracts not only walkers and cyclists, but also recreational vehicle users.

Henry Worsley, the 1850s land owner after whom the track is named, would have followed paths worn by his sheep and cattle. The current route, scarred by deep tyre ruts, must look very different.

For most of its length, the track runs beside pine plantations through land devoid of native forest and farm stock. It finishes overlooking the summit road near the impressively named Ecumenical Institute of Distance.

You can climb Marley's Hill to get better views of Lyttelton Harbour.

If Henry Worsley's grandson, Frank, had walked the track, he might have considered it a mundane outing compared to his epic voyage between Elephant and South Georgia Islands on Shackleton's 1914 Antarctic expedition.

One hundred years later, adventurers of a different sort visit Worsleys Spur in search of more than a mundane outing. Unlike Frank on his sea voyage, their lives aren't at risk, but their four-wheel drive vehicles certainly are.

The track had already suffered significant vehicle damage more than a decade ago when Canterbury writer Gordon Ogilvie described it as a beast. Today it's worse than a beast. On a recent walk I could see that, in spite of the track's shocking condition, a vehicle had attempted to get through. The 60-centimetre-deep scuffed ruts could only have been churned by a highly modified truck.

And nothing less than a Sherman tank could conquer the roughest section where an abandoned bonnet serves as an ominous warning for aspiring motorists ... if their vehicles haven't already been wrecked on the way.

Spinning wheels and running water have together carved deep channels resulting in a mini gorge that's slippery and difficult to negotiate even on foot.

Cyclists now mostly opt to ride through the adjacent radiata plantations. The gentle gradient and pine needles under the trees soften the impact of speeding bikes that seem to flit through the trees, silent in their approach. Some walkers also prefer this route to the mud bath nearby.

A Press article in May outlined plans to transform the area between Dyers Pass Rd and the Worsleys Spur into an adventure park featuring a bike lift. A $2 million government grant towards the venture would indicate a serious proposal.

If the development goes ahead, cyclists and walkers may in the future have a very different experience on Henry Worsley's once peaceful spur.

The Press