Coastal pathway will enhance city lifestyle
Waves sweep in from the wild Pacific. Next landfall: South America.
The snowcapped Kaikouras loom up out of the ocean to the northeast. To the west, across the city and plains, the Southern Alps glisten on the far horizon.
The extinct shield volcano that is the Port Hills forms a craggy backdrop. Seabirds and waders hunt for fish in the shallow waters of the Avon-Heathcote estuary.
Yes, it's a special setting. Early Maori treasured this stretch of coast from what is now Ferrymead to Scarborough as a mahinga kai, a food source. Evidence of Maori settlement goes back to at least the 14th century.
European settlers also loved the coast, but more recently some of its special character has been under-appreciated or despoiled.
I have written previously about the ghastly buildings that blight the Ferrymead waterfront: featureless concrete slabs plonked down with zero consideration for the environment. This area could have become an attractive mixed-use village fronting the estuary.
Cross the bridge and head over the causeway and the view improves. On February 22, 2011, the earthquake shattered lives and changed the land forever. A friend was driving some international visitors to Sumner when the quake struck, turning Shag Rock into Shag Pile before their eyes.
We have visited Clifton a few times but visited Sumner again only recently. Unfortunately we chose a Sunday and the place was packed with almost nowhere to park. We drove to New Brighton instead and walked on the beach.
A century ago, families used to take the Sumner tram for a weekend outing to the seaside. How marvellous. Unfortunately you can't do that any more.
Now a new plan envisages a Christchurch Coastal Pathway. Think of more than just a track. Think of somewhere that is a lifestyle destination as well as an accessway, somewhere for tourists to visit and locals to enjoy, with displays, shelters, and descriptions of the area's history and unique environment.
Landscape architect Megan Wraight, who has designed a concept plan for the pathway, describes the vision as "a linear park".
Wraight is now based in Wellington, but used to live at Taylor's Mistake, so knows the area well. She designed Wellington's successful waterfront walkway, Waitangi Park. Every time I visit the capital, it's somewhere I like to go: an amazing transformation of what used to be a bleak, closed-off part of the city into a vibrant, colourful engaging place for people to share.
Wraight says a coastal pathway could enhance Christchurch's lifestyle, too. At a meeting of the Christchurch Coastal Pathway Group - a well-organised and enthusiastic band of mainly locals - she showed pictures of other walkways in Australia, North America, and Europe.
The proposed pathway would stretch for 6.5 kilometres, from Ferrymead bridge to Scarborough beach. In most places it would be 4 metres wide. The pathway would have to divert for a short distance to avoid passing in front of residential properties in parts of Redcliffs.
You could park at one end (or take the bus), and then walk, cycle, or skate. It would also be accessible for wheelchair users. While some critics have fretted over mixing pedestrians and cyclists in Hagley Park, overseas experience has shown similar pathways work well; all that is needed is mutual respect (and cycles with bells).
Several shelters and lookouts are planned. Designs are inspired by rolled pake (Maori rain capes), and kete tatahi (beach baskets).
Displays describe history and natural features. Who has heard of Morten's Jetty? Once it was an important waypoint for boats with goods for the growing city.
There would also be a bike skills park for kids, a rain garden, boardwalks, bleachers, and Fisherman's Flat, with a picnicking spot and games area.
The first part of the pathway, across the causeway, has already been built. It's an ambitious project. The Christchurch City Council has pledged $9.9 million, however about $15m is needed, from central government, businesses, and individuals. Prime Minister John Key, who is also tourism minister, has been positive, the group says, but no decision has been made so far on funding.
Meanwhile, an architect and engineer are finalising an interesting plan to link Redcliffs and Southshore via a chain ferry for walkers and cyclists. Imagine crossing the estuary and exploring a new Avon-Otakaro eco-park.
Wouldn't it be fantastic eventually to have a green pathway into the city?
One of the greatest pleasures of any city is being able to escape from it, or its unwelcome aspects such as crowds and congestion, and to enjoy nature. The seaside is healthy - all those negative ions are good for you. Walking in a scenic environment has a profound uplifting effect on the spirit. It's therapeutic and energising. That's just what we need.
Hundreds of walkers and runners taking part in Sunday's Press Summer Starter fun run/walk are raising money for the Coastal Pathway.
- The Press