Sunday, 30 August 2015

Flagstaff summit above Dunedin ~ a gentle climb to breathtaking heights

The summit of Flagstaff is a destination that everyone in and around Dunedin should know about: it is a breathtakingly beautiful vantage point which can be reached by a relatively easy, mostly uphill walk.  Plodders like me may take perhaps an hour of so to reach it, whereas those who are fitter may make it there and back in less than half that time.  Access to the route described is from a parking area on Flagstaff-Whare Flat Road. 

At the summit a tall post marks the spot.  This photo was taken from the northern side of the summit; the blue hump of Maungatua can be seen in the distance. 

I use the term 'walk' designedly as I made it up there and I am not by any stretch of imagination a tramper or hiker!  In fact I would describe my level of fitness as indifferent.  I wore ordinary cross-trainer shoes and sat down a lot on the way up.  Fortunately there are plenty of handy boulders on which to do so!  I also stopped for a cuppa from a Thermos flask.  Taking it in nice easy stages is a lovely way to spend time on such a beautiful hillside.

Once at the summit the effort taken to get there is rewarded many times over by spectacular panoramic views: these encompass Dunedin city, the peninsula, the Taieri plain and, far off to the west, inland Otago; the silence of this wide open space and the zest of the fresh air uplift one to even greater heights!

The sequence below shows the panorama starting to the north of Dunedin with Mt Cargill:

Panning to the east this next view shows much of the city, from Opoho at the left to the top of the harbour at the right:

Moving south we can see across to St Kilda and Corstorphine:

South of the city the visible coastline extends beyond Taieri Mouth:

I took this photo from a little to the north of the summit where the track dips down the hill:

The rest of the panorama is best seen from a little to the south of the summit.  This view is directly to the south.  Saddle Hill is nearest the sea at the left, and Maungatua is the hump in the skyline to the right.  From this vantage point the Taieri plain, which lies between the two, is somewhat obscured by the hill in the foreground:

Pivoting on a little, the dark green of pinus radiata forestry plaintations can be seen in the middle distance.  Beyond that to the right views far inland fade into the blue distance:

... And further still...  Large clumps of the flax so prevalent in the New Zealand landscape, phormium tenax, Maori name, harakeke, do well up here.

Back at the summit, a beautifully rendered and embossed bronze plane table helpfully identifies the surrounding hills and landmarks.  It shows the Flagstaff summit to be 666.3 metres.  I offer thanks and congratulations to the Otago Tramping and Mountaineering Club who provided it back in 1973, and no doubt helped to establish the track.  I've shown the next image at high resolution so that readers can see it enlarged if wished, and so read the text: to see it at this larger size click on the image:

Some of the best views are to be had on the way back down but first of all here are the directions of how to get the beginning of the track:

If you are setting out from the middle of Dunedin the route couldn't be simpler: head up Stuart Street, then keep following it as it goes down the far side of the first ridge, hold to the right lane avoiding the turn off to Kaikorai Valley, continuing up the next slope.  The suburb here is Wakiri, and the road now called Taieri Road.  As it leaves suburbia for the countryside and approaches the top of the hill it becomes Three Mile Hill Road.  Look out for Dalziel Road on your left which is good warning that the road you want, Flagstaff-Whare Flat Road, is the next one on your right. 

This photo was taken from the corner of Flagstaff-Whare Flat Road and shows the approach to it up Three Mile Hill Road:

These signs show the turn off:

Here they are closer up:

There is a reservoir on this corner, so once you see this you'll know you are taking the correct turning:

This is the view of Flagstaff from that intersection.  It might not be much to look at from here, but for me, now that I've been up it, the sight of it from any distance always lifts my heart.

The road is sealed for some distance before reducing to an unsealed surface.  It requires care but I would rate it as straightforward for the average driver travelling at a careful speed and with proper attention. 

Keep going until you reach this large car park.  It is referred to, somewhat enigamtically, as 'the bull ring', I have no idea why.

As you can see there is plenty of room for parking, and on the day of my visit it was a popular destination.  There are however, no obvious signs that this is the place:

The road goes on past this spot, but we didn't venture further:

The gated track in the photo below provides access for vehicles, but since it is was locked I presume it is for maintenance purposes only.

The entrance to the track is from the righthand side of the carpark, if you are facing the hillside - a discretely placed sign if ever there was one!

The Flagstaff Scenic Reserve sign indicates what is and is not permitted within its bounds.  This is one place you can walk your dog; no bikes however.

This more prominently placed sign warns of periodic aerial spraying operations, which can be checked by making a phone call to the Water Supply Overseer of the Dunedin City Council (Ph: 03 477 4000):

The first stretch of the track is fairly flat and gravelled, and is flanked by grasses, tussocks, big flax bushes, Manuka trees and other shrubs:

This shrub thins out and is left behind once the path climbs somewhat.  Here are some of those beautiful boulders that are so handy to sit down on:

As well as the beautiful blotchy lichens many of them have mosses and other tiny plants living on them:

Ferns and other small plants and shrubs abound:

Nearer the top massive boulders jut out of the landscape:

These ones are up near the summit, a great place from which to take photographs of those fabulous views:

Although the track continues on beyond the summit it does not loop back the bull-ring carpark, so the way down shown here is the same track as the one climbed.  For those who are fitter and more adventurous details of the full length of the Flagstaff-Pineapple track can be found in the 'Other references' section at the end of this article.

On the way down one is freer to admire the view:

This part of the path is near the summit.  It is very uneven and rocky, clearly as a result of having become a waterway in rainy weather.  It's easily walkable, but you have to look where you are going and pay attention to placing your feet!

The next photos gives an idea of the gradient.  What a glorious vista: that's Saddle Hill in the middle distance, and the township of Mosgiel in the Taieri plain to the right.

The path winds as it descends.  This view is directly down onto the plain.  That's Maungatua to the right.  The dark green vegetation shows the extent of forestry plaintations.  At the side of the track running water has carved a deep trench still deeper.  It was dry at the time:

A bit further down and the road we drove up can be seen:

Far below the 'bull ring' car park comes into sight: that's it in the centre of the photo:

I was pleased to get down to the level path.  I had enjoyed my walk but it had been long enough!

That's a healthy young pseudopanax tree to the left.  Looking at the flax behind it you can see how massive the flax grows!

We are nearing the car park here.  The tree behind the flax is Manuka.

Note: No toilets.

I do encourage any moderately fit person living or visiting within travelling distance of this track to try it.  Some words of warning however:
Don't go further than you know you can comfortably get back; wear adequately warm clothes and sensible shoes, and take a jacket and hat of some kind.  It makes sense to take something to snack on as well.  The chilling effect of wind on exposed ridges can be much more than you think and rapidly reduce body temperature.  Lastly, be aware that cell phone coverage may not extend to the track or parts of the track that you are on, so be sure to tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return.  Even when taking a shortish walk like this it's important to be sensible.  These details attended to you can relax and enjoy yourself. 
Disclaimer: this is not professional advice - just common sense, and as important for a walk of this sort as for longer and more remote hiking or tramping.

For official information about safety in the great outdoors here is the page provided by the NZ government.  It includes information about the dangers of hypothermia and other issues:

For those wanting to explore further afield from the same carpark, Longridge Road on its western side is a forestry access road:

The signage on the gate shows what activities are and are not permitted beyond it: basically, outside of forestry operational hours you can walk, ride your bike and take your dog, but dogs are very sensibly not permitted during pest control activities:

Here you can see it spelt out:

And so on...

And just for the record, here is the other sign to the right:

Other references:
  • Skyline walks - Dunedin City Council website: This includes the full length of the Flagstaff-Pineapple walk, described from the end which starts at Booth Road.  The walk I describe above is only part of this and starts from the other end, from the 'bull-ring' car park on Flagstaff-Whare Flat Road. 
    • From the same site, you can find a downloadable PDF which includes track descriptions and rather generalised maps.
    • From the Skyline walks page there is a YouTube video of runners traversing the whole track from the bull ring through the Pineapple stretch to Swampy Summit.  The runners are admirable, a level of fitness which would be unrealistic for most taking this track!
  • The Pineapple-Flagstaff walk is perhaps best described on the Walking Access Ara hikoi Aotearoa website, provided by the NZ government.
    • There is a click-through link on this page to a marvellous topographical map provided by Walking Access Mapping Systems.  It has an immense amount of detail in it, which takes time to load, so you'll probably have to wait a bit for all the details to appear on your screen.  It shows the route of the track along its full length, beyond the part described in my article.

My other articles about being out and about can be found via the following link:
My articles about exploring the beach and rocky pools can be found via the link below:

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Taking time for refreshment ~ when out and about.

When out and about the restorative qualities of a cup of tea made from a thermos can be remarkable.  I can drive to and pull over in one of my favourite parking spots, get out my thermos and picnic bag, and as I sip my tea my busyness and preoccupations slide away.  If I have also packed a sandwich and a biscuit so much the better!  Any worry or intensity that intrudes I mildly observe until it drifts away.  This is my alone time for replenishment, no problem-solving permitted. 

In any one of these favourite spots I could get out of the car, but usually don't: for these rest times I want as much comfort, quiet and privacy as possible, and the car serves as my carapace, my shelter for the moment.  In any case I've worked out exactly how to manage all the picnic things so that they don't get into a muddle!  My cuppa sits comfortably on the dashboard.

A quiet, natural setting is what I look for in these places, and since I starting doing this I've  gradually found more. 

In the first photo I'm in one of the Dunedin Botanic Gardens car parks.  The garden border has the appearance of being withered and wintry, yet the jewel-like presence of early crocuses show spring energy pushing through determinedly:

When last there a lady blackbird flew to perch on the wing mirror next to me and gazed at me companionably, which was indeed a pleasure.  Perhaps she hoped for crumbs or a little cheese, which unfortunately were eaten by then.  I waited until she hopped down before taking her picture her so as not to startle her.  Her brown plumage declares her gender; the males are the black ones.  I wonder if the grey feathers on her face are a sign of age?  My next visitor was a little finch who alighted on the same perch.  The birds are welcome companions, requiring no social effort and remote from my worldly concerns. 

The Botanic Gardens are always a pleasure to explore, even for short stolls.  Near to where I parked the rhododendron garden has a number of seats.  I could have had my picnic there had I wished to:

Refreshed from my picnic I explored a little further down the hill where I came across this rhododendren which as you can see was heavily in bloom at the time.  The big tree to the right is a totora.

It was worth looking at this rhodo up close - a delicate delight! 

Another favourite place where I like to pull over is very different indeed: it is tucked in the hills a little way off the main road not far from the city.  I can sit in that rural tranquility, with only the occasional car passing by; in the distance I can see the rolling hills and the sea; close at hand this eucalyptus tree gives a strong impression of calm and strength.  It's striped trunk is a beauty:  

Another place I like to park is next to the beach: even if I stay in the car the view of the waves rolling in and the clouds making their way overhead is soothing.  On a milder day I'd be down on the beach, enjoying the immediacy of the breaking waves and the tang of the salty air. 

I can sit in my own garden of course, weather permitting!  Even in winter it's pleasant and peaceful, if a trifle chilly.  Fortunately I don't believe in weeding in winter, so at this time of year don't feel any need to bend down and tidy up.  If I did where would the little insects live?  And how would the earth shelter itself?  Just leave it, I say.  I listen to the birds and take in the sight and sound of the sea.  I observe the shape of the garden, it's mounds, trees, flowers, and yes, the weeds as well, which mostly seem to sleep until the warmer weather wakes them up once more.  Right now the energy in the earth seems to be slowly gathering itself for spring growth, showing itself in new buds and shoots. 

Exercising is another and different way of taking time out: 
It's time I got back to swimming!  For me swimming up and down 'doing lengths' is a wonderful way of setting aside everything else.  The underwater world is essentially a place of solitude: no one else is there with me even when noisy activities are going on nearby.  All my focus is on my breathing and movement - up and down, up and down.  Afterwards my body feels different and I breathe a whole lot more freely - with my whole body.  I feel good, but even then, a restorative is needed - and I'm off to find one of my quiet places - with a sandwich and a thermos and a nice hot cup of tea. 

It has taken me years to figure out some of these simple things and actually do them:  
Now that I've got into the way of it I know that when I'm out I will greatly benefit from taking little refreshment in a quiet spot, even if I am going out for only one visit or to a single appointment.  Inevitably there are errands to do on the way home which easily take a further hour or so.  And on the rare occasions when I have a clear run home I am glad of a breather before I head back to base: it helps to free me up from what I have been doing and relax for the return home. 

The catalyst for getting this routine going has been my care of my frail and elderly mother who now lives in a rest home.  Visiting her, which I do regularly, is a pleasure, but it also involves going into an environment where there are a lot of other people and things to attend to.  I've often found it difficult to 'change gear' afterwards, to come back to a state of stillness within myself, to feel my own energy even.  Sitting alone somewhere quiet for long enough to have a drink and something to eat does settle things down.  And nature reminds me where my heart is - in amongst it!

To find my article about enjoying the Moana swimming pool click the link below:
To find articles in my Elderly and dependent series click the link below:
To find my articles about being out in the natural world click on the link below:
To find my articles about gardening click on the link below: