Harry Ell Track
If walks were fairytales, Harry Ell would be Goldilocks. Not too long, not too short. Not too steep, not too flat. Not too sunny, not too shady - and there are snacks. (Though please note that said snacks are available at the Sign of the Kiwi, which is a business, so firmly suggest we don't follow Goldilocks' lead and help ourselves).
Some years ago, when it was first suggested to me that we walk up Harry Ell, the suggestion was met with a look of disgust more worthy of much more untoward suggestion. A short silence ensued, while I waited for them to reveal they were joking. The silence turned awkward, so I prompted "its up a hill..." in a manner that suggested the outcome was obvious. Fast forward ten minutes and I'm in the car being driven up Hackthorne Road wondering why I had been singled out for the greatest punishment anyone had ever known.
I considered myself a seasoned walker, mainly because I would get into full exercise kit to prance, not even that briskly, around Hagley Park (which I assume you know to be flat) and the gardens, usually stopping to take photos of ducks, roses or that good greenhouse. However I had a "Just Say No" policy regarding inclines. I know what you are going to say (unless you are currently nodding in agreement), "But even a slight incline increases the physical benefits of the walk!" People say this with a look of wonder - like its an infomercial and you are one of the first 100 callers - free gift time. But I knew the truth to be that inclines are better for you because they are the devil.
My point is, I was wrong and I now routinely walk up and down this track like its my job. Harry Ell is the incline that doesn't feel like an incline, but you still get the free gift. The incline is so gradual, that you don't feel like you are walking up a hill (at least not after the second or third time) but when you look at where you end up, its a lot higher than where you started. If you already love hills, I'm preaching to the choir. It's beautiful, atmospheric and offers the kind of stunning views which can only be attained with a bit of height.
If you don't love hills, I can't promise you ever will, but you may just love Harry Ell.
There are a number of places you can jump on the track. Officially, it begins just past the Sign of the Takahe on Hackthorne Road in Cashmere, but if you "accidentally" drive past that you will find a couple of other places to pull over and park, to find your way onto the track for a slightly shorter walk. Follow the signposted track (not being lured by detours) which emerges on the Summit Road just under the Sign of the Kiwi (which has just conveniently reopened for refreshments). Then turn around and retrace your steps which should eventually take you back to your starting point/car.
Moderate. I give it moderate because it isn't flat, but as far as hills go, its relatively easy. The perfect start for your entry level hill walker. The incline is so gentle its surprising when you see how high you have climbed. Though unless you are a seasoned hill walker the first time can leave you a bit stiff.
Off road. Not flat. Slightly rocky in some areas and very short bursts of very slight climbing required in a couple of places, though I stress this is climbing in the loosest possible sense of the word. Exagerated stepping is probably more accurate.
Probably a drink bottle (hydration is important) and a good attitude is all thats needed here (though I've made it up there several times without the second thing). It alternates between sheltered forest-y surroundings to quite exposed so if its cold, it'll be cold in the covered parts, so pack another layer. If it's hot, it will be very hot in the exposed parts of the track so slip, slop slap etc. Sunglasses would assist with the transition from moody forest light to glaring sun. In short, no special equipment needed.
Much of the early part of the walk is under a forest canopy but there is a point where you emerge and are rewarded with spectacular views across the whole city. That's the money shot but walking through the covered track is cosy and if (like me) you spend most of the walk looking in the direction of your feet while trying to pretend you aren't walking up a hill, at the right time of day the ground is covered with dappled light coming through the trees, you know which looks pretty nice. Also, lots of people bring cute dogs.
As a moderate to slow walker, this would be a roughly 1.5 hour round trip.
Lengthen / Shorten
Shorten by driving right past the official start point in and picking a safe place to park and jump on the track further up. May be a good idea to do this first time if you are unsure of the difficulty and/or terrain. Alternatively, just turn around whenever you feel like it. There is no certificate awarded at the top (and if there were awards you'd have earned one just by showing up #kiwisport) so do what you are comfortable with.
Lengthen by adding on any of the walks which begin from the top of the Harry Ell track near the Sign of the Kiwi. For a short but scenic add on, there is a short loop (10-15mins) which runs around the back of the Sign of The Kiwi. For an intense add on, turn left at the top and commence ascent up to Sugarloaf. I'm going to need to work up to that but go nuts. Another option is to start before the official start...like the bottom of Hackthorne Road...
Instead of going back the way you came, just past the Sign of the Kiwi you can get onto The Flying Nun, which eventually rejoins the Harry Ell walkway. It's technically a bike track so you may need to dodge some lycra but no one has kicked us off yet and its a nice way for the regulars to mix it up.
Extreme. The relatively gentle incline means that people are generally in good spirits and you'll get a hello (and sometimes even some casual banter) from nearly everyone you pass. And they are trendy, we've been clocked with our matching All Birds (the first step to matching tracksuits) by the odd passer-by. If you are there around "after-work run" time there may be less chat but you should cut anyone running some slack as running is hard. They're probably just trying to get home for dinner.
Victoria Park Road crosses the track at one point (or perhaps the track crosses the road) and while it is not gridlocked, the cars do swing round there fairly quickly so practice generally sensible road safety. There are patches of slightly uneven terrain so sensible footwear is a must. Unfortunately, there have been instances where cars have been broken into so leave valuables at home or keep them on you. Can be muddy after rain.