Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sign of the Bellbird

Harry Ell on right with Leonard Cocayne
I have always been interested in Harry Ell, the dedicated conservationist  who dreamt of building a Summit Road along the Port Hills and over the Peninsula and oversaw much of its development (during the Depression) as well as the building of four rest houses - Sign of the Takahe, Sign of the Kiwi, Sign of the Bellbird and Sign of the Packhorse.

The Sign of the Takahe and The Sign of the Kiwi I would pass maybe six times a week on my way from Governors Bay to Christchurch and back. The Sign of the Packhorse I can see from my kitchen window, a tiny speck in the distance on the saddle below Mt Bradley, across the harbour. Reaching the Packhorse requires a dedicated tramp from Kaituna Valley. The Sign of the Bellbird, though not far as the crow (!) flies and accessible by car, is off the beaten track and requires a planned visit.

So this afternoon (having started work early morning and feeling I had earned a break) I drove up to The Sign of the Kiwi, turned left and made my way on round the Summit Road to the start of Ellas Track. (If 'Ella' was a person then this seems to have been forgotten as the track name does not use an apostrophe - must do some digging...).The track winds around the cliff edge high above Governors Bay, offering a true bird's eye view of the Bay and a panorama of Lyttelton Harbour.

Lyttelton Harbour from Ellas Track
At one point there must have been an earthquake-related rock fall because the narrow track became decidedly challenging. I crossed this section knowing I was lucky not to have lost my footing on the loose volcanic grit; knowing actually that I was foolish and should have turned back!

I came out onto the road just short of the Bellbird which, like the Packhorse, is now a ruined shell - but which nevertheless offers welcome shelter, an alternative gathering place for young people and a wonderful view across the Canterbury Plains. Interestingly the building shows no signs at all of earthquake damage though I doubt it has been strengthened.

Sign of the Bellbird
Bellbird with Canterbury Plains below, Southern Alps obscured by cloud

Later I was delighted to find this photo from Christchurch City Libraries archive in a google search...

The Sign of the Bellbird, a tea-house, Kennedy's Bush on the Port Hills, Christchurch 
[ca. 1925]


  1. Lovely indeed and how adventuresome of you. Hope you weren't alone, in the event of a turned ankle or other possible mishap.

    Sounds and looks like it's well worth the trek and could be an inspirational writing nook--if safe---

    breathtaking view of the harbour---the same harbour for which your blog is named?

    What spectacular views you have at your fingertips!

  2. Ell left a great legacy. I found out a little about him as my former boss was married to his (adopted, I believe) daughter- or perhaps grand-daughter, I'm not sure. Some time back in the 90s they made a video about Ell and his walkways- I could try to dig it out for you, if you're interested. (No wonderful old footage- photos and video of the tracks, and a bit of background info.)

  3. Yes Deb, it is the same harbour. It can look very different depending on weather conditions... Like most things it probably looks better at a distance than subjected to close scrutiny (!) but for me the harbour is very special, my turangawaewae

    K Strasse Blog Team (what a wonderful name!?). I would be very interested in the video (tho have no means of playing videos now...). I have bits and pieces on Harry Ell including a book by Lenore Oakley published by Caxton Press in 1960 - which I must re-read.

  4. PS I really like the photo of Harry Ell and Leonard Cocayne. Sort of nonchalant chic - rather smart both of them...

  5. Hi Jane .. great blog. Interesting cross over here .. years back I spent months on Harry Ell Dr looking for a stormwater leak for a (now retired) policeman with the same surname of the drive .. and even years earlier than that spent quite some time running a survey through Cocayne Reserve (off New Brighton Rd) to re-wet a drying out wetland and where I found some plants growing (not indigenous to the area) and which the police were not very interested in. :)

  6. I didn't know we had a Harry Ell Dr or a Cocayne Reserve (tho should have guessed!).

  7. I'm trying to get back into walking. The kids and I did Mear Track a couple of times. It's just a little walk though I was still puffing hehe.

  8. ps I had to look up what a 'movable feast' was! hehe

  9. Have been trying to find 'movable feast'. Where is it?? Where is Mear track??

  10. At first I thought you were referring to the chooks as 'roast dinners on legs' *giggle* but then I found this:

    'Moveable feast' has been adopted into the language as a metaphor for things which change over time.


    Mears Track is this end of the Oxford township, back up in the bush. You have to share the honeydew with wasps though :o(

  11. Hello Jane!

    Absolutely love your blog, but please do let us know if you are ok after the quake!! Hope all is well with you and yours..


  12. Hello Lou. I am fine, as are my extended family/friends. Power came back on yesterday afternoon so I have been able to access phone, email and facebook messages and your kind thoughts here. What has happened is unbelievable and I think will be very hard to write about - but I will post something on the blog soon... thank you for your message!

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