Godley Head Recreation Area
Page contentsLocation and Access
Godley Head is a recreation reserve administered by the Department of Conservation under the Reserves Act 1977. This reserve is a concept of land management that provides the public with the opportunity to observe an active rural situation combined with experiencing recreational activities.
Location and AccessGodley Head is located 20 km by road south-east of Christchurch. The land forms the northern headland at the entrance to Lyttelton Harbour. Access by car is either from Lyttelton or Sumner to the junction of the Sumner, Summit and Evans Pass roads. At this point Godley Head is signposted. No direct public transport. There is a bus terminus at Sumner.
NameGodley Head was known to the Maori as either Awaroa (long channel) or Kotokitoki (very calm), although it was little used by them. The whalers called it Cachalot Head, after the vessel "Cachalot", captained by Jean L'Anglois and reputed to have been nearly wrecked on the head. Finally it was renamed Godley Head in honour of John Godley, co-founder of the Canterbury Association and leader of the Canterbury Settlement.
GeologyGodley Head is a typical headland of the Lyttelton Harbour basin - high, open faced hills with steep slopes descending to the sea, and limited vegetation.
This landscape evolved during the Pliocene period 10-15 million years ago when the volcanic activity of the Lyttelton volcano was subsiding. The climate during this period was cool and moist, and dissection of the volcano's flanks occurred by short, fast flowing streams, which eroded and drowned the central areas of the Lyttelton volcano forming the caldera of Lyttelton Harbour. Intensive wave action has resulted in the formation of varied costal features, including sheer cliffs, caves, wave-cut platforms, boulder beaches and the sandy bay of Taylors Mistake.
Navigational HistoryIn 1849 Captain Thomas, Chief Surveyor for the Canterbury Association, suggested to the Association that it build a lighthouse at the Lyttelton Harbour entrance to assist navigation. In 1859 finance was granted by the Provincial Government, and in 1865 it was completed, having an arc of 200 degrees and being visible for 29 nautical miles.
Associated with the lighthouse was a fog signal, worked by explosives and operated by the lighthouse keeper, who had to negotiate a difficult and dangerous track down to the water's edge where the signal was located. In 1927 this explosive signal was replaced by a diaphone type signal and resited near the lighthouse.
With the outbreak of war, the requirement of a clear field of fire for the guns necessitated the resiting of the lighthouse. It was repositioned 30 metres down the cliff, where a group of three flashing lights was placed. Formerly operated by a lighthouse keeper, the light was automated in 1976.
Several ships have been wrecked around the head, the most recent of these being the "Breeze", wrecked in 1931. It was being towed out to sea by the Navy for target practise, when the rope snapped and it drifted into what is now called Breeze Bay in its honour.
Farming HistoryFirst established as a Government Reserve by the New Zealand Company in 1849, Godley Head has been farmed by a large number of people over the years, both officially and unofficially. The land was originally part of J.T. Parkinson's Mt Pleasant Run until Major Hornbrook took over the grazing rights in 1863. In 1885 the land was leased to W. Attwood and then to J.S. Monck shortly afterwards. R.M. Morten successfully tendered for the lease in 1906. Subsequent lessees were Langdale-Hunt (1910), Lawson (1914), I.W. Retallick (1914) and H.L. Scott (1934). L.H. Parish farmed the land from 1968 until the lease expired in 1979.
FarmingTwo main aspects influence the style of farming which can be practised on Godley Head. These are climate and public use.
Climate: The reserve is arguably the driest portion of Canterbury. Annual rainfall as low as 33mm has been recorded and drought must be accepted as the norm. Lack of rainfall is accentuated by the exposed nature of the landscape and the dessicating northerly winds render a proportion of the rainfall ineffective. Under average conditions a reasonable amount of autumn growth can be expected prior to the winter when ground temperatures limit grass growth. In between September and November good pasture growth is expected. This pattern of dry matter production imposes restrictions on the type of farming which is possible.
Public Use: The reserve is more suited to grazing by livestock than other types of farming. The choice of animals is limited to a degree by the numbers of people using the facility. Cattle for example might be carried at certain times but tend to destroy tracks and react badly to large numbers of people. Sheep are more docile and can become used to people.
Military HistoryThe defence scheme of New Zealand placed considerable emphasis on the Navy and Merchant Marine in both a defensive and offensive role, which, if it was to be played effectively, demanded that the home ports be guaranteed as secure. It was with the security of Lyttelton in mind that Godley Head battery and the other defensive works around Lyttelton and Banks Peninsula were constructed.
In 1938 Major Edmey, of the British Army, was in New Zealand carrying out a survey of the defences of the major ports. In consequence of this visit it was decided to position a coastal defence battery on Godley Head, reserved for military purposes in 1851. Later that year work began on improving road access to the head.
The battery was at the tip of the headland where it commanded the best view of the approaches to the harbour. In July of 1939 Cabinet voted finance for the construction of fortifications and work began immediately. While the construction work was in progress, a temporary battery known as Taylor Battery was sited on the small promontory on the northern side of the headland. In September 1939, the 60 pound field guns of 1818 vintage were resurrected from Burnham and positioned at Taylor Battery.
The two gun emplacements at Godley Battery, the search light emplacements, observation posts, engine rooms, plotting and buildings necessary for the operation of a coastal defence battery were largely complete early in 1940. However, difficulty in obtaining the new weapons necessitated the continued use of the nearly obselete 60 pounders.
In July 1941 the British Admiralty lent New Zealand several ex-naval 6" Mk VII guns, two of which were mounted on emplacements, still to be seen at Taylors Battery, as a replacement for the 60 pounders. In December of that same year two 6" Mk XXIV guns were mounted at Godley Battery, the Mk VIIs being moved to Queen Charlotte Sound. A third Mk XXIV was added in 1946.
In addition to the artillery pieces. Godley Head was equipped with radar, radio transmitter and a port war signal station; all by way of identifying and controlling the passage of ships and later in the war as an aid to gun laying. Much of this equipment was operated by WAACs who entered Godley Head in August 1942 and who lived in huts to the north of the parade ground.
In order to defend the battery against being silenced by a sea borne invasion, the land east of Mt Pleasant was declared a fortress area. The home guard set up tank traps and entanglements along the beaches, and on Godley Head itself several AA Bofors and machine gun nests were positioned with associated slit trenches. The remains of this activity are clearly visible today, especially around the hill behind the camp.
None of the guns saw enemy action; the closest they came was in June 1941 when a German minelayer, "The Adjutant", laid a pattern of 10 mines at the mouth of Lyttelton Harbour, under cover of night. Nothing was known of this until four years later when it was revealed in captured German documents. None of the mines were ever found
At the end of the war the camp closed but it opened again in 1949 for compulsory military training and for territorials. The cessation of compulsory military training and the world wide abandonment of coastal defences in 1958 rendered Godley Head obselete and since then it has only been used for occasional exercises.
Cave DwellingsOne of the most unusual features of the headland during its history were the caves along the coast between Taylors Mistake and Boulder Bay, converted into baches by weekend visitors and first occupied during the 1890s.
Some of these caves were fitted out in truly remarkable style, complete with water supply, fireplace, and bunks. One, perhaps the most impressive, was "The Hermitage" with a main cave measuring 20m x 8m x 4m high. This cave was furnished with material from the 1906 exhibition and even included a piano, carried out in a punt. The most solidly constructed baches were at the east end of Boulder Bay, among them "Stone End" and "Rosy Morn" both built during the 1900s of rough hewn boulders and concrete, as protection against stormy seas. Meals were cooked on primus stoves, with all provisions being carried by pack from the Sumner tram terminus. Eventually however, poor health standards forced the abandonment and removal of some baches over the past few decades. It is currently disputed as to whether the baches will be allowed to remain.
The WalkwayTunnel route (1 hour round trip). The walkway joins an original army zigzag track, steeply sloping towards Mechanics Bay where the ruins of an old wharf are exposed at low tide.
Across the harbour lie the landmarks of Adderly Head, Little Port Cooper, Camp Bay, Shelly Bay, Ripapa Island and Purau. The peaks of Evans, Herbert, and Bradley are evident on the skyline. At the edge of the low rocky cliffs the walkway leads through the tunnel, formerly used to give access to the search light stations below the cliffs of Godley Head. The tunnel is 110 metres long, unshored, and has only natural light supplemented by side tunnels leading straight to the cliff face.
The plunging views of rocks, weed, sea, bird and sky are most dramatic. Beyond the tunnel the walkway is almost at sea level, ending a few metres beyond the vacant search light sites. From this point part of the lighthouse can be seen high above. In the sea huge strands of kelp sway in and out with the swell and the sea birds wheel round the precarious cliffs. In this wild place it is surprising to find parsley, wallflowers and alyssum growing amongst the ice plant. Returning through the tunnel the walkway rejoins the loop to climb the hill again past the empty shells of the war time generator shed, battery-plotting room and mini range. Near the stile by the picnic area the underground kitchens can be identified by the chimney and steel hatches.
Taylors Mistake route (3 hour, round trip). From the car park the walkway leads up the hill to observation posts and then down towards Breeze Bay. At the saddle the track crosses the Summit Road, descending to Taylors Mistake. Whitewash Head is easily recognisable in the distance as well as the city, the Heathcote and Avon estuary and New Brighton Beach.
The walkway joins the Taylors Mistake to Boulder Bay route, along which it is easy to identify the cave dwelling sites. Evidence can be seen from signs of paint, concrete, water tanks, steps and shrubs. Parts of this route are precipitous and care should be taken of young children
From Boulder Bay, the track climbs to the woolshed and carpark.
Note: It is dangerous to venture too close to the edge of the cliffs!
The headland environment supports many bird species, several of which are worthy of mention. White-flippered penguins breed on various parts of the cliff base in spring and summer and there is a concentration of them in artificial nesting sites in the bay immediately south of Boulder Bay. Nesting sites of the spotted shag are also evident, while the red-billed gull frequents the site. Southern black-backed gulls are always present in fluctuating numbers, swinging in the updraughts along the cliff faces. The sooty shearwater may also be present at certain times of the year.
VegetationAlthought the predominant plant cover of Godley Head is grassland with scattered stands of macrocarpas and pines, there are some rare plant species. It is the only known locality in Canterbury for the native sedge Carex appressa. The New Zealand pepper tree (Macropiper excelsum) flourishes in many rock gullies as does the tree daisy (Olearia fragrantissima). At the base of low cliffs may be found the star lily (Anthropodium candidum) and adders's tongue (Ophioglossum lusitanicum).
Other plants found near the water's edge are the jersey fern (Anogramma leptophylla), cloak fern (Cheilanthes distans), creeping poly-pod (Pyrrosia serpens), Richard's shield fern (Polystichum richardii) and the shiny spleenwort (Asplenium lucidun).
The reserve provides a valuable resource for outdoor activities and environment education :
1 Recreation :
- Access for fishing. Both wet fish for line fishing and shellfish for collecting from the rocks are available.
- Picnicking. Casual picnicking is encouraged throughout the reserve. Toilet and car parking facilities are provided.
- Walking. A New Zealand Walkway provides routes around the park, linking points of interest. Two loop routes exist.
2 Educational opportunities exist for interpretation of history, farming operations and earth sciences.
3 Historical Associations. Relics from World War II military instalations and cave dwellings adjacent to the reserve.
Public UseIt is the Department of Conservation's aim to encourage public utilization of the reserve. However, there are certain codes of behaviour that must be adhered to in order to ensure the protection of the reserve's value. We ask for your co-operation with the following :
- no entry into the fenced off area adjacent to the car park and Lyttelton Port Company area.
- no public camping.
- firearms prohibited.
- all wildlife, plants and natural features are protected.
- dogs to be kept on a leash and are permitted on the walkway only.
- vehicles are permitted on the sealed road and carpark only.
- do not deposit litter in the reserve.