The Bridle Path was the route used by the first settlers to traverse the Port Hills from Lyttelton to the settlement of Christchurch.
It extends from Lyttelton up to the Summit Rd and then down into Heathcote Valley where it meets with the Bridle Path Rd at the Tunnel Road portal. It was formed in haste in 1850, as the road over Evans Pass to Sumner was not completed. The early settlers' first view of the Canterbury Plains and the site for Christchurch after the long sea journey was from the summit of the Bridle Path. Along the path are a number of seats named to commemorate the First Four Ships that brought the first European settlers to Canterbury, a memorial cross, memorials to pioneer women, two WWII strong points (sentry boxes) and entrance markers at both ends of the path.
Since the 1970s there have been discussions about changing of classification of the Bridle Path from a legal road to a scenic or historic reserve. However, despite support from both the former Heathcote and Lyttelton County Councils and the Department of Conservation, the status of the path has remained unchanged. The path can still be lawfully used by trail bikes due to its legal road status. The condition of the path has continued to deteriorate on the Heathcote valley side primarily due to the high level and type of use. However, restoration works during 2000 have improved the safety of the path. Other restoration work, sponsored by local businesses and families, has seen repairs made to some of the seats en route.
Historical Significance or Value
When the First Four Ships, the Charlotte Jane, Randolph, Sir George Seymour and Cressy, arrived in December 1850 bringing the first settlers, the only way to Christchurch was either by sea to Sumner and Ferrymead or over the precipitous Bridle Path. In anticipation of the settlers' arrival and due to the uncertainty surrounding the completion of the Sumner Rd, Captain Joseph Thomas had the Bridle Path cut earlier that year.
Armed with their worldly goods, the settlers climbed in single file over the Port Hills along the newly completed and somewhat rough Bridle Path. The more wealthy were able to have their belongings ferried to Ferrymead from Lyttelton saving them being burdened for the trip over the Bridle Path. At the base of the Bridle Path on the Heathcote side, a ferry service ferried the settlers and their luggage over the Heathcote River. From there they proceeded onto Christchurch via Ferry Rd.
In 1851, the track was finished and made passable for horses along its entire length. Refreshment stores were soon selling ginger beer on the summit and at the Heathcote end of the track, while a pack horse service was dispatched daily from Lyttelton to Christchurch and return. Later that year, due to high usage, the track was further developed by a gang under Donald Gollan, one of Captain Thomas's supervisors.
The first vehicle to cross the Port Hills was a spring cart with luggage pulled by bullocks over the Bridle Path on 17 March 1857. From September 1857 C.W. Bishop and Thomas Bruce ran a daily cart and packhorse service over the Bridle Path for those who could afford it, using Edward Coppell's cottage in Heathcote as their depot.
In 185(7?) Charlotte Godley erected the Wayside Cross Memorial in memory of the women settlers who braved the elements and walked the track. In 1940, celebration of the pioneering family was a recurring theme during the New Zealand Centenary. At this time and during the Canterbury Centenary celebrations three memorials were built at the summit of the Bridle Path dedicated to the pioneer women of Canterbury.
A number of stone and timber seats were erected along the Bridle Path c.1950. There is confusion over the naming of the stone seats except for the Jane Deans and Emily Rose Jacobs seats at the summit. The four or five seats on path itself (excluding the two at the summit) are thought to have been erected by the appropriate County Councils c.1950 to commemorate the arrival of the First Four Ships as part of the Canterbury Centennial celebrations. A Press article (9/8/50) talks of six seats, two at the summit, and two on each side. Presumably the four seats on the slopes were named to represent the First Four Ships. However minutes from the Canterbury Pilgrims & Early Settlers Association suggest that there were four seats on the Heathcote side alone, although it is unclear if they include the Jane Deans seat in this count. A number of the nameplates on the seats have been lost adding to the confusion. In any case, seven stone seats exist being: three on the Heathcote side (the Cressy, the Charlotte Jane and Randolph , and the Sir George Seymour); two at the summit (Jane Deans and Emily Rose Jacobs); and two on the Lyttelton side (the Randolph and the Cressy).
The Bridle Path's greatest significance is as a historic walkway dating from 1850 linking Lyttelton with the Canterbury Plains and what was to become the city of Christchurch. For a number of years the steep track was the only land-based route across the Port Hills. Most of the early settlers arriving in Lyttelton had to cross the Port Hills over the path before settling in Canterbury. The first view of the Canterbury Plains that the settlers would have seen was from the summit of the Bridle Path. This image is regularly used in connection with events and publications describing the European settlement of Canterbury. The Path is strongly linked to the arrival of the First Four Ships, a major historic event in the European settlement of Canterbury. The path has a strong association with the people of Canterbury.
The Bridle Path provided the route for New Zealand's first telegraph service opened on 1 July 1862, and ran from Lyttelton to Christchurch over the Port Hills.
During the Second World War the Bridle Path provided a sentry point to the Lyttelton Fortress Area when two strong points were built on the path overlooking Lyttelton. Strong points were established by the infantry around Lyttelton Harbour as lookout posts and shelter above landing sites, forming part of a larger coastal defence system around Lyttelton harbour and Godley Head.
The Bridle Path forms part of a wider historical and cultural landscape with its linkages with the Port of Lyttelton, Pilgrims Rock (the symbolic landing point of the first immigrant ships), the technological innovation of the telegraph system, and the settlement of Christchurch. It also is part of the coastal defence complex that defended Lyttelton Harbour.
It is considered there are no significant aesthetic elements associated with the Bridle Path, other than the splendid scenic views.
While the memorials on the path are all of a high standard of design and workmanship, it is considered there are no significant architectural elements associated with the Bridle Path.
The Bridle Path itself was difficult to build because of its steep nature and with the tools available at the time of its construction. New Zealand's first telegraph in operation opened on 1 July 1862 and ran from Lyttelton to Christchurch over the Port Hills via the Bridle Path.
However, as there are no physical elements associated with the early telegraph route on the Bridle Path that survive to this day, and as the path has been modified and improved over the years, it is considered that the place does not meet this criteria.
The Bridle Path has high cultural significance as a place that exhibits a strong link with early European settlement of Canterbury. In particular, the descendants of the early settlers who arrived at Lyttelton in the 1850s often describe an emotional link to the Bridle Path. This is demonstrated by the level of support for the restoration of the memorial seats. The restoration of the Randolph seat was sponsored by the Chaney family.
The Path has high commemorative value as the historic walkway of the early settlers. This is indicated by the number of memorials along its route. Events commemorating the NZ Centennial and Canterbury's Centennial and sesquicentennial have involved the Bridle Path. The Prime Minister, Hon Helen Clark, attended the commemorative Bridle Path walk held on 16 December 2000 as part of the 150th Canterbury celebrations.
In addition the path has a special symbolic function in commemorating pioneer women. The three memorials at the summit of the path are all dedicated to Canterbury's women pioneers.
There is high public esteem for the Bridle Path indicated by the high level of use the path receives and its commemorative value. It is regularly used as a public walking track and an annual Bridle Path Walk is held on Anniversary Day, 16 December, commemorating the arrival of the First Four Ships.
It is considered that there are no significant traditional elements associated with the Bridle Path as it was only the main route to Christchurch for a limited time. The road to Sumner was completed in 1857 allowing for an easier passage to Christchurch
Christchurch City Council
Christchurch City Council
Parks Unit (1992) Bridle Path Walkway: Conservation and Development Proposal June 1992 Christchurch City Council.
New Zealand Historic Places
New Zealand Historic Places
Heather Gibson, 'A Special Place', November 2000, pp. 8-9.
Pioneer Women Memorial Seat on Summit Road, 8th August 1950, p. 2.
A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Southern region office
Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.
Historic Area Place Name
Bridle Path Entrance
Bridle Path Entrance - Heathcote
Charlotte Jane and Randolph Seat
Emily Rose Jacobs Seat
George Seymour Seat
Jane Deans Seat
Pilgrims Association Seat
Pioneer Women's Memorial Shelter
Wayside Memorial Cross
WWII Strong Points