It’s a great feeling when you finally achieve something that you’ve wanted to do for a long time. Whilst some of the mountains I’ve been hiking of late have been only recent discoveries, there are a few that have been on my radar almost as long as I’ve lived in the country.
I’m becoming a regular user of Canterbury’s back roads as I make the weekly trip from Christchurch to various peaks within the eastern border of the Southern Alps. About an hour and a half south-west of the Garden City, along an exceedingly long and winding road lies Lake Coleridge, nestled snugly in a valley between some mountains. The road itself snakes near the Rakaia river which flows past the base of Mt Hutt, one of the region’s most popular ski centres. Before the village of Lake Coleridge, it turns briefly north, before turning inland again down a long, but reasonable quality of unsealed road.
Peak Hill is very much visible from some distance away, and eventually a small patch of grass is reached to pull up in where a Department of Conservation (DOC) sign marks the start of the hike. Having studied the route on Topomap.co.nz, I was a little disappointed to discover that the loop track on the website didn’t exist on the DOC map, as I much prefer walking in a loop rather than going up and down the same route. Pushing my disappointment aside, I headed off under the glare of the sun. Like Mt Guy a few weeks prior, there was not a single piece of shade the whole way up.
Crossing a stile into private land, the fence line is followed to the right and then up the side of the paddock until another stile takes you onto conservation land. From the very beginning, there is a lovely view all around of the surrounding mountains as well as the wonderful blue of Lake Coleridge which appears almost immediately on the hike. Once on the conservation land, the incline begins at a constant, though reasonably comfortable rate. Orange poles lead the way, although for the most part, the trail is well trodden, with just a few patches of scree to negotiate higher up the first section.
An information board on a low ridge makes for a nice spot to pause and admire the lake below. From here, the path follows a fence line up and over a number of lower ridges, including a section which is quite exposed. There was a bit of wind about and it buffeted me slightly as I continued my ascent. The view is relentless with an increasing amount of the lake becoming visible as well as the Rakaia river valley upstream, making this an exceedingly appealing walk.
After about 1.5hr, I reached the windy summit (1240m). An information board details how the ice field used to lie in this valley in the previous ice age. Peak Hill itself would have stuck up above the ice like a little island. No matter the direction you look, there is something beautiful to look at, be it Mt Hutt across the Rakaia river, the snow capped peaks inland, or Lake Coleridge with its flanking mountains. I had the summit to myself, something which I’m always happy about, giving me the chance to eat my lunch with only the sound of the crickets and the wind for company. It was a gloriously sunny day, but the wind meant the need for an extra layer whilst I relaxed at the top.
After about half an hour, with the wind beginning to whip up in a frenzy, I retraced my steps. This time, the exposed ridge had me feeling the brunt of the wind as it became strong enough to push me slightly. Any stronger and this section would become dangerous. That aside, it was a pleasant hike down with the lake full frontal, and as I reached the information board, I came across the only other hikers on the mountain that day. I’m still taken aback at times to see people out hiking that are totally unprepared. Here were two hikers, one of whom was clearly struggling with the gradient, out on an exposed mountain with no visible water supply, and heading off to an exposed summit in the afternoon on a windy day. Especially in this case when the DOC sign at the bottom warns about the weather and need for water on this hike.
I reached my car after about 3hrs very satisfied with this hike. Despite its exposure to the elements, the constant view from start to finish, as well as the gradient gain make this an exceedingly enjoyable hike, and ranks near the top of my favourite hikes in Canterbury.