MistyNites

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Archive for the tag “Canterbury”

Mount Fyffe

Since moving to New Zealand 5.5yrs ago I’ve summited a good few mountains, often with peaks that are around the same height as or taller than, the tallest mountain of my homeland, Scotland. But the actual altitude gain of the hike varies quite a lot. An impressive summit height is not always reached by way of an equally impressive altitude gain, depending on how far into the mountains the starting point is. But standing on the Kaikoura Peninsula looking inland at the Seaward Kaikoura Ranges of the Southern Alps, my hike for the day looked daunting. For this time round I would be starting close to sea level, and there was a lot of mountain to climb.

 

In February whilst up in Kaikoura for a long weekend, it was the Monday when the conditions were right to head up, and I set off after breakfast down the back roads to reach the carpark. But these back roads were actually a bit of an adventure as repairs following the November 14th earthquake were under way and the road conditions were interesting to say the least. The latter section of the drive on Postmans Road is unsealed and where it went up a steep embankment, my car lost traction on the stony track. Thankfully no-one was coming in the other direction. Parked up and kitted out, I was then ready to set off.

The track itself is a well-defined 4×4 track, quite wide although in places the substrate can be slippy under foot. In the lower section, there was evidence of recent landslips, evidence of the earthquake and some of the rains that have fallen since. It is a steady and zig-zagging climb surrounded by trees with the initial views being of the river valley where the braided Kowhai river snakes through on route to the Pacific Ocean which is also just visible beyond the flatness of the Canterbury Plains to the east. There were portions of this lower section that were shaded, but once the zig-zagging stopped, the rest of the hike was almost completely exposed to the elements, so under a nearly-cloudless sky, I was slapping on the sunscreen like it was going out of fashion. I learnt early on that my Scottish skin burns in little time at all in the Southern Hemisphere summer so from November through to March, I’m permanently shiny with the oil effect of sun lotion.

 

I was enjoying this hike from very early on, and despite being overtaken by a few other hikers, I still felt I was maintaining a good pace. With increasing height, it was possible to appreciate the Kaikoura Peninsula starting to jut out into the Pacific Ocean as well as the peak of Mt Fyffe in the distance, and eventually a lookout was reached on a little flat outcrop of land from where the Kowhai River could be seen snaking across the plains. Continuing on from here, the track continued onwards until it reached an area overlooking Sandy Saddle where the mountains behind Mt Fyffe were the dominant view. The Kaikoura Ranges were a beautiful and staggering view with their steep sides and green vegetation, and sneaking in and out of sight in the valley below was the upper reaches of the Kowhai River. There were puffs of clouds above these inland mountains but otherwise it was exceptionally clear.

 

There was a short flat section before once again the gradient steepened and the track zig-zagged again. The view was staggering in every direction and already I was approaching the 1000m (3281ft) mark and beyond. Then further along the track, a junction appeared where the Spaniard Spur track offers a steep descent down to the Kowhai River. From here it is just a few minutes walk to the Mt Fyffe Hut at 1100m (3609ft) where there is a drop toilet and the ability to sleep, shelter and cook. There was a couple there that had come up the day before in the bad weather and camped the night, waking up to a beautiful sunrise. From here, the view out to the Kaikoura Peninsula was unobstructed and I can only imagine how amazing that dawn view would have been from there.

 

Leaving the hut and several other hikers behind, I continued on up the summit track which is narrower, cutting through a copse, before again starting its long snaking wind up the ridgeline. The stony ground was a slip hazard in places and I passed several people heading down from the summit. The further I walked I could now see some clouds whipping down into the valley between the two lines of mountains and I always find it fascinating watching the clouds form, swirl, then disperse. I imagined what it would have felt like to have been up Mt Fyffe the night of the earthquake as I saw large stones and boulders littered across the path. It’s one thing to feel a large earthquake when you are home in your own bed away from the epicentre, but I think it would have been very different to be in a hut 1100m (3609ft) up a mountain right over the source.

 

Higher still there were some sections of walking through tightly packed bushes, and eventually I reached a sign denoting 1500m (4921ft). It was incredible to look back down at the ridgeline already hiked and the Pacific Ocean was now a huge expanse spreading out to the east. The cloud was really starting to build up now over the valley at times obliterating the view of the neighbouring mountains. But still the track climbed higher until close to the summit it felt like I was walking into the cloud. I reached Mt Fyffe summit at 1602m (5256ft) just as the last people there were leaving, and so I had it to myself.

 

Looking west, the cloud bank was now thick and it swirled upwards to hover above my head where it was dissipating in a wisp that looked like a large wave about to break. Out east though, the coastline was mostly clear and Kaikoura lay sprawled out below me, stretching along the coastline of the peninsula. The Pacific Ocean shimmered by its side. A couple of picnic benches were handily placed to give a rest spot with a view. It was a little chilly now with the altitude and the clouds overhead, and unfortunately the view west was mostly obliterated, but I enjoyed my lunch in peace and quiet, only being joined by another hiker when I was getting ready to leave.

 

As I returned to the track to head down, the swirling clouds gave me sneaky peaks of the mountains hidden behind them and it really split the view in two. There was still plenty of people heading up as I was going down, by now in the early afternoon. The hut seemed deserted when I reached it again and now there were large shadows created by the clouds behind and to the side of me. The best of the weather is always in the mornings in the mountains, so it pays to set off early for the best views. But as the altitude started to drop away, and the track moved south, the clouds were left behind and the sunshine remained, treating me to a very pleasant walk back to my car. The view steadily dropped away again until I was back amongst the trees, snaking my way down the final decline towards my waiting car. I had a long drive back to Christchurch to get under way, and first I had to negotiate the track that I had lost traction on on the way in. Thankfully my car managed the incline in reverse without problems, and picking my way past the potholes, missing verge and diggers, I made my way back to Kaikoura, and set off on the long drive home.

Kaikoura – Open for Business

In February 2012 I left New Zealand’s North Island behind¬†and set foot on the South Island for the first time in my life. I jumped straight on the train at Picton and travelled along the scenic Coastal Pacific route to reach Kaikoura, a small town spread along the Pacific coastline and within a few hours of arriving there I met a Kiwi bloke from Auckland, a man who to this day is still my partner. On our one year anniversary we returned to Kaikoura to partake in some wildlife spotting activities that I’d missed out on the first time around and since then we’ve stopped in on the place when passing north to Picton. And so I’d planned on doing again on my return from the Queen Charlotte Track in November 2016, having booked a night’s stay in Kaikoura as well as a trip out to see the local whales. But just 12 days before that night, the November 14th earthquake hit and the town, the coastline and the road north was closed down. I was keen to get up there as soon as road access was gained and finally a suitable weekend arose so that my partner and I (and some relatives in tow) could return to Kaikoura.

At the end of February when we travelled there, there were two points of access to the town: the Inland road, route 70, which cuts west to State Highway 7, or State Highway 1 (SH1) which heads south to Christchurch. The inland route is open 24/7 although there are many speed restrictions in place. SH1 was (and at the time of writing still is) only open during the day and is also subject to sudden closures in the event of bad weather or aftershocks. But Kaikoura is very much open for business and is still more than worthy of a visit.

The drive north from Christchurch is interesting to say the least. Prior to Cheviot (which has some clay cliffs nearby which are worthy of a detour) there is little to suggest that anything is amiss, but after stopping here for coffee on route, we drove the next section with fresh eyes. With a mixture of detours, speed limits and one-laned sections, SH1 snakes the familiar route north to the east coast and this is the most dramatic section of the drive where rubble still scatters the roadside and the train line disappears into rocks or blocked tunnels. I knew that the sea bed had lifted a metre or so along here, but the tide was out making it difficult to appreciate what was new. It had been a couple of years since I’d last passed through here so the coastal effects weren’t immediately obvious. Eventually arriving into Kaikoura we headed straight to the peninsula to walk the coastal walkway.

This is a beautiful and easily accessed walk from Kaikoura, following the cliffs round the peninsula’s coastline. We started at the south end which has a less steep though longer ascent, and it was a gloriously sunny day. There was definitely more rocks above sea level than I remembered but with the low tide I couldn’t quite decide how much of a difference there was. It took looking back at old photos once home to realise just what a difference there actually was. But nonetheless, this walk is stunning. With views out over the sparkling Pacific Ocean, and back towards Kaikoura town and the Kaikoura Ranges behind it, it was a popular walk. From up high, it is sometimes possible to spot dolphins and fur seals, although the wildlife spotting is best done out on a boat or down near the water. Kaikoura is famous for whale watching thanks to a deep ocean trench not far from shore, but it’s not common to see whales from the shore. There is also a pathway that follows the coast at sea level, and this allows a closer look at New Zealand’s fur seals. The Kaikoura coastline is a fantastic and fairly guaranteed viewing location for fur seals, but like any wildlife, they should be viewed from a safe distance and always given respect.

Kaikoura Peninsula coastline 2017

The same view in 2013

Walking the Kaikoura Peninsula walkway 2017

The same view in 2013

After reaching the car park on the northern aspect of the peninsula, we headed to a lookout which gives a cracking view towards the Kaikoura Ranges, part of the Southern Alps that spans the length of the South Island. My whole reason for wanting to go to Kaikoura last year was to hike Mount Fyffe, one of the distinctive peaks behind the town. The hiking track had remained closed for months following the earthquake but I had been excited to learn that it had reopened shortly before our trip. Whilst my partner and his relatives were on a sightseeing mission, I had a long weekend, and was planning on staying behind to hike after they headed back to Christchurch.

After checking in to our accommodation we took a walk to the main street to go to the pub for a drink in the sun. It was nice to see plenty of people about, but in relative terms, the town was very quiet considering this was normally their peak season. It was sad to see the place that I had met my partner was closed down, as was the place that we stayed on our anniversary. Even the pub we usually went for breakfast at was closed. One of the stores that I was keen to visit had also gone, and it was clear that there had been widespread effects from the earthquake. Thankfully the wildlife, which is one of the big draws for the town is still around, although the risen sea bed has influenced the way the whale watching tours run, and one of the area’s great spots for seeing fur seal pups, the Ohau Falls, is sealed off and unreachable. But the whale watching and dolphin swimming tours are still running and seem to be just as popular as ever. By all accounts, there is no reduction in sightings either, so thankfully, some businesses are able to function in a nearly normal manner.

After drinks on a rooftop at one of the pubs that was still open, we headed out for dinner at a pizza parlour. The owner’s home was unlivable and he had been moved around a few times over the past few months. Whilst I am painfully introverted, my partner loves making conversation with shop owners and staff wherever we go so we got chatting to a few locals over the weekend, enquiring how things had been for them. There was many concerns for the future for several of them, especially as some of the businesses rely heavily on the profits made through a busy summer season to get them through the quieter winter season. For many, there were big financial concerns.

The next morning we ate breakfast in a local cafe. I had planned to hike Mt Fyffe that day but the weather was dismal and the tops of the mountains weren’t even visible. My partner and his relatives were leaving soon and I pondered what to do with myself. By coincidence, I spotted a poster on the cafe wall for a free concert in Kaikoura that very day to raise the spirits of the locals and figured that would be fun. In the meantime, I headed past some murals to the Kaikoura museum, a new addition to the town which hadn’t existed the last time I was there. I didn’t expect much, but with the rain turned on and not much else to do, I paid the entrance fee and made a point of reading every single display sign that was there. A little jumbled and haphazard, it was actually interesting enough to while away a good amount of time. Other people came and went but I slowly meandered around. There was information about the fauna of the area, the whaling history of the area, immigration and it even contained the entire old jail which was effectively a two-roomed building: a normal cell and a padded cell for those deemed mentally disturbed. The staff at the museum seemed rather surprised at the amount of time I was in the museum for, but I emerged to a drier sky.

It remained cloudy but dry for the afternoon. I took my time wandering along the long shoreline to the Pier Hotel where the concert was taking place. I figured I’d hang out for an hour or so before continuing along to the fur seal colony on the peninsula, but with the likes of Sunshine Sound System, Tiki Taane and Peacekeepers playing I ended up staying till the end of the show. Entrance was free but the sale of food and alcohol was going towards a community rebuild and it was great to see such an event taking place. There was a good crowd, and I sat first on the shore taking in the view with the music as my background, then later I joined the crowd by the stage to dance the hours away. It was pitch black by the time I left, and I headed back to my hostel in the dark.

The next morning was the glorious day I was wanting for my hike. It was a little cold first thing as I headed out to the peninsula to enjoy breakfast whilst looking out for fur seals. The Kaikoura Range brooded behind the town and I contemplated the amount of altitude gain I had to make that day. I anticipated a tough hike. Again, I couldn’t quite decide if the amount of rocks was tidal-related or uplift related, but I managed to spot a heron and as is often the case here, a sleeping fur seal lay right next to the car park. But soon it was time to head off for the hike. I anticipated a full day’s walk and then I had to drive straight back to Christchurch afterwards. I always love visiting Kaikoura. It is such a stunning setting and a great place for both relaxation and activity. It is most definitely open for business, albeit in a slightly reduced capacity, but now more than ever, this place needs visitors. Although it is not as straightforward to get there as it used to be, it is still very much worth the detour.

Mount Barrosa

Despite being the last month of autumn, the weather in New Zealand’s South Island has remained relatively warm, meaning a lack of snow on the mountain tops, and an extension to my hiking season. With a multi-day hike coming up in July, I am aware that I need to keep up some degree of fitness, despite the dark nights tricking my body into a sense of hibernation. Already several weeks on from my last hike up Avalanche Peak, some good weather again coincided with a day off work, and I set off on the now-familiar route south-west from Christchurch.

About an hour and a half’s drive away, lies the small village of Mt Somers which nestles at the base of the mountain with the same name. From here, Ashburton Gorge Road winds west into Hakatere Conservation Park. Before the sealed portion of road ends, beyond which lies Mt Guy and Mt Sunday, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it car park denotes the starting point for the Mt Barrosa summit track. Arriving mid-morning on a Sunday, I had the place to myself.

Start of the hike

Initially passing through private land, the path marked by orange poles follows the fence line before crossing a small stream once and then twice to the base of the mountain. Here a stile marks the transition onto public land within the Hakatere Conservation Park. Immediately the climb starts, winding through low scrub, following a reasonably worn path marked out by orange poles. It feels like altitude is gained quite quickly without feeling too exhausting and, as many of the hikes have had, I was constantly accompanied by hopping crickets.

On the ascent

Like Mt Guy, the lack of anything other than ground vegetation, meant it was an exposed walk the whole way up. With the sun quite low in the sky in May, several portions of the trail were in shadow in the morning, but on a summer’s day, this would have been a hot one. But aside from the exposure factor, I found the hike a little uninteresting with little to look at other than the jumping crickets and the path before me. The neighbouring gullies were in shadow and the nearest birds sounded far away.

Neighbouring slope

After about 40mins, a little interest came in the form of some rock formations that the path skirted round, and each lower ridge had a differing size of rock point jutting up. Stopping to take in the view which is mostly behind you as you climb, the valley below started to open up more and more. I could see my lonely car in the car park for over the first hour of the hike, getting smaller and smaller, until the path skirted another rocky outcrop and crossed slightly over the mountain front.

The valley below

Shadows and light

One of many rocky outcrops

I reached a false summit about 1.5hrs after leaving the car behind, and only now could I actually see the summit of Mt Barrosa ahead of me. The steepest section of the hike was behind me by this point, but the path quality deteriorated from here on in, where large sections involved simply making a bee-line for the next orange pole, as it continued the ongoing climb. Now the view up the valley revealed Lake Clearwater and Mt Guy as well as Lake Heron, and this remained my view the rest of the way up.

View from the false ridge

Looking towards the summit ridge

Panorama from the mountain flank

Looking upwards

Although the gradient of the hike was not as steep as the lower section, there was a lot more scree and boulders underfoot, but the orange poles did enough to guide you in the right direction. However, when the ridge line was finally reached, even the orange poles disappeared. A fence split the ridge line in two, and it was easy to follow this until the unmarked summit (1364m) was reached. A lonely orange pole stood proud at the top, and clusters of large rocks made for an interesting summit.

Nearing the summitMt Barrosa summit

Rocky panorama

Summit panorama

I have read on some sites that from the summit, Aoraki/Mt Cook is visible, but I don’t believe this is true. There was certainly a distinctive mountain top on the horizon, but I think this is most likely Mt D’Archiac or another peak. In my mind, Mt Cook is both too far away and behind too many tall peaks to be visible from there. What is visible though, is Mt Somers and the tramping track that skirts its circumference, as well as a plethora of other mountains. Looking east, the Pacific Ocean was just visible through the haze.

Mt Somers

Mt Guy

With little to no wind at the summit, it was pleasant, and I loitered up there on my own for quite some time, enjoying the solitude and the view. It had been a while since I’d enjoyed a quiet summit, having hiked many popular routes this summer. Retracing my steps the way I had come, meant that after negotiating the upper reaches where the lack of distinct path meant a lot of foot watching, the lower portions meant I could enjoy the view a bit more. By now early-afternoon, the sun had shifted so that the shadows played out differently on the return leg. I found myself almost skipping down, and was surprised to spot another car in the car park as it came back into view. Only at the very bottom, back at the stile into private land, did I come across the occupants: a family out walking their dogs, and the only people I met on the hike. I reached my car 4hrs 5mins after leaving it behind. The Department of Conservation (DOC) sign at the bottom lists the hike as 2.5hrs to the summit. I reached the top in about 2hrs 10mins, only a little ahead of the normally generous timing, but the ease at which I came down, meant the return leg was only about an hour. Then it was a simple case of enjoying the rest of my snacks as I headed back home to Christchurch.

Heading back down

Descending towards the false summit

Ashburton Gorge

The valley below

Mount Somers

With autumn starting to kick in and the end of daylight savings fast approaching, I am becoming increasingly aware that my hiking season is creeping towards its end. Once the snow starts to fall on the mountain tops and the evenings start to draw in, there won’t be the same opportunities to bag summits. With almost all of the remaining peaks on my list being within Arthur’s Pass National Park, I was dismayed to read the weather forecast for my one weekend day off was dismal and I resigned myself to a weekend without a hike. But after looking at the neighbouring regions’ forecasts, I discovered that there was the possibility of completing my list of summits in the eastern peaks by heading to Mt Somers.

About 1.5hrs drive south-west from Christchurch is the village of Mt Somers, from where a road heads deep into Hakatere Conservation Park, where I had previously visited Mt Guy and Mt Sunday. Not far from the village itself is also the turn-off to 1 of 2 car parks from where the Mt Somers track can be reached. I have been keen to walk this track which is a multi-day walk that circumnavigates the lower slopes of Mt Somers, but I just haven’t had the time. On this occasion however, I decided to tackle the summit itself, and this is best reached from the other car park near the village of Staveley.

The car park was quite full when I got there early on a Sunday morning, but with a few options for tracks from here, I wasn’t sure whether I would end up bumping into anyone else, but even as I set off on the Mt Somers (south face) track, another two cars pulled into the car park behind me. Despite being autumn, it was going to be a hot day and it wasn’t long before I was sweating. The Department of Conservation (DOC) sign at the start noted a 5hr hike each way so I was mentally preparing myself for a long day.

Start of the hike

The first 40mins of the walk was within a tall forest, and there was a good amount of altitude gain immediately via a variable quality of track. There were plenty of tree roots and fallen branches to act as trip hazards, meaning a lot of time was spent watching my footing whilst overhead several plump kereru (wood pigeons) flitted through the trees. Shortly after leaving the car park behind I was overtaken by an older man who was power walking the track. His only belonging was a regular-sized bottle of water which looked rather small considering he was also heading for the summit. Still, he was much fitter than me, steaming ahead in no time at all.

Forest track

When the trees finally broke under the glare of the hot sun, the dramatic peak of Mt Somers was fully visible, as was the Canterbury Plains below. Through shoulder-height vegetation, the rocky path picked its way over a series of ever-higher knolls giving a fantastic and ever changing perspective on my target summit as well as the surrounding peaks. I passed a hiker heading to the car park about an hour into my hike, but otherwise there was just the sounds of nature to keep me company. I looked towards the peak and struggled to pick out where the summit route might go, and then before I knew it I had reached the junction where the summit route started. The predicted time from DOC was 2.5hrs to this junction and another 2.5hrs to the summit, but I had made it there in just 1hr and 45mins.

The first sighting of Mt Somers

The path disappearing into the trees

Canterbury Plains

Mt Somers

Mt Somers towering over the Canterbury Plains

The changing face of Mt Somers

Straight away the quality of the track changed, becoming very rocky, uneven and slightly overgrown in places. After a very brief zigzag through some lower bush, it very quickly began to climb and even early on there were patches of scree to negotiate. There was a regular need to grab onto bushes to haul myself up or steady my balance as I negotiated the slippery slopes. I hadn’t been going for long before voices on the wind alerted me to other people coming up behind me. Our paces weren’t too dissimilar in the first third of the hike so they maintained the same distance behind, however as the climb grew rougher and the boulders to negotiate grew bigger, they started to catch up.

The start of the summit track

View from the lower slope of Mt Somers

Rocky path up the slope of Mt Somers

Rocky slope of Mt Somers

Sometimes the path was obvious and other times not so much, but before long I’d reached a low ridge where it was possible to catch my breath as I finally was able to pause and soak up the view. The Canterbury Plains stretched off around me, and looking up towards the summit, the hike looked increasingly tough. All I could see was the track disappearing into a field of boulders and a steep drop either side. The summit looked still so far away. But I pressed on, and now I could see other hikers (including the man who had passed me by at the start of my hike) picking their way down from the top, and as one passed me whilst I struggled to see a route up the rocks, he told me to just make a line for the top and stick to it. There were vague signs of feet having been through some patches already, but it really was just a case of focusing on the orange pole at the top and just finding the easiest route up to it. But it was easy to get distracted and veer off to the side in search of an easier foot hold, and the couple who had been behind me all this time, overtook me. They seemed to keep a side-ways glance on me to make sure I made it, and then as if satisfied that I was on the right course, they disappeared over the ridge out of view.

The view from the first ridge

The lower ridge above the Canterbury Plains

The track disappearing into a boulder field

I felt triumphant at the top, as boulder scrambles for me are always a bit of a mental challenge, and whilst still having some way to go, I’d achieved most of the altitude by now, and it was simply a matter of traversing the boulders across a long ridge line, until the trig point (1688m) was within reach. The couple were already hunkered down against the wind that was present at the top, and I passed them by making a beeline for the monument further along the ridge. A stone cairn dated 2000 sits atop a directional marker box which contains a visitor’s book, surrounded by a wooden frame with a misspelled inspirational quote around it. Wrapped around Mt Somers is a ream of mountains stretching off into the distance and I could see the poor weather hanging over the inner Alps and shrouding the distant summits. It was a little cold with the wind so I found a semi-sheltered spot to protect myself whilst I paused for some lunch.

The view from the top of the boulder field

Boulders high above the Canterbury Plains

Walking across the ridge line to the summit

Monument at the summit

Year 2000

Monument & trig marker on Mt Somer's summit

I had summited about 3.5hrs after leaving the car park, and as time at the summit ticked on, more and more people appeared. In the end, it turned out to be a very popular walk that day, but everyone I spoke to agreed that it had been a challenge. This is definitely a hike for fit and experienced hikers only. But the reward was the sense of achievement and that view which spanned all the way out to the Pacific Ocean as well as Christchurch and Banks Peninsula in the far distance. There was no haze to cloud the view that day, and I felt like I was on top of the world.

Mt Somer's summit panorama

Mt Somer's panorama

Mt Somer's Trig panorama

Mt Somer's Trig overlooking Canterbury Plains

Mt Somer's trig

Eventually though, it was time to start the descent, and this involved as much attention to footing as the route up had. There was still a steady stream of people coming up as I picked my way down off the ridge line, and I gave a group that were struggling a bit some words of encouragement as I passed. Looking downhill, the path that had appeared vague at times looked a little more obvious with the benefit of perspective, but again I had to lower myself over rocks, squat down to slide on my feet and grab hold of branches and bushes as I gingerly picked my way down. The same couple from before overtook me on the lower slope and we all acknowledged that this hike was as much of a challenge coming down as it had been going up.

Starting the descent

The steep slopes of Mt Somers

The top of the boulder field

Back at the track junction after about 1.5hrs, it was then a pleasant walk back across the knolls and back into the forest below. The clouds had rolled in a little so the sun felt weaker but I was still warm enough. Getting a little tired, I found myself tripping over the tree branches in the lower slopes and I had to go back to concentrating on my footing to prevent twisting an ankle. I was very pleased to turn that last corner and find myself back at the car park. To date, this is the highest mountain I’ve hiked in New Zealand, and whilst it is definitely achievable for many, it is also not a hike to be taken lightly. Classed as an advanced hike by DOC, it is tiring and physically demanding with a large proportion of boulders and scree to negotiate. But at the end of it all, 6.5hrs after leaving it behind, I sat back in my car triumphant and more than a little pleased with myself.

Green cricket

Panorama from the Mt Somer's (south face) track

Heading back to the forest

Rock formation above the Canterbury Plains

Trig M

Sometimes you have to take a gamble and choose to ignore the weather report. In my experience, even the most reliable of weather forecasts can struggle at times to give an accurate description of what is going on in the mountains. Especially the Southern Alps where there are so many forces working together to affect the wind direction and the rainfall. With a day off work, I got up with a plan in mind, looked out the window and was disappointed. The thick clouds above Christchurch was not what I had been hoping for. But as I sat eating breakfast, wondering what I could do instead, I noticed the clouds change, and whilst the forecast for the mountains was still rather questionable, I decided to take a chance and stick to my original plan.

About 1.5hrs to the west of Christchurch is Porter’s Pass, the gateway to the Southern Alps and the west coast beyond that. As I left the Garden City behind, I realised to my dismay that the mountains weren’t even visible. Mentally set up for a hike, I pushed on passing country town after country town until there was just about 20kms to go. The sun was trying to push through the thick cloud, and as the kms ticked by, I considered turning around until suddenly the cloud bank broke and I was greeted by glorious sunshine and blue skies over the mountains. I had made a good call.

As the west coast road delves into the mountains and starts to gain a bit of altitude, on the east of the Porters Range is a hairpin bend at which a low-key pull-in denotes the start of the Coach Stream track in the Korowai/Torlesse Tussocklands Park. Following the small stream through a valley and marked by orange poles, it crosses the stream twice before starting a steep climb up, first through private land then conservation land, as it winds its way up to a ridge line. Every now and again a glimpse of traffic heading up to Porter’s Pass is seen and behind me in the distance, I could see the enormous cloud bank still hanging gravely over the east coast.

Start of the hike

Map of the two tracks

Following the coach stream through the valley

Crossing onto the private Benmore station

View on the way up to the ridge

There are some interesting rock formations in the area but a lot of the surrounding mountains appear barren or have brown or green shrubbery covering their slopes. The easy to follow track through tussock was dotted with the occasional alpine plant but the low shrubs meant it was fully exposed. After following a ridge for a while, the path curved onto a neighbouring ridge and then sneaked up the side of a copse where the quiet was temporarily breached by birdsong. Not much further up the track I was surprised to reach a Department of Conservation (DOC) sign marking the junction with the Starvation Gully track, a shorter route from another starting point along the west coast road. The information that I had read on this track had stated 3hrs from the pull-in to the summit of Trig M, and yet here I was just a little over 1hr, at a sign saying I was only an hour away.

Rocky outcrops

Porters Range

Near the copse

View from the track junction

Track junction

Now, the view got more interesting and it wasn’t long before I could see the trig on a nearby peak. Not only that, but I could now see up the neighbouring valley that contains the west coast road heading towards Arthur’s Pass National Park, as well as peer down on Lake Lyndon which nestled in the valley below. There was some cloud starting to build up overhead but it was still pleasant and I covered the rest of the easy, though occasionally slippery, track up to Trig M (1251m) in just half an hour. Wandering around the peak I realised I could see Mt Hutt towering over the Rakaia river valley and realised how relatively close I was to Peak Hill which I had hiked a few weeks earlier.

Looking towards the summit

Looking towards the summit

Lake Lyndon

Trig M summit

Summit panorama

Looking towards the Rakaia river valley in the distance

It was a good enough day to keep hiking but going any further meant going off piste so I decided on this occasion to stick to the marked route. Following lunch at the summit, I retraced my steps soaking up the view of the valley and the lake below. As I came down from the peak and headed back towards the route junction, a cloud band blocked the sun and the temperature dropped a little. It was still a very pleasant walk and as my altitude dropped, eventually the sun reappeared. I was not far away from dropping back into the valley when I passed two German tourists coming the other way. I was astonished to see one of them wearing jandals (flip-flops/thongs), especially knowing there was a few slippery stony sections up ahead for them. I am regularly astounded to see people ill-equipped for hiking in the mountains, and these two girls had nothing but water with them, although at least they had that!

Porters Pass panorama

Lake Lyndon

Return hike

Dropping altitude

Beautiful views in every direction

I soaked up the view the rest of the way back and I reached my car just 1.5hrs after having left the summit behind. Having expected a 5-6hr hike, I had completed it in just 3hrs 40mins including time spent at the summit. It was a relatively short walk compared to what I have been used to of late, but it did mean that I was home in time to enjoy a nice coffee and treat at one of my favourite coffee shops before closing.

Little Mount Peel

It didn’t take long for me to realise that this walk was something special. Nearly two hours south-west from Christchurch, nestled within Peel Forest, is Blandswood Road, where a small car park denotes the start of a myriad of walks. It just so happened to be my birthday and I was excited to be spending it summiting a new mountain.

I took the last spot in the car park, and set off up the steep Lookout Road where a Department of Conservation (DOC) sign denotes the start of the Fern walk. A gently graded stroll through the forest brings you to a junction where the Deer Spur track begins. It is possible to continue on the Fern walk which disappears into the forest for a low altitude walk, but my target for the day was Huatekerekere or Little Mount Peel, the lower of three Peel peaks. Once on the Deer Spur track, the path started to work its way up the hillside, initially still within the forest. It was a broad and obvious track for the most part, with a few high steps to negotiate, but after about 40mins, the forest opened up and the path was noticeably narrower.

Start of the Fern walk

Start of the Deer Spur Track

A brief break in the trees in Peel Forest

Peel Forest track

From the beginning it was a busy track. I had read that it was one of Canterbury’s most popular walks and this was well evidenced on that day with the regular stream of people either coming down or visible going up in the distance. After a small tarn, it wasn’t long until the view appeared, and what a view it was. As with most of the hikes that I’ve done, a haze clung over the Canterbury Plains behind me, but inland and either side were mountains, and it was stunning. From that first sighting, the peak of Little Mt Peel looked unachievable and distant. There were so many lower ridges to negotiate but I put those thoughts aside and ploughed on. The first ridge gave some welcome relief from the previous climb and I paused briefly to soak up the view.

Little Tarn

Little Mt Peel summit in the far distance

Panorama from the Deer Spur track

From then onwards, despite the constant climbing, I really enjoyed this hike because there was just a stunning view all around. I came across a family with two young children, the youngest being just 5 years old, and was impressed to see them negotiating this mountain on their own two feet. They stopped regularly meaning I eventually overtook them and about the same time it became possible to make out the summit trig and the nearby shelter in the distance. Shortly after passing them, the wind picked up and a bank of low cloud formed and whipped up and over the ridge I was heading towards, hiding the summit from view. I had previously experienced this a few months prior when hiking up Mt Thomas and I had learned that with patience, this kind of cloud is usually dispersed in a short space of time.

Cloud riding the ridge

View north

Sure enough, by the time I reached the altitude of the cloud bank, it was already lifting, and ahead of me I saw a hiker who was close to giving up. The summit was still 2 ridges away, but was tantalisingly close, and he sat off the track trying desperately to catch his breath whilst his friend continued. A descending hiker encouraged him to keep going, letting him know how close he was, and with the two children not far behind me, he seemed to get a second wind, and pushed on shortly after I passed him. The second last ridge involved a bit of hauling up a boulder face, and I reflected on how good a work-out I was getting. The last ridge was a walk in the park, and sweaty yet satisfied, I found myself crossing that last section with the hut and summit right in front of me.

Summit hut & trig just about visible

The path already travelled with the Plains below

View north near the summit

Nearly there!

Approaching the summit

The Tristram Harper Memorial Hut appears to perch on the side of the mountain a short distance below the summit. I bypassed the track to it and made the final ascent to the trig marker that stood proud on the summit (1311m). Despite the cloud building up inland, it was a fantastic view. Mt Peel and Middle Mt Peel were clearly visible, looking deceptively close and achievable, and both to the north and the south, other mountain ranges rolled off into the distance. The haze persisted over the Canterbury Plains, and above them, the hut and the lateral saddles of Little Mt Peel rolled down to meet them.

Tristram Harper Memorial Hut

Looking inland towards Mt Peel

Summit panorama looking south

Summit track heading off towards Middle Mt Peel and Mt Peel

Being such a popular walk, I didn’t have the summit to myself for long. There was plenty of people milling between the hut and the summit, so after enjoying some lunch, I left it behind for the next lot of people. I had previously made the decision to descend via the South Ridge Track, making the whole walk a loop. Everyone else was heading down the same way they’d come up (Deer Spur Track), and having read a warning on the DOC website that the South Ridge track was only suitable for experienced hikers with back country navigational skills, I had spent a lot of the hike up, trying to pick out the track on the opposing ridge for the descent. From the summit, I could see it disappearing in the distance, and felt it looked perfectly achievable so decided to stick to my guns.

Just below the summit was the hut which I discovered contained the family with the two young boys and the hiker who had nearly given up. They were all chatting away, and after signing in to the guest book, I left them to it. A DOC sign on the side of the hut pointed towards the South Ridge track and I picked my way through some undergrowth towards the drop toilet, from where the track split off. I peered over the edge, decided it was doable, and made the commitment to follow through. I had read in a blog that this would be a steep descent, so I knew there would be no backtracking once I’d started. Straight away, I found myself having to lower myself gingerly over boulders but it was such a beautiful day, it was easy to follow the orange poles disappearing into the distance.

Canterbury Plains

Summit trig from the shelter

Tristram Harper Memorial Hut from the start of the South Ridge track

South Ridge track disappearing into the distance

The South Ridge Track involved a rapid descent, and the track was so overgrown, that I spent a lot of the time staring at my feet to watch my footing, that I hadn’t realised how quick the descent had been until I stopped on a lower ridge to admire the butterflies that were everywhere. The mountains to the south were beautiful, a viewpoint that hadn’t been afforded from the Deer Spur track, and looking back towards the summit, the hut and trig point were like little dots on the horizon. As the altitude dropped away, the track became more and more overgrown in places, and at times I found myself chest deep in bushes barging my way through the under growth. I focused on the orange poles to guide me through, but I stopped regularly because there were butterflies everywhere and the view all around was again exceedingly stunning.

The track through the vegetation

Panorama from the South Ridge track

Hiking the South Ridge track

Little Mt Peel summit from the South Ridge track

Mountains to the south

Eventually though, I hit a basic little post with an orange arrow to guide me off the ridge, and I started the final descent back into the forest. The view remained briefly before I was encompassed by trees again. This final section was quite steep and I negotiated several sections in a crouched position to prevent me slipping, but even then, I found myself on my butt twice. This is not a track I would have wanted to take in the opposite direction. Within the forest, with nothing but trees to look at, I sped up a little, eager to reach the waterfall. Finally the path broke out at Emily stream, crossed the stream and headed up the embankment on the other side. Just a few minutes later, I reached the end point of the track where it met the Emily Falls track.

Little Mt Peel summit

Leaving the ridge behind

It was only a couple of minutes walk to Emily Falls which were pretty, but not easy to see without crossing the stream to the other side. There were few flying insects to annoy me, so I enjoyed watching the water for a while before retracing my steps. Back at the track junction, the DOC sign detailed 45mins back to Blandswood road, and I pushed on, still with a slight skip in my step. I was a little confused when the path came out at a stream and seemed to just disappear. An orange arrow pointed to the left but all I could see was the stream. Picking my way up the stream, I found another orange arrow letting me know I was heading in the right direction. After a while though, the stream got harder to negotiate and I found it strange that I was supposed to be following it so far. I decided to back track towards the last arrow, and in doing so had a differing viewpoint which allowed me to realise I’d walked past the path leading out of the water.

Emily Falls

Emily Falls

Walking up stream

Finally back on track, after climbing up the bank, it was an easy walk through the lower forest, past the turnoff for Rata falls, emerging back onto the lower section of Lookout Road just above its junction with Blandswood Road where my car lay waiting. The DOC sign detailed a 3hr ascent on Deer Spur Track (versus a 3.5hr ascent on South Ridge Track), with half an hour less for the descent on each path. I surprised myself by reaching the summit in just over 2 hours, and after spending about 45mins at the top, I made it back down again in about 2.5hrs. I’m glad I did the loop, but having done it once, I’ll stick to the Deer Spur track both ways next time. On a clear and non-blustery day, the South Ridge track is definitely achievable by anyone of reasonable fitness, but with exposed sections, and parts that are quite overgrown, it is not a track to be done on a windy or low visibility day. But with such views, and an enjoyable climb up, this hike quickly jumped to the top of my list of favourite hikes to do in Canterbury.

Track junction

Peak Hill

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.

Start of Peak Hill track

Peak Hill track map

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.

Lake Coleridge

Peak Hill Conservation Area

Climbing Peak Hill

The changing shape of Lake Coleridge

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.

Peak Hill summit in the distance

Lake Coleridge panorama

The path up the ridge

Lake Coleridge on the ascent

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.

Information board at the summit

Looking inland from the summit

Lake Coleridge from the summit

Mt Hutt range from the summit

Looking towards the Southern Alps from the summit

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.

Peninsula jutting into Lake Coleridge

Rakaia river

Spider's web near the trail

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.

Christchurch Lantern Festival

Welcome to the Year of the Monkey. This city has come on leaps and bounds since I’ve lived here, and I’ve loved the many events that Christchurch has held across the year. With New Zealand having ties with Asia through immigration, tourism and trade, it is understandable that the coming of the new year on the Chinese calendar has seen a flurry of activity here. Following on from an exceedingly popular night time noodle market, the Chinese Lantern Festival came to Christchurch, following an event in Auckland in the north island. Held in Hagley Park last weekend, the turnout of Cantabrians was phenomenal, and the park heaved with people sampling the food, listening to the live music and of course, wandering around the many lanterns on display.

Little Boy

Dragon

MouseLion

Watermelons

Blue Penguin

Snails

Bug

Vases

Prizewinning sheep

Lucky coin

Fish

Zebra

Tiger

Giraffe

Chinese Animals of the Year

Year of the monkey

Tortoise band

Dragonfly

Spirit bird

Masked Figure

Mount Oxford

I can be a glutton for punishment sometimes.¬†I am currently in training for two major hikes, one later this year and the other next year. When the weather has allowed, I’ve done my best to get out and about amongst Canterbury’s many mountains in an effort to put in some quality hiking hours. After getting a little disheartened towards the end of the previous week’s hike round Lake Clearwater, I felt reenergised to tackle something else the following weekend.

Around an hour of pleasant driving north-west of Christchurch lies Oxford forest, from which Mt Oxford pushes skyward. Down the gravel track of Mountain Rd lies one of two car parks from where several walks are reached. Mt Oxford summit track is a popular walking route, and the car park was full when I arrived. I’ve hiked some lesser known peaks where I’ve had the whole mountain to myself so to hear the voices of other hikers blowing in the wind was an unusual experience for me.

Starting at the Coopers Creek car park, the options are to follow the Ryde Falls track up stream to the waterfalls or to cross the west branch of Coopers Creek to summit Mt Oxford. The Department of Conservation (DOC) sign at the start gave a 3 hr estimation to summit, and I set off on the relatively flat route at a good pace. Early on I was overtaken by a man out with his dog who were running up the summit.

DOC Track Map at Cooper's Creek carp park

After a wander along a 4×4 track past bee country and a lodge near the creek, the path veers off into the forest, within which it remains for the first hour of the hike. The altitude gain is there but as constant as it is it’s not too taxing and through brief breaks through the tree line you can appreciate that you are rising above the Canterbury Plains. There was plenty of bird song filling the air and I was regularly accompanied by little fantails flitting through the trees. I was feeling good and felt like the summit must be getting close. I stepped out of the treeline and into the beautiful sunshine around me, to discover that there was still a long way to go.

Mt Oxford viewed from near the car park

The lower reaches of Oxford forest

After that initial hour, the rest of the hike is exposed to the elements, and aside from a few small plateaus, the altitude gain continued for nearly another 2 hours. I passed lots of people coming down, giving the occasional sound disturbance to the birds and the crickets. That aside, it was a very peaceful hike with next to no wind. The higher I got, the further the Canterbury Plains disappeared behind me, and eventually, and by this point gratefully, I found myself at the summit (1364m), and was secretly pleased to have it to myself. To one side the Plains spread out towards the horizon, Banks Peninsula just about visible through the haze. On the other side of the mountain, mountains rolled away into the distance, and I settled down on a makeshift bench on the summit to enjoy some well deserved lunch with that awesome view.

Neighbouring mountains from half-way up Mt Oxford

Looking up towards Mt Oxford summit

Canterbury Plains from Mt Oxford summit

Mountain view from Mt Oxford summit

Mountain view from Mt Oxford summit

From the summit, the quickest option would be to return to the car park by the same route. There is also the option to hike to Wharfedale Hut deeper in the mountains, or to take the loop track back to Coopers Creek along the summit. Having soaked up the view for over half an hour, and feeling refreshed, I set off across the summit with the neighbouring mountain range in full view. The summit marker gave a 45min time estimate to the junction for the Hut, and I headed off at a reasonable pace. For the second week in a row, I was surprised to discover that the marker had underestimated the time for this section which is highly unusual for the DOC signs. Following the ridge line but descending slightly, the vegetation was quite sparse until eventually the tree line was reached again. I passed some hikers who were tired and sweaty, and finally, an hour after leaving the summit, I hit the first junction.

Following the ridgeline

Alpine flowers on the ridge

Ridgeline view

View from ridge track

Neighbouring mountains

Persisting on the Mt Oxford track, the next junction was listed as an hour away. There was little to see but for the forest which enveloped the path, and it was an hour of ups and downs which felt like forever until eventually the path broke out at another track. Looking left there was a marker a few steps away, and I was gutted to discover the car park was still another 2.5hrs away according to the sign. It was difficult to gauge my location within the forest because there was no view, but I knew I was still quite high up. I can get quite bored with forest walks sometimes as it quickly descends into one tree after another, and by now 5.5hrs after leaving my car, I was a little bit fed up with walking. But there wasn’t exactly any other choice but to push on.

The upper reaches of Oxford forest on the descent

One of many track junctions

Taking the Korimako trail to Ryde Falls junction, I had previously made the decision to take the detour to visit the waterfalls, even although I was tired. At the Ryde Falls junction, it is signposted as a 15min walk to the waterfalls, but I power walked the distance, dropping down the bank, crossing the stream and pushing up the other side. There are 5 tiers to the waterfall, but I could only really see 3. The falls were in shadow with the sun starting to drop, and I looked at them for long enough to make me feel like the side trip had been worth it, before retracing my steps. With more time, there is a campsite here and the option of climbing up or down the side of the falls to get a differing view. As the waterfalls can be reached from 2 separate car parks, it is possible to hike there without having to tackle Mt Oxford first.

Ryde Falls track

Ryde Falls

Like the hike round Lake Clearwater the week prior, that final portion of the hike was quite draining. With nothing but trees for well over an hour, I could only focus on getting back to my car and taking off my boots. I was so pleased when the path finally broke out of the trees again and I could finally appreciate just how far I’d walked. Still up a hillside, the sun continued to illuminate the countryside and the final stretch was a pleasant evening walk round a headland and along the river bank. Finally reaching the Cooper’s Creek car park, mine was the only car left, and I happily kicked off my boots, ate the rest of my food and set off on the hour long drive home.

Emerging out of the forest

It is unusual for DOC signs to give too short a time frame for a hike, but regardless of the route chosen and despite its popularity, these are some full-on hikes not to be taken lightly. The full loop took me nearly 8hrs including about half an hour at the summit and the half hour detour to Ryde’s Falls. It is possible to summit Mt Oxford and take the same route back in about 5hrs, but for the full loop track, you’d better love forests!

Mount Guy

Within the Hakatere Conservation Park, on the same road as Mount Sunday, but not quite so far along, lies the dominating and striking peak of Mount Guy. It takes about 2hrs to drive there from Christchurch, heading first to the little village of Mount Somers that is nestled near the base of the peak of the same name. Following the signs, the road snakes through and into the mountains until Hakatere where it becomes a long but wide unsealed road. Most of the hikes I’ve done in New Zealand are reached on gravel roads to varying lengths, so I’m used to them to some degree, and as with many New Zealanders, my car is old and pre-battered, so I probably drive these roads with slightly less caution than people who are inexperienced or have rental cars. Still, there are spots on this long road where the grip is better than others, and caution is required when driving along the banks of the lakes or going round bends. On this particular day, I came across a car that had recently gone off the road and down an embankment towards the nearby stream. The driver door was wide open but there was no-one to be seen.

Lake Camp and Lake Clearwater sit one either side of the road. The former is smaller and popular with motorboats, whereas the latter is larger and the realm of self-propelled water sports. I turned into the village and reached the lake shore where a few people were stand-up paddle boarding. By now mid-morning, I parked at a picnic spot right by the lake, and the reflections on the surface of the water were stunning. With a predicted high of nearly 30oC, the sky was cloudless and it was already getting quite warm. Looking across the lake towards Mount Guy, I realised straight away this was going to be tough – unlike most of the other mountains I’ve hiked up, there was only shrubbery and no trees or shade in sight.

Lake Clearwater

Lake Clearwater reflections

The walk starts off following a 4×4 track around the eastern end of the lake. I meandered along, admiring the changing reflections of the surrounding mountains on the lake surface. Where the track fords the river at the end of the lake, a pedestrian bridge ensures dry feet. A little further round the lake, a Department of Conservation (DOC) sign near a stile marks the track to follow to summit Mt Guy. The sign where I parked my car stated 2.5hrs to reach the summit, but yet at the base of the mountain it said just 1hr 15mins. I hadn’t been walking that long, so I knew one of them was wrong. It didn’t take long to work out it was this more recent one. Crossing a flat stretch of land, the path starts climbing and it doesn’t give up the whole way. By now, the temperature was well into the 20s and the sun was continuing to rise above me.

Mt Guy across Lake Clearwater

Reflections on Lake Clearwater

Snow-capped Reflections

Mountain Reflections on Lake Clearwater

Mt Guy

The lower shrubbery involves a lot of thorns, and the path is marked by orange poles the whole way up. In the lower reaches, it is quite obvious and well trodden, but as the altitude rises, there are more and more sections where it becomes quite vague. About half way up, as it continues to increase in steepness, there are a few small boulder fields to negotiate and some small scree patches. I was already exhausted by this point and having to stop regularly to catch my breath. These sections were not a good place to stop, so I caught my breath where I could and ploughed on. The whole way up the view is behind you, but these breathers allowed me to appreciate the view unfolding below. The lakes grew smaller and the valley opened up in both directions, and the distant mountains had snow on their summits.

Shrubbery on the slope

Looking up the valley

I realised that there was another solo hiker about 20mins behind me. We were maintaining a similar pace so I continued to pick my way up the mountainside. After the short bouldered sections, a peak of rocks signalled a crossing over point of the track and it shifted from the side of the mountain to slightly more front-on. It was still vague and stony, but not quite so steep, and the last third of the hike was a little more pleasant. Like so many mountains there was a false summit, but it wasn’t much further to go on a much easier gradient until the summit cairn (1319m) was reached. From here there was a 360degree view of the surrounding mountains, and in the distance, through the haze, the Canterbury Plains disappeared into the distance to the east. On a clear day, the Pacific Ocean is supposed to be visible, but there was too much haze on the horizon for me to be able to see that far on that day.

Looking towards the summit

Summit View

Nearby Lake Emma from the summit

Summit View

View from the Summit

Summit View

After a brief walk around the summit, I settled in for a much needed lunch, and shortly after the other hiker reached me and we had a brief chat before separating ourselves to soak up the view amongst our own reveries. My phone made a noise and I saw a text from my partner to say that Christchurch had just had a very strong earthquake. Upon trying to phone him, the phone lines were down and it wouldn’t connect. Having lived in an earthquake zone for the past 4 years, I’m quite used to quakes rocking and rolling through the city unannounced. Granted, I wasn’t living there when the destructive ones hit, but they’ve never particularly worried me because they’ve never come to anything. But I’ve never experienced one where the phone lines go dead, so immediately I was on edge and concerned. I tried again, and still the line was down. Having felt nothing, and having just summited, I wasn’t sure what to do. I decided to wait it out a bit then try again a little while later.

I got through after five minutes and my partner reported a 5.9 mag quake. This was later downgraded to a 5.7 mag, but whilst it didn’t do too much damage overall, it was enough to loosen some sections of cliff face on the coastline near the eastern suburb of Sumner, and fresh liquefaction bubbled into the streets elsewhere. Satisfied that my partner and house were ok, I settled back into a peaceful lunch at the summit. The whole way up and at the summit too, the crickets were out in full force, and the noise was incredible but enjoyable. During the hike itself though, they repeatedly leaped about in front of me as I disturbed them, some of them leaping high enough to smack me in the face. Like little missiles, I was regularly hit across my torso and head, including one that landed right on my mouth, causing an involuntary freak out. Missile hits aside, it was an awesome soundtrack to the hike.

After about 45mins of relaxing and lazily taking photos, I left the other hiker to herself and started the walk back down. This time, facing outwards, I had the cracking view of the lakes below the whole way down. Aside from the scree and boulder sections where I had to watch my footing, it was generally a pleasant descent, and with slight jelly legs, I made it back to the lakeside circuit track. From here, I could have returned the way I came for a quicker walk back to my car, but I decided to continue onwards round Lake Clearwater, a decision I later regretted because it went on for a long distance and my legs were really tired. Whilst a few clouds had rolled in, it was still baking hot, and mostly sunny, and whilst I had plenty of fluids to keep me going, my feet were throbbing and I was keen to sit down.

Lakes Emma, Camp & Clearwater

Lakes Camp & Clearwater

Despite my increasing begrudgement, it was a lovely walk. The wind meant the lake was no longer very reflective, but now people were out kitesurfing and kite boarding across the lake. It gave my something to watch as I trudged along. Towards the western end, the 4×4 track stops at a fence, and over a stile, it is not signposted where to go. A few trodden routes head off, but the desired path is the one that hugs the fence to the right, and eventually swings across to the wetlands that hug the end of the lake. The blooming flowers were pretty and from the bridge and boardwalk that spans the wetlands, the view along the valley floor to the snow-capped peaks is stunning.

Lake Clearwater Circuit

Island on Lake Clearwater

Lake Clearwater

Wetlands

Wetlands at Lake Clearwater

By the time I was on the southern shore of the lake, I was just focusing on getting back to my car. Had I not been so tired, the lake circuit track would have been enjoyable the whole way, but approaching the 6 hr mark, I was just a little bit over walking on such a hot day. I was so relieved when I eventually reached the campsite that marks the edge of Lake Clearwater village. I reached my car just over 6hrs after leaving it behind that morning, and it was nice to get my boots off and sit down. Following the gravel road back to Mt Somers, the crashed car was gone, and I headed back home to Christchurch and a much needed shower.

Southern Shore of Lake Clearwater

DOC signs are notoriously generous with hike times. At the start of the hike, the circuit track is listed as 3hrs, and the summit track listed at 2.5hrs. The 1hr 15min sign at the base of Mt Guy does not correlate with this first sign, and is the only DOC sign I’ve seen that has under-estimated the hike time. Slow as I was, it took me 2hrs to summit, but in the heat of the summer with not an essence of shade on the whole hike, it was a tough one.

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