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Archive for the tag “Hakatere Conservation Park”

New Year Adventures

With the toughest hike of my life just a few weeks away, every day off work was an opportunity to do some hiking. The good thing about the festive period being in the Southern Hemisphere’s summer, is that the public holidays mean long hours of daylight and a reasonable chance of warm and/or dry weather. I haven’t done anything special for Hogmanay or New Year’s Eve for a long time. In fact, I haven’t even made it to midnight for a few years either, and the end of 2018 was no exception. I rose early on the first day of 2019, packed up my car and headed deep into Canterbury. With Christchurch on the coastal border of the Canterbury Plains, it takes over an hour to reach the mountains to the west and I was making a very familiar drive to the foot of Mt Somers, where a road leads into Hakatere Conservation Park. I’ve done a few hikes within its boundaries, including Mt Guy and Mt Sunday, and I’d sussed out a long walk to a couple of Department of Conservation (DoC) huts nestled among the mountains. Where the tarmac ended, I turned north, taking a long drive down a gravel road to reach Lake Heron.

I’d left sunshine behind and as I arrived at the lake, a wall of cloud lingered over the nearby peaks. I wasn’t sure how far the road went, so initially drove past the start of my hike, skirting round the edge of the lake and finding myself at a rather grungy campsite. It was busy, but it didn’t seem all that appealing to me. But it was the only place in the area with a toilet block and it allowed me to turn my car around and return to the stony car park where my hike started. Following a 4×4 track, I took a brief detour on the Kettle Hole walk which cut up a small hill to overlook a kettle, or depression in the ground formed by a historic glacier. I was a bit underwhelmed by it so didn’t hang around long before returning to the track to follow the edge of the lake. The wind danced across the water creating a bit of chop, and despite a sign stating that the area was a nature reserve and wildlife refuge, there wasn’t much in the way of wildlife to spot on or off the lake. Every now and again I got covered in a cloud of dust as a car passed me on the track, heading to a car park a little way around the shore.

 

I was a little disappointed to reach the car park and see the DoC sign which stated the hut I was planning on walking to was 3hrs away. This was a lot further than I’d anticipated when I’d researched my planned walk and I started to realise that I just didn’t have the time. My camping stuff was in the car, not on my person, and I’d already booked a spot at a campsite ahead of the next day’s hike, so it wasn’t an option to break the hike up and stay in the hut. I made the decision to hike based on time, to keep going until it was time to turn back, irregardless of how far I’d reached. Through a gate, the track cut down to a river where there was a ford or a boardwalk to get to the other side. After this brief detour, the track returned to the lakeside.

 

Soon after, there was a side track to Lake Hill, a 762m (2500ft) summit that gave a raised view of the lake and the surrounding conservation park. The actual elevation gain from the lake was barely 100m (328ft) but it was enough to get a broader view of the landscape. Across the lake, the snow-speckled peak of Mt Arrowsmith poked up behind the nearer peaks in front of it. The ground was covered in meadow flowers and an information board gave a brief overview of how the glaciers formed this valley and lake. It was a great spot for lunch, sitting down among the flowers and feeling the wind on my face. After a while, I took the track back down to the lake and continued to follow it round to Mt Sugarloaf.

 

The track starts to turn away from the lake at Harrison’s Bight, an inlet that keeps Mt Sugarloaf out of reach. The 4×4 track leads to here and there were a couple of utes parked up, their occupants nowhere to be seen. Soon I reached a track junction and took the Swin River track which was to take me to join the Te Araroa trail (the long-distance walk that spans the length of New Zealand), and from there would lead to Double Hut. The DoC sign showed the hut was still 2hrs away and as I walked along this flat, rather uninteresting section of the walk, as the sky grew darker around me, I realised that I wasn’t even going to get close to it. I could see it in the far distance nestled at the base of the mountain range in front of me, but after a while of it never getting any bigger in my view, I decided that enough was enough and duly turned round to return to my car. Double Hut and Emily Hut would have to wait for another day and another hike.

Spots of rain began to fall as I headed back and the clouds grew stormier as I worked my way back round the lake edge. I set off back along the gravel road, returning to sunshine as I headed south. I pulled over at Maori Lakes, a wetland area at the side of the road which sparkled under the sunshine here. The sandflies as always threatened to ruin my enjoyment and after taking some photos I pushed onwards. Back at Mount Somers village, I turned south towards Geraldine and Peel Forest. I’d booked a camping spot at the Peel Forest campground and the place was pretty busy when I arrived. I was able to secure a spot under the shade and set up my little hiking tent which looked positively dwarfed by the family-sized camping tents that were all around me. The area is covered in walks, long and short, so before dinner I did the Kahikatea walk which looped through a forest and wetland zone near the campsite.

 

I enjoy camping although rarely sleep well, so I was up and ready early the next morning, packing up and getting on the road with a grand plan. It wasn’t too far away to reach the car park for hiking Little Mt Peel, one of my favourite mountain hikes in Canterbury. It had been a few years since I’d been up, celebrating my 33rd birthday on my first and only trip up there. My plan for the day was to aim for Mount Peel which involves summiting Little Mt Peel, and following an unmarked path across the ridges to Middle Mt Peel and Mt Peel behind that. It was an ambitious plan as it is a full-on hike, and part of the reason I’d been keen to get going early. Little had changed as I followed the Deer Spur track up the slope and despite the early hour, I was surprised at the number of people already on the trail. It is a popular hike, and with good reason: the views are spectacular on the way up and from the summit itself. Now hiking with poles, my hiking style has notably changed as I’ve adapted to their use. I do find they slow my walking down at times and with the lower parts of the hike in the forest, they became a bit of a nuisance as I needed my hands free to aid negotiating tree routes during the initial climb.

The higher I climbed, the windier it got and there was a lot of cloud in the sky above me. When I reached the summit of Little Mt Peel (1311m/4301ft) there was a strong crosswind. I sat by the trig marker eating my lunch and stared across the ridge towards the neighbouring peaks, musing how to proceed. I’d told my partner my plans for the day, but not being a hiker himself, I wasn’t sure if he actually understood where I was planning to go. As I looked at the exposed ridge and the distance, I made time calculations in my head as I watched the clouds move across the neighouring ranges. Hiking alone involves risk. Hiking in groups does also but when I’m responsible for my own safety, sometimes I chicken out and take the safe option instead. As the wind was strong, and I wasn’t 100% sure what the weather planned on doing, I decided to leave the higher Mt Peel peaks for another day. I slightly kicked myself for being too scared to continue, whilst trying to justify with myself that I’d made the right decision.

 

Last time I’d hiked Little Mt Peel, I did the loop, descending down the South Ridge track which was rough and steep. I’d decided at the time that I wouldn’t do this track again, but having already changed my plans, I decided I’d go down this route after all, rather than the more popular Deer Spur track that I’d ascended on. I skirted behind the little shelter and went to use the portaloo behind it, opening the door to be presented by a scene of mayhem where some poor sod had clearly had explosive diarrhoea all over the inside of the portaloo itself. It was utterly gross and I was quick to shut the door again. With my poles again being a hindrance on the upper sections where the track is steepest, this route is actually quite enjoyable going down because you lose altitude exceptionally quickly which looks cool whenever you turn round to check your progress. The view to the neighbouring mountains is also nicer on this track than the Deer Spur track.

 

Eventually, the track turned almost 90 degrees and disappeared into the forest, finally coming out at Emily Falls and joining the Emily Falls track. Last time I’d come this way, I lost the track as it followed the river on the way back from the Falls. I knew what to look out for but as the bank had had a slip, I nearly missed the exit again. This final section in the forest is always a little boring for me. There wasn’t much bird life to spot and I was tired from the hike. Back at my car, it was time to head home. Neither day’s hikes had gone to plan, so I was a little frustrated but I had 4 more weekends to fit in some more mountains before heading abroad, and at least I was feeling positive about my fitness as the year began.

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/4475ft) 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 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 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

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/4327ft) was reached. From here there was a 360 degree 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.

Mount Sunday

Deep in the heart of Canterbury, and down a long winding unsealed road, lies a beautiful river valley surrounded by mountains. Part way along the valley, lies a mound of rock that looks like it comes straight out of Middle Earth. Probably because it does. Astute people, or fans of the Lord of the Rings trilogy will recognise this mound, Mt Sunday, as the location of Edoras, the home of Rohan, the horse-riding warriors, and in fact, if you go at the right time (or wrong time, depending on your feelings towards the franchise), you could be mistaken for thinking it is Edoras, as a tour company brings tourists up regularly where they pose with their swords and the flag of Rohan to flutter in the wind, and pretend to act out a scene from the movie.

To the south-west of Christchurch, the village of Mt Somers which nestles in the shadow of the mountain of the same name, can be reached from various directions depending on how much of a scenic drive you want to take. Roads from here, lead back to Methven & Mt Hutt, Ashburton, Rakaia, and Geraldine. Upon reaching Mt Somers, signs direct further inland into Hakatere Conservation Park along Ashburton Gorge Road and it is a beautiful drive.

Upon reaching the settlement of Hakatere, where the road splits in two, the Hakatere Potts Road very quickly becomes unsealed and remains so the rest of the way (with the exception of the steepest section). On a sunny March day, it was a reasonable road to drive, although it was quite rutted in places in the earlier section. In good weather, it is suitable for all vehicles, and there were a few camper vans about, but out of season, especially in wet or snowy weather, this would be best in 4x4s only. There are a lot of places to stop on route if desired with Lakes Emma, Roundabout, Camp and Clearwater all accessed from the same road. But definitely worth a stop is a small patch to pull over at the top of the hill before the descent into the Rangitata river valley, just before crossing Potts River, where there is a beautiful view of the valley opening up ahead of you.

Hakatere Conservation Park

Rangitata River Valley with Mt Sunday to the right

 

The route down the hill is the only section which is sealed, and upon crossing the bridge over the Potts River it returns to gravel again and winds its way to a well-marked car park that denotes the start of the walk to Mt Sunday. Depending on route, stops and confidence with driving on unsealed roads, the time from Christchurch to here can take around 2-2.5hrs, and if you want to take any of the side roads to explore more of the Conservation Park, I suggest you head off with a full tank of fuel.

From the car park, a DOC sign denotes to follow the orange markers, and although in some places where there are several options of which exact way to get to each orange marker, it is impossible to get lost when Mt Sunday (611m/2004ft) is visible the whole way. The initial section is very flat, crossing a couple of streams via bridges including a short suspension bridge, and with mountains in all directions it is a beautiful vista the whole way.

The start of the Mt Sunday track

View upstream

View downstream

Mt Sunday

Standing at the bottom of Mt Sunday

 

The initial ascent is up the hilly side, before the steeper (but very achievable) section up the more rocky face of Mt Sunday until the summit is reached. When I arrived there, a tour group was there posing for their Lord of the Rings themed photos, but after patiently waiting for them to finish, after they left, I had the summit to myself. Then it was simply 360o of utter beauty and peaceful bliss with just a swarm of flying ants for company.

Summit view North-West

Summit View North-West

Summit view North

Summit View North to North-East

Summit View South

 

As is usually the case in the mountains here, the afternoon brought cloud and wind. The best of the weather for exploring the mountains and valleys tends to be in the morning, and as it was, I had arrived in the early afternoon. I managed to get about half an hour of sunshine before the clouds rolled in and the temperature dropped a few degrees. After 40mins at the summit, I retraced my steps back to my car, and started the long drive home.

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