MistyNites

My Life in Motion

Archive for the tag “Mt Somers”

Return to the Mountains

After a poor night’s sleep camping through strong winds, I left Mt Thomas scenic reserve behind and continued past Glentui and Ashley Gorge to reach Oxford. I didn’t have enough supplies for the day, but thankfully the supermarket was open and I could stock up before continuing to the Coopers Creek car park to start the day’s hike. I’d hiked Mt Oxford many years ago and knew it was an arduous hike. In my head I figured I’d just hike the summit track and return the same way, so I left my car behind to start the long hike through the valley to reach the start of the climb.

The lower section is among forest and here I was overtaken by a man running the trail. Like the day before, I felt a little unfit as the track became steep, trying to tell myself it was just the heat. I’d set off before 9am but the sun felt hot above me. At the first break in the trees however, I looked behind me and realised a blanket of fog was creeping across the Canterbury Plains. The higher I got, the closer the cloud bank got, such that as I reached the more open upper ridges, the Plains were completely obliterated from view. It was pretty cool, a phenomenon I’ve seen only a handful of times from above the cloud line. Like the day before, it got windier the higher I got and the edge of the blanket seemed to wisp around itself, fingers creeping and retreating into the gullies between the lower ridges.

 

Mt Oxford is a series of false summits until at last the track rolls onto the true summit at 1364m (4475ft). I had to hunker down to shield myself from the wind while I ate some food, watching the cloud roll in and out and the wisps puff up and then retreat. I’d summited a little after 11.30am and with so many hours ahead of me, I knew I should do the longer route back across the far ridge, even though I remembered how much I hated its monotony last time. Despite this, I was in training, and needed to keep the momentum going, so despite knowing I’d get frustrated, I took off across the summit, bracing against the wind.

It’s an easy but exposed track to follow across the bare ridge before it eventually cuts back into the forest. I recalled from last time that the time on the sign underestimated this section so this time I was prepared for that. As I reached the forest once more, I could see how much the cloud had piled in and how much it was desperately trying to push up the mountain side. It was mesmerising to watch though, and I paused for a bit to do so before losing sight of it as the trees closed around me. As the track cut down the mountainside it became eerie as soon I was within the cloud. It was cooler suddenly and any gaps in the trees offered no views other than the wisps of cloud that swirled around. It made the descent through the forest much more enjoyable as I simply breathed the mist in, merely guessing where I was with my sense of altitude dimmed.

 

When at last I reached the Korimako track that I’d taken to Ryde Falls the last time I’d been here, I continued straight this time, taking an alternate route towards a different car park then cutting away to trudge the long route back to Coopers Creek. This alternate route was muddy and undulating, but it was busy because it formed a loop track to Ryde Falls, which seemed popular. The low cloud continued the whole arduous slog back, and I finally returned to my car about 7hrs after setting off.

 

The following week, I joined two local walks together, parking at the Christchurch Gondola car park to hike the Bridle Path over the Port Hills to Lyttelton Harbour. The Bridle Path is a popular local walk, but it is rough and steep underfoot, making it a good slog that isn’t to everyone’s tastes. It zig-zags its way up to summit road and from there it zig-zags its way down the other side, reaching the road by Lyttelton tunnel. I’ve walked this track from end-to-end as well as just up to Summit Road and back, and on several occasions have combined it with trips to the gondola station. This time, I was heading to the harbour, grabbing food at a local cafe before heading down to the port to catch the ferry across to Diamond Harbour.

 

Once on Banks Peninsula, a track leads from near the wharf deep into the lower forests and up a gradual slope to reach farmland where the most popular route up to Mt Herbert leads from. I’ve hiked Mt Herbert multiple times, using 3 different routes up, but this one I’ve done the most. The ferry ride over is an added bonus to this hike that I like to tack on, but it does mean the hike has to be to a timetable in order to catch the ferry back over at the end of the day. Once again there was a recurring theme of feeling slow. I’ve definitely noticed that hiking with poles takes me longer than hiking without them. But with my knees starting to show wear and tear, I feel that using them is a necessary evil. But it is hard to accept at times that I’m not making records when I return to hike mountains I’ve previously summited. Despite the amount of walking I was doing lately, I couldn’t help feel that it was my fitness that was the problem.

Having caught the 11am ferry, I was relatively late to head up through the farmland, and I watched sadly as several people sped ahead of me and several people passed me heading down. The route however was familiar and I knew what to expect ahead. When at last I reached the summit (919m/3015ft), there was hardly anyone around and I might as well have had it to myself. Mindful of the ferry times I didn’t stay up long before heading back down. Going down was straightforward, but as is often the case, the clouds had piled in over Christchurch and it looked a little dull. What I hadn’t realised was that there was a music festival on at Diamond Harbour so when I reached the pier there was a massive queue for the ferry. Normally only once an hour at this time of the day, the ferry company thankfully agreed to do multiple runs to lighten the load. I wasn’t successful at making it on the first sailing, but was able to get on the second one. I still had the return hike over the Bridle Path to do, so I was eager to get back and get going. When at last I reached my car once more I’d been on my feet for 8hrs and was eager to be done.

 

Just 2 weeks later, I found myself on my final training hike ahead of the toughest hike of my life. I was to leave the country in just 2 days and the anticipation was starting to get real. I took the familiar drive into the Canterbury foothills and found myself on the edge of a cloud blanket that was slowly creeping in from the east. This last hike was a return to Mt Somers, a hike that I’d found challenging the first time round, and one that was a decent length and steepness to make me feel like I was getting a good last workout. Again I felt my poles slowing me down and I took longer to hike the lower slopes through the forest and across the rising ridges to reach the summit route junction. I focused on the task at hand, aware of people overtaking me regularly. Wisps of cloud had initially hugged the side of the mountain and as I climbed I saw the cloud holding off a little distance away.

 

It was another scorching day, and the 30 degree heat got the better of me. I was struggling, wheezing for breath and having to stop often. I’m not entirely sure what was wrong those last few hikes. It had been hot, but it wasn’t the first time I’d hiked in the heat. I was using poles, but they shouldn’t have made me tired and breathless. I’d had a vaccine ahead of my travels but that had been weeks before. Something just wasn’t right, I felt super unfit now despite the regular hikes and it was starting to concern me. Up and up I went, struggling but stubborn. I reached scree and then boulders and the marked route became a matter of picking a way up and across between distant orange poles. When at last I reached the final push towards the summit, I saw that the clouds had moved in, and like the few weeks prior at Mt Oxford, they tried desperately to sneak up the side of the mountain. I needed a break and rested at the summit, but as the clouds crept higher up the slopes, I was conscious of the fact that I needed good visibility to follow the markers in a few of the lower sections. I was caught between catching a break and wanting to rush back down before I risked losing my way.

 

It had taken me so long to get up there, that I was one of only 3 people left at the summit. The other 2 started to head down as I finished my food, and wary of getting into trouble if the clouds became a problem, I didn’t waste much time following suit. It was a needless worry in the end. As much as the clouds tried to wisp upwards, they never really made much progress, and I made better time on the descent, watching the blanket gradually dissipate as I neared its altitude. By the time I was back down at the track junction to follow the Mount Somers Route back to the car park, I had a clear view across the Plains. It took me 8hrs from start to finish, a lot longer than I’d taken the first time I’d gotten up. I was disappointed, but I headed as usual to grab my favourite post-hike treat: nachos and ice-coffee at C1 Espresso in Christchurch. Hiking is a good excuse for me to have a bit of a pig-out afterwards. I wouldn’t be surprised if I eat more calories after a hike than I actually lose on the hike. Maybe that was my problem. Maybe that was why I was struggling on these last few hikes. But there was no time left to wonder. Because 2 days later, I was off on a great adventure.

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 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

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/5538ft) 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

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

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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