Sunday, 20 August 2017

World Famous in New Zealand- Canterbury

There & Back- Mt Somers to...

I'm about to take you on a quick a tour along the inland road through mid-Canterbury. As mentioned earlier our first stop was at Mt Somers where they have a very cool general store.

We stayed at the Mt Somers Holiday Park while we explored the Ashburton Lakes area; we'd decided we'd have power whenever the opportunity presented itself during the next couple of weeks. Sometimes in winter you just want to be able to flick a switch without the worries of watching the solar or running the generator.  The ground was soft from all the recent rain but we were able to park in another area, between cabins, which was a lot firmer. It's a very quiet time of the year for everyone in the village; I think we saw just one campervan during our stay.

The Holiday Park was next door to the Domain where there's also a camping area (with power & soft ground too); we'd already decided to support a local business, and not that the money mattered, the Holiday Park was just $7 dearer. The Domain also has a small museum and next door the old Mt Somers Musterers/Trampers Hut which was shifted to the Domain when DOC build a new hut on the Mt Somers Walkway. It's kitted out with pre 1960s farming and tramping gear.

Of course I did a little tiki-tour around the village taking photos and adding a couple more churches to my collection (one of them at the bottom left, above ) and an old farm homestead now a barn; and looking very much like one of our old farm barns. 

But this work-of-art (below) must take the prize for the most creative and unusual hedge I've ever seen. Imagine the work that goes into keeping that in shape. I found this from a Stuff article while researching-

I follow the trimmed arrows to the door of the designer, who describes it as a gardening whimsy.
He does not want to give his name, but the hedge hides an impressive garden.
"It was a boring piece of hedge to cut every six months, so I thought I'd try to make it interesting," he says. "If I was going to do it again, I think I'd be a bit more adventurous."
The hedge has become an attraction in Mt Somers.
"If I had a dollar for everyone who has stopped to take a photo I'd be a rich man."

That's one more dollar not in his pocket...

On my way to Mt Hutt a couple of days earlier I stopped at Staveley and Alfred Forest to take photos in the village including the old Staveley School in front of Mt Somers, the church, hall and old dairy factory. At Alfred Forest I found more sculptured moa beside their hall, similar to the ones I saw at Moa Flat.

Staveley is world famous in New Zealand- Lynda Topp, one half of the much-loved musical and comic duo, The Topp Twins, has a lodge & bar/cafe in the tiny village. The Lodge is just past the church in the photo above and just a few metres from Staveley Store, the old general store which is now a cafe & farm store and is owned and run by Mt Somers Station. 

And not by Lynda Topp as you may have thought if you spotted the ute parked outside! No, Lynda must have been inside having a coffee (her cafe is shut over winter). I didn't go in to check, I was star-struck just seeing her vehicle. And I didn't want to dawdle, I had Mt Hutt to traverse! 

But I really was star-struck the next day when we stopped in at the cafe for morning tea on our way north and who should arrive not long after? Lynda Topp of course! So I surreptitiously took a photo of her while pretending to take one of David eating. I then cut him out of it! I suppose I should have said hello but I was a little shy (yep, that's me) and I also didn't want to intrude.

The next camp site I had in mind was the Rakaia Gorge Camping Ground ($8.50pp, children free) which is on a stunning site, right on the edge overlooking the Rakaia River.

It's a large landscaped  area with plenty of grassed sheltered alcoves for camping in but unfortunately all but the area beside the road was closed off for winter. And once again the photos do not tell the whole story; it's freezing cold with a bitter wind blowing and much of the area that is available has boggy ground and muddy tracks through it, with a heavy frost still laying on the ground in the shade. 

And along with that there's the traffic noise and passing motorists are calling in to use the public toilets, just enough negatives for us to decided to give it a miss and carry on up the road. I really wanted that river view so we'll have to return in the summer. 

We stopped next at Glentunnel and had a look at the holiday park there but it was in the shade down in a dip beside a river and didn't look that inviting. Some days things just don't feel right or go well. Usually there'd be nothing wrong with these places but when you having a bad day travelling, you're having a bad day.

We carried on to Sheffield, checked out a CAP parking site there, which didn't appeal either, and then cheered ourselves up by having a pie for lunch from the famous Sheffield Pie Shop. As I walked to the shop I took a cellphone photo just as a head popped out the door. I said when I stepped inside, 'I took a photo of the baker then?'  The lady said excitedly "No and you're Shellie! I saw your rig go past and I said to the others, I wonder if that's Shellie who has a blog and posts photos on Facebook, I show them to my husband every night!' So it's not just the pies that are famous in Sheffield! 

Our next stop is Springfield- famous for it's 6 tonne Simpson's doughnut- where we check out yet another Domain campground. We're wanting power but it's wet, boggy and in the shade where the power points are so we hit the road again. We head back down the road, back through Sheffield and turn north. At this rate we'll be popping out the end of the inland road well in advance of our intended two weeks exploring the high country.

We cross over the Waimakariri River, another one of the wide braided Canterbury rivers...

...pass through Oxford and head to a camping ground just out of town, one that's been on my radar for awhile.

Ashley Gorge Holiday Park is a very popular camping the summer. In the winter it's a very deserted camp. Probably because it's tucked into a narrow valley and is in the shade all day! 

Three days of frost was still on the ground when we arrived (the rain washed that away overnight), it was absolutely freezing but we'd been travelling all day and we didn't want to go any further. So we cranked up the diesel heaters, drew the blinds and settled in for the night; we'd head off again in the morning.

Perhaps had we seen this sign just outside the camp before we went in we may have just carried on!

The next day dawned cold, wet and miserable so we decided to dig in and have another day at Ashley Gorge. There was no point shifting, it was going to be cold, wet and miserable everywhere. We wrapped up warm and did the short walk to the back of the camp to check out the gorge and back along the river to road bridge before heading back to the van. It was just too cold to be outdoors.

There was another reason I wanted to stop in Oxford. I wanted to meet a famous Little Owl named Oscar who lives at Oxford Bird Rescue. I have been following Oscar on OBR's Facebook page for a very long time and was looking forward to saying hello. Oscar is an ambassador for all his feathered friends, he is blind and spends a lot of his time visiting schools and other groups encouraging conservation. 

Little Owls are not endemic to NZ but have naturalised after being introduced from Germany in the early 1900s. They are only found in the South Island and very common in the drier open eastern areas of the island, preferring open pastureland and hedgerows to native bush. Unlike our endemic owl the Morepork/Ruru, Little Owls are often active during the day as well as the night. We've yet to see one in the wild but there are quite a lot of them in Christchurch's Hagley Park and around the Sumner cliffs.

We left Ashley Gorge the next day and headed north once again, off towards Rangiora, Rangiora on the outskirts of Christchurch! Twenty kilometers later we pulled to a grinding halt. Neither of us wanted to return to Christchurch just yet. We tossed a few ideas around, and dismissed most of them for various reasons (this is very unusual as we usually have a destination in mind before we pull out). 

In the end we decided to turn around and head back towards Oxford, back over the Waimakariri, back through Glentunnel, back past the Rakaia camp and we hang a left opposite Mt Hutt Station. And that is how we found ourselves back in Methven waiting for  a snow storm to arrive in a couple of days.

And this time we stay put for over a week, relaxing and enjoying a friendly camp and village.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

To the Top of the Mountain


The day after our tiki-tour into the interior I took myself on a drive to the top of Mt Hutt while David had the day off. The weather forecast wasn't looking too hot for the remainder of the week and I was keen to see the mountain on clear sunny day. There had been recent snowfall but the 14km skifield access road was open to 4WDs vehicles and 2WDs with chains. Skifield employees were helping people add their chains at the chain station at the lower carpark, many vehicles were tourist rentals and there was already quite a queue as I drove past. 

Mount Hutt (Maori name Opuke) is 2190 metres high and rises sharply from the edge of the Canterbury Plains about 80 kilometres to the southwest of Christchurch city. This makes it a very popular and accessible mountain to a sizeable population and in fact, the Mt Hutt ski field has the largest skiable area of the South Island mountains, over 3.65 square kilometres and as you can see, a few dozen runs. 

You can see the early parts of the access road running along the ridge centre left in this photo and again, clearly in the photo below it.

I was a bit anxious to begin with, the road rises steeply and has huge drop offs with no barriers. It was extremely icy through the first long narrow rocky section (shown below) where the sun had already disappeared for the day. I soon got the hang of it though, after letting others roar past keen to get to the ski field before the crowds- obviously locals who 'do' the road often. 

Once I was out of the first icy stretch the road widened a little and I was able to pull over to take some photos. It looked like the occupants of this motorhome (with chains) had gone off mountainbiking.

I guess they've biked down the road because this was the view below them, very steep terrain and no track here, but there are over 25kms of tracks in the bike park further down towards the bottom of the mountain.

It was a beautiful sunny, blue sky day and the views were magnificent, the Canterbury Plains stretched for as far as the eye could see (don't forget to click the photo to enlarge).

I had to be very careful climbing in and out of the ute and walking from one side of the road to the other, ice lined the road edge where the snow had been pushed off to the side, melted and reset.

A steady stream of vehicles passed me as I took photos, some making a terribly loud noise as their snow chains clattered and banged along on the grit covered gravel road. It sounded like their wheels were about to fall off as the grating noise bounced off the walls of the surrounding mountains. One car stopped so the occupants could check to make sure their vehcicle was ok. I guess if you've never driven with chains on you'd never know! At one stage a small rubbish truck roared past at speed and without a care in the world- he's obviously done this drive a few hundred times before. 

This pano is looking northeast across the Plains with the braided Rakaia River weaving it's way towards the coast.

I'm about two thirds of the way up the road here and when I zoom in ahead of me, I can see the ski runs and chairlift on the mountainside, I must be getting close.

This pano was taken from the aptly named Rakaia Saddle, I took it on the way back down later in the afternoon. I spotted it across the road as I was heading up and couldn't stop then to take it. Personally I think they need more pull-offs! But then again I'm bias (and where is my driver?)

Much of the road has named sections with the distance left to travel, I guess it makes it a lot easier to send work crews to clear sections or help with breakdowns etc. It also helps those driving up; 14kms up a mountain is a very long way!

This is the view from Windy Point looking south both directionally and vertically! 

I scrambled over the ploughed snow and ice to get to the edge to take the scenic photos- being very careful of where I stepped of course! 

This is also from Windy Point looking along the mountain ridge. And once again I can't get perspective in here for you, but that's a very long way down and those are very high mountain peaks. The views are stunning.

The ski field isn't too far away now, I can see the snow makers working on some of the runs.

And finally around the next corner is the Mt Hutt ski field base (the last section was through a no stopping section but I managed to quickly grab a couple of shots through the windscreen) 

The car park was already 3/4 full with lots of excited children running around as parents tried to get them into warm clothing. School holidays started in a few days and I guess it would be a madhouse up here then.

I walked to the edge of the carpark to take this shot looking down over a couple of runs that were closed. You can also see sections of the road running along the top of the ridges in the distance.

The nearby bungy jump tower was overhanging the above drop, it wasn't in operation.

I walked through to the ski field and chairlifts, there were plenty of families having fun on the learner slopes and several instructors with adult groups, teaching them the ski basics.

The main base buildings were a hive of activity with dozens of skiers and snowboarders coming and going.

I wandered up to the restaurant deck to take this photo overlooking the outdoor tables below.  I love all the bright colours contrasting against the stark white of the snow. Elsewhere in society the winter colour is often several shades of black...

...not here, it's not only ski jackets, pants, helmets & boots that are colourful, the skis and snow boards themselves are a riot of colour too. Very refreshing! 

I loved the kiwi themed racks to hold your gear while not skiing. Although I couldn't quite get over the fact that anyone with ill intent could have helped themselves to something had they wanted too. Some skis and boards were discarded where their uses had stepped out of them which provided a bit of a hazard to watch for while walking.

I watched the chairlifts carrying happy punters to the top of the skifield and then kept an eye on a few of the runs delivering them back to the base, if I'd had more time I might have taken a ride to the top too.

I had no desire to go skiing though, it's been a very long time since I last skied at Mt Ruapehu's Whakapapa ski field in the North Island. No, I was quite happy watching others enjoy themselves. And I was also keeping an eye on the time and the temperature as it started to cool down as the afternoon marched on.

I wanted to be off the mountain before the road re-froze after the warm afternoon sun had softened the ice and snow.

The car park was now full to overflowing and cars were still arriving, there were several campervans including two large Jucy motorhomes (with chains) parked very close to me. It's lucky I'm a tiny person (uh-huh, that's me!) I was able to squeeze through the small gap they left to get in my door.

And to top off a great afternoon, on my way back to the ute, I had a quick encounter with one cheeky kea (our endemic mountain parrot), who was trying to destroy the window rubbers on someone's vehicle. I shooed him away and he bounced off over the roofs, grabbing at aerials and roof racks as he went.  Someone else gave chase and he flew off disappearing over far edge of the carpark.

I navigated my way out of the carpark (my spot bagged as soon as I my reverse lights flashed), back to the road, and headed down, happy to see that it was still ok to travel....well, where the sun shone anyway. The camber of the road pushes the vehicles to the inside edge both up and down, which is just as well as it's quite disconcerting driving when there is no edge to the road. I did wonder (briefly) what would happen if you did manage to slide the wrong way on the ice.

Once the road disappeared into the shade of the mountain the road crews were busy opening the 'Caution Icy' signs. 

I passed them several times; I still had a few more photos to take on the way down. This one from the Rakaia Saddle- 

I love the patchwork of paddocks and shelterbelts and wide gash as the Rakaia River cuts a path through the Plains.

A couple of entrepreneurs were parked at the end of the road, waiting for the afternoon influx of visitors leaving the mountain. Although I'm not so sure Mr Whippy has checked out where his target market have been; icecream after a freezing afternoon in the snow? No thankyou! 

I took a detour on the way home via the alpine village of  Methven, a great little town which provides accommodation, pubs, cafes and restaurants for visitors to Mt Hutt and several other nearby ski fields. This is the famous in Methven 'Blue Pub'...

...and across the road, taken from another corner, the equally famous 'Brown Pub'.

And as with the Lakes, we don't know it yet, but we're going to become very familiar with this little village of Methven.