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.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

News Flash- Winner!


Yeehaa! I have some exciting news to tell you! Well, it might not be that exciting for you but I'm extra excited and super thrilled because I received a call yesterday from Netspeed, our internet provider, to let me know that I was their winner in a competition they recently ran on their Facebook page. I don't enter too many competitions and very rarely win anything but I struck the jackpot this time! And all I had to do was tag someone on their Facebook page; easy peasey.

And what did I win? I won the latest 12.9" 64GB Apple iPad Pro worth $1,519.00! How awesome is that? I don't have an iPad, I do most of my work on my laptop and have my smartphone for general surfing etc. I don't see that changing too much but I know David has had his eye on the latest model iPad for awhile and especially since he recently started watching movies on his old one. I have a feeling I might not see quite as much of this prize as I think. And I don't mind- I'm just going to milk it for all it's worth in the meantime- it's lucky that I have a computer geek for a hubby, he'll be able to set it  up for me which will earn him lots of brownie points that can be exchanged for movie time!

So thankyou very much Netspeed, you made my day....no, in fact, as I said to them when they called, you made my month! I think it's some sort of karma though, because I recommend Netspeed to anyone and everyone at every opportunity I get. Netspeed has been a God send for us and has opened up our little world on the road.

If you'd like to know more about Netspeed, here's my blog I did on them when we first joined up early last year-  Into the Future with Netspeed

And if you'd like to hear some of the voice recording of when Netspeed phoned to let me know I was a winner it's here on their Facebook Page, a pinned post at the top (it may have gone if you're reading this is in a week or so)

ETA- It's arrived!

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Into The Interior- Journey to Edoras; Part 2

Continuing on from Part 1

After lunch at Lake Clearwater we carried on up the valley, we've another 21kms of gravel road to travel before we reach the end of the road.

But..it's not long before I've shouted out 'Stop!' (ever so nicely) yet again. These unusual lines have formed in the sheep tracks as the snow has melted away. I think I've mentioned it before, but you may notice a colour difference sometimes in my photos (see above & below). This is due to the photo above being taken through the tinted windscreen of the ute...and me not having time to adjust them all as I process the photos. 

Our next stop is at a lookout point- it's not an official lookout, but going by the rough gravel pulloff area just before the road drops down into the valley, it's a place that many people stop to take in this breathtaking view (click to enlarge).

Ahead of us is the spectacular braided Rangitata River plain, the Rangitata (which means 'close sky' in Maori), is made up of several rivers that flow from their headwaters high in the Southern Alps, that spine of mountains that runs down the middle of the South Island. The eagle eyed amongst you will spot a hallowed Middle Earth location, the rest will have to return to check it out once they've finished reading the blog post.

The Potts River, contained in a deep narrow valley, sweeps dramatically around from our right to join the Rangitata below us.

It's so hard to get perspective in these huge vistas, here's another pano with the road we've just driven down on the right. It's absolutely stunning scenery!

We carry on and as the road (sealed on this downhill/uphill section) drops to the valley floor I can't possibly shout 'Stop!" again so make do with another shot through the windscreen.

We pass by an old friend, the Te Araroa Trail. We've criss-crossed the trail so many times on our journey through the South Island. There'll not be anybody walking it at this time of the year, there are many places that are inaccessible during winter.

We called in to check out Mt Potts Station, a large farm station nestled below the rugged Potts Range and overlooking the river valley.

Mt Potts also offers lodge accommodation and has tent and powered motorhome sites available too. There's plenty of activities to do for anyone staying. During the winter there's heliskiing or skiing at the Mt Potts skifield, farm tours, hiking, fishing, hunting, rafting, biking or just relaxing and enjoying the spectacular scenery. Unfortunately we wouldn't get 'Out There' up the driveway, the overhanging pines are too low.

There's another reason Mt Potts Station is also popular with visitors, along with it being not too far a walk off trail for Te Araroa walkers to spend a night, it's also home to Mt Sunday.

Mt Sunday, that small brown rocky hill in the centre of the valley has been made famous by Sir Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy and has become the El Dorado to die-hard LOTR fans, a must visit while touring the country.

Mt Sunday was the set for Edoras, the fortress city of the Rohan people in the Lord of the Rings. The Golden Hall and surrounding buildings were built at the top of the sheer cliffs, with the gatehouse and more buildings at the foot. And even though the area was returned to its natural state once filming was finished, Mt Sunday still attracts hundreds of people on a pilgrimage, they come to see it, walk it, touch it, photograph it, and then to go home and be able to say they have journeyed to Edoras.

Unfortunately we didn't have the time to walk to the summit of Mt Sunday, a 3km, 90 minute return walk, we carried on up the road stopping again to take in the views. In this panorama shot you can clearly see Mt Sunday in the middle of the river plain. Mt Sunday is a 'roche moutoné', a low rounded hill of bedrock, left behind by a glacier as it's retreated up the valley.

I couldn't get enough of the spectacular views in every direction; just to stand there and take it all in was breathtaking (not least because of the cold air!). 

The sheer vastness and how remote and untouched it was; we are but just small fry in this land of splendour. I love how the mountains rise so sharply from the valley floor. 

We haven't much further to travel before the road runs out. We're heading to the base of that mountain ahead of us. But first we'll cross Jumped Up Downs, those gentle slopes leading down to the braided river below (I wonder how they were named).

Long before Edoras there was Erewhon, a huge 14,000 hectare high country station world famous in New Zealand, and one of the main reasons why people ventured to the top of this valley. Erewhon's name is a play on the word 'nowhere', and it must have really felt like that when early settlers, and then later; farm managers, shepherds, musterers, shearers and their families arrived to work on the farm.

Samuel Butler wrote in his classic novel Erewhon, a great description of this harsh landscape. "Never shall I forget the utter loneliness of the prospect- only the little far away homestead giving sign of human handiwork, the vastness of mountain and plain, of river and sky; the marvellous atmospheric affects sometimes black mountains against a white sky, and then again, after cold weather, white mountains against black sky”. 

We drove through to the turning bay, I'd have loved to have carried on and seen the homestead and farm buildings but I couldn't twist my conservative other half's arm. I had to make do with seeing some of the Clydesdales the Erewhon is famous for in a paddock beside the turning bay.

The Station runs Merino sheep (the only breed that can survive in these harsh conditions), Hereford cattle, deer and has a Clydesdale Horse Stud.

Most of the Station's tractor work is done with a team of of Clydesdales, all the stock work is carried out on foot or horseback and in this unforgiving environment, horses are quicker to ride places and can cross the rivers even when in flood. In the summer the Station offers visitors accommodation, a backcountry farming experience, wagon or saddle rides and overnight treks up the valley. I'm so coming back here!

We head back down the road pulling over to have a cup of tea at the same spot as before, overlooking Mt Sunday. And why wouldn't we?

Well, David would say because it's too bloody cold, there's an ice cold wind blowing so we rug up with jackets, gloves and hats and rather than sit on the tailgate like usual, we jiggle about trying to keep warm and keep our tea in the cup at the same time. I know it's hard to believe it's that cold when you look at the photos, but believe me it is freezing, perhaps 2-3c with a minus degree of wind chill.

At the far end of the valley, the Rangitata River disappears around the end of the mountains on the left and passes through the Rangitata Gorge. Another famous farm station, and twice the size of Erewhon at 30,000 hectares, Mesopotamia Station is on the other side of the river, centre right. Mesopotamia is at the end of the Rangitata Gorge Road, we've not been that far up the road, making it just past Peel Forest when we explored up that side of the river a couple of years ago.

While we were having our afternoon tea we spotted two vehicles driving along a track heading to the top of Mt Sunday. They belong to a LOTR tour company that is allowed to drive to the rock; the vehicles pulled in behind us when we were at the lookout. It's not long before we see little ants walking about at the top of Mt Sunday.

Mt Sunday gained its name because boundary riders from the surrounding high country stations used to meet there on Sundays for a cuppa and a catch up. Makes perfect sense! 

The cold eventually gets the better of us and we hurry about clearing up before climbing back into the warmth of the ute and head off towards home, stopping one more time just before the lookout so I can get a shot of the Potts River Bridge. You can see Mt Sunday, centre right, way in the background (remember to check out the photos I took at the lookout for Mt Sunday too).

Not far past Lake Clearwater, we do a quick drive-by (in and out) to check out two more of the Ashburton Lakes, these ones are side by side; tiny Lake Roundabout...

...and quite a bit bigger Lake Emma, two shallow depressions in the surrounding tussockland.

I wonder if that's the historic musterers/fishing hut across the water, where the old dinghy was based, the one that's now on display at the historic Hakatere farm buildings.

We had a fantastic day tiki-touring, and if you haven't already guessed it, we thought the scenery was absolutely spectacular. We didn't know it yet but this wasn't to be our last visit to the Lakes.