The road snakes through the dry Canterbury High Country with it’s rugged mountains, jagged bluffs and scree slides, as we head into the Castle Hill Basin and it’s distinctive limestone rock formations.
Castle Hill Basin lies between the Torlesse & Craigieburn Ranges and we stop at Castle Hill Village for a quick look. The village began as a development back in the early 1980s when the owner of Castle Hill Station wanted to create an alpine village beneath the Craigieburn Range as a centre for recreational activities in the area.
The houses are mainly holiday homes and there are no shops in the village. But there are four ski-fields within easy reach, a range of walking and tramping tracks throughout the nearby Craigieburn Forest Park & the Torlesse Tussocklands Park. And along with caving at the Cave Stream Reserve and rock climbing at the Castle Hill & Flock Hill limestone boulder fields, there’s plenty of outdoor activities to keep you occupied.
This ‘sculpture’ sits on the roadside near the entrance to the village- I took a photo for Dad; his golf club in Napier has some huge old tree trunks carved into golfing figures sitting alongside the road. The club paid a few thousand dollars to have them carved- and look they could have saved a few dollars had they seen this guy first (looks like he’s scored a hole-in-one). A $2 hat from Dollar Shop, a bit of bark scraped off and Bob’s your uncle!
Our next stop is just down the road at the well known Castle Hill (Kura Tawhiti) limestone formations. The beautiful and barren Torlesse Range forms a stunning backdrop to the carpark.
We head off towards the boulder pile at the end of the path- they don’t look that big from back here. The rock formations are the water eroded remains of limestone, formed 30-40 million years ago when much of present day New Zealand was covered by the sea.
A track leads off from the main path to a jumble of boulders but we decided to continue on to the main attraction.
While taking a photo I was overtaken by what appeared to be half a dozen ‘Sponge Bob Square Pants’. Disappointingly they turned out to be just plain old rock climbers. That’s their folded crash pads on their backs- although they look rather thin, I don’t think I’d trust falling onto them.
There are hundreds of rocks and dozens of big boulders in this pile.
We decide to follow the climbers along the front of the huge rocks, we might get to see them do some climbing. Now we’re up close we can see how large the rocks are; there are people dancing about on top up there.
We turn a corner and see the Sponge Bobs are disappearing up another steep path and heading to a boulder pile way off in the distance. We decide this will be as far as we go.
David heads up to a fenced off rock to check it out. People have been carving their names in it although I’m not sure whether that’s the reason it's fenced (I mean initials could be carved anywhere in any of the rocks if you so wanted), perhaps it’s unstable. Or perhaps there's some old Maori rock art on it that we failed to see.
It’s quite a distance to walk along the back and up on to the rocks at the end and I hope I can get back to the beginning through the back way. Here at the back, you can see that the exposed rocks have a more honey-combed effect from the erosion. You can also see how large the area is; I’ve walked along the fenceline from the back left and up onto the rocks at this end.
I’m not sure how much the kids were learning but they were sure having fun in this natural playground.
Although it’s autumn and the day was rather hot, it was still a surprise to find a couple sunbathing on their towels in the lee of a large rock.
I found my way back to the front where David was waiting for me and we made headed back to the carpark. Castle Hill reminded me of the Elephant Rocks we saw last year near Duntroon, although these were on a far grander scale; well worth a visit but give yourself plenty of time to explore.
Our next stop was for lunch at one of the last of the high country lakes along the highway, Lake Lyndon. There’s a freedom camping area here but I’m not so sure it's very welcoming at this time of the year. Talk about a barren, windswept and very dried up lake. I have seen photos of it in the spring though, with snow capped mountains behind, wild flowers in full bloom across the lake front and water fowl feeding along the edge. Never judge a book by it’s cover.
At least it made a fine canvas to show off the rig!
Replete, and keen to hit the road, we headed off to Christchurch, dropping down out of the high country and out across the Canterbury Plains.