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.


  1. Beautiful scenery, beautiful photos but the road looks rather primitive!

    1. Thanks Carol, yes it's more of a dirt track and would frighten a few visitors driving it, especially when icy or with snow. It's definitely not for the faint hearted.

  2. Your photos bring back sweet memories. Two years ago we brought a 7m motorhome up to the ski field in mid September. It was something 'legendary' to us. It's our first time driving a motorhome this long on an unpaved road all the way up to a ski field. I have never been to a ski field before but have been fascinated by snow since childhood. So you can imagine how excited I was when I started seeing patches of snow appearing on the roadside mountain slopes. That was the year with the big snow, plenty of snow still covering Mt Hutt and the weather was as good as what you had (minus the chills and icy road), we had a feast for our eyes and those beautiful scenes remain vivid in memory.

    1. Oh yes I don't think we saw that bungy jump tower, is it something new? It looks spectacular at that location!

    2. I'm not too sure how long it's been there, it was my first time up there. Looks pretty scary though. :)

    3. You would have loved arriving at the ski field even if the road scared you a little- I always think a skifield is full of magic, lots of happy people enjoying themselves.


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