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.


  1. An area I have yet to visit so your blog, as usual, has given me some great ideas.

    1. That great long as you can find all your ideas when you're ready to visit! :)

  2. Excellent record of your journey around some of my favorite places. Dont forget about Whitecliffs that is also a lovely spot and very near Glentunnel. Havent stayed at Ashley Gorge but Winter might be a good time as no pesky sandflies. Also the Mt Thomas Conservation site is nice too .. not so much in the Summer due too wasps. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi Ann, thanks for commenting, unfortunately we missed Whitecliffs and Mt Thomas was an area I wanted to visit but because it was way to cold in the bush and around Ashley Gorge, we decided to leave it for another time. We will be back!

  3. Nice to see something familiar again. We've been to Staveley Store several times, before and after the renovation. We love the atmosphere and the food there. It's a convenient stop for a coffee break and I like to browse and do some shopping there. We both love the old style elderflower cordial we got there; and after the renovation we could even find very good venison there! I used it for Chinese style stirfry with ginger and spring onion. Yummy!
    Rakaia campsite was our favourite too. The river view with brooms blooming in spring was spectacular.

    1. You got to see the river at a lovely time and I bet it was a little warmer then. I too was impressed with the farm store but I'd just topped up with groceries so had no need to buy a few more....although I was severely tempted by the venison.


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