Ever since reading Mona Anderson's "A River Rules my Life" I've been a little obsessed with the area inland of Christchurch at the base of the Southern Alps. We have spent plenty of time climbing the various mountains and foothills that rise up above the expanse of the Canterbury Plains so a long weekend spent at Terrace Downs put us right in the middle of this slice of Paradise. Terrace Downs is a golf resort about 1hr 30mins directly west of Christchurch just above the Rakaia Gorge and opposite Mt Hutt Ski field. We had rented a house on the number one fairway which boasted fantastic views of the mountains and a prime position to heckle anyone trying to tee off. Admittedly we had hired the house mostly because it was an affordable option Easter weekend rather than it's proximity to the golf course so little actual golf was partaken of. The surrounding area has more activities and day trips than you can possibly fit into just one weekend so I've compiled a top ten to give you some inspiration for your own travels in the area.
1. Lake Coleridge
A short drive further up the Rakaia River from Terrace Downs is a freezing cold but picturesque piece of water famous for being one of New Zealand's earliest hydroelectric schemes. Lake Coleridge sits between the peaks of Mt Oakden and Mt Cotton providing a stunning backdrop for a cool dip on a hot day. The lake is also a popular fishing and boating spot if you're that way inclined.
2. Terrace Downs
I'm not a particularly good golfer but if I was I think I would quite like to play a round here. Green fees are $120 for visitors and the course really is beautiful. Terrace Downs also has its own restaurant and offers a range of activities from horse riding and clay target shooting to its own spa. The accommodation is great value but the real draw card for me was waking up to views of the southern alps each morning - definitely recommend!
3. Rangitata Rafts
While I'm yet to raft the Rangitata itself I've had the pleasure of meeting some of their fantastic rafting guides over the years with racing the Spring Challenge. It's still very much on the to do list and at $210 for 2.5 hours I think it's great value for money. Grade 5 Rapids are guaranteed on the Rangitata Gorge Trip and they put on a BBQ for you at the end.
4. Mt Sunday
Anyone who has put aside 9 hours of their lives to watch the Lord of the Rings Trilogy will be familiar with a little hill on the banks of the Rangitata called Mt Sunday. The setting for Edoras in The Twin Towers is less of a mountain and more of a rocky mound plonked rather haphazardly on the edge of a braided river. What it lacks in height though, it makes up for in movie worthy views of the Two Thumb range, Mt D'Archiac and Erewhon Station. A short 20 minute walk from the roadside puts you at the summit with a surprising number of tourists for essentially the middle of freaking nowhere. Access is via the Hakatere Conservation Area - turn off Rakaia Gorge Road at Mt Somers and head inland until you see Orcs roaming the countryside.
5. Lake Clearwater and Lake Camp
Located halfway between Mt Sunday and Mt Somers township are two lakes and a smattering of holiday homes that sit abandoned for a good portion of the year. Once again, if you're into water sports and camping this is the perfect spot for you as jet boats are allowed on Lake Camp and everything else on Lake Clearwater. If you're more of a Netflix and couch type then you're probably not going to appreciate the two hour drive from Christchurch. In good old fashioned New Zealand style, an honesty box is provided at Lake Clearwater Camp site for you to pay your $4 a night fee.
6. Sharplin Falls
As kids we always went on our school camps to Staveley and inevitably trekked the short distance into Sharplin Falls at some stage during the week. If you're somewhat restricted by small people or don't have the time to see more of the Mt Somers tracks then this small day walk is a great way to explore a little of the area in a short time. Turn off at the Staveley store and take your first right just over the bridge to get onto Flynns Road. This will take you all the way to the carpark at the beginning of the track. DOC puts the walk at 45mins one way but those with above average fitness will find it much faster.
7. Rakaia Gorge
Whether you want to go for a spin in a high powered jet boat or take a leisurely stroll up above the gorge, there is plenty to while away an afternoon here. Most tourists can be found wandering across the two bridges that span the gorge taking pictures of the unusually blue water below (my apologies if it's grey and murky when you get there - just google it!). The river is well known for its salmon fishing but if you're only passing through, take some time to wander up the Gorge walkway to take in the views overlooking the river and up to the Southern Alps. The track continues in a loop for 10km of easy walking but great photo opportunities can be found at several points along it.
8. Mt Hutt
Probably the most obvious "to do" in the area, Mt Hutt skifield was voted New Zealand's top skifield in 2015. What you may not know is that in the off season the Mt Hutt bike park features trails for a range of abilities at the base of the mountain. Whatever your poison, Methven is a great base or you can make the short drive out from Christchurch easily for the day.
9. Lake Heron and Double Hut
Sitting in the shadow of the Arrowsmith Range and a stones throw from the Te Araroa trail is Lake Heron. Access is from Hakatere up the Hakatere Heron Road which is a rather nice shingle track. While there are many walks in this area an easy over-nighter is into the much autographed Double Hut (apparently Sir Edmund Hillary's signature is somewhere in among all the others). We made the trek in one windy evening to attempt Mt Taylor the following day only to turn back in the even windier morning. The hut is a bit more on the rustic side but at only 10km from the Lake it could be a nice day trip or you could do what we did and bring a tent.
10. Little Mt Peel
A little further south and inland from Ashburton is the Peel Forest Park and Little Mt Peel. This is a really well known and popular summit and at 2-3 hours each way is another great day trip. From the carpark at Blandswood, follow the Fern walk until you reach Deer Spur Track which will take you all the way to the top at 1311m.
Do you have any favourites that I've missed? Please comment below.
The 2014 Spring Challenge was held just out of Hokitika on a typically wet West Coast day. My team was not so successful, but we won't dwell on the dark conversations held in the middle of Lake Kaniere aboard an inflatable Canadian canoe at 9.30 at night. I'm here instead to sing the praises of the little town of Greymouth and all it's surrounding natural splendour (read dense impenetrable bush). After spending 15.5 hours of the previous day soaking wet and on the run, the sun was a shining beacon of hope and opportunity. Leaving my soggy race gear to dry at the motel we headed into Greymouth to scout out a hot breakfast and a caffeine fix. The little cafe we stumbled into by the river had interesting service but the food was pretty reasonable. As it was a Sunday, the range of establishments open was diminished but don't let that put you off - we managed to explore half the town in the process and it still only took 5 minutes.
After breakfast we set out to find Woods Creek Track, navigating by a vague memory Jeremy had from visiting there as a child. Thankfully it's also quite well sign posted if not a little rough for the last few kms. We had borrowed a Suzuki Swift for the outing (the owner knew little of our intentions for her car) but it made it through unscathed if not a little dusty. This is definitely of the picturesque day walk variety of track and could be easily negotiated in jandals by the less active traveler or hyperactive toddler. The paths are really well maintained and the loop takes less than an hour to wander around even if you stop to explore the tunnels and climb on things. The track makes its way through old gold mining spots and even up through the water races they used to wash the gravel and dirt as they chipped it off the cliff faces. There are lots of info boards and even a few tunnels you can walk through with a torch if you aren't claustrophobic. The natural bush is so different to the east coast that it was cool just to walk through and take in all the little streams and paths created there by the miners. There are several other spots on the map above that you can check out if you have more time but we were pretty interested in heading back to town for lunch.
The Monteiths Brewery is located on Herbert Street and is definitely worth a visit. They run tours throughout the day or you can relax in the restaurant and enjoy one of their many great beers with a meal. Not to do things by halves, we decided to go for a full tasting platter (6 different beers) and a massive plate of wedges with sour cream between the two of us. I'm not a huge beer drinker despite growing up in a country pub but I loved getting to try so many different flavours - they even threw in a cider for good measure. My two favourites were the Summer Ale and the Radler - neither are overly bitter, but the Black Beer was also nice in all its malty goodness. We spent some money in the gift shop before heading back out to our accommodation. The rest of the team had been revisiting the good old days of the west coast for the afternoon over in Shantytown.
Located 10kms south of Greymouth, the Shantytown Heritage Park is somewhere every child born in the south island has inevitably been taken to by their parents. Open every day and costing just over $30 for adults and $15 for kids, this is still well worth a visit. If you have made it to the Monteiths Brewery beforehand, you can grab a discount pass for Shantytown and some of the other local attractions with your beer platter - yes, another great reason to beer. Pan for gold, ride the steam train or get photographed dressed up as a saloon girl, we're not here to judge. In the evening you can head to the Speights Ale House back in town for great fish and chips or other dishes reminiscent of our student days in Dunedin. Not to talk about beer too much but the menu helpfully suggests which Speights would best compliment your dinner.
Accommodation is plentiful but we stayed north of town at the Apostles View. The apartments were well set out with lots of room and amazing views towards the mountains. The trip from Christchurch is only 3 hours and the drive south through to Queenstown takes you past both the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers.
An hour south-west of Blenheim is the beautiful Spray Point Station where you can relax in an outdoor bath and soak up all that rural New Zealand has to offer. Jenny and Roland Mapp have three options of accommodation around their high country station but the restored Cobb Cottage has to take the cake. The cottage was originally built in the 1900's to house the men who drove sheep through to the Molesworth but the quality of the interior restoration far surpasses what those blokes ever would have experienced. From the deck you look out over the picturesque Waihopai river and a small path leads down to the side of the cliff where you can enjoy an outdoor shower with hot water whilst gazing up the valley. We set out from Blenheim around 10am and were surprised just how far up the Waihopai Valley Road we had to travel.