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.