Mt. Hutt - 2188 metres high - is a prime skiing location of the South Island, just a one and half hour’s drive from Christchurch, The skifields are at an elevation of 1550 metres. Perhaps surprisingly, its season normally is longer than at the skifields around New Zealand's prime wintersport location, Queenstown. But the mountains are not higher down there, and Coronet Peak only 1651 metres.
The big difference to skifields in Europe is that the ski lifts in New Zealand do not start at the base of the mountain but at the base of the skifields that start at much higher altitude. You have to drive up an access road, and then from the base of the skifields you use the lifts to the top of the skifields.
This is also the case at Mt. Hutt where you can go skiing even when the surrounding area is green. They have top-notch snow-making machines. In perfect years the skiing season starts on Queen’s Birthday weekend, in early June, and goes until the end of September. But sure, if the weather is not right, it can start later and close earlier or later… And you must be prepared to the skifield getting closed in high wind – and when it snows too much. Well, when you get winter weather for your winter sport LOL
Mt. Hutt has three chair lifts including a high speed six-seater that speeds you up from the base of the skifield to the top within two minutes.
There are also shuttles (see: transportation tips) to the Mt. Hutt skifield from Methven and from Christchurch.
Heliskiing is also available. Check out here:
Methven Heliski, www.heliskiing.co.nz
Mt. Hutt Helicopters, www.mthuttheli.co.nz
Mt. Hutt is part of the NZ Superpass which also includes The Remarkables and Coronet Peak in Queenstown. More info on:
On this website you also find weather info, activities, festivals, etc.
This is clearly my favourite place in the Methven region. If you want to listen to a bellbird concert or chat with fantails, breathe fresh air in a beautiful beech forest, scattered fuchsia trees, the ground on the slopes covered in ground ferns and mountain flax, this is the place to go to. We sometimes even only stop there without going on a walk, as there is a big picnic area with tables, seats, and barbecues toilets, and rhododendron plantations.
But be warned: If there is not a lot of wind sandflies will try to prey on you from spring to autumn, so have insect repellent and a spray for the car ready.
Lately they have also started to do mountainbike tours there. I am sure this is great fun for those who participate – although I think some sections are neck-breakers. But the groups chase away all the birds you could hear and see otherwise. For a compromise, take your time, wait a while until they have disappeared and birdsong takes up again. The Department of Conservation (DoC) BTW do not encourage mountainbiking due to the fragile nature of the tracks either - and I do not give out any tips about this activity in this area for the same reason.
As I am in a grumpy mood now, let me rave on… :-) I also hate families walking in the forest with their kids screaming around the whole time, so you can not enjoy nature and birdlife. They walk through the forests and never see or hear a bird because they chase them all away.
And finally: Lately they had to put up signs, asking visitors not to steal the rhododendrons which flower in October and November. I really wonder what kind of people live among us ;-(
There are a lot of walks you can undertake from the picnic area. See my extra tips.
Awa Awa Rata means: Valley of Rata. You will see some of those trees (Southern Rata) that are not very common in this area.
The birds you might see – apart from bellbird and fantail – are tomtit, rifleman, NZ woodpigeon and grey warbler. Keas live above the bushline.
Before you start your walk(s) have a look at the map and information panel at the start of the carpark, so you get an idea about directions.
You reach the Awa Awa Rata Reserve from the Mt. Hutt access road. From Methven follow the sign to Mt. Hutt, and just cross SH 72 and carry on straight ahead. From Christchurch you have to turn to the right on SH, towards the Mt. Hutt skifield. After a while the skifield road would turn to the right – but you carry on straight ahead on the McLennans Bush Road, and you will automatically end up at the carpark/picnic ground. It is 14 km from Methven and 2 km from the SH 72 turn-off.
This mountain – 1687 metres high – is very special as it is totally different to its neighbouring mountains. Whereas Mt. Hutt and Mt. Peel, for example, are composed of greywacke and therefore have fertile soils, Mt. Somers is composed of volcanic formations of andesite and rhyolite. Therefore it also has different flora, like regenerating beech forest, several species of hebe, bog pine, toatoa, and mountain flax.
If you are lucky you will also spot rare birds, as the New Zealand falcon that nests on Mt. Somers, and the very rare Blue Duck (Whio) that has been seen in Bowyers Stream.
The northern and southern faces of Mt. Somers mark major fault lines, exposing columns and cooling fractures.
A hiking track leads along the south face of the mountain, from the Woolshed Creek carpark to the Sharplin Falls carpark. Estimated walking time is 9 to 10 hours and can be done in one day. Most trampers however stay at a hut and make it a two-day walk, especially if they want to climb the summit.
The summit walk alone takes 7 hours return, from either side.
There are shuttle services between both ends of the circuit.
I have posted a tip containing those details on my Canterbury page. Here is the direct link.
This is an easy and short loop walk without uphill section, so well suited to not so fit or lazy natures.
On our last visit (in March) we saw as many birds as nowhere else, especially bellbirds and fantails. They were just flying around our ears, we could not believe our luck. There were birds everywhere, sometimes three fantails flying around us at a time.
You walk to the end of the carpark, then turn to the left – Alder Track is signposted. You end up at the start of the carpark, near the toilet block.
The Ridge Track is a loop walk and starts at the same point as Scott’s Saddle Track. After the 30 min climb through beech forest turn left at the fork at the top. The forest soon changes, and after having walked down the hill you reach a clearing, and then you walk through a section with lot of larches. To your right you hear the waters of the Pudding Hill Stream.
Whereas the uphill section often is very muddy the downhill track is rather dry and nice to walk.
We have seen a lot of birds in this area (until a group of noisy mountainbikers paced down the fragile track), including several kereru, the huge and colourful NZ woodpigeon. You can combine this loop track with the Alder Track which abunds of birdlife.
This track takes at least four and half to five hours and runs along beside the ski field road, where another view of the plains and Port Hills is obtained. The first part is steep. After this 30 min climb you turn to the right (Scott’s Track; the Ridge Track turns to the left). The track now goes slightly up and down most of the time. As the track leads mostly through forest, you do not have many chances to enjoy the described views. After an hour the track leads into the open and offers view over the Pudding Hill Stream. (This is the mountain west of Mt. Hutt.) After crossing the ridge you have a view of the Mt. Hutt ski area. A short walk on a 4x4 track leads down to the saddle. You return on the same track.
You see a lot of mountain beeches with black trunks. As mentioned on some of my other pages, the black trunks do not mean that there have been bushfires. The black cover is caused by a scale insects that produce honeydew – and on which bellbirds and tui (not existent in this area) feed. But honeydew is also harvested by honey producers who export this special honey to Europe. Such honey is called Forest or Pine Honey.
The ground is very mossy, and sometimes you feel like in Lord of the Rings ;-)
I would only do the walk on a nice day, so you can enjoy the views. Also, the steep uphill section is very muddy in rainy conditions.
Rainfall is high in this area (1000 to 2000 mm per year, compared to the 450 mm of Christchurch). But at least the track is sheltered from the raging norwesterlies that would blow you from Mt. Hutt summit in spring. You walk to an altitude of 1120 metres, starting at 540 metres.
This is an easy walk that should not take longer than 1.5 hours return, and also a loop walk is possible.
You reach the Sharplin Falls Scenic Reserve from the Staveley Village Store. Take the road between the store and the hall (the Falls are signposted) and turn right into Flynns Road after the bridge (more signposts).
From the carpark the track leads to a bridge across Bowyers Stream and follows the walkway through dense beech forest for a short distance. After a short steep climb it divides into a high- and low-level track. We have walked on both (and you can combine them to a round-trip). We thought the low-level track was nice on a busy day, as most people choose the high-level track.
The low-level track leads through the bed of the stream, and that was very pleasant as we were surrounded by dozens of fantails catching sandflies on the water surface. For me as a fantail lover it was wonderful. However, after heavy rain it is not possible to walk from boulder to boulder in the stream due to high water levels.
The high-level track leads to a catwalk around a bluff, then descends to the falls.
The waters of Bowyers Stream (named after a Staveley sawmiller) drops seven metres over the Mt Somers southern fault.
More Mt. Somers walks on:
You find the remains of this coalmine along the walk from Woolshed Creek carpark (from Staveley) to Mt Somers Hut.
Coal deposits were discovered in 1856. Commercial extraction began in 1864. A railway track – a so-called jig – was built by pick and shovel to transport the coal down a very steep gradient from 760 metres above sea level.
Coal from the area was low quality lignite. Mining was continued until 1954 when it became uneconomic. The main reason to shut the mine down, however, were some underground fires which forced closure.
You still find some relics of the mining process at the plateau, for example, a coal waggon, rails, ventilators. Photos and text about the mining history are displayed at the (blocked) entrance to the shaft. The entrance has been restored, and there are even benches along the wall, so you have a dry seat even in bad weather.
This walk starts at the Woolshed Creek carpark.
Access to Woolshed Creek is through Mt. Somers township. Turn right (if coming on SH 72 from Darfield/Christchurch/Methven) onto the Ashburton Gorge Road, towards Haketere and Erewhon. After 10.5 km turn right and follow the signposts to Woolshed Creek picnic area for a further 3.5 km.
The original plan was to walk up to the Mt Somers Hut (Woolshed Creek Hut). This should take 2 to 3 hours one way.
But it wasn’t a beautiful day over there, with low cloud, and we had no view at all. So we only walked up to the Blackburn Mine and back to the carpark. This did not take longer than 1.5 hours return.
That was a quite nice walk through beech forest. First it followed the gurgling Woolshed Creek, then through the so-called Ancient Forest. It is believed this pocket of beech forest is the only original forest that survived the fires of the pre-European era.
There the track gets steeper. At a fork we took the left branch – but if you take the right one it does not matter as it also leads up to the mine in a loop. (We just chose the one which looked less muddy and slippery. Just do not remember which one was named Sidewinder Track…) The walkway crosses the jig where they once transported the coal down the hill.
Soon you leave the forest and get into grassland and flax flats, and at a plateau the remains of the Blackburn Mine that was closed down in 1931.
More Mt. Somers walks on:
The two-storey building itself is just a beauty in dark blue and kauri wood, with the decks, banister, beams, window frames and doors contrasting nicely with the strikingly painted façade. To me, the Blue Pub is Methven’s architectural main attraction. As said in my intro, the pub was Methven’s first hotel, and already built in 1880, and still offers accommodation today.
There is action all year-round, with the Dean Cooksley Memorial Bike Race or the Surf Snow Cup as annual events, and gigs with popular musicians and bands.
You can either sit inside in the café area, or get into the heat of the bar, or enjoy the sunshine in one of the two outdoor seating areas, one of which is sheltered from the wind by surrounding glass panels.
Accommodation is very affordable as you have to share bathroom and kitchenette. Rates (as July 2008):
Single room $ 40
Twin/Double (king) $ 60
Extra person $ 20