Hakatere Conservation Park and Ashburton Lakes
This beautiful area of Canterbury is situated between the Rakaia and Rangitata rivers, a couple of hours drive inland from Christchurch. I wanted to return and explore the area a little, having walked through it on Te Araroa trail last year.
I drove in on the Ashburton Gorge Road 25Kms out of Mt Somers having van camped overnight in the (very handy Ashburton District Council designated freedom camping area) Bowyers Stream Scenic Reserve.
The Hakatere Conservation Park is a wetland area of natural importance with lakes, rivers, tarns and swamps which are all interconnected. A huge variety of native plants (some rare and endangered) grow here. It is also an important habitat for birds, lizards insects and fish.
Unsealed roads allow access to each of the different areas, and one thing you’re not short on is views – the tussocked mountains all around and the Rangitata river flowing from the Southern Alps.
There are heaps of things to do in the area: day hikes, multi-day hikes, mountain biking opportunities, horse riding, 4 wheel driving and watersports on the lakes (although due to the wildlife considerations motorboats are restricted).
I drove through the historic settlement of Hakatere and on for another 25Kms or so. The unsealed/gravel road took me over the Potts River (past TA trail Rangitata exit) and past Mount Potts Station and lodge.
I was heading for Mount Sunday, a hump of very hard rock that wasn’t quite worn down by glacier action like the rest of the valley. The result is an outcrop of rock in the valley with incredible views of the Rangitata River and the Southern Alps. It got its name because historically, riders from the surrounding farming stations would gather here each Sunday.
Those of you who are into the Lord of the Rings movies would recognise it as the site of ‘Edorus‘. You can see why it would be chosen as a film set, it is such an incredible location.
I parked the van and headed off. It was just a short walk of 1.5kms (around 20 minutes) to the summit. The trail goes across the station/farmland and was wide, flat and well marked. There were a couple of nice little bridged rivers.
There was a little climb up to the summit and trig. Mount Sunday stands at 611m elevation, but in reality, you probably only walk uphill for about 60m. There were already a few other people up there early on this weekday morning despite the long drive and unsealed roads. The panoramic views over the Southern Alps, the Rangitata and the mountain ranges beyond were stunning.
Next, I headed up the road just a little for a leisurely climb to the base of Mount Potts. The trail is a four-wheel drive track through 1.5kms of farmland, before heading up a couple of Kms into the Haketere conservation area.
The summit of Mount Potts stands at 2184m. Having looked at it from Mount Sunday I knew I wasn’t going up to the summit, but I did fancy some more exercise. I followed the lower track from the road up and through a series of switchback turns. The views just got better and better.
At the top of the switchbacks, the trail turned North up the flanks of the mountain opposite Mount Potts. I followed it for another 1.5kms. There was a stream bubbling along in the valley beside me, down and to the right fed by little streams and waterfalls appearing out of nowhere from the barren slopes of Mount Potts.
Approaching Ewewhon Ski field
I had gained about 700m in elevation and turned around at the scree slope, about 1km shy of where the track finishes near the Erewhon Park ski field.
Mount Potts loomed above me to my right. It is a great big grey hulk of a mountain. It is possible to summit, but there isn’t a track, and there was very little in the way of vegetation up there. I didn’t fancy climbing another 600m up a ridiculously steep, giant, slippery, rock and scree slope.
I enjoyed the walk as far as I got, and at midday, I turned around and went back down. Almost as soon I turned back the wind picked up considerably and howled through the valley. I took a good buffeting as I retraced my steps back down the switchbacks to the van.
Today’s little climb up and down had taken me just over two hours – definitely worth it for the views if you’re in the area.
Te Araroa Trail Walkers
Te Araroa trail comes through this area and finishes at the Mount Potts river mouth (before Mount Sunday). It starts up again on the opposite bank of the very wide and braided Rangitata river. Given the river is so wide and swift it isn’t safe for hikers to cross – one look and you can see why – it doesn’t take a genius to work out why it’s considered a ‘hazard zone’.
If you’re visiting the area, as you return, look out for TA hikers hitching a lift around the river. They’ll need to get out to Mt Somers, then along the Arundel Rakaia Gorge Road to Mount Peel Forest (the other side of the Rangitata river) and then up to Mesopotamia Station, where the trail officially begins again.
A lift to Mt Somers saves a day of road walking. Speaking from experience it’s very difficult to plan this section of TA to avoid the river zones and as there are currently no transport/shuttles offering this service, a lift is most welcome!!