Peel Forest Park
Peel Forest Park Scenic Reserve is 22kms North of Geraldine in Canterbury, close the Rangitata river. It has a variety of walks, a popular mountain climb, a great cafe, a lovely serviced DoC campground and a free freedom campground nearby. I sampled all of them 🙂
Te Araroa trail – Rangitata River
My time in this area started with a trip down memory lane. I booked into the Peel Forest DoC campsite, and just as I was about to turn into it, I saw a hitchhiker on the roadside. I asked her where she was going and she said she was hiking Te Araroa trail. She was looking to get all the way up the Rangitata Gorge Road to Mesopotamia Station.
I remembered this part of the trail from when I hiked Te Araroa trail last year. Heading Southbound, the trail meets the Rangitata river on its Eastern bank at Potts River car park. From there it continues 7Kms away on the opposite bank at Bush Stream car park. However the river itself is declared a ‘hazard zone’. Essentially, this means it’s uncrossable. You’d have to be extremely lucky with the weather, a very low flow, and/or have a mild death wish to get across these huge, dangerous New Zealand braided rivers safely on foot.
My solo French hitchhiker Anna, had wisely decided to do the right thing. She hitched the +100Kms or so around the river to cross it. (She told me later that she’d met other hikers who were going to attempt the crossing…).
Last year on my TA journey, I was lucky enough to get a lift around with a friend of a friend, which was absolutely fantastic. I decided it was the least I could do to pay it forward and take Anna to Mesopotamia. It was about a 50km each way journey – most of it on unsealed/gravel road.
It was great to chat as we drove up, and the memories came flooding back. We had both really enjoyed the Hakatere Conservation Area ‘between the rivers’ of TA. (The other river being the Rakaia, a few days walk to the North – where hikers experience the same crossing issues). I dropped her off at Mesopotamia and gave her a couple of pieces of fruit.
I drove back with the warm fuzzy feeling you get when you’re someone else’s ‘super-hitch’… and enjoyed a night in the DoC campground.
Peel Forest Walks
In the morning I got up at a leisurely hour and decided I wouldn’t go up Mt Peel today. It rained last night, and the sky was overcast with low cloud. There would be no views today.
Instead I walked a nice little loop from Te Whanahu Flat car park incorporating Allans Track (5km), Fern Walk (3.3km) and Big Tree Walk (1km). It took a roughly a couple of hours.
Allans track started with a climb which got me puffing straight away. Initially stepped, it turned into a rough-ish, undulating, slippery track. It was well marked, and I enjoyed the podocarp forest.
There were a couple of open sections where I got a decent glimpse of the Canterbury plains.
Allans track joined the Deer Spur track (the popular track up to Mt Peel) and headed downhill. This track was considerably wider, although after the rain was no less muddy or slippery. I was visiting on Kiwi national holiday, so this part of the trail was busy with families, as well as tourists.
I reached Fern Walk and headed back to the car park. Upon perusing the DoC guide later I learned that there are 68 species of ferns in Peel Forest (it gets a decent amount of rain)… I’m sure saw many of them on the track!. As I got towards the end, there were some magnificent trees (totara, matai and kahikatea) which are apparently around 1000 years old! Like much of New Zealand, this area was logged of most of its native trees over a hundred years ago when Europeans settled in the area.
I took a little detour through the best Big Tree Walk to see ‘the’ big tree, which is a totara around 3m across. After that it wasn’t far back to the van. When I got back the car park was packed! It was great to see so many families here enjoying the Forest Park.
Little Mt Peel/Huatekerekere via Deer Spur.
Today’s walk was a quick jaunt up Little Mount Peel, elevation 1113m.
I started at 9am from the Blandswood road car park. The trail began with a short, steep uphill road walk, and soon enough I was in the forest huffing up the steps of Deer Spur. I walked down this yesterday from Allans track to Fern Walk. I reached Allans track at 9.25am.
From here the wide, slippery trail became a narrow slippery trail, and had plenty more steps. It became pretty muddy and as it narrowed, and my clothes were soaked by the wet foliage wrapping itself around me.
I reached the small lake at 9.35am and by 9.45 was at the tree line. The trail was still pretty wet, and I soon found myself walking in a rocky trench.
As I steadily climbed, the trail opened up again and there was a very lovely boardwalk section.
The views were great – ahead of me were the beautiful grassy mountains, and behind me the vast Canterbury plains.
I reached the trig at 10.40am. I rested for a quick drink and took in the views. You can continue along and up the ridge to Middle Mt Peel if you fancy more of a longer day.
I peered down the very steep looking South ridge route, and wished I had walked up that way instead, to make a loop track. There was no way I was going to attempt to go down it with my fear of heights, in today’s slippery conditions… there’s always next time.
By 11am I was making my way down and was back at the car park by 12.30pm. Today’s effort had taken 3.5 hours for a 7km uphill and downhill return journey. It was a really great hike – no wonder it’s so popular with local Cantabrians.