South Island Wanderings – Methven

Mount Cook was still shining with snow as we motored away from Twizel and made for another out of the way place – Methven. It’s a testament to how much we enjoy this little town that we have been there (or close by) on each occasion we have visited New Zealand. Why? Well, that’s not easy to say because it’s not a natural summer destination. There are many skifields in the vicinity and the town is there primarily to service the winter crowd. However, it’s surrounded by farms so there is year round trade for some of the shops and pubs which keeps it reasonably well used outside the skiing season. And it is well placed for visiting the river valleys and mountains of the Southern Alps which run close by.

We had managed to hire a rather lovely house on a wide street close to the centre of town. With high ceilings, bay windows and wood paneling it had an early 20th century feel yet inside it had been well decorated and modernised. And it was large so we were able to unpack, spread out and relax.

Though a little on the chilly side the weather continued to hold good so the next day we made a visit to one of our favourite locations in the whole of the South Island. We are fans of Lord of the Rings and every time we visit New Zealand we watch Peter Jackson’s trilogy when we get back, in part to remind ourselves of the scenery we’ve been through because there’s hardly a part of either the north or the south island which hasn’t featured in LotR.

So, on a lovely clear day, we drove out of Methven and on to the charming little village of Mt Somers. Here you take a road signposted to Hakatere and from here you are on the Hakatere Potts Road, which is a gravel road. Lake Clearwater provides a handy stopping point (and much needed ‘comfort’ break) before you get into the serious driving which is the Mt Potts Skifield road. It strikes me that New Zeland skiers have to go to some great lengths just to throw themselves down a mountainside.

Lake Clearwater

Rounding a bend just after Potts River is a sight that would be familiar to all LotR aficionados. Virtually ringed by mountains on all sides is a seeming pimple which is Mt Sunday, or Edoras as we fans know it. For it was on this protuberance that Sir Jackson caused the capital of Rohan to be built.

Mt Sunday

We wound our way down to the car park and readied ourselves for a trek up a New Zealand peak. OK, it’s a long way from scaling the heights of Mt Cook or facing the snows of Mt Earnslaw but, it’s called a mountain so it must be one.

Small though it may be (611 mtrs above sea level and just over 100 mtrs in height gain) Mt Sunday is one of the most gloriously situated hills there is. To get there you cross a wonderful braided river system where Quinnat Salmon breed in April.

A 30 minute walk brings you to the top of Mt Sunday (which got its name because it’s the place where local boundary riders used to meet on a Sunday) from where you have a 360 degree view of the immense valley and the real mountains which surround it. You can see why Jackson chose it as a location for Edoras – it just seems to fit the story so perfectly.

Those of you with long-standing memories of my earlier blogs will know that Jane and I have developed the tradition of singing a Maori song whilst sitting atop of Mt Sunday and this time was no exception. We sang Te Aroha and also ‘E Te Ariki and received a polite round of applause from a couple of other tourists. There may (or may not) be a video recording of this event but I can’t seem to download it to my iPad so you will all be spared the youtube link!

From a hill that is rather questionably a mountain we drove to one that most certainly is – Mt Hutt. It has to be as it had snow on it! Hutt is more than 1500 mtrs higher than Sunday but a road takes you most of the way up to the skifield and there are some fantastic views of the Canterbury plain on the way up.

Canterbury Plain

It’s a twisty, narrow, gravelly road and you do get a bit worried when you come to the sign which tells you not to stop or get out of your vehicle for the next 1.5 klms because it’s in an area prone to avalanche and/or rockfall. I confess that at that point we very nearly gave up and turned around until some other brave (or foolhardy) tourist sailed by in their hire car.

It turned out that said tourist was Australian with a young baby and a 3 year old daughter who had never seen snow before and who started jumping about in it the minute she was out of the car. Jane even taught Megs (as her dad called her) how to make a snowball. It was rather exhilarating to be way up high above the Canterbury plain standing in snow as the sun was descending.

Having had our fill of mountains, both small and tall, we finished off our visit to Methven by travelling, on a blustery day, to the well named Windwhistle, and taking the Coleridge Road to Lake Coleridge.

Lake Coleridge (without an Ancient Mariner nor an Albatross)

I couldn’t help but recite ‘In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a pleasure dome decree,’ though I do confess I couldn’t remember any more of Sam Taylor Coleridge’s poem. The lake is quite large and is the site of one of New Zealand’s earliest hydro electric schemes.

The mountains around the lake are quite wonderful but it always seems to be very windy at Coleridge and today was no exception. We took the back country roads and visited several smaller lakes, Georgina, Selfe, Selwyn and Lake Ida which were all very pretty.

Lake Selfe

For our final evening in Methven we went to the Dubliner pub run by a lovely Irish couple. It’s got good beer, great food and a real atmosphere so for anyone passing through Methven I’d say stop a night or two, have a look at the stunning scenery and get yourself down to the Dubliner for a touch of craic.

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