Where the old meets the new
A tramp up Mt Alford gives you plenty to think about, writes Steuart Laing.
Below I could see two figures separated by about a kilometre of steep hill country. An entourage of dogs accompanied each figure and near them lines of angus cattle trotted through the tussocks. These shepherds were clearing Mt Alford’s slopes of stock in response to the threat of snow.
I’d chosen to leave Christchurch early so I, like the cattle, could get off the mountain before bad weather arrived. Far to the south, over the Hunter Hills, dark clouds confirmed what meteorologists had predicted: a southerly blast on the way.
In 2010, DOC spent a lot of money developing the Mt Alford walkway, not far from Methven. The finished product takes you through a variety of field, forest and farmland.
Starting at a car park converted from swampland, the walkway crosses several easements before breaking out of the Mt Alford Reserve onto paddocks. Above fenced grassland, turpentine scrubland stretches to the summit. Seven spring-loaded gates along the way ensure that trampers don’t allow stock to escape onto reserve land.
This walkway particularly suits walkers who need to maintain contact with the outside world via cell phone or computer. Two separate tower clusters rise above the skyline and a white communication dome looks like a huge rising or setting moon.
As I climbed, thousands of New Zealanders were presumably keeping the inner workings of these towers busy. Unable to ignore them I dug out my phone and texted my wife, thereby providing even more data and revenue for a telecommunication service provider.
At a height of 1171 metres and a climb time of under three hours, Mt Alford presents an easier challenge than some of its neighbours such as Mt Somers and Little Mt Peel.
But its views are not inferior to these other mountains.
Behind to the west you can see Mt Taylor (2330m) and the upper North Ashburton catchment.
Several 4WD tracks penetrate the Mt Hutt Range winding through gullies and climbing over high ridges. Northwards, the line of Mt Hutt skifield road draws the eye to the skifield itself. Beyond Mt Hutt the Malvern Hills, made famous by Lady Barker’s Station Life in New Zealand, look mysterious under a misty haze.
And to the south Mt Somers and Mt Peel dominate the skyline.
On my downward journey I met a musterer as he gathered his dogs in order to push more cattle down the mountainside. The restless animals, annoyed by their master’s dithering, couldn’t suppress joyful yelps when he finally finished talking to me about the weather.
Back at the car park, a local possumer had just retrieved some trapped possums. He reckoned the largest one would yield $10 worth of fur and the other not much less.
I’d noticed possum droppings and told him where I’d seen the sign. I wasn’t surprised that he knew the spot after learning that he’d trapped and poisoned tens of thousands of possums during a life that included a spot of deer hunting. That was in the days when they hunted deer for skins.
Much was of interest from a man who’d not only spent 70 years in the outdoors but had recently taken time out to celebrate his diamond wedding anniversary.
As I said goodbye, I wondered if he had a cellphone.
Made it: Reaching the top of Mt Alford.
Big round-up: The dogs are keen to get back to mustering.
Chit-chat: Cellphone towers on the slopes.