Where the old meets the new

A tramp up Mt Al­ford gives you plenty to think about, writes Steuart Laing.

The Press - Escape - - TRAMPING -

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.

Pho­tos: STEUART LAING

Big round-up: The dogs are keen to get back to mus­ter­ing.

Chit-chat: Cell­phone tow­ers on the slopes.

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