New Zealand Walk: Rata Es­cape walks with great di­ver­sity

Walking New Zealand - - Contents - By Mary Ral­ston

It was the di­ver­sity that amazed me: snowy moun­tains, lakes, grass­land, pris­tine beech for­est and tus­socks as high as your head all within two hours drive of Christchurch. And, just as im­por­tant, walk­ing tracks and friendly lo­cals who knew where to go.

We were three cou­ples on our an­nual long-week­end catch-up. Our base was the Rata Lodge at Stave­ley: a gor­geous bachy sort of lodge nes­tled into a na­tive gar­den.

Bell­birds and fan­tails greeted us. In­cred­i­ble views of an ex­tinct volcano beck­oned from the win­dows.

The re­quire­ments of our an­nual week­end were fairly straight­for­ward – some­where new, good walk­ing, no fuss and a comfy base. We left all the ar­range­ments to Rata Es­cape and the boxes were ticked.

Day one dawned cloudy but Rata Es­cape’s El­speth and Ju­dith as­sured us that this would pass. In­deed it did – just half an hour’s drive fur­ther in­land to the be­gin­ning of the Mt Somers Walk­way the sun burst through.

We crossed a bridge over the tum­bling Wool­shed Creek and be­gan our walk up the Rhy­o­lite Ridge. Wool­shed Creek Hut was our lunch-time des­ti­na­tion.

Beech for­est gave way to sub-alpine shrubs and then we topped out onto a tus­socky plateau. Views of the open basin and be­yond to the moun­tains of the Main Di­vide were amaz­ing.

There was never a dull mo­ment – we took in vol­canic col­umns, a wa­ter­fall and a sus­pen­sion bridge all be­fore lunch. On the hut ve­ran­dah Ju­dith pro­duced a gas stove and in no time we had cups of tea to go with our scrump­tious sand­wiches and muffins. A fal­con streaked across the sky in front of us. The creek was clear and beau­ti­ful.

The af­ter­noon’s walk back to the carpark was shorter but no less in­ter­est­ing: a spec­tac­u­lar gorge, great views, tus­sock grass­lands, beech for­est and old coalmin­ing relics.

Our op­tions for the fol­low­ing days were more walks, moun­tain bik­ing, a farm tour, a 4WD drive trip into the high

coun­try or var­i­ous op­tions for the more cre­ative, such as a wa­ter-colour les­son or lime­stone sculpt­ing.

Keen to do more walk­ing, and with a per­fect weather fore­cast, we de­cided to visit Mt Sun­day, fa­mous as the lo­ca­tion for Edo­ras in the Lord of the Rings movies.

Get­ting there was spec­tac­u­lar: a jour­ney t hrough t he Hakatere Con­ser­va­tion Park, home to open ex­panses of tus­sock grass­lands, glis­ten­ing lakes and world-renowned braided rivers. We did the short walk to Mt Sun­day and then a loop around Lake Clear­wa­ter.

The fi­nal day and what to do? The more en­er­getic of the group moun­tain­biked with El­speth down the Stour River on a 4WD track, an area that is also part of Hakatere Con­ser­va­tion Park.

Keen to go back to our ru­ral roots, three of us opted for a farm tour around the rolling Sur­rey Hills, and a visit to Ju­dith’s dairy farm. This con­cluded with mak­ing cheese from the fresh milk and sam­pling Ju­dith’s pre­vi­ous batch – the feta was the best I’ve ever tasted!

I was sur­prised how much I en­joyed this land­scape. The va­ri­ety within a day’s drive is as­tound­ing, but most me­morable was the feel­ing that comes from spend­ing time in un­crowded open space – some­thing of­ten not achieved on more well-known and some­times crowded walks.

The lo­cal flavour pro­vided by Rata Es­cape hit the right notes too: a de­light­ful lodge with knowl­edge­able and in­for­ma­tive com­pan­ions who ob­vi­ously loved the area.

All in all – a great trip away!

Above: The Up­per Ran­gi­tata River from the Hakatere Con­ser­va­tion Park. Op­po­site page be­low left: Look­ing into the Ash­bur­ton Gorge and Arrowsmith Range from Rhy­ol­lite Ridge on the Mount Somers Walk­way. Be­low left: Rata Lodge and Mount Somers.

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