A couple of weeks ago now, we found the most beautiful valley in New Zealand. It was Stephen's school break and we decided we wanted to get out of town for a bit. So we looked at a map and picked some huts to hike to. With our bags packed full of sleeping bags, stove, warm clothes (it is winter here after all) and some tasty food, we headed out of town and into the mountains. We were going to Mt. Potts.
[Heading towards the trail head]
The drive through Canterbury was much the same as it always is - flat, broken up with the high windbreak treelines, dotted (often crammed) with sheep and cows. We were momentarily held up behind a herd of cattle being moved from one pen to the next, but the farmer was kind enough to break a path for us through the throng. Eventually we made it to the mountains and the gravel road that would take us to our trail head. Driving through a wide, glacial valley, we searched for the gorge we were to hike up. Past a lovely lake overrun with baches, around the side of the hill and suddenly the ground dropped away to the Potts River gorge and into the huge, wide, glorious Hakatere Conservation area.
[The Potts River gorge]
We parked our car just on the other side of the bridge and headed up the river. The first part of the hike was easy, on a farming road along the fence line. But we eyed the steep valley walls with trepidation, knowing that eventually we would have to climb up somewhere. Of course, by waiting until the last possible moment to climb, we were left with a less than suitable gully to ascend. We scrabbled up the steep gravel incline, sliding down almost as much as we gained. After struggling over a rather sharp hoodoo, we finally made it to the top of the gully and looked down on our progress. Whew! Then we turned around to face the sea of huge tussocks we would have to wade through on the plateau we had reached. Nothing for it, we headed off.
[Tikumu - a type of daisy up on the plateau]
Soon there was skiff of snow, then there was a good layer, and before we knew it we were struggling through thigh deep wet, heavy snow. The sweat on my face and back were making me as damp as the random ponds we were stumbling across due to the snow cover. We eventually reached the far edge of the plateau and took a small break to look at the map. It had begun to snow more and more heavily and we were exhausted from our hike so far, we needed to see that we were close. Unfortunately, we were still less than half way. Checking my camera's memory we figured we'd been going for just over 3 hours and there was quite a ways to go - mostly through the deep snow. It was getting darker and colder the longer we stood there. A decision had to be made.
[Getting into the deep snow]
[It was easier to find moments of beauty on the way back than the way up]
With our heads hung low (though, not too much, there was a certain amount of relief there as well), we turned around and headed back towards the car. Facing this direction we became aware of the sharp contrast between the way we had been going and the valley behind us. While our planned route was filled with dark clouds dumping snow by the bucketful, the valley we were now returning to was filling with the golden light of the dipping sun and blue sky. It was remarkable and it certainly made our decision that much more bearable.
[Basking in the glow of the sun - once we found it again]
Two hours later, as the sun was just disappearing behind the mountains, we reached the car and pulled out our stove. We had decided to cook up some dinner and then sort out the back of the car for sleeping in. As we waited for the sausages to finish cooking, a farmer pulled up in his work truck along side us. We chatted for a bit and he kindly offered us a bed at his house just up the road. So, after he left, we scoffed our dinner, threw our stuff in the car and headed down the road.
Matt welcomed us on the porch, told us to drop our bags in the deliciously warm room and join him for a beer. We talked with him and his wife and 2 year old son until we were all tired. Collapsing into our bed we noticed we had a wee guest with us - their kitten liked our room as it had heated floors. So the three of us curled up for a lovely nights sleep.
[Sunset behind Mount D'Artango]
[Mount Potts Station - our view in the morning]
The next morning, after breakfast, we joined Matt in his farm duties of feeding the cattle and deer and goats. Then thanked our hosts profusely before heading further up the valley to Mount Sunday, the Roche Montaine used in the Lord of the Rings for the home of the riders of Rohan - Edoras. Unfortunately, our only company on the hike were the cattle that grazed there. But they were kind enough to let us pass and we admired the view of the expansive valley to the surrounding mountains. After returning to the car, we had a leisurely lunch and headed home. Although we hadn't achieved what we set out to do, we had enjoyed a thoroughly lovely weekend. This was definitely a place we would have to return to.
[Mount Potts in the middle]
[The view from Mount Sunday looking West]