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June 2013 Issue
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Stargazing at Mt Sinclair

Sunset over Ben McLeod Range, viewed from Mt Sinclair. Photo: Dennis Radermacher
Car park to tarn, 4hr; return, 2hr
Rangitata Road from Peel Forest, turn left at Mesopotamia Station. Contact Malcolm or Sue at Mesopotamia Station for permission (03 696 3738)

Mt Sinclair tarn, Mesopotamia Station, Rangitata Valley

When I came across a picture of the tarn just below Mt Sinclair, I immediately filed it under ‘to be done soon’. As it happened, the trip ended up being a late birthday present to myself.

After asking permission to cross Mesopotamia Station I left my car at the end of a farm track about 1000m east of one of the scores of Canterbury hills called Sugarloaf.

Carrying gear for a night out, I followed the farm track for a little while before heading straight up the slope. The views over the Rangitata easily take your mind off the unrelenting climb on an unmarked yet technically easy tussock slope. I chose the left shoulder of a triangle that is formed by the slope with the tarn at its top.

I took some time reflecting on how different life out here must have been in the 1860s when English writer Samuel Butler named the place after the middle-Eastern Mesopotamia, ‘the land between two rivers’. Butler, who lived in New Zealand for 15 years, wrote an essay about his life as a sheep farmer at Mesopotamia Station and drafted his novel Erewhon here before selling the farm and returning to England. What must have been a rough journey on horseback for him is a convenient 1.5hr drive from Ashburton today.

Once I had made it to the tarn, I took a refreshing dip in the freezing waters. I just about managed to make myself presentable in time for the arrival of tahr hunters who had reached their camp for the night as well. Over a cup of tea I learned that tahr have become quite a pest in the region and DOC is quite keen for hunters to apply their skills. The guys certainly looked up to the task.

Once I had made camp and enjoyed my dinner, I watched the sun slowly sink below the horizon. The first stars rose while the sky was still inky-blue from a magnificent sunset. Once the blackness of night took over, the Milky Way and the Southern Cross enchanted me for hours.

All that stargazing made for a late start the next morning. Not-so-gently woken by gunshots I decided I might as well get up. By the time I was packed up and good to go it was way too late in the day to summit Mt Sinclair – an excuse for a return trip sometime in the future.

Thanks to spotting a promising looking scree slope on the way up, I made good time on my way out and was back at my car in less than two hours.