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May 2015 Issue
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Tarns and tussock

The summit of Staces Hill further exploration. Photo: Dennis Radermacher
5hr return
Take Hakatere-Heron Road and turn left at the gravel pit 3km from the road end. Park at the end of the farm track. (Permission from Lake Heron Station is required: 03 303 9014)
BX19, BW19
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Staces Hill (gpx, yo 4 KB)
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Staces Hill, Ashburton Lakes, Canterbury

There is no shortage of open tussock land in the Canterbury backcountry. Throw in a tarn and you have the perfect destination for an overnight trip.

When I did my research for this tramp, the little tarn up on Staces Hill by Lake Heron caught my eye. Located on a spur off Staces Hill, it promised perfect views over Lake Heron and an easy start into the summer tramping season.

After a short drive from Christchurch we shouldered our packs and followed the fence-line until we found a convenient spot to leave the track and cross Cameron River. The river was hardly more than a knee-deep stream and I feel no shame in admitting that we took our time changing into wading shoes to keep our feet dry.

On the way up Staces Hill. Photo: Dennis Radermacher

Once we reached the far side, we could pick between a steep, direct line and a gentler, longer approach. We found the direct approach easy enough in our comfortably dry boots. The steep banks right by the river were the hardest terrain to cross on this otherwise easy trip.

As we made our way up, the distinct shapes of Mt Sugarloaf and Lake Heron dominated the view behind us. I couldn’t help but wonder how majestic the valley must look on a clear winter day with snow on the tops.

After just two hours across easy tussock-covered slopes, we arrived at the tarn on the 1200m contour and had a free choice of great tent sites. Whether right by the water’s edge or more exposed on little hills with grand views, there were sites for all weather conditions. With light winds forecast, we went for the scenic option on an exposed hillock west of the tarn.

We noticed that a lot of wildlife flourished in the tarn but we managed to keep our water protein-free thanks to a water filter. We had learned that lesson the hard way on previous trips to other low-elevation tarns.

A tarn and a view on Staces Hill. Photo: Dennis Radermacher

More adventures await the tireless tramper who has set up camp early. Without the burden of packs, the climb up to the summit of Staces Hill is an easy exercise of 30min. the summit offers great views of the Arrowsmith Range, the Lake Heron Valley and the Southern Alps.

After a calm night with lots of stargazing we took our time packing up next morning. It is only a little over an hour of zigzagging between tussocks to get back to the car park. Why rush things with such an amazing view?

– Dennis is a professional photographer and long-time contributor to Wilderness. When he is not capturing the architecture of Christchurch, you can find him teaching landscape photography workshops in the mountains.