Canterbury's best foothill One of the best things about Daylight Saving is how it allows you to do something a little wild in the afternoon.
Case in point: Peak Hill near Lake Coleridge. It was 4pm when I pulled into the car park, with a gale nor’wester howling around the pines. But having been up this hill before I was not worried – I knew I could get to the summit and back in around four hours. I just needed that forecasted wind change to kick in a little later and all would be well.
The route up is standard high country fare: cross the paddocks, climb beside the fenceline, over a couple of styles and then into a steeper section, loose underfoot, to the ridgeline.
The wind was howling along the contours of the mountain making progress on the windward side unpleasant. Thankfully, the ridge is sharply defined, allowing me to drop off to leeward and be more or less in total calm. This lee-effect was even more pronounced as I approached the summit cone, which I could tuck under and appreciate more of the beauty of the landscape below without having to fight the wind.
Centrally located on the south-western shoreline of Lake Coleridge, Peak Hill (1240m) offers unsurpassed views over the Coleridge basin, Southern Alps, Rakaia Valley, and eastern foothills. I think it’s the most outstanding view of any foothill in Canterbury. The summit slopes are also home to a wide variety of alpine plants which are now protected in a reserve. The perspective from this modest peak is bold, especially the clearly defined parameter between the broad green-grey trench of the Rakaia watershed and the deep blue bowl of Lake Coleridge. Add to this visual tapestry a coating of snow punctuated by the yellow spray of alpine tussock and the corridor of mountains receding to the distant Main Divide, and you may begin to realise the splendour of the scene. Many of the principal summits of the upper Rakaia and Wilberforce valleys are visible, including the craggy buttresses of the Arrowsmith Range, Mt Whitcombe, and peaks around the Mathias-Wilberforce divide.
All of this was revealed as I weaved onto the summit and into the unabated wind, forcing me to seek shelter in one of the shallow folds in the land just north-west of the summit. This location provided an almost total barrier to the wind and I was able to eat my dinner in peace.
At last, Peak Hill was becoming ‘peace hill’ and I could begin to enjoy its surroundings with much more freedom, especially as the sun was heading rapidly for the horizon and I needed to begin heading rapidly back down. The easy trip downwards was an enjoyable walk, compared to the uphill battle and I had the deepening shadows over the Rakaia Basin complemented against the still radiant summits as the sun slipped out of sight.
Peak Hill is one of those special places that is worthy of much more than one visit. It is a place many will choose to return, especially at different seasons, to recapture the mood and light.