Journey to Peak Hill — travels in Canterbury High Country

Peak hill, the one to climb and the starting point of this story!

I backed out the car on a sunny, frosty, freezing morning heading out to the hills. It’s been on the cards for several days now: with a long weekend approaching, we itched that we’d go out to the hills. The peak hill was about fifty kilometres out of town. It snowed up the hills on Monday: we could see the dusting of the snow and wispy snow smeared on the hilltop. At ten in the morning, a chill was in the air.

The three of us got out of the car, and measured the way ahead. The hill rose straight up, it was a rise of about a thousand metres and we had to scramble up what looked like a scree up the top to a ridge and then walk along the ridge. The guidebook said that the climb was not too bad, once we went past the tussock land and scrambled up the side of the hill and walked on the ridge, we’d be gifted with stunning alpine scenery, but you could already see the beautiful wild country of Canterbury sprawling before us. A few more cars were parked on the side of the paddock. You could see that today was a popular day on the hillside.

We crossed the fence and started walking along the field. The farmer, whose land we traversed planted lines of swede and you could see they were ready to be harvested. A herd of cows mooed in the distance. A gentle breeze blew and wafted past us, the pungent odour of the green field and animals hung in the crisp morning air. A jet plane flew above us, we could see its crystal tail of ice tracing across the azure blue sky. A zigzag path traced across the side of the hill: patches of snow marked a motif across the side of the hill

Patches of snow on the side of the hill, and a jet plane flew across the sky

Then the climb became tough. There was nothing to grasp, it was bare land, strewn with nettle and bush, and a half formed track like a snake tracked up to the ridge. Orange poles signposted guided us all the way up the ridge. The idea was to climb up and take the stunning scenery of the high country Canterbury all around us. In the distance, we could already see the blue waters of Lake Coleridge and the hills around it. In the distance, we could see the icy peaks of Mount Algidus.

We could see the sprawl of Canterbury High country in the distance

A family of six passed us by, huffin and puffin. The slope was slippery. Going downhill was even tougher, with black ice and slush slipping beneath our feet. By the time we got back to the car, we were exhausted. Sometimes the tedium of the journey obscures the beauty of the whole, and this was one of those days. A perfect day to go up the hillside, a crisp, beautiful light, perfect surroundings, yet the nitty gritty of life distracts you from seeing the big picture.

We rued. We were grumpy. Could have been better. We complained.

We stopped by Lake Coleridge on the way back, and had a sort of picnic by the lake side. Lake Coleridge is ethereal. Sitting by the side of the azure blue water of the lakeside, with small, waves playing in the sun, you could recite a koan, and transcend life.

Nirvana, as it were.

Lake Coleridge, Canterbury

We rolled out of Lake Coleridge and went to Lake Coleridge village. We were tired, and this was not planned at all. More like a journey without maps, unplanned, one where your curiosity takes you wherever. The village was a small, sleepy hamlet, with a post office, a small information kiosk and a massive 1917 built hydroelectric power station that hummed, and nothing much. A canal that carried water from Lake Coleridge gushed past, its rapid waters created eddies and noise around. It was quiet country. A few birdcalls. We followed a small, dark track.

A channel, the mountains in the distance, and a broken bridge across the river

The track was small, flat, and went into dense bush. You could hear the canal flowing on your side as we were walking to nowhere in particular. There was no marks or signposts except for orange triangles. It reminded me of an obscure forest track in Boulder I was a month back. A few fantails flew about. A riot of colours erupted in the panoply of trees above us, fruits and flowers strewn on the forest path. A sweet odour of berries, plums, and wild flowers hung in the air.

This is life I guess. Just when you tend to lose the big picture, enmeshed in the smaller details of your life and then waver along the side, travel aimlessly along, Nature opens up before you in all glory. If only we had eyes and ears and all the senses to take them all.

But that is Canterbury high country for you! Breathless, tough, open, resplendent.

Check it out in all her glory.

[Information should it help: if you want to visit Lake Coleridge, come to Christchurch, New Zealand. Then take a car to drive down to Lake Coleridge Village or head straight to Peak Hill. The climb is easy and takes about a couple of hours, requires sturdy boots and a supply of water, etc. Lake Coleridge is really beautiful but there isn’t much to stay over here]

Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Environmental Health at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. Also in:

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store