Sometimes we just need a brief change of scene…
A break from the city, from the routine, the everyday small stresses which can build up over time. I know when I start to feel those vibes, that’s my cue for a little adventure. To find a tucked away slice of paradise in our Canterbury backyard to get back to zen.
That’s certainly what I was craving when I jumped in my car after Christmas and headed north with no ultimate goal in mind. I just had a little time, and the urge to go for a walk somewhere quiet, peaceful, and different. A view at the end would be a bonus.
So as I drove towards Amberley, I started to get a little excited when I caught a glimpse of a green peak to the west towering above surrounding hillsides, below which seemed to be a gorgeous mix of tussocked windy tops, native bush, and secluded forest park.
That peak was Mt Grey, a stunning addition to the many walks and hikes in the South-west corner of the Hurunui. I knew instantly that was the spot to find my happy place, and I’d heard the views were incredible.
It’s the centre piece of the Mt Grey/Maukatere Conservation Area which comprises around 1,700 hectares of remnant native forest and tussock grasslands within the Ashley Forest.
Running along the Grey River you’ll find plenty of quiet spots for a swim and a picnic. There’s also a heap of great mountain biking tracks throughout the Ashley Forest Park for the newly initiated or the experienced weekend adventurer.
The start of my scenic mission however was found 10 minutes into the Ashley Forest, just across the river from the Grey River picnic area. A small but easily found sign directed me into a small gap within the roadside bush, which emerged instantly into a stunning mix of native and exotic trees you’d normally have to trek for hours to find.
The transition from forest to native beech and tawhai was seamless, it’s the kind of environment in New Zealand you can’t help but feel a deep sense of calm and tranquillity, and I was struck by how this hidden gem of North Canterbury has escaped my attention for so long.
The track followed along the Grey River bubbling away to the left and steadily climbing quickly through the different landscapes of this alpine environment. From Beech trees, to grassland, into Pine Trees and Podocarp, and drifting into sub-alpine vegetation. You’d be hard pressed to discover more flora variety within a 3-hour hike anywhere in the country.
It was a typically hot Canterbury summer day, so the steady incline and sun meant plenty of breaks along the way. This wasn’t a hindrance, as you’re spoilt for choice with the number of places to stop and soak in the scenery which seemed to get more beautiful the further I went.
With mini-water falls as the Grey River curves upwards beside the track and lookout points with views stretching across the Canterbury Plains, it would be a disserve not to stop and take it all in, even for just a few minutes.
After an hour-and a-half I pushed through the alpine beech to pop out into the start of the tussock grasslands, moving around to the opposite side of Mt Grey. Here the vista opens up to reveal the emergence of the Southern Alps soaring above the valleys into the distance. The perfect place to stop for an afternoon snack and drink, before turning my attention to the final climb to the top.
The radio repeater at the summit loomed ahead, acting as a beacon while I traversed the tussock switchbacks to the top, steadily winding up towards the ridge.
After another 15 minutes of gentle climbing I hit the ridge line and was welcomed by one of the most invigorating and awe-inspiring panoramic views I’ve come across in Canterbury.
360° views of mountains to sea, plains to vineyards, and city to surf. I was lucky to have picked a relatively clear day to be able to see all the way down to the Kaikoura ranges, and across Christchurch City into Banks Peninsula.
It was far more stunning than I was expecting, and I was elated I had decided to venture into this part of the Hurunui and find such a stunning and rewarding view. A fitting crescendo to a hearty and beautiful hike.
Mt Grey gave me my dose of different and then some. An oasis of quiet to break away and find a quiet space to revitalise for an afternoon. Mt Grey did not disappoint.
If you’re finding yourself feeling the same as we get back into the swing of routine and work, do yourself a favour, and take an afternoon to experience this hidden treasure on our back doorstep.