Erewhon — Journey to Nowhere

There is a place that, like many places, is overlooked in favour of more famous places. Places like Mt. Cook, Arthur’s Pass, and Milford Sound are justifiably famous and visited by many people on the South Island of New Zealand. But right here in our backyard in Mid Canterbury there is a place tucked away from most people that rivals the beauty of the others. That place, is Erewhon, the end of Nowhere.

Well, not exactly. The place is the headwaters of the Rangitata River, part of the Hakatere Conservation Park. Samuel Butler lived here and used the landscape as the setting for the fictional country of Erewhon in his novel Erewhon, Or Over The Range. Today Erewhon Station stands in Rangitata Gorge and lends a more evocative name to the area.

The area is home to several lakes, collectively called Ashburton Lakes. They provide fishing, walking trails, and stunning views over the Southern Alps to the west. Lakes Clearwater and Camp sit adjacent to a small neighbourhood of baches, used as vacation/getaway homes for Kiwis.

First light over Lake Clearwater
A better view of the Southern Alps would be hard to come by

The drive through Erewhon is on gravel roads, passable on a regular sedan. Some small streams have to be forded a few times, but nothing too tricky.

Road to Erewhon

Lake Heron is the largest of the Ashburton Lakes. Set away from the main road, it gets little traffic.

Sun over Heron
We all fall down | Lake Heron

Sticking to the main Hakatere Potts Road brings us to a stunning overlook of the Rangitata River Gorge. From here you can see Mt. Sunday, easily recognizable as the site of Edoras in the “Lord of The Rings” movies.

“Edoras” overlook

The area is private farmland, but Mt. Sunday is open to the public, where a short 30-45-minute walk takes you to where the Golden Hall of Meduseld stood.

Mt. Sunday/Edoras
Walking to Mt. Sunday/Edoras

The 360° views from the top are well worth the climb. From the top, many other locations and backdrops for the movies are recognizable, including the gorge where Helm’s Deep was inserted digitally.

Family portrait at the Hall of Meduseld

Going further along, past Erewhon Station, the road dumps out into the Clyde River bed, a rough rocky doubletrack — definitely not recommended without a decent/high-clearance 4WD vehicle. At this point, you are closer to the West Coast than to the east.

The “road” along the Clyde River
The Clyde River after a little climb

Given that this area is practically at the end of civilization, the attraction doesn’t stop after dark. In fact, the main star may be the night sky over Erewhon. Far from any lights, the Milky Way is an awe-inspiring sight. I will post separately about my nocturnal forays in the area later, but until then, here’s a teaser…

Galaxy-set over Erewhon
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