Mid-Canterbury Adventures & Where to Treat Yourself Afterwards
Mid Canterbury is a district well worth visiting, as there are endless tramping opportunities, thermal pools, motorsport and adventure-filled gems.
Words by: Johnny Gibson
Photos by: Nancy Zhou & Getty Images
Mid Canterbury has many stunning scenery and adventure options, from the coastal plains to the highland mountain range and river basins. To help you on your journey, we've highlighted our picks of where to head and, more importantly, where to go afterwards to reward yourself with the best in countryside hospitality.
The Hakatere Conservation Park, Mount Sunday Track & Panthers Rock Country Pub
89 Hakatere Heron Road (Hakatere Conservation Park) & 2006 Arundel Rakaia Gorge Road, Mayfield (Panthers Rock Country Pub)
Covering nearly 60,000 hectares of mountain country, clear rivers and tussock land, the Hakatere Conservation Park is the gem of Mid Canterbury. With such a big area, there are endless track and summit possibilities, but by just driving into the park you will be well rewarded. An easy win is Mount Sunday. The small hill summit is only a 30 min walk to the top. Once there, you'll have spectacular mountain, river and countryside views. This location was also the site of Edoras from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers movie.
Once you've captured that movie-quality landscape shot, it's time to hit the flat lands and head to a class country pub. Panthers Rock is situated in the small town of Mayfield, somewhat put on the map thanks to Overflow, a second-hand shop worth seeking out. At the pub, you'll be treated to some relaxed, quality service from owners Deb and Nick. Their passion for hospitality is evident in the well-curated spaces, including the popular beer garden. Food options are plentiful and tasty as, so settle in and enjoy. Plus, you might be the one to have the next big cat sighting.
Staveley Ice Rink & Staveley Store
294 Flynns Road (Staveley Ice Rink); 2 Burgess Road (Staveley Store)
The Staveley ice skating rink has been around since 1951 and is one of the few natural ice skating locations left in New Zealand. Unfortunately, warmer times have meant unpredictable winters and less time on the ice. However, that's not enough to stop the good folk at The Staveley Hall Society, who have been looking after the rink for the last 30 years. The team and community are on a mission to raise funds to add a refrigerated base to the rink so it can be used consistently through the winter months. They've done great things with a large chunk already raised but are still working on it. You can donate here.
Fundraising aside, the rink will still be open this winter, depending on conditions, and it's well worth the trip out as there's something truly spectacular about ice skating outdoors on a natural rink. When you've had enough time on the ice, go to the charming Staveley Store and grab something to warm up with; obvious choice would be a pie and hot chocolate.
Rakaia Gorge Walkway & Ōpuke Thermal Pools
609 Rakaia Gorge Road (Rakaia Gorge Walkway); 35 Mount Hutt Station Road, Methven (Ōpuke)
Located just 15 minutes outside Methven, the Rakaia Gorge Walkway offers an easy 3/3.5 hour walk that traverses the edge of the Rakaia Gorge. On route, you'll see the Snowdon coal mine entry, a forest canopy with an abundance of birdlife from fantails to wood pigeons, and geological areas, together with stunning mountain views at the upper lookout, which may be snow capped depending on the season.
Post-walk, it's time to warm up, and where better to do that than at Ōpuke Thermal Pools and Spa just outside Methven. This impressive complex offers a range of pools, from the family-friendly Discovery Pools to the adult-only Tranquillity Pool, including a swim-up bar, menu and private Solar Tubs. Water is sourced from the Rangitata river, fed by the Southern Alp glacial melt, and offers a nice flow as you stare back to the stunning mountains. There are also inviting day spa options, including facials, hot stone massages and dry flotation.
Mt Somers Track & Stonechrubie
A popular track in the impressive Hakatere Conservation Park is The Mt Somers Track. The trail offers a range of options, including an easy two day tramp that's suitable for most. Visitors can expect historic mines, rock formations and epic views within the circuit track. The track also includes the choice to stay at the notable Woolshed Creek and Pinnacles Hutt.
Any tramper will tell you that simple pleasures like a cold beer and a comfy bed, are the best after a decent tramp, so why not stay in the voyaging mood and book a night at Stonechrubie Restaurant & Accommodation? Hosts Madeline and Sean Brown have eight cosy chalets available across three acres. It's a peaceful setup and the perfect place to rest your legs. Once you've rested and are ready to eat, make the short trek to the onsite bistro. Thankfully, Sean is an award-winning chef, so you can relax and enjoy some classic NZ-style cuisine with locally sourced meat and vegetables, and probably dessert, as you've earned it.
Image by: Getty
Dirt Bandits & The Dubliner
Lowes Cutting Rakaia Barrhill (Dirt Bandits); 116 Main Street, Methven (The Dubliner)
This one is for you, if it's time for an off-road adrenalin rush. DIRT Bandits is a premier UTV Motorsport experience sitting just outside of Methven. Essentially you jump in with their experienced drivers and hoon around the purpose-built UTV Circuit on the banks of the Rakaia River. There are three options - The Taster, which is a bit of an introduction and aimed at the young ones; the Adrenaline Rush, where the Can Am X3 XRS Max will reach speeds of up to 100kph across their purpose-built UTV fast track; and the XRC Hot Lap, designed as more of a motorsport experience launching you to 100kph in just under 4.5 seconds.
Following such an experience, you will probably want to sit around a table and have a good yarn about it all, and The Dubliner, the Irish pub in Methven, is the place to go for a cold drink and comfort food such as burgers, fish of the day and their award-winning signature dish, the T-bone steak.
Ashburton Hakatere River Trail & Formosa
Formosa (173 West Street, Ashburton)
For the more mellow and accessible of adventures, take a walk or cycle along The Ashburton Hakatere River Trail. The 19k trail follows the Ashburton River from the township all the way to the coast. You can expect riverside views, willow trees, some birdlife and farmland. There's also a pretty sweet picnic spot overlooking river flats near the river mouth end.
The reward for ticking off this trail is working up a hunger for the popular Formosa restaurant. Focusing on Taiwanese fusion with a selection including Taiwanese Cold Brine Salty Chicken Salad, Korean spicy chicken roll, Orange Pork Ribeye, and fan favourites like fried chicken, gua bao and crispy squid, this restaurant does not disappoint. Make a group agreement that it's sharing plates, and then you can try as much as possible.
Ashburton Hakatere River Trail photo by Getty Images
Mt Hutt - Snow or No Snow
The biggest drawcard to the district is Mt Hutt, a well deserved accolade. This authentic alpine experience has brought people together on the slopes for over 50 years, and whether you're a pro or looking to have your first day on the snow, Mt Hutt will provide you with a memorable day. For the warmer months, Mt. Hutt Bike Park has you covered with 30k+ of trails with a track for every ability - from family tracks to technical descents and jumps.
Snow or dirt, a trip to Methven or the mountain will only be complete with a trip to The Blue Pub, a social spot that caters to all including backpackers, travellers and the family seeking refuge in a bowl of chips and raspberry and coke for the kids.
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