Tucked away at the foothills of the Southern Alps, exactly halfway between Christchurch and the Mackenzie Basin on the Inland Scenic Route 72, Mount Somers is an idyllic countryside town in Canterbury, New Zealand. Boasting of utter tranquility, open sub-alpine tussock lands, historic coal-mines, impressive volcanic formations, deep canyons and gorges, the town is home to a scanty population of just around 3000 people.
However, owing to the natural beauty and the gorgeous setting, a number of holiday homes have sprung up in the destination as Mount Somers is lately gaining a lot of popularity among vacationers, nature lovers and solitude seekers. Unlike the other countryside towns of the country, the economy of this one does not rely on agriculture alone but also resorts to coal, clay, sand and limestone mining in the hills behind the town.
Considered to be a haven for the adventure seekers and adventure sports enthusiasts, the town offers several recreational activities and sports including tramping & hiking, fishing for trout and salmon, horse treks, mountain biking, windsurfing on the lakes and bird watching etc.
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Places to Visit
Boasting of surreal natural beauty and gorgeous panoramic vistas, Lake Clearwater along with Lakes Camp, Heron and Emma are some of the most popular sightseeing natural spots in the region situated amidst the sub-alpine scenery of the Alps. Blessed with crystal clear blue waters and lush greenery in the backdrop, the area looks like a slice of paradise tucked on the earth. All the lakes, especially Lake Clearwater offer a number of water sports and adventure activities to give you the high adrenaline rush.
Among the most popular activities are-
Salmon and Trout Fishing
Windsurfing and Sailing
Jet Skiing and Water Skiing
Mt. Somers Conservation Area
Mt. Somers is a common ground which is the meeting point or the linking point several several picnic spots and trekking trails in the area. The most significant picnic spots in the region include Woolshed Creek and Sharplin Falls. There are also several trekking trails that have their base point at the Mt. Somers Conservation Area. These trails will take you through a dreamland of historic coal mines, impressive volcanic formations, a deep river canyon and gorges etc. You can also undertake the several birdwatching tours and nature walks to explore the area.
Among the myriad activities available in the area are also hot air ballooning, which is also the most popular touristy activity and helicopter rides to have a 360 degree aerial view of the place. Besides you can also try your hand at Mountain Biking, Horse Riding, Mountain and Rock Climbing, Horse Trekking, and Rock Hounding for Agate Stone etc.
“Edoras” or Mt. Sunday
Mt. Sunday is a place near the Mt. Somers village which is directly linked to the famous fictional writer J. R. R. Tolkien. He based his book ‘Lord of the Rings’ in a fantasy setting of Middle Earth and the movie that was filmed later used the territory of Mt. Sunday as “Edoras”- the capital of Kingdom Rohan. Although you won’t find any evidence of Lord of the Rings characters or shoots, you can still find the footprints of the Edoras Tour here.
Mt. Hutt is another one of the majestic mountains in the vicinity of the Mt. Somers village. The place is known for its adventure sports activities and recreational fun games. It is known to have the best and the most developed ski and Ski and Snowboarding area in all of the Southern Hemisphere. You can also bungy jump and play with the cottony soft snow. Besides, there is also Mt. Potts which offer Heli Ski and Snowcat Ski etc. In addition to that, there are other ski fields situated at Temple Basin, Craigieburn, Broken River, Mt Cheeseman, Porter Heights and Mt Olympus etc. Mt. Hutt is also known for its extensive variety of flora and rich wildlife. Nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts come from far and wide to witness the blooming plantations in summers whose number exceeds more than 130 species of alpine plants. Activities like Bush Walking are popular in the region.
Mount Somers Track
The area in and around Mount Somers makes way for several trekking trails and hiking expedition routes that are popular among the tourists as well as the locals. Among the myriad trekking and hiking options available, the highlight of the region is the Mount Somers track which was conceived and started by Mt. Somers and Staveley locals in 1983. The track was finally opened for the public in 1987 and the management was handed over to the Department of Conservation. The track is basically a 1 - 2 day run around the path circuiting the area connecting the popular Pinnacles and Woolshed Creek huts.
Given below is a break down of the route and timings of the hike.
Sharplin Falls Track Junction
Time - 30 minutes The trek is undertaken on foot and takes you through beech forest/ tawhai rauriki in the backdrop of the mountains. This covers the distance between Bowyers Stream to Sharplin Falls Track Junction. Sharplin Falls Track Junction to Pinnacles Hut Time - 3 hours (5.2 kms) This is the slightly longer leg of the hike which will require you to climb atop steep mountains and through another section of mountain beech forest/ tawhai rauriki to Dukes Knob and Bowers Stream to the Hut.
Pinnacles Hut is a resting spot with 19 bunk beds, heating and mattresses etc.
Pinnacles Hut to Woolshed Creek
Time - 3 hours (6.2 kms) Pinnacles Hut is the area formed after the cooling off of lava from the volcanic eruptions some 90 million years ago. After you reach the hut, follow the markers and the trails through tussock and subalpine scrub up to the Mt Somers saddle which is at an altitude of 1170 m. Since the tramping is easy, it wouldn’t take much time. Once you reach the pinnacle or the saddle, among the enchanting panoramic vistas, the more gorgeous views include that of Taylor and Old Man Ranges. The breathtaking scenery is meant to be captured in both the cameras and the memories.
Woolshed Creek Hut is a resting spot with 26 bunk beds, heating and mattresses etc.
On the descent, you will come across a diversion that can lead you to the “caves”. These interesting boulders are a short trip from the diversion and can be explored if you have time. Most tourists choose to take a little detour. After you are done, you can follow your trail and along Morgan Stream and Woolshed Creek to Woolshed Creek Hut.
Woolshed Creek Hut to Woolshed Creek car park via Miners Track
Time - 3 hours (5 kms); one way From Woolshed Creek again, the track rises to a high point and you will be mind blown with the gorgeous views of the upper Ashburton Gorge before coming down to old Blackburn Mine. After following a track of an olden day coal mine, the route leads to Woolshed Creek car park.
Woolshed Creek Hut to Rhyolite Ridge Track junction via Mt Somers Track
Time - 2 hours (4.6 kms), one way This trekking route follows through a verdant green scenery between regenerating mountain beech forest/ tawhai rauriki, crystal icy pools, rocky tors and gurgling waterfalls. From the Woolshed Creek Hut, the route accents 500 metres to lead to a local rest stop called Bus Stop Overhang. After crossing the face of Mount Somers, this track then leads to Rhyolite Ridge Track.
Rhyolite Ridge Track junction to Mt Somers Summit Track junction
Time - 3.5 hours (6 kms), one way After crossing the Southern face of Mount Somers, the track leads through open grasslands and catchments, before it rises to an altitude of 1080 m above the sea level. Offering some of the very best views in the entire trek, the Mount Somers Summit Track is the junction where you can also find Acland Shelter. This distance of 4 kms can be covered in 1.5 hours and you can rest here for sometime.
Mt Somers Summit Track Junction to Sharplin Falls car park
Time - 30 minutes (2.7 kms) This is the final descent downwards and follows regenerating forested areas. The climb downwards is easy and hardly exhaustive.
The dainty hamlet of Mount Somers is believed to have been discovered some 500 - 800 years ago in the ages and times of moa-hunter Māori who named the area Te Kiekie. The visitors or the inhabitants drew on the walls of the rocks and caves which can be found even today, suggesting their existence here although, no concrete evidence of them have been traced yet. The first commercial enterprise at Mount Somers was a coal mine that was established in 1864 after the discovery of coal deposits in 1856. Mining of coal continued until 1954 after which the activity was shut down due to several underground fires and uneconomic extraction.
Flora and Fauna at Mount Somers
Mount Somers has a plateau-like land which is water-drained due to the volcanic formations, and has a dry soil with very low fertility. This kind of weather and soil conditions give rise to several bog species. There are different plant species found at different altitudes which include- alpine vegetation including Hebes, Astelia nervosa, regenerating beech forest, bog pine Dacrydium bidwillii, snow tōtara Podocarpus nivalis, toatoa; Phylocladus alpinus, Dracophyllum uniflorum, mountain flax; Phormium cookianum and Myrsine nummularia.
Among the wildlife, exotic and rare birds can be found habitating here along with the regular breeding birds of the region. The most notable bird which nests at Mount Somers is falcon/kārearea. Another rare bird that can be spotted sometimes is Mount Somers bluff wētā Deinacrida.
The region in and around Mount Somers is made up of extensive volcanic rock formations of Andesite, Pitchstone and Rhyolite which gives rise to a floral species very different than that of the adjoining Canterbury area that is composed of greywacke. As a result of this, the soils are less fertile that the region in the vicinity. This gives rise to cracked and cooled off fractures and fault lines in the soil, exposing major columns and giving an impression of rock land. For the same reason, there is a deposit of minerals like silica, sand, limestone, coal and kaolin clay in the southern and northern faces of Mount Somers.
How To Reach Mount Somers
Located in the inland mid- Canterbury region, at the foothills of the Southern Alps, the closest village and/or towns near the area are Staveley village, and Mt Somers township.
You can reach Staveley village through the inland from Ashburton.
Alternatively, it is a 1.5 hours drive from Christchurch. Take the inland Scenic Highway 72, and turn off at the Staveley signpost and follow the road towards Sharplin Falls car park.
Woolshed Creek can also be reached through inland Scenic Highway 72. Take the road till Mount Somers township, drive for another 10 kms on Ashburton Gorge Road before you reach Jig Road from where you need to take a right. Drive for another 3.5 kms to reach Woolshed Creek picnic area.