Today’s guest post is by New Zealand travel writer Pam Neville. The article is in support of Blog4NZ, which is a grassroots blogging and social media effort to support New Zealand travel in the wake of the horrific earthquake in Christchurch on February 22, 2011. It’s going to take a lot of support and cash to recover completely. Tourism makes up approximately 10% of New Zealand’s GDP.
“Following Footsteps: hiking with history in New Zealand’s South Island high country”
The book’s name is one of Butler’s many jokes in a novel which is a satire on Victorian morals rather than a story of the New Zealand high country. Erewhon is ‘nowhere’ spelt backwards, though a canny walker spots that the ‘w’ and the ‘h’ are transposed. To add to our musings, we find a high country station named Erewhon directly across the Rangitata River from Mesopotamia. But this one was named more recently, in the 20th century, in honour of the book. In Butler’s time, this station – now a fine Clydesdale horse stud – was called Stronechrubie, which is today the name of a fine restaurant and motel in Mt Somers a couple of hours drive away towards Christchurch.
Enough of the history. Our hardy group of walkers is heading uphill from pretty Lake Clearwater at the foot of the alps in search of Mystery Lake. The jaunt will take about four hours, provided we can find the lake. It is so-named because early explorers often could not locate it, and came back down disgruntled and doubting its existence.
Discreetly tucked in between hillocks on the side of Dogs Range, we discover Mystery Lake (our guide, I admit, has been here before. I doubt we would have found it alone). Its soft tussocked banks are sofas from which to spot enormous brown trout. Then it’s another four hours down towards ‘home’, as we learn to call our shearers’ quarters and shepherds’ cottages, along the edges of a startling ravine above the Potts River.
On the flats of the valley, near where the Potts meets the enormous, braided Rangitata River, history buffs can head off in search of ‘Dr Sinclair’s Grave’. A friend of Samuel Butler, Dr Andrew Sinclair was travelling with fellow botanist, Julius von Haast, when he drowned while crossing the Rangitata on horseback in 1861.
He had been “not sufficiently aware of the treacherous nature of alpine currents”, according to von Haast at the time. Both Sinclair and Haast are immortalised in the names of mountains and rivers of the region they explored together, and their botanical comradeship is marked in the naming of a mountain daisy Haastia Sinclairii.
We mere walkers become sharply aware of the nature of alpine currents as we cross, twice, strands of the multi-streamed Rangitata on our way to climb Mt Sunday. To be fair, they are cold but hardly treacherous on the day we splash through, although surprisingly powerful for water less than knee-deep.
Mt Sunday is the modern-movie-making part of our walk. This strange stand-alone hill of rock between braids of the Rangitata became the village Edoras in the movie Lord of the Rings. Mt Sunday got its name from shepherds who would come down from their mountain huts and high country stations and meet there for Sunday picnics. Today it’s an easy walk, with no trace of either shepherd or movie set, although it continues to attract mini-busloads of tourists partaking in the strange activity of searching out Lord of the Rings filming sites.
Tired limbs are definitely eased by our diversions, and Mesopotamia has plenty to offer dreamers. Tonight we check out the site of Samuel Butler’s cottage, visit the old and disused schoolhouse, and sample the merino clothing designed by the present-day owner of Mesopotamia Station. And our walk is only half-done. Tomorrow, the itinerary promises we will Cross the Brabazon – apparently a ridge below Mt Brabazon, named for John Brabazon who arrived at Mesopotamia with Samuel Butler back in 1860. Now there’s a name to walk to.