|Camping along the Wharfedale Track|
We took the hour's drive from Christchurch and parked at Coopers Creek carpark late in the day.
Saturday's day trampers were just heading home.
It looked like they hadn't had good views from the summit as the upper part of the mountain was in cloud. But we were optimistic as our favourite weather website, Snow-forecast.com, had told us to expect clear skies on Sunday.
The DoC information board at the car park said it was a three hour walk to get to the Wharfedale Track. But we only had two hours before darkness and we did't expect it to take any longer than that.
We started off at a good pace and settled into our usual groove. The track was good under-foot and had a consistent easy grade all the way. And it worked out just five minutes under two hours when we reached the Wharfedale, and found a good camp site too. This was just before the Mt Oxford track junction.
As it darkened a Morepork close by sounded out its onomatopoeic call ("moore-poork") and replies echoed from all directions, and continued for another hour. They fell quiet and we slept on a soft carpet of moss.
We were up with first light at 7.00 a.m. All the bellbirds in the forest started tuning up their notes together and practiced their clear little tune ad libitum. The wind softly sounded its own song in the tops of the trees.
We climbed the Mt Oxford track. I had a case of the 'eagers'. I seemed to just float upwards effortlessly, though I could feel my heart pounding in my ears. I was glad to have the cool morning air keeping me comfortable.
It was 9.30 when I reached the track junction at the 1130 m mark.
|Branches brought down by heavy wet spring snow fall|
All around here a huge amount of large fallen branches littered the ground. These were brought down by a heavy wet snow fall late last winter.
The forest had previously been healthy here but that might start to change now and dramatically over the next few years.
So much timber coming down at once could lay the groundwork for an infestation of pinhole beetles (platypus species). As the next generation emerges they then attack the living trees.
The old NZ Forest Service recorded this process developing over many years following snow damage to beech forests. It's part of the natural cycle. It'll be interesting to see how the early phase develops here.
Honora caught me up and I left my pondering behind. A short distance later we emerged above the tree-line into sparkling sunshine.
|Looking north east to the Lees Valley from the the track up the western ridge of Mt Oxford|
There was such a contrast of space and light after the confines and gloom of the forest. And the sunshine added radiant warmth to the cool air.
We walked on to the broad flat top of the range.
Below and to the east, the Canterbury plains were covered in a thin blanket of low cloud. I could see the cloud moving steadily inland, and evaporating along a line just short of the beginning of the hills.
Further inland, the high ranges stood up like a long straight wall. That's where our eyes turned.
And as usual I started noting and naming off all the peaks and passes to myself. But there was more to it than just putting names on them. In recognising each feature I was also seeing them through the memory of all the times I'd walked on those mountains and ridges and in those valleys. The whole landscape seemed to come to life in front of me.
Walking on with this still in my mind brought a most sublime feeling of contentment. It was very pleasant walking the easy kilometre to the high point of Mt Oxford,
The summit has a large wooden trig point marking it. Nearby is a low rock wall wind break. We didn't need that and sat out on some comfortable rock seats and had lunch. It was only 11.15 a.m. I'd been expecting there to be people about, day trippers from town. But no. Who knows why, when we could see Christchurch was having one of its gloomy days buried under low cloud flowing in from the sea.
It being so early we decided to go for the 'grand traverse' of the whole Mt Oxford massif. This would be new red line for both of us ('red line' is the way some people have their maps covered in red lines showing the routes they've covered).
A short distance further along the range we came to an area of golden tussocks. In the middle of these was a very pretty pool surrounded by bright green cushion plants. Onward toward Oxford Hill the tussocks were growing a bit taller, and this meant we needed to give more time to watching our feet instead of just gazing at the views as we walked.
|View of the Ashley Gorge valley and the narrow gravel road winding through it to Lees Valley|
Another kilometre and the view ahead looked down into the valley of the Ashley Gorge.
This marked the end of the range proper and the terrain turned downwards. 300 metres below we came to Ashley Saddle.
We climbed the ridge on the other side and our route turned south. From our new vantage point we could now see lush bush again, in the southern faces and gullies of Mt Oxford.
|4x4 track on tussock slopes of Mt Oxford far above the intensely farmed Canterbury Plains|
An old 4x4 track sidling just below the ridge tempted us with easier walking. Just around the corner though it dropped away to Big Ben Saddle, which was not the way we wanted to go.
Our route followed a fence-line on the crest of the ridge as it dropped another six hundred metres to the Coopers Creek road end.
The final section twisted and turned through native shrubs, gorse, patches of beech forest and pine plantations, to emerge at the Payton Lodge scouts camp.
It was 3.00 pm when we reached the car park. We still had time to enjoy a refreshing afternoon tea in the garden at Oxford's Cafe 51 before heading home.