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Awa Awa Reserve
Judith Armstrong - 2/7/99

At the Foot of Mt Hutt, Awa Awa reserve - a little known treasure.

Thousands travel to Mt Hutt, Canterbury's best known ski-field, every year, unaware of the historic forest and picnic area nestled at the base of the mountain.

The Mount Hutt Forest, together with the adjoining reserves of Pudding Hill and Awa Awa, are remnants of early forest that extended over the Canterbury plains and along the foothills. Now the forest covers an area of more than 4000 hectares. Mountain beech is the predominant species, with totara, fuchsia and many ground ferns.

Only one hour's drive from Christchurch, there is something for everybody. Children enjoy playing in the streams, adults love the rhododendron garden and barbecues. Walkers, the fit and the not-so-fit, enjoy the bush and the startling view over the patchwork of the Canterbury Plains.

Above the bush-line snow tussocks and alpine herbs are found, and from here are magnificent views of the Canterbury Plains and foothills - right to the ocean on a clear day.

The picnic area in midsummer
The picnic area in midsummer
The Awa Awa picnic area, complete with barbecues and a shelter, is secluded and peaceful in the shadows of the mountain.

Its rhododendrons are magnificent when flowering in October and November. The Southern rata, although rare in Canterbury, is present in this reserve. An inviting stream provides hours of entertainment for children.

From the reserve a number of short and exciting paths can be explored. For the more energetic, the Awa Awa loop and ridge tracks provide undulating walks above the picnic area and opportunities to view the plains through windows in the bush.

The bush in Awa Awa Reserve
The bush in Awa Awa Reserve
The bush has abundant bird life, including the bellbird, tomtit, rifleman, wood pigeon and grey warbler. Keas live above the bushline.

Further along the track is an area of exotic forest where larch has been planted. The transition from native forest is sudden, yet the larch plantation has its own beauty, as the track drops steeply to the Pudding Hill stream.

For the more energetic Scotts saddle track takes at least five hours and runs along beside the ski field road, where another view of the plains and Port Hills is obtained. This is an interesting one-day tramp for experienced trampers on a fine day.

See map

The forest itself can be surprisingly sheltered from the nor'westers that rage over the summit of Mount Hutt during spring. However, rainfall is moderately high, ranging from 1000 mm to 2000 mm a year at the Mount Hutt ranges. Summer temperatures are hot in the sheltered valleys, winter temperatures fall well below zero and hoar frosts are common.

In summer it is an ideal place for picnics with children or grandchildren. They love roaming and exploring the stream and forest and running wild on the grassy stretches.

In the spring take visitors to see the rhododendrons in bloom, their colours vibrant against the dark green backdrop. But most of all, I have tramped the tracks and reached the heights to gain a new perspective of our everyday world. For whatever reason you go, Awa Awa reserve and its surrounding forest is a delight to visit.

Mount Hutt Forest is 100 km from Christchurch. Access is gained from State Highway 72, on to McLennans' Bush Rd, which is the road that gives access to the ski field. The reserve is about 2 km past the ski field turn off.

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