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           Home >  Regions  > Canterbury South  :

Canterbury's Inland Scenic Route To The South - Highway 72
Dorothy - 2/7/99

So you are planning to drive south from Christchurch. If time is an issue of course you will follow State Highway 1 and join the busy flow of traffic on the main route. In clear weather you will see the foothills of the Southern Alps in the distance on your right.

Why not try the alternative of travelling on Highway 72, the Scenic Inland Route which takes you along at the foot of those hills and through some interesting inland townships.

Recently we travelled this way and took a leisurely trip to Geraldine. We enjoyed the views as we drove along beside the foothills and decided to look at the villages and some interesting old country churches along the way.

Building churches in country districts was of great importance to the Canterbury pioneers. As the majority of the settlers were from England most of the churches along Highway 72 are Anglican churches. Entries in the visitors' books show that these historic buildings attract visitors from near and far.

First stop Hororata
We left Christchurch on the main road to the West Coast - State Highway 73. About five minutes beyond West Melton where the main road veers to the right we carried straight on and headed for Hororata. One New Zealand guide book says that there is little at Hororata but a fine stone church. There is certainly a fine church, but we were hungry, so we looked first for the domain.

The sign posting was inadequate so we had to get directions from the friendly storekeeper. The church and domain are not well signposted. Hororata is a small spread-out village. If you turn left at the marked intersection you will miss two of the most interesting features. By turning right and driving north a short distance you find on your right the domain and further along on the left St John's church.

In the pleasant domain we ate our lunch under beautiful English trees and wished we had children with us to enjoy the pleasant children's playground.

St John's Church

St John's Church, Hororata
St John's Church, Hororata
This is an imposing stone building surrounded by an old graveyard. Sir John Hall, a local landholder who had earlier been Prime Minister of New Zealand, had it built in 1910 in memory of his wife. She had expressed a wish for the district to have a church which was dignified and worthy of its sacred purpose. The architect, Cyril Mountfort, the son of Benjamin Mountfort who designed many of Christchurch's finest early buildings, certainly designed a church which fits this description with its high roof and beautiful square tower.

The stone church replaced an older building built in the 1870s. We walked through the lych-gate and spent some time in the graveyard noting graves dating from the 1880s to the present day. As is so often evident in old cemeteries the number of graves of children highlighted the toll that sickness took on families in the last century.

To the Rakaia Gorge via Glenroy
We headed south along the road through Glenroy. If you want to stay at a magnificent old home you can turn left at Glenroy and stay at Gunyah.

Further on the road crosses the Rakaia River at the entrance to the Rakaia Gorge. For more information look at Around the bridge area are places to picnic and toilets and fresh water. Beside the bridge you will see the signpost for the Rakaia walkway.

Methven - a short detour south
Some five kilometres past the Gorge we took a detour to visit the pleasant country town of Methven, now a busy tourist resort serving the Mt Hutt skiers in the winter and offering a variety of attractions for visitors in the summer.

All Saints' Church, Methven

All Saints' Church, Methven
All Saints' Church, Methven
We visited All Saints' Church there because of its unusual history. The original building was erected in 1880, but the builders did not allow for the strength of the nor'west wind and in May 1884 it was completely destroyed by a gale force nor'wester.

A church had been built at Sherwood Downs, twenty one kilometres away. The township there had not developed as expected so instead of building a new church it was decided that the church should be moved from Sherwood Downs to Methven. This was no easy assignment. The church weighed around 60 tons. It was jacked off its foundations, lifted on to a large transporter with six wheels and pulled by two traction engines. Great difficulties lay ahead, partly because of the nor'west winds which blew at gale force for two weeks, partly because of problems with telegraph wires, and partly because they had to take the heavy weight across bridges that were not designed for such loads. After seven weeks the church reached its new site and was reconditioned and made ready for its opening in November 1884. When we visited it late in 1998 the foundations were laid for an extension to the building.

Awa Awa picnic ground and reserve
Following the signposts we drove along Highway 77 which took us back to Highway 72. As you travel from Methven on Highway 77, note the Greengables Deer Farm, Dinner, Bed and Breakfast four kilometres before you rejoin Highway 72. If you continue straight ahead across Highway 72 you will be on McLennans Bush Road. A short distance along on the right is the Mt Hutt Skifield access road. If you continue straight ahead you come to the Awa Awa Reserve and picnic ground - an ideal stopping place for a break and a short walk.

Back to Highway 72 - next stop Mt Somers
Driving south our next stop was the village of Mount Somers at the foot of the mountain. There is a country store, pleasant motel, camping ground, hotel, lily farm, historic walk and domain. There is plenty to do here and you may well decide to break your journey. You can choose among a variety of places to stay - motel, farmstays and the camping ground with cabins.

St Aidan's Church
If you turn right as you enter the village and drive up the hill you can visit St Aidan's Church. Some interesting features of the church are the memorial windows and the wooden buttresses to strengthen it against the north-west winds so that it did not suffer the fate of the early church in Methven, not far away.

The little Sunday School room is being developed as a museum. To view the exhibits you need to get the key from the local store.

The church was built in 1900 when Mt Somers was a thriving community with a quarry producing limestone, building stone and coal, a saddlery, a railway station, a post office and a wool scour. It owed its prosperity largely to Alfred Peache who owned and farmed the Mount Somers Station from 1875 and also developed the local industries.

Mt Somers is now a quiet village and has no vicar. The parish is served by a team of lay people under the scheme for total ministry.

Mt Somers Historic Trail

Quarryman's cottage built of limestone
Quarryman's cottage built of limestone
This begins 3 km along the Erewhon Road. The site of the Buxton Lime Kiln, built in 1888, is the first on the trail, followed by the Vincent Lime Quarry where quarrying began in 1820. You can visit the restored quarryman's cottage and view relics of the early quarrying.

Next on the trail is the Woolshed reserve. Coal Miners Flat there is a good picnic area. To visit a replica coal mine you can walk up the Jig Road, originally a hand-built jig line used to transport coal from the Blackburn Mine to the railway wagons below.

>From the picnic ground there is a choice of tracks of varied steepness, five of them taking under an hour. They provide views of the country side and the vegetation of the area and relics of the coal mining industry.

Mt Somers Museum
To visit here phone 03 303 9827.

Two day tramp for the energetic
Should you wish to spend longer in the area there is a two-day 17 km Mount Somers Subalpine Walkway crossing the northern face of the mountain. A hut is available for public use for a night's stay on the tramp.

Dunhampton Lily Fields

Lilies in flower at Dunhampton Lily Fields
Lilies in flower at Dunhampton Lily Fields
Gardening enthusiasts in particular won't want to miss a visit to the beautiful lily garden of Wendy and David Millichamp, open from November to the end of January.

If you visit when the lilies you want are not in flower they provide an excellent catalogue and you can order your bulbs. We placed a sizable order and received them recently beautifully packed and labelled with an instruction sheet for planting and manuring the bulbs.

On to Geraldine
Drive on south and beyond Mayfield note the turnoff on the right to Ruapuna. If you are travelling on October 18/19 you may wish to stop here and take part in the Ruapuna Garden Symposium.

The views of the hills, little villages and possible picnic places invited us to stop but the day was far spent when we headed south on the last stretch of the journey, so we carried straight on for the last stretch of easy travelling to Geraldine. More about Geraldine in a later article.

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