With COVID19 lockdown restrictions easing, the weather warming and the kids on school holidays I decided to tackle Peak Hill with Imogen with the intention of a single night hike and camp up the hill.

I’d been inspired by some great blog posts of the hike, the first I came across from Nathan where he camped out too and actually completed the loop track (although didn’t indicate it was much to write home about) and more recently this blog post from only 10 days ago where the weather looked perfect as well as this one with a lot of photos. Heading off at 2:30pm we knew we had about 5hours of daylight and Imogen opted to drive the 90min trip which is very easy from Christchurch:

As we got closer to Lake Coleridge, the dust kicking up off the Rakaia riverbed was an indicator the wind was as strong as we feared it might be. Spoiler alert: I really do encourage you to check the weather before you do this one – anything with strong Northerly/Westerly winds is going to detract from your enjoyment. The DoC website indicates as much:

The walk is extremely exposed to the weather and walkers should be well equipped.

Day One & Hike Up To Peak Hill Summit

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The carpark had only one other car in it and we opted to put our jackets on immediately given the strong wind. The initial signboards all indicate no camping, but I’d checked with DoC the day before and they’d reassured us we could so I think these signs mean no camping on the private land that has an access easement on it. We saw the owners of the car as we exited the farmer’s paddock and they said it was very windy at the top. My backup plan if it was too windy was to summit and then drive for 20mins and camp at Rakaia Gorge Campsite if needed, but the hope was to be able to stay up the hill.

The first hour of the walk is an unrelenting slog up the steep base of Peak Hill where you’re mostly looking straight down to safely place your footing. Soon, however, the views start to open up superbly:

The carpark is at the roadside of the tree windbreak in the foreground, with the backside of Mt Hutt standing impressively in the background on the far side of the Rakaia River
Lake Coleridge soon emerged with choppy white peaks across the lake, evidence of the strong wind blowing from the Nor’West.

With an hour of climbing done, the views really started to pay dividends:

Imogen at the first of many amazing spots to stop and admire the view whilst catching our breath from the steep climb

The higher we got, the windy it became and I was concerned about whether we would be able to camp in a sheltered spot or not. We also came across some snow in shaded spots out of the wind.

Standing in snow to the side of the ridgeline

In some of the other blog posts we had read about experiencing many ‘false summits’ – forearmed with this we didn’t become too excited that we may have reached the top as each peak unfolded before us, Walking along the ridgeline of Peak Hill, with Lake Coleridge on our right and the mighty Rakaia River stretching away to our left, it was an incredible place of beauty. I would have liked to add ‘place of tranquility’ but the exposed ridgeline was no place to linger with the wind cutting through us. We identified a spot to the right of the ridge line in a saddle between peaks which seemed the most likely spot out of the wind, ditched our packs and headed to the summit with renewed vigour and a lighter step.

The Summit

My very amateur photography skills and haste in taking the photos does not do justice to the incredible views at the top of Peak Hill – I do highly recommend you complete this hike for yourself. Here’s the photos I did take:

It’s incredible to think that most of these peaks were once covered or just peeping out over the top of glaciers!
Imogen with Lake Coleridge behind her to the right, Mt Oakden directly behind her, and Wilburforce River coming down to join the Rakaia river to her left
Looking back towards Lake Coleridge with Mt Cotton, Mt Ida and Mt Olympus in the background
On the far side of Lake Coleridge this triangular shaped, well-maintained group of paddocks stood out in stark contrast to the surrounding muted colours
Snowy peaks as far as the eye can see
No summit is complete without a rocky cairn and selfie marking the spot. The jackets and hoods were very necessary to keep out the cold wind!
Descending back down the ridgeline to where we had ditched our packs, anticipating pitching the tents and getting some dinner cooking.

Setting Up For The Night

We probably spent around 15mins at the summit of Peak Hill before the cold and fading daylight drove us down to where we had left our packs and we prepared to pitch our tents. We spent probably another 15minutes exploring the best camp site that we hoped would protect us from the wind and be flat enough to get a good night sleep. We found a reasonably flat hollow that was sheltered and pitched up:

We selected this spot, well to the Lake Coleridge side of the ridgeline and in a hollow with a protecting hillside behind us

This was going to be the first time I used my MacPac Cocoon Tent and you can see it to the right of Imogen’s tent above. Before the light faded completely, I ducked back up to the ridgeline for one more shot:

The sky turning pink as the sun started to set. There is something brutally beautiful about alpine tussock like this!

With tea cooked and eaten in relative shelter, we settled in for the night:

Imogen reading in her tent

The Night & Day 2 Descent

Almost as soon as the lights went out it seemed the wind came up – and carried on all night long! It was not a great sleep but I can say that the Cocoon performed well being very low to the ground and the MacPac Minaret is basically bulletproof in most conditions.

Suffice to say, with limited sleep and the wind only getting stronger we were both up at 6am and decided to decamp and head down the hill ASAP. It did not take long to pack down the tents but care was needed to not lose any bags or rubbish given the high wind (which at least was not a cold wind).

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Morning view – no evidence of the wind that was buffeting us when taking this photo

We were soon back at the car and on a whim decided to take the side road to Lake Coleridge Intake where the water for the hydroelectric powerplant exits the lake and travels underground to the power station. There was not much to see (aside from plenty of signs around dangers of swimming and high probability of drowning due to whirlpool-like effects created by the water outlet). It did, however, afford us a great reverse view of Peak Hill showing just how far we had climbed:

Looking up the spine of Peak Hill from the Lake Coleridge hydroelectric Power Station water intake – note the whitecaps on the water showing how windy it was despite being still very early.

Final Thoughts

Peak Hill is not too hard to climb – you need to take your time, be sure of your footing and watch out for the wind which is always going to knock you around if you’re not careful. There is a lot of looking at the ground directly in front of you, so you need to remember to pause regularly to take in the sweeping views offered.

I’d love to come back on a windless day (if they exist in this region!) and also blue skies as I’d expect it would be a very different experience.