Day 163, January 18th
It’s a long ride into the land of the famous horse-men. Most importantly, it’s a lonely ride! Mt. Sunday, the movie site location used to build Edoras, the capital of Rohan in Lord of the Rings, is a single mound of rock one hundred kilometers from anything and immediately adjacent to Erewhon (“Nowhere” backwards, seriously that’s the name). If it’s so far away from anything and it’s just a boring mound of rock then why would anyone make the long drive out there? Most people would say “It’s because Lord of the Rings used it for filming, that’s why it’s popular.” Surprisingly those people would be partially wrong. Undoubtedly LotR has made this particular viewpoint famous in the eyes of the world, but it turns out that Mt. Sunday has long been a spectacular destination before LotR.
We join the countless number of past feet that have traveled this route before ours, some famous, many unknown, as we approach Mt. Sunday. Originally, used as a meeting place on Sunday for New Zealand boundary riders the small hill gained its name, but serving as Edoras granted it its fame. Every day there are tours that run from Christchurch all the way to Mt. Sunday to deliver LotR fans to a vista that appears as though it were made for someone’s fantasy story. The golden hill climbs steadily and easily up to the top where the viewpoint is simply marvelous. Yes, Mt. Sunday is just a little mound of rock, but just like Mt. John at Lake Tekapo, Mt. Sunday was formed as a glacier deposit, which gives it a unique vantage point. The immediate area around Mt. Sunday is flat golden valley with braided rivers flowing through it, then suddenly the valley takes a sharp upturn and mountains rise up in every direction. You are surrounded, no, engulfed by impressive mountains, to the north and west spectacular Alpine mountains rise above all the rest! Wow! This is jaw-droppingly stunning!
(Behind Jonathan in that last picture is the gorge used as the basis for the CGI-ed Helms Deep.)
After making the walk out of the valley we looked at each other unsure of what to do next. We didn’t want to drive an hour each way on a long gravel road for a single short hike. What else is in this region? How about a ridiculously steep and long hike up to the top of Mt. Guy? That’ll be fun right? Right? We drove about twenty minutes away from Mt. Sunday to a nearby trio of lakes that serve as a popular holiday retreat location for Christchurch residents. Nearly surrounded by Lake Camp and Lake Clearwater, this little holiday retreat location serves as the starting point for our summit track. The carpark sits about two kilometers away from the Mt. Guy trailhead on the opposite side of Lake Clearwater. Thus, our adventure begins with a nice flat walk around the lake, crossing a bridge over the lake outlet stream, then completing the U-shaped track to the real trailhead for Mt. Guy.
We’ve done some steep hikes before, namely Robert Point at the Franz Josef Glacier and Mt. Karioi near Raglan, the biggest difference which is immediately noticeable is that Mt. Guy is completely bald. There are no trees on this entire trail. From the bottom you can nearly see the end of the trailhead at the top, if your eyes were good enough that is (“Legolas, what do your elf-eyes see?”). We stood gaping at the beginning of the trailhead for several minutes looking ahead at the bald challenge dead ahead. Mt. Guy looked to be insurmountable. We finally decided we had to give it a try. We hopped the stile and the relentless uphill started immediately. For the first thirty minutes the trail maintained a nice 20° incline, but then it sharply changed to alternating between 40° and 50° all while having to traverse the absurd gradient on loose shale rocks that sometimes gave way under your weight and let you slide backward a few feet. One third of the way there…
Two thirds of the way to the top. The view has not improved drastically enough, in Amelia’s opinion, to warrant the dreadful amount of work required so far! The steep ascent seemed as though it would never end, we could see our “goal” and kept pushing ourselves upward with nothing but gumption and determination. Our muscles cried for a break, our minds told us to turn around, the sun in the sky said “BURN!” All we could do was continue to trudge up the scarp. Determined not to give up, we plodded one foot in front of the other, breathing heavily until we reached what we thought was our goal. It wasn’t. An hour and a half of brutally steep uphill and we still had another thirty minutes of twenty degree incline to the top. We sat for several minutes taking in the view laid out below us. The hike was hard, but the view was lovely. Lake Clearwater and Lake Camp were plainly visible along with the holiday retreat directly in front of us to the west. The third of the trio of lakes, Lake Emma finally became visible to us in the southeast with plains all around it. We could see buses stuffed with LotR fans driving on the gravel road headed to Mt. Sunday, which was once again visible to us from our vantage point way off to the northwest. Our perch had a lovely 180° view of the plains in front of us, but we weren’t at the top yet!
We must keep going! Almost there, Amelia, keep trudging!
FINALLY!! The Summit! Our legs and minds finally recovered enough, we began the last of the march to the summit. We were completely unprepared for the beautiful landscape that opened up before us. As we finally reached the top the views abruptly unfolded from 180° to a full 360°. Oh my goodness! Mt. Sunday’s 360° views are cut-off as mountains block the view after a kilometer of open air, but Mt. Guy had no interruptions. Peaks of mountains were visible as far as the eye could see. Extremely hot and sweaty, with no other hikers in sight, we shed our layers allowing all the sweat to dry in the sun and breeze. Phew! This view was WORTH the effort!
The downhill was nowhere near as brutal. Fatigue from downhill descents strikes muscles, but leaves wind in your lungs, making it far easier to move more quickly even with aching and weary bones. We reached the Pinata and left the golden valley behind. We park and then fall exhausted into bed for the evening in a little town called Methven (Sounds like someone had a lisp when they named this town). The views were worth it and the ensuing sleep was sweet-as.