The story up to now: Last autumn I visited friends in New Zealand and we took a driving tour of the South Island. For five nights we stayed in the Waimakariri Valley west of Christchurch in the Southern Alps.
Behind Kidson house rises a steep forested slope. Nearly two thousand feet above the valley it narrows to a ridgecrest, still rising, to a summit called Woolshed Hill.
One morning, carrying lunch and weather gear, we started up the narrow track. Near the bottom it was a normal inclined ramp, worn into the sidehill by many feet. Soon, however, it turned straight up the hill.
As we climbed, we admired huge old beech trees, with strong twisting and spreading branches with many stories to tell. Below these trees and younger beeches, ferns and other plants covered much of the ground. I began to feel like a hobbit again.
The trail climbed up, up and still up. With the thick forest, we couldn’t see out to judge our progress. Finally we crossed a short flat, then resumed climbing at an easier angle across the mountainside. Suddenly we emerged onto an open slope 1,700 feet above the valley.
The view spread across and up the valley of the Waimakariri River, a wide flat trough flanked by steep mountain slopes. The contrast between the flanking mountains and the wide, flat valley floor was remarkable. From the abrupt mountain front a broad, nearly flat alluvial apron spread to the river–itself a wide expanse of ever-shifting braided channels among cobbles and gravel.
Turning to our right, the Hawdon River in its deep narrow valley sliced through the mountains from the Main Divide. Faceted spurs and a pronounced U-shaped profile testified to glaciers that had once deeply filled it. We could see cottony clouds trying to work their way over the divide from the wet West Coast.
Directly across the Hawdon, Sudden Valley Stream cut a deep canyon with amazingly steep long slopes, thickly forested below the rock and snow of peaks above. In places the angle was over 45 degrees. Directly above the stream, in places the thick forest draped uninterrupted across nearly vertical cliffs. This was a revelation to me–in the mountain ranges I was used to, solid forest doesn’t grow on slopes that steep. Instead, you have a combination of short cliffs with ledges where pines or firs grow. During my time in the Southern Alps, I would see more of this. The force of abundant life is especially obvious here.
In my next post we’ll explore the forces that have formed this fascinating landscape.