Where: Christchurch – 90 minutes inland
Distance & Time: 2km , 2 hours exploring/climbing/picniking
Take: warm clothes. And a picnic!
Amenities on route: there is a bathroom for use at the carpark, and by the rocks. Info boards at the carpark explain a bit about the area.
Cost of the walk: free car park at the start of the walk.
It’s an odd feeling when as a New Zealander, it takes someone visiting the country to not only take you somewhere you’d never been before, but take you somewhere you’d never heard of before, and so it was with Castle Hill.
While the actual walk at Castle Hill can be as short or as long as you make it, the drive out there from Christchurch is absolutely stunning. You’ll pass through some cute small towns (make sure you stop and take a photo of the giant donut at Springfield) as the mountains loom closer. Once you get up into the mountains, the terrain is unlike anything I’d seen elsewhere around New Zealand. It’s very sparse, and it took a while to hit me why it felt odd – there were barely any decent sized trees. It was just bare hills surrounded by more bare hills, perhaps with a bit of scrub thrown in in the mix.
It’s not hard to miss Castle Hill, no doubt there will be a fair mix of campervans and cars in the car park. It’s one of those walks that you can quite easily stop and do to stretch your legs before you continue on to your final destination.
But once you’re there, holy sweet baby deity it is unlike anything you’ve seen before. It almost looks man-made as the rocks just seem to appear out of nowhere, almost as though they’ve been scattered by hand over the hillside.
There’s no set walk to do here – you can see tracks in the hillside where others have gone before, but the fun is in just letting yourself wander and seeing what you find! While we were there, there were people attempting bouldering, families having fun scrambling around the walks, couples strolling around, and others just letting themselves take it all in.
I had quite a lot of fun scrambling up some of the rocks, but make sure you’ve got good shoes with grip if you’re going to do that. I can imagine that on wet days the rocks would be a lot slipperier. There are rocks of differing sizes that no matter who is in your exploring group, you’ll find something that everyone will be satisfied with.
There’s two sides to Castle Rock – the first side on the left that you come across is a different landscape to the taller rocks on the right. We spent an equal amount of time in both exploring, at one point I had a phone call asking where I was as I’d just taken myself around/through/over some rocks and Paul had lost sight of me!
Even though when you arrive at the carpark it may seem as though you’ll come across lots of people while exploring, the reality is that there is so much to see and places to wander that it’s quite easy to barely see anyone else while you’re there.
I had fun looking at the rocks and trying to figure out what they resembled. My favourite was the deformed bunny – (when you go, let me know if you spot him too)
Also, take warm clothes! I had five layers on, including gloves and a hat. Even though it was a sunny day, it was still damned cold. But beautiful. Oh, so, beautiful.
Depending on what time of year you visit, and what gear you have available, I also highly recommend a side trip to Cave Stream. You get to walk nearly half a kilometre through caves, in a stream! Amazing. We managed to walk down to see the entry and exit points, but we didn’t have the right gear to do it unfortunately (a wet suit was highly recommended. Ah well, I know for next time!)
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