|21.5 km N of Geraldine; 51 km W of Ashburton. Visitor Centre at Peel Forest township (tel. (03) 696-3826) for displays and details of walks and tramps (no hunting). Those tramping on Little or Big Mount Peel should sign the intentions book both going out and on their return.
The mixed podocarp stands of Peel Forest Park on the South Canterbury foothills contrast sharply with the pine shelterbelts of the plains. As a verdant oasis on dry summer days - the region is otherwise largely denuded of native bush - the forest has a host of delightful picnic spots among trees and a series of walks to waterfalls. There is excellent salmon fishing in the Rangitata, particularly in February and March, though the river is not recommended for swimming. The river at nearby Orari Gorge is quite safe. A small camping ground is run by the park headquarters. Some private baches at Blandswood are available for renting. The area was named after the British Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel, who died in 1850.
FLORA AND FAUNA
|Native trees in the park include totara, matai (black pine), kahikatea (white pine), konini (fuchsia), kowhai and abundant varieties of fern. Indigenous birds are seen in good numbers, among them the native pigeon, kingfisher, numerous bellbirds, rifleman, tomtits, waxeye, the occasional ground lark and the odd tui and parakeet.
The area was not spared the plunder that marked the Canterbury settlement's first 50 years, when timber was scarce. The hamlet here was a brisk and busy milling settlement until, in 1908, it proved cheaper to import timber from Australia. The delightful area of Agnes Mills Bush was spared, and remains in its virgin state with native creepers, clematis and parsonia clinging to its trees and in season spangling the forest with the freckles of their white flowers.
|A number of signposted walking tracks have been formed through the bush. Stout footwear is advisable.
Interpretation Walk: An easy track with well-marked trees provides a good introduction to the ecology of the area. Clarke Flat. Allow 1 hr.
Dennistoun Bush: A level easy walk threads through some 40 hectares of splendid forest. A short side track leads to a replica pitsaw set up on a pioneer site. Allow 1 1/2 hrs round trip. Leaflet available.
Big Tree Walk: An easy walk from the Stone Bridge through the virgin forest of Agnes Mills Bush leads to a splendid totara over 9 metres in circumference. Start from Te Wanahu Flat. Allow 1 hr.
Acland Falls: An easy track, mainly through stands of konini and mahoe, leads to the 15-metre drop of the Acland Falls. Start either from opposite the camping ground (allow 40 mins) or from Te Wanahu Flat (allow 1 1/2 hrs.)
Fern Walk: A pleasant walk noted for its variety of ferns threads through the bush along the lower slopes, from the Stone Bridge to Blandswood. Start from Te Wanahu Flat. 1 1/2 hrs to Blandswood. 3 hrs return.
Rata Falls: A moderately difficult track leads to falls reduced to rapids in the flood of 1975. The last section follows the creek bed and involves some rock hopping. In late December and early January the flowering rata are a feature of this walk. Start from halfway up the hill at Blandswood. Allow 2 hrs. For the less energetic, an easy track to Emily Falls, also diminished in the flood, starts at the same point, but veers left. (Allow 1 1/2 hrs return.)
MOUNT PEEL STATION
|'To see for yourself': To runholders John Acland and Charles Tripp, the twin barriers presented by the hazardous Rangitata River and the near-impenetrable Peel Forest were dual blessings, as they ensured the isolation of their sheep in times when there was a real risk of strays contaminating the flock with scab. They were in no hurry to pierce the bush with a road, and it was for the timbermen to open it up, forming a way for drays along the track blazed by the station employees.
John Barton Arundel Acland (1823-1904) and Charles George Tripp (1820-97), both law graduates, became interested in the Canterbury settlement and on their arrival in the colony in 1855 they found that all the rich plains and lowlands had been taken up. With their limited capital, only �2,000 each, they elected to take up country hitherto presumed fit only for pigs. In a letter written at the time, Acland recorded the attitude of the experienced squatters, one of whom 'laughed at our exploring and said that the banks of the Rangitata were perpendicular; he would not attempt to take a horse down for �50, and the opposite country impassable. We replied that it was very likely, but we had a fancy for looking at it. In the Colonies you always like to see for yourself, and the worse account you hear of unoccupied country, the greater the reason for going to look at it.' So confident were they that Acland and Tripp applied for runs before they had even been on the country. Setting out from Christchurch, they became the first Europeans to explore the upper waters of the Rangitata, Orari and Ashburton Rivers in the spring and summer of 1855-56. Only then did they take up the runs that were to become Mount Somers, Mount Possession, Mount Peel and Orari Gorge, as well as part of Mesopotamia and Hakatere.
In 1862 the partners divided the runs between them; Mount Peel becoming Acland's, and Orari Gorge and Mount Somers Tripp's - Mount Possession had been sold the year before.
The Government halved the Mount Peel run in 1912, reducing its carrying capacity from 45,000 to below 20,000 sheep. The run has since been further reduced. It is one of few still to be owned by descendants of the original runholder, and has lately been farmed by Sir John Acland, knighted for his services to the Wool Board. The original family encouraged employees to marry and live on the station, envisaging the growth of a considerable community, but the land was not suitable for intensive farming.
Mount Peel homestead and church: The exquisitely proportioned homestead (1865; not open to the public) may be seen from the roadside some 8 kilometres beyond Peel Forest settlement. Built of pitsawn timber and bricks fired on the property, the homestead is set in a plantation of century-old trees.
Close by is the Acland family church, the Church of the Holy Innocents�� (1868-69), which is open to visitors. The simple structure built of Rangitata River stone and Mount Somers limestone by William Brassington (the mason responsible for much of Christchurch's Provincial Council Chambers) is furnished with an altar and pews of totara. The church contains memorials and stained glass dedicated to members of the Acland family, and an ornate tablet to Charles Tripp. Without, at the east end of the church, is the grave of the original Acland with, close by, that of Elizabeth Hawdon (1851-1921) 'the first born child of Christchurch, Canterbury', whose father was the celebrated early Christchurch photographer, Dr Barker.
The church is named after three infant children, among them Emily Dyke Acland (1864), who are buried in the churchyard. Both Acland and Tripp were devout churchmen, studiously observing church festivals even when alone in the bush on lengthy journeys of exploration. 8 km N of Peel Forest settlement turn left up a driveway just before reaching the homestead entrance, and park by the church. The homestead is not open to the public.
OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST
|St Stephen's Church, Peel Forest: Included in the stained-glass window is a representation of Milford Sound's Mitre Peak, dedicated to an early climber of the glacial wedge.
Little Mount Peel tramp: A shelter has been built near the summit of Little Mount Peel (1,303 m), reached by a hard 3-hour climb.
Mesopotamia: The run renowned as once being held by Samuel Butler lies at the road's end. 47.5 km NW.
Orari Gorge farm buildings: No visit to Mt Peel station is complete without a complementary visit to Orari Gorge, where a number of very early farm buildings are being restored. 11 km SW. See Geraldine.