Canterbury’s Peel Forest is a lot closer to Christchurch than you might think. In fact, it’s a short hour and a half drive along mostly straight, sealed roads but it transports you into a unique world all of its own. For example, did you know that 36% of all ferns that grow in New Zealand occur in Peel Forest Park? I didn’t either but when I think about it that’s a pretty remarkable statistic. I mean there are a lot of ferns in NZ and to think that over a third of them are packed into just 773 hectares made me think there must be something about this place that made all the ferns move there. Perhaps there were good schools in the area where little ferns could make fronds easily, fast internet to log on to or plenty of exciting ferniture stores?
I had never been to Peel Forest but Crystal had. She had nostalgic memories of camping with ma and pa and was interested in making a return visit, and so the idea of a spontaneous Peel Forest camping holiday was born. Since we’ve done a bit of camping we are starting to get the hang of it. Not only does this mean the whole camping experience is a lot more enjoyable and far less frustrating (we’ve been through the whole ‘it would be nice to have a table next time’ process) but it also means we can hit the road in record time. I packed up Friday morning and by 11.30am we were heading towards our destination – Peel Forest DOC camping ground.
I know I said the drive is only an hour and a half but I should add that if you attempt it on Easter Friday you’re likely to hit traffic which will slow you to a crawl and double your trip time. We convoyed with some friends for a while (Ngaire was that you trying to escape the van via the sunroof?) and then hit Rakaia where we made a quick pit stop and headed inland along Thompsons Track. Before long we were at Peel Forest, stopping at the Peel Forest Store to check in. Rates of $9 per adult per night for a tent site are pretty reasonable considering it’s a fully serviced campground. We continue up the road about 3km to get to the campground and find the site 49 we’d been assigned. The spot was a nicely sheltered area, good size with a view out across the Rangitata valley, and not too far from the camp kitchen.
The weather was amazing and I was in no hurry to put up the tent so I took my time, lazily constructing our home away from home. Actually that’s one of my favourite things about camping is setting up house – building the tent, setting up the bed, making it a cosy little place to hang out – possibly it’s a throwback to building forts as a kid, satisfying some inner need for sanctuary.
It wasn’t long before we were all setup and that wonderful realization that all your work for the next 4 days was done. All that was left to do was position that camp chair for optimal UV rays, crack open a beer and … well that’s pretty much it, ahh life is tough. After exhausting ourselves with all that relaxing we explored the campsite. I have to admit for a DOC camping ground I was blown away. Facilities were fully stocked with everything you might need – toasters, microwaves, fridge, boiling water, plugs everywhere – and a lot cleaner than many commercial campgrounds. Hot showers (free, yay no coins required!), even a disabled shower/toilet for added space if needed (see the photos).
We took the track down to the Rangitata river. It was a bit of a goat track and water-logged in most places but we eventually made it down to the river, stopped for a quick photo shoot then moved on quickly after running into sandfly city. For the next few days, we explored the area, trying out some of the many tracks through Peel Forest, admiring the massive Matais and Totara trees, some hundreds of years old. There are a few waterfalls in the area, we only visited one which is about a 20 minute walk from the camp and is 24m high but a fairly weak flow so it’s not that impressive.
Saturday night Quin and Michelle came out to join us and pitched their tent next door. We played Scrabble that night while a rain storm passed through the area. Modesty forbids me from saying who won but it was a close contest with the Scrabble dictionary in frequent use. It was still raining the next morning so Quin and Michelle were forced to pack up in the rain, a chilling prospect for any camper but fortunately they only had the small tent.
We spent the day keeping warm and watching episodes of The Big Bang Theory but eventually made the break outside, driving up towards Mesopotamia (not to be confused with the original cradle of civilization). The road heads up the Rangitata valley for some distance, past red deer farms (some of the most productive in the world) and towards Rangitata Rafts, who do a big trade in taking tourists whitewater rafting.
Luckily for us the weather cleared the next day and by the time we were ready to leave around Monday lunchtime the tent was dry. It was a really relaxing spot to hide away for a few days and I’m sure we’ll be back sometime, possibly with our gas heater if we go next easter. If you haven’t already, you like the outdoors and enjoy setting up your own canvas cave, then I’d highly recommend Peel Forest. Just email the Peel Forest store and ask Ian to book you site 49.