On The Tops - Mount Oxford

 Beautiful sub-alpine plants - the flowers are quite big!
White Gentian and Raoulia

I'm back from a day journey climbing Mount Oxford in the Oxford Forest, North Canterbury. What a day! Do I have enough energy left to write up this trip report? Do gardeners ever get sick of their gardens? Ha!

I'm writing this ten hours later, including car travel - that's eight and a half hours on the track, with rest stops, and a half an hour for lunch. I am sooooooo tired! But what a legend - this is by far the most difficult day trip I've ever been on.


We climbed up, first through bush, then up the rocky sub-alpine vegetation - low shrubs and grasses. Really hard work. We passed some beautiful white Gentian flowers - the size of garden Bergenias. And lots of springy mounds of Raoulia, which we call vegetable sheep.

We stopped for lunch at the trig station on the true summit - what views! The Land of the Long White Cloud describes our country well! Then we set off across 'the Tops'.

 Hmm... You can see where the path goes. Can you tell that it goes up? And up?
Mist in the Hills

We descended down another side of the mountain, and the relief of having the soft forest carpet underfoot was soon spoilt by the relentless gradient - down, down, down for nearly three hours. Ouch! Toes jamming the front of tramping boots, front-of-leg muscles getting a fierce work-out.


Masses of ferns mark the end of the descent and the relative ease of a more level track. Where were those swathes of ferns? There was much jubilation on seeing the first - a modest little specimen with no fern-friends. Aargh! False hopes! He was gallantly growing way out of his comfort zone!

 And when you're up you're up.... And when you're only half-way up...
Half Way Up

The trip was such a long one I had little time to stop and dream, or even take photographs. In a hiking marathon frame of mind, somehow the personal challenge of keeping the legs moving over-rides the arm's ability to reach into the camera bag. What a wimp!

Mount Oxford - you offered quite a challenge to this older-lady gardener. One of the last to reach your summit, she was heard to mutter to a nearby tussock, in the smallest voice, a phrase something like: 'I don't think I can keep going up for much longer'. Oh dear!

The Tussock Tops

Walking across 'the Tops' in the New Zealand foothills is an awesome experience. You're small and fragile in the huge rugged landscape, yet at the same time your eye can easily follow ridgelines and gullies leading to other valleys, other ranges... The mood changes - you feel super-strong. You could simply keep going, adventuring on and on, ending up anywhere!

 On the top of Mount Oxford.
The Tops

Reality check! The weather has to be calm and benign - there can be no banks of cloud rolling in to destroy visibility, no strong winds to make walking impossible. At all times the way down into the safety of the bush has to be clearly visible! And the legs? They need to be strong and fresh. Are you carrying enough food and water? What if you get 'bluffed' and have to retrace your steps? Do you have a locator beacon, a survival blanket, just in case? When will it get dark?

OK, OK! You get the picture! There's little room for emotional improvising on such a trip. You resurface from your adventurous, trail-blazing traveller dreams, peep at the map, register four more hours of tired legs, and simply follow the track. Blast!