Mt. Peel – Escaping Ohau For A Watery Adventure


The Otago hills around our little shed transform from brown to bright green as the winter season in Ohau comes to an end.

Bye Grottage Family!


Feeling teary and slightly hungover, I say sayonara to the people who have become the most awesome family over the past 4 months.

Three girls, one rock. Diamond Lake and Rocky Mountain Track.

I’m taking two of them with me over the next month to have the most epic spontaneous adventure around the South Island. The “three girls, one rock” crew became the “three girls, one car” crew as we SQUEEZE ourselves and a month’s worth of food and camping gear into Subalou the Subaru.

We spend the day driving to Timaru, an industrial NZ city with a beach and a shopping district that we stopped in to gather last minute supplies as we had no idea when we would see a beloved Foursquare again…

After about 2 hours we decided that’s far too much time spent in the big city and we quickly retreat back to nature to Orari Gorge, which had an $8 (honesty box) campsite there. In the rain we were pretty miserable but it had a good flushing toilet and space to park our cars nearby.

Mt. Peel walking map

We woke up to a chorus of many different New Zealand bird sounds. Today we planned to go on the hikes around Mt. Peel.

The DOC site nearby has a map and a really helpful gentleman who excitedly recommended some great walks to do despite the rain and swollen creeks.

Ferns with seed pods, a rare sight amongst the forest teeming with different species of plants.

We decided to do the Emily Falls track which was nothing short of a watery adventure! I was thankful I bought hiking boots the day before because after the rainfall the creeks were ankle deep. Alex and I were gingerly dipping our toes into the freezing water trying not to get too wet…

Emily Falls

This was short lived, as the track led us to a beautiful waterfall that cascaded into a deep pool, one of which I decided to take an unintentional bath in. Oops.

I learned that once your boots, and really everything up to your waist is soaked, it doesn’t really matter how deep the creek you’re crossing is… so from then onwards trekking without caring became pretty fun.

Acland Falls

We continued on to the Acland track to another cascading waterfall that crashes onto a shelf which is then spat outwards. The mist is refreshing and provides some lush nutrition to an array of colourful plants here.

If Alex was a flower…

It was really fun to tramp through the mud and rock-hop on granite stones thick with dewy moss and foliage, however our last walk was much tamer and a good one to do on a rainy day.

A peeling Totora tree, revealing red flesh underneath.

The Big Tree walk was a 30 minute walk that led us through a forest of ancient Totora trees.

Totora Tree

It ended at the largest one in the forest which was up to 1000 years old. This tree stood alone in a clearing with huge snaking roots and a brightly coloured bark. In the silence of the forest I felt respect for the age of this beautiful Totora, much like the thousand year old Jomon Sugis in Yakushima. 

Craigieburn Shelter Camping Ground

Satisfied with how saturated our boots were now, we decided to head onwards to our next campsite for the night. Our journey leads us toward Arthur’s Pass, and along this one road, at the bottom of the Broken River Ski Field, there was a stunning campsite by a bubbling stream  called Craigieburn Shelter.

Black velvet forest

What made this campsite really special for me was camping amongst hundreds of black velvet covered trees. The moss on the branches were a hairy sea green which gave this forest a pretty, wintery feel.

Take a walk through a red alpine forest…

There are a couple walks here too which lead through scarlet coloured pine trees up to a great viewpoint of the still snow covered mountains.

Backpacker artwork by Katie Dalseil, 2010

Many backpackers that stay here come to climb at Castle Hill which is a Mecca for bouldering in NZ. Messages from these creative individuals were left for us in this shelter as we enjoyed the dark star-less night.


Traveller’s Tips:

Subalou the Subaru’s Travel Path:

Ohau to Timaru – 2 hours 20 minutes.

Timaru to Orari Gorge – 1 hour approx.

Orari Gorge to Mt. Peel – 20 minutes approx.

Mt. Peel to base of Broken River Ski Field – 1.5 hour approx.

DOC Campsites:

Orari Gorge Campsite – $8 per person per night. Camping and Car Camping available. One flushable toilet with paper.

Craigieburn Shelter – $8 per person per night. 20 spots for camping, Car camping also available. Has a shelter. Has one drop toilet wth paper. No fires (although we did see small fire pits).

Walking and Tramping:

The was heavy rain the night before so we avoided tracks with large river crossings and steep muddy up hills.

The DOC sites will give you the best information for the day but we took the Emily Falls, Acland Falls and The Big Tree walks. Each one around 30min-1hour.

Emily Falls was definitely a must-see but you have to be prepared to cross a creek twice, waterproof hiking boots and change of footwear at the end of the day highly recommended. Warning: trail and especially rocks can get really slippery when wet. 


We are using a great little app called CamperMate to seek out all our homes for the next month. It has information on nearest gas stations and water points etc. on it also. Super useful.


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