An historic bush-clad retreat named after British Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel, who died in the same year the New Zealand province of Canterbury was founded, Peel Forest offers excellent walking for all levels, with tracks through the bush leading to waterfalls and the 1311m summit of Little Mt Peel.
Many of the walking tracks start either in Blandswood Rd or at Te Wanahu Flat on Rangitata Gorge Rd. Walks vary in terms of time and difficulty; from the 15 minute Big Tree Walk – to a massive 1000 year old Totora (see picture above) – to the six hour return to Little Mt Peel via the South Ridge Track. No matter what walk you chose, it’s worth bearing in mind that weather conditions can deteriorate very quickly due to the mountainous topography, so it’s worthwhile checking the weather before you set off and be dressed accordingly. Sturdy footwear is recommended on all the tracks and waterfall walks, as they remain slippy in places throughout the year.
Peel Forest village boasts an inviting licenced café – Green Man at Peel Forest – which forms the hub of this thriving community and where visitors quickly become friends over a cup of coffee or something a little stronger!
Next to the café is the historic St Stephen’s Church. Originally constructed in 1868 and rebuilt in 1886 (after being razed in a Nor’West storm) this white weatherboarded church features some beautiful stained glass and a rimu interior. A little up the road from the Green Man is the Peel Forest Hall, with a small playground and tennis court in its grounds, as well as area to picnic under the trees. The hall also features a mural by the renowned landscape painter Austen Deans, who lived and worked around Peel Forest for much of his life. A memorial to the artist, sculpted by this son Paul Deans, is located directly opposite the cafe,
Further on from the village, a trip to the stone-built Church of the Holy Innocents, set among sweeping trees at Mt Peel Station, is also worth a visit. This quiet churchyard is also where famous crime writer Dame Ngaio Marsh, a friend of the Acland family, was laid to rest. The church was badly damaged in the September 2010 earthquake but at the time of writing the repairs were undertaken and the church is once again a special place to visit with its impressive stained glass windows.
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