Peel Forest is a DOC administered native reserve, comprising of 773 hectares of Podocarp forest, a remnant of the once magnificent forests which covered huge areas of Canterbury. It has a wide range of vegetation from dense virgin stands and remnant swamp forest, to subalpine and alpine species towards the summit of Little Mt Peel.
The park offers a marvellous selection of walks, half of which are easy and enjoyable for all ages. There are picnic areas with tables set up beside the forests, well maintained walkways and a camping ground on the banks of Rangitata River.
There is an excellent bar and café in the village, along with 2 tennis courts open to the public at all times, and an Anglican Church.
Rangitata River is close by for fishing, rafting, canoeing and kayaking and the magnificent Rangitata Gorge is a 30 minute drive away.
In addition to the wonderful forest there is the attraction of an abundant bird life. New Zealand’s smallest bird, the rifleman, the fat native pigeon (kereru), bellbirds, fantails, grey warbler, shining cuckoos, native falcons and tomtits are all to be seen in and around the park.
Further up the Rangitata Valley
If you carry on up the gorge road from the Farmstay, you’ll encounter some of the South Island’s most iconic landscapes, as well as the historic settlements of Mount Peel Station and Mesopotamia Station.
Mount Peel Station
Mount Peel homestead and it’s surrounding buildings, including the church of the Holy Innocents were established in the The Church of the Holy Innocents at Mount Peel is worth a visit. This historic place of worship was a gift to the community by John Barton Arundel Acland (1823-1904) and consecrated by his father-in-law, Bishop Henry John Chitty Harper, 30 May 1869. The church is named in remembrance of three infant Acland children who died between 1864 and 1869 and are buried in the churchyard.
The church features some impressive stained glass windows, but was badly damaged in the earthquake of September 2010. A restoration project is planned, but work is yet to start. The main window above the altar has been restored however, and currently is on display at Quake City in Christchurch, awaiting to return home to Mount Peel.
The braided Rangitata river rises in the mountains at the head of the Valley and snakes its way along the wide glacial valley towards the narrow hills of the Rangitata Gorge.
The rapids that flow through the gorge are some of the best in the South Island, meaning that this stretch of white water is a magnet for adrenalin junkies. Alternatively if you fancy something a little more sedate, the lower reaches of the river can be navigated by those of all ages. If you fancy taking on the rapids or maybe the more sedate stretches, pay a visit to Rangitata Rafts on Waikari Rd.
At the head of the Rangitata, nearly 50km from Peel Forest lies the remote Mesopotamia Station, in the shadow of the Two Thumb Range. This high country station was first established by Samuel Butler in the 1860’s and was named by Butler due to its location between the Rangitata, Forest Creek and Bush Stream. Today it is still a working farm, some 25,000 acres with over 11,000 Merino sheep, cattle and deer.
The road to the upper reaches of the Rangitata is sealed up to Waikari Rd (the turnoff to Rangitata Rafts) and from there is a gravel road that climbs to over 550m and then drops down to the river valley below.
Please note: weather conditions change rapidly both at Peel Forest and further up the Rangitata Valley due to their elevation and topography. If you’re venturing out walking the hills or forests, check the weather before you depart and make sure you have adequate clothing for the conditions. If you are planning a trip towards Mesopotamia please be mindful that weather conditions are difficult to judge from Peel Forest, so please check the forecast before you head off.