Monday, 13 September 2021

Camping at Lake Ohau, Waitaki District, Otago

Catch-up  March 2021

Don't ask. And yes, I know I'm waaaay behind with my blogs but I just don't know where the time has gone these past few months. And while I might not have caught up yet, I am making some headway through my backlog of  photo processing, photo queries and cottage chores amongst others on my long list of tasks. Let's hope I can do a few more regular blog postings before summer arrives & it's full on again. 

We spent a week in March at the Round Bush DOC Camp on the shores of Lake Ohau in the Upper Waitaki District.

The camp is off Lake Ohau Road, 26km from the main road turnoff, just south of Twizel, the last 3km are narrow & gravel. And while this is a great campsite don't be tricked by my tranquil looking photos. Lake Ohau is an alpine lake, it's in the mountains and the weather can turn on a dime, from calm & sunny to brutally cold with ferocious winds. There are also sandflies the size of helicopters!

The view from the front door. Straight across the lake to Ben Ohau, the small mountain at the end of Ben Ohau Range. Lake Ruataniwha & Twizel are on the other side of Ben Ohau.

We struck it lucky with only one day of inclement weather. David put the Takacat up, it was time to go fishing. Lake Ohau, like Lakes Pukaki & Tekapo in the Mackenzie basin are alpine lakes. They are big lakes and long. Very deep & very cold as they are fed partly from the snow melt off the Southern Alps. David said he felt pretty insignificant bobbing along in his little 3.4m inflatable.

How's that for a mirror finish? It's not too often Lake Ohau is as calm as this, we were lucky enough to have three or four windless days on this visit.

I was also lucky enough to catch the Southern Lights from the lake front one night. Initially I was disappointed that my southerly view was obstructed by Ohau Range and I was thinking I might have to drive back out towards the main road to capture the full width of the aurora. But after a few test shots I realised that the composition wasn't too bad afterall; with Ben Ohau & the Milky Way joining the Aurora Australis. 

Round Bush is surrounded by native bush & beech forest and is great for bird watching. The Lake Ohau area is also one of the highest ranked South Island priority areas for mistletoe conservation. The endangered native scarlet mistletoe flowers in early December and if visiting the lake then, the Southern Beech trees that host the mistletoe, have great splashes of red through them (I prepared a photo for you earlier). 

A rather 'flea-bitten' male Tomtit/Miromiro (top right) & a male Bellbird/Korimako (bottom right) made bird watching easy when they came in close to the camp. Then after hearing a NZ Falcon/Karearea calling to a juvenile nearby I tracked them through the lakeside bush until they flew higher up the mountain. On the way back to camp I came across this hunting/fishing lodge hidden away in the bush, I hadn't seen it on previous visits to the camp. 

Takacats rule!

While David went fishing (he caught a couple of catch & release trout), I drove further up the road to explore. I stopped to take a photo of one of my favourite South Island views; looking up the lake towards the Hopkins & Dobson River Valleys with Mt Glen Lyon in the centre. I have this scene on a canvas in Kahu Cottage, although I took that photo when the manuka in front was in full flower.

I walked across the road to check out the lake view and who do you think was tootling along far below me? Click on the photo to check out exactly how insignificant he really was. 

The view back down the lake was fabulous.

I drove down the otherside and onto a track that took me on a bumpy & rutted route through the manuka until I reached the lakeside. I zoomed in on the Dobson Valley side of Mt Glen Lyon. On a clear day you can see the tip of Aoraki/Mt Cook, NZ's tallest mountain, peeping over the top of the mountains (see bottom right). 

I carried on past Ohau Station until I reached the Maitland Stream where the main (single lane) bridge is being repaired. A narrow bailey bridge or a ford were my options to take if I wanted to get to the other side. I swear the bridge was far too narrow for the Ranger, even though a worker on the main bridge was beckoning me on; he didn't have to answer to David had I hit the mirrors, so I took the ford. And cleaned a bit of the dust off while I was at it. 

Taken from the other side after I crossed the ford
The road continued on up past the vast river delta of the Hopkins & Dobson Rivers.

I stopped at the Temple Stream bridge to check for fish & birds; the water was crystal clear and looked very cold.

Once across the bridge I turned left and climbed a small hill beside the stream. The road is narrow and there's nowhere to pass for a short distance through the bush; luckily the vehicle I met coming out was able to back up a short way to let me past. I wanted to check out the Temple DOC camp.

Temple Stream bridge

Once through the bush the valley opens up and the short track follows the stream to the bush line.

There are large water filled potholes & it's quite rough in patches but doable in a smaller campervan or if you take your time perhaps you'd make it in a larger motorhome. The DOC campsite is large & flat and would be a great place to camp, there are plenty of sandflies here too. There are several day walks and tramping tracks up the two branches of stream; North Temple Valley & South Temple Valley.

I walked to the junction of the two branches and as I moved in and out of the bush I caught a glimpse of movement & colour way off in the distance. I zoomed in with my camera & was surprised when I caught sight of two trampers & their pack horse disappearing up the south branch (bottom right). Other than Mavora Lakes, I've not seen people with horses in the conservation parks.

I had my lunch at one of the picnic tables in the camp and them did a bit of bird watching in the bush along another track. I found another male tomtit, looking in a very much better condition than the one back at camp, and several Rifleman/Titipounamu, New Zealand's smallest bird. Unfortunately they were on a food finding mission and didn't stay still long enough for me to photograph.  

From Temple Stream I carried on further up the valley, passing mobs of merino sheep and crossing several cattle-stops along the way.

Mt Glen Lyon stands proud and alone at head of the lake. Back in Twizel, the cottages are on Glen Lyon Road. It's 40kms from the cottages up the other side of the lake to Glen Lyon Station, both named after this mountain.

And it's also 40km up this side of the lake to the end of the road. Well, the end of the council maintained road that is. 

A 4WD track continues on up the Hopkins River valley providing access to the Huxley River catchment and many of the tramping tracks and huts in this area of the Southern Alps. I am tempted to check the track out but decide this will be as far as I go. Today. 

I turn around and head back to camp.

And then convince David to take me back up there the next day. 

He decides to take the bailey bridge over the Maitland Stream. I'm sure only because I get out to see him through (and I wanted to see how close it was). Of course there's plenty of room but you know how it is when you're inside and the rails look so close. I will add that he decided on the ford on the way home; much more fun! 

Once through the road end gate & onto the track, the river valley opens up ahead of us.

There are a few muddy bogs to cross near the entrance and then several large rock slides further on. An approaching ute waits for us to cross a gnarly patch over the top of a section that has had a few washouts (that's his vehicle disappearing over the top in the bottom right photo.)

What doesn't show in the photos is the gale force wind that is whipping down the valley stirring up dust and sand. You can see a some of the dust clouds in the photo above.  

After 4-5km we reach a very large and wide rock slide with deep channels and decide that this is far as we'll go today. We could have inched our way across it but as is usual for us when we're exploring 4wd tracks we don't push the boundaries. The ute tows our home, any damage or breakdown and we're stuck where we've parked the 5th-wheeler for however long it takes.

And if you're wondering how large is large, can you see the vehicle approaching us from the other side? Click on the photo to enlarge. We wouldn't have had to just cross the slide but drive up it as well to find the track to continue on. 

Another two vehicles pass us heading out of the valley while we were stopped; hunters who had been staying at the huts further up the river. The 4wd track goes quite a distance up the river, crossing it in places too. These hunters told us they only made it to the first of several huts; Monument Hut.

We find a relatively sheltered spot behind the matagouri and out of the wind to have lunch. Afterwards David scans the mountainside looking for his elusive deer & tahr (one day he'll spot something) while I take a few more photos.

And then we head back to camp. Ahead is the vast shingle flats where the two rivers; Hopkins & Dobson meet, the grazed paddocks of Glen Lyon Station show along the base of Ben Ohau Range.

There was a spectacular sunrise on the morning of our departure from Round Bush. I couldn't believe my eyes when I looked out, as I do most mornings checking to see if there's going to be an interesting sunrise to photograph. It's not too often I strike it like this though. 

The famous Canterbury nor'west arch cloud formation was stretching across the sky high above the lake with a fiery orange colour just starting to stain the far end. It was a mad scramble as I grabbed my camera gear, threw on some warm clothes and rushed outside to take photos. 

The colour grew more intense as I hurried along the lake shore and around the point to take photos looking up the lake. A storm was brewing in the mountains at the far end of the lake. 

And instead of the usual subtle rosy pink behind me it was brilliant oranges & yellows (I am always telling people to look behind when they take sunrise shots, often the scene is just as spectacular).

I needn't have hurried (this time), the colour lasted for well over 20 minutes and I was able to take a few dozen photos while the fiery colours gradually bleached out of the cloud as the sun rose higher...

...leaving behind a just as spectacular dark & brooding nor-west arch. 

It was just as well we'd planned to vacate anyway & we pulled out just before the storm arrived.

Monday, 9 August 2021

Back in our Happy Place- Mackenzie Country


From Poolburn Dam in Central Otago we returned to Mackenzie Country and to our favourite camping spot at Ohau C camp on the shores of Lake Benmore, for some more fishing & relaxation.  

Sunrise, Lake Benmore
And no, that's not David coming home from fishing, he's still sound asleep in bed!

We also had a couple of events to attend and I was looking forward to taking a few more high country sunset photos although I didn't expect to hit the jackpot when the nor-wester made several appearances. 

The Twizel Salmon & Wine Festival is held at the Meridian Rowing Centre on the shores of Lake Ruataniwha on the last Saturday in February each year and because I knew we'd finally be in the area at the right time of the year, we had tickets! 

If you're in the Mackenzie during February mark the date in your diary. It was a great day out with record crowds, fine food, excellent beverages, awesome entertainment and oh so very hot!

Which contrasted terribly with the following weekend in more ways than one. For the first time in it's 28 year history the Goldfields Cavalcade was being held outside Otago. Twizel was the host town & final destination for the more than a dozen horse, walking & mountain bike trails heading in from all corners of Mackenzie Country. 

But sadly the day after the salmon festival (luckily for them), New Zealand went into Covid Level 2 lockdown and disappointedly the public side of the cavalcade was cancelled. Many of the trails were set to leave their starting points so they carried on but without all the fanfare (school & area fundraisers) along the way. In Twizel, Saturday's Grand Parade, market & Hoedown were all cancelled and as if to add insult to injury it rained heavily for much of the weekend as several of the trails finished their rides.

I was hugely disappointed, after attending the Omakau Cavalcade back in 2017 I was looking forward to watching all the different trails arrive & photographing the Grand Parade. I was even more excited as the final camp & holding paddocks were on Glen Lyon Road, just down the road from Night Sky Cottages & some of the trails would be passing the cottages on their way in from Ben Ohau Range.

I did manage to catch Les Beattie's 'Black Hawk Sheep Rustlers' Cavalcade Trail as they rode into a very wet Twizel on Friday afternoon. It was lovely of them to detour past the Twizel Kindergarten to view the children's banners they'd hung on the front fence, welcoming the trails to Twizel. Hopefully Twizel will be able to host the Cavalcade another year.

I photographed quite a few lovely sunrises from the edge of Lake Benmore, right out the back of the fifth-wheeler ...

 And no that's not David either (still tucked up in bed)
On many of the mornings I only had the ducks for company, can you see her? I don't mind them sitting quietly like this, it's when they decide to race each other up and down the edge disturbing my reflections that I get annoyed with them.

I got my own back though when this one waddled out of the water and settled down beside David's drone one day, just as he was about to launch it. I felt a bit mean not letting her know but I've never seen a duck move so fast in all my life! Don't worry, no ducks were harmed & she came right back out of the water demanding food. 

Campers at one of the nearby permanent summer camp sites had fun painting rocks during their holiday break, the red M&M is my favourite.

There were some interesting weather formations; single columns of rain...

White fluffy clouds & reflections...

...and the infamous Nor'wester, which aside from blowing us inside out put on a magnificent display at sundown. You might think that the following shot is from the same evening as the following photos. They're not, this first one is from the night before. 

After watching the cloud formation through the day I thought I'd race up the canals (12kms in the ute) from Lake Benmore to Lake Ruataniwha to catch the sunset closer to where it sets behind Ohau Range and where the sky is more open. I grabbed my gear and struggled, huffing & puffing, up the small hillock behind the NZMCA Ohau B Camp opposite the salmon farm, to wait for more colour. It didn't arrive much to my disappointment.  Although I still managed a couple of half decent shots, and look at all those motorhomers parked down below! 

It was a different story the next day though. This time I didn't leave it until the last moment but headed off to Lake Ruataniwha well in advance or so I thought so. Not so. The colour started changing ahead of my expected timing and I had to stop beside the canal to take this one before hurrying on. If there wasn't a touch of cloud covering her, you would be able to see Aoraki/Mt Cook way off there in the background (don't forget to click the photo to enlarge).

I carried on & made it to one of my favourite spots overlooking Lake Ruataniwha just in time to be treated to an amazing display of Mother Nature's brilliance. It's hard to believe that all these photos (and the one at the beginning with the ute in it) were taken of the same sunset, the colours changing by the minute.  

Sunset- Lake Ruataniwha

Ben Ohau & Ben Ohau Range

If you didn't know better you'd swear the sky was pressing down on you. 

And then as the sun drops further behind the mountains, and nearly as quickly as it appeared, the colour bleaches out and twilight takes over. 

If you get the chance to view it, there's another spectacle of Mother Nature that happens during March & into April each year. Sockeye Salmon head up the many rivers & streams in the Mackenzie Basin on their spawning run. The waterways are literally alive with fish; splashing, weaving in and out & fighting as they try to hold themselves over the shallow shingle banks while they spawn. From a distance the river is full of splashes as they move over the shingle, their fins & tails often out of the water.

Sockeye Salmon resting in a cool pool
Sockeye salmon are an introduced species and the Mackenzie Basin is the only place in the Southern Hemisphere where you'll see this happening. Monitoring over the last few years has put the numbers between 40,000 & 70,000. While on their spawning run it is illegal to catch, net or spear the fish, or even walk in the river bed and trample over or disturb their nests (redds).

These are not the Chinook (King) salmon that most people are familiar with and are farmed in the canals. These are quite small in comparison although there have been larger ones recorded. I took these photos from near the highway bridge over the Twizel River. Here's a short video too, most of these fish are waiting in the still water, they move back over the shingle at various stages.

I returned to see them several times over a few weeks; there were hundreds during the first two weeks in March, their numbers slowly dwindling towards the end of March & into April. It was also quite a sad sight after a few weeks. The fish die after spawning and dead & dying fish littered the river bed & floated in the water, many had worn down fins & tails and bleached backs where they'd been exposed to the sun in the shallow water. I thought there would be plenty of birds (gulls & shags) feeding on the dead fish but they were noticeably absent.

On a lighter note, I spotted this very cute cria (baby llama) with his mother in a paddock as I passed by one day. There's quite a herd of llama here but they don't come near the road that often. The wind was blowing a gale this day & this little guy was very unsure of himself, quickly looking for Mum if she stepped out of sight. Look at those gorgeous eyes & eyelashes, oh so cute! 

And to finish with, here's one more from that dramatic sunset! It's nature just wonderful.