Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Athol in Autumn

Once our van was repaired & good to go we were keen to get back on the road after our unscheduled stop in Te Anau. Funnily enough, we had the most beautifully appointed & large motel unit at Radfords, but we both commented that we felt trapped in an unmovable square box, albeit a box with a luxury spa bath! Life on the road has definitely worked its way under our skin and travelling is now firmly in the blood.

After a busy two weeks in Milford doing so many different activities we decided to head back to Athol for a few days to “re-group” and get some R&R in a familiar place. You will remember we stayed in Athol while we waited to do the 4WD Safari over Nokomai Station. We parked up on the same site as before with the great view over the paddocks and river and beyond to East Dome, although this time the grass was a little drier & the willows had started to turn colour & lose their  leaves, autumn is definitely in residence & rain is badly needed. When Pam (our host) arrived later in the day she exclaimed “:You’re back!, I knew as soon as I saw the van from down the road it was you guys”

For the next few days we relaxed a little, did a couple of short tiki-tours around the district, David went fishing & I continued catching up on my photos and blog posts from Milford; it was great to just relax & enjoy the sun.

You may also remember my blog post on the Vege Shed. Of course we couldn’t pass without calling in again to stock up on free range eggs, vegetables, lamb & venison. As you do. We also heard that on the following Sunday, Trailer SixtySix, an iconic Airstream food caravan was setting up outside the Shed serving coffee & light meals. We marked that down in our busy schedule and headed there for lunch not long after having our regular cooked Sunday brunch!

The coffee & food were superb, I ordered the Slow Cooked Shanks in Red Wine Sauce & Ciabatta Roll & David had the Slow Roasted Lamb Sandwich.  We had a great hour or so chatting to all the locals that were calling in & then the caravan owners who were English migrants who had come to NZ from London about 6 years ago and settled in tiny Garston.

Bart puts his order in-  "Ummmm......I'll have the....the crispy, streaky wait, a venison slider......."

The owners are hoping to set the caravan up in Garston where the National Cycle Trail will pass through the township. They should do good there along with their B&B in the same settlement. The cycle trail is following the old Kingston Flyer rail corridor and all along the road we could see ground works & preparations going on. We could also smell the preparations; every morning in the cold still autumn air a pall of smoke rose high into the sky drifting along in the breeze from the bonfires along the path as they burnt the cleared undergrowth.

The signs of autumn were everywhere, roadside bushes dripping in berries and rosehips, the ground under the chestnut trees was covered in husks & nuts, & on the dull days the beautiful golden elms brightened up the gardens.

Under the autumn coloured trees in a roadside reserve near Garston were dozens of bright red & orange toadstools.

Garston’s claim to fame-

Once David had fished the section of the Mataura River which ran behind the campsite we drove up past Garston to Brightwater to check the river out up there. He found a couple of guys on the riverbank enjoying a beer. They were from Auckland & on a fishing holiday & not having too much luck. But they did tell us about the Brightwater Spring which was just over the river and through the paddock.

We waded across the river and scanned the paddock, it looked to reach right over to Castle Hill without a break. We followed the fenceline across the grass for a few hundred metres until we came to this beautiful stream that cut across our path and joined the river further down. The water was very cold & gin clear, the stream bed was a mass of small coloured stones and the water plants (I don’t like to call them river weed they were so beautiful) were an array of brilliant greens gently swaying in the flow. The odd trout that we spotted quickly hid.

We turned up the stream and followed it for some distance looking for the source. We found a couple of fairly large areas where the water was bubbling out of the ground & joining the stream but we kept going hoping to come across the actual beginning of the water flow. Unfortunately boggy ground and a heavy barb wire fence halted our progress.

Part of the spring
We decided we couldn’t go any further so turned back towards the river taking a more direct route across the grass. And that was when we found dozens and dozens of horse mushrooms. Individuals, groups of 3 or 4 and huge fairy rings to match the size of the mushrooms. I didn’t have a bag with me so I filled the hood of my jacket, pulling the drawstring firm to hold them. There were so many that I could afford to be selective, only taking the buttons, which looked more like door knobs, and the large new clean ones. Mushroom soup for dinner that night, followed by chicken & mushroom casserole the next & mushroom tart on the third. You wouldn’t guess that I’m not that fussed on mushrooms but I can’t miss an opportunity of making use of nature’s bounty.

We didn’t need to get our feet wet again when we got back to the river further downstream. This old "bailey stock bridge” was in place, it made for a great photo subject. I’ve never seen one quite like this before, I would think the farmer would have to shift it before heavy rain or winter arrives. It could quite easily be washed downstream.

Just north of Garston I spied this rustic woolshed which looked great against the backdrop of Castle Hill.

Right next door were a large flock of sheep looking very white against the green grass, they’d obviously just been shorn.

The next day when we came past the woolshed yards were alive with more shorn sheep. A classic & iconic New Zealand scene. I joined a carload of people who were taking photos too.

And finally it was time to hitch up and say goodbye to one of our favourite camp sites. The campground is closed over winter due to the cold conditions and the water freezing in the pipes but Pam has said we’re most welcome to park over anytime as we can use our own facilities. I’m sure we’ll be back again but I have a feeling it won’t be during the winter.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Trish, wait until you see the ones of the autumn colour around Bannockburn!


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