Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Plenty of Pylons – Lake Tennyson

After we left Banks Peninsula we spent another couple of days back at the NZMCA Park in Weedons, Christchurch before once again hitting the road heading north. If we keep this up we’re not going to make Nelson before spring!

Our next stop was Hanmer Springs, the alpine resort village in North Canterbury. David had a special birthday to celebrate & I thought it would be nice to have a bit of time relaxing at the hot pools and David could also have a massage; he’s been missing his regular weekly massage that he used to have back in Tauranga. I forgot that it was school holidays! Chaos reigned. But I’ll come to that blog later.

To escape the masses we took a drive out to Lake Tennyson. Lake Tennyson is located 40km from Hanmer, on the well known Rainbow Road, a 112km wilderness 4WD road trip through sub-alpine country. The road starts behind Hanmer Springs and exits at the Nelson Lakes passing first through Molesworth Station, the huge (well in fact the largest) station in New Zealand & then Rainbow Station. This is not to be confused with the 207km Acheron Road which also traverses Molesworth Station and is the more well known journey. Both roads are closed over winter, the access gates locked from April to December although the Rainbow Road gate is much closer to St Arnard (Nelson Lakes) so you can travel it from Hanmer for about 76kms (as long as there is no snow)

Right behind Hanmer Village are two passes that take you over the Hanmer Range into the Clarence River Valley. Jacks Pass is the more popular route to take, Jollies Pass is only recommended for 4WD. We thought we’d take Jacks on the way over & Jollies on the way back. Jacks Pass was deeply corrugated, one of the worst gravel roads we’ve struck in our travels. David wonders how often they grade it, as going by the traffic we pass, it's a well used road. There are dozens of forest & mountain cycle & walking tracks on the range and we see plenty of cars with bikes of all sizes piled up on bike racks behind the cars or on trailers and roofs. The Hanmer Skifield is also over the range and up near the St James Conservation Area but as there has been hardly any snow this winter, it’s hasn’t opened yet.

Jacks Pass
Just before we pull over at the top of the Pass we come across a hiker with his Golden Retriever beside him, walking down the road. I recognise that it’s Mark Inglis, the well known mountaineer that lost both his legs after they became frost bitten while he was trapped in a snow cave on Mt Cook for 13 days back in 1982. He had his carbon fibre prosthetic legs on and looked to be managing the corrugations better than David did. I know he lives in Hanmer & is training for another overseas mountaineering expedition at the moment. He has a quest spot on Radio New Zealand quite often.

Heading down the Jacks Pass to the Clarence Valley
Once over the top we follow the Clarence River along Tophouse Road towards the old St James homestead & the start of the St James Cycle Trail. And we’re back into tussock grasslands, one of my favourite landscapes. The old rabbit proof fence borders  the road, there’s more about it further on.

We really are so lucky in New Zealand. There are so many wonderful walking, tramping & cycling tracks around NZ & especially out in the remote back country. It’s just a shame that there aren’t more people who can access some of these awesome trails. The 65km two day St James Cycle Trail (more of a mountainbike run looking at some of the route) is located in the St James Conservation Area, along with a number of other trails, there are also natural hot springs located near the trail at a couple of points which would be great for those over worked muscles.

St James Conservation Area covers 78,000 ha of native beech forest, tussock plains, rivers, lakes & mountains. It was once one of the largest operating cattle/sheep stations in the country & was purchased by the government in 2008 to protect it & open it up to recreation & tourism.

The cycle trail starts and finishes at Maling Pass or St James Station Homestead. We stop at the entrance to the old St James Station to have a look at the abandoned buildings left behind, including the woolshed, stables, cook house and the remains of the old homestead.

Going by the amount of old dog kennels scattered around underneath the gnarly old macrocapa shelterbelt they had a lot of farm dogs on this station.

And the farm dogs obviously had as hard a life as the settlers on this remote and rugged station.

We carry on up the road heading towards snow capped mountains with the weather looking like its about to close in on us. Other than two cars (without people) in the St James carpark we pass no one else until we return to Hanmer.

Two rows of pylons march down the river valley, here the wires catch the sun looking like a giant spider has passed through ahead of us.

Looking back to St James & the good weather.

A Pylon montage! I know that pylons are usually unsightly but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. These photos wouldn’t be as interesting without them.

The historic Fowlers Pass Track hut sits just off the road, a section of the cycle/tramping track runs up the valley from here.

Fowlers Pass (1296m) connects Fowlers Hut with Stanley Vale & Lake Guyon huts. The track has river crossings, scree slopes & in winter snow can make travel difficult. The area is also prone to avalanches. So not your average Sunday ride or walk.

The road we are on is reasonable, though there are a few repaired patches where the river, in flood, has come sweeping around a corner and washed it away. There’s also a high section that has been cut through a gravel slope, big rocks are scattered over it and we hope none decide to dislodge while we’re passing through.

Near the Maling Pass section of the St James Cycle Trail (the other start/finish point) we open the gate and enter Molesworth Station crossing the Clarence River for the first time.  This photo is actually taken on our way back out.

Not long afterwards we turn onto a track that will take us to Lake Tennyson. It’s a nice surprise to see that there’s a shelter with a table & bench that we can have lunch at. David (Stickman) first checks out the river to see if there are any trout, this is the Clarence River outlet from the lake.

Lake Tennyson is quite beautiful even though shrouded in rain and cloud,  it’s surrounded by tussock & alpine ground cover with a few stands of beech forest on the far shoreline. It’s a surprise to see a number of shags resting on a log on the lake edge just across the outlet & to hear ever-present & noisy Spur-winged Plovers kicking up a fuss at our arrival.

Inside the shelter there are a number of information boards.

Most of them tell about the struggle the area has had with rabbits. How the owner of Molesworth Station introduced wagonloads of cats he brought in from Christchurch, to try & control the rabbits. And that rabbits were the direct reason that Molesworth Station was returned to the crown in 1938. And all about 128km Waiau Rabbit Fence was “one of the most perfect rabbit fences in the world” (that’s the one I mentioned back at the top). I hope you can read some of the information, click on the photo to see a larger version.

Curried Rabbit anyone?

As we have our lunch the cloud lifts and the light rain stops, the lake becomes a millpond and we can now see the rugged slopes on the mountains behind. But it’s getting cold and it’s time to head home.

We weave our way back down the valley through the multitude of pylons and back into sunny weather.

We carry on past Jacks Pass and try our luck over Jollies Pass back to Hanmer. We had a bit of a laugh as we approached and saw where one row of pylons disappeared over the range. A very long time ago, we did a trip to the West Coast on the trans-alpine rail car, we hired a 4WD SUV and drove back to Christchurch via Lewis Pass, stopping at Hanmer for a few days.

We drove over Jacks Pass to look at the river and thought we’d return via Jollies Pass. Back then I don’t think the signage was a good as it is nowadays because just below this row of pylons there was a track which we thought must have been the pass, we’d been told it was 4WD only. We followed it up & up, I know it doesn’t look that steep from here, but believe me when you’re in the passenger seat looking straight down off the edge of a narrow mountain track with many washouts, it’s very scary.

The track got narrower, the rocks bigger & the ruts deeper. There was nowhere to turn around so we had to keep going. It was with some relief that the track finally ran out beneath a pylon right up on top & there was a small flat area full of rocks that we managed to turn around in and head back down. We decided Jacks Pass was all we could manage. It wasn’t until we were talking to a person at the information centre that we learnt we’d followed a pylon service track, a track that was only suitable for quad bikes. What greenhorns!

Today we drove on past the now overgrown pylon track and found the Jollies Pass track further on, we’d been told it was icy & slippery but we found most of it was fine, with a few slippery sections on the Hanmer side. It was, in fact, a lot smoother to cross than the corrugated Jacks Pass.

The view over the Hanmer Basin with Hanmer Springs village centre right.

Crossing Jollies Pass with a patchwork of forestry operations going not too far from Hanmer.


  1. I like your entreaty to view pylons differently and I'm going to give it a go. You've caught some lovely sights in this piece.

    1. Haha, thanks Olwen. I figured if you can't beat 'em , join 'em!

  2. Just to add that I was surprised (like you) to see shags at Lake Rotoiti a couple of years ago - they just don't fit the inland alpine scene, do they?

    1. You hit the nail on the head Olwen, I couldn't quite decide why they looked out of place then it dawned on me, mountains & snow don't tie in with shags.

  3. Great photo's. We are staying a few days in Hanmer in November and would love to go to Lake Tennyson. To get there, do you think a 4WD is a must or will a normal car will be OK?

    1. Thanks, a 2WD vehicle will be fine at the time of the year, providing there hasn't been a major weather event prior to your departure- snow or flooding. The road is quite corrugated in places but just take your time through these patches. Just don't return via Jollies Pass road.


Thanks for taking the time to comment, it's much appreciated.