Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Beautiful & Bountiful Lake Brunner

Lake Brunner at 40km2   is the largest lake in north Westland and apparently the warmest (although I didn't take a dip to confirm this fact), so with the weather seemingly settled and the lake calm we embarked on a tiki-tour of the rather large (for our little dinghy) lake.

We headed out of our bay, towards the Hohonu Range on the south side of the lake….

We followed the lower slopes of Mt Kinga around the corner passing a large rock slide that starts right up at the top of the mountain, sliding through a narrow gully before fanning out into the lake. (Remember to click on the photos to see a larger size)

We motor towards the head of the lake where there’s a kahikatea forest, the trees at the front have their feet in the lake and are surrounded by reeds, rushes and raupo (bulrush).

This looks like fertile bird habitat and sure enough before we have time to move in close, a small flock of Canada Geese take off.

Scaup, ducks, shags and white faced heron move quickly and quietly out of sight. These birds don't like being disturbed.

Instead of birds to photograph, I ‘make do’ with the wonderful reflections. This looks like an abandoned maimai (duck shooting hide) or perhaps it was a bird watching hut.

It was interesting to see the tide lines on the rushes, I’m surprised after all the rain we’ve had that the lake is not higher.

The buttressed bases of the Kahikatea.

We move very carefully along the edge of the drowned forest, some areas are shallow and in others, submerged trunks and branches reach up ready to snag and puncture our little boat.

Kahikatea love to have their feet in water, they once dominated New Zealand’s lowland swamp forests. They are also New Zealand’s tallest tree and can grow to a height of 90 metres. Because they have very straight trunks they were ideal for milling to be used in boat building and export packaging.

We move on past Swan Bay, where there are a small number of Black Swans that also take off as soon as we round the end of the trees.

We speed up a little and head on further round the lake, dodging a floating tree trunk along the way. Now that would make a mess if you hit it in the middle of the night.  We’re now over the far side of the lake near Mitchells which is little more than a name on a map. Mitchells is on the Kumara-Inchbonnie Rd and is reached via the Otira Highway (Arthurs Pass). Nearby is an isolated bach and boat shed on the lake edge. We’re getting a little worried that if we carry on exploring along the lake edge, the weather might change and we’ll be caught out a long way from home, and with the most direct route being across the middle, we’d be in for a rough ride.

Instead we head across the bay towards the settlement of Moana, David is wanting to check out the river outlet for fishing. Just as we approach I hear the Trans-Alpine railcar toot it’s horn as it pulls away from the station.

The Arnold River is a tributary of the Grey River, it has a very wide and deep outlet from Lake Brunner.

We head down river passing under the Kotuku Awa swingbridge which is part of the Rakaitane Track, a short 45min loop walking track that starts in Moana. We’ll go as far as we can and then David’ll fish his way back to lake.

We travel quite a distance down the river, enjoying the beautiful scenery and peaceful surroundings when suddenly David discovers his phone is missing. He’s been using one of his apps to track our route and is suddenly in a panic. Where has it gone. We turn the boat upside down- not hard to do- and he then remembers he’s left it on the log we sat on to have our lunch. Lunch back along the lake edge before we reached Moana.

So we turn around and head back out, and even though I tell David it won’t disappear, his mind is no longer on fishing. He’s just keen to get back to retrieve it.

Once the phone is back on board we head across Moana’s lake front towards our side of the lake, giving the river a miss this time. There’s a large drowned wetland on the north side of the lake with hundreds of dead trees that looked to have been willows. Right along the edge are hundreds of Black Swans, some swim off and disappear back into the mass of dead limbs….

And even though we keep well away a few take flight, scaring many more into the sky. Behind the row of dead trees there’s a lagoon called Swans Retreat. I can now see why.

David had been trolling as we made our way over to the swans and it was with much excitement to suddenly find he’d hooked a fish. It put up a huge fight so we were expecting something a little bigger than what finally appeared beside the boat. This lovely little brown trout had been foul-hooked through his dorsal fin hence the fight he put up. Our first trout from the lake was of course released.

We pulled into a bay near the Crooked River inlet and were surprised to see another boat pulled up onto the shore further down the bay. After checking out part of the wetland…

….we were even more surprised to see, as we went tootling past, two stealthy fishermen looking for their quarry in amongst the reeds. Lake Brunner offers some of the finest brown trout fishing in the South Island but with their deep bronze colour, caused in part by the tannin stained, tea coloured water, they are hard to spot. David thinks there's a trophy trout nearby and the guy in camo is a guide.

We round Howitt Point and are nearing the entrance to our bay when finally David hooks a decent size fish. Even though it does put up a reasonable struggle, he is surprised at the lack of fight in the fish. This is probably because it’s a lazy lake fish, they don’t need to struggle against the flow like their river cousins.

Unfortunately for this fish, we haven’t had smoked trout for a long while so I look the other way as David dispatches him, it’s trout for dinner tonight.

Just as we get ship-shape- can you imagine how awkward it is to get out of the way of the fisherman in a tiny inflatable? I’m sure I’m going to go over the edge one day- the sky is filled with the sounds of hundreds of honking geese and from all directions Canada Geese fly over our heads, probably headed for the back of the lake where we’d seen a few earlier in the day.

They reminded me of our visit to Horicon Marsh deep in the backblocks of Wisconsin, USA. Canada Geese winter over on the marsh and at the height of the season over 350,000 birds leave to feed on the surrounding farmland in the morning. The sky darkens with hundreds of V formations at they fly back in at sunset.

We head for home as the sun disappears behind the clouds and the chilly air arrives. There are drowned forests all around the lake, this one is just across the bay from where we are parked. There are a number of stream outlets in amongst the trees so I can see why this area is flooded.

The ripples created by our dinghy makes the water look like corrugated iron.

We round the point and can see ‘Out There’ off in the distance, we’ve had a great day exploring and it’s not long before we’ll be eating trout for dinner….


  1. Love the reflections, can shoot them all day, suggestion to David ... Bungee chord on cell phone (or similar) and never take it off... I know I'm ignorant ...what's a scaup? Not that I have scaup all to do with it. In Murch headin for secret destination provided by 2gotiki2ring. Ciao J

    1. That's a great idea Jimu, maybe I should have one too :)
      A scaup/NZ scaup or papango is a black teal duck- a small black diving duck, the male has a yellow eye.
      Enjoy the secret destination and no stopping over in the cave! :)


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