Wednesday, 17 June 2015

An Oasis in the Desert

We found an amazing place, a real oasis in the barren, desert like basin of the MacKenzie Country.

Hidden amongst the trees, wedged between the Tekapo River on one side and the high stopbank of the Tekapo Canal on the other, are the most beautiful ponds. It’s not until you get close and the ponds appear that you realise, ‘of course, there must be something giving this grove of trees life’.

These are the Patterson Ponds- they’re not marked on any tourist brochures as an attraction but they are on some with a camping symbol beside them. This is a freedom camping area and what a beautiful isolated place to camp. I say isolated, but in fact they’re only 10kms from Tekapo. There is an entrance track to the river flats here at the sign post but it’s at least a couple of kilometres along a bumpy track to the ponds. We head to the end of the road where I can see another track down to the ponds.

Patterson Ponds are a photographers dream. It was a chilly but sunny winter’s day and the rustic colours of the willows, rushes and briar bushes contrasted beautifully against the azure blue pools and taupe of the river terraces. But I’m sure this would be a magical place in any season.

There are at least ten inter-linked ponds, the Tekapo River feeds them from the top end and each pool overflows into the next one before the water exits at the end of the ponds back into the river.

The Tekapo River is only a shadow of it’s former self,  the main flow is directed into the hydro canal as soon as it leaves Lake Tekapo. But at least some flow has been left, unlike the Pukaki River in the previous post, although I suspect most of the water in the Tekapo comes from the Fork Stream which passes under the canal & road and outlets into the Tekapo.

From high up on the road, we can see the ponds are separated by fingers of land and that there are quite a number of different trees aside from the willows. I can’t find any history on how the ponds came to be here and whether they are natural or not. Going by some of the exotic trees growing, perhaps there was once a homestead (and fish ponds) belonging to Mr Patterson here beside the river, long before hydro power came to the MacKenzie Country.

We drive right to the end of the road , well in fact to where it has now been closed off, available only to foot & bike traffic further on. The canal road once exited back on to the main road near Irishman Creek Station.

The track down onto the river flats is lumpy and very rocky, similar to the Pukaki River track we followed the other day (and in the last post).

It branches in two just before we reach the ponds. This is the end of the Tekapo River track, but not the one that ran straight ahead when we turned to follow the Pukaki track; that’s on the other side of the river (and I still didn’t see an exit for that one). This one left the Pukaki track just after we crossed the steel Tekapo River bridge. We would have come out here at the ponds had we decided to drive the 40km track up the Tekapo River.

We drive along the edge of the ponds until we find a break in the trees where we have a lovely view across a pond while we have lunch.

After lunch, I wander around the ponds- I’d love to spend a few days here, to catch the different lights and see more of the shy birdlife. It might not look like it to the average observer but there’s so much happening in and around the ponds if you spend the time looking.

Apparently, according to a few fishing articles I came across when I was trying to find out the history of the Ponds, there are some big Browns here and going by the amount of cover they’d have it doesn’t surprise me. I suspect they’d be very wary fish though.

On the left is the narrow but deep drain that feeds the ponds from the river and on the right is one of the overflows from one pond to the next.

Willows, poplars, bullrushes and grasses surround this pond- beautiful colours not usually seen in a NZ winter.

On the otherside of the ponds, looking back towards the canal wall,  the reflections are amazing. The canal and road run along the second tier, the top tier is the stop-bank on the other side of the canal and the bottom tier is another gravel track- it can be seen in photos at the beginning of this post.

Beautiful reflections-

David’s packing up the ute and it’s time to leave, of course I could have happily stayed clicking forever but I’ll have to save that for another time (another place to add to our ‘we will return list’).

The ponds are absolutely stunning and are reached by travelling past the Tekapo Power Station, across the canal bridge and down the canal road for about 8kms.

Of course most people that travel down this road only have one thing on their minds- catching a fish in the canal! Salmon & trout are spawning at the moment hence the reason most fisher people are up near the power station- where the fish can’t get any further upstream.

This photo was taken a couple days after our initial visit, we called in on our way out of town- so I could see if the early light was a little better- it wasn’t, but it gave me a chance to get a photo of the rig on the canal road.

The road down to the ponds wouldn’t be suitable for larger vehicles and rigs but I don’t see any problem with parking on the road verge above the ponds. There are a couple of larger areas that are wider than shown here in this photo.

That dip in the range behind (left hand side) is Hakataramea Pass, which we passed on our epic road journey the other day.


  1. Another place on to put on my ever growing list of places to view....I'll ask my neighbour Alan Patterson a retired Canterbury & Murchison farmer if he knows anything about these Patterson"Oasis in the Desert" He just might...he's that sort of bloke!
    Cheers J

    1. That would be great Jimu, you never know. You'll certainly enjoy the Ponds when you're down that way.

  2. It really is a magical place. We stayed on the big flat area by the gate that locks off the canal road, and had a fantastic night with the sky so clear you felt it was going to hit you on the head. The track to the ponds was to rough for a front wheel drive motorhome. This is our blog post when we stayed there.


    1. Cool! I like that description ' was going to hit you on the head'. I know what you mean- I spend a few minutes outside at the Tekapo Park but it was too cold to take long exposure photos- maybe next time. I found your blog when I was googling the ponds to check the history- it was about the only thing that had some info on them.


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