Thursday 11 June 2015

The Road to Somewhere- Part 1

We began, what turned out to be an epic road trip, at Dog Kennel Corner, a relatively major junction just south of Burkes Pass. It’s a Y intersection with an overgrown island and a few trees in the middle. Haldon Road heads off across the flat tussockland at right angles to SH8 which carries on to Fairlie in one direction and Tekapo in the other.

I love that name; Dog Kennel Corner. Where else in the world, or for that matter New Zealand, would you find such a cool name. I wonder how many people drive past and think to themselves ‘How did that get it’s name’. I wonder how many drive past not even knowing the name of the corner. I wonder how many people know that there's a memorial hidden in the long grass under one of the trees. Not many I suspect.

Now I’m still left wondering. I wonder how a boundary dog managed to hold back a flock of sheep? Did he run up and down barking until they retreated? Was he chained up? If he wasn’t, why didn’t he run away? And how did he know where the boundary was? And who fed him!....

At first we were going to travel down Haldon Road, take a side road, cross over MacKenzie Pass, say hello to Dusty and Kate at Mt Nessing and travel home via Fairlie- a nice round trip. That’s McKenzie Pass, the dip in the range behind the ute wellside. But I’m sorry Dusty (if you’re still following my blog) we’ll have to say hello another time, we decided we’d go all the way to Lake Benmore at the end of the road.

We stopped at the next road junction and another familiar name; Hakataramea Pass. We last saw this name at the other end of the road, after we’d travelled Meyers Pass when we were staying in Waimate not long after we arrived in the South Island. Meyers Pass Road came out onto Hakataramea Valley Road (don’t you just love these names) not too far from Kurow. But Hakataramea Pass will have to wait for another day too.

No, our destination today was further on, much further on….

…60kms (you read right sixty, six o kilometres) further on down a long gravel road with just a few dips and bends in it. For the first 20kms or so it’s rough, scrubby conservation land and then the sheep stations begin, huge runs reaching far back into the mountains behind. Along the road edges, lined up in neat rows, are hundreds of rounds of baled hay.

Most of the MacKenzie Basin is dry and dusty, the annual rainfall is only 300-400mm and the temperature can vary from 40deg in the summer to minus 20deg in winter (minus 20! I think we’d need 3 diesel heaters to cope with that). During the hot summer months, there’s very little growth and with drought conditions most summers and lot of the land ravaged by rabbits, stockpiling hay and silage for stock, is the only way farming can survive in these harsh conditions.

Towards the end of the road we drive through Little Pass (Big Pass is up in the hills). A pass? A pass through a couple of hills, the tallest is 581 metres. I guess they wanted to at acknowledge something with a bit of height after all that flat land.

The road splits in two not much further on, a rough gravel road heads off to the right, the sign says Boat Harbour so we know we’re near the lake but we carry on straight ahead, we'll check the harbour out on our way back. We’re approaching the heart of Haldon Station, a 22,000 hectare high country station, with large stock yards, woolsheds and houses dotted about.

But the biggest surprise is when we turn and cross a bridge to find this gorgeous little school house tucked into the trees on the side of the road.

Haldon School reminded me of an American school house, with the patriotic flag flying outside, school bags hung on pegs and shoes lied up on a rack. The ‘fall’ colours helped as well. What a find, it’s these unexpected treats that I love to see on our travels.

While I was taking photos the door opened and two children came out, sat down on the step and put their shoes on. I asked them if it was lunch time and, yes it was, and they were going to play outside. One of the children told me there were 3 pupils, him and his sister and one other and they all lived on the farm station. From what I gathered, they do correspondence but have a teacher who supervises them. How cool is that, at least they had a school room to go to each day and for them it would feel like they were going to a proper school. I think that in times past this would have been a actual school, when there were a number of families with children on the station and other stations nearby.

While we were checking out Stony River which ran beside the school house, a huge bus full of people pulled out of the nearby farm gates, not something you expect to see this far out in the wops. We had seen the bus way back at Dog Kennel Corner when I was taking photos. We wondered where it was headed when we saw how long and deserted the road was. I think perhaps they were farm students of some sort on a tour, the bus headed further on down the dead end road, maybe to the next station.

And the reason we were checking out the river was because of the large number of trout that were in the shallows. At least 30-40 trout were making their way under the bridge and up to where a stream joined the river about 20 metres further on. Spawning trout! And they weren’t worried about us either, staying put and just juggling positions with each other most of the time.

My map book told me that there was a ‘Lookout Point’ further on down the road so we continued on, hoping to see the lake soon enough. We crossed more farmland with more hay bales but I knew from the low lying mist in the distance that we were getting close.

And then finally, we climbed a rise and turned a corner to find the lake right in front of us.

Lake Benmore looked absolutely stunning, a millpond with not a breath of wind. Lake Benmore is a manmade hydro lake, a drowned valley that was created in the 1960s by the construction of NZ’s largest earth dam, Benmore Dam. The lake covers approximately 75km² and we’re at the top north-east end of the lake, we have yet to visit the business end.

This might be our first sighting of the lake but it certainly won’t be the last, we’re going to be seeing a lot more of the lake and hydro canals that feed it in the weeks to come.

We carry on along the road which now follows the lake edge, I’m looking for Black Forest Cove where the lookout is- although it’s a pretty spectacular outlook all the way along.

We cross a cattle stop and a sign tells us we’re now in Black Forest Station, we drive a little further on and it looks like the road turns into a private road once we cross another bridge. There are 5-6 lovely homes dotted about near the entrance, all with drapes drawn. When I googled Black Forest Station later, I saw that the homes are all rental accommodation-
Black Forest Accommodation is a fabulous holiday destination with the most stunning scenery! Six self contained houses situated near the lakes edge, a Shearers Quarters and a Cottage, our accommodation is the key to a recreation paradise. Whether its Rest and Relaxation, Water sports, Fishing or catching up with friends and family you desire, visit our holiday houses website today!
What a great destination, although I bet those who book on-line would start to wonder where on earth they were headed when they start travelling that very long road. Perhaps some fly in.

We’re a bit reluctant to carry on along the private road, not wanting to intrude and not sure if the lookout is ahead of us or we’ve missed it, so we turn around and drive back to the water’s edge near the station sign to have some lunch. We sure do have our lunch in some amazing places.

The scenery is just as spectacular at lake level. We’re just that little bit late to catch the full autumn colours but at least the willows held onto some of their leaves to give me a little colour.

After lunch we head back out, stopping at a high point for one last look at the beautiful view. I bring out my landscape lens again, to try and capture the wider scene.

Back past the school house, the woolshed and the trout, back to the junction of the road and we turn left heading for Boat Harbour. Well, we’ve come this far we might as well check the harbour out, right? So off we head down another straight gravel road…..

...and it’s not long before we can see a power station in the distant, this is the top end of the lake and it’s where the hydro canals  from Lakes Ohau, Pukaki & Tekapo empty their contents into Lake Benmore.

We can’t reach the power station by road from this side of the lake, to get there we’d have to travel in from Twizel. But we could cross by launching a boat here at boat harbour and motoring over. This is known as the Haldon Arm Boat Harbour (that’s the main lake right at the end) and there’s a huge camping ground located on both sides of the arm.

A huge deserted camping ground that is kind of spooky; old corrugated iron smokers, soot covered BBQs, fire-pits, make-shift lean-tos, picnic tables & wonky chairs piled in corners, sites marked out and not a soul about. It’s a very large site and it’s hard to imagine that this place must be packed in the summer. And it’s so far from anywhere.

And not only that but when we crossed a footbridge over a deep stream, there was just as large a campground on the other side. We drove down one side of the arm (on the right above), it was very narrow due to the stream on the other side, we thought there might be a better view of the lake, but that’s all we could see (top right below) and then David had to back all the way back to get out.

This place must really be pumping in the season going by all the rules and regulations they have in place. I guess it would be the fishing that would attract most of the campers (click to enlarge if you're wanting to read the sign)

But all that was there to greet us were dozens of friendly fantails/piwakawaka, who flitted about very close, more so than usual; they’re obviously used to people and missing their camping buddies.

Still to come-
The Road to Nowhere- Part 2


  1. well done you...just stunning country and what a great day you got to be there. fantastic photos.

    1. Many thanks, glad you enjoyed the blog. It's probably not a trip we'd repeat again in a hurry, especially the second part.

  2. Hi, we just stayed at Black Forest Station 20_21 Oct for two nights, it's a great place to stay. We also like to explore in our vehicle but unfortunately Haldon Rd was shut due to the lambing season. We also managed to do the other two passes you mentioned and also checked out the Camping ground by the Lake.

    1. Thanks for your message, Black Forest station would have been a great place to stay. They certainly had some lovely cottages with great views out over Lake Benmore.


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