Tuesday 15 December 2015

Exploring Godley Peaks Road

I’m back to catching up on the new backlog of blogs. I had a brief thought that perhaps I should skip a few or at least condense them a little but then decided against that. The good news is that I shall continue to plod along, there’s just so much interesting stuff to report on, I’d find it hard to pick and choose what to post. The bad news is that this will be the second to last post for a few weeks.

On Thursday, well ahead of the mad frenzy that happens during the pre-Christmas week rush, we’ll be heading off the grid and out of internet and cellphone range. We’ve been looking forward, with much anticipation, to a long break beside one of our favourite high country lakes in Southland. Our Winton family will be bringing their caravan to park beside us for some of the time and we’re really looking forward to spending some quality time with them.

We’ve been parked in the Top 10 Holiday Park at Arthurs Point near Queenstown for the last few days, preparing the van and it's occupants for the Christmas holidays. Lists have been ticked, shopping is finished, the van spic ‘n span, laundry all done, hair cuts completed while the pantry, fridge & freezer will soon be groaning under the weight of four weeks worth of supplies- it’s a long way back to civilization if I forget anything. No doubt the bank balance will also let out a groan.

Which brings me back to this blog post which I must get finished before I do a few last minute chores. We did a day trip from our base in the NZMCA Park at Lake Tekapo, exploring Godley Peaks Road which runs up the western side, to the head of the Lake Tekapo. The road passes below Mt John and the observatory with many places to stop and take in the stunning vistas of the beautiful lake and it’s unbelievable turquoise colour. You can see the road we’re following disappearing over the hill in the distance.

I stitched 4 photos together here for a panorama of the above view, in this one you can see part of another lake, centre left.

That's Lake McGregor and it’s where we’re headed first. We want to check out the camping site before we bring ‘Out There’ up here for a few days. It was no surprise to see lupins growing all along the road verges on our way here and also great clumps growing on the lakes edge. There’s also a fly-fisherman trying his hand just off lake’s edge.

We carry on past Lake McGregor to check on Lake Alexandrina, we’re looking for Australasian Grebes or to be more specific, we're looking for their nests. The lake is only a few hundred metres further on, Lake McGregor is a tiny pool sandwiched between Lake Alexandrina and Lake Tekapo. You may remember we visited here and the top of Lake Aleaxandrina when we were in the MacKenzie country last. It was deserted then and it’s deserted now.

We take a walk along the front of the cribs (aka baches or holiday homes) checking in amongst the boat sheds and around the overhanging trees and grasses looking for a nest.  A lone grebe floats nonchalantly just off shore, we know there’s a nest nearby, one of the crib owners tells us they nest somewhere along the front every year. We don’t locate it and when we next look back another grebe has joined our lone bird and after a brief greeting they both float about like they have no worries.

There are two distinct camping ground areas, one at each lake with another section that stretches along the stream that joins the lakes.

Many of the caravans are closed up for winter, very soon their owners will return for the summer holidays.  We head back to Lake McGregor and stop beside the lake for lunch. We spot a pair of grebes near the roots of a willow tree. It’s very unusual to see them both out of the water. At first we think they might have a nest but they soon swim away and we see that it’s just the tree roots. Perhaps they were checking it out for a possible nest location. Lake McGregor has a mini copy of the famous Lake Wanaka lone tree. We watch as a tourist in a sleeper van washes her dishes in the lake directly below a sign indicating it is an offense to do so. I politely point out that she shouldn’t be doing this.

After lunch we walk back to the stream and decide that this is where we’ll park the van, right beside the lupins with the relaxing sound of a babbling brook below us. Beautiful blooms, trickling water, starry nights, peace and solitude. We can’t wait.

We carry on up the road, heading towards the Godley Peaks Conservation area, that’s Mt Hazard (2123m) in the foreground.

We still can’t escape the dust, an approaching truck swirls a great cloud of dust along behind him, we pull over until he passes.

Once the dusts settles we can see we’re approaching a group of exotic trees lining either side of the road. It’s look like an entrance to a farm station but there are no signs or a cattlestop as is usually the case.

And under the first tree is a flock of merinos with their lambs sheltering from the heat of the day. And to the far left is another tiny lake, Lake Murray. We’re stopping here to explore the lake’s edge, I’ve found out that there is often a pair of Black Stilts feeding in the shallow water. After finding our first black stilt on our Lake Pukaki road trip we’re keen to get a closer view of this very rare and endangered bird.

We park the ute and head off around the edge of the lake. The sheep decide we’re a little too close for comfort and head off in the other direction.

We walk to the top of the lake (it doesn’t take long) scanning the lake through the binoculars as we go.

But all we find is a pied stilt who isn’t too bothered with us but lets all the other waterfowl know that we’re approaching. Ducks and ducklings, swans & signets fast track it out from under the tussock mounds to the centre of the lake. As I walk over a rise, I get a fright as two teddy bears take off for the hills. Ok, well they’re not teddy bears. they’re hares, you’ll have to read this link to see why I call them teddy bears. David tracks them for quite a distance but they out smart us in the end, heading along a dip in the land and up the rocky slope behind the lake.

He spots them sitting on their haunches at the top of the slope, watching us approach along the lake edge before they bound off and out of sight. What magnificent animals they are, we’ve seen quite a few on our travels, mostly in pairs and I’m keen to capture them up close.

With no Black Stilts in sight we continue on around the lake back to the car.

The sheep have settled again nearby and I take a few dozen shots of the cute lambs and their oversized coats.

This little guy especially takes my fancy, he looks a little sorry for himself with his extra baggy coat and wrinkly nose.

We carry on up the road and stop beside the Cass River and the entrance to Godley Peaks Station.

I walk across the bridge, David follows behind in the ute. We stop in the middle and scan the river for trout and the riverbed for terns and stilts. The water is ice blue and crystal clear. The Cass River Delta Conservation area is a release site for captive bred black stilt juveniles, the wide braided lower reaches of the river are ideal stilt habitat.

We drive a few kilometres to the end of the road and turn around in front of the station homestead. Permission is required to travel on further.

We drive back over the bridge and take a side track down to the river to check out the alternate ford crossing. The river is too swift and a little deep so David makes do with washing the wheels in the puddles that have formed in the shingle to the side.

We follow another track down past a long paddock of poplars to a gate, beyond it the track heads across the river’s gravel flats. We’re on the hunt again for Black Stilts. We drive on until we come to swampy ground. We park up and head off towards the river, crossing small streams and boggy ground as we go. We can hear a stilt calling and can see a few birds circling in the distance.

As we get close we can see through the binoculars that it’s definitely a Black Stilt and it’s chasing, first a hawk, and then some gulls, away from it’s territory. It must have a nest or chicks nearby.

Unfortunately it’s too far away for any decent shots and there’s a couple of river braids between us and the river bank it keeps landing on. We settle for a few overhead flybys and watch it carefully as it chases anything that comes close. Sadly it also looks like it’s mate might be a pied stilt too, just like the pair that we saw on the farm dam.

Happy to have found another Black Stilt we head back across the swamp to the ute; it’s time to head for home.


  1. Glad that you decided not to skip or condense, we'll wait patiently. Those might well be the essence of tiki touring! We once camped a night by the shore of Lake McGregor, thoroughly enjoyed the peace there. My heart aches seeing tourist washing dishes in it. I admire the way you approach misbehaviour. My respect to you.
    The little lamb doing stretching is so cute! We saw many long tailed lamb when we followed the Peninsula Walkway through the farmland. We once thought all lamb are short tailed :-)

    1. Thanks offstone, it'll be worth the wait (and then you won't be able to keep up because I'll have a whole lot to post one after the other!) I think these lambs weren't that far off from getting their tails chopped. Another paddock close by were being rounded up as we passed. We later saw the poor lambs carefully walking by with red behinds or sitting down uncomfortably. Apparently some farmers who send lambs to the works don't chop their tails as the meat toughens. I think I'r rather have a longer life and no tail :( Merry Christmas, enjoy.


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