Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Lisa & the Lilybank- MacKenzie Country

Lisa, who lives in Dunedin and is a friend from a photography forum I belong to, had indicated she’d like to meet up with me while we were in the MacKenzie Country. Initially Lisa was hoping we’d be able to meet near Omarama so we could shoot the ‘Clay Cliffs’ at sunrise but unfortunately we hadn’t moved that far south and Lisa was only able to get away from work and family for just the one night on the weekend we shifted to Lake McGregor. I told her I was sure we’d still find plenty to shoot including the Patterson Ponds which she was keen to visit. Unfortunately the wind returned with force and overnight rain had fallen in the foothills of the Southern Alps.

I met Lisa in town and she followed me out to the Ponds, both of us getting hammered along the canal road, the wind bufferting the vehicles as we fought to hold them on the road. We stopped to take photos as we approached the ponds and were very nearly slammed against the vehicle as we fought to stand upright.

Fork Stream which passes under the Tekapo Canal and exits into the normally placid trickle which is the Tekapo River was now a roaring grey torrent. The lupins I had seen the other day gracefully swaying in the breeze along the edges and on an island were now swallowed by the murky swirl.

Further on, the Ponds, which are fed by Tekapo River, are flooded and windswept and looking totally different to out autumn visit. We decide there's no point in driving down the rough track to check them out…

…but after turning around and heading back along the canal, we do wind out way down to the stream outlet where a torrent of water tumbles out from under the canal bank. Nearby lupin flowers are being battered by the wind and their roots are being undermined by the water. A flock of whirling and diving Black Fronted Terns periodically land on the numerous islands in the middle of the flow, some fly overhead warning us away. There are chicks and nests on the islands and some have probably already perished in the flood.

After grabbing a few quick shots we head back to the canal road, Lisa takes a short cut up the side of the bank following a deeply rutted and very rocky track, I travel the long way round. There’s no way I can risk the Ranger on a 4WD (capital letters!) track, it’s the main player in our travelling road show.

We’ve decided to head up Lilybank Road, the road that passes by the NZMCA Park. Lilybank Road is about 40kms long and follows the eastern shore of Lake Tekapo and along the base of Two Thumb Range, all the way to the top of the lake and beyond. It’s a road that David & I have yet to explore, even though we turn into it every time we visit Tekapo. Lisa takes the lead and we head for the hills.

Being behind I’m able to stop when I spot something interesting; the first is this sign between the skis for a ‘holiday home’. The Roundhill Skifield is located towards the end of the road and these cottages (I use the term loosely) are available to rent. I'm sure they would have been shearers quarters in their previous life as there’s a very large woolshed nearby. I hope there are photos on the accommodation websites they are advertised otherwise you'd get a big shock arriving for what you thought was going to be a luxurious romantic skiing weekend!

My next stop (Lisa has pulled over too) is at the lookout over Lake Tekapo towards the Motuariki Island, a small island about a third of the way up the lake. Back in September Motuariki Island was the site of a tragic event when a group of tourists hired kayaks to paddle about in the bay below the Tekapo township. Unfortunately, as is the case a lot of time on alpine lakes, the weather changed abruptly and blew the party- who had also ventured further out into the lake than they should have- into choppy waters and away from safety.

By the time the survivors were found and rescued off the island, two out of the 11 kayakers had lost their lives to the icy waters. One had made it safely to the island but returned to help his friends and succumbed to the cold.

We pushed on, Mt Erebus (2311m) and the surrounding Sibbald Range, loomed high ahead of us. The Godley River plain is just visable to the left and below the steep slope of Mistake Peak (1921m). David & I came close to the peak when we explored Godley Peak Road on the other side of the lake last week.

A little further on we come across the most amazing sight, a great swathe of brilliant yellow flowers sweeping down the Boundary Stream valley, under the road bridge and out to the shore of Lake Tekapo. Broom! Highly invasive and another aggressive pest plant that is a relative of the lupin, broom has taken over large areas of New Zealand countryside. There are two areas that come to mind when I see broom on this scale; broom once grew thickly along both sides the Napier-Taupo Road on the Rangitaiki Plains but I noticed when we passed through in October that most of it had been sprayed. The other area was alongside the Buller River near Kawatiri.

We cross the bridge and pull over to take photos…

…first of the wooden bridge with its unusual steel spans underneath…

And then of the broom itself. It’s obvious that the waterway has helped the broom disperse it’s seeds and kept the plant watered as the surrounding hills and rocky flats are broom free. I wonder if they have an eradication plan in mind...and if 'they' do they need to get their bums into gear!

Lisa wanders about in amongst the flowers taking photos and we find a leathery brown trout on the banks of the stream. It looks like it may have become stranded after the water level dropped or in fact was washed out of the flow when a passing vehicle used the nearby ford.

We decide we haven’t time to drive to the end of the road, it’s still about 20kms away and Lisa has to return to Dunedin later in the afternoon and she plans to take the Hakakaramea Pass Road back home (little does she know that she’s going to have a bit of vehicle trouble before she gets there and doesn’t arrive home until close to midnight). We turn around at the end of trees on the left and return to the stream in the dip below.

Directly across the lake from the look out point I can see the wide Cass River delta where David & I explored and found the black stilt the other day.

We stop at a stream where the wind isn’t so strong so Lisa can grab some shots of the lupins before she returns home.

Never one to miss an opportunity and especially one that involves lupins, I take some of the closed flower spikes.

Lupin photos taken, we head off back towards the main road where we stop to say our farewells before Lisa heads off to the left, me to the right and back home to Lake McGregor.

I stop one last time just before I turn into the camp ground, I had spotted the yellow ribbon of broom across the lake the other day and now I’ve visited it. I wonder how far it reaches back up the winding gully.

I also take a photo across a muddy bay to Motuariki Island from the western side of the lake. Somewhere on the shores of the muddy bay in the foreground there should be some more black stilts. We’ll go exploring there soon.


  1. Hi Shellie, what a wee surprise I got to see my name at the head of your post!
    So glad I took the chance to get up the road to meet up with you, I really enjoyed our "lupin-hunting" excursion - pity the weather wasn't a bit nicer though.
    So interesting to see your shots of the day and to see how differently we both processed them.
    Sadly not only was it a long trip home in my 4WD but pretty much the last one it took. Had it towed to a garage in town a couple of days later and the prognosis was not good. The forecast costs of reconditioning the engine were not worth it and the car was sold to a wrecker just before Christmas. Pity as I really liked that car. I'm now getting around in a Honda CR-V - still a 4WD but not one for going up steep gravel tracks or fording high country rivers!

    1. Hi Lisa, thought you'd get a surprise. Pity about the 4WD, at least you gave it a decent last road/track trip! :) It was a great day all the same, look forward to meeting up again one day.

  2. So that is a ribbon of brooms! We saw that spectacular yellow band both on Mt John and across from Peninsular Walkway, wondering what could that be. Now after 2 years finally comes the answer. We saw it late November, are the flowers going to last through whole summer?


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