Sunday, 21 February 2016

Teddy Bear & a Road Trip

We’ve just arrived back in Winton after a very busy few days catching up with family in Dunedin. I have plenty to tell you about but unfortunately once again you’ll have to wait until I catch up to-date, which, at the rate that is happening, will be sometime mid year!  I mean, for goodness sake, I haven’t even got to last Christmas yet. We need to stop doing things and I need to stop taking photos- I also need a solid couple of weeks to do totally blog business and nothing else. Like that’s going happen anytime soon. Not.

Here's us parked up at a busy  NZMCA Park in downtown Dunedin - we had great weather except
 for the wet and stormy hour that passed just before I took this shot. 
And it’s about now that I need to tell you that this is likely to be my last blog post for a couple of weeks. For two reasons (actually three). 1- we are heading to Stewart Island for a break and it’s likely to be a very busy time, 2- my laptop is being sent away to finally (and hopefully) have a fault sorted, and number 3- I broke my phone in Dunedin. Don’t ask, but I blame my sister and a ‘Premier Margarita’  for that!

So here is another catch-up blog from our time parked up at Lake Ruataniwha in the Mackenzie Country.

If you have been following the blog for some time you’ll know that I’ve been chasing(literally) a close up photo of the hares that we keep seeing racing off around the countryside. And you’ll also know that I’ve taken to calling them ‘teddy bears’ because of this post.

Well, in the end I didn’t need to chase a hare, he came bounding along the track towards me. He stopping so close to the front of the ute that I couldn’t get him totally in the frame for a minute. And that’s when we saw why he was unaware of the danger he could have been in. This poor old boy was a bit moth-eaten, he only had one eye and I suspect he couldn’t see much out his other one either.

He sat there for a moment, twitching his nose before deciding there must be trouble ahead…

…and bounded off up the hillside, stopping to recheck his surroundings for a second before disappearing over the top. I felt rather sorry for him and wondered how long he would last.

In the pond beside the track the hare approached us on, there were also some ‘ugly ducklings’- these are baby Australian Coots (slightly blurred I wasn’t ready for them) and they have got to be the ugliest babies I think I have ever seen.

It’s no wonder the parents hide them under the rushes and they scatter when disturbed. Poor darlings, but at least they grow into something more acceptable.

We left Kelland Pond behind and headed south down the main highway turning right into Lake Ohau Road. Thousands of people pass this sign daily on their way to and from Christchurch & Queenstown and I wonder how many think ‘what’s down there’ or ‘I must have a look down that road some day’.

Today it’s our turn to explore it. Our target was to at least get to an ‘historic stone cottage’ we saw marked on one of our maps.

It’s not long before the stunning and beautiful turquoise Lake Ohau comes into view…

…with the prominent & huge monolith Ben Ohau (1522m) standing proud across the water. There’s a dam on the far right of Ben Ohau , it’s the first dam of the Ohau A, B, and C hydroelectricity canal system and downstream (or should that be downcanal) is Lake Ruataniwha. Actually there is still an Ohau River which flows beside the canal and empties into the lake too, but it’s at a much lighter flow than it used to be.

It was a surprise to find a historic site beside the road- this is the remains of a controversial boundary fence and spade line between Canterbury & Otago. The boundary line was drawn using a ruler, it didn’t allow for natural features or the rights of established runholders.

Click on the photo to enlarge if you’d like to read more about it. We could faintly see the spade line, a depression in the ground, off in the distance.

The road skirted around the edge of the lake and another much smaller lake came into view, well actually it’s more of a puddle in comparison to Lake Ohau. This is Lake Middleton and it looks like it’s used a lot for water sports and fishing. There’s a basic DOC camping ground along the water edge and although it’s rather sloped, there are a few flat areas in amongst the trees. There’s also a couple of closed-up caravans parked on the best sites, ready for the holiday season I would think. At the far end of the lake there’s a huge house(top left photo) which looks to have been recently built, we passed it’s pillared gates and large barn/shed at the beginning of the lake. It looks totally out of place and I wonder who owns it, somebody rich &/or famous perhaps…

The campground extends to the other side of the road where there are leveller camping areas and amazing views across Lake Ohau to Ben Ohau. A basic amenity block is also on this side of the road.

We take a side road up onto a small plateau and into the alpine village of Lake Ohau. It’s small and consists of mostly holiday homes and a few permanent residences. We stop at a tiny reserve with a huge table to have lunch and David decides this could quite easily be the place to retire to if we ever stop wandering (he might have second thoughts on a less than perfect day of course).

We’re high above the road and looking down the lake towards the Southern Alps and the views are magnificent- here’s a slightly distorted pano from my phone.

Our next side road detour takes us to the beginning of the Ohau Snow Fields road and the Ohau Lodge.

This photo, taken back at Lake Middleton, shows the 10km snow field access road zig-zagging up the side of the mountain. We decide to leave that road for another day; perhaps when there’s snow at the top.

We carry on around the lake edge, the road has now turned to gravel, and dips and climbs along the bottom of the steep slopes of the mountains beside us. There are a number of avalanche warning signs highlighting the very steep areas where snow builds up and slides off the mountainside onto the road below.

Further on and another DOC camp comes into view. This is our type of camp; remote, lakeside, bird life, boat ramp and scenery to die for. Roundbush also has big sandflies. I talk to a couple of tourists who are hiding out in their campervan, they’re not sure they’ll last the distance.

We continue on, the scenery is breathtaking and I wonder if it could get any better…

We’re getting near the top of the lake now and can see the wide open deltas of the Hopkins River to the left and the Dobson River to the right…

and the houses and farm buildings of Lake Ohau Station.

And one of those buildings happens to be the historic cottage we were looking for. Hmmm….I’m not too sure who was the most surprised, me or David. I don’t know why (because it is usually ruins) but we were both expecting to see a cutesy fully restored stone cottage. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.

We drove on past the station homestead, slowing to let the farmer and his wildly excited pack of noisy sheepdogs cross in front of us. The road continues on into the Ruataniwha Conservation Park where there are a number of tramping tracks. It’s rugged and remote and I’ve since heard the road has a few washouts in it. It’s 4WD country even if you can get through.

We stop at the Maitland Stream road bridge and decide this is as far as we’ll go today.  We scan the stream bed for birds, nothing.

But far across the otherside of the valley I spot a very long swathe of colour- hundreds of thousands of lupins. Lupins that are tracking up the valley towards the river sources and the mountains.

It’s about now that I realise actually how serious and widespread the lupin problem really is and will be, in the years to come, unless something drastic doesn’t happen soon (which is highly unlikely). Most people only see the lupins around the tourist hotspots and along the main roads but here they are, dozens of miles away and encroaching into conservation areas. Not only do our vulnerable high country river birds have to avoid introduced pests but they also have to compete with lupins taking over the open stony braided river bed habitats they need for breeding.

With that sobering thought in mind it’s time to head for home…

…and stop along the way to admire at least one successful conservation project- possum control has allowed the endemic mistletoe to survive and flower in the lakeside bush. In amongst the deep green of the Southern Beech trees there are dozens of bright splashes of brilliant red. This is the rare and beautiful New Zealand Mistletoe. Some of you will remember the photos I posted of the mistletoe in my Christmas blog post, this is where they came from. 

Here’s what I wrote about it then- ‘the name ‘mistletoe’ is given to plants that use specially adapted roots to extract water and nutrients from the stem tissues of their host plant. Unlike some mistletoe species found in other countries, New Zealand mistletoes usually do not harm their hosts. There are eight unique species of mistletoes in New Zealand, the three Beech mistletoes (Green, Red & Scarlet) are now uncommon in many parts of New Zealand.

One last close up photo of Ben Ohau. To give you an idea of how large it is, you can see a road running right along the bottom edge of the mountain. This is Glen Lyon Road and it’s another road we’ll need to explore sometime; it runs even further up the valley on the otherside of the lake (past those lupins) and on up the Dobson River.

Back onto the tarseal and home to Lake Ruataniwha…


  1. Not sure if you or me, but I can only see pics of the hare and Maitland Stream road bridge

    1. Hope you managed to see them all in the end.

  2. Your blog and accompanying photos has shown me how much of this scenery we took for granted when growing up in the area. 'Stunning and beautiful turquoise of Lake Ohau' - we saw this all the time and never totally realised it wasnt run of the mill. Thank you for sharing your beautiful pictures.

    1. You're welcome, pleased you enjoyed them and I hope they brought back some happy memories. I think most children don't appreciate their surroundings until later in life and then we often look back & reminisce through rose-tinted glasses!

  3. Haha so here's the answer to 'Where is this?'!!! I failed. I fell for this place at first sight (of your photos). It would be a stunning place to visit in winter or early spring I suppose. What do you think in autumn? This place somehow reminds me of our magical moments at Lake Coleridge, perhaps due to the remoteness, the steep high rising mountains, the narrow road hugging the lake or even the open delta...I must come back someday in winter to drive to Roundhill and Ohau snowfield!
    We will miss you dearly for weeks to come. Have a nice holiday and enjoy!

    1. Thanks offstone, I might just be able to post some short updates while we're on there, who knows.
      Lake Ohau would be lovely to visit in all seasons, although there wouldn't be too much colour in autumn as most of the trees are native. It's also a very exposed lake in the wrong weather, we were lucky to see it on a lovely sunny day.

  4. Hi Shelley,
    Beautiful shots of Lake Ohau, it was my family's go-to holiday destination for many years throughout my childhood - mostly camping at Round Bush. It is probably these visits that I credit with developing my immunity to sandflies!
    A pity you didn't go a wee bit further than Maitland Stream as there is a lovely picnic area up the Temple Stream, just before Huxley Gorge Station. My son & I went camping up there in Oct 2014. We (Dad & I, school trips and hubby & I and later with the kids) have tramped extensively in the Hopkins Valley and it is still one of our favourite places to visit.
    Having been visiting the area for almost 40 years now it is a little like going home whenever we are there. Thanks for the memories!

  5. Hi Shelley,
    OMG such a blast from the past!!! I clicked on your link and I loved your blog and the photos, so many memories, amazing photos and you are 100% correct - I never appreciated any of this local area while growing up! A few changes and some things will never change!! I am looking forward to returning and exploring again for our 2016 Huxley Xmas!! Karen P


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