Real-time, 7 days and counting! We're still in Queenstown but will be heading to Glenorchy this morning. Seven days of rain and it still hasn't cleared- very overcast & bleak- but if we don't go now we'll still be sitting here at the end of the week. Hopefully there'll be a few breaks in the weather where we can explore a little bit. At least all this sitting around has allowed me to do a few blogs.
After Wanaka we made our way to an old favourite, Lowburn on Lake Dunstan near Cromwell, where there's a large area for freedom campers right on the edge of the lake. We had a few days up our sleeve before we shifted to Queenstown and then Arrowtown for the autumn rally. It was relatively quiet, we've been here some times when it's packed solid and other times when there's just two or three vans.
The weather was fickle after our gloriously calm days in Wanaka, the wind was strong and steady some days...
...the sunrises and sunsets spectacular especially when stormy clouds closed in overhead.
And after the wind disappeared, the fog rolled in. I love that there are so many variations of weather to experience when living on the road. But you have to be quick, and early, to catch them sometimes.
I was waiting for a calm and sunny day to visit the Inlet at Bannockburn and catch the beautiful autumn colours and reflections again. It wasn't such a good day with a slight breeze blowing so I didn't get as many good shots as I did two years ago, but still it's such a beautiful area and the lovely smell of dried thyme underfoot makes it an interesting visit.
I carried on around to the other side of the Inlet and found the cloud had formed a lovely burst in a few short minutes. This has got to be one of my favourite places in New Zealand.
We drove through the Cromwell Gorge to Clyde for lunch at a favourite cafe; The Old Bank (try the Thai Prawn Salad, it's to die for) and stopped to take a photo of this interesting 'feature' on the side of the range above the Clutha Dam. We've seen it a few times as we've driven through and wondered 'what the heck is that?', but this time, without the 5th-wheeler on the back, we could pull over.
It looks like some sort of high rise vineyard, somebody taking the requirement of dry and arid land to the extreme. But no, apparently it was formed during the 1980s as stabilization for the 'Cairnmuir Landslide' an unstable rocky area that could have fallen into the dam and possibly caused a tidal wave that would have knocked out the dam downstream. Protesters painted 'Hands off Beaumont' on the lower slopes, in reference to a smaller town downstream that may have disappeared if more hydro dams had been built. You learn something everyday. Still looks like a terraced vineyard to me.
After lunch be crossed over the historic Clyde Clutha Bridge which looked charming surrounded in autumn colours.
And drove up to the wall of the Clyde Dam, a monster compared with some of the others we've visited. Just above the dam wall there's another freedom camping site courtesy of Contact Energy, an area right beside the lake.
But now for the serious stuff, we didn't just go to Clyde for lunch. We had another 4WD track to explore. Ever since I saw its turnoff from the Nevis Road at the back of Bannockburn a couple of years ago, I've had it on our 'must do' list and with the weather fine and dry it was a good opportunity to check it out, albeit driving in from the other end beginning at Clyde. We wound our way 4kms up a gravel track just down the road from the dam, stopping at the top to look out over the Clyde Dam...
...Clyde township and the Manuherikia Basin...
...and the orchards of the Earnscleugh area on the south side of the river.
Here's a pano of the dam and Clyde- click to enlarge.
While I was taking photos, David moved off amongst the rocks looking for lizards. he soon gave a shout that he'd found some and to hurry up and come and take some photos before they moved. Very funny. He'd not only found a lizard but a very sad frog standing guard, some painted stones and other memorabilia tucked beneath a large rock. Another memorial of some sort. We tucked the frog back with his mates just in case he fell off and smashed and left them to their peace and quiet. I wonder at the story behind them.
Not far from the trinkets I found two very purple cacti planted in the shelter of a large rock and looking like they were enjoying their unusual garden, another memorial perhaps. I wonder how they'll go when the snow covers them in the winter. And yes they were real, I had prickles in my finger to prove it!
Exotic 'wildling pine' conifers in their autumn colours grew through the gullies and over the lower ridges of the arid and rocky range. The native scrub was covered in a mass of coloured berries.
And behind us weaving away into the distance was Hawksburn Road, also known as Pylon Road. This is where we're heading...
...climbing just a little further...
...before we level out on the Cairnmuir Flats and arrive at a closed gate before crossing a few spongy patches- burns with water seeping through as it heads down the ridge. Ok for us in this dry weather, but would probably cause problems if they were any deeper or muddier.
Pylon Road aka Hawksburn Road is about 25kms long- 16kms are a 4WD track.
The road runs between Clyde and Bannockburn skirting the southern side of Cairnmuir Range which borders the Cromwell Gorge. The road was fine all the way down into this deep gully and back up the other side. It's hard to get a sense of scale from these but this was a long, long drop before a winding climb back up.
The track was once the main travelling route to Bannockburn, and the Clutha & Kawarau Basins during the gold mining era. This is looking back over the road we've just driven, down o the left and up on the right.
There were sheep grazing the high country as we passed through and far across the rolling hills we could see the brighter green of grazed and cut paddocks in a couple of the valleys.
An oasis in the desert- a station homestead and gardens are like a brilliant beacon in the muted tones of the rugged Central Otago landscape.
Just when we think we've had it easy over the road, there's one more rough patch to traverse with a large muddy pool to cross near the bottom. I also have to get out at one stage to check that the washed out ruts across one section aren't too deep for us to bounce over. After the Serpentine, we're a little weary of ruts that don't look too deep.
We come up the other side, it's been in the shade for too long and is a bit muddy but we make it through and are now just above the homestead which is hidden in the trees.
And I can now see a whole row of willows weaving their way through a valley which were way below us as we made our way down the range.
Obviously someone didn't agree...
The track is now a gravel road and we start to see signs of civilization. Unfortunately the sun is setting and I miss catching these trees in all there colourful glory.
And then just after we mention that we haven't see any wildlife, a herd of white goats are gathered on the road in front of us. They take off, running ahead of us at first, and then disappearing down a bank and up the other side as fast as they can. They look like wild goats but I wonder why they're all white, usually they're brown and black, perhaps they used to be part of a farmed herd.
Finally we cross over the last cattle stop and pass what looks like the original entrance to the Hawksburn Station. I'm not too sure of the break-down for the stations in the area- there are a few- but I get the impression that Hawksburn was returned to the Crown and is perhaps leased to other bordering stations.
We turn back onto the 'main' road at the Nevis junction and head towards Bannockburn, stopping one last time when these stunning coloured poplars and willows come into view.
What a fabulous finish to an interesting road trip.