Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Winton to Queenstown- Lake Hayes

Real-time,  two blog posts for the price of one today! We are out of range tucked up beside a tiny little lake just out of Queenstown (tucked up out of the weather too, we hope) and have come into town to get a few supplies and upload a couple of blogs.

After a ‘slight’ detour down to Winton two weeks ago, we said goodbye to the family on Friday and headed north again, back towards Queenstown. We had a lovely time but needed to leave them to it after their extremely busy first week back at school and work after the holidays.The weather was great, very mild and sunny for this time of the year and with spectacular sunrises and sunsets nearly everyday.

We took a picnic lunch to Dunsdale Reserve on one of the perfectly sunny days. The reserve is located in the Hokonui Forest Conservation Park a few kilometres inland from Hedgehope on the Winton to Gore highway. After passing through a pine forest on a typical forestry road of gravel, mud and corrugations, it was lovely surprise to find a beautiful green open park at the end of a the road, surrounded by native bush with a small river on the boundary. Self contained freedom camping is allowed here and I’ve heard that it’s a very busy place over the summer holidays. Today there was just one house truck and us.

There’s an easy 1hr return walk up one side of the river, passing a small waterfall on the way and through an open burn at the far end before returning down the other side of the river. Ollie managed to spot a large trout sheltering under the bridge at the top of the walk which spurred him on just in time, as he was getting tired.

The kids also had fun locating as many different birds as they could (when they stopped long enough to watch and listen) and there were plenty; fantails, tomtits, brown creepers, bellbirds and wood pigeons swooping and diving high above the trees. The bush is in mast this year and covered in a mass of colourful berries, both high and low, providing plenty of food for both birds and pests alike.  The red berries are on a pittosporum, the  translucent orange berries are hanging from the Myrtaceae shrub and the red berries with black caps in the two bottom photos are on Kahikatea trees.

For a bit of variety when we left Winton we took a different route, crossing the Oreti Plains through Wreys Bush, up to Mossburn, onto Five Rivers and then back onto SH6 through our favourites country towns of Athol & Garston and then on along the edge of Lake Wakatipu. It was about 20kms longer but the roads were nice and straight and with hardly any traffic.

We stopped just south of Athol at the old Fishermans Retreat Tea Rooms. I saw the autumn colours were just starting turn when we passed on our way south two weeks ago, so I was hoping they were still showing. The Tea Rooms look abandoned but just after I’d finished taking a few photos, smoke twirled up from the chimney and a fat ginger cat came out of the undergrowth towards me. Somebody must be living out the back.

With no strong winds and mild weather, many of the trees were still in their beautiful autumn colours. Behind the tea rooms are a row of ramshackle cabins, obviously where fishermen used to stay while fishing the local rivers (trophy trout rivers)- that’s the cabins in the top left photo. We continued on, stopping briefly at Athol so David could check a couple of things in the van. Never one to miss an opportunity, I quickly took some autumn shots of Athol’s St Bartholomew Church.

It’s a quick and…I was going to say smooth trip through the Devils Staircase alongside Lake Wakatipu, but that would be fibbing- the road along the lake is extremely lumpy with plenty of dips and rises where subsidence has been repaired. It felt like we were riding a roller-coaster!

Our destination is beautiful Lake Hayes, located in the rolling countryside of the Arrow Basin between Arrowtown and Queenstown. The lake is surrounded by golf courses, luxury houses, vineyards and lifestyle blocks. The Remarkables once again form a backdrop to some stunning scenery.

Lake Hayes has a small area where freedom camping is allowed for two nights only, and only between the signs. You can see the one beside us and the other one is at the far end. It’s also well known (or should be) that the Queenstown Lakes District Council rigidly police their freedom camping bylaw and rangers check the sites regularly.

There’s a walking (and cycling) track right around the lake which takes about 2-3 hrs to complete. It must be like the Mount walking track; it’s very popular and used regularly by locals for their daily exercise. A continuous parade of cyclists, walkers, pushchairs and dogs pass by our camp site. It’s very pleasant under the willows at the waters edge where there’s also a number of kayaks, canoes and paddleboards passing by.

By late afternoon a steady stream of sleeper-vans, campervans and motorhomes arrive to stay the night. The allowed space isn’t that big and would comfortably hold around 10 vehicles. By night fall there were 19 vans squeezed into the space, with a few of the smaller vehicles out the back under the willows. The two motorhomes to the right of us were outside the sign and I was worried for them. They have tried to park correctly but there is no space left (that’s when you need to find another park….or go to a campground). I know of someone that was fined for parking just outside the sign here.

There were also at least 10 other vehicles parked up for the night elsewhere in the reserve. They were either choosing to ignore the rules or were oblivious to them. More fool them. I’m not sure whether I slept through the visit on the first night or the ranger didn’t come but I know he came the next night at some un-Godly hour shining his torch on every vehicle and writing down registration numbers and checking self-containment stickers. I bet those that where elsewhere in the park woke up blissfully unaware that their numbers had been taken and a $200 fine was awaiting them when they returned home or returned their rental vans.

I was up early to catch the sunrise and found an old favourite down on the lake edge; two Australasian Crested Grebes calling to each other as they dived and fished in the shallows.

Sunrise over The Remarkables, you can see the ski field access road zig-zagging up the side- a bit of a necessary blight on the landscape.

Clouds gather over Queenstown at the end of the lake and a rainbow forms a perfect bow over the lake.

The pink sunrise glow quickly disappeared to be replaced by darkening storm clouds and big spots of rain. Thankfully it didn’t last long, which was just as well, as we only had one day to do one of our ‘must do’ road trips before we had to move on.

While we were getting ready for the day- I was cleaning my camera on the sofa and David was cooking his breakfast- I felt the van move. When I looked up, a woman had stepped up to our top step, and was holding onto the handrail, posing for a photo! The bloody cheek of it.

We often have people (mainly tourists) taking photos of the van or themselves in front of or to the side of the van but have never had someone be this rude, especially as our door was open (the screen door was closed) and we were inside. She got a short shift from me, I opened the door and said “EXCUSE ME….”  as she nearly fell off the step. Another lady came rushing over apologising profusely and then asked if she could have a photo taken! I was lost for words.

A group of about 15 people had arrived in three Jucy people mover rentals (thank God they weren’t sleeper vans), sped into the gap between our vans, tumbled out of all the doors, took dozens of photos down on the water front and under the willows, posing this way and that and then spread out around the remaining motorhomes taking photos. Then they all piled back into the cars and roared off. So keep your eye out for a marauding pack of shutter happy tourists who have no idea of personal space! I tell you, life on the road is never dull.

The rest of the day was taken up with a exhilarating drive through Skippers Canyon and visit to the remains of the Skippers gold field.

But you’ll have to wait for that blog, it deserves it’s own post.

It was another stunning sunrise the next morning but it soon clouded over.

We’d also had our two nights and it was time to move on. It’s a pity the council don’t allow three nights at Lake Hayes, this would give people two full days to do their activities. We still have a few things to do but we’ll wait until we come back through after we’ve been down to Glenorchy and Kinloch at the bottom of the lake.

We stopped at the top of the hill so I could take one last photo of what was left of the autumn colours. The willows have just about shed all their leaves and being such a dull day the colours weren’t so great.


  1. Wish we could visit Dunsdale Reserve and the country towns you mentioned one day. The berries look stunning high on the tree. Edible? Glad to see you writing about our favourite Lake Hayes, more so with the upcoming Skipper Canyon. It's the place I wanted most to drive to but not possible with any rental vehicle that I know of. Looks like we have to be content with a guided tour or armchair travel with you :)

    1. You'll have to add Dunsdale to your list for next time offstone (although I think there are nicer places to visit with your short time span visiting). And yes kahikatea berries are edible (if you can reach them) although not widely used. You can make kahikatea jelly (thin coloured jam) and kahikatea wine (that sounds more like my cup of tea!). Skippers was a hairy ride, definitely not for motorhomes!


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