Thursday 23 February 2017

Awesome Onslow- Central Otago


This must be one of the longest times I've gone without posting a blog, and I do feel a little guilty but it was also lovely to relax and enjoy a break. I didn't waste time though, I've managed to process a whole heap of photos and have them ready for various blogs. This one just to let you know where we've been; I still have a few catch-up blogs to post soon.

We're now in Alexandra (Central Otago) catching up on a few chores after a week of glorious weather and wonderful isolation at one of our favourite 'must re-visit' lakes. And this time with the 5th-wheeler on the back. 

Lake Onslow is situated in high tussock grasslands, 25kms east of Roxburgh at the northwest end of the Lammerlaw Range. The lake freezes and the snow can be deep for weeks on end over winter. The road in, is clay with a rock base and it's very slippery after rain.  It can also be very dusty but we were lucky, light rain a few days prior had settled the dust without giving us any issues although there were a couple of boggy patches.

It was a slow and steady climb out of Millers Flat until we reached the first plateau and turned onto Lake Onslow Road. There we met the country version of a traffic jam. Two farmers having a chin-wag. In fact the one heading in our direction was the farmer who farmed from the Clutha River down at Millers Flat all the way to Lake Onslow. 

He asked us if we'd mind waiting for 10 minutes or so as they were moving a mob of sheep from the lake area to the home paddock for crutching. And sure enough, it wasn't long before the leaders appeared over the brow of the road.

2000 sheep turned- jumping, running, pushing, pooing and baaing- into a paddock just ahead of us; they were taking a short cut to the bottom. I really wanted to creep up the side to get the ribbon of sheep coming over the hill behind but was only allowed to get this close. Never mind, the wait was worth it, we got a good tip from Mr Farmer.

Once the sheep passed we continued on, now slowly climbing up Mt Teviot (851m). I can tell you the photos don't do the climb justice. It's just as well the zig-zag road ahead is a farm track, our road heads to the left around the bend.

Once we reach the top of Mt Teviot, the contours of the land and the views are spectacular- tussock as far as the eye can see intermingled with the green of a forestry block and the fodder crops and pasture lands of high country farms. 

This is looking down the road we've just climbed and back towards the Clutha River valley

We skirt around the side of the Mt Teviot and Lake Onslow finally comes into view, filling a large shallow depression in the tussock plateau. It's all downhill from here and much longer than you would think, it's also an equally tough climb out when you leave the lake.

The area where the lake now is was once known as the 'Dismal Swamp', the lake was created in 1888 by the damming of the Teviot River for a gold claim far below the range at Roxburgh. The flow from the lake is now used for irrigation and hydro-electric generation.

And proving once again that it's not what you know but who you know, Mr Farmer had told us to use the 'top gate' as there was a washout near the bottom gate and we wouldn't get through. We wouldn't have been able to turn around easily either. 

So it was straight down a grassy track to the lake front. David took great delight later in the week asking a couple of visitors towing caravans in, how they faired through the wash out and then asking them why they didn't use the 'expressway'!

The next task was finding a level site, there aren't too many places available as most of the ground slopes towards the lake and it's also covered in great clumps of tussock.

We found a spot behind the fishing huts and with a view of the lake...

...although we had to block the down side up quite a way which meant a big step up into the van. It was also protected from the wind a little, by two shorts rows of trees, the only trees for miles.

If we'd had a key we'd have even had our very own long-drop! Not.

There's just a dozen or so cribs spaced along the ridge on a point above the lake, not far from the river outlet and boat ramp. The last time we visited we never saw another soul, we had the whole place to ourselves for the day. 

This time there were two or three hut visitors during the week and a handful of boaties each day. Lake Onslow is a 'secret' brown trout mecca and when the cicadas are hatching it's game on. The cicadas were late this year (due to the crappy weather) and had only just started hatching during our last few days.

This one 'got away', we were going to keep it but then David decided he'd release it. He got it out of the net and held it up for a photo and it leapt out of his hand, hit me on the arm as it flew past and back into the drink. We didn't feel so bad knowing it was going to be released anyway. 

As you can see we had perfect weather and not before time. There was not a drop of rain in seven days, although we were fogged in until mid morning on a couple of days, the cause of some very low (4c) overnight temperatures. The fog sooned burned off revealing a perfect millpond and warm temperatures. David had the Takacat up and ready to go as soon as we arrived and he spent most days out on the lake fishing.

The old and the new...

And the beautiful...sunrises and sunsets were spectacular.

Lake Onslow is not for everyone, I think you have to be a fisherperson, a photographer or just love solitude to enjoy this stunning area. It's wouldn't be everyone's cup-of-tea........(that's a ploy to stop the crowds from invading) 

The dam outlet
We set the koura pot (fresh water crayfish) most nights and had excellent results and big crays too. I had to be brave and dunk them in boiling water to kill and cook them. I'm a bit of a wuss like that and I very nearly decided to release the first catch of about a dozen crays when David wasn't looking. But I gave myself a stern talking to, I'm not a vegetarian and where the heck do I think my protein comes from! I still felt bad about it, but cheered up considerably when we had lovely cray tail entrees most nights. They taste just like prawns.

Reluctantly, after seven nights and with rain forecast (which hasn't eventuated), we packed up and headed out, back up the grassy track...

...and down the road which was now as dry as a bone and belching dust like there was no tomorrow.

Once we reached the turnoff to Millers Flat, we thought 'what the hell, we're covered in dust now we might as well add a few more layers', so we carried on, travelling right along the top of the plateau and dropping down to Roxburgh instead of  Millers Flat, adding another 12kms of dust to the rig. Not one of our brightest decisions!  

More from the Dismal Swamp soon.


  1. This sounds just the place for us on our travels soon. Quiet, lake for fishing kayaking and gorgeous scenery for photos. thanks again Joan 5566. Hope to be leavig Auckland next week for some time in the south Is..

    1. Just make sure you have some sort of heating Joan and a few winter woolies, it can get very cold overnight up there. Mind you much of the Sth Island gets cold in the evenings now. Safe travels and let me know if you make it there.

  2. I really enjoy reading your blog now we live in Australia it is so good to see our favourite places again.I never knew of Lake Onslow.Thank you for posting all.

    1. Thanks for your comments zephry, much appreciated. I'm pleased you're enjoying the blog, reminiscing on places you've been and finding others you didn't know about.

  3. Beaut place - will try it ourselves to remind us of using the road when we were based in Paerau years ago. It is definitely a no go area in winter when the snow is down - have heard of many abandoned vehicles at that time of year.

    1. Yes, it's a fav of ours and yes definetly not the place to visit over winter, although one of the crib owners gave me his visitor's book to read from the last 20 years and many did venture there in the winter, not always making it in one piece either. And usually they tried after a couple of hours building up courage at the Millers Flat pub!

  4. The 'expressway' and 'assault by fish', one of the many reasons I enjoy your blogs Shellie :)

    1. Hi Carol! Just came across your comment, thanks for responding :)

  5. Wonderful account Shellie. It is just as I remember it 65 years ago, although perhaps the road is in better condition. Your Blogs are fantastic!

    1. Thanks for your kind words Lindsay, much appreciated and glad you enjoyed the blog. Enjoy your visit and happy fishing.


Thank you for taking the time to leave a message, I love reading them! All comments are personally moderated by me and I will post and answer them as soon as possible, Shellie