Saturday 29 April 2017

Two Different Dams- Clyde & Conroys


After doing a few overdue chores in Alexandra (and staying at the NZMCA Molyneux Park for a couple of nights) we moved just 8 kilometres up the road to the lovely heritage township of Clyde for a few days...

Autumn in Clyde- Earnscleugh Bridge over the Clutha River
...staying at a freedom camping area just above the Clyde Dam with this fabulous outlook.

The camping area is for CSC vehicles only and at the courtesy of the owner's, Contact Energy. That's the dam wall in the background.

I drove around to the lookout above the dam which is just off the the main road through the gorge. The dam lake stretches 20kms up through the gorge to Cromwell and is actually part of the manmade Lake Dunstan. 

Before the Clutha River was dammed at Clyde, the land through the gorge and the area now occupied by Lake Dunstan in Cromwell was highly productive fruit orchards and farmland. Many of the orchards, much of the farmland along with buildings and infrastructure that weren't moved were drowned as the dam filled, and still lay beneath the lake. 

This old photo (courtesy of Mighty Clutha- Otago's Stolen Treasure's blog) shows Fruitgrowers Road on the left (where we're now camped). My photos below this one show a similar perspective although from a little lower down. Leaning Rock is on the highest point ahead.

 The pontoons near us provided plenty of interest- from early morning boating as the fog lifted... a quiet spot of fishing...

...and an even quieter spot of snoozing....(to be fair, he was actually reading his cellphone)

The peace was well and truly shattered when this guy roared away, Not only did the powerful jet blast through the stillness but the throbbing bass coming out of the sound system attached to the bimini cover could be heard above the roar as well. This boat with bling certainly turned a few heads in camp.

The sun dropped below the range behind us early, it was a long time afterwards before the clouds on the other side of the lake turned brilliant colours of yellow and orange. 

There's a three day maximum stay at Clyde Dam and after two days of rest and relaxation we decided on a tiki tour to check out Conroys Dam which wasn't too far away back towards Alexandra.  The track into the dam is about 1km long and we followed it to the top of the dam. This is looking back over the dam lake towards Alexandra.

While I was taking photos of the lake, David scanned the rocky valley and slopes behind us, we're always on the lookout for a stray deer or two although it's usually only goats we spot.  This time he saw something that got us very excited.

A very big predator proof, fenced enclosure! A very well disguised fence too; if you look closely you can see it in the photo above, just in front of that middle pylon and then behind the pylon on the right (click photo to enlarge). 

Wow! How cool is that, we wondered what it contained. I had this wild idea that we'd stumbled on an Otago Giant & Grand Skink enclosure, similar to the one went looking for at Macraes Flat last month.

The vehicle track carried on up the valley through the Aldinga Conservation Area but a locked gate blocked our way, a DOC sign indicated there was a 4km loop track we could walk. We set off hoping the track passed the fence somewhere along it's length.

Bright ribbons of yellow filled the small gullies, where willows thrive near the small streams that made there their way down to the dam.

It was hard to make out the fence on the landscape even as we got closer. In the end we decided to take a shortcut across the stream below us and straight up the hill...

...fighting our way through the prickly briar bushes and being careful not to break an ankle in one of the hundreds of rabbit holes that pitted the ground, to arrive right in front of the fence.

A predator proof fence that is indeed encloses a sanctuary for the Otago & Giant Skink; Mokomoko Dryland Sanctuary! And there's not only one enclosure but two; the first and smaller 0.3hectare one is on the right and was built to test whether protecting the lizards in this location would help increase their numbers. It did, so the larger 14 hectare enclosure surrounded by 1.6kms of fence was built on the left.

How amazing is that and we didn't even go looking for it (click to enlarge the photo of you'd like to read about the sanctuary).

The Maori name for the skinks is moko, the skinks skin patterns look much like the traditional Maori chin tattoos which are called moko. Here's one of my earlier photos from the Orokonui Sanctuary in Dunedin.

With a locked gate there was no way inside which of course was to be expected, but had it been a hot day we might have been able to see a few skinks sunbathing on the rocky tors near the fence.  We searched every surface and every crack and crevice with the binoculars but had no luck.

So close yet so far. In the smaller enclosure piles of corrugated iron were stacked at regular intervals on the rocks near the fence. Skinks would seek out the shelters and the warmth generated by the iron making it also a handy location for trust members to count them.

With no skinks to be seen we headed back to the ute. Can you spot it? (Click to enlarge and see the end of the blog if you have no luck)

We stopped at the dam wall on the way out.

Conroys Dam was built in 1935 across Conroys Gully and was built to store water for irrigation for the developing orchards in area. The dam is now a popular Brown Trout fishery and holds good quantities of koura (freshwater crayfish) too.

There's obviously been very little rainfall over summer, which isn't unusual for Central Otago but the lake level looked to be very low. Like nearby Butchers Dam I imagine Conroys would also be frozen solid over winter.

The narrow walkway over the dam is a little intimidating...

...with a high drop off down into the gully and stream on the other side. I can see why there are so many dams in Central, the narrow rocky gorges and gullies make it easier to dam. 

 We left the dam behind us and stopped at the irrigation ponds alongside the road on the way out.

The ponds are fed by a small water canal that leaves the dam here (but not for much longer if there's no rain coming soon)...

And just below the ponds is the first orchard that benefits from the water supply. Most of the trees look to be apricot and cherry and of course they are well finished for the season...

...unlike the gorgeous fig tree I found being stripped by birds back in Clyde. I managed to rescue a few juicy figs for myself (like how I changed the subject ever so subtly?).  After feijoas, these are my next best favourite autumn fruit...I later saw figs in a local supermarket at $30kg! I can tell you I savoured every single one of them.

And the location? Click to enlarge...

Tuesday 25 April 2017

Unfinished Business- Across the Top


While we were staying in Ettrick and with fine weather forecast we decided to see if we could connect a 4WD road that we'd attempted to drive from the Piano Flat end earlier in the year.  

Waikaia Bush Road, which runs across the top of the Old Man Range from Piano Flat near Waikaia in Southland to Shingle Creek in Central Otago, is a public road that is closed for five months over winter. And for very good reason. The gates are locked due to the remoteness of the area and sub-alpine conditions up on the plateau. 

This is the range where a group of thirty eight 4WD enthusiasts got caught out in blizzard conditions last year and spent 24hours stuck in thick snow waiting to be rescued. And these are the snowcats that eventually rescued them. They were parked in a farm paddock at the bottom of the road.

We steadily climb up the track, stopping often to open and close farm gates as we go. My reward for the effort involved in climbing in and out of the ute is that I get to take plenty of photos! David gets to roll his eyes. He's such a patient man....most of the time. 

This is not too far up the road, looking back over the Roxburgh Dam. The track you can see on the south bank is part of the Roxburgh Gorge Cycle Trail- the section from the dam wall to Shingle Creek. It's an impressive trail with some magnificent scenery although I think the boat ride that joins two sections of the trail is more my idea of fun.

We climb higher and the views behind are fabulous although a little hazy. The road is smooth, dry and easy going but being clay, that can turn to custard at any hint of rain. We keep a close eye on a big dark cloud bank building up to the south.

Looking east to Roxburgh- this reminds me of the view we had when we drove (slipped and slid) to the top of the Bullock Track back in 2014. It heads up to the top of the same range but nearer Roxburgh and joins the Mt Benger track behind Ettrick, so Harry tells us when we're having a talk later.

And this is looking north-west towards Alexandra, centre left of the flat hill. That's the Clutha River wending its way to Lake Roxburgh, and the main highway mid right. I love the texture and colours of the tussock covered slopes on the hills in front of us. 

You can see from up here why this is called Flat Top Hill. It certainly didn't seen like that when we walked the track up and over the hill a couple of years ago. Flat Top Hill Conservation Park will be known to many RVers, Butchers Dam free camping area is part of the park.

 As we approach the top, the track starts to get lumpy with a few boggy patches and wash outs where water has flowed over it on it's long and convoluted descent to the Clutha River far below.

Valleys and gullies are thick with spongy brilliant green mosses where the crystal clear water flows or trickles through on it's way down the mountainside. Hardy merino sheep graze the far slopes in the top photo.

We're nearing the top and still going strong, 1366 meters at the summit. It's not only David's watch altimeter that says we're near, it's also very cold outside. There's been a significant change in temperature once we passed a thousand metres. 

On the top and we arrive at another gate and the entrance to the Kopuwai Conservation Area, a huge 16,780ha area that takes in Old Man Range and the nearby Old Woman Range. The remains of a old stone hut sit nearby, most probably a remnant from the gold mining days. Potters No. 2 gold diggings are not too far away. In the 'great snow' of 1863, thirty men from Potters lost their life trying to cross Old Man Range to safety. 

And this is looking towards Waikaia Valley and Piano Flat, off in the distance somewhere (see the map below for the pins showing how far we travelled up the road from both ends). It's looks like a pretty unassuming landscape but as we know, looks can be deceiving. Water creeps and flows across the tussock plateau, gathering in tarns and bogs and seeping out over the track. 

And because the plateau is relatively flat, the water gathers in pools on the road, some are shallow, others deep and thick with mud. The grader driver that we stopped to talk to when we started up this road from the Piano Flat end told us he'd pulled several vehicles out of bogs up on the top over the summer. He told us to drive through the bogs not around them, they're usually firm on the bottom whereas the sides are mud and boggy. 

But this 'shiny' won't be going any further today (and the AA Hut won't be added to my hut photo collection, even though it's only about a kilometre away). We passed through a few shallow bogs but they were becoming more frequent and muddier and we started to feel uncomfortable. We'd seen no one else during the trip and we were a little worried about getting stuck. We do have to be careful, our ute tows our home and if something happens to it, we ain't going anywhere fast. 

As if to rub salt into the wound, we're backing up when two trail bikes fly past us frightening the bejesus out of me as they roar off into the distance (you can't turn on these tracks, the tussock covers bumps and dips and more bogs). Back at the gate I see a blue spot off in the far distance down a side track. I zoom in and see a ute and tent; probably a hunter camped out and looking for deer. It is the beginning of the roar. We weren't alone after all.

We head home...unfinished business still unfinished.

The dark rain laden cloud has moved over the top of us now but it carries on past, up and over the top of the plateau behind without spilling a drop.

Below in the valley we can see the green patchwork of the stone fruit orchards Roxburgh is famous for. And way off and out of sight on the range across the valley is our favourite Lake Onslow.

About half way down we stop to check out this new installation over the top of a mountain stream. I have no idea how it works but it must monitor the water flow as the water eventually enters a small water canal that then winds it's way down to a farm pond at the bottom of the road. 

Perhaps it has to do with Central Otago's controversial new water allocation permits that need to be negotiated before 2021. Up until now the water drawn off has been under old mining permits which were issued as water rights by Mining Wardens under the Goldfiled Act (1858), long before data on flows and allocation were available.

It's hard to reconcile that there's a shortage of water in Central Otago, with many secondary rivers and streams running shallow or dry....

...when there's a huge volume of water flowing down the Clutha through its hydro dams on its way to the sea.

Roxburgh Dam