Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Exploring South Otago- Part 2


Continued on from Part 1

The weather didn't improve for our next day's exploring either, but at least it didn't rain. The Sinclair Wetlands have been on our 'must visit' list for awhile, but it seemed each time we were in the area we were heading somewhere else fast. It wasn't the best season to visit the wetlands but if we didn't check them out now we may not be back this way for a long while.

The Sinclair Wetlands form a 315 hectare portion of the much larger, nationally important and regionally significant, Lakes Waihola and Waipori wetland complex which are fed by several waterways.

In the early farming days most of the Taieri Plains wetlands were drained and converted to farmland with just the two lakes and their swamps left. Part of the Sinclair Wetlands was also farmed but from 1960 under the ownership of the late Horrie Sinclair farming ceased, along with the pumping out of water. 

In 1984 Mr Sinclair gifted the wetland to Ducks Unlimited NZ, a wetland conservation group. In 1986 a Queen Elizabeth II National Trust covenant was registered and in 1998 the property was returned to Ngai Tahu as part of the Ngai Tahu Claim Settlement Act. 

The wetland is run under a trust and visitors, for a gold coin donation, are welcome to wander along several tracks.

The longest track leads to the only two islands in the wetland, Lonely & Ram Islands. From these there are 360° views over a massive expanse of wetlands reaching all the way over to the lakes behind. This photo is looking back to the visitors centre and entrance. Many conservation groups and the district's schools help with the clearing land and the planting of thousands of plants. 

The bird life was a little light on the ground probably due to the fact that it's autumn and they're all off preparing for winter or hiding under the reeds away from the cool weather. Although it was disappointing to be passed on the track by a small dog running here, there and everywhere, and then by it's owners casually strolling along behind. No dogs are allowed at the wetland and certainly no dogs not on leads! I did (politely) have my say, I doubt it made any difference. 

I would have been upset had I been tracking this Fernbird/Matata through the flax when the dog came past, it took several minutes to stalk before I managed to grab a photo, unfortunately not a clear one. The elusive and secretive Fernbird, referred to as the 'swamp sparrow' by our early settlers, is a delight to watch stealthily creeping away from danger through the undergrowth.

The wetland flora contained an amazing number of Nursery Web Spider webs. Nearly every flax clump, bush and reed had a small compact web with a large scary spider guarding its precious cargo. Most scurried away but this lady stayed put. Females have a leg span of six centimetres or more and are much larger than their male counterparts. 

The Wetlands has a small camping ground available which would be great if you're wanting to go birding at the best times; early morning or late evening. It has just 4 sites with optional power, and there are showers and toilets available.

It also has the best camping registration board we've seen on our travels. This would solve the problem many sites have when there are a limited number of sites available. There's no arguing who has dibs on a spot if you've paid your fee and signed in your name and then gone for an explore in your vehicle. A caretaker lives nearby and I guess he'd rub out your name if you forget to when you leave.

Our next destination is a good 20kms inland, 20kms of winding, gravel road climbing slowly up through native bush into the hinterland and on to Waipori Falls. It was another place I'd had marked down to visit along with Lake Mahinerangi which was a lot further on and up on a plateau. Someone had given me a tip that the lake was a good bird watching spot. I'll never know because by the time we got to Waipori Falls we'd had enough of gravel winding roads.

The road followed the Waipori River Gorge for most of the way (the river feeds the wetlands down on the plains)- half way up we spotted a dam wall down below the road.

And if I hadn't seen the water flowing down the spillway I would have sworn that there was no water behind the dam, it was so dark and still. It's not surprising then, that Waipori means 'dark water' in Maori.

This is a first for us, giving way at a water storage silo, it's usually a one lane bridge or a washout.

Eventually we arrived at the falls carpark and one of the four power stations on the river system; Waipori #2. We hadn't found anywhere on the trip up where we could pull over and have lunch beside the river so we thought we'd have it in the reserve before walking to the falls. 

After travelling all that way and not seeing a single person it was a shock to find a guy mowing the lawn across the road from the small reserve. More so because of the noise, our peace and quiet of being miles from anywhere was shattered by this guy whizzing around in front of us at full speed while we ate our lunch sitting on the ute tailgate. 

After lunch, and now with two mowers roaring around (one had come down the road from the hill above) we headed off up the short track to Waipori Falls (also known as Crystal Falls), a track that was very narrow, rocky and quite muddy. What a disappointment that turned out to be. 

The track ended at a small platform, we could hear falling water somewhere in front of us but couldn't see a thing through the undergrowth other than a small pool directly below us. I climbed under the rails and down to the pool and there, if you looked carefully, was a tiny section of the falls that obviously came from way up above. I tell you, if I was a tourist on a busy travel itinerary, I'd be pretty peeved off driving all this way to see this recommended attraction.  This would have to have been the most uninteresting walk we've ever done.

We headed back to the carpark only to find that the mowers had been replaced by two flamin' noisy weed-eaters! No listening to the birds today.

We drive off up the hill to check out a few roof tops I'd seen through the bush. It was a surprise to find quite a little settlement nestled amongst the trees including this old fire station building...

and the village hall...

The narrow moss covered road zig-zagged up the hill and around and back down again, past several houses, some of them occupied. This was once a busy settlement established in 1902 to house workers building the hydro electric scheme on the Waipori River (originally used to power Dunedin, 60kms away) . It's now a rather sleepy bolt-hole for a few people who obviously enjoy the isolation.

I said to David I think it had to be one of the most remote places to live that we've visited. I'm sure if you were wanting to hide from the law, it would be a very long time before they tracked you down to here. And yet if you look at the map below you'll see that it's just a hop,skip and jump from Dunedin airport.

We decided not to carry on to Lake Mahinerangi as it was another 15kms of winding road and then we'd have to retrace our steps all the way back home afterwards. 

Once we arrived back at Henley on SH1 (and not too far from our last stop at Taieri Mouth) we crossed over the highway and took a short back road to Waihola, finding this abandoned cheese factory...

...and this unusual front paddock ornament...

...and one more Taieri River Bridge. The Taieri River meets the Waipori River here and they both flow on together for a short distance before flowing through a gorge to Taieri Mouth.

So that was South Otago, down and dusted for us. It's not an area I'd rave about but I'm glad we decided to explore it a little.

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