Monday, 19 June 2017

The Remote Ahuriri Valley- Part 1

Real-time- it's been a few days since the last blog and I always feel a little guilty about the delay. Some weeks blog posts just flow and other weeks they tend to be start, stop, get distracted, start, stop get distracted affairs. I've just had a one of those weeks!

We left Lowburn heading north up the eastern side of Lake Dunstan and over the Lindis Pass for one last time, we're not sure when we'll be back down this way again, it's time to explore further north. Just before we reached the Summit (where I took this photo), snow flurries began splattering the windscreen. I thought it might have been the start of a heavy fall but sadly it had petered out by the time we pulled up.

At the bottom of the Lindis and 20kms from Omarama we turned hard left into Birchwood Road and headed up the Ahuriri Valley. This 24km gravel road follows the Ahuriri River all the way up the valley into the Ahuriri Conservation Park. From there, there's a 8km 4WD track to the end of the road. The last time I stopped to look down this road, the mountains were covered in snow and it was piled up half a metre deep on either side of tyre tracks through the middle, it was the time of  'the big snow' when I drove up from Winton to check it out.

With the outside temperatures being so chilly now we're into winter (8-10c is a good day), we like to be set up with the diesel heater pumping well before the sun disappears over the mountains. 

About 8kms down the road we decided to pull in and camp on a small level plateau overlooking the river, we'd carry on up the valley in the morning.

I gave David a bit of a ribbing after we'd set up. Of all the places and wide open spaces we could have chosen and we park right beside a bloody power pole! In defence it was the only area where we could look over the river.

We woke to a light frost in the morning and the sun hiding behind the mountain across the river from us. When it did finally reach into the valley we had an amazing view up the braided Ahuriri River valley. This is the river that passes the Omarama Clay Cliffs and runs alongside the DOC camp we stay at near Omarama. The river is also smothered in lupins in spring, although luckily not all the way up here. Yet.

As we headed on up the valley, the cloud had settled along the mountain ridge but there are still a few glimpses of snow along the tops. We pass one of several access points into the conservation park, it's hard to believe that over the range from here is the top arm of Lake Hawea, very near the entrance to Haast Pass, which by road is a very long way away. This part of the track is also part of the Te Araroa Trail, New Zealand's walking trail from the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South Island. We've crossed it on numerous occasions while out exploring.

We know that there are some large high country stations down the road, Ben Avon, Longslip and Birchwood (no longer operating), but are still surprised to see a lovely large new home tucked in under the range, this is a pretty remote area with a hostile winter environment. I later find out that it's a hunting lodge and clients (mainly from overseas) pay thousands of dollars to stay, hunt & fish in the Ahuriri Valley. And to think that we can just drive in, set up camp and do exactly the same should we wish to- though not the hunting bit of course! And I'm not so sure we can arrange the helicopter rides either! 

The Lodge overlooks the beautiful Ben Avon Wetlands, which are just starting to freeze over. Any waterfowl settled on the pond has been forced into a deep corner. They start milling about and stressing out so we leave them to it and carry on along the road.

We finally reach the park boundary where we find a place to park right beside the river. There's not another person in sight and we have the whole valley to ourselves. 

What an absolutely magical place. If only it was the fishing season, once again there are a dozen or so trout swimming through the crystal clear waters right below us. The Ahuriri is an internationally renowned fly-fishing river.

After we'd set up, we headed off to explore further up the valley. The gravel road ends near the old Birchwood Station homestead, stock yards and a 1930s farm cottage. Birchwood was purchased by the Nature Heritage Fund in 2004 to protect the natural landscape and secure public access up the valley, it had been farmed since 1873 and was once described as being more suitable for keas (our cheeky mountain parrot) than sheep.

We're now on the 4WD track although it's not too bad, just some lumpy parts, a few mudholes and a couple of big shingle slides to cross, the rest is slick dry mud. We come across another familiar sight, the 1861 'Spade Line'.  This is the remains of a controversial boundary fence and spade line between the provinces of Canterbury & Otago. The spade line was actually dug out at the time and the indentation is still noticeable in places. The boundary line was drawn using a ruler, it didn’t allow for natural features or the rights of established run holders. We last crossed it when we explored along the edge of Lake Ohau, near Twizel.

We stop to take in this fabulous view across the valley, the emerald green waterway snakes it way across the tussock plain towards bare willows and the river on the far side of the valley. Aside from the stunning green colour which grabs your attention, look at the colour and texture on that mountain too.

Stands of remnant beech forest and large gravel slides line the valley walls. I suggested to David that it would be great fun to toboggan down that trough in the gravel. It's hard to get perspective here but that is a large mountain with very steep sides, those are very tall trees and I'd probably get swallowed up in the gravel coming down at a breakneck speed! It's fun thinking about it though.

We stop to check out DOC's Ahuriri Base Hut, there's a car parked nearby but no sign of occupants. They're probably walking one of the many tramping tracks in the area. 

There are several huts in the mountains above this hut and several more further up the valley. Tramping, mountain biking and horse riding are all encouraged in the park; there's a horse holding yard near the hut. 

Though motorbikes and 4WDriving is not encouraged and there is a barrier across the end of the road. This is as far as we'll be going today.

We turn around and head for home, stopping here and there to check for birds and views.

It takes a few seconds to spot 'Out There' in this vast river plain, we blend in very well against the tussock (click to enlarge)

Zoomed in....

The valley and surrounding mountains turn a stunning colour as night falls and the temperature drops sharply as day turns to night. Both heaters are cranked up, keeping us snug and warm inside; they are certainly going to earn their keep come morning...

To be continued...Part 2


  1. The scenery and photographs are wonderful. I am in love with the McKenzie Country. Maybe one day I will visit in winter too.

    1. Thanks Carol, pleased you enjoyed the photos, the MacKenzie is up there with Central on my fav list. Winter is extreme though, some days stunning, others, bleak and uninviting.

  2. Great to be reminded of the vastness of this valley, Shellie. Kathy and I mountain biked up there maybe 8 years ago. Neat shots.

    1. Thanks Mark, glad you enjoyed reliving the memories. It looked to be a popular place to mountainbike, there were a few heading out on the day we arrived. Looked like you could go for miles without much climbing at the top of the valley.

  3. Beautiful photos and helpful comments. Many thanks.

    1. Thanks for your comment Colin. much appreciated.

  4. Ah, gutted we didn't went much further than the station homestead!
    We only had a AWD station wagon and there's a sign says 4WD only after the homestead and sure enough, 2 mins drive later we were met by a rather large gravel slides. Navigable but we didn't take the chance!

    1. You perhaps could have got a little further in the summer but definitely need 4WD during winter. Did you see my recent blog on the valley during winter? Here's the link if not-


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