Monday 24 July 2017

Lake Opuha Reflections

Catch-up, mid June 
A blog short on words, long on photos!

Lake Tekapo township on a very cold and frosty early winter's morning. 

After a very cold night at Lake Pukaki we had an even colder night at the NZMCA Park in Lake Tekapo. It was -5c outside at 9am, a very cold and miserable morning when the sun isn't shining!

I crunched my way through the frost laden grass to the lake. The dozens of water puddles dimpled across the rocky mud flats were frozen solid. 

In the other direction, looking towards the Southern Alps, the mist rose from the warmer lake water. Black Swans & Canada Geese huddled together in groups along the shoreline.

We had stayed hitched up once again so as soon as we had the van ship-shape we pulled out, heading north and taking it very carefully over Burkes Pass in case of black ice. We had another lake to visit, one we hadn't stayed at before but had passed nearby many times, on our way into and out of the MacKenzie Basin.

Lake Opuha is a 700 hectare man made lake built as an irrigation reservoir for the surrounding farmland in the Fairlie basin. The lake is located 12kms from Fairlie and is very popular in the summer for fishing, boating and watersports. There are three freedom camping areas located around of the lake.  

We checked each one out and decided on the Hayes Road camp at the top of the lake. We were once again the only silly buggers camping and had the place to ourselves.

It was very cold and very still outside- perfect for some winter reflections on the lake. (Remember to click the photos to enlarge them.)

The Two Thumb Range separates Lake Opuha from Lake Tekapo.

The sun made a brief appearance through a gap in the darkening clouds, just as it was due to disappear behind the mountains.

The new autumn grass on the  hills across the lake turned a beautiful emerald green in the golden glow.

The golden hour, that hour before the sun sets has the most perfect light for photography.

It's too hard to choose, I love them all!

Half an hour later the setting sun turned the cloud formation above into an amazing ripple of white, gold and grey.

 And then it was gone. A perfect reward for enduring a very cold day. 

Thursday 20 July 2017

'Out There' at Lake Pukaki

Catch-up; mid June, 2017

Continuing on with the theme of taking our time while making our way to Christchurch, and staying at a number of freedom camping areas that have been on our radar for some time, we left Ohau B Canal and headed for Lake Pukaki, just up the road. 

Beside Lake Pukaki near Tekapo B Power Station
There are a number of free camping areas along Hayman Road which is on the eastern side of the lake but I have a particular one in mind. It involves driving under the penstocks of the Tekapo B Power Station. We've been through here a number of times before, but not with 'Out There' on the back. There's plenty of room but it's still quite daunting when you approach narrow tunnels or low bridges because it seems, from inside the cab, that the beams are right there above your head and about to smash into the van.

Not far past the power station I locate the entrance to the camp site. I head down the track with the walkie talkie to check the access, you soon learn in this game to check out the unknown, there's nothing worse than getting to the end of track to find that there's no turning. It's a good chance to take my camera with me too!

I radio back that it's fine, in fact one of the better tracks we've encountered. David slowly makes his way to the open area at the end, although it's a bit tight round one of the bends. 

We decide on a site that looks a little more sheltered, and also private if anyone else arrives (ha! that's a laugh, no one else is mad enough). We spend an age in the freezing cold chill of the afternoon trying to get  'Out There' level. It doesn't worry me if there's a bit of a lean but it's one of David's pet hates and being the perfectionist that he is, we have to get it perfect every time, even if we're only there for one night! 

Most of the time it's a piece of cake and we're done in a few seconds flat. Other times it's a pain in the butt and especially if it's wet or boggy underfoot. That's when the blocks skid as David goes to drive up onto them. Then we have to start over again, and sometimes, again and again (changing the position or adding a packer to the block) until we either make it or actually make too big a mess and have to move anyway. Oh what we'd do for self-levellers. Although we've seen them disappear into the mud too, refusing to be sucked back out when the owner has gone to leave. Such are the joys of winter RVing.

Finally we have it level but David's still not happy, we're not unhitching tonight and now the 5th-wheel is under strain because the ute is angled on the uneven ground. I've also forgotten to check the TV reception and guess what? We don't have any! The pine forest beside us is blocking the signal from the north. There's nothing for it but to shift over to the point, where we go through the whole process again. And this time I check the reception first!

The hydro lakes are all very low at the moment, and lower than usual for this time of the year although I guess they'll be starting to fill now with all the snow melt and rain that has fallen over the last couple of weeks. 

If those clouds weren't at the far end of the lake you'd be able to see  Aoraki/Mt Cook right in the middle there.

We manage to catch the last of the afternoon sun (from inside the van as it's too cold outside). And then it's not for long because it soon drops behind the mountains across the lake.

Later on I head out to take some sunset photos. I find a track through the pines to a point on the other side overlooking the lake and am delighted to see that Mt Cook has made an appearance and is living up to her Maori name Aoraki- 'cloud piercer'. 

We wake up to a very heavy frost and even colder temperatures and not for the first time thank our lucky stars for our diesel heaters. The early cloud disappears to reveal a stunning sunny blue sky day....but no sunshine reaching into our little patch. It doesn't take us long to decide to head out in search of some warmth.

We pass back under the penstocks and take a left up the hill to the head pond- often called the Fish Bowl or just 'the Bowl'.

The 'Bowl' is a very large pond at the southern end of the 26km long Tekapo Canal, it's where the water is held before it disappears down the penstocks to the power station below.

The 'Bowl' is a favourite (and no longer secret, sorry guys) fishing spot of many including a few of our feathered friends; here a Little Shag/Kawau Paka keeps a look out from a prime spot, the one and only pole in the middle of the pond. 

David had a quick look but decided he'd had his fill of fishing for awhile so we headed off up the canal, past the salmon farm to the end of the road. Well, to the end of the drivable road, you used to be able to travel right to the end and rejoin State Highway 8 but it was closed off a few years ago and now only walkers, fishers and cyclists (on the Alps2Ocean Cycle Trail) can use that section. 

We crossed the bridge and parked up on the canal to have some lunch, there's room to turn around for bigger rigs on both sides at the end, although it's a tight turn onto the bridge and it involves a bit of reversing if you head to the far side of the canal.

After lunch we head back down the road, turning the heads of people fishing along the canal as we go. I'm sure some people get a heck of a fright to suddenly see us approaching them on a narrow road. You can see it in their faces 'where the heck did that come from?', and we're not even a very big rig.

This is a big rig! We stopped in at the power station to say goodbye to friends Roz & Pete, we'd seen them at Ohau B and knew they were shifting to this camp site today. They have the right idea, sun all day here! Although it looks like they were getting a top up from that pylon behind.

And from their camp site we can see ours across the way; on that far point where the pine trees end.

There was one more place I wanted to visit before we made our way to the NZMCA Park at Lake Tekapo for the night. This is one of my favourite places in the South Island and one we've visited numerous times; Patterson Ponds. The ponds are hidden in the bare but colourful willow trees on the right in the photo below, that's the Tekapo River you can see down the other side. This can also be one of the most barren and windswept places and can look quite uninviting much of the time. 

But catch the ponds on the right day and it's a photographer's dream. And apparently there are also a few monster wily Browns in the connected ponds as well, we've seen a few fish but nothing too big. Click on the link above to learn more about the ponds.

I wanted to see if the ponds were frozen, I've seen them in autumn and in spring and also when the nearby, usually placid, Tekapo River was a wild torrent and the ponds were flooded

If you look closely in the photo above you can see that they are indeed frozen...or partly frozen. I took the photo from the Tekapo Canal Road, we're now at the top end of the canal about 8kms from where it exits Lake Tekapo.

I left David to turn the rig around up on the road while I clambered down the steep sides of the canal bank to the ponds below. There are 10 or so ponds and I managed to check half of them out before the shadow of the canal wall caught up with me and the ponds.

CSC (certified self contained) freedom camping is allowed amongst the ponds but it's only suitable for small vans, preferably 4WD, the track down is very rough and covered in large rocks and boulders and there are plenty of deep potholes in places too. I've always wanted to stay here, there's an area near the end of the road up on the canal road that would do for bigger rigs but I'd want to do it in summer when it's warm and there's no wind; it can howl a gale through here.

Once I'd finished taking photos I head back to where David's patiently waiting for me, making my way back up the walls. There are two, a flat gravel track separates them and believe me they are really steep with lots of loose gravel. There's also plenty of briar bushes to snag you. I use the dozens of rabbit holes as foot holds as I weave my way through all the obstacles back to the rig. We head off to get settled in at Tekapo before the suns sinks below the horizon and the bitter cold sets in once again. 

Monday 17 July 2017

Ice Spectacle- Hooker Valley

Catch-up; It's been a busy couple of weeks, we've been chasing the snow and exploring the Canterbury high country. I have hundreds of stunning photos and lots to tell you about in due course. In the meantime this blog may seem a little out of place now, much of the MacKenzie Country is smothered in thick winter snow and especially the access road to Aoraki/Mt Cook and the National Park. 

On a clear, crisp and sunny morning I left David fishing for that elusive salmon at the canal and headed to Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park to re-walk the Hooker Valley track. We've walked it before, back in early December, 2015 but it was overcast then (great for photos though). I wanted to walk the 10km return track again and see it in a different light. I stopped at Pete's Lookout to grab one of the iconic shots of Aoraki; looking up Lake Pukaki to New Zealand's tallest mountain at the top of the lake.

I parked beside the DOC White Horse Hill campground and near the trailhead, it was bitterly cold out of the sun but I could see it heading down Hooker Valley ahead of me as I set off at a brisk walk, being careful not to step on any icy puddles that would send me for a skate.

The first of the three swingbridges that cross the Hooker River which flows down from the Hooker Glacier Lake, then into and out of, the Mueller Glacier Lake. 

This is no gentle flowing stream, those boulders in the river below the bridge are the size of small cars. You can see a couple of people crossing the bridge in the photo above.

Mt Sefton towers high over the lake and in the stillness I can hear regular whooshing and booming sounds echoing around the valley. When I zoom in on the mountain I can see great clouds of snow and ice breaking off an ice shelf and tumbling down the face, from high up on a ridge near the peak. 

Each time I get to a swingbridge, I wait for others to finish their selfies before I can get a clean shot. 

Just before I reach the sun, Aoraki/Mt Cook comes into view at the head of the valley.

Which is just as well because as soon as I step into the sun (which instantly has a lovely warming effect), it's directly ahead of me and right in my face and the camera's! There's no getting away from the lens flare here, so I shoot as best I can by closing down the aperture (f/22) and cutting off most of the sun so I get a sunburst and although it's not a good one at least I can see Mt Cook underneath!

I now have to take my photos looking back down the track so the pesky sun doesn't gatecrash every shot. 

This is the last of the three bridges over the Hooker River(above), it's just below the moraine walls of the Hooker Glacier Lake and not far from the lake outlet.

A short track leads off the main path to a small tarn tucked in amongst the alpine vegetation. It's a surprise to see down the valley and off in the distance the Hermitage Hotel, back in the Mt Cook village. Of course it makes sense as Aoraki can be seen from all rooms at the Hermitage.

From the tarn it's just a gentle climb up over the top of the moraine wall to the lookout point complete with lovely large picnic table.....and a dozen or so people. I sit and have my lunch watching as people arrive over the top of the ridge, oohing and aahing as they take in the glacier lake and Mt Cook ahead of them. Unfortunately the sun is now sitting right above Mt Cook spoiling the view as they jostle amongst themselves to get the best selfies. 

I was hoping the lake might have been frozen or semi-freddo with lots of icebergs bobbing about. The icebergs break away from the Hooker Glacier at the head of the lake. Sadly it wasn't frozen and there was only one big dirty 'berg that look more like a rock sitting in the middle of the lake.

The real surprise was down at the lake's edge below us, numerous small icebergs had been sucked towards the river outlet on the far side of the lake. They'd become stuck in an icy embrace by the beautiful coloured frozen glacial water.

And to give you some perspective, here you can see people at the edge. In fact if you look closely at the photo above you can see two people sitting on the rocks in the centre of the photo and another couple standing over by the outlet (click to enlarge the photo).

Many of the people arriving took their lookout photos, glanced around the mountains and then turned tail and headed out again. They were unaware of the magical spectacle down at lake level. I was unaware as well! Luckily I twisted my arm and forced myself to get down there to touch an iceberg.

Never mind the icebergs, this strange but stunning phenomenon was right along the lake's edge; an ice wave caught in suspension looking like it was just about to break onto the shore. 

The wave was made up of hundreds of  large irregular shaped plate ice piled on top of each other. A large patchwork of beautiful broken ice.

Up close there was quite a bit of noise as the ice cracked and slipped as it melted in the warm sunshine. People were also picking pieces up and smashing them on the rocks or throwing them out onto the ice adding to the noise. I know, I know, but don't tut-tut, it was a so much of fun, I was drawn to do the same. I felt like I was attending a Greek wedding smashing plates! (the lookout is behind that green mound, top centre)

Some people also chose to climb over the ice wave and try their skills at walking(skating) on the frozen lake. Most of them failed and made a spectacle of themselves in the process! The guy below managed to scoot out to that small 'berg to have his photo taken sitting on it. He fell coming back. It really was so slippery. 

Another guy walked quite a way out before his feet left him too it. I did feel sorry for him because I know that awful feeling when suddenly you're on your back in a heap on the ground. No one was willing to walk out and help him either and I don't blame them. He half crawled, half slipped his way back to terra-firma and hobbled off, pride deeply dented. Muffled sniggering could be heard nearby.

My theory is that the ice has formed on the lake and then the wind's got up and blown onshore quite ferociously and for quite some time, pushing lake water underneath the layer of ice breaking it up in the process and then pushing that onto shore as more ice formed behind. Whatever, I was thrilled to see another amazing spectacle of nature.

And I spent so much time down at the lake edge I finally managed to get a shot of Mt Cook without the sun spoiling it, it had moved off ever so slowly to the left. The Hooker Glacier terminal face can be seen at the top of the lake.

It was time to head back down the track to the carpark, there were lots more people out enjoying the warm sunshine which has now filled the whole of the wide flat valley floor.

I took another photo of Aoraki/Mt Cook (sans sun) just before the mountain disappeared out of sight as I neared the beginning of the track. 

And another photo of the Hermitage tucked in under the mountains on the far side of the valley. 'Rock flour' has turned the Mueller Glacier lake the beautiful teal colour the high country lakes are known for. The lake is trying to freeze too, there's a line across the centre just above the island where the ice is forming. 

There was one more short walk I wanted to do before I left the mountains and I was in a hurry to drive the few kilometres around to the trailhead. It's a short gut-busting walk straight up the moraine wall to the Tasman Glacier Lake. As per usual I've spent way too much time on the other walk and the sun is now fast disappearing behind the mountains, a shadow is quickly creeping across the vast expanse of the Tasman Valley. Darn! Oh well, I managed a few good shots the last time we climbed to the lake.

The Blue Lakes (which are blue no longer, check the link above for the reasons why), are frozen, so I'm hoping there might be a few icebergs on Tasman Glacier lake. I climb on as fast as possible hoping the shadow hasn't covered the lake as well.

Arriving at the top gasping for breath and with my heart pumping twenty to the dozen, I'm disappointed to see no 'bergs (well no huge ones, just a few specks here and there) and the lake disappearing into shadow as well (click on the photo to enlarge). 

Oh well, I sit down on a rock and casually take in the scenery as I wait for my breath to catch up and my pulse to return to normal. I take quiet satisfaction in seeing much younger (and supposedly fitter) people arrive, panting and gasping for breath as they virtually crawl over the last step. A few of them are Lions supporters and they're obviously suffering from the celebrations- the Lions played the Crusaders the night before and won 12-3.