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. 


  1. Enjoy your blog immensely! The colours and textures of the SI are so beautiful - so glad you were there to capture and share them. Thanks

    1. Thanks for your comments Samantha, they are much appreciated. I'm so pleased you enjoy the blog, it makes all the hard work worthwhile.

  2. Photo number 9 is my choice. Will wait to see it on Ficka. Mr Brown.

    1. Thought you might like that one! I'll have to upload it soon for you, otherwise it might be another 6 months before I get to it. :)


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