Wednesday 31 July 2019

Hunting for a Hoar Frost- Mackenzie Country; Part 2


Continued on from Part 1  where we were parked up at the Ohau B canal NZMCA Park near Twizel.

But sadly there's still no hoar frost or even remnants of one so it's time to head home and see what tomorrow brings...

Tomorrow brings a fabulous sunrise.

Beautiful colours over Ohau B Canal
I'm up well before the sparrows, it is bitterly cold outside and a heavy frost is fast settling on the rig but when I look out and see the cloud formations overhead I know it's going to be a spectacular sunrise. Now I have to hurry to get to the top of the small hill behind our camp site before it's too late.

I throw on layer after layer of warm clothes, finger-less gloves and woolly hat, grab my gumboots, and camera and rush as fast as I can up through the long grass on the side of the hill, dodging deep rabbit holes and large rocks as best as I can in the dark gloom. There are a couple of tracks but I haven't time to find them as I can see shafts of brilliant orange streaking through the sky above already.

The wispy fog looks like cobwebs draped over the power pylons.
I knew before I reached the top of the hill I was in for a tough photo shoot, I'd left my tripod and head torch behind! I can't see the camera settings easily and it's so dark I'll not be able to shoot any long exposure shots (which are all of them until the sun comes up) without my tripod. 

1) The sun rises over the fog in the Mackenzie Basin
2) Pink tinted lenticular clouds above Lake Ruataniwha Spillway
3) Looking south over the salmon farm
I don't have the energy to race back down to the van and then get back up the hill in time. Luckily there's a concrete column on the top of the hill (it's used to measure movement in dam walls), and with the help of a flattish rock I manage to balance my camera on the top of them to shoot. I find out later that only one in about 4 shots has no blur. I bet the camera was slowly slipping on the icy surface.

1) Aoraki/Mt Cook  peeps over the top to greet the morning sun
2) With Ben Ohau Range as the backdrop, fog settles over Lake Ruataniwha.
3) As the sun climbs higher the colours turn from reds & orange to a brilliant yellow
After a suitable time and enough photos for me to think I have at least got a few of the early sunrise, I decide I will have to high-tail it back down the bank and back to the van to get my tripod. And put on another pair of socks, I'm already wearing two pair but gumboots and an icy frost do not go well together. This time I walk along the canal and head back up the unofficial 4WD track to the top, it's a steeper climb and now very slippery because the frost has settled.  And the temperature has dropped even further due the wind chill factor as a stiff breeze blows in.

Looking south over the salmon farm- just two vans in for the night
The colours are now soft oranges & mellow yellows. Now that I have my tripod set up, I attempt to do some light trails using the red tail lights of a few dozen vehicles that pass by below me. They're on their way to catch those elusive salmon further down the canal.  And then would you believe it, my battery runs flat and I've left my spare in the van! So off I head back to the van once again and then I traipse all the way back up to the top for the third time, just in case there are a few more photos left out there. Because I know if I don't I'll wish I did (if that makes sense!).

Needless to say, I now make sure I have my tripod ready to go along with my backpack packed with headlamp, spare battery, extra socks & gloves, snack & water,  no matter what the weather forecast is for the next morning. 

When I finally stagger back to the rig the frost has well and truly settled over the ute & 5th-wheeler and long grass on the hillside is dripping with icicles. The makings of a mini hoar frost. 

Later in the morning I decide to head down to Lake Benmore again, just in case.  It's cold enough and if there's fog down there, the ice crystals could be building up. You never know...

I stop above Ohau B power station and climb up the fence line... I can check out the Ohau River that runs parallel with the canal all the way down to the lake. There's fog off in the distance...

...and it's hanging about over the canal and the fishermen & women still trying their luck with the escaped salmon. 

While I watched, the fog rolled back in and that got me a little excited.

If there was fog up here, there was sure to be fog down at the lake. I carried on down the canal and was excited to see more fog over Ohau C Power Station which probably meant it reached all the way down to the lake too. 

There are two ways around each power station, one road crosses over the top of the dam and the other runs behind the station and in front of the penstocks. The lower road at Ohau C does a large sweeping curve down to the lower level and it's this one I take, it'll get me to the lake quicker.

Except that half way down and I pull to a quick halt when I see through the departing fog some matagouri and briar bushes covered in ice crystals in a nearby paddock.

A hoar frost has formed for sure but there are only a few bushes. I take a few shots as quick as I can because already the sun is reaching through and water is dripping off the bushes.

I don't know why but I decide to head over to the  river on the other side of the power station instead of down to the lake and as I got near I could see the fog retreating out of sight over the lake.

I pulled over to check on the river and couldn't believe my eyes- the fog has gone and left behind a ribbon of  trees laden in ice crystals!

I have finally found myself a hoar frost!

It might not have been the blue sky, heavily laden white crystal shot I've been looking for but it would do me just fine......for now.

The term "hoar frost" comes from the Old English meaning of frost resembling an old man's beard. Frosts and hoar frosts form when the air and objects are at or below freezing and while normal frost forms when the air is relatively dry, the air must be quite moist for hoar frost to form (helped along by fog). The ice needles of hoar frost can become several inches long in extreme cases and form on the sides of and beneath objects, as well as on top.

The bright red rosehips on the briar bushes look like jaffa sweets from a distance...

...up close, they are soft and disintegrating as they defrost- perfect bird food during the harsh winters (although not so good that the birds then spread the seeds which is why the high country is covered in briar bushes).

These photos aren't the best because now that the fog has departed, I'm looking straight into a hazy sun.

A pond near the river is frozen solid and I decide to drive down to it and see if I can get some close up shots of the trees

By the time I twist & bump my way along the river track, smashing through large puddles of frozen water and avoiding others full of mud, I can see that the frost is fast melting...

...and when I finally reach the pond it has just about gone. That's it. For a brief 30 minutes I was in awe of Mother nature and in seventh heaven. I can go home now. Bucket list photo, done & dusted (although there's still a blue sky shot on there).

I find my way back up to the canal road, stopping briefly to take a photo of the canal bank covered in frost and now melting in the sun.

Back past the fisher people still trying their luck and now basking in the weak sun...

...and back to camp where the sun is only just reaching over the hill and onto the frosted grasses that I clambered up this morning.

Later in the afternoon I decide to take another drive around to Lake Ruataniwha 'just in case'. But when I stop at a gap in the trees I can see that there's nothing happening down there today and I turn around and head back home. 

Tuesday 23 July 2019

Hunting for a Hoar Frost- Mackenzie Country; Part 1


Was I going to be too late to catch my hoar frost? That was the million dollar question. We left Fairlie late morning on a beautiful sunny day. There would be no dilly-dallying on this trip; straight through Burkes Pass and down into the beautiful Mackenzie Basin, the snow capped Southern Alps forming a stunning backdrop. I love catching that first sight of the mountains, they are jaw-dropping spectacular no matter what time of the year it is.

Through a busy Lake Tekapo village with Mt John directly ahead and not a scrap of snow in sight. It's hard to believe that Tekapo has already had a good dumping of snow this winter, I missed that too.

Then it's along the straights, dry tussocks grasslands stretching off into the distance and not a flowering lupin in sight...

...up over a hill and then around the corner and the first sighting of beautiful Lake Pukaki and it's turquoise blue waters.

As we head over the spillway and past the lookout carpark I ask David to put his window down and snap a shot of a beautiful Aoraki/Mt Cook standing proudly at the head of lake; it's not often you see her without her head in the clouds. It's just as well I have a few dozen similar photos, we'll not be stopping to take in the view today.

By the time we reach our destination, the NZMCA camp at Ohau B Canal, I'm pretty much certain if there was a hoar frost it has now melted back into the land. There's a patch of frosty grass in the shaded lee of the small hill behind the camp and I also spied a shaded row of heavily frosted pines along the main road but that's it, it's now a brilliantly fine sunny day, although the temperature is a very brisk 4 degrees. 

I check a Facebook page I follow and see stunning photos of a blue sky hoar frost taken near Twizel this morning! I'm gutted, it looks like I'm six hours too late. If only the tyres had arrived on time. Later in the afternoon I check back on Facebook and see that someone has mentioned that the willows at Lake Benmore's boat ramp were covered in frost this morning and it may still be there.

As I loaded up the ute with my gear, I stopped to take a photo of an Australasian Crested Grebe as he paddles past the rig. This is my favourite South Island lake bird and I'm happy to see another three birds floating around the salmon farm across from the camp.

I headed off down the canal road towards the lake, keen to also see how many anglers were trying their luck along Ohau C canal. Two weeks prior, 3000 salmon- due to be harvested later in the year- had escaped from their pen at the salmon farm. They had been providing a fishing bonanza for anglers that had come from far & wide to try their luck. 

I had seen photos, during the early days of the escape, of shoulder to shoulder anglers on the banks of the canal near the farm. There were still dozens fishing this afternoon but they were a little more spread out. At this time of the year you would usually only see maybe two or three anglers along this stretch of canal.

I carried on down to the Ohau C power station, the last power station on the canal before Lake Benmore.

It wasn't a surprise to find a couple of dozen anglers fishing on both sides of the canal and along the dam wall here either. I'm no fishing expert but I've learnt from a lot of time spent observing, that salmon (and trout) either hang out around the farm, feeding on the excess food that escapes the nets that contain the farmed fish, or swim to either end of the canal (looking for an escape or to spawn?) 

There is no escape for Ohau C fish, it's one long canal. Ohau B fish at least have a change of scenery available to them via Lake Ruataniwha and Wairepo Arm.

There's maybe 5 or 6 kilometres of canal between the farm and Ohau C power station so you would expect there to be some fish in between but it's very rare to see an angler in that middle ground, on any of the canals. 

I left the happy fisher people behind and headed down to the lake (I saw several large fish discreetly placed in bins near vehicles- I say discreet but how do you hide a large fish tail when it's obviously taller than the bucket. Fold it in half?) 

Sadly the willows along the boat ramp harbour weren't dripping in icicles either although the reflections made up for that a teeny weeny bit... 

... and the large pond in the centre of the campground was also devoid of frost. It was still bitterly cold so maybe if I found some shaded trees I might have a chance...

I drove quickly back up the canal. Actually not that quick really, because I find it quite off putting driving along the edge of the canals. It feels like I'm suddenly going to veer off the road and disappear under the deep blue water never to be seen again. I focus on the centre line.

I pass the anglers, the power stations, and David sitting in the van at the camp site and then I'm back out on the main road. And heading to one of my favourite- and most photogenic- places in the Mackenzie Basin, no matter what season it is. Wairepo Arm is a large body of water that joins the Ohau B Canal and is fed from Lake Ruataniwha. Wairepo Arm is just opposite our camp and another salmon farm sits on the corner of the canal and the pond. 

Wairepo Arm reflections are spectacular, especially during autumn when the colours on the willows and poplars are vivid yellow, although winter isn't half bad either! No hoar frost here though.

I have one last port of call in mind before the light fades; several narrow coves near a small island close to shore on Lake Ruataniwha, and beside the Lake Ruataniwha Holiday Park. 

It's very cold here as the reserve is tucked into a pine forest and sits below a natural river terrace so the sun only reaches into it's depths for a few short hours during winter.

But the calm milky blue water provides some beautiful reflections, even better than Wairepo Arm on this day.

But sadly there's still no hoar frost or even remnants of one so it's time to head home and see what tomorrow brings...

Lake Ruataniwha- looking towards SH8, the salmon farm (and our camp) are the white patches on the right.

Later on that evening I check the Facebook page again and my disappointment was intensified when I saw hoar frost photos from some of the places I had visited in the afternoon.

Many thanks to Nikki Adams who lives in Twizel for allowing me to use her gorgeous photos. Look familiar? And just a few hours separate the shots. I've included mine again so you can compare, click on the photo to enlarge.

Lake Ruataniwha-

Wairepo Arm-

To be continued...Part 2