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


  1. Stunning photos Shellie. Several front page magazine shots. And, when comparing a few hours difference in the same setting, can see why you wanted to get there earlier. Sure hope you succeed.

    1. Thanks Eidlewise, you are too kind. Pleased you enjoyed Part 1, now it's time for Part 2!

  2. Gotta love Southland, the scenery is just amazing.

    1. Not quite Southland but definitely South Island, and you're right Amy, the scenery is amazing everywhere you go.

  3. Another blog with breathtaking pics taking me back to that wonderful place. Thank you

    1. Thanks Diane, pleased you've enjoyed reminiscing.


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