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. 


  1. Wow, what a fantastic read and the photos are amazing. While you are taking these beautiful photos and running around in the freezing cold I am tucked up in a warm bed. You are an amazing lady to get up to take these incredible photos to share with us all. well done

    1. Many thanks for your kind words, I'm pleased you enjoy the blog and photos.

  2. oh you sound like me, the minute I see interesting skies I'm out there with the camera too.

    1. Hi Amy, it becomes second nature after awhile, always on the lookout for a special shot. Thanks for your comment.


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