Wednesday 28 August 2019

45th Southern Parallel Track- Cromwell


Just a few hundred metres down the road from the Lowburn NZMCA Park in Cromwell is the 45th Southern Parallel, the line that marks the halfway point between the Equator and the South Pole.

Click the photo to enlarge
I've passed the sign and carpark many times, it's on SH6, the main Cromwell-Wanaka highway. And everytime I think to myself  'I must do that day'.

Most of the time when I'm passing it's a hot summer's day and when I glance up the track I think to myself, 'no thankyou, not today'. 

But finally the time has come, today is the day. It's a blue sky day and about  minus 4c in the shade! The 2km loop track starts by going straight up the face of Sugarloaf Terrace, a glacial outwash terrace (outwash is the meltwater that flows from a glacier). A few hundred steps make the climb a little easier...

...although tucked into the shade of a narrow gully, they are covered in frost today so I have to tread carefully. 

A well placed seat welcomes the weary at step #364 (I'm trusting in the sign because I lost count at about 160).

The road noise disappears and passing vehicles are shrinking as I climb higher and higher.

Finally the top is in sight...

...and I take another photo looking out over Lake Dunstan to Northburn on the other side. Taking photos is a good excuse to take a breather....I'm sure I have a photo from every dozen steps.

501 steps later and I reach the top where there's another seat and a pile of rocks. I think regular walkers must carry one of two down the steps to fill in gaps or pack against a loose step as they go.

There's a chilly wind blowing and even with the sun it's very cold on the top of the terrace. I head to the edge to check out the view.

The vegetation is very alien up here. What looks like a paddock of cow pats is actually the alpine plant Raoulia, commonly known as 'vegetable sheep'. Often the plants are 60-70cm (1-2 feet) high and they form densely compacted hard cushions, hence their name as they look like sheep from a distance. 

But this particular species of Raoulia are low growing and instead form large very flat mats. They are hardy plants that enjoy dry conditions and will take over at the expense of other vegetation especially where rabbits are a problem and have cleared the land of other plants.

From the edge of the terrace the view up Lake Dunstan is spectacular. I've used my wide angle lens to get as much of the view in as possible. The NZMCA Park is located just behind the first lot of brown trees on the lake edge, in front of the green pines. (click on the photo to enlarge)

When I zoom in on the Park, I can see 'Out There' all on her own.

Across the lake are the vineyards on Northburn and the Northburn tailings tucked in there somewhere, that's another walk I will do the next time we're in Cromwell.

To my right and at the far end of the lake is Cromwell.  The 45th Parallel marker pole is just ahead of me too. 

The row of pines in the photo above, grow up the edge of Sugarloaf, which if viewed from below at Lowburn Inlet, looks like a small hill. The pines are over the right hand edge (photo taken in 2014).

 I follow the track along the edge of the terrace...

 ...until I reach the marker pole. The track then drops down a narrow gully, which is in fact part of the old gold mining escavations and is full of tailings...

...but I continue on along the top until I reach the trig station at the top of Sugarloaf.

This is what I wanted to see. Lowburn Inlet below...

...Lowburn Harbour at the back and in the middle, the Lowburn freedom camping area.

And at the top of the inlet is the new Lowburn housing development on the slopes below Lowburn Terrace. I think I need to come back up here in autumn.

And here is a panorama of Lowburn, this is 6 photos stitched together. I saw a similar photo of this view on a building in town and that made my mind up that I needed to do the walk on this visit.

From the trig there's an unofficial track down the side of the terrace...

...and back into the gully and mining tailings...

From there it was down to the Inlet...

...and then back along the lake front and home.

Done & dusted and not that bad afterall!

Friday 23 August 2019

Cromwell- Fog, Dogs & Winter Scenery


Our next stop is at one of our most visited towns in Central Otago; Cromwell, the fruit bowl of the South. Cromwell is a service town for the surrounding farm stations, vineyards and orchards, it also caters for the visitor overload from Queenstown & Wanaka. 

And while it still does service the local industries it's also becoming a great little town in it's own right with it's historic 'Old Town' precinct, Lake Dunstan for water sports & the renowned Highland Motorsport Park which attracts both international & domestic visitors alike. If only Cromwell could sort out it's small retail centre which is a hangover from a time when pedestrian malls were a priority, it's now a rabbit warren of cold alleyways, empty shops & real estate offices. 

Sunrise- Lake Dunstan
We usually find ourselves doing chores & resting up for a few days in Cromwell either at the NZMCA Park at Rotary Glen near the boat ramp or the freedom camping area at Lowburn on the shores of Lake Dunstan. But things have changed since our last visit.

Rotary Glen has always had a maximum stay of 3 nights which is fine, we would then shift to Lowburn if we needed to stay longer. Lowburn also has a minimum 3 night stay but now the powers that be have put up a low post and single wire fence right along the foreshore and through the long flat area beside the water. This now prevents all but the smallest of vans from parking along the edge of the water. I know this has been done because people were hogging the front row and parking side on (like us) and also blocking out the boaties in the summer but during the off season when there'd only be a handful of vans in each night it was never an issue. 

When you could park however you liked and had the whole place to yourself!
It's just as well that the latest NZMCA Park to open is also in Cromwell and just up the road from the freedom camping area at Lowburn. The Park is a large fenced area beside the lake and alongside the walking/biking track and will be a great asset for members especially during the summer. We were the only ones staying most nights and it wasn't until we left that I realised that this park also has a maximum 6 night stay unlike most other NZMCA Parks. Oops! (and no I'm not telling you how long we stayed though it wasn't the 21 nights you can in most other parks). 

You'll notice that there's a stand of large pines down the north side of the park. We chose our spot carefully, parking in the only corner that received the sun early in the day which worked well as we had some very heavy frosts while we were there. 

Although being in the sun didn't help much with our solar intake, the sun sits low on the horizon and is very weak down south during winter so we had to run the generator regularly. Luckily our only neighbours were rabbits! Dozens of them, including this warren on the fence line beside the van which I had fun watching from behind the tinted windows. How many rabbits can you see? Click on the photo to zoom in. 

Seven rabbits watch cautiously for any movement or noise from the van
It's just a short distance to the lakes edge, perfect for catching some stunning sunrises...

Two sunbursts, one from the sun and the other from it's reflection
...the mist rising...

...and beautiful reflections.

And on one morning I captured this amazing bank of fog covering Cromwell town...

...and then rolling up the lake towards me.

It was quite spooky how quickly it moved, I had visions of a tidal wave (and I felt the urge to run too).

At this point  I could feel the cold air being pushed ahead of it...

...and then suddenly it was over me and the temperature dropped sharply. It moved on up the lake pretty smartly and within 30 minutes or so was nowhere to be seen. I very weird experience, I must say.

I was writing a blog in the van one day and I could hear a dog barking on and off all day. By mid afternoon I thought I must check that out. I looked out and saw through the binoculars, a dog racing up the hill on the far side of the road. It was rounding up three sheep and I could hear the farmer whistling to it but couldn't see him. I decided he must be doing some dog trial training. 

It wasn't until the next day when David went out and then came back into camp to say there were dog trails going on right over the bank on the otherside of the road. I walked over to have a look and there they all were lined up in the paddock. When I spoke to a farmer he told me it was the huntaways yesterday (hence all the barking!). And today was the heading dogs turn. 

I stayed to watch for a time and used my camera to zoom in on the sheep, they're right up the top and were being brought down to the pen on the flat (click on the photo to enlarge).

Just in case you can't find them in the photo above, here they are. You can see the dog up behind, waiting for instructions. The sheep were being brought to the waiting area by a guy and a dog sitting out the day in the small hut you can see on the horizon in the photo above.

Half way down the hill and the sheep aren't happy. Look at all those rabbit holes too, it really is a major problem in Central. While we were at the NZMCA Park, there were several night time shoots happening over this hill and also across the lake on Northburn Station, gunshots during the night were a common occurrence.

Once down on the flat there was a bit of negotiation going on between the dog and the sheep- "Now, listen up ewe girls, I don't want no bovver, all you have to do is walk in the pen when the boss opens the gate, ok?"

I love the way this dog is carefully watching the proceedings, he's not tied up, and was walking around sniffing tyres and the the backs of utes but sat down and watched as soon as the other farmer started whistling.

Of course a visit to Cromwell for me isn't complete without a drive out to Bannockburn to check The Inlet- part of the Kawarau River- out for reflections, and in autumn for the stunning colours. 

And here's an autumn photo I prepared earlier...

This day the weather couldn't decide what it was doing, dark clouds loomed overhead and I was dodging rain showers one minute and then the sun would come out and warm everything up the next (still only about 5c though). Luckily there was not a whisper of wind though and The Inlet was a millpond.

And another autumn shot I prepared earlier (it looks like my processing has improved a little since these, although I blame my old laptop screen, I think I should have had it calibrated)

The surrounding hills are covered in vineyards with bare vines now of course, along with the willows, poplars and raupo (bulrush) around the waters edge.

Everytime I climb out of the ute to take a photo I'm surrounded by a very familiar fragrance, and one that speaks to me of Central Otago even when I'm not here. Much of the land around Central is smothered in thyme (a leftover from the gold mining days) and at this time of the year it's dry and brittle. The most amazing perfume fills the air even before I crunch over the plants which just intensifies the smell more. Thyme is one of the very first things I remember of Central Otago on our first visit to the region; the thyme aroma, the rocky tors and the rabbit proof fences!

I then drove out to the bottom of the Carrick Range and the road that climbs up, over and into the Nevis Valley to check on my 'special place', an old deserted pump shed.

How different does that look in autumn!

Then one last stop at the vineyards below the Bannockburn Sluicings to check on the vineyards...

...which certainly look a bit different to a summer shot I have of them. 

I've decided autumn is still my favourite time to visit Bannockburn.