Saturday 28 September 2019

Blue Lake Circuit Track- St Bathans


Before we left St Bathans I walked the 5km circuit track around the Blue Lake. On previous visits, due either to dreary weather or searing hot temperatures, we've only walked the 2km loop track through the sluicings on the southern side of the man-made lake.

This time it was neither too hot, nor raining or the lake blanketed in fog. In fact it was a beautiful blue sky winter’s day though it was still bitterly cold. The fog that we woke up to quickly retreated; you can see it still in the valley below the St Bathans Range in the photo above.

David came with me on the Sluicing Loop Walk, which aside from the fabulous reflections…

…has a interesting landscape steeped in early Central Otago history. Remnants from the gold mining operations that converted the 120 metre high Kildare Hill into a 68 metre deep lake are still visible… 

…and in some places we might as well be on the moon; other than a few reeds growing in murky pools of water, the barren earth is largely devoid of vegetation.

Dozens of rabbits have also made this arid landscape home- perhaps the greywacke gravel is easy to burrow into- they scatter over rocky ledges and drop from high cliffs as we make our way to the end of the lake. 

There’s not a breath of wind at this end of the lake either...

...and the still dark water provides perfect reflections.

We cross one last wet area where the water flows on a natural course across the solid rock base towards the lake. David heads back on the loop path to the carpark… 

… and I follow a track through gaps and up and over a number of excavation piles, slowly climbing as I  follow the DOC marker poles which are sparsely placed.  I have to stop often to scan the horizon and scrub to locate the next pole. There are also numerous sheep tracks that weave in and around the sluicing piles that can side track you (literally) if you're not paying attention (read taking photos & not watching where you're going).

There are several narrow & boggy waterways to cross, overgrown scrub to tug at your clothing and many mounds of earth to scramble over. Plus a few felled wildling pines to clamber over. But eventually the way is clear and the view over the lake opens up.

This isolated pillar of rock looks out of place high up here above the lake, perhaps it was left there as a sentinel overlooking the ‘glory hole’.

As I follow the track higher, the bottom section of the lake disappears from view for a time so I zoom in on the top end of the lake and the tiny village of St Bathans. 

Part of the boardwalk and path we’ve just walked are the bottom right of the photo. In the village from right to left you can see the church, a new cottage being built and my favourite two storeyed Post Office. What I haven’t seen before is the cottage high up on a knoll at the far end with fabulous views overlooking the lake. And if you look carefully you can see our ute parked in the carpark, centre left above the cliffs (don’t forget to click on the photo to enlarge).

Finally I reach the top of this part of the climb, the track levels out and heads towards the the cliffs above the lake. Here’s a view of the Blue Lake that not too many people will have seen, a totally different perspective of the lake and quite an odd shape now that its all in view. From this vantage point not only can you see the village to the left but the Manuherikia Valley and Dunstan Mountains stretching away into the distance on the right.

And if you look carefully you’ll be able to see our fifth-wheeler ‘Out There’ parked up in the St Bathans DOC camp.

This one might make it easier to see, dead centre between the large pine trees.

The marker poles are a lot closer together up along the top of the cliffs...

…perhaps it’s to make sure you keep to the track, there are steep cliffs and a couple of large scree slopes including this one which I carefully negotiated; it’s very easy to get distracted by the views.

A helpful information panel indicates where the buildings were located in the early days of the gold mining.

Over two thousand people once lived in and around St Bathans, I think the permanent population is about ten now.

The red berries of a hawthorn bush add a splash of colour to the overgrown tangle of matagouri, gorse and rosehip bushes that grow on the slopes and in the gullies above the cliffs. 

Can you see our ute in the carpark above the cliffs? Just in front of the toilet block. I think David might just have taken himself off to the pub for a drink and a chat.

Towards the end of the lake, the track heads away from the cliffs into a deep gully where there's another very boggy waterway to cross before it heads back out to the cliff edge. The seeping water is just a trickle over the edge today but it has sometime, or several times in the past gouged a great part of the cliff away. There's also the remains of a stone cottage and mining pipes nearby.

I weave my way through the last section of track which is overgrown and looks to have been attacked by a local wild pig population and then break out into the open again and find myself at the top of the lake (and looking directly into the sun).

There's a strategically placed bench seat and another information board, but I have no time to rest as I can see David driving up to the end of the track which finishes nearby. 

So that's it from St Bathans; I think I've now covered every inch and seen it in every season. And yet it still has that pull appeal....maybe I need to see it in autumn again, just one more time...

I couldn't mark the track around the lake other than place orange markers but at least you get the general idea of where it went.

Tuesday 17 September 2019

But Wait There's More- St Bathans


While at St Bathans I was determined to catch a sunrise over the lake. It was the middle of winter so I didn't have to get up too early; about 6:30am to be up at the lake just after seven. But while the late start was a bonus the bitterly cold temperatures outside weren't.  

Spot the Paradise Ducks floating near the edge
Several times through the night I'd open the door to check on the weather and each time a blast of freezing cold air would hit me. Nearly always the sky was crystal clear and inky black with a mass of twinkling stars reaching from one side of the horizon to the other. Perfect weather for a heavy frost each morning but not great for a sunrise; I needed a few clouds for the colour to bounce off. Each morning we woke to an icy frost and outside temperatures of -2c to -6c. Brrrrr.....

On the first morning when it looked like I might get a decent sunrise; by the time I reached the lake, heavy grey cloud had swallowed up what remained of the blue sky and blotted out any hope of colour.

I was waiting for something to poke it's head out of that hole, hopefully not a rat!
The cloud was quickly followed by thick fog and the temperature dropped sharply, if it could drop anymore, it was already about -2c. There was nothing for it but to head home to the warmth of the van.

A couple of days later I tried again, the conditions still weren't ideal but at least there was a little bit of wispy cloud streaking across the sky. 

The colour wasn't as brilliant as I'd hoped for, I think much of the initial intense colour was lost as the sun rose behind the Hawkdun Range before it popped over the top and filled our little corner of the valley.

On this morning I waited patiently as the sun inched its way down St Bathans Range, knowing that if the breeze stayed away there'd be some lovely reflections on the lake once it was light enough. I walked to the clay cliffs that overlook the lake and track down to the lake's edge. Once you could camp down at the lake edge but that's not allowed any more. 

A pair of Paradise Ducks (the same ones that were swimming on the lake earlier- see the 1st photo) were being chased by other ducks and landed on a pile of clay nearby. And then they spent the whole time honking and squawking at me. There'd be no chance of sneaking around the lake with a dozen or so Paradise ducks in residence, they make as much noise as though pesky Spurwing Plovers.

Afterwards I drove down to the lake and walked carefully around the edge of the lake clambering over gravel slides and more sticky clay until I could go no further.

The sun hadn't quite reached the lake but the reflections were amazing.

I've usually taken reflection photos from the tops of these cliffs on the other side of the lake so it was great to see them from a different angle.

I clicked away until my Paradise Duck pair returned to the lake and in the process disturbed the water. Soon afterwards there was a minor skirmish as three or four other ducks flew in to claim their territory.

I walked back to the carpark taking a few more photos of the cliffs below the village. You can certainly see why mining was stopped when the 'Glory Hole' got so close to the town.

Those ducks are following me around but at least they're not fighting this time!

The next day I headed back up to the lake for the golden hour; that hour of light before the sun sets,  when the light is soft and the shadows long. Though I left my run a little late, not allowing for the fact that the sun was going to disappear ahead of time behind St Bathans Range.

I quickly made my way along the cliffs, catching more beautiful reflections... 

...and making sure I captured the Post Office again in this brighter light (than the previous one I shot)

The light was perfect, the dark Blue Lake certainly living up to its name in this light.

You would think after so many visits to St Bathans, I would have realised what those black 'sticks' were on the cliffs opposite by now. I've always thought they were logs and wondered how they ended up there - ruining my perfect photos! I thought perhaps they were wildling pines that had been felled on the cliffs above and the trunks had then rolled (or were pushed) over the edge. 

Duh! After getting up close to them this time I now realise that they are rusted metal pipes, left over from the gold mining era.

Here are a couple more reflection photos...

This cream rock formation always reminds me of a resting dog or cat. 

And to give you some perspective, that is a full size willow tree to the right of it (this photo was taken on my walk back after the sun had dropped)

I got about halfway down the lake before the sun finally disappeared behind the hills and it was time to turn around and head back to the ute.

But not before catching the last of the golden light at the top end of the lake.

And here's one last photo to make you smile. This is what happens when you set your self-timer too long.

'Are you going to click or what?'