Thursday, 10 October 2019

A Timeless Land- Hawkdun Range, Central Otago; Part 1


While we were at St Bathans and with the weather so good, we decided to drive the loop and explore along Home Hills Runs Road, visit the fishing cribs at Falls Dam, carry on along the bottom of the Hawkdun Range around into Hawkdun Runs Road and then back to the St Bathans Loop Road, a total of 41kms. Well that was the plan. So far it had been a very mild winter with very little rain or snow fall; the dirt roads were hopefully dry and it would be easy going with no summer dust to content with either.

Home Hills Runs Road
The distinctive flat topped Hawkdun Range is one of my favourite features of Central Otago; it forms the backdrop to the Maniototo & Ida Valleys and the Manuherikia Basin. Big skies, snow capped mountains, vast golden tussocklands and a Grahame Sydney painting in every direction; it's a landscape photographer's dream destination.

Not to mention a number of old farm buildings and clusters of merino sheep along the way.

Seven kilometers along Home Hills Runs Road (named after the farm station we're driving through), we arrive at the first of a number of gates to open. It's another couple of kilometres before we enter the Oteake Conservation Park; 65,000 hectares of mountainous high country, tussock plateaus, scree slopes, scrub, wetlands and old gold mine workings which can all be explored on foot, by horse, mountainbike or 4WD in the summer. Much of the park is inaccessible over winter and the tracks are closed.

The 100km long Mt Ida water race- the longest race in New Zealand- winds it's way along the bottom of the Hawkdun Range. Construction started in 1873, the water from the race supplied the gold miners in Naseby with power for hydraulic sluicing. Water was & is taken from the head of the Manuherikia River at the top of the range, the race now provides much needed irrigation to farmers in the upper Maniototo area. You can see the race line at the bottom of the foothills and just above the tussock line in this photo (click to enlarge).

Wary merinos blend in amongst the tawny landscape below Mt Ida.

We cross several shallow fords...

...before finally entering the Oteake Conservation Park...

...the St Bathans Range & the Manuherikia River basin fill the landscape ahead of us. I took this with my wide angle lens and left the colour balance as it was shot; probably a little too warm, the tawny tussock now golden but I like it.

As we drive down into the basin I see a track heading up a small knoll ahead of us, surely we're not heading up there I think to myself as I spot a group of cribs and the dam- our first destination- to the left.

But no, we pass by the bottom of the knoll and then the Falls Dam and the fishing cribs come into view. A circle of beehives hide in the soft grasses in front of us, mirroring the huts behind. The dam is a millpond with the colours of its surrounds reflected in the water so it's hard to tell where the land ends and the water starts.

We turn off Home Hills Runs Road and follow a track to the edge of the dam and the end of the fenceline where a gate opens into the fishing crib reserve.

The track is a little boggy through to the cribs, I get out to take photos and David slips and slides his way through the mud to the otherside smashing his way through several frozen puddles as well.

I'm in seventh-heaven with photo opportunities in every direction.

There are a couple of very rustic cribs set back from the dam on the banks of a small stream. I attack them first. 

The snow capped Hawkdun Range makes a perfect backdrop to the weathered cribs. And now I have the barrels of hay mirroring the corrugated water tank on its side beside the hut.

I walk back to the dam and wonder where David has tucked himself. I've trained him well...I mean he knows me too well, he's hidden the ute out of view so I can take photos as I walk along the row of cribs.

The cribs at Falls Dam are very similar to the ones I've photographed at two of my other favourite Central Otago locations; Lake Onslow & Poolburn Dam

There are a couple of reasonably well built cribs but most have been cobbled together with old corrugated iron, rough hewn planks, second hand doors & windows and anything else that has come to hand over the years. I love the fenced 'outdoor entertainment patios' attached to a few of the huts; I would guess that a cool stiff wind whistles through here on many a summer's day.

While there are a few touches of home, it would seem that all that's needed is a roof over your head, somewhere to sleep, a fireplace to keep warm & cook dinner and a obligatory 'long-drop' for ablutions. Apart from the hardy fisher-people & the families that follow them, very few people would venture to these huts, they are inaccessible for much of the year due to snow & the 4WD road. 

David has a hot drink & lunch set up on the tailgate by the time I've walked the length of the cribs and back to the ute which he's tucked in behind an iron fence. I think he's found an internet connection by the way he engrossed in his iPad but he's checking out the local maps and tracks on ViewRanger instead. 

It's a beautiful sunny winter's day and there's not a breath of wind in the air. This is what we love about South Island winters, and Central Otago winters in particular. Big blue skies, wide vistas, golden sun, snow capped mountains, crisp temperatures, very little rain and very few people. Out here, we could be the only people on earth for all we know. 

I'm surprised to see that the dam is not actually that big and at the far south end of the reservoir I can see the dam wall (see above) at the head of a narrow gorge where the Manuherikia River continues on it's journey down the valley to join the mighty Clutha River at Alexandra

We visited that end of the Falls Dam on one of our previous visits to St Bathans. Falls Dam has an unusual feature- actually for me it's a scary feature- it's called a Morning Glory spillway Click on the link to check it out. 

Zoomed in on the dam wall
There's not much else here but silence & solitude.

St Bathans Range- below and to the left at the back somewhere is the DOC Camp where we're camped.
As I'm sure you'll know,  I took dozens of photos which of course made it very hard to select just a few for the blog. But here's a few panoramic shots of the cribs and the Hawkdun Range.

This one is my favourite shot, if I had a bricks & mortar home it would be on a large canvas on the wall, instead it's my header on my Facebook photography page.

It was time to move along, we still had a fair way to travel and we still weren't sure if we'd get through at the top of the valley. David slipped & slid the ute back to the gate while I walked back past the cribs.

I shut the gate, take a few last photos along the fenceline and then we head back up the track to the 'road'.

The Hawkdun Range- A Timeless Land

To be continued... Part 2


  1. Love your photo's Shellie, especially the Central Otago ones - that's my old neck of the woods and I still love it. I've been to most of these places over the years but not this bak road so it's good to see your superb photo's.

    1. Thanks for your comments, much appreciated. I'm pleased you enjoyed the blog and the photos, though, it's not hard to take great photos of a Central Otago landscape. :)

  2. Some fantastic pics their niece.

  3. Hi Shellie and Dave as usual your photo’s are stunning we are so lucky to be surrounded by such beauty take care hope to meet again some day Marina and Wayne (Sitting Bear) NZMCA Alexandra x

    1. Hi there, many thanks, pleased you enjoyed the blog & photos and it's lovely to hear from you. Look forward to crossing paths again in the future, safe travels.

  4. Hi Shellie. Brilliant photos! I'm from Dunedin and I'm planning a three-day visit by our group of older Dunedin (mainly retired) mountain bikers to the St Bathans area in March which will feature a ride each day. For one ride I'm keen to use the Falls Dam area, which I used to frequent when working as a journalist in Central Otago 20 years ago, but I heard there had been recent issues over access to the Fall Dam huts access road. Did you manage to drive down the whole track, past the huts to the dam wall? I hope so. I'd be interested to hear back from you re the status of this track. Regards, John Fridd

    1. Hi John, we drove into the huts on Home Hills Run Road. We've also driven into the dam wall from the access road further back towards St Bathans. There is a track that joins the wall to the huts but there was a locked gate at the wall. If you check out my blog from the earlier visit (link below) you can see the gate (& track) in one of the photos, it wouldn't take too much to lift bikes over it but I'm unsure if it's private land (maybe Home Hills Run Station, a call to them might secure access?). Here's the link;

  5. Spectacular, thanks so much for your cherished blog, I visit it from time to time from year to year.

    1. Many thanks for your comment, it is a very special place isn't it?


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