Sunday, 16 February 2020

Hollyford Valley- Fiordland National Park

Catch-up (Late September 2019)

The DOC campground at Cascade Creek is a great place to base yourself if you're wanting to spend a few days exploring the Milford Road & Fiordland National Park. It's also the last DOC campground before Milford Sound, 44kms away.

This is our third trip down the Milford Road and while we've pretty much explored every nook & crannie it's always good to check places out again; in different weathers & seasons. We stopped at the Hollyford Valley lookout (Pop's View) which is just past the Divide, the Key Summit Walk and the the trail end of the Routeburn Track.

One very hopeful Kea was strutting his stuff up and down the railings and along the log below the 'Do Not Feed the Kea' sign. Failing to win anyone over he flew to the roof of a nearby vehicle before checking out the windscreen's rubber surround for taste. As we left he was being chased off one vehicle only to land on another as it arrived. Eventually, I'm sure, he would have found some one to feed him.

We headed off down the Hollyford Valley (which is now heavily damaged after the recent rain storm), passing over many of the alpine streams that tumble down from the Seppentine Range & Humboldt Mountains above into the Hollyford River below. David spies a stream out his window that he thinks will make a great photo opportunity. 

And what a stunning scene it is; thick green mosses cover the rocks, luxuriant ferns fill the spaces along the edge of cascading stream and the surrounding trees are dripping with emerald green mosses. Dappled sunlight reaches into the back depths of this magical scene; this is what a rain forest looks like. I stay for quite some time taking way too many photos, I just can't get enough of the beautiful scenery.

And then just a kilometre further along the road this is what nature can do to those beautiful sights. A stream flows down through the middle of a large tree and rock slide that blocked the Hollyford Road for several weeks back in September 2013.

We first visited the Hollyford Valley in 2014, just a few months after the landslide, when the road was still a dusty track through the slide and many large mature trees were caught up in the mud & rocks, their leafy canopy turning brown and dying amongst the rocks and mud. The trees are still standing but are now covered in moss and lichen as they slowly rot away.

There are photos of that previous visit in this blog link.  The area is still rocky and barren but colourful lichen covers many of the rocks and logs and a few shrubs, ferns and grasses are now growing in amongst the fallen debris.

Sadly due to the recent Fiordland storm, Gunns Camp had a large mudslide wash through it, along with severe flooding from the river. The camp is now closed until further notice. Hopefully the owners will be able to restore their quirky campground although from the aerial shots I've seen there is a lot of damage.

I wonder if this is (was) the only hand wound petrol pump in New Zealand. I was surprised at how few winds it took to pump in this guy's gas. 

Here's a link to a photo of the flooding at Gunns Camp, where guests were evacuated by helicopter after a night from hell. This link is a video of the camp as they were leaving in the helicopter.

In the meantime, oblivious to the destruction nature would wrought in a few months time, we carry on up the Hollyford Road. 

I know several of the swingbridges over the Hollyford River were washed away and all of the tramping tracks are closed due to rock slides, washouts and missing bridges. This one is on the Moraine Creek Route.

While I'm taking photos of the river from the bridge I spot a tiny yellow flash zipping out, dipping and diving over the rushing water and back again to a large rock. It's a male Tomtit/Miromiro collecting insects.

Towards the end of the Hollyford Road I know there's an old grave with a sad story, it's right on the edge of the river, above a stony bank and along a short track. This time the sign post at the roadside is missing.

I locate it by spotting a scrape in the undergrowth where cars have parked in the past (and one of the short posts where the sign should have been is still there) but unless you knew about it, you'd not find it. Which is a shame, I'd like to hope that Donald Keith doesn't ever get forgotten about. Now I wonder how his lonely grave fared in the flooded river.

At the end of the road we sit on the tray of the ute and hurriedly eat our lunch because the sandflies are out in force today. We're overlooking the confluence of the  Humboldt Creek & Hollyford River and another swing bridge which is at the beginning of the Hollyford Track, a 4-8 day tramp to the ocean.

Afterwards we walked the short steep track up to the Humboldt Falls lookout (both the Hollyford Track & this one are closed at the moment due to storm damage). The three tier Humboldt Falls, while spectacularly high are a little underwhelming when seen from way across the otherside of the valley.

I zoom in to the top of each tier and find this more fascinating.

The top tier
I wonder how deep the  pools are behind the overflow and if anyone has ever abseiled down to them for a dip.

The Bottom Tier
Two days later, and after the light dusting of snow at Cascade Creek, I headed off on my own mini tiki-tour checking for photo opportunities and to see where the snow has fallen. My first stop was at the top of Lake Gunn. 

I'm the only one around except for pair of Paradise Ducks who I surprise while they're moseying about in the nearby shallows. They honk their disapproval at being disturbed and head off out into the lake breaking up my reflections as payback.

Our camp is at the far end of the lake, there used to be a lovely little DOC camp here at the top end but it got overrun with campers which left no room for day trippers so it was closed down. 

Snow has fallen at road level as I pass through the Divide which is below Key Summit and the end of the Routeburn Track.

I stop again at Pop's Lookout, high above the Hollyford Valley.

There's no Kea to greet me today, just another Tomtit fluff-ball flitting about.

Across from the lookout are the Darran Mountains and the Lake Marian valley, a tough tramping track heads up the hanging valley past the Marian Cascade and Falls to a beautiful alpine lake. We walked the track on one of our previous visits. This whole area is now closed due to the storm damage.

I carried on down the road and came across a few hopeful tourists waiting at Marian Corner; the  junction of the Milford & Hollyford Roads. The road through to Milford is closed due to the avalanche risk and they're waiting to see if it will open.

I have a chat with the coffee-cart guy, telling him he has a captive market but he tells me he's waiting too and can't sell to anyone. His permit only allows for him to sell coffee at Monkey Creek which is further on down the Milford Road. I think he must be very keen, the nearest civilization is back at Te Anau about 80kms away.

I'm don't hold out much hope that the road will open for them, it's cold, very misty and the cloud is dropping even lower, it feels like it might even snow some more. 

I head off down the Hollyford Road stopping just a couple of kilometres further on at the Marian Cascade carpark. I cross over the swingbridge taking a photo looking up the Hollyford River from the middle of the bridge. This swingbridge was washed away in the recent floods, just as the helicopter evacuated more tourists stranded in the carpark.

I walked to the top of the Marian Cascade to take some photos and have the track to myself. Most of those waiting for the road to open would have no idea there this stunning little gem is just down the road. 

I now wonder how the boardwalk up the side of the Cascade survived in the flood; the water would have been raging down here to the river below.

On the way back down the path I stopped to take some slow-mo photos of some little water trickles flowing out of a moss and fern covered bank.

And then it's one more photo of the river as I cross back over the bridge.

Back at Marian Corner many of the cars waiting for the road to open before have now been replaced by new arrivals. There's also a kea entertaining the visitors (not the one from the lookout as this one has a band)...

...I take the opportunity of educate these visitors that they are not allowed to feed the Kea, human food is bad for them and endangers their health and also makes them dependent on human food and stops them from foraging for their own food. Before I'm finished someone else arrives and throws the bird more Cheezels. I give up! 

One last photo of the Hollyford River & a snow dusted East Peak at the tail end of the Darran Mountains. 

Thursday, 6 February 2020

Cascade Creek- Fiordland National Park

Catch-up (Sept 2019) 
It's purely by coincidence that my next few blogs are from our visit along the Milford Road back in September. Sadly in the past week a major rain storm has severely damaged the Milford Road, many tramping tracks and the Milford village with flooding, washouts, landslides and slips. An incredible 1.2 metres of rain, 240% of Fiordland's monthly rainfall at this time of the year has fallen in just five days. 

We left Winton, after staying with our Southland family for a few weeks, and headed west through Nightcaps and Ohai before coming out on SH99 at Clifden.

Clifden Suspension Bridge
We were heading on to Te Anau and then up the Milford Road for another visit to Fiordland National Park. We stopped at the freedom camping area beside the historic Clifden Suspension Bridge for lunch. Since we were last here the Southland District Council have improved the parking (and camping) area, opening it up, leveling, graveling and tidying up the plantings around the edge of the site.

This sign beside the entrance to the bridge (which is pedestrian only) made me smile- 

'Louie's Daffodil. I am 5 year's old. $2 Thankyou this money is for a motorbike.'

The daffodil bucket was empty and inside the yoghurt container, with a large slot in the top, I could see several gold coins. What an entrepreneurial young lad. And a trusting one too. I was worried that someone would come along and steal his money, there was only one house within view of the bridge and that was about 500 metres away up a farm track.

We stayed at the Te Anau NZMCA Park for a few days while we waited for the weather to settle. We've stayed here during the colder months several times in the past and   with very few neighbours. Only the hardy (or mad) brave Southland winters.

We strolled along the lake front and into town for lunch once the weather cleared...

...and then walked further along the lake front to check out the marina. The lake level was much lower than we'd ever seen it before (after this latest weather event it will no doubt be very full, possibly right up to the top of the marina walls).

One of the reasons I wanted to visit the marina again was to check on a Australasian Crested Grebe pair that had nested in the marina a couple of years ago. I thought they might have been nesting again but there was no sign of them this early in the season. 

We headed off up the Milford Road on a stunning blue sky day, and even though we have stopped at all the scenic viewpoints & attractions several times before,  we stop again 'just in case', just in case the view has changed, there are no people to get in the way, the weather is better, there's snow etc, etc. Some of my best shots are from 'just in case' times.

Although this time at the Eglinton Valley viewpoint I have to share the view with several busloads of tourists (which also means they'll be stopping at all the attractions further up the valley).

I walked out towards the middle, away from the 'crowd' and captured a couple who had also moved away from their fellow passengers, they give some perspective to the grand expanse of the valley. Eglinton Valley was carved out by glaciers thousands of years ago, now the Milford Road runs alongside the Eglinton River up through the valley for it's entire length.

We pull out before the buses have gathered together their passengers. Our next stop near the top of the valley is at the famous Mirror Lakes. The buses soon catch us up and disgorge their passengers en-masse. I weave my way through the tourists as they slowly meander along the short board walk while David (who's seen it all before) drives the rig to the other end of the walk and lines up with the buses who have done the same.

Many of the tourists are taking selfies along the way or have no interest in the lakes and are chatting with their friends in small groups blocking a way through the throng. I can see that there are no reflections on the Mirror Lake today, a light breeze is ruffling the water along with a few NZ Scaups (a small diving duck). I maneuver my way to the front of the platform, take a couple of shots and then hurry along the boardwalk passing through just as many tourists coming in from the other end.  

We beat the buses back onto the road and have a clear run through to the DOC camp at Cascade Creek we're we'll be staying for a few days. 

The camp is empty and it's had a major overhaul since our last visit. I had heard that this was being done and was worried that herding campers into gravel parking areas and marking out the camping spaces would detract from the natural setting and wide open spaces of the old camp where you could park up wherever you liked. With over a hundred & twenty vehicles staying here during the height of the summer season I'd hoped it wasn't going to be little more than a large gravel carpark.

 I was pleasantly surprised to see that this wasn't the case at all and in fact it had been very well done. There were multiple large landscaped parking areas with picnic tables, dining shelters and toilet blocks strategically located throughout the camp.  This was pleasing to see as there was just 2 or 3 longdrop toilets in the old camp, nowhere near enough to service the number of people staying on a busy night. 

Although it was disappointing to find that the toilets, except for one at the entrance, were all locked up. 

Eglinton River & Cascade Creek DOC Camp
We drove to the far end of the camp and parked beside Cascade Creek looking south down the Eglinton Valley. This was the fabulous view from our front door-

We had great weather for the first couple of days, waking each morning to low cloud clinging to the surrounding mountains before it lifted and cleared for the day.

And then one night it got very cold, the next morning snow covered the mountains in the distance...

...with a nice dusting on the bush clad slopes surrounding Cascade Creek.

By the end of the day the temperature had taken another dive and we had both diesel heaters keeping the freezing cold out of the van as the wind howled and swirled outside. Just as daylight faded snow started to splatter against the sides of the rig.

On opening the door the next morning I was greeted by a snow covered doormat & steps ...

...and this stunning view, it wasn't the solid whiteout I was expecting (and hoping for) after the sound of snow falling on and off all night but it was still a good dusting.

It was easy to see which way the wind had been blowing though, the south side of the ute and 'out There' were coated in snow, it looked like someone had sprayed the sides with one of those whipped cream cans.

With my fluffy white dressing gown and gumboots on (looking very much like the abominable snowman), I headed off to take photos around the camp before the snow melted.

I walked to the far side of the camp crossing over the Eglington River, which flows from Lake Gunn and borders the west side of the campground, so I could take a photo looking back over the camp.

While I was taking photos I was surprised to find a pair of Tomtits/Miromiro flitting about in the long grasses very close by and I managed to take a few photos before they moved off into the bush. Female tomtits (left & right) are notoriously shy so I was pleased to be able to capture her up close while this time the male (centre) was less confiding. I have no idea how these tiny birds survive the harsh winters.

Puffed up against the cold, this Welcome Swallow watched me from a log in the river as I stomped about in the grasses chasing the tomtits.

Soon after taking the bird photos, I was thinking I should really get back home before I get caught out, far away from the rig, in my fluffy white dressing gown and gumboots. 

Back in the safety of doorway I took a few panoramic photos of our view before retreating inside to the cosy warmth. By mid afternoon the snow had melted and the camp returned to it's usual bush greens and rustic tussock colours; campers arriving later in the day oblivious to the stunning beauty of the morning. 

In the next blog you'll see photos from the Lake Marian swingbridge which has now been washed away, and photos of  a gently flowing Hollyford River which has now contributed to some major damage in the area.