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.


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