Tuesday 22 September 2020

Winter in the Mackenzie- Part 1


There's something magical about winter in the high country. If you're hardy enough to see past the regular heavy frosts, cold temperatures and odd foggy day, you'll be rewarded with an ever changing view of a stunning landscape. From spectacular sunrises & sunsets to snow covered mountains, big blue skies, crisp sunny days, hoar frosts and magnificent cloud formations, every day is different. 

Sunset- Ben Ohau Range, Twizel

Not to mention the crystal clear night sky. The Mackenzie Basin is one of the best places in the world to view the amazing night sky and winter happens to be the best time to view the world above us. The galactic core of the Milky Way galaxy is visible from the months of February to October in the Southern hemisphere and during the mid-winter months of June and July, the core is at its brightest. If you're lucky you might also see Aurora Australis, aka the Southern Lights, which can sometimes be seen dancing on the southern horizon during the long clear nights of winter.

Fog surrounds Night Sky Cottages

Fog is a regular visitor during the early days of winter when the land is cooled overnight after the warmer days of late autumn & early winter. Fog bows appear as the sun rises and the fog rolls in. I've seen several on our usual travels but this winter I've been lucky enough to see three or four over our back fence. Because fog water droplets are very small, fogbows have very weak colours or no colour at all, this is when a fogbow appears white, they're sometimes called white rainbows.

Fogbows don't last long, they're gone as soon as the fog obliterates the sun & blue sky. 

When the fog clears this is the view we have from our back fence; Ben Ohau (on the right) and the Ohau Range at the rear. Lake Ohau is tucked in between the two.

I did say you need to be prepared for cold temperatures didn't I? We had several days of -11c frosts.

After finding the laundry frozen one morning I purposely hung more out the next night so I could take photos of the frost on the pegs.

And then after some of my Facebook followers told me of childhood memories of clothing snapping in half in heavy frosts, I tried it with a tea towel. It rolled up instead.

The frosts made interesting patterns on spent flower heads, leaves and other items around the garden, including plenty of cobwebs. That made it easy to see where they were to clean them off.

After chasing hoar frosts around the South Island for four of the last five winters, I had my own mini ones right in my back yard! Click the photo to enlarge.

As I've already mentioned, the sunrises and sunsets have been spectacular and so varied. 

Sunset Over Ben Ohau Range

I was setting my alarm to catch the sunrises for a few weeks during the middle of winter, every morning was so different and the colour was often gone within minutes as cloud rolled in or the sun rose higher. The infamous Canterbury Nor'wester provided some fabulous cloud formations (centre left) at sunset.

I held my breath waiting for the first snow to fall around the cottages. And when it arrived (June 6th) I was like a kid in a candy shop. It blew in from the south gently splattering on the window, building up  to a noisy crescendo and filling the window pane with icy crystals. 

It fell for a couple of hours and then by mid afternoon it had melted back into the landscape.

The next snow fall was on the first day of spring (September 1st), this time a little heavier.

Night Sky Cottages

But it too was gone by late afternoon. It's been a very mild winter in the high country this year, the surrounding mountains were looking a little barren until another recent spring dumping.

Snow settles around Kahu Cottage

At 720 meters above sea level, Lake Tekapo usually sees more snow than it's sister village Twizel (at 480m) and just 50kms down the road. When snow fell at lake level in mid June I took a quick drive over to Lake Tekapo to shoot some snow photos. 

The snow was fast disappearing but I managed to get some lovely photos-

'That' Church, sans people- Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake Tekapo

NZMCA Park, Lake Tekapo

And clockwise L to R- Lake Tekapo pedestrian bridge, my favourite Patterson Ponds & Two Thumb Range, the iconic Irishman Station letterbox, top end of Tekapo Canal, where very large fish are being caught and where next year this section of the canal will be closed for fishing during winter, families enjoying their hire motorhomes and fishing the Tekapo Canal and the last one, more from the Tekapo Canal.

I was delighted to come across this huge snow-kiwi while exploring, a clear path led me right to its location. The body had been rolled along through the snow, around a corner and down a slope, picking up everything in it's path including all the rabbit poo!

I love it how I'm now able to claim Lake Tekapo, Lake Pukaki and Aoraki/Mt Cook as being in my backyard.

Sunset over Lake Pukaki 
Aoraki Mt Cook is hidden under the dark cloud at the far end of the lake

I took the following two photos at either end of the same day; the moon sets behind Ben Ohau Range as the sun rises. The pink hue on the snow is known as alpenglow. Alpenglow is an atmospheric optical phenomenon which makes mountains appear to glow in a light pink or red hue. It occurs just after the sun sets or just before it rises.

Pukaki Canal & Ben Ohau Range

And at the other end of the day, the sun sets over Lake Ruataniwha (I'd been to Timaru and back in the hours between).

Lake Ruataniwha

It's not just snow & frosts during winter in the Mackenzie Basin, many days are sunny and settled. These big blue sky days are perfect for reflections on the many lakes and waterways around the high country. These ones from Lake Ruataniwha's 'Lagoon'- 

And this one from Kellands Pond-

Several times during the very cold frosts, the willow trees across the road that line the banks of the Fraser Stream were coated in frost icicles for most of the day. This localized hoar frost looked very pretty but with no blue sky it was hard to photograph.   

Although on one morning I had a hunch that the fog was about to clear so I headed off down the road towards the Pukaki Canal which is at the end of our road. As I neared Ben Ohau Station the fog started to swirl and lift and I was able to capture some of my favourite photos from this winter.  

Ben Ohau Station, Twizel

The station's merino sheep weren't too impressed with being interrupted from their silage breakfast though.

Ben Ohau Station's historic shed

The long grass and fences along both sides of the road were coated in ice; there's more build up when the moisture laden fog blows in over the open paddocks.

Loch Cameron is also at the end of our road, the trees on the little island were coated in frost.

I stopped to take some photos overlooking Fraser Stream from up on the canal road. I live by the motto of  'always taking the photo when I see the shot'. I never think to myself, I'll get that on my way back or after I've finished my lunch etc. Which is just as well.

I followed the canal road along towards Lake Ruataniwha and found a completely different world just 5 minutes down the road. Any fog that had been around had retreated and there were no signs of a hoar frost either. I turned around and headed back home passing Fraser Stream again, the hoar frost now completely gone from there too. 

Ben Ohau & the Ohau River

To be continued- My dream comes true; A Five Day Hoar Frost

Thursday 17 September 2020

An Update from Twizel- Night Sky Cottages


Many of you will already know, but I thought I had better update my blog followers who don't follow Facebook on why you haven't heard so much from me these past few months. I feel very guilty that I have neglected my blog duties and I also feel I'm always apologizing for the delay in posting them. Being parked up in one place for the duration of winter, I actually thought I'd have quite a lot of spare time to catch up on them. Ha! How wrong was I? 

How's this for a great view? Ben Ohau Range

Here's a sneak peak at what's been taking up most of my time this winter. You may recall back in January we purchased a property in Twizel with the sole purpose of letting the two cottages out on the short term accommodation market. This was well before Covid with settlement in mid-April which turned out to be right in the middle of Level 4 lockdown.

Night Sky Cottages- Kahu Cottage on the left, Kea Cottage on the right 

We eventually took possession mid-May and have been parked beside one of the cottages ever since. We're still living in 'Out There' much to some people's amazement but as we tell them, this is our home (and has been for the last eight years), why would we want to shift, we have everything we need in the van.

We've had some fabulous sunsets.

We do enjoy using the bathroom & laundry in the cottage though which has been fortunate as we've had frozen water pipes in the van a few dozen times during the early harsh days of winter.

Snow has fallen just twice this winter down around the cottages

We've certainly had our fair share and variety of winter weather while parked up in Twizel (and I've enjoyed every day of it, though I'm afraid I can't say the same for David. Some days have certainly tested his resolve). From two hoar frosts, several days of -11c frosts, thick fog, snow, a few days of rain and plenty of brilliant sunshine & blue sky days when the temperatures haven't moved above zero, we've had it all.

What you can't see is the crazy lady racing around in fluffy dressing gown
 & gumboots in a -11c frost taking photos

I have so many wonderful photos that I've decided to follow this blog with a quick one on the weather and hoar frosts which I'll post in a few days before I move back to finishing the Northland & Far North blogs.

One lesson learned; don't leave your washing out overnight

We have been away in the rig for a couple of short trips to break up the long days of winter; one to Christchurch to purchase gear for the cottages and another to Glenavy that lasted just two nights before a hoar frost arrived in Twizel (which lasted 5 glorious days). The frost had us racing back up to the high country so I could capture a weather event I have been chasing around the South Island for four of the last five winters. 

Twizel hoar frost- Kelland Ponds

We always  intended to stay in Twizel over winter to prepare the cottages for rental from late October/early November onwards and this is still our plan. And while there hasn't been anything major to do we've had quite a lot of work preparing them for the accommodation market. And that was after unloading and sorting two containers of furniture and belongings that we had shipped down from our storage in Tauranga. We've also come to realization that there's a touch of 'Twizel Time' (similar to 'Island Time') amongst some of the tradies in Twizel. 

One weather extreme to the other...

We're still very positive but realistic and know it'll be awhile before the market returns to pre-Covid times but in the meantime we'll work on attracting the domestic market to this stunning part of our beautiful country. And with Night Sky Cottages ready to roll come summer, we'll then be able to hit the road again (we can't wait, we've both getting very itchy feet!).

Oh and look what I picked up during that trip to Christchurch. You might also recall we were going to be presented with our life membership badges  back in March, while on our way to Twizel. But Covid & Level 4 put paid to that so I gave Bruce Stanger, our outgoing president, a call and said we'd be at Weedons (NZMCA Park in Christchurch) for a few days during last month. 

Bruce & his wife Heather called into the park while we were there and made a presentation of our badges & gift outside the rig. Just the four of us (and just as I like it with no big fanfare) and then we retired inside for morning tea. I did feel honoured that this was to have been one of Bruce's last official tasks before he handed the reigns over to our new president.