Tuesday 25 May 2021

Roxburgh Lions Club 4x4 Safari


From the Catlins we headed inland as we needed to be in Roxburgh for Waitangi weekend. I'd seen the Lions Club 4x4 safari advertised earlier in the year and put it in the diary 'just in case' we were in the area. At that stage we had no firm plans of where we'd be but as it worked out we were going to be passing through Roxburgh on our way to the next destination. We've been on several 4x4 safaris during our time on the road and have thoroughly enjoyed them, the most memorable one being through  Nokomai Station & the Garvie Mountains. We still talk about the fun we had on that one. 

Roxburgh Trotting Club
We've freedom camped at nearby Pinders Pond in the past, this time we decided on the Roxburgh Trotting Club POP as that was where the rally was leaving from on Sunday morning. 

Sunrise- Roxburgh Trotting Club
Over 66 vehicles signed in at the trotting club on Sunday morning, collected their packed picnic lunches and, when the word was given, headed north with directions to pull into an open farm gateway along the Fruitlands straight on the main highway. We waited here for everyone to arrive and once no more could fit through the gate we followed the leaders up and over the hill in front of us.

For the first part of the safari we were driving through the 21,000 hectare (52,000 acres) Earnscleugh Station which stretches along Old Man Range from Fruitlands in the south to the Cromwell Gorge in the north and over the range to the Southland boundary.

Hmmm....we thought, this is going to be a dusty trip, hoping that it was just this section but knowing that it probably wasn't as it has been a very dry summer.

Our next stop was beside Earnscleugh Station's woolshed, where many made use of the loos and we listened to our leader as he explained the programme for the day & gave us a little history on the station. He was also going to be positioned in the middle of the vehicle line broadcasting on a dedicated FM radio station as we passed various points of interest along the way. This was a great idea but unfortunately it depended where you were in the line as to whether you heard him or not. 

Many of us were fascinated with the farm's 'Bath House' which was parked near the woolshed.

Yes, I said 'parked' because it wasn't until you got up close to inspect it that you could see the Landrover inside. Complete with a bar & bar stools on the back, it was driven to local parties. If only walls could talk, I bet it could tell many a strange tale. 

From the woolshed we headed north along the bottom of the range exiting out the actual entrance to the station near Conroys Gully.

Our next point of interest was the old Earnscleugh Homestead, but sadly (for me as a photographer & collector of social history photos) the planned stop was changed to a drive past as timing was of essence and there would have been too many vehicles & people to wrangle back on track. 

Earnscleugh Station homestead was built in the 1920s and modeled on a mansion the then owner Stephen Spain saw in Uruguay. There is now a new homestead on another part of the station and sadly this one is unoccupied as it needs extensive & expensive renovations. 

As we filed slowly through the front garden I jumped out of the ute and ran across to the grand entrance quickly snapping a few photos before having to clamber back in before the row of vehicles disappeared around the back of  building where we also passed the staff quarters & stables built in a similar style.

NZMCA members may be interested to know that the Clutha Valley Area held a rally in the homestead's grounds some time ago, maybe they'll do that again sometime in the future (and let me know!).

From the homestead we headed along the back roads towards Fraser Dam Road passing these poor cyclists along the way. They must have wondered what on earth they had struck with so many vehicles passing them on a deserted back country road. They would have been covered in dust from head to toe by the time the last of the vehicles passed them, that's for sure!

Once on Fraser Dam Road we started the gradual and winding climb to the top of the range. Horse trekkers & cows stopping to watch the long procession pass by. We've actually driven the Fraser Dam Road before, which finishes at the dam. This time we passed the dam turnoff and took the Prospect Hill Track straight to the top.

At one stage the vehicles ahead all came to a stop which meant the photographers amongst us could jump out and take a few photos... 

...looking down below us as the rest of the fleet wound their way up the range (remember to click on the photos to enlarge).

When the vehicles started moving again fairly quickly and I had to race back to the ute before David pulled away, it suddenly dawned on me they'd stopped to open a gate, one of many to be opened & closed during the day.

Near the top I managed to get the window down and take a photo of a hut tucked into a small gully, as we passed by. I didn't manage to take a photo of the sign telling me who it belonged to though. 

At least there was a bit of a breeze at the top to cart the dust away, well a little bit of it anyway.

Just as we begun to wonder when we'd stop for a break we arrived at the top and parked up amongst the snow tussock and spiky Spaniards. People started heading to a style on the fence, and like sheep we all followed. And it wasn't until many of the men & a few ladies headed off in different directions towards the large rocky tors that we realised they were looking for somewhere to have a pee! 

Once that was sorted we gathered in a group for another talk, it was very hard to hear the speaker from the back but I gathered we were overlooking the Earnsleugh/Fraser River valley in one direction & the top of Old Man Range in the other. And that during the 1800s Otago gold rush there were many small settlements spread across the surrounding mountain tops mining for gold. 

Originally the safari was going to continue along the top of Old Man Range past the Obelisk but the scouts who'd checked on the route earlier in the week decided there were a couple of curly sections that may not have suited the 'shinnies' (street going 4x4 vehicles) so we had to re-trace our steps back down the range. Once at the bottom we stopped for our picnic lunch, many of us seeking out shade in what was a very hot day. 

The day before the safari, motorhoming friends Linda & Scotty had stopped at the Trotting Club to say hello, they were staying down the road at another POP and were also going on the safari. We'd both been up near the front of the procession for the first half and after lunch we made our way back to Roxburgh and waited at the bottom of Coal Creek Road which was the meeting point before we tackled the next section.

At first we were the only ones there & we began to think we'd got it wrong. Then several others trickled in to wait and we wondered how long it would be before the full fleet arrived. After a short discussion we made an executive decision to head off up Coal Creek Road and onto Mt Hope Road to the top of the range and either wait up there for the others of continue on along the top. 

This would give Linda & I a chance to stop and take a few photos, something we were both missing doing. We stopped several times as we climbed higher taking photos of the Roxburgh Dam,  Roxburgh township and the Clutha River. I picked up the Trotting Club & the rig in one photo (top right).

On one of the stops, I zoomed in on the meeting area and saw that there was now a good number of vehicles waiting, it wouldn't be long before they pulled out and followed us up the road.

We pulled over again as we reached the top so we could get another shot looking down over Roxburgh and as I headed back towards the ute...

...I looked back down the road and saw that the posse was coming!

And in fact they were very close to catching us up. I ran back to the ute...

...and jumped in. After a brief discussion with Linda & Scotty we decided our rebellious streak was over (although David was keen to hit the throttle) and we pulled to the side to let the leaders past and then cheekily pulled back in line when a gap appeared.

The dusty 'road' had now turned to a dirt track which made for a much more pleasant experience and being such a clear day we could see for miles. 

Across the Clutha Valley which was far below us, we could see the Knobby & Lammermoor Ranges, and somewhere out there one of favourite lakes, Lake Onslow.

We passed through Black Jack Station & Mt Benger Scenic Reserve as we travelled along the top of the range from Roxburgh to Ettrick.

There was great excitement & much gesturing to vehicles in front & behind when a Karearea/NZ Falcon flew past the procession at a fast rate of knots (top right, below) and then even more exclamations & gesturing when the front vehicles spooked a small group of seven wild deer who raced off across the tussock. I managed to grab a long distance shot as they hesitated for a moment before fleeing over the edge.

We haven't seen too many wild deer on our travels but a few years ago we saw a wild fallow stag on  Mt Hope Road (where we started this section) when we drove to the top of the range. We'd seen it on the way up but it ducked out of the way, so on the way back down we had another look for him. I'm sure he thought he was well hidden.

After many gate openings across the top we started to head down off Mt Benger...

...into Ettrick

Here's a tip for you if you're travelling in a group and there are gates to open & close, if the first vehicle leaves a rock on top of the gate post when they open it, then tail-end Charlie knows to shut the gate. If there's no rock, the gate is left as it was, open. 

Our hosts waited at the last gate and the exit into the valley, waving and thanking us for attending their fundraiser. We tooted our appreciation and then 66+ vehicles headed back into civilization and home (to wash their vehicle if they were lucky enough to have water, unlike us who had to wait until a suitable source was found). 

We had a great day although we'd probably have forgone the Fraser Dam Road loop having done the road before and knowing how dusty it was. 

Side note; I am asked often how we hear about the 4x4 safaris. There's no hard & fast directory for them. I usually stumble across them on social media or see them advertised on the side of the road as we pass through a town. 

Many small town organisations; including primary schools and Rotary & Lions Clubs hold them as fundraisers. They are usually held during the first three months of the year, when the weather should be good & the tracks dry and while we've only done them in the bottom half of the South Island, I've seen them advertised nationwide.

I haven't been able to join the dots on the tracks up to & across the top of the ranges (not drivable or not public land according to Goggle) but have put markers to show the route taken.

Tuesday 11 May 2021

The Nuggets- Catlins


There was one last photo I was hoping to capture before we left the Catlins; sunrise at Nugget Point Lighthouse. And I knew where we'd stay so I didn't have too far to travel in the early morning darkness; Winston & Hazels'  POP (park over property) Nuggetburn #8967 which is conveniently located on The Nuggets Rd, right on the beach and just a few kilometres from the lighthouse.

Winston was nowhere to be seen when we arrived so we squeezed around the back of a bus which was already parked and pulled up alongside the sheep yards. It wasn't long before we knew where Winston was;  we could hear dogs barking, a quad bike revving followed by the noise of a mob of sheep arriving on our door step! 

A stock agent arrived soon after and he, Winston & a neighbour spent a couple hours drafting the mob into two pens. We spent the night listening to muted baa-ing (and catching the occasional distinct whiff of sheep poo). We've certainly had our fair share of unusual neighbours while living this lifestyle. A truck was coming early in the morning to collect them for the Balclutha sale yards. I was disappointed that I'd miss the loading as I was heading to the lighthouse early to catch the sunrise.

The photo of the sheep was taken from the door, the old cottage was once part of the farm.

Across the road from Nuggertburn there's a beautiful long sandy beach and if you're lucky you might find one of the resident sealions lounging on the sand.  He might even be waving at you! (sealions do this to catch the breeze to cool down)

Nugget Point Lighthouse is in the background

I walked  to a rocks at the far end of the beach where it was sad to see this addition- an old tractor- to the reef which looks to have been there a very long time. I guess it's not adding anything more to the environment now other than a place for seaweed, barnacles & small shellfish to call home.  

As I walked back along the beach the sealion sat up, gave a big yawn and headed back into the surf. You can see one of the major differences (although there are many) between sealions & seals here. A sealion is able to swing its back flippers around and use them to 'walk', this is also what makes them very fast on land. And never under estimate how fast they can move. Seal flippers stay facing backwards, they wriggle forward on their bellies rather than 'walk'.

Photographing sunrises is mostly a hit & miss affair. As Forrest Gump's Mom said '...like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get'. It depends on how much cloud cover there is and where the cloud is laying as to whether you'll get a dramatic sunrise with all the brilliant reds, oranges & yellows or a mediocre one with a little colour or not even a sunrise at all if thick cloud rolls in and blocks it out. 

But to shoot a spectacular sunrise you have to haul yourself out of bed and get to the site well before dawn because often the best shots are in the 60-30 minutes before the sun pokes its head over the horizon. And Murphy's Law dictates that if you don't bother to get out of bed, it'll be the most fabulous sunrise you'd ever see. 

Nugget Point Lighthouse & The Nuggets

Nugget Point & the lighthouse are about 4kms from Nuggetburn and I arrived to a very dark and empty carpark. Great! I'd have the place to myself. No other photographers vying for the best position to shoot or people getting in the way taking selfies; Nugget Point photos are very popular with tourists. I still had a 1km walk ahead of me and with my headtorch on I followed the well formed gravel walking track along the side of the the steep bluffs to the lighthouse. 

I positioned myself in a small area overlooking the Nuggets (rock islands) to one side & the lighthouse to the other (see the first sunrise photo above) and patiently waited for the action. I wanted to climb up the bluff behind me- I've seen photos taken from higher up- but thought better of it. I know my limitations, especially in the pre dawn gloom. The sky did glow a little & I was able to get a few decent shots.

I moved to the lighthouse platform to take photos of the Nuggets out in front and that's when the first people started arriving. And when I stopped on my way out to take the photo below, looking down into the small bay, a guy was climbing up the steep bluff behind (the one I'd briefly thought about climbing). I could now also see that there was a fence & danger netting trying to block the worn track up through the rocks. He'd missed the early sunrise action but I'm sure he'd got himself some 'danger' shots anyway. 

The best sunrise photo happened as I was making my way back to the carpark. A rich golden glow filled the sky behind me as the sun slowly rose into the sky dipping in and out of the cloud cover.

I stopped to check out the seal nursery & the spoonbill nesting site located on the rocky islands at the bottom of the cliffs near the beginning of the track. The plaintive cries of the pups can be heard from the track far above and with binoculars you can see them playing in the rock pools. Royal Spoonbills/Kotuku Ngutupapa have built nests on the scrubby trees & shrubs that cling to the sides of the rock islands. 

Spoonbills with their strange bills, big black feet & unusual head gear, never look the most graceful of birds but I was mesmerised as I watched group after group arrive in V formations, gliding in from a great height, spiraling around & around and dropping quickly and landing quite elegantly onto their nests or the rocks on the impossibly steep sides of the island. Some birds disappeared out of sight below me & it wasn't until I walked further along the track that I could see another large colony of birds nesting on the mainland cliffs too.

I had one more stop before heading home for breakfast. Just down the road from the lighthouse carpark is Roaring Bay, a well known haunt for Hoiho/Yellow-eyed Penguins. There's even a bird hide from where you can wait to watch the penguins depart or arrive at either end of the day. 

When I entered the hide there was already a woman inside waiting. She told me she'd been waiting 45 minutes and hadn't seen any so far and none on the previous day's visit either. This was her last day and as she was flying home later in the day she really wanted to see a penguin. She was going to wait just 10 minutes more & then she'd have to leave.

And then with about 5 minutes to spare, she let out a muffled squeal as two penguin heads appeared out of the weeds & driftwood down below the hide. They cautiously glanced around and then slowly hopped over the rocks, the front one stopping several times waiting until its partner caught up before waddling on some more until they both reached the surf and disappeared under the waves.

Once the penguins were gone I turned my attention to a Welcome Swallow's nest that was just behind me up on the top rail of the information panel. The parents had been swooping in and out complaining loudly at our presence while we waited for the penguins. With 3 chicks to feed they weren't too perturbed though, the darkness of the hide helping them feel less threatened too. Though one of them gave my head a brush as I walked out, a belated warning to stay clear. 

Later on I walked down the beach in the opposite direction and once again found the big male sealion,  asleep and partially covered in soft sand this time, another cooling tactic. Every so often a large flipper would carve into the sand beside him and fling it high over his body. 

You can see in this photo how, unless you were looking closely, it would be quite easy to mistake a sealion for another piece of seaweed on the beach. 

And in the photo below,  how close vehicles can come without realising one is there. Can you see the tire marks passing within a few metre of him (and why sometimes when you're scanning a beach for a sealion you can totally miss one). 

It's the first time I've actually looked at their flippers up close too, look at those nails! I've watched sealions scratching themselves with their back flipper but never realised (or thought about it) that they'd have nails to do it with. Makes perfect sense of course. Click the photo to enlarge.

We headed into Balclutha later in the day to get a few supplies and of course when I saw all the trucks lined up at the sale yards on our way past, we had to stop.

Thousands of sheep filled the pens in every direction & dozens of people milled around moving from pen to pen. We also moved in closer to listen to the auctioneering...

...and as luck would have it, the very auction we watched happened to be Winston's two pens of sheep! That's him in the background looking very nonchalant. He'd told us the day before that his Perendales (breed of sheep) were keenly sort after & he usually got the top price at the sale. Later he told us that while it wasn't his top yearly price, he still got the best price on the day. 

Sometimes it's not what you know but who you know or in my case, who knows you. We often fly under the radar (if the photo on the back of the 5th-wheeler is out of sight) but there are many people on the road that recognise our rig & know of me from the photos I post on Facebook or the articles I write for my blog or for the NZMCA. 

On our last evening at Nuggetburn there was a loud knocking on the door and when David opened it two gentlemen stood at the bottom of the steps eager to cart us away to Happy Hour. Marilyn had recognised our rig & had also seen some of the recent photos I'd posted from the area and had sent her husband & Winston back up the road to invite us to their weekly neighbourhood happy hour. 

It's held in an old converted horse stall on a local farm, the interior decked out as a bar with the usual pub paraphernalia around the walls and with amazing views out over the bay. We had a great time; met the neighbours, learnt some of the local history, discussed the world's problems & listened to a few tall tales before time was called & everyone made their way back to their respective homes.

The next morning after a thoroughly enjoyable stay at Nuggetburn, and a coffee, cake & farewell on the deck with Winston & Hazel, we pulled out (carefully); another visit to the Catlins done & dusted. We had to be in Roxburgh the next day.