Monday 9 August 2021

Back in our Happy Place- Mackenzie Country


From Poolburn Dam in Central Otago we returned to Mackenzie Country and to our favourite camping spot at Ohau C camp on the shores of Lake Benmore, for some more fishing & relaxation.  

Sunrise, Lake Benmore
And no, that's not David coming home from fishing, he's still sound asleep in bed!

We also had a couple of events to attend and I was looking forward to taking a few more high country sunset photos although I didn't expect to hit the jackpot when the nor-wester made several appearances. 

The Twizel Salmon & Wine Festival is held at the Meridian Rowing Centre on the shores of Lake Ruataniwha on the last Saturday in February each year and because I knew we'd finally be in the area at the right time of the year, we had tickets! 

If you're in the Mackenzie during February mark the date in your diary. It was a great day out with record crowds, fine food, excellent beverages, awesome entertainment and oh so very hot!

Which contrasted terribly with the following weekend in more ways than one. For the first time in it's 28 year history the Goldfields Cavalcade was being held outside Otago. Twizel was the host town & final destination for the more than a dozen horse, walking & mountain bike trails heading in from all corners of Mackenzie Country. 

But sadly the day after the salmon festival (luckily for them), New Zealand went into Covid Level 2 lockdown and disappointedly the public side of the cavalcade was cancelled. Many of the trails were set to leave their starting points so they carried on but without all the fanfare (school & area fundraisers) along the way. In Twizel, Saturday's Grand Parade, market & Hoedown were all cancelled and as if to add insult to injury it rained heavily for much of the weekend as several of the trails finished their rides.

I was hugely disappointed, after attending the Omakau Cavalcade back in 2017 I was looking forward to watching all the different trails arrive & photographing the Grand Parade. I was even more excited as the final camp & holding paddocks were on Glen Lyon Road, just down the road from Night Sky Cottages & some of the trails would be passing the cottages on their way in from Ben Ohau Range.

I did manage to catch Les Beattie's 'Black Hawk Sheep Rustlers' Cavalcade Trail as they rode into a very wet Twizel on Friday afternoon. It was lovely of them to detour past the Twizel Kindergarten to view the children's banners they'd hung on the front fence, welcoming the trails to Twizel. Hopefully Twizel will be able to host the Cavalcade another year.

I photographed quite a few lovely sunrises from the edge of Lake Benmore, right out the back of the fifth-wheeler ...

 And no that's not David either (still tucked up in bed)
On many of the mornings I only had the ducks for company, can you see her? I don't mind them sitting quietly like this, it's when they decide to race each other up and down the edge disturbing my reflections that I get annoyed with them.

I got my own back though when this one waddled out of the water and settled down beside David's drone one day, just as he was about to launch it. I felt a bit mean not letting her know but I've never seen a duck move so fast in all my life! Don't worry, no ducks were harmed & she came right back out of the water demanding food. 

Campers at one of the nearby permanent summer camp sites had fun painting rocks during their holiday break, the red M&M is my favourite.

There were some interesting weather formations; single columns of rain...

White fluffy clouds & reflections...

...and the infamous Nor'wester, which aside from blowing us inside out put on a magnificent display at sundown. You might think that the following shot is from the same evening as the following photos. They're not, this first one is from the night before. 

After watching the cloud formation through the day I thought I'd race up the canals (12kms in the ute) from Lake Benmore to Lake Ruataniwha to catch the sunset closer to where it sets behind Ohau Range and where the sky is more open. I grabbed my gear and struggled, huffing & puffing, up the small hillock behind the NZMCA Ohau B Camp opposite the salmon farm, to wait for more colour. It didn't arrive much to my disappointment.  Although I still managed a couple of half decent shots, and look at all those motorhomers parked down below! 

It was a different story the next day though. This time I didn't leave it until the last moment but headed off to Lake Ruataniwha well in advance or so I thought so. Not so. The colour started changing ahead of my expected timing and I had to stop beside the canal to take this one before hurrying on. If there wasn't a touch of cloud covering her, you would be able to see Aoraki/Mt Cook way off there in the background (don't forget to click the photo to enlarge).

I carried on & made it to one of my favourite spots overlooking Lake Ruataniwha just in time to be treated to an amazing display of Mother Nature's brilliance. It's hard to believe that all these photos (and the one at the beginning with the ute in it) were taken of the same sunset, the colours changing by the minute.  

Sunset- Lake Ruataniwha

Ben Ohau & Ben Ohau Range

If you didn't know better you'd swear the sky was pressing down on you. 

And then as the sun drops further behind the mountains, and nearly as quickly as it appeared, the colour bleaches out and twilight takes over. 

If you get the chance to view it, there's another spectacle of Mother Nature that happens during March & into April each year. Sockeye Salmon head up the many rivers & streams in the Mackenzie Basin on their spawning run. The waterways are literally alive with fish; splashing, weaving in and out & fighting as they try to hold themselves over the shallow shingle banks while they spawn. From a distance the river is full of splashes as they move over the shingle, their fins & tails often out of the water.

Sockeye Salmon resting in a cool pool
Sockeye salmon are an introduced species and the Mackenzie Basin is the only place in the Southern Hemisphere where you'll see this happening. Monitoring over the last few years has put the numbers between 40,000 & 70,000. While on their spawning run it is illegal to catch, net or spear the fish, or even walk in the river bed and trample over or disturb their nests (redds).

These are not the Chinook (King) salmon that most people are familiar with and are farmed in the canals. These are quite small in comparison although there have been larger ones recorded. I took these photos from near the highway bridge over the Twizel River. Here's a short video too, most of these fish are waiting in the still water, they move back over the shingle at various stages.

I returned to see them several times over a few weeks; there were hundreds during the first two weeks in March, their numbers slowly dwindling towards the end of March & into April. It was also quite a sad sight after a few weeks. The fish die after spawning and dead & dying fish littered the river bed & floated in the water, many had worn down fins & tails and bleached backs where they'd been exposed to the sun in the shallow water. I thought there would be plenty of birds (gulls & shags) feeding on the dead fish but they were noticeably absent.

On a lighter note, I spotted this very cute cria (baby llama) with his mother in a paddock as I passed by one day. There's quite a herd of llama here but they don't come near the road that often. The wind was blowing a gale this day & this little guy was very unsure of himself, quickly looking for Mum if she stepped out of sight. Look at those gorgeous eyes & eyelashes, oh so cute! 

And to finish with, here's one more from that dramatic sunset! It's nature just wonderful. 


  1. Hi Shellie & David. As usual your photos are steller. Just returning home from another Photography workshop ran by Allan Cox in the Maniatoto (Waipiata) Am catching the snow thru Hanmer & the Lewis as I head point in saying keep up the fabulous photos, as I know you will. Cheers J&C

    1. A bit of a delay in responding Jimu, you do get about! One day we will catch up, take care, best regards to C too, Shellie

  2. Some amazing sunset photos there! So good.


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