Sunday 19 December 2021

Winter in the High Country- Part 2

 Continuing on from Part One...

I was up early the next morning to check on the weather. Our camp site on the edge of Lake Pukaki was shrouded in thick fog, which, while not great for camping, was a positive sign that the hoar frost was still in residence and continuing to form back in Twizel, 15kms away.

By the time I was ready to head down the road to check on the frost the fog had once again withdrawn down to the south end of Lake Pukaki leaving mirror reflections and a stunning scene behind in its wake.

The fog swirled about in heavy drifts as I reached the Pukaki canal gates on the main highway. 

I stopped for a few quick photos just as the fog disappeared leaving behind frost covered bushes and blue skies. It wouldn't be long before the ice disappeared here as the sun's weak warmth started melting it right before my eyes. I hurried on down the road, fingers crossed that this wasn't going to be a short-lived hoar frost. 

Not a chance! It's hard to believe but just around that corner in the photo above and near Lake Wardell, it was once again thick fog. I pulled into the lake- actually a small pond- where freedom camping is allowed and was surprised to see that someone was indeed camping there in their caravan beside the frozen pond. Brrrr!

I drove around the lake and took a few more photos before heading on towards Twizel, I was keen to get to my favourite ponds. 

Lake Wardell
But not before a quick stop at the Twizel River.

Twizel River
And then onto Wairepo Arm, one of the two ponds on either side of the main highway just south of Twizel.

I drove into another world; dry, still & crisp and not a person in sight. Every branch of every tree was coated in thick white ice crystals. What a magical winter wonderland it was. 

I followed the 4WD track around the edge of the lake until I reached a favourite spot. I'm usually taking reflection photos here-

Winter reflections
...or the autumn colours. This is what I love about the Mackenzie, every season is special in its own way and every season has fabulous scenery. It's a photographer's paradise!

Back on the main road, the fog was very dense so I decided to give Kellands Pond a miss and drove from Wairepo Arm around to boat harbour on Lake Ruataniwha.

Lake Ruataniwha
Just after I arrived 3 or 4 vehicles pulled in behind me and disgorged a dozen or so photographers who peeled off into the gloom looking for the perfect shot. Probably a photo workshop or photography club from out of the area on a hoar frost photo shoot. Every now & then as I moved along the waterfront I'd spot a wooly hat or scarf covered face peering out from a bush beside the lake. 

Boat Harbour
But the last thing I expected to see while out chasing a hoar frost was a person swimming in the lake! And in a bikini too (see black dot under the willow). And I'm sure the last thing she expected to see was a bunch of photographers arrive to take photos!

Lake Ruataniwha
I spoke to her & she told me she swims in Lake Tekapo everyday (which would probably be colder as it's an alpine lake fed directly by snow melt). I asked if it was warmer under the water & she replied 'not really'. It was on her bucket list to swim in a hoar frost so she'd driven down with her husband who was standing nearby, ready with a big thick towel. 

I took a few more photos around the lake before leaving the photographers behind and then carried on along the top of the ridge stopping for a few more photos looking down on the lake.

The fog was getting thicker by the minute though, moving in and swallowing up my wonderland scenes.

I drove on, along the canals to Loch Cameron and found another favourite scene fog bound.

Next were a stop at the Ben Ohau Station ponds alongside Glen Lyon Road; they were frozen with frosty icicles everywhere.

I pulled into our cottages- the guests now gone- and checked out the garden. I'm sure the log burners would have earnt their keep over the last few days.

Night Sky Cottages
It looked like Spaghetti Junction at the tussocks.

Well, I thought to myself, we weren't going to de-camp and return to our park-up site beside one of the cottages until the next morning, but a plan was forming in my head. I headed back up the highway... 

SH8 near Twizel Airport
...back into civilization, blue sky...

Lake Pukaki & Hayman Road
...and wispy fog...

..past the lake pond that was now showing signs of freezing and pulled up in front of the 5th-wheeler, calling to David as soon as I stepped out of the ute.

And that was how he found himself at the dump station in the middle of a hoar frost! Something he's keen not to repeat.  I figured if we were back in town & all set up, I'd be able to head off early the next morning instead of having to bring the rig back to town before I could head out again.

This fog wasn't letting up & this frost was going nowhere.

To be continued...

Saturday 11 December 2021

Winter in the High Country- Part 1

Just when you thought summer was on the door step, here I am to remind you how cold winter can be in the high country.

With both our holiday cottages booked for a few days in early July we vacated our park-up site beside one of the cottages and headed off for a few nights of freedom camping. And what better place to spend them than on the shore of beautiful Lake Pukaki with the perfect view of Aoraki/Mt Cook from our front door.

After a day of blue skies & crisp cool air the sun disappeared behind Ben Ohau Range and the soft colours of sunset crept over the sky.  (I note that the time on the photo file is 5.10pm, a few days after the longest day of winter. And here I am writing this a few days before the longest day of summer and the sun is setting at 9.40pm at the moment)

The next morning fog rolled in from the south end of the lake and we disappeared for a short time inside a thick cold damp blanket. It didn't take long for it to retreat back down the lake...

...and we were left with another brilliant blue sky day. We took a drive up Hayman Road and on to Mt Cook Station Road and right to the end; it's gravel all the way. 

If you look closely here at Landslip Creek you can see all the wilding pines that have been dealt too along both sides of the waterway. In fact there has been a massive clearing of wildings right along the lake edge & roadside from the main highway all the way to the end of the road. 

Landslip Creek & Lake Pukaki
We stopped frequently at different view points along the way and without a whisper of wind the lake looked stunning. 

Ben Ohau Range forms the backdrop to the lake on the west side and along it's base the very popular Mt Cook Road follows the lake for 45kms from the main highway all the way into the Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park.

I zoomed in across the lake here to Glentanner Station & up behind is Glentanner Peak.

And just to show you how insignificant we humans are in grand scheme of things, that small black dot in the water in the left hand photo is a fly fisherman fishing the shallows at the end of the Tasman River delta (click to enlarge the photo). 

Just over the single lane Jollie River bridge at the end of the road is Mt Cook Station. We can see Aoraki/Mt Cook peeping over the top of the slopes at the entrance to the station. 

A nearby track heads off out towards the Tasman River and up the Tasman Valley where there are tramping, birdwatching & mountain biking opportunities. It's here that the helicopter lands to offload A2O (Alps to Ocean) cyclists who have started the cycle trail from Mt Cook village instead of at the alternative, Lake Tekapo.

After a short chat with the retired Mt Cook Station owner (his daughter now runs the station) and a pat for his two elderly Golden retrievers who all came down on a quad bike to check who the visitors were, we headed back down the road stopping near where the fisherman had accessed the top of the lake. It wasn't fishing that I was interested though.

The fisherman's car was parked on the edge of the road near a track & as I passed close by the vehicle to reach it, I got the fright of my life when a woman's voice called out a greeting. She was watching movies in the front seat but had all the windows blacked out. I nearly fell down the bank as I stepped back in surprise. 

She called out a warning to watch for ice as I clambered over the fallen pines across the track and sure enough as soon as I reached the gravel it was like a rocky ice rink; treacherous! Any water seeping down towards the lake had frozen, you can see the ice glistening amongst the gravel in the photo above and it set between the rocks below. 

Before I climbed down the last bank and onto the gravel I had checked the nearby pools with my binoculars. And sure enough it didn't take me long to spot what I was looking for. Not just one but three rare & endangered Kaki/Black Stilts, a mature pair & their juvenile following along behind (on the far side of the pool in the left hand photo below). 

Unfortunately I couldn't get nearer without risking my life on the ice so I made do with watching them for a short time delicately picking their way along the icy edge of the pond before I returned to the ute. Sensible David came only as far as the bank to watch them. 

As I made my way back to the track I could see that the fog bank was still holding tight at the south end of the lake. Hmmm.....

Look at that ice...and fog!
Back at camp the fog weighed heavy on my mind, literally. It was late afternoon and it had been fogged out at that end of the lake for nearly 24 hours.  I wonder I thought... It didn't take me long to decide to check it out and sure enough as soon as I drove back along the main highway I disappeared into it and a little further along I could see that a hoar frost was forming! Yeehaa! 

Nearing Twizel River on the main highway
I drove through to Twizel, the fog getting heavier & thicker the closer I got. I was nearly down to crawl stage by the time I passed the town entrance, not very conducive for photography at all but I carried on to check out my favourite ponds. 

I did a quick circuit of Kellands Pond checking out my favourite spots and taking a few photos. 

It was dull, cold and miserable with no chance of the fog lifting- even a little- and with daylight fast fading I decided it wasn't going to be tonight that I'd get some good photos. 

No cup-of-tea stop here this afternoon!

But the ice crystals were building & I had my fingers crossed the fog would last until tomorrow.

I decided to head back to Lake Pukaki via Glen Lyon Road and the canal to check out two of my favourite photography subjects, passing the cottages on the way (guests really getting their money's worth 😁 ).

Ben Ohau Station stables were hidden behind the fog...

And Loch Cameron? Well that had disappeared altogether!

As I drove back into our camp site at Lake Pukaki it might as well have been another world, if you look closely you can see the layer of fog behind the lake and below Benmore Range, stretching across the Mackenzie Basin from Lake Benmore at the back left to Twizel on the back right  (click on the photo to enlarge). And as an aside if you are looking for Black Stilt/Kaki at Lake Pukaki, check out ponds like this, they are often feeding around the fringes.

Fog? What fog? Another stunning sunset over Aoraki/Mt Cook.

As I close up for the evening I'm hoping the fog holds and I can get back to it tomorrow.

To be continued....Part 2