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


  1. Thanks Shellie for all your effort and wonderful pictures over the year. Allthe best to you and Daivd over the xmas time have fun stay safe.
    Cheer from Franice & Stafford

    1. Many thanks for your kind words and Christmas wishes, much appreciated. And you have a lovely holiday break too, best regards Shellie


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