Going to drive to Mt Cook for a look-see! As it was minus 3deg in Twizel we didn’t leave till mid-morning to give any icy road time to thaw.
Before turning off SH8 we drove into a little picnic area beside Lake Wardell to see what the camping is like there. Walked around part of the lake and up a stop bank on the other side and encountered the Pukaki Canal again heading towards the power stations around Twizel.
Neville picked up a stick to throw in the lake and we both got a surprise that the lake was completely frozen over and the stick ‘spun’ all the way over to the other side with a ‘whistling’ noise. Needless to say that was a good trick, so the hunt was on to find more sticks to throw!
But – enough of that fun – onward towards Mt Cook. We made several stops along the way to take photos. It was very scenic driving up the western side of Lake Pukaki.
Wasn’t till we entered the National Park boundary that we encountered the first snow on the sides of the road. The Village itself was like a ‘postcard’ with snow everywhere – the roads were ploughed but if you went walking you were crunching across the snow. We found a carpark beside the Hermitage Lodge and went exploring.
Went to the Info Centre/Museum, browsed the exhibits and took obligatory photo of Mt Cook through the arched window. Lots of information on display about the stories of mountaineers who pioneered climbs to the summit. All very interesting. I really liked the stained glass windows.
On the walk back, went into the Hillary Centre which is attached to the Hermitage. A bit of a Tourist trap – wanting lots of dollars to enter the ‘360 deg Theatre’ and ‘The Planetarium’. Rest of it was really just a souvenir shop.
Decided to head back to the Motorhome and as the day was getting on, head to the DOC camp there which is the only place you can camp in the area. However, the camp was tucked well into the hills up the Hooker Valley and this road was not ploughed and much more icy. Got to the camp and it was already ‘chokka’ with vans and cars and the whole area was just snow and ice. We managed to do a U-turn at an intersection beside the DOC office but even then had problems with the wheels just spinning on the ice! We realised that there was no-where that we could safely park anyway – so that was the end of our idea of camping there! Finally managed to turn around by backing onto some softer snow patches and we hi-tailed it out of there.
We stopped and had a look at the road leading to the Blue Lake but it was in worse condition, so again we made the decision not to risk it – especially as we are not carrying chains. So further sightseeing in the area was not going to be possible. We will just have to come back in the warmer months to do some of the walks in the area.
But we were not disappointed with our trip here. It was a sunny, cloudless day and Aoraki itself was completely clear and a majestic sight.
We remembered that the only other time we have visited Mt Cook it was dull and showering and the views were mostly hidden behind clouds.
So we started back towards the south end of Lake Pukaki – making a couple of stops along the way to take a photo of the snow covered hills on the other side of Lake and at a bridge where the clear waters of a stream coming off the hills was mixing with the glacial milky water of the Lake. It just looked like ‘smoke’ drifting over it.
We headed to a free camping area around the south end of Lake Pukaki on the road towards Twizel. Finally found it – right on the lake shore and were treated to impressive evening views of the lake and the mountains.
03 June – Another frost in the morning but a beautiful clear day followed. Went back a few kms to the Lake Pukaki Info Centre but found it all closed up (long ago by the looks of it). There was a Café open and all the tourist buses were pulling in for loo stops and photos of the view.
We escaped the throngs….and headed out. Decided to go and have a look at the Pukaki Power Station up the eastern side of the lake. Drove to the top of the Penstocks – another section of the whole canal system ends there. This one brings water all the way from Lake Tekapo.
We drove along the canal road as far as we could go – passed another Salmon Farm along the way and heaps of hopeful people fishing there too.
Encountered the gate barring our way shortly afterwards – if it had been open, we could have driven along the canal all the way to Lake Tekapo…but we had to go back around the long way!
Returned to Lake Pukaki, drove past the power station which was actually standing off shore, then continued up the gravel road – just exploring! Found a couple more nice camping areas but eventually we turned around to go back to the main road. There was another back road over the hills but we figured it too would be snowed under and not worth risking.
The drive along SH8 was across a huge valley with ‘snowy’ mountains all around us then a steady climb towards Tekapo.
Did another detour before getting there to have a look at the Patterson Ponds which are a series of picturesque ponds on the Tekapo River-bed. Another river that is just running at a ‘trickle’ because the main body of water is feeding the canal systems. What’s left of the natural river bed feeds directly into the top of the Lake Benmore.
Drove past the Tekapo Dam and Power House where the Canal starts on it’s way to Lake Pukaki. Looks nice and sunny, but temperature very chilly still – check out the frost on the ground at the Lookout point. (Click on photo to enlarge view).
We drove down to the canal, crossed a little bridge and along the eastern side of the canal to the Ponds. We got as far as the gate at the Tekapo end of the closed off section of the canal road.
Followed a track downhill to the river bed level and along some rough tracks to get a closer look at the Ponds. Found one of the smaller Ponds was frozen over, but ducks were swimming on some of the others. The best views though were from the elevated canal road.
OK to camp in this area too but we headed back and to continued on to Tekapo Village.
Stopped at the park where the Church of the Good Shepherd, built in 1935, is sited. Lots of tourist buses here too. You can still enter the Church but photos are no longer permitted inside. The end window ‘frames’ a well photographed view of the lake and the mountains beyond. On my way out I managed to take a ‘sneaky’ photo from the doorway while the ‘official’ at the site was busy telling a wedding party that they could not use the Church grounds for their photos unless they had applied for prior permission.
The ‘famed’ Collie Sheep Dog Statue is in the same area – erected in 1968, it’s dedicated to the working dogs of the Mackenzie country. I took some photos while Neville was busy watching an expensive quad-copter that an Asian Tourist was expertly flying around the area.
We drove to a nearby forested park area, where the NZMCA Park is situated, to stay the night. The shaded areas in the park all had snow lying around and as the Club area was completely surrounded by trees we ended up having to stop over the top of snow covered grass…brrr! The park was quite busy too with other members braving the cold. Our heater worked overtime that night keeping us warm.
Drove up to Mt John in the morning, where the NZ Observatories are. Got to the entrance road and had to pay a toll fee of $5. But on arriving at the top and seeing the view we agreed it was money well spent. A fabulous 360° view over Lake Tekapo, Mt Cook, the Southern Alps, Lake Alexandrina nearby and down the Tekapo River Valley…magic!
The telescope Domes dotted around the hill were quite neat too. There is a Night Tour of one of the Telescopes to view the night sky, but there are long waiting lists to attend. The Asian tourists especially are enthralled by the clear night skies here and the tourist parties have got the Night Sky tours booked out months ahead.
There is a very popular Café at the top – but then it was the only warm place around so no wonder it was full. Snow was covering the ground but at least there was no wind. Mt John is officially the windiest place in NZ – a gust with a wind speed of 250km/h (155mph) was recorded here in 1970.
Headed back downhill and continued up the road to go and see Lake McGregor. A nice camping area there along the lake-shore with a pretty view towards the Round Hill Ski Resort on the other side of Lake Tekapo. Decided that this was ‘us’ for the night and settled in. During the afternoon about a dozen cars arrived to join us and we were pleasantly surprised to see all of them heading over to the pay station to pay their fees ($5pp/night).
Next morning we continued to the end of the road to the northern end of Lake Alexandrina. Quite a settlement of around 50-60 Baches here and another camping area alongside a lovely clear stream that feeds into Lake McGregor. We went for a stroll along the stream between two little bridges and saw about a dozen big rainbow trout flitting about…one of them sitting on our dinner plate would have been nice!
There is also a Walkway from here that follows the shoreline to the southern end of Lake Alexandrina – takes 2½-3 hours one way though, so something that needs a bit of planning…will pigeon-hole it for another time!
Retraced our steps back past Lake Tekapo – views across the lake just perfect!
Drove past the Mt John Road and headed into Lake Alexandrina’s south bay. A gate stands across the road entrance which would put a lot of people off from driving in (including a couple we saw at the northern end, who were trying to find the Walkway there). Arrived at the Settlement – another cluster of Baches located in rows along the shore-front. Some of them were occupied and we got chatting to a local for a while – lovely still day today but he said that the wind can ‘howl’ down the lake on bad days…we believed him!
Returned to Tekapo township and had a look in some of the shops then after lunch we headed out, travelling east along SH8, over Burkes Pass and on to Fairlie.
We pulled over at the settlement of Burkes Pass to have a look at the Three Creeks shops. A colourful and interesting group of historic shops/buildings selling retro collectables, art works, crafts, giftware, antiques, curios, classic vehicle memorabilia, rustic outdoor furniture, coffee shop and outside displays of cars, blacksmith shop, petrol station….and much, much more. We lingered there quite a while seeing as there was so much to see.
The Burkes Pass village also has an Historic Trail around the other old buildings in the area that was originally known as Cabbage Tree Creek. St Patricks Church was built here in 1872 and is the oldest Union Church in Canterbury. However, we’d stayed there longer than intended already, so didn’t go and have a look and continued on our way to Fairlie.
Had a quick look around Fairlie on arrival and then drove to Lake Opuha about 12 kms out of town to find a free camping spot. The first site didn’t have any flat areas so drove up the lake to the next one…which was fine. The Lake itself had hardly any water in it and not that attractive but was good for an overnighter.
06 June – Frost again in the morning -5° the coldest morning we’ve had so far! Drove up to the end of Lake Opuha to look at the camp area there – it was by far the nicest of the three sites around the lake. A large bus was already camped there and looked like it had been there for a while.
Drove back to Fairlie and bought some supplies then followed SH79 towards Geraldine. We headed of down side roads to look as some listed camping areas. A couple were just pull-over areas along the roadsides and Hanging Rock Bridge was completely shaded with heavy frost was still lying on the ground in the middle of the afternoon. We carried on in the search of something a bit warmer!
Near Waitohi we came across the Richard Pearse Monument depicting the area where his flying machine achieved powered flight between March and May 1903.
We found a nice place to stay the night at the Waitohi Reserve, sitting on top of a hill with ‘birds-eye’ views. It was quite sheltered on three sides with trees and bush walks there, heading down into the Reserve area. We stretched our legs on one of the shorter tracks.
We were not too far from Timaru at this point so next day we drove through Pleasant Point and on to ‘the big smoke’ (this being the biggest town we’ve been to since we left Dunedin). Went shopping for things in shops we haven’t seen for ages. We spent three days in the area and stayed again at the Phar Lap Raceway grounds.
10 June – Headed west again….to take an inland route on the way back to Christchurch. We drove as far as Geraldine and spent more time looking around the shops and I checked out the local Museum.
We went to Kennedy Park to check up on the ‘self-contained’ camping sites there. Someone told us the Council as decided to ‘pull the plug’ on them. Sure enough the parking spots have been grassed over and the signs were gone. However, there were no signs up yet saying “No Camping” so we decided to risk it for the night. Two other caravans drove in later and they too said they were going to stay over. We read the Council Meeting Minutes on-line and it was true they were withdrawing the site and were waiting for new signs to be made. It’s such a pity as it is so handy to the shops – local business will lose custom…we noticed that both couples from the other vans walked over the bridge in the evening to go and have meals in town (as did we).
Drove out next morning and went to look at a couple of DOC camps. First one was near Woodbury (can also stay there at the Domain for a donation). Drove into Waihi DOC Camp – a very large grassy area, two toilet blocks (flush loos even). A nice stream one one side of the camp that ran down a small gorge. Native bush on the hill behind the stream alive with bird calls.
Headed off to look at the next camp at Orari Gorge Scenic Reserve. The camp there is quite small and more shaded – the grass was very wet and we could see our truck bogging in. But we parked at the gate and stopped to do the 1½hr bush walk there. The track went uphill quite steeply then looped back. It was a lovely walk and again lots of bird life. Decided to drive back to the first camp for the night as it was drier and more open.
I got chatting to man who was sleeping in his car – told me he was born in the area and had lots of local knowledge – trees, birds, churches, places to visit and so on. Interesting too that the hill on the opposite side of the road is where filming for the TV sheepdog trials program “A Dog’s Show” was done from 1977-1992.
We stayed there all the next day seeing as it was such a lovely spot – went for a walk up the riverbank which was very pleasant. Had a real good frost again overnight and woke up to a good ‘white out’.
13 June – Moving on again. Drove towards the Te Moana Gorge, however, we didn’t actually get there as the road became too narrow so we turned around. There are three camp areas and nice swimming holes along the river but we only saw the first one, which was a total ‘bog hole’. We didn’t dare drive in, so did a multiple-turning manoeuvre on the road and headed out (just as well our ‘rig’ is not another half-metre longer).
So back to Woodbury again where I wanted to look at the stone Church there. Inside it was impressive with local blackwood beams and lovely stained glass windows.
Then headed northwards to visit the Peel Forest – a remnant of virgin forest that once covered much of mid-Canterbury. Went on a 30min bush walk to see the ‘Big Tree’. Lots of big trees in the area and the biggest sure was impressive – 8.4m around its bottom girth – a Totara around 1,000 years old. The trees were full of Bellbirds, Wood Pigeons and lots of bird song – Neville made a recording on his phone which was amazing when we played it back.
Drove past the DOC camp which was closed as we expected but there was supposed to be another area that was still open over winter – but we couldn’t find it. So we headed to Arundel and stopped for the night at a Rest Area beside the Rangitata River Bridge. We’d sussed it out when we drove past it some months prior.
We decided not to return to the Peel Forest to do some more walking there – best to wait till after winter. Instead we drove north along the Inland Scenic Route 72 to Mayfield and then to Mt Somers. Turned inland from there to drive to Lake Clearwater. Made a stop at Hakatere to look at some historic farm buildings – a worker was pumping concrete slurry into the stone walls of one of the older buildings to strengthen it after being damaged during the Christchurch earthquakes. Long way out here from the epicentre too.
Continued on passing Lake Emma in the distance and Lake Camp alongside the road. Saw camping areas along the shores of Lake Camp.
Arrived at Lake Clearwater and found lots of ‘cribs’ here in rows of ‘streets’ leading down to the lake. We pulled up at the camping area along the lake-front and settled in. Cost to camp here $5/night. The only people we saw was when a 6WD tour vehicle pulled up for a ‘cuppa’ break beside us – the Driver and six Asian passengers. They were probably on their way back from Erewhon Station further up the road.
A ‘front’ came through overnight and the wind knocked us about a bit and we had light rain in the morning. Thankfully it was short-lived and had cleared by the time we were ready to move off. Nice photo back up the lake with the mountains behind.
We decided not to head up to the end of the road towards Erewhon so drove back to Hakatere corner and turned towards Lake Heron instead. Stopped at Maori Lakes on the way for a photo – lots of swans on the main lake beside the road. All the lakes in this area are in the Hakatere Conservation Area and protected Wildlife Reserves – you can fish them but can only use non-motorised water craft (except for Lake Camp where fizz boats are allowed).
Finally arrived at Lake Heron and stopped for a photo.
There is a small private campsite at the south end of the lake (run by the Clearwater Station) but it’s also closed this time of the year. We continued on around the lake to the end of the road where it ended at another big Station Homestead.
We U-turned and drove out – enjoying the different views on the return trip along the Lake and also stopped to take a photo from a bridge over the South Branch of the Ashburton River.
Some big clouds started to roll in during the return drive but we didn’t actually get rain until we arrived back at Mt Somers. For lunch we parked in the Public Domain, a nice picnic area and camping ground ($20/night). We discovered the bathrooms were unlocked and the showers coin operated, so we enjoyed a nice hot shower while there (always nice to have a ‘real’ shower with lots of water). Afterwards we moved further up the road to a Rest Area (Bowyers Stream) for the night.
Next day we drove up Mt Somers Road from Staveley – thought we’d walk to view the Sharplin Falls. But the track was closed due to a rockfall – a DOC officer at the carpark told us “don’t try it as there is an abseiling crew up there today using explosives to dislodge any dangerous rocks”. Bugger…that puts paid to our plans.
But we did walk along the riverside track as far as we could and up 176 leg-aching steps to the point where the falls track was blocked off.
Walked back to the carpark and headed to nearby Methven to buy some supplies and worked out where to go next. We ended up at the Rakaia Bridge Campground for the night. The public picnic area and toilets were open but the camping area was closed. Other motorhomes were parking here too so we joined the throng.
Great view of the Rakaia River from the campsite and you could follow a track down to the water. Jetboats launch on the other side of the river and there is also a Walkway that starts there (3-4 hours duration)…another day!
17 June – Destination: Lake Coleridge. Surprisingly the road was sealed all the way to the Power Station. Stopped to look around the grounds and read the Notice Boards.
Then went to look at the lake itself – drove there via a rough, narrow, windy Private Road owned by the Power Company…thankfully we only met one small car on the way. The Lake is on a higher elevation than the Village and Power Station and the water travels through an intake pipe through the hill for quite a distance then down long ‘penstocks’ to the generators. We parked at the Intake area and had views up and down the lake, a picnic area and a boatramp but no camping there unfortunately.
Driving out we took a different road from the crossroads so we didn’t have to negotiate the narrow road again and we emerged on the road that led to the north-western end of Lake Coleridge. Set off that way, as there is a free camping area there to stop for the night.
Another 25kms, or so, of gravel road – oh well what’s a bit more dust! Some small lakes to look at along the way – first one Lake Georgina made a good lunch stop. Then passed Lakes Evelyn, Selfe and Henrietta. Photo stops.
Arrived at the River Diversion area at the north end. This is where waters from both the Harper and Wilberforce Rivers are directed into Lake Coleridge to keep the Power Station operating.
We started looking for the camping area – drove down one of the Canal Roads and finally found the top end of Lake Coleridge and a camping area near a boat ramp. Grounds all a bit wet but found a solid place to park for the night.
I finally saw a Crested Grebe here – read about them while at Lake Clearwater but they were no-where to be seen. This one was shy and kept diving while I was trying to get a photo. This is best of bad bunch but still slightly out of focus. Interesting in that they never come ashore.
Next day we did some exploring along the canal systems – where the Wilberforce River Diversion Canal starts and over a bridge where the ‘torrent’ of water comes in from the Harper River.
Then started on the long drive back – checked out a little side road that took us to the shore part way down the lake beside the Ryton River. A few cars there and people fishing.
Amazing colours on the mountains as we drove out – can see why they are a popular subject for artists – unfortunately the camera did not quite capture the colours as we saw them.
Onward and arrived back at Coleridge Village and made a phone call to a local farmer who’d invited us to stay in a new POP that he’s established in a paddock near the Power Station. It wasn’t in the NZMCA Guide at that stage. All good, so parked up and then set off to do a couple of walks around the Village.
Went through a little cemetery area to a Lookout with great views up and down the Rakaia River.
Then followed the spillway waters from the Dam upstream back to the picnic area.
From there we walked through an old Aboterum up to the Village. The trees, mostly conifers from around the World, were planted by Harry Hart who was a Superintendent at the Power Station from 1923-1953. The Village was all very quiet and didn’t see many people – there are a couple of community buildings but no shops…shame, an ice-cream would have gone down a treat! The walks filled in the rest of the afternoon and looped us back to our camp paddock where we had a quiet night on our own.
19 June – Headed back to civilisation…firstly to Darfield to get bread/milk then to Sheffield to the ‘famous’ Pie Shop to buy lunch. From there we continued on to the Waimakariri River Gorge. A nice free camp there beside the Bridge – no-one else there surprisingly, but lots of cars drove to and fro during the day to go down to the river. Was a warmer day with a north-westerly blowing – 16°. Stayed there for another day seeing as we’ve been doing lots of miles the last couple of weeks.
From there we drove back to Rangiora. Visited some of the bigger shops there then parked up at the Ashley River Domain for the night. Have used this spot a few times now, it’s a nice area.
22nd-30th June – We arrived back in Christchurch! Some chores to do on the ‘truck’ and time to catch up with family and collect our mail.
We spent a few nights parked near my Brother’s place at Waimairi Beach and about five nights at The Groynes. Did a few more walks at The Groynes, it has some great paths around the streams and recreation lakes.
We took the truck into VINZ to get a new COF. It passed fine and they recommended a place to get a grease and oil change done. We got that sorted a few days later. Also took the truck to a place to get it washed down one day – they did a good job for $40 and it was all done in about 30 mins…saved us the hassle anyway, it was pretty dirty.
We spent the last night of the month at the NZMCA Park at Weedons.