South Island meanderings…December 2017 (Part 1) Lake Opuha-Tekapo-Lake Pukaki

01 Dec – Our quiet little camp at Lake Opuha suddenly turned into a very busy place with the arrival of several family groups with an assortment of boats, canoes and miniature motorbikes.  They soon occupied a large area with tents, caravans and buses and had obviously arrived to stay the weekend.  We sat back and watched the activity…boats whizzing up and down the lake, kids waterskiing and swimming, canoeing, barbeques firing up – nice to see families really enjoying the lake and having fun times together.  They must have been locals…they seemed to be immune to the sandflies!

Next morning we decided to move on and leave them to it.  Drove back to Fairlie and stocked up with bread and milk at the local Four Square store.

Read up on the Legend of James MacKenzie who in 1855 was the first known white man to enter the MacKenzie Basin.  However, he soon became a hunted man when he stole 1000 sheep from a wealthy station owner.  He evaded capture in the Canterbury hills that became known as “MacKenzie’s Country”. His story makes interesting reading…being sentenced to 5 years labour for his crime, he was a troublesome inmate and on recommendation of the prison authorities, was pardoned by the colony Governor.  He prudently left NZ in 1856 but his name lives on in our history after only spending a year in the country.

Continuing along SH8 we stopped at Burkes Pass Cafe to once again look around the curio shops and vintage memorabilia.

Curio Shop
Gasoline Alley
St Patrick’s Church

We also walked up the road a short way to have a look at the old church building that we didn’t view on our last way through.  It is the oldest Union Church still in use in NZ on its original site. It’s very well kept and the roof beams inside are quite interesting.

Church interior

Heading off again we drove over Burkes Pass hill and headed down into the valley beyond towards Tekapo.   From that point we started to see the first of the colourful wild lupin flowers lining the roadsides and riverbanks.  Just before Tekapo we saw a huge paddock that was a ‘sea’ of flowers and a wedding party were there having photos taken.  Unfortunately the only parking area was full of cars so we couldn’t stop.  However we soon found more areas all around Tekapo that were equally pretty.

Club camp

We stayed two nights at the NZMCA Park on the shore of the Lake.  Last time we stopped there the ground was snow covered and the temperature very chilly…this time it was quite the opposite – 26º and very dry.

Our friends Katrina and Bernie were also parked there in their 5th Wheeler (last met them at the POP in Ashburton).

Permanent moss on trees
Lake view

Next morning we decided to walk into town – a 30 min walk that took us a lot longer as we kept stopping to take photos of the lupins and the lake.  Blue and purple flowers are the most predominant with small pockets of other colours.

Walked past the ‘famed’ Church of the Good Shepherd – bus loads of foreign tourists still flocking in.

We walked over the footbridge near the end of the lake (the dam wall here limiting water flow down the Tekapo River).

Dam wall

Browsed the shops and stopped at a Cafe for lunch.  Ordered BLT’s and a bowl of chips – it was good value with a double layer of filling and reasonably priced for a big tourist area…all up only $23.  Afterwards walked around the shore frontage.

Actually got a photo without any other ‘tourists’ in the shot!
The stonework pylons are impressive

Crossed back over the footbridge and slowly made our way back to camp enjoying new views from the different direction.

This time as we looked down into the water we spotted a lone fish swimming lazily past.

Field of lupins in front of houses

Looking across to Pines Beach area where the Club Park is located

We also walked through the camp to the northern area of Pines Beach where there is a boat ramp and water skiing lanes.

In the evening enjoyed ‘happy hour’ in the company of our neighbours Pam and Brian.   By the time we parted it was almost 9:00pm.  Time flies when you’re having fun!

04 Dec – Pressing on but firstly stopped in town to buy a few things at the Supermarket and I wanted to search out the waterfront for areas where I’d spotted some bright orange Californian Poppies growing (a real contrast in colour from the lupins).

Also had an overview from the carpark of the Intake for the Tekapo Power Station and could see by the exposed rocky shoreline that the lake level is currently quite low.

Then headed up Godley Heads Road to Lake McGregor.  Another place we’d visited last time we were in the area.

Lake Tekapo – Godley Head Road heading off into the distance
Lake McGregor in view
Day Picnic area

Stopped for lunch and chatted to a guy in a caravan in the camping ground.  He was there for the summer…lots of fish in the lake to be caught he says.  He comes back every year.

While there we also did our good deed for the day – loaned our jumper leads to a couple in a car with a flat battery – they were happy chappies!

Lake McGregor

The area owes the colourful displays to Connie Scott from Godley Peak Station who in 1949 purchased £100 worth of lupin seeds and scattered them along the roadsides to beautify the area.  They grow with little fertilizer and have become widespread throughout the region.  However DOC has a different view of the plants and has invested lots of money into eradicating them over the years, especially in the braided river areas where they smother the natural nesting areas for endangered native bird species like the black stilts, wrybills, black-fronted terns and banded dotterels.

Despite this, some landowners have been planting lupin as a fodder crop for merino sheep in rocky and low fertile areas in the high country that would otherwise be overrun by wilding pines and hawkweed.

On the way out we stopped at a large area of ‘planted’ lupins and the noticeboard explained that they are an experimental plot to cultivate a strain of lupin lower in alkaloids to make them even more palatable to sheep.  One of the scientists working on the project is David Scott, the son of the ‘lupin lady’ Connie Scott.

It appears the biggest challenge is to confine them to high country areas and keep them out of waterways…hmmm wonder how that is going to work out…me-thinks the horse has already bolted out the gate!! (But I still think they are gorgeous).

Back at the main highway we drove on towards Twizel. Spent the night in a free camp area overlooking Lake Pukaki.  A fabulous view up the lake of Mt Cook and surrounding peaks and carloads of people were driving in all afternoon to take photos.   By nightfall we had four other vans clustered tightly around us…a bit too close for comfort but can’t say I blame them wanting to share our prime position for the night.

Hovercraft whizzing around disturbing the peace
Evening light
Clear morning – zoom-up

Next morning we decided to move somewhere quieter.  A couple of our fellow campers had departed early but it was still a bit of a juggle getting out, as cars kept arriving.  As soon as we got an opportunity to back up and turn around I still had to stand on the track and halt incoming vehicles until we were facing the right way to drive out.

Turned left and into Hayman Road which follows the eastern shore of Lake Pukaki.  There are many places along the road to camp without any restrictions.  We even passed Katrina & Bernie’s 5th Wheeler all set up in one of the larger bays.

We finally settled on a spot close to the water quite near the Tekapo B Power Station.

Drove up the hill to Mirror Lake that forms behind the Dam at the end of the Tekapo Canal system.  The water comes all the way from Lake Tekapo and passes through the Tekapo A Power Station before running along the canal to this point.

Mirror Lake at the end of Tekapo Canal
Dead fishy – but look at the size of it

We drove along past the salmon farms with the intention of buying some from the Shop, but it was closed, so that foiled that plan.  We saw plenty jumping up in the canal and lots of people fishing (didn’t see any in their catch boxes though).

Salmon farm

Drove back to Lake Pukaki and found a level spot to park up – the views of Mt Cook were even more spectacular making for more and more great photos!

Million dollar view (for free)
Mt Cook in all its glory!

Briar roses grow along lakeshore

After lunch a van stopped beside us and the driver asked if we’d like a joyride on the lake in their new hovercraft – only $10 each for a 15 minute ride.  We’d heard them earlier launching the craft into the lake quite near to us and we’d taken a photo of it the day before while it was cruising around.  The motors were very loud.

We said OK and they came back about an hour later to drive us to the bay around the corner to wait for the craft to come and pick us up.  Other people were also waiting…however, it didn’t happen…we could see the craft coming from a long way off but it was not making much headway.  Sure enough it had a mechanical problem.  So we got a ride back with the promise they’d let us know when it was up and running again.

We knew it would be coming back to where we were, to be taken out of the water so went to watch.  The narrow strip of water had gone ‘dry’ at the entrance so it was obviously a major issue to get the craft over it.  The problem seemed to be with the ‘lifting’ motor as it was not rising properly on the skirt and also wasn’t steering properly.  These series of photos shows the ‘drama’ of getting it back.  It had no power to get it back onto the trailer so they had to call for help.  We gave up watching and more than 2 hours later we heard them leaving – it wasn’t there in the morning so they must have got it out somehow.

It was a very hot day and the lake looked very tempting so believe it or not we changed into our ‘swimmers’ and went for a dip.  The lake is glacier fed but close to the shore there were warmer patches so we tried to find them while getting wet to ease the shock on our hot skin – it took us a while but once we got under it was a very refreshing swim.  Yeah I know…we should have just dived straight in…once upon a time we would have!

To be continued….

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