Mackenzie Country, N.Z.   - an active Christmas 2011

A Day in the Mackenzie Country, 2011
Hillary at The Hermitage 2003

For over one hundred years now across South Canterbury the traveller is greeted with rich pastoral land, shelter belts, green pleasant valleys and rippling crystal clear streams. When he reaches the top of Burkes Pass he is confronted with a landscape as different as it is dramatic. The Mackenzie high country is a vast inland basin, noted not only for its merinos and tussock but for its lakes; Tekapo, Pukaki, and Ohau and its adjacent mountains and the unique flora and fauna and snow. A pleasant alternative scenic route through the Mackenzie is along the road following the Tekapo Canal, which provides water to Tekapo B power station in Lake Pukaki. Turn right at Maryburn and continue all the way to Lake Pukaki. Not recommended in windy weather or if there is icy road conditions. Another alternative route to Pukaki is the Braemar Rd, shingle but has scenery, pick it up just north of Tekapo after the Godley Peak road on the right. Do take the side trip Godley Peak road down to Mt. John and Lakes Alexandrina and McGregor for some good bird watching.

An active Christmas 2011 break tramping & bird watching - Mt John track, Lakes McGregor (black stilt) and Alexandrina (black swans) and the Tasman Valley Rd and the Mueller Hut track.


Black Stilt -Lake MacGregor



Black Swans - Lake Alexandrina

 

Tasman Valley Rd.




Looking up the Hooker Valley. Mt. Cook and the Tasman Glacier retreating.

On 14 December, 1991 the summit of Mt. Cook collapsed and the peak's altitude was reduced by approximately 10 m.  In 1997 the height was determined by photographic measurement to be 3,754 m / 12,316'

Mueller Hut (1800m), Christmas Day 2011, note the snowman.

Hutt News
, 29 March 1933, Page 8 LEAVES FROM A DIARY.
A HOLIDAY IN THE N.Z. ALPS BY A PETONE TRAMPER.
This is a sort of breezy account of a timid holiday. To begin with, we left Wellington on the evening of the 8th. This was not so simple as it sounds. First of all it was necessary to plan the gear and food and get it all together. The problem confronting us was, what should we take? There were essentials we had to have such as spare buttons and a tooth brush. After much planning and much more arguing, everything was made ready and a hefty lot it looked. The next job was to get it onto the boat. What sights we must have appeared struggling in and out of buses with great packs on our backs. It was interesting indeed listening to the speculations and comments of the people who witnessed our antics. Some suggested it might be a new Antarctic expedition, the amount of equipment we carried probably led to that conclusion. Unfortunately, had developed one of the worst colds in the head I have ever owned. I went to bed. Every hour of the night perspiration came out of me like juice out of an orange when it is sat on. I know it was every hour because I was awake all night. In the morning the cold was no better.

The struggle off the boat was not quite so terrible, we were becoming familiar with the perverse behaviour of our rucsacs, and knew how to humour them. At Christchurch we had breakfast. I ate porridge, not that I enjoyed it but to become gently accustomed to eating this, which, would be our main stay on the trip. Had w« booked two seats each on the train they would not have been sufficient to comfortably hold our gear and us. We did arrive safely at Timaru nevertheless. I am not sure, but I believe the train did about twice as many miles per hour after leaving Timaru Here the Mt. Cook bus was waiting, and into it was thrown our bag and baggage. Again we ate and then, set off for our hundred and thirty-two miles ride to the Hermitage. The draught made more impression on me than the scenery during the drive, and gave me another cold. A brief stop was made at Fairley and also at Lake Tekapo where we enjoyed a welcome afternoon tea by the blue waters of the lake. Before reaching Lake Pukaki we caught a glimpse of Mt. Cook. This cheered us up no end, but the clouds soon veiled the monarch from our eyes. The drive round Lake Pukaki must be beautiful on a fine day. This day it was exceedingly cold. I shifted into various positions in the car but a draught followed me wherever I went. We caught sight of the Tasman Glacier a little later on; that was all, however, for the rain had commenced with a vengeance. At the Hermitage we were met by three other members of our party who had come up by private car. The comfortable surroundings of the Hermitage cheered us as did a substantial dinner. Nothing however could make us forget that we wanted to reach the Ball Hut on the morrow and it was raining hard from north west.

We found ever, comfort at the Hermitage with the exception of comforting weather reports. Still, we hoped for the best. A well known guide had arrived just before, us. He had come over from the West Coast and declared the trip had been a nightmare. The evening was spent, looking at maps, discussing mountain routes and gathering all the information we could get. With the knowledge that a guide would accompany us on our trip we went tp bed with peaceful minds. All night the' rain descended and so did our spirits. The maid was a real sport and did her best to encourage us by bringing in a early cup of tea. It was useless, nothing could stop the rain. Everything was packed into the car which left in the pouring rain for the Ball Hut at 9.30. Everybody had changed into their climbing kit, leaving the clothes of civilisation well behind. It was impossible to see any higher up the mountains that the Stocking glacier and the rock face of Sebastopol. Traveling slowly up the lateral moraine many chamois could be seen feeding. These evidently had been driven down by the storm. By the time the Ball Hut was reached, hail and rain was being drives down the glacier by a strong wind. The icy blast from off the glacier literally gave one the shivers. There appeared no prospect of going up to Be La Beche that day. We settled down and made the best of it in the hut for the day. None of the mountains were visible and the glass fell to 28.7. No fair lady could have received more attention than that glass. Every few minutes someone would speak kindly to it, in anticipation of a rise and occasionally a thoughtful person would slam the door which did make the poor thing jump up for a moment. By the way I must not forget to mention the fact that there was a gramophone in the hut and a record too. That record expressed the feelings of the party very well indeed, "Sometimes I'm Happy, Sometimes I'm Sad," and so it was too—happy went the glass went up, but mostly sad when it fell. lower than ever. Talking about gramophones reminds me of one of our chaps discussing the saxaphone, naively remarked that it was a very ancient instrument dating from at least the Inquisition. I quite believe it.

Two packs of cards amused some of the members for a long time —a very long time that evening seemed. By nightfall it was snowing hard and evidently snowed all night long for in the morning everything was covered to a depth of between two and three feet. This meant we could not go up the glacier to De La Beche. About ten-thirty a.m. the weather cleared a little. This gave us encouragement to don our coats and boots and venture out. An hour and a half was spent out on the ice, but conditions wore impossible for venturing to reach the next hut, eight miles further up the Tasman. In blinding snow that obscured every thing to within a few feet, we made our way back to the hut. After lunch the weather once more cleared and we were able to see the mountain on the other side of the glacier—Johnston, Chudleigh and farther up Malte Bran, the famous rock climb of the N.Z. Alps. It was no fun however, having to sit still and see the sun shining, but it would have been folly to set out as the snow was probably much deeper further up and the going would be very hard work with heavy packs. So once again we had to amuse ourselves in various ways. The keas were very friendly and visited the hut frequently to let us know they were about. Early in the afternoon a north west wind came down the glacier with a good deal of force. It gave one quite a thrill to watch the swirling snow with out being in the middle of it. Later on a south wind sprang up so between the north wind and the South wind, prospects gave u)s the "blues." One really has to be out in it to appreciate what it feels like to be snowed up. We did fret a little and so would you, if you had come to do some vigorous climbing and were cooped up in a mountain hut. Beards began to appear by this time. It is a joy going without a shave for a week or two, not 'half! Another night was spent in the Ball hut. We slept well. Next day it was a case of "do or die. The gin we thought necessary to take was packed into our rucsacs and after fond farewells we set off one behind the other to find our way up the Tasman Glacier to the De La Beche memorial refuge, wondering if ever we would get there. (To be continued.)

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The land here dominates. Everything is on a macro scale. Hills are mountains, rivers are raging torrents, the wind is a dervish, and the sky contains the whole universe. Even this time of year, snow lurks at the top of the highest peaks and clouds roll down to cover the ridges and tops. wrote strathmorepark in January 2014

Press, 17 May 1910, Page 8
The Mackenzie plains are somewhat peculiarly environed. They are almost completely surrounded by hills, the result being that the snow lies longer on them than on the hills, and to this extent growth is retarded. It is further interfered with by the scorching nor- westers, which burn up everything in their track. It is noteworthy, however, that wherever shelter and water are obtainable good results are got from the soil. At Mr Matheson's Simon's Pass station, for instance, there are excellent paddocks of cocksfoot that have Keen down for over twenty years. Again, there is a rabbiter's hut with a cultivation patch which is on the hillside, about 150 ft above the plain, where fruit of all kinds is raised, grapes are grown in the open, and potatoes and tomatoes grow well. The analyses of soil taken from the plains show that it is not lacking in the essentials for plant life, and, generally but for their exposure to climatic extremes, for the absence of shelter, and of sufficient rainfall, there appears on reason why this country should be deteriorating into a state of uselessness. The plains comprise an area of thousands of acres, and the importance of finding a solution to the problem of their depletion of vegetation is apparent.