Spit Island Mystery – Fiordland National Park New Zealand

I’d like to share a part of NZ that fascinates me: Matauira/Spit Island [connected to the mainland by this sandy spit and some awkward rocks you can’t see in this picture], Preservation Inlet, Fiordland National Park – a former pƒÅ site and shore-whalers‚Äô lookout. A place I was privileged to spend a night at a few years back in mid winter.

The swimming was great and the beach so warm we just walked along it to dry off in the sun. No sandflies! Spit island Fiordland National Park


Spit Island is notable not only for it’s beauty, but also for the almost as it turned out] unassailable Maori Pa that was sited on the island’s flat top, which was the site of some interesting battles three hundred years ago – a very rich story that ties in with Capt. Cook meeting a Maori family on Indian Island in Dusky Sound in 1773…¬†The yacht Elwing in the background¬†…Spit island Fiordland National Park

Spit island Fiordland National Park

The island holds some fascinating stories according a book researched and written by John Hall-Jones some years back.

One being that a raiding party stormed the Pa and the chief was wounded and jumped in the sea with a servant and they floated eastwards and made landfall on the land in my second photo here. There the chief died, which was reported by the servant, and left there to be gradually calcified from water drips from the limestone on the roof of the cave.

Thus preserved years later the British authorities of the day mounted an expedition to remove the body to England. Hearing of this the Maoris, who I believe were doing great commerce with the early sealers and whalers, and working for them as well on their ships, removed the chief’s body and presumably laid him to rest somewhere, keeping the location secret.

The area where the chief of the Spit Island Maori Pa eventually died after floating there from the island…Spit island chief burial place

On the expedition where I took these photos we were denied a landing to see the cave by a big swell, but were able to visit two other caves in my photo below, in the vicinity in Preservation Inlet where sealers lived and built boats.

I can’t imagine how damp and cold it must have been for them as their cloths absorbed sea salt and never dried out, not to the mention the ever constant Fiordland sandflies! Preservation Inlet Fiordland National Park

There is another twist or two to this story of Spit Island…

When the raiding party attacked my memory of the passages in John Hall-Jones book is sketchy on the details, but it was along the lines that they did not know a large hunting party from the Pa had crossed to the mainland earlier in the day when the tide was out.

The connecting spit is to the left…

Spit island Fiordland National Park

When the hunting party returned somehow without showing themselves they knew their home had been invaded. So hiding in the sand dunes, as in the pictures posted here, one of them disguised as a wounded or sick seal [they must have had a skin] crawled out of the dunes and down to near the water’s edge.

Sensing an easy meal, all the raiders scurried down the one access route/crack in the rocks, then crossed the spit to the beach with the probable intention of blocking the seal’s access to the sea and then to kill it.

When near the Maori disguised as same, the hunting party leapt out of the dunes and killed all the raiders. But maybe not quite all!

The dunes…

Spit island beach dunes

Rock towers on the connecting spit – this terrain cannot be crossed quickly during [and only] low tide…

Spit island Fiordland National Park

Historian/author John Hall_Jones “take” on how raiders of the Spit Island Pa in a remote part of Preservation Inlet, Fiordland National Park were ambushed and dealt too left me with a few questions, such as how many survived and what happened to them!

So lets skip to 1773 when Capt. Cook sailed the Resolution into Dusky Sound after an audacious voyage sailing around a lot of Antarctica.

He’d already been in Dusky, so presumably knew to head to a good anchorage, Pickersgill Harbour [see photo of ] and en-route passed close to a rocky shore, where they meet 4 natives, which were the subject of investigation of a scientific nature, sketches and drawing and some conjecture that led them to become known as the lost tribe.

Where the “natives” were met…

Dusky Sound


A wood cut of William Hodges painting – he was an artist on Cook’s expedition…

William Hodges painting of the natives of Dusky Sound

How I got to visit this magical place steeped in history on-board the yacht Elwing…

Pickersgill Harbour and the yacht Elwing

They were never seen again, but footprints were found relatively nearby in 1851 that could not be attributed to anyone other than the people Cook met or their descendants. Thus they became known as the ‘lost tribe’ or ‘wild natives’ of Fiordland. Some even attributed supernatural powers to them.

Much can be read about this on web-sites such as fiordlandnz.com and nzetc.victoria.ac.nz, but I believe it was Hall-Jones who proposed the theory that they were Spit Island survivors.

I guess we’ll never know, and I like that sort of mystery! Also if correct I’m bit in awe of how they got from Preservation to Dusky. By some sort of water craft I presume.

In my one photo of the rocky outcrop above where Cook and co. met them is a little cove to the left [they called it Indian Cove, and while the name conjures up a large indentation, it is minuscule], and dragged up on the beach therein was a canoe.

A significant 21st and a trip to a church in the back of beyond

Twenty one years of being a dad, and what a privilege!

There are many versions of the story – here is one:

Redford [aka Dougal – he legally changed his name a couple of years ago] had a sense of style and fun from day one…
Hats on Dougal Lousley

And a significant sense of curiosity in all things natural. Here it’s obvious, with a more cautious mother in tow on some ice on Lake Benmore, while Sarah our lovely lab at the time checks the wind for rabbits…
Ice on Lake Benmore

Sarah had eight pups and until we found homes for them all, we had a very willing small helper…
Dougal Lousley and Sarah the lab with pups

There came a day when his interest and love of animals manifested with an award at the local Wanaka Show Pet Parade, with a subsequent picture in the local newspaper of the day…
Dougal Lousley and pet parade

From an early age I was blessed to have him as my “expedition” companion, and we joined up on one trip with an old friend Sarah Glasson and her family for a 4wd trip into Macetown one autumn…
Macetown in autumn

An agenda for fun, but at this point I was not sure just how gathering leaves was going to play a part…
Macetown in autumn, playing in leaves

And why not make the pile deep enough to dive into!
Macetown in autumn, playing in leaves

Trips on foot slowly got more ambitious as he grew. Tramping in West Matukituki valley, Mt. Aspiring National Park…
Tramping in West Matukituki valley, Mt. Aspiring National Park

Hooker River swing bridge Mt Cook National Park…
Tramping in West Matukituki valley, Mt. Aspiring National Park

Winter activities included cross country skiing competitively at the Snow Farm, up the Cardrona Valley…
Snow Farm Youth Academy member Dougal Lousley

Good friend Riley Wilson and D. decide to barbecue a chicken. Yes, its a snow chicken and if I recall it melted faster than it cooked…
Riley Wilson and Dougal Lousley cooking a snow chicken

When he was about 10 yrs. old I decided to take a punt. Since I’d been the inseparable house dad until this time of divorce from his mum. I bought us an expedition type vehicle so as to not only keep up the bond, but build on his growing curiosity in nature. It worked a treat…
Seeries 90 Land Cruiser camper in NZ snow

And so the expeditions began in earnest and for a few years incorporated the adventure yacht Elwing as we headed south each holidays. Me indulging my romance with the wilderness, him exploring under every rock, fishing, plant identification. And most of all being exposed to great male mentors such as my friend the skipper Arthur White.

Heading out of Doubtful Sound enroute south to Dusky Sound in July 2005…
Entrance Doubtful Sound, Fiordland coast NZ

At the helm off the most exposed wildest and remotest coast in New Zealand…
Fiordland coast NZ

But this evening the world in terms of westerlies, swells and waves was at peace…
Fiordland coast NZ

The fishing is pretty good down there in places – Dusky Sound…
Dusky Sound fishing

Keeping shipshape – Duck Cove in Dusky Sound…
Duck Cove Dusky Sound

On this adventure we were literally following in the footsteps of Capt Cook. While taking a break from nearly circumnavigating Antarctica in the 1773 he and the crew rested in Dusky for a month, and charted Dusky naming such places as Wet Jacket Arm, Luncheon Cove, Pickersgill Harbour etc. Each name telling a story, and one we followed with enthusiasim

The best photo on that trip was taken by Redford, a selfie really, as that is his reflection – Acheron Passage Dusky Sounddolphin pod Acheron Passage Dusky Sound

Bedraggled in the rain he and I wait for a pickup by the Elizabeth river in Doubtful Sound after we made an attempt to find a lake upstream – we ran out of time in the dense wet bush. Still it was good to get some exercise…
Elizabeth river in Doubtful Sound

It was a magical trip due to the cold, and consequently some to the sounds were iced over. Here we are on a recce to check the ice thickness, as even the thin ice was wearing into the paint on the kauri hull..
Crooked Arm Fiordland - in winter

It felt very lonely [not helped by the noise] in a rubber boat in sharp looking ice this far away from Elwing…
Crooked Arm Fiordland - in winter

What allowed us to explore further was a Real Journeys steel hull tourist boat, that passed us and broke the ice. But neither of us got much further, as it rapidly became easily 300mm thick…
Crooked Arm Fiordland - in winter

Before enlightenment do the laundry, after enlightenment do the laundry…
100 2104

The next trips we headed further south – Redford surveys Port Pegasus on Stewart Island from Magog…
Port Pegasus on Stewart Island from Magog

The summit of Bald Mt., Port Pegasus Stewart Island…
Bald Top, Port Pegasus on Stewart Island

So that was the “real” world, back here other activities were pursued. Dance and drama every Friday night has worked wonders for a whole generation of Wanaka young folk…
Dance and drama Wanaka

Which instilled a familiarity with social skills – school formal here with his good friend of old, Anna. Now they flat together with another Wanaka local – they’ve always been so supportive of each other since primary school and earlier. I think this is a blessing during the teenage years…
Mt Aspiring College school formal

And before I knew it he was in Dunedin living at a hall of residence and doing a three year degree in chemistry [achieved this year]…
St Margarets Dunedin

And occasionally I’d be on bus duty, as he’d come and go occasionally…
Wanaka bus service

Frequent fishing trips to nearby Poolburn in Central Otago, but a pleasant memory, often escaping the summer heat. This was his first really significant “catch”…
Brown trout catch Poolburn

A blast from the past…

So on Redford’s 21st birthday last week I suggested a trip in the camper truck, and lo… mid week we headed off and due to the forecast Poolburn seemed a good bet, but I also suggested that if the track was dry we could visit the elusively remote Serpentine church he’d never seen. A restored relic from our rich gold mining history.

I say “elusive” as there are no sign posts – just rumour and farm tracks at a moderately high altitude and so some local knowledge is required. I’m not sure where I got mine from, but probably “a little bit here, a little bit there”. The road is an off shoot from the old Dunstan Road which I use quite often time permitting – it was the first access route for wagons into Central Otago and the Lakes, as apart from going up and down it heads pretty much in a straight line from Outram near Dunedin through to Tarras and it essentially avoids having to cross the Clutha River. The down side is of course snow closes it in winter.

The funny thing was that just a few days before R’s birthday an old mate Bruce called in while doing a road test of his 3 tonne house on wheels he’s been building in Ranfurly. Apart from getting caught up in a tree on the footpath all went well…
House on wheels Rata St Wanaka

Then a few days later as R and I topped the ascent to Poolburn in the dusk, he said “is that Bruce?”. And lo… it was. So we stopped off for a few laughs and cuppa with some Xmas fruit cake we had with us, and some banana cake B had. All quite special really…

After the cuppa we carried on to camp a bit closer to our destination. I could have got to the church in the dark, but no point as it’s quite a scenic drive, and besides we had plans to bike parts of it.

A perfect Poolburn dawn with no wind – a rarity…

There is an old rabbiter’s hut enroute to the church
Poolburn to serpentine church 17

Poolburn serpentine church rabbiter's hut

Biking change over…
Poolburn serpentine church  road

Lots of sky…
Poolburn serpentine church country side

Poolburn serpentine church track

Poolburn serpentine church road

Poolburn serpentine church road fence

The wind returns…
Poolburn serpentine church 9

The Serpentine Church…
serpentine church central otago

Note the rocks holding the roof down…
serpentine church

serpentine church interior

serpentine church sign

serpentine church sign

serpentine church altar

All too soon we had to leave – the decision was a little bit weather driven as the track would be a slithery nightmare when it’s wet…
Serpentine church track

We stopped for a “look-see” by this intriguing gully where the tors are closer together than normal…
Poolburn serpentine church tors

While placing my last photo above what strikes me is those are the shoulders of manhood… and how elegantly he got there!

I’ve learnt much wisdom from him during my part in the process – much to be grateful for. Given the chance I think I’d do it again!

My friend Bill R.I.P, The Darrans, Mt Cook and Tasman

A few weeks ago via a link from a friend I discovered a blog posting about an old friend and mountaineer Bill Denz and reading it bought back many feelings and I found myself becoming quite emotional. So maybe this is a closure style post, or a story I feel needs telling, or an airing of long forgotten images. Whatever…

Bill took New Zealand mountaineering to levels unimaginable back when I was becoming quite wrapped up in it myself. I’d taken a summer off to just climb mountains – a narrow pursuit, and as such the learning curve was steep and constant.

By January I’d worked myself south to the Darran Mountains in Fiordland – you drive through them literally via the Homer Tunnel to Milford Sound, [my dad helped build the tunnel too].

The late Arthur Humphries above the tunnel portal at the Hollyford end. I love the contrast of fragile sensitive hands against the granite landscape…
Arthur Humphries - Darran Mts Fiordland NZ

I arrived at the NZ Alpine Clubs Homer Hut alone, a few days before I was to be one of a few instructors for an alpine skills course for a week.

As is quite normal for Fiordland I was hut bound for a day or two of rain so got to know a few people including Bill and his young friend Phil Herron – already they were known as a very potent climbing pair and were doing things out of reach of my frame of reference. However I enjoyed their company immensely, little knowing I’d meet Bill coincidentally a few more times over a few more years – always in huts, and later on Phil’s mother when I came to living in Wanaka. Bill and Phil were very different personalities with a great energy, and I still recall Phil’s smile and a spirituality beyond his young age of 18.

When the weather cleared I found myself in Arthur’s company on one of the classic routes, and this led to a chance meeting of two others and by combining we dealt to the last pitch to the summit of Mt Talbot. via a rather rotten gully [I found better alternatives over the next three days].

Arthur Humphries, Gerald Shanks, Bob Cresswell [Gisborne] and myself on Mt Talbot
Darran Mts Fiordland NZ

While I was happy to do the classics such as the easy ridge on the left on Barrier, Bill and Co. were to be found doing new routes on the likes of this face across from myself and Arthur…
Barrier Face, Darrans Mts. NZ

This sort of terrain was more my level…
Donald Lously on Mt Talbot, The Darrans, Fiordland NZ

Mt Talbot, The Darrans

And this was Bill and Phil’s terrain…
Moirs Mate, The Darrans, Fiordland national Park NZ

And we all enjoyed descents like this in the sun, and sometimes on certain routes there’d be a little tarn to have a swim in…
Darran Mts Fiordland NZ

As Bill said “it’s not as serious down here compared to Cook – here if you get caught out for a night, you don’t risk getting frostbite and the crevasses are smaller”

Brocken Spectre, The Darrans, NZ

Instruction course over and a few new friends later I headed north for a spell with my parents before going to Cook with some ambitious plans.

But life takes strange turns – word came that Gerald Shanks had just fallen on Mt Sabre not far from the route I’d completed with him and Arthur and Bob. I was a bit stunned and frankly frightened at how suddenly sunny adventures and raw finger tips [from the granite] could turn to death. The rope safeguarding Gerald dislodged a rock above which hit him and caused him to fall.

It turned out he and Bill were old mates, and prior to Bill writing this poem below, he and I corresponded with each other and Gerald’s parents.

Your coffin lies heavy in our hands
We turn and with manly paces move
Past parental friends
And climbers in their shabby suits,
To the concrete block wall
With it’s aluminium cross
Where you are to stay,
While a sermon is read
About God and stuff

You died on Sabre,
Falling oh so fast
Like one of those turfs,
Gardened from a pegging crack,
Which tumbles, thumping and disintegrating
In a few seconds,
Down a day’s hard climbing.

Recall, when we first met,
How you came off that pass,
Eyes red from the snow,
Or again, the bivy in the rain,
Trapped by dark on the cliffs of Belle,
Huddled, with chattering teeth,
Above the Homer Road.

But now you are dead,
And it’s so final I feel,
For only your body is here.

I headed to Mt Tasman in Mt Cook National Park, but did little – my heart was not in it… fearful even, since I’d had time to think… needed time…
Mt Tasman from Mt Johnson

A couple of years later and I’d migrated away from summer mountain pursuits to follow the dream of ski mountaineering…
Grand Plateau and Hochstetter Icefall, Mt Cook

But life takes those funny turns, and suddenly one weekend I found myself skiing up under Mt Tasman.

Skiing the “Mad Mile” is probably the dumbest thing I’ve ever done – another steep learning curve under threatening ice cliffs, by the hundreds…
Skiing mad mile, Grand Plateau

I just missed Bill by a few days – he and Phil climbed up to and crossed the Grand Plateau, and climbed up to the Main Divide then descended a little to do the first? winter ascent of the Balfour Face of Mt Tasman. And returned, all on foot!

Knowing the conditions I was and still am just in awe of their labours, achievement and abilities!

It made our fly in, stay in the hut and descent and joyful ski down seem like a tourist’s picnic…
Tasman Glacier, NZ

My constant companion for many years of wonderful mountain adventures, Chris Jackson down-climbs, prior to putting on skis, to the Freshfield Glacier…
Downclimb to Freshfield Glacier, Mt Cook

Chris in good form… We all were… three tracks of us, myself, Chris and Roger Thompson, and Bill and Phil in the same context offset slightly by time, of this amazing place. Were we warriors I wonder, and never knew it? For me the whole experience was simply humbling, and I was so glad it went smoothly, because there’s lots of potential to know the edge that lurks…
Skiing Freshfield Glacier, Mt Cook

Within a short time Phil had fallen in a crevasse in Patagonia, and died. Bill nearby – it changed him I reckon. His climbs took on a new quest – they’re legends typified over the following years by his decision to try the climb again. Bill ended up alone in a vertical ice filled crack tied on for several days with virtually no food, riding out a storm. Few can survive these events, so in my mind Bill had learnt to transcend life itself many times!

We never talked of this though on a chance night I spent with Bill in the old Malte Brun Hut. I don’t think either of us wanted to be guiding at Mt Cook in the totally opposite experiences life had dealt us, but we yarned the night away over many brews quietly removed from our care, our clients. In Bills’ words we were bonded, we were “winter men”! Writing this brings tears…

A few months later he perished descending one of the worlds most vast mountain massifs Makalu, in an avalanche. He’d told me the odds – he knew the possible outcomes.

My mate Chris died soon after too of melanoma, and ditto Arthur who lived in Wellington and had become a friend, succumbed to a tragic situation – but these are other stories.

Some years later I realised Phil’s mum lived around the corner from me! She had a memorial seat built by the lake, and her ashes are there now too as of last year. She too was a legend…

Phil Herron Memorial


Mesca-Dawn: A Remembrance of Bill Denzhave a read of the article that triggered my story above >>

Jill and her boyfriend and a house “cooling” in Matakanui

One of my old mates Bruce is shifting house out of a classic historic abode, and moving to town in Ranfurly. So it was a “house cooling” – maybe “warming” is coming.

Matakanui is off the beaten track a wee bit, and that’s the way I often prefer to go to and from the central part of Central Otago via…

Thomsons Gorge Road Central Otago
Thomsons Gorge Road Central Otago

Thomsons Gorge Road gives a chance for slower way of life… you see more…
Dragon Fly

Cow Thomsons Gorge Road

Jill’s boy friend, with the gorge of Thomsons Gorge in the back ground…
Bullock - Thomsons Gorge Road

Bruce’s historic mud brick /sod house in Matakanui. 18 inch thick external walls, 12 inch internal. Maybe not the best construction for earthquakes, but superb for the extremes of summer and winter…

Resident goats – maybe this is the one called Donald…
Matakanui goat

Downtown Matakanui…
Downtown Matakanui Central Otago

Downtown Matakanui Central Otago

Downtown Matakanui Central Otago

Downtown Matakanui Central Otago

Downtown Matakanui Central Otago

Antlers Downtown Matakanui Central Otago

About Matakanui:

Matakanui, once a bustling mining town, offers a special glimpse into how life must have been during the rush for Central Otago gold.

Matakanui lies nestled under the foothills of the Dunstan Mountains, less than an hour’s drive from Alexandra towards Ranfurly. Drive 20 minutes northeast of Alexandra along SH85 to the township of Omakau. Turn onto Harvey Street in Omakau, and continue about 10km along Racecourse Road, turning left onto Glassford Road then onto Naylor Rd.

The name Matakanui refers to one of three high points along the Dunstan Range. It was originally known as Tinkers and there are different theories for this. It may have come from the miners‚Äô camp resembling a tinkers‚Äô camp with all its pots and pans tinsmiths were then called tinkers; or it may be based on a reply given by a miner when asked how/what he was doing ‚Äì ‚Äútinkering around‚Äù…

More via Central Otago| Matakanui | Central Otago Tourism | Visit Central Otago, New Zealand.

An Otago Odyssey into 2013

This post was hopefully the first of a few chronicling my mind-set and journeys of late, but having got this far I think I’ll keep it short and just post photos for awhile. To much navel gazing otherwise!.

Anyway here goes on a sort of compressed journey touching on and reflecting perhaps a little of the whole… the longer span of my many years blest to have lived so richly here in New Zealand.

Photos of spanning from 26th Dec. last year and a couple of weeks into 2013. Places and insights, a journey I never realised would bring so much to the surface – all in locations I’ve grown up with, and now see differently, interspersed with a few paragraphs from inner parts of my mind. No, actually more from the heart, and written at great speed leaving the editor on my shoulder behind [yes, done even with a timer – a new technique I’ve learnt that helps access the hidden “knowing” of ourselves]:

40 mins drive from home roughly and I spent the night at a modest altitude in the coolness on the historic Thomsons Gorge route, a part of the Old Dunstan Road that traversed from the coast [Dunedin and Port Otago] to the hinterland of Otago in the old days because it avoided having to cross the mighty Clutha River…
Thompsons Gorge, Old Dunstan Rd. Central Otago

Naseby for coffee and as yet the Odyssey factor is not apparent, but this was about to change…

My parents used to bring me to Naseby for holidays. He’s my dad Norrie Lousley in the camping ground sitting on the old ’39 Chev. he loved…
Dad reading naseby

Exploring the many historic gold diggings around Naseby…
sluicing gun Naseby

This amazing landscape is now sadly infested with wilding pines. You can see them just beginning in this photo I took around 1965-66. I’d do a lunch every morning and explore these areas alone all day, and used to enjoy using a map and compass to keep track of where I was…
Naseby pre trees

I never got to visit in winter and the thought excited me when I saw this postcard. So I bought a half doz. which I still have. Not many years ago I was lucky enough to traverse part of the range in the background in my camper truck, while on a fund raiser 4wd trip organised by my cousin in North Otago Search and Rescue…
Winter near naseby postcard

Life’s journey has seen me back many times in these landscapes, but the twists and turns have been many and I wonder if back then in those early days if I could have ever said “who would have guessed [or wished for more]”. The paths back then seemed concise, obvious and ordered, but it’s not so now.

On leaving the Maniototo and Naseby area I reached the east coast of Otago and headed to just north of Dunedin for some exploring of the Waitati area and Doctors Point…
Coastal Otago



Airborne Gull


Now days awareness seems refreshed and enhanced daily. Not long ago I’d have said it’s growth related, but now more thinking it’s like simply observing that my awareness can be observed more easily, and so all I’ve seen and remembered of my youth I now interpret differently.

The day’s drizzle did not encourage me to linger so I headed north up the coast to Karitane, a seaside township steeped in Maori history…

Taken on a more sunny day. My objective on this trip was to explore the obvious headland, the site of a Maori Pa…

Huriawa Karitane Otago

Huriawa Karitane Otago

Huriawa Karitane Otago

I found this old picture [1925] on the web while researching, courtesy mp.natlib.govt.nz/
Historic Huriawa Karitane

Huriawa Karitane Otago

To read a comprehensive history of this coastal area this site is useful: doc.govt.nzHuriawa Karitane Otago

Many factors have changed re the new awareness as mentioned above. But which aspects in life!?

I used to do long distance bike riding a lot, ski wild places and partake of all sorts of semi adventurous pursuits, and they had one thing in common, a striving. Nothing wrong with this though – it gets results, but maybe it demands too much of a narrow focus sometimes.

Maybe we all need more of what this young fur seal was doing before I rudely interrupted, namely basking on hot rock in the sun and reflecting on life There were about a 100 of them doing this at Shag Point when I arrived at my next port of call, now in North Otago
Shag Point Fur Seal

When I was young my parents and larger family of aunts and uncles were right into fishing for trout and salmon. So it became part of my life to accompany them. They liked sitting on the bank dangling a tempting worm or two on the end of the line, but the areas we visited piqued my curiosity and I began to wander. Ultimately this led to a life long interest in tramping, mountains and wilderness.

Thats me on the left, then my dad, mum and auntie and that’s Shag Point just behind me, with the Shag River estuary on the right...
Family fishing shag river

Now days my life is filled a lot more diversity with time set aside deliberately to reflect. And the space thus created can be as profound and infinite as the universe above. There’s a lot of space between the stars, and maybe between my ears!

This was the first house I lived in in Oamaru…
Aln St Oamaru

Seems I was happy there…
Donald pram aln st

My mum and I regularly visited the Oamaru Gardens and I loved playing around the Peter Pan and Wendy statue…Oamaru Gardens Peter Pan and Wendy statue

Oamaru Gardens Statue

Oamaru Gardens

Onwards on my day’s walking around Oamaru, and I pondered the childhood home of Janet Frame the world acclaimed great author, near where I lived as a toddler
Janet Frame childhood house sign and picture

Janet Frame’s dream: ‚Äòfor our sometimes narrow, insular views to be widened by all means possible ‚Äì interchange with other cultures, visits to and fro, and for us to be able to recognise our worth and shortcomings honestly as a nation, without having to constantly boast or apologise. We need, especially in New Zealand, to be able to enter imaginatively into the minds and loves of other cultures.‚Äô 1983

Janet Frame childhood house

OK, I’ve run out of puff now, and time to write it all up, so here’s quite few images on finishing the journey that took me up around Oamaru’s funky Victorian style “Steampunk” area, the Waitaki Valley to Lake Ohau, and then home to Wanaka…





Oamaru Steampunk

Oamaru Steampunk

Oamaru Steampunk

Oamaru Steampunk Chev

James Caird replica in Oamaru

Oamaru Steampunk

Oamaru Opera House

Twizel canel

Sunset Lake Ohau

Dawn near Twizel

Odyssey over I returned over the Lindis from Twizel / Lake Ohau to home with no dallying. I guess when home of the day gets closer we all are just keen to get there!

In 1862 Gold was discovered throughout the Central Otago…

In 1862 Gold was discovered throughout the Central Otago and 150 years later we are celebrating this milestone.


I’ve not had a lot of time off lately and it seems the trend will continue for a week or two yet as I develop software for Skydive Wanaka, so it’s all ready for the busy season starting soon, so not having many new images I thought I’d offer a few to go with our gold mining history…

Featuring St Bathans, and yes it used to be called “The Blue Lake of St Bathans”, but as far as I can recall a flood event a decade or two changed the mineral composition of the water, which had filled old mine shafts… there’s a link lower down if you’re interested.

St Bathans is an historic¬†Central Otago¬†mining town¬†near the foot of the Hawkdun and Dunstan Ranges, 60 kilometres north of Alexandra, off SH85 (Alexandra to Ranfurly). Established in 1863 to service the area‚Äôs newly-established goldmines, in the 150 years since, St Bathans has become a special place. The town¬†enables today’s visitors to learn about the area‚Äôs mining history, see several historic buildings and admire the Central Otago landscape that it nestles in.

More via Dept of Conservation web site  St Bathans: Otago.

Lightweight ski touring dilemma solved

It was back in the late 60’s I started skiing, and at a club field complete with rope tow, walk in/up to the snow, dig the rope out after storms and crank up the tractor. We’d often ski so late we’d walk down in the dark to the accommodation hut.

That’s when my love affair with winter travel in our New Zealand mountains began in earnest.

The nuances really came together later, and over several years while living mostly at Mt Cook Village, in the National Park of the same name…
Mt cook hooker valley in wi

It’s a wild place to learn the craft of ski mountaineering what with ropes, crampons, ice axes and shovels, crevasses, avalanches and heavy packs being the norm…
Skinning 2

A love/hate relationship with “heavy combat” touring skis soon develops in this terrain. The intermittent encountering of powder is a strong motivator, amongst the ice/rain/wind crust that comes from an dynamic maritime climate!
Kris wagner muchison

I also came to realise that having the right equipment and mix could add 10% to my abilities. It seemed that if I was on the brink of feeling/knowing a technique in my evolution as a ski-tourer, that even a smaller percentage could give me the “leg up” to the next level.

When the weather was bad around the village in winter we played about on cross country skis, with the shoes held on by three pin bindings, on up to a metre of snow. Better to play with it than fight it!

After my time at “Cook” I moved to Lake Wanaka arriving at about the time the town was starting to emerge as one of New Zealand’s premier ski resorts. Subsequently my friend’s Mary and John Lee turned the snow on their high country station [farm], up the nearby Cardrona Valley into an asset by developing the world class Nordic ski area; The Snow Farm, incorporating a comprehensive vehicle testing/proving grounds as well.

The pioneering days back in the 80’s on the Pisa Range, where the Snow Farm is now setup. Just getting to the snow was an expedition!…
Pisa nov 87

That’s me in blue and orange on the right…
Pisa xc skiing donald

Today there are over 70Km of world class trails complimented by a large two story lodge…
Lodge100 4486

Unlike most other cross country ski areas in other countries the trails at the Snow Farm, at 1500 mts above sea level, are not sheltered by trees…
Junction100 0344

It’s the distinct alpine environment that I love so much, because due to the groomed trails I can ski [Classic btw] far and wide while feeling like I’m on a modest mountaineering adventure, without all the clutter and weight! Also I was pleasantly surprised what a difference modern gear made over my old 3 pin binding experiences as per the old photos above..

So… I was on my way happy as ….. early winter at the Snow Farm always seemed to bring good quality cold snow, and while learning the ropes I was only too happy to stay on the groomed trails while I explored.

Developing a taste for solo nocturnal skiing under the stars and the moon…
Moon100B6614 2 2

This gave rise to considerable thought and action as to lightweight clothing and equipment, e.g. on a night skiing trip into the headwaters of the Meg I experienced minus 23. Not that usual in NZ!

Gear like this is an absolute delight on groomed snow, and/or perfect conditions for touring…

After a couple of seasons I started to realise that in spring with it’s inherent melt/freeze cycle I was not equipped, nor had the ability to safely ski crunchy ruts and ice, so I’d often walk, but that’s not quite the same as merrily sliding and dancing along.

The spring “look” on the River Run at the Snow Farm…SpringIMG 1186

A rethink was required. This led to new boots and Salomon’s came on my radar for no particular reason – I liked their lightness and potential for walking and even cramponing, and that they needed the wider version of their bindings I’d grown to like.

I mounted them on my old Kastle skis that I’d really liked while 3 pinning, but for only long enough to realise the choice of boots was great. The soles of the skis were sadly disintegrating and cracking, so doing some more research I settled on a compromise straight metal edge ski, while wondering if maybe somewhere there might be a ski design that’d truly suit what I had in mind on the Snow Farm’s trails, and off-trail on the wider and vast Pisa Range.

How the dilemma was solved…

I’d often thought that a light x/c ski with some side-cut and edges, and fish scales to give grip in NZ’s often zero temp. snow pack, would fit my purposes, but there was a big question mark if such a ski would easily track straight and fast on the trails, which at the Snow Farm have lots of long straight sections in most places.

Out-of-the-blue though, perhaps because my subconscious had filed the requirements away a good friend lent me some skis to try, that had the dreamed for features above.

These are the skis [by Salomon], and they just love touring, and looking after me!…
Salomon Skis and boots

No problem either with a mix of darkness, moonlight, ice and snow…
Moonrise at Snow Farm

And they track amazingly well on the trails and the scales work really well while ascending even on the edges. They seem to occupy just the right percentage of surface area too, so glide is OK too.

I’ve used them now for a couple of long tours and I intend purchasing a pair…
River run at Snow Farm

Why…? Well they’re just so light and so much fun to get about on, no matter what the conditions. I can’t wait to tear up some more corn and powder on them, in this amazing landscape!

So much to ski Snow Farm

There are many places and ways to break out in life…
Fences Snow Farm

Salomon Skis close up

Wanaka Search and Rescue has been too busy…

Five call-outs in a couple of weeks! Too many accidents and deaths of a tragic nature for Wanaka Search and Rescue of late. I’ve been on standby, so bags packed I took quite an interest in what might be coming up! I don’t mind waiting, and understand the need – any operation is sophisticated and military like, and it has to be.

The last operation finished yesterday and it was for a hunter who went missing in this terrain in Mt. Aspiring National Park. Not easy country the Rob Roy valley and glacier…

A typical operation begins at search HQ Wanaka. And sooner rather than later a team is dispatched. There is a nice helicopter landing area up behind the Dept of Conservation HQ in town. Here members get ready to fly into Cascade Saddle a couple of years ago at this time of year, to look for a missing tramper. It’s sort of opposite Rob Roy…

It was a shock to be landed on Cascade Saddle in cold mist, with the odd snow flake threatening…

A last briefing between SAR members about to start a close area contact search on foot on Cascade Saddle, with the Dart Glacier in the back ground…

The success [and safety] of any operation has a lot to do with communication and trust. It’s not all training though, as pre Xmas every year we have a get-together and a meal, with speeches and awards [we’ve been recognised nationally more than once]…

Training has many aspects in many different environments, such as this river safety day…

All too often I reflect on why some tragedies are not averted! It’s a complex topic, and after the above mentioned Cascade Saddle operation I blogged extensively, hoping my advice would be found. I’ve had a few email me, so this has been encouraging.

Enough to post here on the same topic again, adding to the below older one, dated Jan. 2009!

Last Sunday I had the opportunity to take a few more shots while helping search for a missing tramper [Irina Yun – now presumed drowned – if you wish to read a comprehensive overview of the scenario then Bob McKerrow a highly respected and experienced NZ mountaineer has compiled an overview on his blog].

The Cascade Saddle is actually the low point on…

>> more via Cascade Saddle Search and Rescue operation in Mt Aspiring National Park.

Our lonely symbols of mortality – a reflective trip into the Nevis Valley, Central Otago

A bunch of crosses in a populated cemetery can numb my mind if I consider the whole experience of being human, and the collective experiences of all who’ve gone before us to once again return to the dust of the universe.

A lonely grave seems to bite deeper – the space creates context that can be reflected on…

The symbol of the cross as being part of death, is I find an interesting concept, e.g. while doing the yoga mountain pose [standing tall and straight – not as easy as it may seem], then raise our hands to the sky [and follow with our eyes], then slowly bring them down, palms out, in an arc to our sides, accompanied with an exhalation we create space – both outwardly and physical in the heart/ribs/shoulders, and so on the descent of our hands we become a cross.

Up until making these images last weekend, on yet another trip to Central Otago’s Nevis Valley I’d sort of reckoned that it was Christ’s death that consolidated the symbolism of the cross, but now I’m not so sure. Could be he picked it to make a point.

Amid all that suffering he opened his heart to all. Created space in yoga terms if you like. And like all crosses if viewed from below the sky [universe] takes on the role we can’t comprehend, that of the infinite…

Some of our pioneers obviously had this in mind when they placed a bird next the lonely cross in the Nevis Valley cemetery. Note the bird faces north and slightly upwards…

We entered the Nevis this year from the Bannockburn end [as opposed to Garston in Southland], and on topping Duffers Saddle were quite taken aback as photographers, by the light on the back of the The Remarkables…

This well designed verandah on an historic cottage will have seen many happy relaxing lazes in the sun, and shade…

In this dry continental climate rust does almost sleep…

Modern day [night!] travellers…

Modern day symbols, if you like of not such a distant past…#alttext#

Yet another cross…

The ponds in the background were created by gold dredges – with limited water they’d daily shift their own hole that they occupied…

Eroded not by nature, but by miners washing down the cliff with large water blasting nozzles, known as sluicing guns…