Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Piano Flat- Beyond the Bridge


Another quick blog post before we head off into the back-of-beyond for another week or so where there'll be no internet. In my last post I said we were about to pull out of Piano Flat that morning. In fact it was such a lovely sunny day we decided to stay on for another 24hrs. Why travel on such a gorgeous day, something we've had very few of this summer.

We're now staying at another 'flat'; first it was Cattle Flat, then Piano Flat, and now we're at Millers Flat in Central Otago, at the local campground so we could do all the laundry and stock up with supplies from Roxburgh before heading off tomorrow morning to one of our 'must visit again' places. But you'll have to wait to find out where that is!

Piano Flat Road ends and Whitecoomb Road begins at the little white bridge near our campsite.

Whitecoomb Road carries on winding and gradually climbing through a narrow tunnel of bush for another 12kms up the Waikaia River valley before it too runs out and becomes a 4WD track that climbs up onto a plateau and across Old Man Range, eventually dropping down and exiting near Fruitlands in Central Otago, just up the road from Roxburgh.

The only open area of the road is at Whitecoomb Creek where the recent flash flood has swept through causing quite a bit of damage to the bridge abutments and the surrounding creek banks. The creek obviously still yields a bit of gold as there are several mining permits nailed to surrounding trees and the bridge. There's also a rough camp of tents and shelters nearby. 

Just after crossing the bridge, we come up behind a digger slowly making it's way up the road, we still have another 5-6 kms to travel to the end of the road and we wonder where he's heading to. He's obviously been through this part of the road already, as the sides have been cleared and the road is smooth and a little wider. After a kilometre or so, the driver finally finds a place to pull over and let us pass, it'll not be the last we see of him today.

Eventually we reach the end of Whitecoomb Road. We've been gradually climbing up out of the bush and we can now see the top of the range ahead of us.

We know it's the end of the road because of the steel gates and warning signs. The gates are locked over winter due to the remoteness of the area and sub-alpine conditions up on the plateau. It's up on the range that a group of thirty eight 4WD enthusiasts got caught out in blizzard conditions last year, and spent 24hours stuck in thick snow waiting to be rescued. 

We decide to take the left hand track first (called Canton Road), it heads back down to the river valley and to a bridge I can see on our map. There's a bit of a knarly ford to cross, David has to remove our towbar tongue so we don't scrape  on the rocks on the way out.

The track then drops sharply down through a couple of bends...

...before the Canton Bridge comes into view below us. The bridge was used during the early gold mining era and Canton Road, which continues up the other side, took miners to the settlement of Potters.

Now the land is part of the largest privately owned farm station (65,000 hectares) in New Zealand, Glenaray Station.

There's a locked gate at the far end of the bridge so we can go no further. Later in the week, after our drive up the valley, a motorhome forum friend (hi Glen) called in to say hello, he was part of a 4WD group that had the key to the gate and permission to drive over the station. They were heading up to Blue Lake (see pin on map below) to explore.

The Waikaia River looks pretty benign here...

...but not far around the bend the water flows through a long narrow gorge with grade 5 rapids and waterfalls. 

Looking upriver the water is so still it hardly looks like it's flowing, its crystal clear and a beautiful emerald green. It would be great to explore by kayak through the cool interior under those trees.

I walk back up the track leaving David cleaning the windows on the ute! 

We drive back up to the gate and take the other 4WD track that rises sharply up the range, we'll go as far as we feel comfortable with, we can't afford to get stuck or damage the ute- it tows our home! The digger has been through this section recently too, and the track is smooth and wide and easy going for a few hundred metres. We pass a parked SUV (bottom centre of the photo) with no one in sight, and we wonder where on earth the people could have gone. Perhaps they are bird watching or hunting in the bush, maybe they've run out of petrol.

Across the valley to the right you can see Canton Road(track) winding it way up the hill from the bridge below (click to enlarge)

Not far past the vehicle the road takes a major turn for the worse and becomes rutted with deep wash outs scouring through the centre of the track. We stop at the next bend where we can safely turn around. We'll not go any further today we decide, but then we both want to see around the next bend 'just in case' it comes right. 

This is the view back down the Waikaia River Valley looking towards Piano Flat 12kms away.


I walk up the track and around a couple of corners to see how far from the top we are and if the track gets a little easier for our 'shiny'. More danger signs greet me...

...and the road carries on for some distance and I still can't see the top of the range. I make an executive decision and decide we'll definitely turn around. 

I take a panoramic shot of the valley before returning to the ute (click to enlarge & use your back arrow to return to the blog).

And we head back down the track, meeting the digger again, making his way up towards us. We pull over at the only available area to let him pass and David gets out to talk to him (he's the only person we see all day). We find out that it's his vehicle parked on the side of the road further up, a work mate has dropped it off there as that's as far as he'd got in the digger sorting the road out. He'd taken the digger back down the road to Whitecoomb Creek for the long weekend, out of the way, in case there were any idiots looking for a joyride.

He tells us that he's slowly making his way up and over the top and across the range, all the way to the other side and it'll take about 2 weeks. He's sorting the track out- and the many bogs across the top. I wonder what he does with the bogs- digs them deeper? He told us he was called up there the other day to pull a Toyota (he says in disgust) out, the driver had gone around a bog instead of through it. Through it and it's a rock base for good grip.   

Apparently Whitecoomb Road will also be gravelled in the next few weeks. Any more work and it'll become a State Highway! We decide we'll check the road out from the other end, when we're over that side, see how far we can get from that end after the track has been cleaned up a little.

We stop back down at the creek for a late lunch and David clears these small waterfalls of debris for me (what a good husband he is) so I can do a slow shutter (1/15) shot of them. Problem is I've left my tripod behind and a filter that would help me, so this is the best I can do hand held. Not too bad though.

The grasses that surround the creek still have the night's rainfall sitting on the flower spikes...

...the droplets of water twinkle and sparkle rainbow colours at us as the sun passes through the clouds overhead. Nature's beauty shines through in the most common of things.  

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Piano Flat, Southland


I thought I'd do a quick post before we move on to our next destination this morning. We've had a wonderful relaxing time at the lovely Piano Flat DOC camp which is north of Waikaia in Southland. And look at that weather! Finally we're having a little bit of summer, although it's quite cool overnight and first thing in the mornings. 

Piano Flat is at the end of 40km plus road- well actually, it's not quite the end of the road but more on that in a later post. Some of you will remember the convoy of 4WD vehicles that were caught in the snow for a few days last winter? Piano Flat is near the beginning of a 4WD track that goes up and over Old Man Range where they were snowed in. 

The campground is tucked into a valley on the banks of the Waikaia River and surrounded by 10,500ha of beech forest. 

The area gets its unusual name from its gold mining past. Harry Selig was the first person to recover gold on the flat, he was was also a piano-playing member of a local orchestra formed to entertain the early settlers and miners. For a short time the flat was known as "Piano Harry's Flat", the title stuck long after Harry moved on.

There are old mine shafts and the remains of several water races in the surrounding bush. One of the races still supplies water to some of the cribs and to the camping and picnic area. 

This is how you make a statement with your crib! 

There's also an old style playground which was built in 1958, it has been restored with the help of the crib owners and the two farm stations that surround the forest.

Due to its remote location, Piano Flat is more of a destination than a place to call in to on the way past. Many generations of Southland families will have had their annual holidays at Piano Flat, it's also popular with anglers, kayakers, trailbikers and 4WD enthusiasts. 

We arrived on the Sunday of the long weekend but it was still a surprise when we came around the corner to see so many campers ahead of us. We were expecting a few people, not a few hundred! 

We happened to arrive on the first day of the Southland area's two day orienteering event. 

We hardly saw anything of them though, they disappeared into the forest early in the morning, returning late afternoon.

They were also camped in the first part of the campground, we carried on up the road to the second area where there were just two other groups camping. A few day trippers visited on the last day of holiday weekend...

...and then it was just us and the birds for the next four days.....oh, and the sandflies. Ten times as many as Cattle Flat!

Our view across the river took in the home range of NZ Falcon family; 2 adults and a very demanding juvenile.

Several times a day the parents come flying in, high above the clearing with a meal which they aerial drop to the youngster. I caught it on camera here, it's way, way out of my lens range and cropped heavily, but you can see the drop. And that is a falcon underneath, not a flounder!

And while its parents were away hunting we were privileged to see the juvenile at close quarters; resting on a  tree overhanging the river near the van, flying along the river (screeching for food) or practicing it's hunting skills, chasing swallows, ducking and diving across the grass behind us.

There are a number of walking and tramping tracks through the bush and along both sides of the river. Some are more demanding than others, we've managed to complete the shorter ones and do sections of the others. There's a very long 10km loop tramp up one side of the river and back down the other, starting at the swingbridge in the campground.

A side tramp off the river loop heads to the Titan Rocks, a 6.5hr climb to a point high above the valley. Needless to say we gave that one a miss. We walked to the junction instead taking our time, bird watching along the way. For such a small area of bush, in comparison with other South Island areas and National Parks, the bird life is prolific.

Clockwise- Juvenile NZ Fantail, South Island Bush Robin, South Island Tomtit-male, Bush Robin, NZ Falcon(J), Tomtit-male, NZ Fantail, Bush Robin, Tomtit-female(J)
'Now, I'm sure I saw lunch around here somewhere'
The river track has been made more difficult to walk because of the washouts and debris left behind by a recent flash flood. Just 3 weeks ago after 57mm of rain fell during a 24hr period, a wall of water rushed down the valley. At the campground the river was 4 metres above its usual height and further up the river through a gorge area the river has been at least 8 metres high. There are great swathes of debris caught in trees branches and hollows along the river banks. 

A tide line of forest litter and thick silt coat areas of the camping ground close to the river. We have a line of debris in the long grass outside our front door and you can see how high and far away we are from the usual river flow. 

The crib owners have a new water feature; a huge beech tree has fallen into the river from an eroded bank just across from us...

...and floated downstream, ending up on a shingle island in the middle of the river.

What is more amazing is the fact that this tree found it's way under the swingbridge without doing any damage and at the height of the flood. 

Taken from the middle of the swingbridge-

And one last photo to make you smile. You'll notice on the map below we took a detour to Riversdale after we left Cattle Flat. We wanted to dump our waste before heading to Piano Flat, it took a little while to locate the advertised dump station. Only on the Mainland!