Friday, February 14, 2014

Mt John Walkway, Lake Tekapo

Thurs 13.02.14. Map ref: BY17 966267. Balmoral Station: On the S side of Mt John, 1 031 m, overlooking Lake Tekapo, from Tekapo Spa car park, I wandered up Mt John's zigzag path through larch forest, sprinkled with pines. The climb was 311 vertical metres on the DOC maintained path. The climb began beside spa pools, renowned for the world's biggest inflatable hydro slide. Mt John Walkway was popular with tourists & locals.

On my way up, through larch gaps, I had glimpses of Mackenzie Country, in the N Mackenzie Basin & S Waitaki Basin, gouged out by glaciers & surrounded by Southern Alpine ranges. Beyond the treeline, the path emerged W of the S Summit, a rocky bluff.

Beyond the treeline views: E - Mt Edward ridges, Mt Burgess 1 430 m beyond. SE - Rollesby Range, Dalgety Range, Hakataramea Pass, Grampian Range, Otago Ranges. Far S - Benmore Range & a glimpse of Lake Benmore, NZ's biggest man made lake. Close S below Mt John, Tekapo Canal going S beyond Lake Tekapo village, SH8 going past Tekapo Airport & Tekapo Military Camp below Old Man Range. Further S, Mary Range with a SW glimpse of Lake Pukaki.

The basins were dry, desert like, with windblown grass & treeless, except for farm shelter belts. W - Alpine views toward Mt Sefton 3 151 m. SW - Ben Ohau Range above Twizel. From S to N, some Ben Ohau peaks: Mackenzies Peak 2 200 m, The Razorback 2 392 m, Kaimakamaka Peaks 2 431 m, Dun Fiunary 2 500 m, Glentanner Peak 2 551 m...

On top of Mt John, 60 wooden steps led to a circular summit path, car park, 5 observatory domes & Astro Cafe with spectacular views. Summit boards gave information. The observatories were run by Canterbury University. Our Christchurch neighbour studied astronomy at Canterbury University & hoped to star gaze on Mt John summit. Until 1983 the observatory nearest the S summit was a USA spy observatory, checking passing satellites during the Cold War.

Due to Lake Tekapo's clear skies, although Mt John was touted as a star gazers' paradise, it wasn't a conservation hot spot, due to exotic larches, thistles, briar roses & rabbit pollution. Rabbit dung & rabbit holes riddled Mt John. I spotted a small, green, vegetable sheep, Raoulia australis, covering a stone near one of the observatories. Other Alpine flora seen: coral broom, mat broom, red tussock. spear grass. Like the rest of Mackenzie Country, Mt John was riddled with hawkweed, Hieracium, Pilosella. As 1 000s of tourists invaded Mt John summit annually, I doubted local flora had any chance of flourishing. For the sick, lame & lazy, a tarred road went up Mt John on the NW slope, about 8 km distance from Lake Tekapo / Lake Pukaki SH8. (Since 2016, tourists had to pay a fee to drive up Mt John to the carpark on top).

Farmers had completely altered Mackenzie Country vegetation. There was still beige tussocklands, but the only greenery was exotic shelterbelts, cultivated crops & grass seeded paddocks for stock, like sheep, cattle & red deer. Wilding pines were a big problem in Mackenzie Country. Never mind log trucks tailgating on narrow, dangerous roads.

E, from Mt John's Astro Cafe, I saw Lake Tekapo town on Lake Tekapo S shore. Beyond: Mt Edward 1 916 m, Mt Maud 1 797 m, Tekapo Saddle 1 387 m, Mt Dobson 2 095 m, Mt Ardmore 1 989 m, Mt Hay 1 174 m. Wee McGregor 1 146 m was hidden by Mt Hay. All those mts were on Mt Hay Station overlooking Motuariki Island in the middle of Lake Tekapo.

High country stations were huge. Further NE along Lake Tekapo shore: Richmond Station & Mt Gerald Station, signified by shelter belts. At the end of Lilybank Rd, Macaulay River had to be forded to access Lilybank Station below Mt Erebus 2 311 m.

NE - Lilybank Rd went to Round Hill ski field 1 588 m, below Mt Richmond 2 163 m. NE of Lake Tekapo, Mt Gerald 1 551 m was dwarfed by higher peaks of the Two Thumbs Range.

NW of Mt John, Lake Alexandrina & Lake McGregor shimmered, with Lake Tekapo in the E. W of Lake Alexandrina loured Braemar Dome, Mt Stevenson 2 330 m, Mt Joseph 1 682 m, Gammack Range & Hall Range, incl Mt Haszard 2 213 m & Mistake Peak 1 921 m at the NW end of Lake Tekapo. Glenmore Station & Godley Peaks Station were below those peaks. W beyond one of Mt John's observatory domes, a glimpse of Aoraki Mt Cook summit 3 754 m.

N of Lake Tekapo: Mt Erebus 2 311 m, Mt Sibbald 2 811 m, Razor Back 1 570 m, Mt Chevalier 2 404 m, Mt Ross 2 366 m, Mt Ajax 2 319 m, Mt Electra 2 447 m, The Thumbs 2 546 m, Captains Peak 2 371 m, Mt Toby 2 222 m, Beuzenberg Peak 2 070 m, Stag saddle 1 925 m, Mt Hope 2 086 m, Braun Ewart Peak 2 086 m & Two Thumb Range with many unnamed peaks in the N & NE.

Walk time from Tekapo Spa carpark through the larch forest to Mt John summit: about 1 hour. An optional return through exposed tussock land to Tekapo Spa carpark via N slopes & Lake Tekapo shore: about 2 hours. Beware gnats, smelly horse dung & the elements. All weather gear needed, as Alpine weather changes quickly from benign to harsh.

Copyright Mark JS Esslemont.

See Hawkweed, Hieracium, Pilosella (Agpest).

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