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

A Day in the Mackenzie Country, 2011 & 2017
Hillary at The Hermitage 2003   Educational resource  Alpine Memorial Wakefield Falls
Sawyer Stream hydro-power scheme  Historic hut removed  Sefton Bivouac Botanical Inspection of Birch Hill Flats

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.  An 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


Timaru Herald 30/08/2014
Black stilts, or kaki, are in the same critically endangered category as kakapo and takahe, but can readily be seen in the wild. Kaki had been seen occasionally in the bays around Lake Tekapo township and on the greens at the Cairns golf course. As of February 2014 there were 131 adults and 20 juveniles known to the Department of Conservation. DOC wants to increase the profile on this iconic Canterbury icon [red and black]. Kaki are restricted to the braided rivers and wetlands of the Mackenzie Basin, South Canterbury. Kaki have been intensively managed since 1981, when their population declined to a low of just 23 birds. By 2000, wild adult kaki numbers had increased to 31, and in Sept. 2012 there were 60.  DOC's captive breeding centre, near Twizel, plays an important role in the kaki recovery programme. "Despite 20 years of intensive conservation efforts, this species remains the most threatened wading bird in the world. Kaki are listed as nationally critical in the DOC threat ranking. The annual release of captive reared birds, taken as eggs from wild and and captive pairs, in combination with predator control, has prevented it from becoming extinct in the wild. If DOC stopped managing them, they would be extinct in eight years. Thirty birds from the Isaac Conservation Trust and 22 birds from Twizel will be released into the wild. Fifty-two kaki will also be released into the Tasman River.

Black Swans - Lake Alexandrina


Tasman Valley Rd.

Quaint bridges, looking back.

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.
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.)

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.


1884 No. 1. The first Hermitage Hotel is built at Foliage Hill nr White Horse Hill on the site of the present campground by the Hermitage Company. It was constructed of cob and corrugated iron.
1885 Hooker and Mueller Valleys are gazetted as the Hooker Glacier Recreation Reserve.
1887 Tasman Valley above the Mueller Valley confluence is gazetted as the Tasman Recreation Reserve
1903 Hooker Glacier Recreation Reserve is dedicated as Aoraki Domain, and vested with the Minister of Tourism and Health Resorts.
1906 The first cars are at Mount Cook. Motor service begins a regular service to Mount Cook.
1912–13 The Hermitage building at White Horse Hill was damaged by flooding from the Mueller Glacier in 1912–13 and replaced with a new building at the site of the present Hermitage, near Governors Bush. This was the first building in the existing village.
1914 No. 2 Hermitage was built at 2,575ft, a roughcast building
1953 Tasman Park and Aorangi Domain are declared Mount Cook National Park, New Zealand’s sixth.
1956–57 Base huts are built at Foliage Hill by the Canterbury Mountaineering Club (Wyn Irwin Hut) and the NZ Deerstalkers’ Association (Thar Lodge).
1957 In September the second Hermitage is destroyed in a spectacular fire. By this time The Hermitage was taken over by the Tourist Hotel Corporation of New Zealand. A major flood event on Boxing Day 1957 produces flood and debris flows into the village from Glencoe Stream and Kitchener Creek. The Kitchener Creek rock protection dyke and the first Glencoe water intake are built. House One is built for the Chief Guide.
1958 No. 3. A new hotel is opened end of May 1958.
1960 Park Headquarters (Visitor Centre) building begins and opens in 1961. The ‘DC3 strip’ is reconstructed to become the airport. The first school opens in the village, using a building from Irishman Creek.
1961 The Hermitage is extended by 42 beds. Scheduled flights begin operating to Mount Cook using DC3 aircraft. Grid electricity is connected to the village.
1965 House 3 access road is built, first water mains installed, and ferro-cement water tanks at Glencoe Stream are installed.
1966 Alpine Instruction Limited begins a guiding and instruction service operating out of Ball Hut.
1968–69 A site at Birch Hill is gazetted for a village, and three houses for park ranger staff are built. A development plan is prepared by Ministry of Works Town and Country Planning Division. Reservations are expressed about the suitability of Birch Hill.
1969 Rangers in all national parks cease to be employed by boards and become part of the Public Service, within the Department of Lands and Survey. A decision is made to shift the village to Black Birch Fan due to the exposed nature of the site at Birch Hill and intrusion of houses into the national park landscape. A first stop bank is constructed at Black Birch Stream and the top sewage pond and the Ponds Access Road is built. Pilots Houses are built on Black Birch Fan.
1970 The first Visitor Centre car and bus parks are built. Kitchener Drive, Wakefield Drive, and Sebastopol Drive are built.
1972 The first staff houses appear on Black Birch Fan, relocated from Birch Hill, signalling a decade of intensive development of village infrastructure.
1973 A major addition to the Visitor Centre is built. Chalets are built.
1974 Chalet macerator pump and controls are added to the sewerage system.
1975 The new sealed highway (State Highway 80) from Pukaki is opened, greatly improving access. The second major addition to the Visitor Centre is built.
1976 An industrial (voluntary) fire brigade is established in the village. The second sewage pond is built; sewerage and water reticulation networks, and Ponds Access Road are extended. The first school is shifted from Irishmans Creek.
1977 Black Birch drinking water intake, water-pump station installed in Sebastopol Drive with two pumps and three 1million-litre tanks added to the water system. Two kilometres of asbestos-cement pipe are added to the ‘ring’ water main in the lower village. The 40-room East Wing (now the Wakefield Wing) of the Hermitage is opened.
1979 A severe storm causes a civil defence emergency, damage to some buildings, and a rethink of safety standards. Housing mounds are built in the village and stream control installed at the Chalets. Work begins on building Terrace Road and Larch Grove Road.
1980–81 Storm water control is built – kerb and channel on existing roads, and sumps. Terrace Road, Larch Grove Road, Blackburn Place, Glencoe Access Road, Mueller Place, Kea Place, Sealy Place, Du Faur Place are built. A standby diesel generator is installed for the Black Birch water pumps.
1982 Paths are built throughout the village.
1984 The Hermitage celebrates its centenary. A flood-control wall is built at Governors Bush.
1985 Alpine Guides Limited opens a new shop/office in the village. Snow-plough blades are purchased to fit into the existing truck and loader.
1986 A YHA hostel is opened. World Heritage Status (the first in New Zealand) is bestowed on the park, together with Westland/Tai Poutini and Fiordland National Parks. A flood control warning system is installed on Sebastopol Bridge over Black Birch Stream.
1987 The Department of Conservation replaces Lands and Survey as the department responsible for the park. The centenary of New Zealand’s national parks is celebrated. A Hino 4WD fire truck is purchased. A new road in the lower village, Pilots Way, is built. A day shelter is built in the village for visitors to the park.
1989 The park, as part of the South West New Zealand (Te Wahipounamu) World Heritage Area, is recognised by UNESCO as one of the world’s outstanding natural landscapes.
1990 Aoraki Conservation Board is established in place of the National Parks and Reserves Board. Tennis courts are built.
1995 Legislative change removes control of about 10 hectares of park land, mostly in the village, from Tourist Hotel Corporation jurisdiction.
1996 Scientific reports identify major potential natural hazards in the village, resulting in a halt to all new building while protection work is undertaken over the following two to three years. The Ngāi Tahu Claims Settlement Act 1998 is enacted by Parliament. The official name of the park and village is changed from Mount Cook to Aoraki/Mount Cook. The Aoraki/Mount Cook tōpuni confirms and places an 'overlay' of Ngāi Tahu values over Aoraki/Mount Cook (the mountain), the Mount Cook Range, and the Hooker Valley. 1999 The long-awaited community centre for village residents is subsequently opened. There is a major upgrade of the water supply system. A new tank (the balance tank) is added to the water supply system at Glencoe Stream, and new control system, fire main, and reticulation/sprinkler pipes are installed. Glencoe Tanks Access Road, Black Birch Access Road, and Hermitage Tanks Access Roads are built.
2000 Major geotechnical protection works in the village are completed, paving the way for building development to resume.
2001 The Hermitage is extended with a new wing of 60 rooms (Aoraki Wing). The airport terminal is reconstructed following a fire in 2000.
2003 The first new independent business in the village since the 1996 freeze on development, The Old Mountaineers’ café/bar, is opened in the village on the old helipad next to the visitor centre.
2005 Emergency services (ambulance, fire, search and rescue, civil defence) are shifted out of the park headquarters into a purpose built Emergency Services Building, sited by the department workshops. A concession is granted for a new accommodation lodge in the village, Aoraki/Mount Cook Alpine Lodge, which opens later in the year.
2007 The Hermitage undergoes further development with the opening of the Sir Edmund Hillary Centre, comprising a café/bar and museum complex, 3D-movie theatre, and planetarium. The school building is extended.
2008 Visitor Centre and car park opens later in the year. Whitehorse Hill Campground undergoes major redevelopment with a new public shelter, toilets, hugely increased parking, and camping areas. The campground is connected to the village water and sewerage systems. The Hooker Valley Road is tar-sealed. The water system in the village is upgraded to a UV-treated system and the pumping sheds and systems undergo major upgrade.

New Zealand Herald, 4 March 1893, Page 1
Three years ago, when I first visited the Mount Cook district, there was a tedious two days' coach journey over very rough roads, and, though there was a great deal to be seen from the Hermitage, at the journey's end, the greater wonders of the Tasman, Murchison, and Hooker Glaciers were not easily accessible. Since then the coach road has been greatly improved under the direction of Mr. T. N. Brodrick, and those enterprising coach proprietors, Messrs. Shaw and McKay, have succeeded, by means of seven relays of horses, in rattling off the 96 miles that separate Fairlie Creek from Aorangi in one day. This one-day coach service to Mount Cook was planned some time ago by Mr. Shaw, and, notwithstanding the croaking of the wiseacres, he has now made it a thorough success. As we take our seats in the capacious Cobb and Co. at Fairlie early in the morning it is difficult to realise that before nightfall we shall be sitting ,in front) of the cheery log fire in Huddleston's smokingroom at the Hermitage, but Barry, our whip, a son of the redoubtable Captain Jackson Barry—will do his best to land us there up to contract time, notwithstanding the bad weather and the influenza from which he is suffering. We start off in a coach and five, and in the evening we realise that we have been driven to Mount Cook in a coach and 30 as the result of our seven changes of horses We breakfast at Burke's Pass, and the appetising influence of the keen mountain air enables us to do justice to the good things provided in the wayside inn. The piece de resistance is a huge dish of ham and eggs. There never was seen such a dishful of eggs, and we all have ham and egg some passenger ham and six eggs He said it was the mountain air. The mountain air is responsible for many things in these parts. Leaving the hotel after a stay of half-an hour, the coach toils up the gradual ascent of the pass. On our left, a little way from the village, is the cemetery, nestling among the pine trees. A study of the inscriptions on the tombstones denotes that an unusual number of those who are buried there have mot their death by accident of various kinds, several having been killed by an avalanche some years ago. Once over the pass, we make good progress, and the 24 miles to Lake Tekapo are rattled off before nine o'clock. Tekapo, on a calm summer's day, with its turquoise green waters lazily lapping a rocky shore, and the clouds and the snowy mountains afar off reflected on its surface, is a beautiful lake, and the traveller who has plenty of time on his hands might well spend a day or two quietly there. We stay only long enough to change horses, and then winding slowly up the hill we find the coach horses again trotting briskly over the dreary tussocky plains of the Mackenzie country. Past Balmoral station, across the Fork Stream, Irishman's Creek, and the Mary burn we go, through Simon's Pass and Dover Pass, and then, shortly after one o'clock, we sight Lake Pukaki and pull up for luncheon at the Ferry Hotel.

A Day in the Mackenzie Country, April 2017, on a bicycle.

The hills were stunning with a little fresh snow.

Another couple of centimetres and Aoraki / Mt Cook would have been in full view. It is behind Irishman Creek sign.

Coach and Mail Service
The first man to carry mails was Edward Rodgers who in 1862, travelled on horseback between Timaru and Tekapo, changing his mount at Cave and Burkes Pass. He left Timaru on Sunday morning and arrived at Burkes Pass that night. On Monday morning he set out for Tekapo Ferry and returning on Tuesday to Burkes Pass, stayed there the night and on to Timaru the next day. His successors as mail carriers were Denis Hefferman, John Stansill and Donald McLennan. In 1870 Messrs H. Gardner and Phillip Stapiar from Timaru secured the mail contract and put on an express wagon. When the railway reached Albury in 1873 they were succeeded by John Hinkley of Albury, who gave the mails to Harry Manaton and John Thomas Burgess. John Rutherford drove the first coach to make the through journey. The first regular mail carrier on Mackenzie Road was Malcome McLeod, known as "Calum", who travelled the vicissitude of this hazardous journey for years. He was followed by Thomas Shaw and William McKay, and then Messrs J and W. Young held this contract for some time to be succeeded by Hugh Kerr and Frank Frayne, who held the reputation of holding the most up-to date coaching service in New Zealand. Some of the most famous coach drivers were Billy Barry and Charlie Wheeler who travelled this road and were contemporary with Harry Manaton. The next contractors were Mount Cook Motor Company, who in January 1097 sounded the death knell of horse drawn coaches. With their up-to-date, luxurious one-day motor service, transformed in a shingle bound, the long journey to the Southern Alps from a tedious bone-aching ordeal to one of infinite pleasure. (Timaru Herald, 1928)

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