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The hidden lake

The hidden lake
 
   
   
   
   
 
 

THE MORNING dawned overcast over Lake Te Anau. Rain was already falling on the west coast on the other side the mountains, and it was probably going to rain here later today. It’s hard to tell here in the rain shadow of the mountains of Fiordland.

Overcast sky over Lake Te Anau

Overcast sky over Lake Te Anau

The lake was grey under the sky, and ruffled by a gentle breeze through almost no swell broke on the shore. A small launch approached the wharf where I waited with two retired couples, one from Auckland and the other from Scotland on the other side of the world.

The boat arrives

The boat arrives

An older guy Peter brought us on board once the boat was tied up. We climbed on board and descended into the main cabin. It was rather small but cosy with a couple of sofas and a tiny kitchen. The wheelhouse was above the main cabin. A descending entrance towards the front lead to another room and the toilet.

Front cabin

Front cabin

Peter gave the usual briefing with a rough guide to our itinerary heading into South Fiord, the southernmost of the three main fiords heading into the lake, reputedly the only inland freshwater fiords anywhere on Earth.

The briefing

The briefing

Once we were all introduced and briefed, we headed outside to the back deck. Peter untied the boat and headed up into the driver cabin to back out and head into the lake. Once he started the engine and out of the dock he came down the ladder to join us. He could steer the boat with a small wheel beside the ladder.

The back deck

The back deck

The water was initially calm, but once we rounded the nearby point passing the marina we ran into a bit of a chop that had formed down the length of the 60 kilometre long lake. Across the other side of the lake rose the ominous forms of the rugged mountains from where the glaciers had carved through and deposited their moraine along what is now the side of the lake we had come from. Menacing clouds rolled over the mountaintops but there was no sign of rain yet.

Heading out on the lake

Heading out on the lake

Lake Te Anau is the largest lake by volume in Australasia, elevated at 202 metres above sea level. It is also one of the deepest lakes at 428 metres deep in one of the fiords, putting the deepest point at 226 metres below sea level.

Rough lake looking back

Rough lake looking back

We were heading across to South Fiord, towards the spectacular Murchison Mountains. Although it was late summer, there were still a few flecks of snow below its summits. To our left were the Kepler Mountains, with the rounded ridge of Mount Luxmore, upon which the Kepler Track traverses.

Kepler Mountains

Kepler Mountains

The swell continued to build as we crossed the lake. Beneath the Murchison Mountains were some low forested hills covered in forests. The tops of the flat hills marked the bottom of the glacial valley during a past glaciation long ago.

Approaching the far side

Approaching the far side

The boat approached the hills until we were just a couple of hundred metres offshore, then we turned to the right following them. The forest touched the waterline, with just a few rocks visible between the fresh water and the thick foliage. Occasionally we would pass a very narrow cove cut into the rock, but otherwise the coast was impenetrable, not suitable for anchorage.

Murchison Mountains backdrop

Murchison Mountains backdrop

We were now heading towards a point at the end of the Murchison Mountains, where the Te Anau Caves are located. The point was several kilometres away, not revealing its hordes of tourists who visit every day.

Gap into the fiord

Gap into the fiord

The low hills had a few breaks in them, with channels heading into South Fiord. The hills here broke into small rounded bush covered islands of hard rock the glacier ploughing through the valley had never been able to completely wear down. At some point these islets would have been covered in a layer of ice approaching one kilometre thick. The islets had rocky headlands and beaches of golden sand. They would have been idyllic paradises if they weren’t so far south and exposed to such harsh climate experienced here.

One of the islands

One of the islands

Upon reaching the last of the islands, we headed across the entrance of the Fiord, carved out deep in the more recent glacial periods, towards the steep face of the Murchison Mountains.

View along South Fiord

View along South Fiord

Behind us the low hills and islands spread out up the left-hand side of South Fiord, revealing Mount Luxmore and more mountains of the Kepler Track. We could see a long way up the fiord with a mountain about eight kilometres upstream. From there the fiord follows around the front of the mountain and continues upstream for quite some distance to the great dividing range of the Southern Alps.

Approaching the far side

Approaching the far side

Peter turned the boat upstream once we were less than a hundred metres off the steep face of the Murchison Mountains. Forest covered the steep face apart from a few large landslides that had stripped all the vegetation, almost right down to the water, with just a short height of the rock face showing.

Forest and cliffs

Forest and cliffs

We passed a stream tumbling down a broken bed of enormous boulders and logs come down in a past tempest. We passed small point after point of vertical pale grey rock rising a few metres to the forest with the forest floor covered in a thick carpet of orange-green sphagnum moss.

Walls of rock

Walls of rock

The water here was sheltered from the swell, and from the wind that had blown along the length of the lake. The water was almost black, dropping very dramatically to around four hundred metres deep at the bottom of the fiord.

Small waterfall

Small waterfall

After following the side of the Murchison Mountains for a kilometre or so, the boat turned around to cross the fiord. By now some of the clouds had descended enough to cover the mountaintops towards the head of the fiord where rain would be starting to fall.

Looking up the fiord as we cross

Looking up the fiord as we cross

As we headed out from the Murchison Mountains, several deeply carved valleys began to show dropping from the mountaintops through tussock, then through the forest. The deep vee valleys brought water down from heights where the takahe dwell into the deep fiord.

Murchison Mountains

Murchison Mountains

We reached the other side of the fiord a couple of kilometres upstream from where the low hills had started. These hills were covered with a forest of beech trees, stunted with lack of soil in the steep rock and exposure to the elements. Some of the limestone rocks were exposed and some covered in kanuka tea tree.

Low hills on the south side

Low hills on the south side

The boat followed the coast about fifty metres offshore, entering small coves and bays, and rounding rocky points. This was a very tranquil setting sheltered from the wind blowing strong over the mountaintops.

Small cove and beach

Small cove and beach

There was no sign anyone had ever been here apart from some of the dead logs on one beach constructed in a tepee cone. 

Scrubby headland

Scrubby headland

The hills became more dramatic with high hills and low passes breaking up the landscape. We eventually rounded one point and spotted a small wharf jutting out from the metre-high rock at the back of the cove. We headed towards the floating pontoon. A bridge led from the pontoon into the forest, where a dark gap between two of the trees indicated perhaps a track.

Pontoon in the middle of nowhere

Pontoon in the middle of nowhere

We headed up to the pontoon, where we gently landed. A pair of kea were perched on the hand railing at the far end of the bridge. It was very rare to see them at such a low altitude. Normally they are only found above nine hundred metres above sea level, nesting in burrows under trees at the tree line, and spending their days hunting on the mountains above the trees.

Keas on the pontoon

Keas on the pontoon

The kea are therefore known as the mountain parrot. They are quite rare, but often spotted when hiking at altitude. They are a spectacular bird, and now confirmed as the most intelligent species due to the difficult conditions in which they hunt. Like most other birds in New Zealand they are in danger of extinction, but largely due to humans trying to feed them. A dead kea had been found in the mountains a few weeks ago and an autopsy revealed it had died from food poisoning after eating chocolate. They should never be fed, but they are intelligent enough to get into closed backpacks.

Keas on the pontoon

Keas on the pontoon

The keas flew to the railing close to the boat picking at a sign ironically about endangered birds before flying onto the boat and having a go at the aerial.

Leaving the boat

Leaving the boat

We left the boat, heading onto the pontoon and across the bridge into the forest. As expected a track led through the forest between thick carpets of sphagnum moss. Sheltered under the canopy of mountain beech, we followed the easy grade track following a gully with a brook of running water upstream.

Pristine forest

Pristine forest

With a few stops in the forest where the air was dead still, and although damp, no sign of rain. After some time walking through the forest we reached the edge of an almost mirror flat lake.

Reaching Hidden Lake

Reaching Hidden Lake

This was one of the hidden lakes. It was well named being tucked away in amongst these low hills. We climbed to a low viewpoint with a clear view through the trees across the lake and hills to the mountains beyond.

Hidden Lake

Hidden Lake

We stopped here for a few minutes getting pictures and admiring the lake view before heading back towards the boat. We headed back at our own pace through the tranquil forest.

Posing at Hidden Lake

Posing at Hidden Lake

Upon returning to the boat we relaxed for about half an hour with tea and muffins. The keas had gone and fortunately done no damage. They would have returned up the mountains.

The return track

The return track

Following our break, we continued following the coast of low hills passing several islands, Looking across to the Murchison Mountains and the mountains further up the fiord, sheets of rain were falling on them. There was no sign of rain down here though. The annual rainfall here is a lot lower than up on the mountains. Around 1500 millimetres falls each year around here, whereas the mountaintops get over 6000 millimetres, and closer to 10,000 millimetres on the mountains closer to the west coast.

Rolling hills in the fiord

Rolling hills in the fiord

After another quarter of an hour passing headlands, bays, islands and reclusive beaches, we reached the main channel of the lake, where the swell had reduced from earlier.

Islet with a beach

Islet with a beach

From there we steamed back across the lake to the village, back to civilisation as the rain continued to envelope the towering mountains on the other side. Though they never became completely hidden from view, and contained the rain to the mountaintops throughout the rest of the day.

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21 February 2017

 

Te Anau

New Zealand

 

45°25'S
167°40'E

210 - 220m ASL

 

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Jeff

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