Mackenzie Magic

 Mackenzie Basin Magic –  The Great Southern Rock Wren Trip – part 7

In my last post, we had just passed through the Danseys Pass, the weather was cold, wet and the Pass itself seemed a very desolate place. However the further nor-west we headed towards the Mackenzie country, the brighter the sky became.
The Mackenzie marks the southernmost boundary between the South Canterbury Region and Otago and has to be my most favourite part of the South Island.
There is a very good reason for this, the Mackenzie has something special going for it no matter which season or weather conditions.


Summer in the Mackenzie has a hot dry heat that does not seem to soak up your energy, unlike more humid places. This lady is enjoying her biking across the Mackenzie basin on a beautiful and very hot summers day.

The Mackenzie Basin as it is called is a huge area by New Zealand standards, consisting of a flat tussock plain


Autumn is when the Mackenzie really shines. Poplar trees transform the landscape into golden splendour.


Ahuriri Valley, South Canterbury, New Zealand

The Mackenzie is a winter wonderland

With it being early Autumn we knew that my favourite playground would not let us down so as soon as we had our accommodation sorted it was off to the Ahuriri Valley for the evening.
The place did not disappoint.

As the cloud continued to lift we got some wonderful shots and headed home for the night.

Tomorrow looked like great weather so the cameras were charged, memory cards swept clean and we hit the sack knowing we had an early start in the morning.

Ben Avon wetlands, the first jaw-dropping vista to confront the photographer when heading up the Ahuriri Valley and this fine morning had no lesser effect on me.

Ben Avon Wetlands

I could think of no better place to have breakfast in the warming sun.

All too soon it was time to head into Tekapo and out to Lake McGregor to photograph the Crested Grebes, so we packed up our gear and headed east, as the sun really heated up, it was simply wonderful to be out into the open spaces again.

Living life in the light and the VOID

I had spent 5 months contract shooting rabbits in the Mackenzie Basin many years ago and as we drove the road, I could see the paddocks I used to shoot as we sped past. My mind was filled with very fond memories of riding the Quad Bike named the (BEAST) across the huge, pitch black void. The VOID  I called it. That’s what it was like at times, you just could not see anything without the light. Life was lived, piercing the dark with a single, small, thin, shaft of light searching for Rabbits with my trusty spotlight.

Many nights are so dark out there that it’s actually been designated the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve and the township of Tekapo has light restrictions imposed on it to keep the night sky as dark as possible, its a Star reserve.
The true vastness of the place is bought home to you when you’re out there in the pitch dark all alone in the middle of nowhere and not a sound to be heard.
The place is best experienced at night, alone, to truly appreciate its special uniqueness. The huge expanse of black darkness with a vast carpet of stars spreading gloriously overhead. It certainly makes one feel very, very small indeed.
The paddocks are so big, that gates, there may only be one gate for each huge paddock, were best marked down on the GPS. Many times I got turned around in the dark, chasing after the Rabbits on the BEAST  round and round in circles we would go, I would become totally disorientated having no visible landmarks to re-orientate my self. That GPS and the Beast became my best friend out there.

The Beast. I spent many an exciting and exhausting night wrestling with the Beast

Lake McGregor and Alexandrina

By the time we got to Lake McGregor and Alexandrina, there was not a cloud in sight

not a cloud in sight

Autumn and Mackenzie Gold

The main attraction for being at the Lakes were the kāmana or Crested Grebe, we don’t have these birds in the North Island. This visit we had our secret weapon to get close to the birds, the sneak boat. The plan was to quietly ease out on the lake and kind of drift into the birds without scaring them, that way we would get close shots.

We got pretty close to these kāmana family without upsetting them too much.

It was wonderful paddling around on the Lake edge in the warm late afternoon sun.

kawau paka the Little Shag  in his black morph suit allowed us to get right in close before  flying off

A pūkeko or the New Zealand Purple Swamp-hen gave me a chance to assess my new birds in flight settings and found they worked quite well.

Steve and I are both, constantly trying out new settings, We have learnt that it pays to experiment. Not all the internet experts are really the experts they claim to be, so don’t fear trying something new. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

After having fun in the boat we took off up the road to find a Black Stilt

We found Mr kāki the Black Stilt just on dark, so we retired to the tent camp that night feeling pretty well pleased with ourselves.

The Basin is well… like a basin with the sides being surrounded by very high hills and mountains.
When day fades, often cold air from high up cascades down the side of the mountains dragging cloud with it, filling the basin. The cloud is often accompanied by a very cold and strong wind which will remain until the temperature evens out.

Often the cold air sucks cloud into the Basin in the evening

The next Morning birthed bright and sunny so the first order of the day was to find more Crested Greblets, we found one group that was very obliging allowing us to get about as close as one could possibly hope for.

Up close and personal with kāmana the Crested Grebe

The plan was to head north to Kaikoura then the next day we had planned a  pelagic trip out on the boat for the Albatrosses which I will post next time.

Thanks for reading peoples ❤


6 thoughts on “Mackenzie Magic

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.