High Sheep Country and Hydroelectric Power

We started the day with a hearty breakfast at a leisurely hour. I think our hostess, a retired farmer, was somewhat affronted with our general inclination towards late rising. I suspect she’d mustered and sheared a couple of hundred sheep before we strolled into the kitchen.

Suitably fortified we sallied forth in the Mighty Chariot. The last time we did a road trip in NZ we asked for a small car. We were given a Fiat 500, which was hilarious. It never let us down, but with capacity for only one small suitcase in the boot, we resorted to stuffing the back seat full with luggage and hurtled into the Northland. We attracted some rather impressive tailbacks on the hills.

Our latest trip involves mountains, so again we asked the rental people for the cheapest smallest car they had. We were presented with that well-known mountaineer, a Toyota Yaris. Having actually owned a Yaris in the past, we were delighted. We still had to put luggage in the back seat, but this didn’t involve wedging anything through the front (only) doors on the Fiat. It turns out that the Yaris has remarkable back-country capability, with excellent stability on washboard roads and the body height gives a far amount of clearance for off-roading (please don’t tell the hire company.)

Toyota Yaris
Toyota Yaris. A Small car for Big County.

The glacial lakes and mountain altitude provide one of the world’s great opportunities for hydroelectric power, and NZ makes the most of it. From Lake Pukaki (which we visited the previous day) they have built a series of dams, each equipped with a large power station. There are five or six of these down the valley, providing a significant chunk of the nation’s electricity. We drove down the valley, taking pictures as we went.

Lake Panorama
Lake Panorama
Lake on a flat calm morning
Lake
Another Lake
Power Station
Power Station, looking down the penstocks. They are about 5m across, and there are six of them. The drop is about 40m. It’s engineering on a vast scale.
Lake, Mountain
Mountain Reflection
Alpine Scenery
Alpine Scenery
Alpine scenery
More Alpine Scenery
Lake in mountains
Yet more scenery. There’s really no shortage of it over here.
High Sheep Country
High Sheep Country
Mountain Cloud
Mountain Cloud. It’s surprisingly easy to get involved in the meteorology at this altitude.
Merino
One of the Locals. The Merino is the backbone of the agriculture on the South Island. They are wonderful animals.

Omarama, the small town that served as our base for this stage of the tour, is world famous for gliding. With fairly predictable winds, and surrounded by mountains, it’s ridge-soaring heaven.

Glider Tow
Glider Tow
Glider Tow
Glider Tow

We stopped for lunch at an excellent cellar door. We mentioned we were looking for something to eat. “Of course” they said. “Today we’re serving cheese platters only. And it’s this specific platter.”

We selected the cheese platter. It was absolutely excellent.

I raised the idea that we were going to be on the road for a few days yet, and how nice it is to finish the day with a glass of wine. After some negotiation with the Decision Maker we went to select some wine. We were guided by a charming Russian lady. The high country and sparse soils leads to a clean, focused viticulture. We selected a few bottles, stashed them in the car and headed back to our wonderful lodge.

A good day out in the high sheep country.

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