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In Search of Jack Frost in the Hakatere

08 June 2018

Words by Dave Mitchell
Images by Dave & Ditte

With bad old Christchurch be-calmed in a grey blanket of drizzly smeg, Ditte and I headed for the clear and cloudless Ashburton Lakes in the Canterbury High Country.

Beautiful Emma

We cruised around Lake Emma, sheet ice floating at its peripheral edge, a shrinking violet under the glare of the mid day sun. Out east the Mt Somers and Taylor Range retained a smattering of snow whilst west the Southern Alps had donned a vivid white overcoat under a soft blue sky. The hut at the far end of the lake dates back to the 1860s and with a bit of a spruce up and a few mattresses would be fit for a king.

Back in 1860

It's faded and peeling light green corrugated iron roof sits above two rooms, a tack shed and verandah. Deeply wrinkled and weathered board and batten clad, its skeleton and inside an old cast iron range has seen better days.

Harper Range

We completed the loop heading into sunset as someone abruptly turned off the big yellow heater in the sky. That's the one bad thing about the great outdoors, it has no R rating to speak of. Zero degrees soon arrived as we made it back to camp.

Starry Starry Night

Camp Lake is a quiet spot with stunning views and in winter the added bonus of no motorboats zooming around the carpark sized water body. We were alone with nothing but a starry sky above, a diesel heated van and a few good books.



TA Mystery

A five degree frost lingered beyond our cosy abode as the sun coated the surrounding mountains with liquid light. Our water bottles were one big ice cube and dropper seat posts struggled to deploy.

Cold But Liquid

Cold But Firm

From camp we headed to Mystery Lake via the Lake Clearwater outlet crunching the hard frost under our rigid knobblies with their slow moving sludge of tyre sealant and frozen air inside.

Rangitata Mist

Global Warming

Rugged up like Ali Baba kept the core warm but peripheral limbs inevitably suffered. Frost crystals covered the ground, the low tussocks and snow grass, as we headed for the hills. We soon pared back our layers on the climb drifting slowly up to the solidly frozen Mystery Lake and lunch at 1200 metres.



We looped back onto the excellent slice of single track that takes the TA walkers to the west end of Lake Clearwater.

Snow Grass

Snow & Ice

From there it was just a case of following the trail around the south side of the lake back to camp while the sun still shone. The Clearwater camp and batches were empty all but one. Not long after sunset a big orange ball appeared in the east, no wonder our ancestors believed in magic.


Cold Nose

Lake Heron

Double Trouble

From Lake Heron, after another epic frosty start to the day, we climbed up Lake Hill to the trig. A place to ponder the vastness of Lake Heron, the wildlife paddling around it, oblivious to the cold and the sheer scale of the surrounding mountains on offer.

Lake Hill

What a View

We headed vaguely north to join the Double Hut Track. A mix of old farm 4WD and single track, took us all the way to this old mustering hut with a “must not get our feet wet” river crossing along the way.

Pedals Flat

It's a slow but steady climb on a wide and flat river terrace. This roams up the true right bank of the Swin Stream. Double Hut shelterers below the rugged western ridge of Mt Taylor. Its old school thick corrugated iron from top to toe with a ton of lead-head nail fit for a hurricane. Cosy inside but lunch was back out in the warm sun studying the hut book. It contained page upon page of TA walkers, most arriving via Clent Hills Saddle from Comyns Hut.

Ditte van Gogh

Seeing Double

It was definitely off season with only a farmer and dogs way off in the distance, which confirmed that all humans hadn't left the planet. We continued to Seagull Lake across a one kilometre wide shingle fan, left behind by the last big flood.

Swin Flat


An impromptu curling session using large chunks of ice on the frozen Seagull Lake produced no clear winner, but we got well past the half way mark. To avoid the rapidly thawing and sticky trail we headed back in the shadow of the Longman Range and down the completely dry Swin riverbed back to base.


What a Day

The Universe

Mist rolled in late that night and enveloped the landscape in a eery glow. It hung around the mirror lake in silence the next morning as we packed and headed home. Frost would rule the morning of yet another day.

Morning Mist