Anyone who knows Queenstown will know the iconic lady of the lake, the TSS Earnslaw. She puffs her way between Queenstown Bay and Walter Peak Station every day and has become one of Queenstown’s most famed tourist attractions. Built in 1912, the ship originally came to the area to transport sheep, cattle, and passengers to high country stations around Lake Wakatipu. However, the discovery of gold changed much of that story.
Today, the Earnslaw ferries visitors to the delightful Walter Peak Station perched on the edge of Lake Wakatipu. It is a leisurely lake cruise and one that often involves a nice cup of tea and some freshly baked scones.
However, this is not the only way to arrive at Walter Peak Station. There is a longer, less-travelled route, and one that, in my opinion, is far more rewarding. Travelling from Queenstown to Walter Peak Station on the TSS Earnslaw takes 45 minutes. Or you can drive through the spectacular Mavora Lakes area and along the Von Valley Road—a journey of just over five hours. The last hour of the journey is largely over loose, gravel roads.
So why would you do it? Let me show you why.
The magical Mavora Lakes
Mavora Lakes consists of two lakes, the South Mavora and North Mavora. The Mararoa River flows between the two. Mavora is located a 30-minute drive off State Highway 94 near Mossburn in Southland. If you are visiting Te Anau or Milford Sound, you will pass the turnoff to Mavora Lakes.
The area is a popular spot for camping, fishing and hiking, particularly for Southland locals. After Mavora Lakes, the road continues along the Von Valley, towards Lake Wakatipu, past Mt Nicholas Station, and onto Walter Peak Station. The journey is also a popular mountain bike ride.
This image gives a clue as to why the locals love the area so much.
The morning I visited there were very few campers in the area. In the quiet morning setting, I captured South Mavora Lake at its most tranquil. If I were here in the peak of summer I’m sure it would be a different story. The benefit of visiting in the off-season.
And here, early morning clouds provide a dramatic reflection on the water of South Mavora Lake. Not long after this, these morning clouds burn off, and the effect is gone.
The Mavora Lakes area is national park, which is another reason the area is so impressive. It features a landscape of mountains, lakes, forest and tussock grassland, all part of Te Wāhipounamu/South-West New Zealand World Heritage Area. The stunning scenery has also featured in scenes from the Lord of the Rings movies.
A different perspective on a familiar sight
After spending time exploring the lakes and enjoying the serenity on and off the water, it was time to carry on towards the Von River. On the way, I investigated several potential locations to shoot on the way back when the evening would provide better light.
These images show Glenorchy and Paradise shot from an angle not often seen. This is not the easiest location to get to, and so we rarely see the head of the lake taken from this side of Lake Wakatipu. I found it quite amusing that I had driven for half a day just to get a view of Queenstown from the other side of the lake.
The view towards Paradise.
And back to Queenstown.
Not long after moving on from this location and joining the Von Road, I was quickly reminded that Walter Peak Station was a busy, working farm, I had arrived on mustering day and the farmers were bringing thousands of sheep down from the high country.
I could see this four-legged traffic jam would take a while to pass, so I took some time to explore Station Burn Crossing. Here, I discovered a charming old stone building —a quintessential Central Otago sight. The stone building was originally constructed as a kitchen for Mt Nicholas Station in the 1860s. This would have been not long after pioneering settler Nicholas von Tunzelmann set about turning this harsh landscape into farmland. Apparently, this lovely old building is still in use and can be hired for functions.
Finally, I moved on from the stone cottage and drove further along the Von Valley. The shot overlooks the entire valley, including the Von River below. As it was now later in the day, the light was more favourable for capturing this dramatic mountain and valley setting. As the sun set lower still, it finally disappeared behind the Thomson Mountain range and delivered the perfect light. And to top it off, a thin layer of evening clouds spread across the sky.
The final result looks a lot better (for my liking) with some clouds and colour in the sky.
And finally, my favourite shot from my expedition into the Von. This is the Von Road leading through the Von Valley towards the historic high country stations of Walter Peak and Mt Nicholas. With so much history and so few people here, I would gladly choose to take the long way every time.
Makes you want to drive it, doesn’t it?