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Hunting at Lake Mavora

Brian Cosgrove - 11/02/2011


Looking north at the top of Mavora Lakes
Looking north at the top of Mavora Lakes

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Christmas Holidays 1952
Graeme and I had planned another adventure for this year and booked an amphibian flight out of Lake Te Anau into Lake Mavora.

Having no vehicle of our own we travelled by the big brown Mt. Cook bus from Christchurch down to Lake Te Anau. It was a very long trip over a lot of shingle roads but this was normal for those days. We were excited about the plane flight and travelling to and from the area was all part of the adventure.

We met the pilot of the Grumman Widgeon amphibian that was to take us to our chosen hunting area and he told us that on the previous day the regular pilot Jim Monk had flipped the other amphibian ZK-AVM right in front of the main wharf at Queenstown. (Not at all encouraging!) Thus the need for a replacement plane and pilot, in the form of Harold Bennett and ZK-Bay.

We watched as he was forced to land on the other side of the lake, as it was too rough on this side. Even so he hit a couple of waves and bounced back up in the air and came around again to repeat the performance. They landed in one piece and taxied across the lake with the Te Anau launch Tarawera in attendance holding off up wind, but of no help. The waves coming down the lake actually broke over the cockpit. The pilot said it was a bit rough to fly out today and we believed him.

We were further dismayed the following morning when our man pulled out a Mobil road map of the South Island, admitting he didn't know the area very well and just where did we want to go. We knew that aviation in the Southern Lakes was very much flying by the seat of your pants stuff, but you did wonder if you wanted to be part of it. The Grumman Widgeon was a cumbersome looking brute wallowing in the water and very slow to lift off.

Gumman Widgeon with the first load of Hunters to use the service 1951<br> Courtesy : B. Banwell Archives
Gumman Widgeon with the first load of Hunters to use the service 1951
Courtesy : B. Banwell Archives


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But it was a great feeling to eventually be airborne and flying over the Mountains. A first time for both of us in an aeroplane and it was great experience for two young hunters. We had pointed out the north end of the twin Mavora Lakes as our destination. We flew up the Eglinton valley, turned right and over the mountains lining the valley, and sure enough two smallish lakes appeared below. Those road maps are pretty accurate!

The Mavora Lakes at this time were renowned as the brown trout wonderland of New Zealand and we didn't even have a fishing rod between us. The twin lakes are situated at about the centre of a line between Te Anau and Queenstown.

Our first surprise was that the bush stopped halfway up the Northern lake and the country was barren snowgrass and totally without cover. There was a hut at the northern end of the lake where we intended to camp.

Second surprise - a boat was pulled up there and a party of fishermen were encamped. They were as pleased to see us as we were to see them! There was only a rough track access through the Burwood Station at the time and these Southland farmers had towed their boat the 20 odd miles from the road by tractor and like us had assumed they would have the area to themselves.

They suggested!! That we tramp the 8 miles up the Winter Burn, the first tributary on the left to camp at the Forks Hut up the valley. We really didn't have much option so headed off leaving the unfriendly area behind. We shot two deer on the way in and that lifted our spirits a bit. On the east side of the valley we passed a patch of bush maybe 30-40 acres called Defaulters Bush or locally Shirkers Bush.

View from the Forks Hut looking towards the Lake
View from the Forks Hut looking towards the Lake

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There were fallow deer in that area but we never crossed to investigate. The weather was extremely hot and the open valley unforgiving in the middle of the day. The hut proved to be a comfortable base and probably better for our purpose than the Lake hut.

Twin lakes of Mavora looking south
Twin lakes of Mavora looking south

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Day one was to be a big day. We were away early as we meant to cover the western extreme of our hunting area. There were deer on the valley floor and they required time and patience to stalk as the nesting paradise ducks made life difficult. You can stalk into the middle of a herd of feeding deer, but I defy you to pass one paradise duck sentry perched on a rock overlooking the valley floor. We wasted no time in the valley and climbed up to the ridge of bare mountains lining the western side of the valley, this being the Livingston Range. We soon discovered no game, no water and extremely hot conditions.

Hot Dry tops - no water - no game
Hot Dry tops - no water - no game

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However the views were tremendous. Lines of bare mountains and a beautiful clear day, one of ten to follow. When we dropped off the ridge we found the game in the high tussock lower down the slopes. A long hard day calculated at 10-12 miles along the ridges produced a good idea of the country and nothing more.

We arrived at the hut on dark and shot two deer in the creek where we got our water.

For me this trip was developing into a disaster. I had replaced the barrel on my .303 sporter as it had a split and a hump near the foresight. Presumably I had fallen and stuck the end in the mud and put a shot through it. I now had a new barrel and a bag of very doubtful ex army ammo ( lightweight target ammo I think). I couldn't hit the side of a barn and when I did they did minimal damage. That first deer in the creek took a full magazine; most would have been hits and I had to tackle the hind to finish her off with my knife. Ridiculously after 8 days of this frustration I pulled off the longest shot of my hunting life of 400 - 500 yds.

I guess things came right as I had used up most of the ammo and settled the barrel down. I never had any problems with the rifle after that. We hunted early morning and evening to dodge the heat of the day. We hunted for skins and these were feather light in this weather. Velvet was just beginning to be sold and we left 2 or 3 times the value of the skins behind in not bringing out the velvet. However our skins paid for the cost of the flight and we were happy with that.

For me frustration with not being able to hit anything and not bringing it down when I did spoilt the trip a lot. Lying up in the hut in the heat of the day was tedious. Graeme being very fair suffered with sunburn on the tops of his legs in particular. He pasted flour on them at one stage to reduce the sun's effect. We only had shorts so he had no long trousers to protect his legs. There were a lot of paradise duck flappers in the creek and they provided entertainment.

With the heat forcing only short time spells for hunting, we didn't travel too far from the hut, but the deer in the main were also confined to the valley floor and lower levels as there was no water or feed higher up.

We ventured north one day up the stream beside the hut. This opened up into a new area of heat, tussock and rocks. We found no game on the eastern slopes as there was no water there either, but the middle range of hills had some seeps evident and we climbed up there.

The days were between 30-40 degrees and made life extremely difficult. I wonder if our attention levels were affected as I looked into a basin not all that large and saw nothing. There were close on 40 deer bedded down there. Something must have been visible if I had been totally with it. As described elsewhere 35 deer moved up the ridge when I later cut through this basin. But I did manage a 12 point stag and a hind and then two more from the saddle at the side of the basin.

Brian's 12 pt Stag in velvet
Brian's 12 pt Stag in velvet

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The first two took a few shots to down, the next two were one shot kills unheard of on this trip Graeme managed 4 shots for 4 kills on our second day - a record for him, while at the same time I emptied a magazine full at a stag standing 25 yards away and finally downed him.

After a week or so we packed out our skins to the Lake hut to find our fishermen friends had gone home. It was blowing quite strongly and with a high pack of dry skins, it was difficult to stay on your feet.

Brian packing out skins from the Forks hut Graeme packing out skins
Brian packing out skins from the Forks hut
Graeme packing out skins
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On our return to the Forks hut we decided that it would be good to spend the odd day at the lake. So we packed up and came out a day early - or so we thought. On our arrival we saw the plane drop in and land in front of us.

Somewhere we had lost a day and it was fortunate that we had decided to come out early.

We shot 32 for the trip and were becoming hardened hunters by now.

Brian provided the images for this article.



 
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