Monday 8 January 2024

Mt Rochfort Conservation Area and Lake Rochfort - New Years Day 2024

 New Years day 2024 dawned fine and all was ready for my planned Mt William SOTA activation on the West Coast. Just before I was due to leave camp, I happened across a news item that said the access road to Denniston had been closed by a slip and people were being rescued from the other side... 

I still went to check, not what you want to see...

Time to quickly re-plan, drat, no other accessible SOTA peaks in the area so it would have to be something else. I spotted Lake Rochfort in the Mt Rochfort Conservation Area and decided that would do.

It's a hydro lake, the walk up takes you via the 4.2 MW powerhouse/tail race and up the historic access track, complete with Totara steps in places.


Old Totara steps still in good condition

It's a nice walk and you soon arrive that the lake to be greeted with a shelter and picnic table! Well, it would be rude not to use it so I got set up using the shelter to bungee my pole, turned on the radio to be greeted with S9+ of QRM (from the solar regulators I expect). 

Too good to be true...

Quick pack up and head to the SE end of the lake, hopefully quieter there. Only marginally as it turned out. Tweaked the KX2 nose blanker and away we went.

Given that I had alerted for a SOTA summit, I didn't want to cause confusion by calling CQ so just chased the activators on SSB each side of the UTC rollover.

After getting John ZL3MR on his Goat summit (and fortuitously giving him his 4th contact to qualify as a Goat) I packed up and headed back to the car. Not quite a SOTA summit but a nice walk on a good day.

Good walk, 6km and 426m vertical, lots of SOTA summits that are easier than this!

Access is a small white sign on left about 20m before the bridge on Powerhouse Road (about 7km North of Westport). There's a parking area on the South side of the road. The track is well marked/used.

Cell service was fine with Spark/Skinny

ZL3/WC-638 Un-named summit near Reefton

 This is another one of Andrew ZL3CC's First Activation summits, in fact it hadn't been activated since he did it. We (like many!) have always driven straight through Reefton, however this year, we decided to stay a few nights and have a look around. The first town in NZ to have reticulated electric power, what's not to like?!

Thursday 28th Dec 2023 dawned warm and fine, the starting point at Blacks Point is only 3 minutes away from the camping ground and I was there and ready to go at 8am. Taking the left track directly up the spur, I was soon sweating out the Christmas cheer. The initial part is steep but well benched. Soon the exotic forest is left behind and we are into the native, lots of predator traps and wasp bait stations and the abundant birdsong proves their worth. I heard what I thought was a Kaka and sure enough, on the way down later, I was lucky enough to have a close encounter with one - very special! 

The remains of old goldmines are preserved as if they had just been abandoned. Very interesting relics scattered around.

I arrived at the Horse Whims turnoff which Andrew determined was within the AZ, I agree. However, like Andrew, I climbed up through the bush towards the summit a little to be sure and to get away from what looked like a well-used track. Another good call as two parties went through while I was there (but they were unaware of me).

Unusual operating surrounds for us Cantabs!

The bush is fairly thick so the EFHW wended its way through convenient branches then up to the top of the 6m pole and down again to a convenient trunk. I spotted a few wasps so was very careful where I walked...

Yellow antenna wire looped around the trees at head-height

The KX2 tuner made short work of finding a match so it was time to get out a spot or National System repeater call. No service from either, I think the Greymouth Nat Sys node has moved since Andrew used it as I could not access it at all. OK, call CQ on 7032 kHz CW so the RBN can let people know I am about. I then went to 7090 kHz and it worked, I worked Phil ZL3JD, ZL3PEA, ZL4AB and then Rick ZL3RIK who spotted me and it was all on! I got Dave ZL3DRN on his summit then worked my way up the bands. No VKs but Chris F4WBN, NW7E and WB6POT in the log on 15m CW. Nothing happening on 10m.

Expecting John ZL3MR and Nick ZL3NLA to arrive on their summit at 11am, I went back to 40m SSB and waited. As the day warmed up, the wasps were getting more active so I was keen to get moving. Once they were in the log, I packed up and headed down. Home to Reefton in time for lunch! There are several loop options to get back, the Konini fork would bring you right back to Reefton (if someone dropped you at the start point).

Want a Bach right at the carpark of a SOTA track?!

Time: 1 hour 15 min to the summit. 4.2 km with about 500 m vertical gain

Cell: No reception

Repeaters: None available

Trig: none, the summit is not even noted as a point on the topomap!

Mt Rochfort ZL3/WC-576

During our Christmas/New year break on the West Coast, I decided to do the first SOTA activation of this mountain, visible from Westport.

The summit is accessed from the Denniston plateau and could be a drive-up given a suitable 4WD vehicle. Not sure if permission would be needed but there is no signage and Kordia have  a substantial site at the top. The road is pretty good with just a couple of gnarly bits. Anyway, it's a nice walk from the Whareatea Road turnoff. I drove up a bit to find a nice parking area between the two sets of beehives. A very pleasant walk to the top with mostly easy grade. Plenty of things to look at on the way so walking is a good option.

Weather had been wet and windy but there looked like a bit of a window to exploit, Metservice forgot to notify the mountain though! It was claggy and windy at the top with intermittent showers. I set up just to the South of the tower with some protection from the wind. A convenient waratah supported the pole and the EFHW wire snaked around and over the bluff. There was no interference evident from the large commercial equipment on the tower, mostly microwave.

EFHW snaking around the bluff

I had worked one of the locals via the Westport repeater whilst driving to the start but after a couple of calls on the Wesport repeater from the summit, had no takers on 146.5 MHz. I wonder if people have forgotten how to use simplex?

HF was playing nicely and I soon had the loyal ZL chasers in the log on 40m SSB including S2S with Nick ZL3NLA on Trig M. I then headed up the bands and worked Scott ZL1KB on 20m; WB6POT, F4WBN and JH1MXV on 15m CW and K7SS on 10m. Cold and damp, I headed back to 40m to await a chance to work Dave ZL3DRN on Snowy Peak for another S2S. Duly achieved and also Paul ZL3PA who was having trouble hearing me earlier. A good haul so I packed up and headed down to find a sheltered spot for lunch and then back to the car.

The Escarpment, drops away pretty quickly!

This is a really nice summit, I'm keen to come back and do it on a good day to see the views! The abundance of minerals is obvious in the track metal and the walls along the side of the track, coal seams everywhere!

Getting there: Turn off the highway at Waimangaroa and drive up to Denniston, turn right onto Whareatea Mine Road and just before you reach the locked gates, turn right. Find somewhere to park and follow the 4WD track to the top.

Turnoff to the summit road

Permission: Not required Mt Rochfort Conservation Area

Distance ~4km to the top with ~400m of vertical gain. About 1 hour

Repeaters: Westport 675 accessible, Greymouth not. No local contacts.

Trig: Yes and substantial infrastructure towers and buildings

Cell - 4G on Skinny/Spark

Sunday 8 October 2023

Snowy Peak ZL3/CB-663

 Thanks to Phil ZL2VTH for alerting us to this gem - hidden in plain sight for the last 7 years!

Snowy Peak is on private farmland, Washpen Falls. The owners have put in a very nice bushwalk loop track through the native bush to the falls - access fee is $10/adult and worth every penny. You need to contact them via email to request approval to deviate off the track and head up to Snowy Peak - email: 

View East, following the Rakaia river to the the Pacific Ocean

They are very accommodating with this and it's a good farm track all the way up to the summit.

I set off on Sunday morning solo as my normal buddy recovered from COVID. It's about an hours drive from Kaiapoi if you don't forget that Washpen Road is a loop road and the second turnoff is the one you want, not the first! After a very scenic detour I arrived at 9am, paid my $10 in the honesty box and set off.

The track climbs steadily through native and exotic forest with some interesting bits under limestone bluffs. Reaching the high point, there is a walking gate, if heading to the summit, don't go through the gate but turn right and follow the fenceline - after about 50m you'll come to a sign pointing up to Snowy Peak - just follow the 4WD track from there. Note that there is a very enticing false summit with a pole mounted on it and a blue PVC barrel that contains an old (drowned) TV distribution amp. This is not the summit, carry on down through another saddle and up to the actual Snowy Peak summit at Pt951m - it's the most northern part of the ridgeline.

From the Snowy Peak summit looking South (over the false summit with pole)

There are remnants of an old fence on the summit with a handy strainer post to tie the pole to. As I was early, I took my time setting up to get a well performing setup with the EFHW Inverted Vee antenna ends well above ground - this would pay off later.

EFHW and 6m pole tied to strainer

I started up on 2m FM - 30 minutes before my alert time and had four in the bag pretty quickly - always a relief no matter how many times you do this! Four more on 70cm and that's another summit activated on this under-utilised band (try it, signals are usually stronger than on 2m). Then it was time to hit 40m SSB for our loyal local (NZ) Chasers and a QSY to 20m SSB to work John as VK4/ZL3MR. As I signed from John, a very strongly accented call from Chris F4WBN and we completed a nice QSO - I wasn't sure he even owned a mic! I then saw our old mate Adam K6ARK spotted on 15m CW so off I went, I can hear him (with a nice pileup)! "ZL3GA S2S ZL3GA S2S" a couple of times and back he came, much stronger now. We completed an easy S2S even exchanging summit references. Talking later via Messenger, he tells me he has made a portable 15m Moxon complete with rotator, that explains the increased strength and easy QSO!

I found a clear 15m frequency and called CQ - "F4WBN" pops up with a good signal (and again later on 10m!) then several more Japanese and North American stations (CA, AZ, OR worked).

I remain sold on this antenna - 20m of Sotabeams lightweight wire with a 64:1 Owen Duffy designed small efficient matching transformer and 2m counterpoise rigged as an inverted vee using the Sotabeams Tactical Mini (6m) pole. It's resonant on 40/20/15/10m (with no traps or links to change) and it certainly pulls in the DX!

I don't normally post my log but this is a beaut (and besides it shows I CAN use a mic!). Observant readers will note a couple of Kiwi callsigns in there you might not expect to see on CW - Thanks Kevin and Scott, love your work, keep it up!

As I had to be back home in time for family dinner I set off down at noon, intending to complete the rest of the loop. I am very glad I did - the track is well marked and has steps/boardwalks in a few strategic (sensible) places. The falls themselves are very nice and I can't think where I have heard more Bellbird song - magnificent.

Armchair Falls

Getting there: Take the Inland Scenic Route, through Coalgate, Glentunnel and Glenroy, turn off onto Washpen Road (the 2nd time it meets the highway!) just before you get to Windwhistle. After a short distance (~400m) turn left into Washpen Falls and drive to the end of the road where there is an old woolshed/office. Park here, pay your $10 and set off.

Permission: Working farm - email or call prior to request permission to walk up to Snowy Peak

2m: great coverage to Christchurch city, North, Mid and South Canterbury

Time: 1 hour to summit

Wednesday 26 July 2023

Whakapoungakau ZL1/BP-152

Our annual visit to visit family on Whakatane allowed a day for SOTA I chose one that Warren ZL2AJ had documented back in 2020 - Whakapoungakau ZL1/BP152. It's situated up in the cluster of lakes near Rotorua, about an hours drive from Whakatane. Francie and I set sail on a fine late-July morning and were soon at the start point, Okataina Outdoor Education and Recreation Centre where there is plenty of parking. Francie was going to stay at the car, have a look around and catch up on some reading so this was not to be a long activation.
Starting point for the Western Okataina Walkway

The track starts through a ceremonial gateway and is well formed and marked. Considering the amount  of rain this area has had lately, it's in great order with no bogs. There were a few Tui calling, right around the Education Centre.

Impressive tree specimens and a nice track

Glad I wasn't here when this big fella came down!

The route to this summit follows the Western Okataina Walkway to the junction (50 minutes) and then up the Whapoungakau Summit track (17 minutes). The SOTA summit at 762m is just beyond the trig but is bush-clad. The trig at 758m is well within the activation zone and is a very nice operating site with clearings, bush and trees to tie antennas to.
Looking North over Lake Rotoiti

Operating site just in front of the trig

As we flew this trip, I had brought my 5m Carbon fibre telescoping pole, EFHW and KX2. I quickly got set up and tried a 2m contact with Warren ZL2AJ who was teaching a Hamcram at Hamilton. This didn't work out but we soon made contact on 40m with his students listening in - a great opportunity to demonstrate what we do!

I had good signals within ZL on 40m and across to Australia and Japan on 20m
A couple of Summit to Summit contacts with Dave (Sugarloaf ZL3/CB-860) and John (Mt Pleasant ZL3/CB-822) rounded out a very pleasant morning. 
A quick chat with a mountain biker who had arrived at the summit and conscious of Francie sitting down at the car, I packed up and headed down in time for lunch. 

A really nice place and highly recommended if you are in the area. Note that this is a shared track with mountain bikers - keep an eye/ear out for them.

Getting there: Drive to Okataina Outdoor Education and Recreation Centre off Lake Okataina Road (off SH30 at Te Ruato Bay, Lake Rotoiti)
Permision: None needed - Lake Okataina Scenic Reserve
Time: 51 minutes to the junction, 1hour 7 minutes to summit. 5.2km and 407m vertical gain.
Cell: Skinny/Spark coverage at summit
Repeaters: Didn't try any but all Rotorua and BOP should be accessible

Wednesday 17 May 2023

Red Hill-Mount Lyndon circuit - May 2023

Despite being named as a hill, Red Hill in the Korowai-Torlesse Conservation area is a decent mountain at 1641m. Dave and I have been planning this circuit for a while but needed a suitable weather pattern to turn up. Saturday 6th May looked good so off we went. An early start was in order to make the most of the weather window and get back to Springfield by 4pm for a coffee and debrief!

I left home at 5:30am to pick Dave up in Sheffield at 6:20am and we were at the start point on Lyndon Road ready to go at 7am. No headlamps needed as the spectacularly full moon was really bright. We made good time up the valley and even found some size 15 boot prints left by John ZL3MR the previous weekend!

Heading up Red Hill, spectacular views.

Arriving at the summit 25 minutes earlier than our alerted time, we got everything set up quickly and were on air at 9:42am NZST. As is our standard practice, Dave started on 40m and me on 2m. We soon had our required contacts (including Summit to Summit with John ZL3MR on Cloudy Hill ZL3/CB-474) and had worked all the usual Chasers. The Nor' West wind was quite strong at times so, once our alert time had passed, we packed up quickly and headed off.

The transit around the ridgeline to Mount Lyndon is a really nice walk with tremendous views either side but very exposed to the wind - gloves, hats and windproof layer were the order of the day. Near the end we spotted another tramper catching us up rapidly - "Hope he's not a 70 year old"! Just after passing the scree we would use later to descend, he caught us up, a young German. Relief! 

Looking back from Mt Lyndon to Red Hill (top-centre)

About this time, we saw John (with brother-in-law Robert) had arrived on their second summit ZL3/CB-469 which is adjacent to Mt Lyndon. We hustled on and arrived at Mt Lyndon ZL3/CB-460 35 minutes early, just before noon. Getting straight onto 2m, we worked John and a few others prior to the UTC rollover at noon (0000z). HF followed where Dave worked a nice pile of VK WWFF Hunters and Rick ZL3RIK at Arthurs Pass National Park. Again, we made sure we stayed on-air until after our alert time had passed before packing up about 12:40pm and retracing our track back to our scree for the descent. 

Weather has been quite wet all summer so the scree and underlying soil was nice and soft (very important for clapped out knees). It was a very rapid and enjoyable descent down to our usual lunch point at the bottom of the scree before tackling the waterfall sidle and a bit of scrub bashing down to the valley floor. When coming off Mt Lyndon, we normally turn left at this point and head over the saddle to the Lyndon Lodge but this time we carried on down the valley to join up with our morning track and back to the car.

Looking down the valley from our lunch stop

A great walk and very enjoyable day with 10 SOTA points as a bonus.

Note that much of our route was over Brooksdale Station land - thanks to Stu for his generous permission (see Dave for more info).

Circuit is clockwise, Red Hill on left, Mt Lyndon on right


18 km of walking with 1300 m of vertical. 8 hours for whole the trip including two 30 minute activations and a 30 minute lunch stop.

2m/70cm coverage of Canterbury excellent from both summits.

Friday 5 May 2023

Mt Terako ZL3/MB-083

 Also known as Mount Lyford skifield, this is a private summit right on the Marlborough/Canterbury border. It's run as a multi-facet business and very well too, it seems. Payment of the $40 per head access fee is done on line and you get the code to unlock the gate just beyond the Mt Lyford Village.

The road is good but not for the faint-of-heart! Rick was activating Lake Stella and Snowdon Scenic Reserve so we followed him up to make sure his 2WD Mitsi was ok. I had trouble keeping up! Lake Stella is a great location with several lodges and a well appointed amenities hut. The only downside is all the solar inverter hash on 20m... 

Leaving Rick to get set up, we carried on to the skifield base. This part of the road (4WD) has a lot of sharp rocks - be careful if on road or even R/T tyres. After checking a couple of options, we found a track that led to our spur, parked up and headed up. It's not far but it IS steep and is all scree to the top. 

Hey, who's that white headed old fella?! Must be the morning sunlight...

40 minutes and we were on a very pleasant summit with amazing views from Kaikoura and Mt Fyffe right down the Hundalees and Conway to the Port Hills.

An unexpected but very apt can found stashed in the summit cairn!

Setting up the gear we found that 20m was very noisy - almost certainly due to all the solar inverters down below. 2m and 70cm back to Christchurch were both easy with big signals - didn't need the 2m dipole!

6m telescoping pole with EFHW apex and 2m vertical dipole. Port Hills on the horizon

Meanwhile Dave was working up and down the country on 40m including Matt ZL4NVW on an Otago summit. We also worked Warren ZL2JML and Ada ZL2ADA on a Manawatu summit. 

Dave working 40m. EFHW feed-point on walking poles behind him.

I jumped on to the CW end of the bands and worked Japan on 20m, 15m and 10m and plenty of strong USA and Australian stations on 10m.

Weather was nice so we worked the UTC rollover at noon then headed down to have lunch with Rick. The descent down the scree was much quicker (and more fun) than the climb!

Rick was in good form when we got there with a very slick setup. 

Rick's setup - drive-on stand supporting the pole and linked dipole. Big 2m colinear on the car!

We had a very nice lunch and then headed off to get to Culverden for coffee before they closed. A very pleasant day indeed!

Private summit - access pass is required ($40 per person but worth every bit of it).

This would make a great base for a SOTA expedition!

Climb: 380m approx 40 minutes up a scree spur

2m: amazing