The Forbidden Kingdom (Part One) – Winter at Lake MacKenzie

“On a Mish “ #232 The Forbidden Kingdom (Part One). Winter at Lake MacKenzie. Fiordland National Park. 11.10.2012. Aotearoa has many tramping tracks that are two different worlds. One is the summer playground that many happy folks see when it is their turn to indulge in the epic surroundings. The other world is a cold, snowy one that remains tucked away from most, and this is mainly thanks to the winter risk of avalanches. This makes places like Lake Mackenzie Lodge a real mish to get to (unless you use a helicopter), so during winter the place becomes a forbidden kingdom where only the brave / foolish dare to attempt to visit…

During the off season in 2012 I got the unique opportunity to work at Lake Mackenzie Lodge as the place was being upgraded. My role was to keep the place clean, as I was told the big boss could fly in at any moment with only a two-to-three-minute warning on the radio. The other main part of the role was feeding the fluctuating team of builders, plumbers, sparkies, and other tradies.

I was extremely happy to have landed the role because I am a huge fan of Lake Mackenzie and its surroundings, and if you add in a layer of winter snow the place becomes an enchanted wonderland – but with the wonder comes danger.

There a numerous avalanche paths on the Routeburn Track, and during and after heavy snowfall these become active. Even during spring, we (the guides) have areas which have to be monitored, and several sections of the track become ‘No-Stopping Zones’. It doesn’t have to be a big avalanche to knock you off your feet, and once you are down you will begin a violent journey to the bottom of the avalanche shoot. I’m not saying it is impossible to walk the track during winter, what I am saying is you better know what you are doing!

Lake MacKenzie mid Winter

My role began as soon as the season finished in late April. We stayed at the lodge (10days on four days off) until the start of June. It was then that the water for the lodge froze, and with no water we couldn’t function. Unfortunately, the temperatures stayed too high for any real snowfall, so I was really looking forward to returning when things began to thaw.

It was around mid-September when the bosses flew into the lodge and found the water was beginning to trickle, so we could return and get back into the job. I finished up my own business in Christchurch and headed south hoping to see some snow. The team reconvened near the Glenorchy end of the Routeburn Track and to my disappointment it looked about as snowy as it would in November when the hiking season began again.

My annoyance in the lack of snow disappeared when I very quickly re-realised how epic my workplace was. The breathtaking surroundings of Lake Mackenzie are almost good enough to bring a lover of scenic sights to their knees, it really must be one of the prettiest lakes on the planet.

After getting settled in we resumed with the work for about a week when a call came in on the radio that the builders weren’t too happy to hear, but it was music to my ears. There was a storm heading our way, and this storm was going to be packing a winter punch. I just hoped that it was going to be the knockout blow that would cover everything in snow, and make Lake Mackenzie a forbidden kingdom…

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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