From the Cicadas of Abel Tasman to the humming forests of Nelson Lakes and the roaring Tasman Coast.

Thu 23 Feb 2017 18:47

From the Cicadas of Abel Tasman to the humming forests of Nelson Lakes and the roaring Tasman Coast.

Possums and hedgehogs and freedom campers are considered pests in New Zealand, the first two become road kill and the third litter the countryside with toilet paper and unburied poo rather than use the portaloos provided, the ranger at the office in the park told us.

 In the next few days hundreds of volunteers are going to be bait traps strapped to tree trunks with baited chicken mince to kill as many of the wasps in the honeydew forest as possible to give the native species of birds and insects that used to feast on the honeydew drops a chance to recover in numbers after the devastation caused to their food supply by this dashing yellow and black striped interloper. “But the effect can only ever be cosmetic,” the ranger moaned, “There are millions out there and we cannot hope to reach them all. It’s mostly to protect visitors from getting stung and delay the extinction of native species.”

New Zealanders are a resourceful lot though. Devastating as these introduced species are to the ground dwelling and nesting native fauna, possum wool is mixed with sheep wool and angora to make some of the softest clothing items imaginable, and the cute little hedgehog sells cushion covers for the tourism industry.

Soon after we had pitched our tent in a little square protected from the chill wind by a stand of kanuka trees and were sitting outside supping tea a little South Island robin, pale charcoal with a white chest, came to say “Hello, do you have any crumbs?”

We reflected on the days travel, the many derelict timber mills, pretty, modest farmhouses, the beautiful Arthur Range of mountains we would cross sometime soon and the quirky wooden sculpture of a cow celebrating the rich grasslands where lives have been lived out on the wealth of the land. Vicky (the Volvo) had been gradually ascending to this spot and the temperature had fallen in consequence to around 16’ in the day, so we wondered what the night would bring. Should we don pyjamas for the first time?

This was one of the best visitor centres for the display of the history of the region from the arrival of Maori tribes with their dogs and rats through their early co-existence with sealers and whalers to some of them, including a chief’s son named Kehu, who became guides for the explorers opening up the interior land for British and European settlers. There is a lovely wooden Maori carved statue of Kehu who became a hero to his European explorer when the latter suffered a stroke on their expedition and Kehu carried him all the way home. He has recently had a mountain named in his honour!

There are two big lakes in this reserve, Rotoiti and Rotoroa and we were camped at the head of Rotoiti, the smaller of the two with its two wooden pontoons inviting exploration.

We took a boat ride to the far end and walked the shoreline back through the beautiful honeydew forest of native beech trees for which this region is known. The trees are tall, their barks black and their leaves tiny. A miniscule insect lives under the skin of the trees and send a sticky sweet liquid down the longest anal gland in the world where it hangs at the end of this hair like protrusion in a crystal clear drop. It tastes sweet and the forest was alive with the humming of the immigrant wasps stealing the delicious food. We thought the blackened trunks had been caused by a forest fire, they certainly are dramatic.

Our shoreside path was unlike the Abel Tasman one. Uneven and rocky, full with boggy patches and roots that could help and hinder the traveller. The mountains are made of soft, crumbly greywacke (a highly compressed sedimentary rock) which falls in avalanches down stream beds after heavy rain and freezing, icy conditions in winter.

We struggled across rocks wobbling in the cascades of chilly stream water, my feet now soaking inside my useless sailing shoes and my socks rubbing holes in my feet. But the walk was enchanting. Sunlight filtered through gaps in the tree-cover and the lake glistened. We knew the forecast was for rain and wind the next day so we took the 11km walk as soon as we could on our arrival day.

This is an area where visitors can take hikes out to overnight huts and spend three or four days exploring the terrain high up and in the wilderness. But we preferred our day or half days walks. For one thing we didn’t want to spend out on accommodation three times over per day. Mooring costs for Zoonie, plus a pitch for the tent plus a hut on a trek.

This area was once a weekend Riviera retreat for wealthy folk from Nelson, that we had already visited if you remember. They came down the Wairua Valley by car and stayed in hotels. Beach huts and boatsheds lined the now empty shoreline of the bays and today their descendants have their own second homes all around here and their boats sit on the driveways, waiting.

We stumbled upon a Classic Boat Museum full with lovely wooden boats and reflecting those heady days of carefree affluence and invention. We read with amazement the story of the son of a double barrelled surnamed aristocrat in England who blew the family fortune on women and in the gambling houses of Europe on his ‘grand tour’ only to more than recover it by inventing Babycham.

His father had built a Baby Champ, a 12 foot long speed boat that accompanied Donald Campbell on his fateful speed attempt on Coniston Water in Bluebird. It had a history of speed records itself and I remember it had a beautiful planked foredeck and was a remarkable machine. The son used it himself and it appeared in at least one James Bond Film. Well it lives here, and plays a part in their annual Classic Boat Rally on the water but was away when we visited. Maybe being used for another film.

During the retreat from Dunkirk it was this wonderful little craft that brought top secret documents back to Winston Churchill. When engineers examined the wooden hull it was full of shrapnel.

Extraordinary, what you find high up in the mountains in the middle of South Island New Zealand.

“We must do something romantic tomorrow, it being Valentine’s Day,” I said hopefully. Rob opened ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ and started reading.

We were sitting in the car, with its comfy soft leather seats, on the lake shore, sipping coffee from our thermos and watching the weather change from sun to rain and back again. A spotlight of sunshine passed over the forest turning black to emerald as it flowed. Ducks were standing on rocks that protruded from the water, holding their wings open to warm in the sunlight. As soon as another shower arrived they dashed to the shelter of the bushes on the shore.

Next day we were back on the road, the diversion route as the Highway on the East coast is still closed in parts due to the recent earthquake that raised the land up to 7 metres above its normal elevation both on land and in the ocean. Sailing down that coast now the mariner has to reassess depths as the charts have been rendered inaccurate by a single, instant geological event.

All Christchurch traffic has to come on this westerly, mountainous route before it can turn east. So there are major road works, bridge widening to two way traffic, re-surfacing et al. Cheerful men and women spend their days turning the red Stop Sign around to read green Go Slow, smiling at motorists, having the occasional chat, smoking, stroking their dog in the car. One even sat in the car while holding the sign ourside.

We were traveling alongside the mighty Buller River which was full and forceful after the recent plentiful rain. Rainbows graced the valley where spray caught the rays of sunshine and a thousand wisps of cloud escaped from the native forest like the smoke from tribal woodfires.

“There’s a deer farm over there dear.”

“Is there dear?”

“Yes deer, oh dear there’s a dead deer, dear.”

“Really dear, that’s a pity for the poor deer, dear,” sorry, but it was true and it would not be the only dead deer that day, dears.

Travelling west long before us were the gold miners in NZ’s own gold rush of the late 1800s and many of the tracks now enjoyed by intrepid hikers pass through ghost towns just as I had seen in North America back in the 1970s. Coal, quartz and semi-precious stone mining followed and remnants of mines, chimneys, stone crushing machines, litter the highways and fill the museums.

Rain brings to life many waterfalls that grace the hillsides and run as clear dark brown, black coffee coloured streams into the café au lait coloured Buller. Vicky is making her way down toward the west coast and the landscape is levelling to sheep grazing fields and flax hedges.

Captain Cook named Cape Foulwind in light of the weather he had there at the time of his sailing by, however the weather there, on the shore of the mighty Tasman Sea can be settled and beautiful. In Victorian times it was another Riviera but one has to be careful as the tide comes in rapidly over the rocks and can trap the unwary, just the same as in Cornwall, England.

A little further down the coast we walked the short distance to an observation platform above a colony of snoozing, play fighting fur seals. Babies were suckling their mums and the air was pungent with their fishy aroma. I loved it. We could not interfere with them as the descent was rocky and dangerous and yet we were provided with a totally safe spot to view them living quite naturally below us.

The Tasman waves, after their long journey from the Antarctic waters, settled in white wavecrests for a distance of half a mile or so onto the shoreline. The air was filled with their dying mist and the beaches were growing their own forest of deadwood and treetrunks.

At Punakaiki, as we viewed the beautiful pancake rocks, we met up with the American family from a yacht named Enough, a pretty double ender with green covers. We had been moored next to her in Vavau and it was nice to have a few minutes catch up before we continued on the undulating path around the latest natural phenomena.

With nothing to stop her the Tasman Sea was roaring, a wonderful, wild uncontainable sound. In Greymouth we pitched our tent with just flax bushes and a pathway between us and the beach and we had to wear earplugs at night as the noise was so beautifully loud.

In the falling light after sunset on our first evening there we walked a short distance along this wild shoreline and found a young female deer caught up amongst the branches of a tree. Maybe she had fallen into the raging river after the recent rains and been carried ashore by the sea.