A Travellerspoint blog

Mystical Mt. Cook

...we are keen on alpine hiking

semi-overcast 18 °C

I am excited to explore the area around Duntroon as it is on the “Vanishing World Trail”. A trail has been formed connecting numerous cool fossil and geographical sites. We take a shingle side road from Duntroon to the town of Earthquake where ancient baleen whale fossils have been uncovered in the limestone dating 24-27 million years old. The landscape here was formed from a major landslide thousands of years ago. Massive chucks of limestone have been pushed upwards and split apart forming cliffs over a few million years. Boulders of limestone that have broken off and now rest scattered through the valley. The limestone was formed by sandy sediments originally deposited in shallow seas far off-shore. We walk slowly past the cliffs touching the Kokoamu Greensand layers that date back to 29 million years old.

Greensand Layer in Limestone Cliffs

Greensand Layer in Limestone Cliffs

Back on the road towards Mt. Cook, we make a quick stop at an ancient Moari Rock Drawing site. But due to a car sized boulder breaking off the cliffs and falling onto the trail below, the area is closed off. Up the road along the Waitaki River we go, gradually gaining elevation. We take the scenic route across the massive Aviemore Dam and along Lake Aviemore before crossing back to the main road via Benmore Dam. The Waitaki River is dammed eight times, generating heaps of NZ power.

We pass through Omarama, where Wrinkley Rams is located. Wrinkley Rams is a merino sheep farm where the semi-enviro conscious merino wool clothing company, Icebreaker, gets their wool. I say semi-enviro conscious because originally the entire company was New Zealand based, but now they ship the wool to China to have the clothing sewn.

Merino Sheep at Wrinkly Rams

Merino Sheep at Wrinkly Rams

Past the town of Twizel we pull off for lunch and a quick fishing mission. After casting into the trees on the other side of the river and loosing an awesome lure I pack up my gear and we continue on. The mountainous scenery increases as we approach Mt. Cook. We enter into Mt. Cook National Park and suddenly I realize that I had set my shoes on the roof of the car to dry out when we stopped for lunch some 70 kms back. Julie pulls the car over calmly while I am freaking out. I get behind the wheel, pull a u-turn and blast off back down the highway. Luckily my kickers had rolled off the highway and were patiently awaiting my return.

The quiet drive back up to Mt. Cook seems to take forever but we finally reach the end of the road and the home to some spectacular scenery. Mt. Cook is nestled in a valley with soaring peaks and melting glaciers on all sides. We make a short visit to the info centre to check the ever changing weather for the next few days before setting up camp at White Horse Hill Campground.

The chilly mountain air greets us early as we crawl out of the tent clothed with toques and layers to stay warm. Our plan is to hike up to Mueller Hut for the night but low cloud cover forces us to switch to a day hike up into Hooker Valley instead. Clouds float aloft the peak of Mt. Cook and we are told that the sacred mountain rarely chooses to emerge from its cloak of mist to show its face. But as we hike into the Valley the sun slowly burns off the cloudy skies and numerous peaks begin to appear, one of which is Mt. Cook. The majestic Aoraki (Mt Cook) is NZ's highest peak at 3754 m and is a World Heritage Site as this National Park covers more than 70,000 hectares of alpine landscape. Views along the trail include Mueller Glacier melting and draining into the grey and murky Mueller Lake. As we pass through the Valley, around the Mt. Cook Range and cross the Hooker River twice, Hooker Glacier comes into view. It is slowly melting, forming the frigid Hooker Lake where ice bergs float in the cloudy waters like ships out to sea. The chilly morning has turned into a beautiful shorts and t-shirt type day as we set up our pick-nick lunch along the rocky shore and gaze at the steep rocky screes across the Lake. As we head back towards camp we notice that Mt. Cook is once again hidden behind its cloak of clouds. We are fortunate to have seen the peak of the mountain today.

Mueller Lake and Mt. Sefton

Mueller Lake and Mt. Sefton


Aoraki/Mt. Cook

Aoraki/Mt. Cook


Aoraki/Mt. Cook

Aoraki/Mt. Cook


Hooker Lake and Mt. Cook Range

Hooker Lake and Mt. Cook Range


Butterfly on Mountain Daisy

Butterfly on Mountain Daisy

Back at camp Julie decides to give her bad knee a break, put her feet up and dive into a book for the afternoon, while I hike my way up to the Red Tarns. The alpine ponds are coloured red from red pond weed and sit peacefully high above the Village in a flat area upon a steep ridge. From here panoramic views of Mt. Cook Village sit in the shadows of the scattered clouds. I return to the campsite to find Julie relaxing in the sun, reading her book, with a big smile on her face. After an early dinner we stroll through subalpine grasslands and scrub to Kea Point for the sunset. The point over looks Mueller Glacier and its lateral moraine (a wall of gravel) left from years of retreat. Mt. Sefton rises above the Mueller Glacier, Hooker Valley lays beyond its lateral moraine wall; and Mt. Cook towers in the background covered in clouds. Our eyes are busy with the views as our ears listen carefully to the frequent crashing blue thunder in the distance.

View of Mt. Cook Village from Red Tarns

View of Mt. Cook Village from Red Tarns

In the morning we pack up camp and point the car towards Methven. The four hour drive is through rolling hills of paddocks filled with sheep. Despite all the sheep here in NZ, sheep milk and cheese are hard to find and the meat is more expensive than beef and chicken! NZ exports most of their sheep products and locals end up paying export prices for items grown in their own country. Along the way, we make a quick stop at a roadside market in Geraldine where Julie finds a sweet deal on a handmade merino and mohair wool hat. She is really stocking up anything made from natural fibres.

We make a detour towards the Peel Forest, a remnant of a magnificent podocarp forest that once covered a huge area in mid-Canterbury but now only 783 hectares remain. It is rich and diverse and holds ancient giant totara, matai, and kahikatea trees. Totara trees can live to be 2000 years old and as we take a short hike through this pristine area we come across one that has a circumference of 9 m and is over 1000 years old. It's roots are massive and stretch for meters above the ground before disappearing into the earth. We give the tree a big hug before continuing on.

Massive Totara Tree in Peel Forest

Massive Totara Tree in Peel Forest


Totara Roots in Peel Forest

Totara Roots in Peel Forest


Totara Tree in Peel Forest

Totara Tree in Peel Forest

Julie wants to drive up the Rangitata River to Erewhon Station. The loose shingle roads wind up the valley past huge farms and pastureland. Far off in the distance mountains grow to soaring heights with rocky scree slopes pouring down from the peaks. The massive Rangitata watershed originates in the Southern Alps and flows east to the Pacific Ocean. It's an interesting area although far from pristine, as all the trees have been clear cut and irrigated paddocks take over.

Rangitata River Valley

Rangitata River Valley

From Erewhon Station we make our way to Heron Lake for dinner and possibly to camp. The campsite seems deserted as the strangely scattered old trailers look like they haven't been used in ages. The only picnic table that isn't ready to crumble sits nearby a newer trailer but nobody is home. So we use it and prepare a quick dinner of felafel before making our way back to civilization. The gravel roads are wreaking havoc on our poor car and Julie's knee. Nothing stays put on the dash and everything from map books to her camera has fallen onto her already tender knee. We freedom camp in a roadside picnic area near Methvan for the night, resting up for our next big adventure in Arthur's Pass in the morning.

Posted by ontarions 19:26 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Op-Shopping Crazy

...among heaps of other kiwi sights.

overcast 20 °C

On the first day wwoofing in Dunedin, Terisha takes us to Orokonui Eco Sanctuary to help transplant native trees and release young natives from the enclosing weeds. Orokonui is a 307 hectare area enclosed by predator fencing to protect kiwis and other native birds released within the sanctuary from introduced pests. As clouds hover around us, we work on our hands and knees in the fog until noon when Terisha takes us on a tour through the native bush. Bellbirds sing as they perch in the tall podocarps and fantails swoop over our heads gobbling up the insects that we attract. Kakas, the only bird here in an enclosure here, rummage through decaying tree trunks in search of large and juicy huhu slugs. These birds are enclosed to keep them from flying away, as their calls will attract more kakas to the sanctuary. The fencing doesn't just keep out introduced predators but also introduced herbivores such as rabbits and goats. As we wander the trails we see regenerating forest and lots of fresh young growth on the forest floor. With the removal of herbivores young plants have a chance to grow again. As a result of introduced herbivores many forests in NZ are in grave danger as new flora can't establish to take the place of the old dieing trees and shrubs.

High Security at Orokonui Eco Sanctuary

High Security at Orokonui Eco Sanctuary


Native Tree Planting at Orokonui Eco Sanctuary

Native Tree Planting at Orokonui Eco Sanctuary


Huhu Beetle

Huhu Beetle

The next day we work in the veggie garden in Terisha's backyard under beautiful sunshine. Julie weeds and transplants while I construct a trellis from tea tree poles to support climbing beans and peas. Julie loves it so much she wants me to build her one when we get home! After a few other odd jobs, we complete our working hours for the day and decide to drive out to the Otago Peninsula.

The peninsula houses the only mainland colony of royal albatrosses and is habitat to many other species of seabirds. As we drive closer to the point the area quickly clouds in and the rain begins to pound our windshield. The winding road along the ocean is at the base of large rolling mountains that are now shrouded in greyness. Our stop at Taiaroa Head ends at a parking lot wreaking of fish surrounded by an unappealing grassy field loaded with gulls, some dead, and void of any native trees or shrubs and no sign of albatrosses. Because visibility is so poor we decide not fork out the cash to enter into the beautiful Albatross Reserve. After all, we did see some Royal Albatross while on the fishing boat at Stewart Island. So we continue back along the other side of the peninsula to the Chasm. Again because of the poor visibility, only about 40 meters, it is pointless to hike the trail to the soaring cliffs over the harsh Pacific waters. We move on to Sandfly Bay where we sneak below the heavy clouds to see the stunning windswept dunes. The dunes face south directly into the winds, and are formed by a combination of currents moving the sand on shore and wind blowing the sand inland. Unfortunately, we can't venture onto the beach because it is after 3pm and off limits due to yellow-eyed penguins coming ashore. None the less, the coastal views are brilliant.

Sand Dunes at Sandfly Bay

Sand Dunes at Sandfly Bay

Terisha has planned for us to work the afternoon at VOLCO, a VOLunteer COmmunity, digging up invasive blackberries. Terisha is eager to show us everything around the property before getting to work as she used to live here and has put in many hours establishing the gardens and planting native trees. So she takes us on a walk through the paddocks to the forest which illustrates all stages of regeneration. We end our walk deep in the woods at the oldest part of the forest, completely native and beginning to crowd with mosses and lichens. By the time we get to work digging out blackberries the rain and wind pick up and soak through our jackets. She decides to call it quits and we head indoors to stay dry. Dinner at VOLCO tonight is special because it is a potluck and a birthday celebration for a girl that lives here. Everyone in the community brings a dish for the potluck party as do we. The food is awesome and the people are interesting to say the least. When we get back to Terisha and Marvin's for the evening we play a board game to satisfy their urge.

View of Dunedin

View of Dunedin

In the morning we say good-bye to our great hosts before moving on. They insist on us taking all kinds of food from the garden, which we gladly accept. I aim our sights to Oamaru, a couple hours north of Dunedin to explore imposing 19th century limestone buildings that grace the town. Along the road to Oamaru, we stop at a stunning stretch of beach scattered with spherical boulders strewn about like a giant kid's discarded marbles. After some fun photography with the strange rocks we continue on to Oamaru.

Boulder Hopping

Boulder Hopping


Moeraki Boulders

Moeraki Boulders


Bowling with Moeraki Boulders

Bowling with Moeraki Boulders

Oamaru holds some really amazing historical buildings built with local limestone in the mid-1800's. Many of the old buildings are home to some really talented artisans and craftspeople. We check out a book-binding and pottery shop, and a textile shop full of beautiful clothing and many historic sewing tools. We also watch an artist carving limestone and see how easy it is to manipulate the stone into awesome shapes. This area of Oamaru is really amazing but it is missing one thing. We determine that one thing to be nature, there are no trees, no grasses, and no flower pots in this heritage section of town. As we wander on and towards downtown we notice that limestone is not the only material being used to create art. Here some unique artwork by an insane welder lines the boulevard. Julie hops on a chopper/tracker and lets out the throttle for a photo op.

Criterion Hotel Est. 1877 in Oamaru

Criterion Hotel Est. 1877 in Oamaru


Crazy Tractor in Oamaru

Crazy Tractor in Oamaru


Steam Punk in Oamaru

Steam Punk in Oamaru


Julie Riding Chopper in Oamaru

Julie Riding Chopper in Oamaru

In the evening, once again we watch yellow-eyed penguins, this colony is the most northern colony for this rare bird. This viewing is special though because we catch a glimpse of the fuzzy grey chicks in their nests. Oamaru is also home to a huge colony of little blue penguins strangely located in the industrial part of town. The only way to see the penguins is sadly sitting in an auditorium with views of the penguins coming ashore into their natural environment and listening to commentary from a guide. So we opt out of that. From the town of the penguins we head west, inland, making our way towards Mount Cook (Aoraki). The sun is setting so we pull off into a park and commence freedom camping in Duntroon.

Shags on Pier in Oamaru

Shags on Pier in Oamaru


Yellow-Eyed Penguin Chicks at Bushy Beach

Yellow-Eyed Penguin Chicks at Bushy Beach

Posted by ontarions 19:13 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Moving on to the Big City

...Catlins to Dunedin

semi-overcast 19 °C

After finishing up a few things around the “Food Forest” and Julie blowing their minds with a new way of handling chickens, we part ways, heading to the Catlins to finish exploring the area. Along the way we stop at Cathedral Caves but the tide is high and the gate is locked until the ocean retreats. We plan on returning at low tide so we continue along the southern coast. The Guytons had told us that we must stop at The Lost Gypsy Gallery in Papatawai, and so this is our next stop. The owner has a shop/gallery in an old house truck that is filled with his automatic creations made from reused/recycled materials. It was heaps of fun winding up toys and pressing buttons to see what kind of lights, sounds, or moves the toys would make.

The Lost Gypsy Gallery in Papatowai

The Lost Gypsy Gallery in Papatowai


Exploring Gadgets

Exploring Gadgets

The Catlins area is prime sea lion spotting territory and since we have not encountered any yet we decide to walk the beach at Surrat Bay. Strolling barefoot down the the vast beach, large shapes slowly come into focus. Our first sea lion encounter is a massive male and playful female lumbering across the sand. The size of males range from 350-500 kg and this one must be upwards of 500 kg, his face and build are “bear like”. He lays on the beach and flips sand on his back to reflect sunlight and reduce overheating. Continuing down the beach, mom and dad oyster catchers poke in the sand around driftwood and washed up seaweeds foraging for food and delicately passing it to their two chicks. As we stroll the beach, another sea loin rolls up in the surf and beaches himself on the shore. After a short break he bounces up the beach on all fours to find a suitable napping spot.

Seascape at Surant Bay

Seascape at Surant Bay


Big Daddy Sea Lion at Surat Bay

Big Daddy Sea Lion at Surat Bay


Oyster Catchers at Surat Bay

Oyster Catchers at Surat Bay

We return to the car taking an alternate route along the inlet and find a pack of sea lions barking and play fighting. The males usually have multiple ladies, called a harem, and will chase off contenders that show an interest in their harem. It seems that this pack of sea lions includes a larger male who has rounded up younger ones and is rehearsing behaviour used for maintaining these breeding harems. Surrat Bay is protected land and it was great to see these massive marine mammals. Unfortunately locals ignore the posted signs and rip up and down the beaches on dirt bike and four wheelers, likely completely oblivious to the damage they are doing to this habitat.

Sea Lions at Surat Bay

Sea Lions at Surat Bay


Sea Lions at Surat Bay

Sea Lions at Surat Bay

The last stop of the day is Nugget Point for amazing coastal views and huge colonies of sea birds, fur seals, sea lions and maybe elephant seals. Spoonbills nest off the point and we observe large eggs in some of the nests through the binoculars. We listen to the seals squeal like children as we watch the bull kelp slither like snakes back and forth between marine life that gracefully swims among the turbulent waters. The views and smells of the endless Pacific Ocean from the lighthouse are soul-stirring.

Nugget Point Lighthouse

Nugget Point Lighthouse


Seascape at Tokata Point

Seascape at Tokata Point

After a wholesome meal of lamb chops and veggies we proceed to the “hide” at Roaring Bay to watch the yellow-eyed penguins coming ashore. Four penguins waddle up the beach, stopping every few meters to stretch out their wings to dry off, its as if they are asking for a hug. They hop up through the coastal shrubs to feed their hungry chicks. It is great to watch from the hide as it provides a shelter and hiding spot for people to observe from, preventing the penguins from being disrupted. These penguins are very shy and won't come ashore if people are on the beach. If the penguins stay in the water it increases their chances of being predated upon and it leads to starving chicks with the end result being a declining population.

Yellow-Eyed Penguins at Roaring Bay

Yellow-Eyed Penguins at Roaring Bay

Just outside of Waihola we pull into a picnic area and we quickly transform the car into a hotel on wheels. This freedom camping isn't too bad. You have to accept camping wherever you can find it, there is no such thing as searching for the “perfect” spot. The moon and stars are out and we drift asleep. Suddenly it's Sunday morning and since we saw a church just down the road we decide to stop in to give thanks. We enter into the Waihola United Church and are are pegged as newcomers instantly and greeted with many smiles. After the service we are treated to coffee and snacks before continuing on towards Dunedin.

Along the scenic road to Dunedin we make a few quick stops to stretch our legs and take in the sights. The plan was to explore the Otago Peninsula before checking in with our next wwoofing hosts but heavy cloud cover and drizzle alters our destination. We cruise right downtown Dunedin for a sushi lunch and a tour of some of the historical sights. Dunedin is a university town with tons of 'scarfies' (students). It is said to be the best preserved Victorian and Edwardian (whatever that is) heritage city in the southern hemisphere. St. Paul's Cathedral Church is astonishing and packed with stained glass windows. Its arched ceiling is an amazing feat of construction as is the much photographed heritage train station. The Edwardian style of architecture and the intricate mosaic tile floors of the train station make this hub an amazing site.

Tunnels Beach

Tunnels Beach


First Prespiterian Church of Otago in Dunedin

First Prespiterian Church of Otago in Dunedin


St. Paul's Cathedral Church in Dunedin

St. Paul's Cathedral Church in Dunedin


Court of Law and Railway Station in Dunedin

Court of Law and Railway Station in Dunedin


Dunedin Railway Station

Dunedin Railway Station


Mosaic Tile in Dunedin Railway Station

Mosaic Tile in Dunedin Railway Station

Along the road to Tershia and Marvin's, our next wwoofing home, Baldwin Street catches our attention. It is the steepest street in the world with a crazy gradient of 19 degrees. We slowly climb our way up, taking a break half way to check out the roof tops and see if any chimneys need repair. Julie is nervous on the wet slippery asphalt and sticks to the sidewalk of stairs along the road. At the top, the view back down the road is strange since it seems to fall away at the steepest point preventing a view of the entire road to the bottom. After we walk back down the road, we decide to drive it, hoping the brakes don't give out.

Baldwin Street Climb

Baldwin Street Climb

We head up another steep winding road on our way to the wwoofers' beautiful property at the top of a hill overlooking the north end of Dunedin. They have a wonderfully packed front yard of flower beds and a backyard loaded with veggie gardens, fruit trees, and a green house. It makes us realize the potential of our property! We get to know the quirky couple over a great curry dinner and a short walk further up the hill through old sheep paddocks. Terisha is passionate about the environment and Marvin about climate change and politics. They have a new documentary about the endangered kakapo that they have been waiting to watch with us. It is an amazing story about the extreme efforts being made to save the worlds largest flightless parrot, including artificial insemination in the wild! We look forward to the week ahead and it sounds like Terisha has some interesting spots to show us and some meaningful work to complete.

Posted by ontarions 14:03 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Forest Gardening in Riverton

...loads of fruit with little work.

sunny 19 °C

Julie nudges me awake from a deep sleep in our roomy car. We have slept the night across the road from Taramea Bay in Riverton. Relocating further south, after re-arranging our belongings from the front seats back to where we had slept, we end up at Howell's Point. As we relax and eat our breakfast, a pack of Hector's dolphins glide into the calmer waters of the bay to rest before heading back out to sea.

Today is the kick-off to Riverton's 175th birthday and the town is buzzing with excitement. The main street is closed off for festivities and residents crowd around live music being performed on the back of a vintage truck. As the parade makes its way through town, Julie notices a family dressed up in settler type clothing and riding antique bicycles. It turns out that they are our next wwoofing hosts, the Guyton family. After the parade we make our way through the busy street to the Environment Centre where we meet Robin Guyton. She is busy organizing a scavenger hunt for the town's folks. Later we are introduced to Robert, her husband, and their children, Terry, Adam and Holly. After some quick small talk, they all have duties to attend to and we are left to further explore the sites and sounds of Riverton. Riverton turns out to have an interesting history as New Zealand's old whaling harbour.

Arrowtown Miners Band in Riverton Parade

Arrowtown Miners Band in Riverton Parade

We return to see if there is anything Robin needs a hand with and she instructs us to jump on the bikes and hurry to the start of the second parade. Yes, we road the old bikes, with their handmade detailed leather seats, down the main street with Robert and Holly, waving and laughing all the way. Funny thing is, due to some misunderstanding, half of the parade started from the north end of town and the other half started from the south end of town! So the two parades met in the middle, laughing at the circumstances.

Guyton Family in Parade

Guyton Family in Parade

Once the festivities die down, we make our way to the Guyton's house to settle in. They live on approximately an acre of land that they cleared of gorse and broom (invasive plants) around twenty years ago and slowly built and grew their dream. Robin always wanted an old rustic house with character but they couldn't afford to buy this. So piece by piece they salvaged and reclaimed building materials from houses being torn down in the area to build their amazing home which is full of character. They have an old toilet with the tank located close to the ceiling, and there are stained glass windows, antique light switches, and beautiful old wooden doors. Amazingly they don't have a fridge, instead they have a neat old “cold box” which they place ice packs into. Yes, they do have a freezer.

Their property is based on permaculture principles. They have planted a vast array of fruit trees, berries and native plants all coming together to form the “Food Forest” that surrounds the house. No weeding is involved, no lawns need to be mowed, but every few days a stroll through the forest is taken to pick fresh, organic fruit and nuts from the trees. This is the life! And they have veggie gardens placed within a clearing in the forest which need additional care.

Food Forest and The Guyton Home

Food Forest and The Guyton Home

After getting to know them over the course of the evening we learn that they are very driven people and have their hands in many different community projects. Robert was a teacher turned writer and plays an active role as a Riverton Councillor that truly cares for the environment and the future of the town. Robin was also a teacher and started the Riverton Environment Centre. The Centre is a place where people can shop for organic products and learn how to live a sustainable and wholesome lifestyle from their extensive library and project display boards. Their children, Adam and Holly, are extremely knowledgeable and are very in tune with the earthy ways taught by their parents.

Throughout our stay we pick up heaps of red and black currents, raspberries, plums, and apples. We help plant new gardens, harvest their organic vegetables, remove overloaded apple tree limbs, and transplant black current cuttings to propagate for sale at the Environment Centre. Julie also helps out at the Environment Centre, learning all about the multiple projects happening in the town. I get the task of laying slate tile in the laundry room to finish a job that Robin has wanted to complete for 15 years. While working with Robert, conversation about his hobby of collecting non-electrical old tools peaks a lot of interest in Julie. They are collecting these tools because human's have a huge reliance on electricity and therefore oil and oil is unsustainable and will run out at some point. Even sustainable energy, such as wind farms, rely on oil to be built. Non-electrical tools are important as they use human energy rather than unsustainable energy and will become essential once again in the future. The Guyton's are one step ahead of everyone else on this planet! Sounds like work around our house might take a bit more elbow grease when we return.

Picking Red Currants in the Food Forest

Picking Red Currants in the Food Forest


Wwoofing - Tile Work

Wwoofing - Tile Work

The Guytons have many projects on the go, all linked to sustainability. Two of the projects include saving heirloom seeds and saving heritage Southland apple trees. To save the apple trees, they take cuttings and graft them onto root stock suitable for the growing conditions. The purpose of both of these projects is to prevent the species from going extinct. Most of the varieties of vegetables grown in the 1900's are now extinct. There are many reasons to explain why this is occurring, one of them being monoculture farming.

Julie Grafting Heritage Apple Trees

Julie Grafting Heritage Apple Trees

A third project, which is more Robert's responsibility is called Te Wai Korari Wetland Reserve. He takes us to the property along the estuary that they saved from becoming farmland. Restoration efforts such as planting native vegetation, creating wetlands, and realigning the stream have taken place with the help of a hydrologist's expertise. This restoration was completed to provide fish habitat, especially to provide breeding grounds for native fish. It was a giant effort and the results have slowly become successful as the area bustles with life.

Te Wai Korari Wetland Reserve

Te Wai Korari Wetland Reserve

One sunny afternoon I finally feed my urge to stroll along Gemstone Beach, since I have a serious problem of collecting rocks throughout our travels. It is a neat area, rich with tumbled stones ripe for the picking. I find and select only the best gems to keep, since Julie isn't fond of loading down our car with my habits. The beach is flanked with sandstone cliffs marbled with orange and yellow colours. On one such cliff a cottage is carved into soft stone with a window facing the ocean. We watch a local hunting for gold flakes with his elaborate homemade sluicing set-up before heading back to the Guytons.

Gemstone Beach Cliffs

Gemstone Beach Cliffs

During our last night spent with the Guytons we resurrect a 120 year old candle lit magic lantern. It has small glass slides consisting of old nursery rhymes in coloured images that become projected quite vividly onto the wall of the darkened living room. The antique slide show is hilarious with the Guyton's commentary. This slide show is an unbelievably simple form of watching a movie and put us back in time.

They are a very inspiring bunch and love to educate anyone who is willing to listen. On our last day an opportunity arises for Julie to educate them while moving chooks. The Guytons usually carry chooks upside down by the legs causing the chickens to go wild. When Julie shows them how to hold multiple chooks in one hand, while the chooks remain calm they were ecstatic. Robert blogged this new found knowledge immediately! http://robertguyton.blogspot.com/2011/01/how-to-hold-hens.html

Over our days with the Guytons we spend tons of time talking about their past and future plans and projects. With lots of laughs, due to their never ending puns, we feel blessed to have wwoofed for them.

Jacobs River Estuary in Riverton

Jacobs River Estuary in Riverton

Posted by ontarions 20:05 Archived in New Zealand Comments (2)

Glowing Skies over Stewart Island

semi-overcast 20 °C

Leaving the lush rainforest of the Fiordlands, we quickly enter into rolling pasture land along the southern NZ coast. Our mission, as we head towards Invercargill, is to find a third person to fly to Mason Bay, located on the western side of Stewart Island. Mason Bay is a huge stretch of remote beach that is only accessible by 3 days of hiking or the easy way, via an hour long plane ride. The entire island is kiwi central and Mason Bay is one the easier places to spot the rare nocturnal bird. Part of this is because it is one of the few places in NZ where the birds are also active during the day. We can't find anyone for the Mason Bay mission after a few quick stops at a couple of Invercargill hostels. So our plan for Stewart Island is quickly changed to plan B, the Rakiura Track.

There isn't much choice for campsites in Invercargill so we decide to head further south to the Catlins region. But before leaving Invercargill we watch the nearly extinct native Tuatara bask in the sun at the Info-Site. It's looks like a lizard but is the closest living relative to the dinosaurs. It is one of the few living relics to have survived since the Jurassic era.

As we get closer to the south coast we cross over the Titiroa River lined with small whitebaiting huts along the shores. Whitebaiters are extremely territorial and most have been fishing the same area for decades. Our map shows a sea lion colony at Waipapa Point so we head in this direction. Upon arrival the incredibly windy beach is void of these large creatures. Moving on with aching ears from the howling winds, we arrive at Slope Point Backpackers to camp for the night. Slope Point is the most southerly point on the South Island. Chatting over dinner with a friendly gentleman that just explored the Catlins area, we get the low down on must-sees and locations of dolphins, seals, penguins, and the fossilized forest. We are eager to walk around the fossilized remnants of a 170 million year old forest at low tide tomorrow in Curio Bay.

Low tide is early, so up and out we go. The fallen trees of the petrified forest are frozen in rock with the wood grain visible in logs and the rings visible in stumps. The trees were turned to stone by silica in the ash-filled floodwaters, a result of steady, heavy rains on ash-covered volcanoes. The entire logs and stumps were preserved because the silification took place within the space of months after the flood, before decay had set in. It is incredible to be able to view such a significant forest completely frozen in time.

Fallen Petrified Logs

Fallen Petrified Logs

When You Gotta Go...

When You Gotta Go...

Julie and I meander up and down the coast taking pictures of the pre-historic when suddenly a yellow-eyed penguin, a Hoiho is its Maori name, pops up before Julie. This species is one of the rarest penguins in the world, so Julie snaps on the zoom-lens. The penguin must have a nest in the coastal plants along the cliffs past the rocky shore. The parents take turns feeding at sea, while the other stays near the nest to protect and nurture the chicks.

Yellow-Eyed Penguin at Petrified Forest

Yellow-Eyed Penguin at Petrified Forest

We move on to Porpoise Bay searching now for Hector's dolphins, sea lions, and elephant seals. The magnificent sandy beach is lined in part with steep cliffs over-looking the sea and is perfect to spot marine life. I suddenly spot something moving across the bay, so we grab the binocs and race to the edge of the water hoping for a sighting of the rare Hector's dolphin. Nope, just snorkelers. We leave the area without any signs of marine mammals. Our next stop is at Niagara Falls, named by a comical explorer familiar with the Niagara Falls in Ontario.

Blow Hole at Curio Bay

Blow Hole at Curio Bay

The day is flying past and we need to get back to Invercargill to stock up on supplies before heading to Stewart Island. We have decided to take the ferry in the morning to the small island. We pick up groceries and head south from Invercargill towards Bluff, stopping along the way to scope out a good freedom camping area to transform our car into a luxurious hotel on wheels. We decide on a perfect beachy spot before continuing on to a look out point of Stewart Island in Bluff.

End of the Road in Bluff

End of the Road in Bluff

For some strange reason, we get thinking about just hoping on a ferry today and staying in a hostel on Stewart Island tonight. The last ferry leaves in an hour, so we scramble about stuffing our bags with four days worth of gear, food, and supplies. The ferry is only for people and not cars, so we had to make sure to bring everything necessary. It was stressful but Julie did a wonderfully calm job of sorting out meals and making sure everything we needed was checked off. We only had to make one last minute dash to the car before jumping on the ferry for the hour long voyage.

First thing I noticed as we took our seats was that everyone had plenty of barf bags. The Captain quickly warns of high swells as we leave the calm harbour. Julie's stomach isn't tossed about so easy and she falls fast asleep. I, on the other hand, focus on the horizon when I could see it to keep from queezing. I check my watch repeatedly before Half Moon Bay (Oban) on Stewart Island was in focus. We gather our bags and walk across the small town headed for Stewart Island Backpackers Hostel to set up our tent.

Stewart Island or the Maori name Rakiura, means land of the glowing sky, and the sun is setting on the small sub-antarctic island. We decide to check out the sunset from Observation Rock overlooking a tranquil Horseshoe Bay. The skies are lit up as the warm sun drops behind the rugged hills in the distance leaving us shivering in strong cool winds. We make our way back to the hostel along the cute side streets of Oban and through a damp dark forested area. We notice signs posted along the roads warning drivers to watch for kiwis as this island is supposedly full of these birds. We head to our tent to rest up for our three day, two night trek around the Rakiura Track starting in the morning.

Fishing boats in Halfmoon Bay

Fishing boats in Halfmoon Bay

Stewart Island Wharf - Halfmoon Bay

Stewart Island Wharf - Halfmoon Bay

Sunset over Golden Bay and Watercress Bay from Observation Rock

Sunset over Golden Bay and Watercress Bay from Observation Rock

We rise to light rain sprinkles before the cloud passes and the weather becomes mainly fine. Before removing ourselves from society for three days, we have to stop at the DOC office to fill out an intentions form so they know where we are tramping and when we are emerging from the bush. With our packs loaded we follow the road to Lee Bay and the start of the Rakiura track. The Rakiura National Park comprises 85% of Steward Island, enclosing lush native rainforest and beautiful beaches. I talk to a pair of trampers that experienced a kiwi popping out of the bush and across the trail right at their feet just hours ago. After an easy three hour hike through lovely native rainforest along the coast the trail spits us out onto Maori Beach. I really wanted to fish the mouth of the river flowing into the north end of the beach, so Julie relaxes on the gorgeous waterfront while I go and attempt to catch dinner. Fishing was fun and that's about it.

Filmy Fern

Filmy Fern


Maori Beach

Maori Beach

Julie on Maori Beach

Julie on Maori Beach


Maori Beach on Rakiura Track

Maori Beach on Rakiura Track

Later in the evening we walk the beach and hang out in the woods listening for the high pitched kiwi call. The forest is thriving with life and we listen to many unique birds, including the parakeet. New Zealand has no native land mammals apart from a few species of bat. Birds have ruled this landscape, many evolving to be flightless. The large Moa and other species were driven to extinction as a result of humans arriving on the islands. In addition, introduced mammals such as stoats, rats, and possums have drastically plummeted many other bird species populations causing them to be extinct, endangered or at risk. The native birds are very plain and colourless but their extraordinary song greatly exceeds anything we have ever heard. One bird's song sounds like part of the song Twinkle Twinkle Little Star! As we come out of the bush the only bird we haven't heard seems to be the kiwi. It's about 10:30pm as we curl up in the tent but it is still very light out. As we fall asleep the sound we have been waiting for vibrates through the night air and we listen to the high pitch whistle of the male kiwi and coarse rasping notes of the female far off in the dark of night.

Fern along Rakiura Track

Fern along Rakiura Track

Day two takes us through virgin podocarp forest, with some sections which were logged in the early 1900's. A few relics from mills and log haulers still remain and are slowly rusting away as the track follows old tramlines once used to carry logs to their various destinations. It is a long hike to Sawdust Bay (about 17 km) and much of the track is under construction. The rainforest along the sides of the track have been cut and disturbed and in only a few places is the forest lush and beautiful right to the track's edge. We also notice that the current trail improvements include covering up the natural track of soil, mosses, and tree roots with gravel. Thus, in our opinion, changing the track from a wilderness tramp that is quiet and soft under the feet, bringing you closer to nature into an easier walk that is noisy and arduous on the feet. It seems that most of the Great Walks in NZ have been 'improved' in this way. As we tramp nearer to our destination the old boardwalks which lead us above thick muddy track sections have been removed. We are very lucky the last few days have been void of rain because while at the hostel we had heard of knee-high mud in places. We walk through with no crazy mud-engulfing stories to share with you.

Crown Fern

Crown Fern

Huge Tree along Rakiura Track

Huge Tree along Rakiura Track

Sawdust Bay is very shallow and has a very gradual slope which creates a huge tidal swing and a great opportunity to search for cockles. Julie opts out of my cockle feast so I share them with Dave, a new friend we just met at Sawdust Bay camp. His family of 6 has been tramping the North-West Circuit for seven days and this is their last night. They are a friendly bunch from Auckland and invite us for dinner when we are in their neck of the woods. Dave also mentions that they've seen eleven kiwis and they give us a couple pointers on how to spot one. The sunset over Sawdust Bay is phenomenal with glowing skies reflecting off small tidal puddles left from the receding tide. Throughout the night the call of the morepork echoes over the bay in an orchestra of sound.

Sawdust Bay on Stewart Island

Sawdust Bay on Stewart Island


Sawdust Bay on Stewart Island

Sawdust Bay on Stewart Island

Rakiura (Glowing Skies) at Sawdust Bay

Rakiura (Glowing Skies) at Sawdust Bay

Our last day on the Rakiura Track is through more muddy sections of trail with the old boardwalks removed. Progress is slow as it is now raining and we are trying to avoid deep mud. After three hours (about 8 km) we hit a gravel road that leads us back to Oban and the hostel for hot showers. The rain gets heavier in the afternoon, as we dine on take-out fish and chips and relax on the couches. As the rain slows and the sun is dropping behind the mountains the cloud clears to reveal a magnificent double rainbow. We gaze at the complete rainbows from end to end, a perfect vision of colour.

Muddy Section on Rakiura Track

Muddy Section on Rakiura Track

The rain returns throughout the night and into the morning and threatens to cancel our fishing trip on an old vessel around Patterson Inlet. We use cash from various family Christmas presents to fund the outing and would like to thank our families again for this great gift. The sun finally breaks through the clouds by 8am and we are on the boat heading out of the inlet just past 9am. The skipper John and his son Daniel, prep the boat for 4 passengers including Julie and I, and we are soon off in search of blue cod. After a short demo we drop our fishing lines made of rope, garden hose, and massive hooks baited with octopus, caught the day before, to the bottom of the ocean. Soon enough we are hauling in cod. Heavy rain and wind come and go but the fish keep biting and we have a great time. Julie pulls up the only full house, catching three cod on her line at one time. These are added to the bucket of cod we catch, some of which are cooked up for our savoury lunch. We also enjoy devouring some raw blue cod seasoned with vinegar and lemon pepper. This is the freshest sushi we've ever tasted. As we fish, some of us pull up seaweed such as bull kelp and attached to this are sea tulips, an invertebrate. We decide to give these a taste test and Daniel scoops out the insides so we can indulge. The texture is mushy and it tastes like the sea. We didn't ask for seconds. Huge Mollymawks and gulls jockey for position along the boat waiting for fish carcasses to be tossed over board. Just before we're ready to head back to shore I catch something huge....turns out to be Spiny Dog Fish, a small shark! We have a great time on the boat with many laughs and we leave with a bag of fresh fish.

Morning Rainbow

Morning Rainbow


Julie catching a Full House!

Julie catching a Full House!


Mollymawks

Mollymawks

Flying Mollymawk

Flying Mollymawk


Mollymawks Fighting for Scraps

Mollymawks Fighting for Scraps


Cooking up Lunch

Cooking up Lunch


Spiny Dogfish

Spiny Dogfish


Feeding Gulls

Feeding Gulls

We head back to the hostel to pack up the tent before we meander through the artsy town and catch the 3:30pm ferry back to the mainland. The ride is choppy but Julie sleeps and once again I focused hard on the horizon to keep the cod down. After a quick stop in Invercargill for a few veggies to go with our days catch we look for somewhere to camp and relax for the night. An incredibly forceful south wind is blowing so we stop at a Holiday Park to use their kitchen to get away from the elements. We can't find anyone in the office to pay for the use of the kitchen, assuming this is an option, so we head in and start cooking and will pay on the way out. That was a mistake. The owner did not take kindly to us helping ourselves, she demands us to leave immediately and pay for a nights accommodations. After some crappy negotiating on our part we pay 15 bucks and get the heck out of there. We have a good laugh afterwards while eating another meal of cod and learn a valuable lesson. Our night ends sleeping in our car along the beach in Riverton, a friendly town west of Invercargill. Here we will be wwoofing for the next week.

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