Monday, February 2, 2009

A Day Out in Okarito

I'm not sure how many times I have driven past the Okarito sign. Too many. I always suspected there were better places to go on the coast, and thought there would be too many tourists stuck down there. There aren't. It's a windy road in, you are heading for the ocean but there are low hills in the way. There is generally forest on one side of the road or the other. What has drawn us in finally is friends, Franny and Brent are rumoured to be living down here somewhere in a cosy little seaside cottage living the dream.

Franny and Brent are bird people. Through and Through. They used to go on bird camps when they were kids and between them they have worked everywhere where bird people work; Anchor Island, Whenua Hou, Titi Islands and other places more unique. They have done hard yards in Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia with the Blue Throated Macaw and stalked a rare ground parrot way out west in Australia. Hang on, here's a quick profile and blog from Brent. But anyway we find their little cottage, just, and are quickly enchanted with the interesting souvenirs and trinkets accumulated during their adventures. And of course its great to catch up :-) For the record Franny is as crazy as Brent, but as far as Google is concerned she is still most famous for retracing the footsteps of Nathaniel Chalmers

We had suggested to Franny that we could help out wandering around in the bush. So the next day she sent us off with a big laugh on her face...

She gave is a map and some instructions to follow some old stoat trap lines and find these little ink pad things which record which nasty voracious predators have been passing by, heres an example here with lots of little footprints all over it..

The map is fascinating, and graphically shows what a unique area the Okarito forest is. The forest runs from sea-level up to the slopes of the alps and contains rugged hills up to few hundred metres of height. It is bounded on three sides by the Waihao River, the Tasman Sea and the Okarito River. The dense rimu forest has provided a sanctuary to the final population of Rowi and people have helped buffer the defences in the last ten years or so. Read here about the Okarito Kiwi Sanctuary.

Interestingly that article states the "stoat trapping operation in this sanctuary is thought to be the largest in the world". The extensive network of tracks and dots (representing traps) enabling this operation can be seen on the map we used...

Sometimes the vagaries of computers defeat me

A decision has been made now to mothball the trapping programme, relying instead on strategic use of 1080, which is actually why Franny and Brent are here, but I'll discuss that in the next posting. But what is left is an amazing network of tracks, and that is what we were wandering around in. It's a jungle. Fallen Rimu leaves with their long tiwsting bodies and comb like edges have this amazing ability to ratchet up the iside of your trousers and irritate the backs of your knees. Supplejack is breeding hard this year. The red berries provide a splash of colour in the canopy. There are not enough gatherers like Brent mixing their fresh shoots in their salads.On the forest floor fluorescent mushrooms gather where some miracle of life has provided them sufficent motivation to sprout.

It's damn hot too. We find our way around the trap lines alright, then get distracted by a white heron. We tail it down a small stream to three mile lagoon, and pause for sometime to appreciate the pristine estuarine environment. How many estuaries with unmodified catchments are left in New Zealand bar this one? The clear but tannin waters suck us in for a swim and as we are dressing Harold comes cruising past, giving us the evil eye and letting us know in no uncertain terms just who is the boss.

It's a struggle back to the village, the track deteriorates into 5 metre high Kiekie at the end, but we soon pop out on an old pack track, surely they could allow mountain biking here? And are back to our supplies for lunch.

That afternoon Penny drags me out to the lagoon, and I drag the Canadian canoe. We paddle for an hour or so up the estuary, stalking white heron and listening to the sea thundering on the otherside of the narrow spit. It always amazes me how smooth the paddling stroke can be and how fast you can get along. As the mist thickens we power back into the light breeze to the peaceful seaside village underneath the forested point.


Ruahines said...

Kia ora Jamie,
What an amazing place and a great write up. I have been enjoying following your many and varied adventures. I love the ol' Canadian canoe. When I lived in the states I spent a lot of time in the Boundary Waters Wilderness Canoe Area, a huge area of lakes and rivers bordering northern Minnesota and Canada. Travel was done in canoes then portaging across land to the next lake or river and we would travel for days not seeing anyone but moose, wolves, bears, eagles and catching fish.
Looking forward to your next post.

Bob McKerrow said...

Gidday mate

Always good to read what you are up too. Most interesting. When i was head of DoC at franz we started the Kiwi programme and the trapping of stoats so it brought back many memories.

Your stories are great jamie as are the people you meet. I love reading people of your energy, diversity and your generation.

Happy walking brother.


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Jamie said...

Hey guys, thanks for the comments, always good to make that cyberspace connection! Hope things are all well with work and family!