Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Sunny days exploring the Marlborough Sounds

 There's a special place in my heart for the Marlborough Sounds. Hundreds, no thousands, of little bays, forest clad, transport exclusively by sea going vessel to most of them, just a few roads up the spines, so much to explore. I spent a week or so there in 2019, on the Queen Charlotte Track, and Kenepuru Sound, but there's much more to see and discover...

I drove to Duncan Bay and paddled up Tennyson Inlet, past a couple of other bays, to Tawa Bay where there is a DOC campsite. With very little wind it was an easy paddle, and despite the carpark at Duncan Bay being choked with cars and boat trailers, I saw only a handful of other boats, a couple of sea kayakers, and a couple on SUPs.

A family were chilling on the beach when I arrived, but they left late afternoon in their boat and on jet skis to go back to their bach at Penzance Bay. I set up my tent and went for a little wander along the beach, to a small creek flowing in to the bay, but mostly I just chilled and enjoyed the view.

Just on dusk a couple of sea kayakers turned up, who belonged to the tents already erected at the campsite. They were paddling in little more than swimwear, and weren't even wearing life jackets. I had a short chat with them, but the dismissive way he spoke, and the slight disdain for the idea that I had paddled there in a packraft, meant I didn't hang around chatting but instead went off to bed.

The next morning I was up bright and early to paddle back down the inlet. A little more wind than the day before, but fickle, so not any concern. I went a bit further into Matai/Godsiff Bay to check out the hut there, which can be booked via the Matai Bay Hut Trust. A group of women were there, having enjoyed a girls weekend at the hut before sea kayaking back to Penzance. They also made some slightly negative remarks about my "rubber ducky". I explained it was a packraft, a much higher spec craft to a simple toy inflatable....

I continued down the inlet back to Duncan Bay. Much less crowded at the boat ramp, where I had some interesting conversations with a few other boaties. One couple had also met the sea kayakers from my campsite, had also been surprised at the lack of life jackets, and had also had the same experience of finding the fellow somewhat unpleasant to talk to. Another chap came over to ask lots of questions about my packraft. This has been the usual reception I get, genuine curiosity and interest. It seems some sea kayakers with their one trick ponies are a little narrow minded....

My car was due back in Blenheim in a couple of days for some maintenance work, and with a bit of rain forecast, I rang up Rick and Barb and headed back to Renwick. It had been almost two years since I had seen them last, and it was great to catch up with them and Marg, who lives next door, my old tramping mates from the Humpridge.

Once the car was sorted, with new spark plugs, brake pads and CV inner boots, I headed back to the Sounds. After camping a night on Kenepuru Sound I walked up the Mt Stokes track, for stupendous views in all directions. It's the tallest hill in the sounds, and has some beautiful forest on its flanks. It has a sad history, having supported a small community of mohua, yet another NZ bird at risk of extinction due to introduced predators. Efforts to wipe out predators were going well until a mega mast event in 2000 saw an explosion in the rat population and the mohua were wiped out. This has been a learning experience in conservation circles, such that the mega masting events of 2019 and 2020 were approached with much more radical and extensive poisoning regimes. Masting is the name given to the production of seeds by the forest trees, mostly beech in that area. This provides a ready food source for rats in particular, whose population skyrockets. Once the food source reduces, they then start eating all the other animals around, especially bird eggs and chicks. Since NZ birds evolved without mammal predators, even the ones with wings are vulnerable to nest predation.

I met a couple, Ben and Nicole, also tramping the track. They were heading down to Titirangi campsite, which I had never heard of before they and another couple on the track had mentioned it. It's right at the end of the road, a basic campsite with toilets and cold showers, just back from a sandy beach, in a grassy paddock that is part of Titirangi Farm. It's only $7pppn to stay there, a bargain! I decided to stay 2 nights.

The next morning I headed off at high tide for a paddle along the western side of the bay. It was completely calm, perfect for exploring the sea caves and little coves.

Later, at low tide, Ben, Nicole and I collected some mussels from the rocks and cooked up a feast. We had fresh mussels for entree and fried fish, courtesy of some other campers, for mains, with a seaweed salad also foraged from the sea.

That night a southerly hit. The regulars had told us about how brutal the southerlies get, as they come up over the hill and slam down again at twice the speed and a lot more turbulence, battering the campsite. Forewarned, I had packed up my tent and gear, and slept inside the car overnight, woken regularly by the car being rocked around by the wind. The next morning the wind was still at it, so I packed up and headed off, stopping at Kenepuru Head campsite for a late breakfast in the cooking shelter there. Then on to Nelson.

Next stop Golden Bay....

Sunday, February 7, 2021

West Coast history and isolation

 The west coast of the South Island is an incredibly wild and isolated spot. It's wet and lush and the ocean swells crash onto beautiful sandy beaches. The rock formations shaped by the wind and the sea make for spectacularly scenic vistas. Which makes it a great spot for tourists to visit, but what about the locals?

Between the ocean and the mountains is only a narrow strip of arable land, so there is a dairy and sheep industry, but the main employment on the west coast has been coal mining. This is hard, dangerous work and there are still mine accidents and fatalities, the most recent one being the collapse of the Pike River mine near Blackball in 2010, when 29 lives were lost.

South of the Mokihinui, on the way to Westport, is the abandoned town of Denniston, perched on a rich coal seam plateau a few kilometres inland, and about 600 metres above sea level. To get the coal down to the rail line to Westport, an ingenious piece of engineering was created in the 1880s, an incline with a vertical drop of 510m that used the weight of an empty coal wagon to control the descent of a full one. Of course there were accidents, and fatalities, but surprisingly few given the working conditions and the lack of safety regulations like today.

My visit to Denniston coincided with a humid misty day, which gave the ruins and relics an appropriately moody atmosphere. Over 1600 people lived up there on the plateau at it's height, living in pretty challenging conditions, through cold wet winters and summers. It's worth a wander, here's some pictures.

After Denniston I headed down to Westport and back up to Lyell, where the sandflies were still biting, to go exploring up the Lyell Creek for an old hut. Once off The Old Ghost Road the track is unmaintained, but its stunningly beautiful forest to walk through, seeking out a relic of the old gold mining era.

From Lyell I headed back east, to better weather and a few days exploring the Marlborough Sounds. 

That's next....