New Zealand 2003 travel blog

Bush whacking

Research equipment

New Fern

John, Tim and Kelly

John under the Moa at Bealey Hotel

Another fieldtrip with Landcare today, heading out to the MaiMai catchment over on the West Coast. We were picked up around 7am again by Tim, John (Bernie) and a visiting American scientist Kelly. Actually, there wasn't much fieldwork to be done. In fact, part of the reason we were here was because Kelly's boss was one of the original researchers in the MaiMai and he thought it would be a good idea for Kelly to get a better contextual understanding because he was working on some of the data that was gathered here.

It was a good three hour journey north along the north road and then across the Lewis Pass, past Hanmer Springs and on towards Reefton. The weather wasn't shaping up to be very good so the views weren't great and the rain began about halfway down the pass. We'd been warned about the rain on the West Coast and it was looking like we were going to get the full experience.

On the way, Tim and John entertained us with their stories and guide to the landscape. It was geography textbook stuff, with huge alluvial fans, drumlins, roche moutonées, fault lines etc. As Kate commented, she drove for miles in the Cairngorms trying to find an alluvial fan to show her students and here you were practically tripping up over them.

After a brief stop in Reefton for a snack, we found our way through to the catchment research area in the Grey Valley. It was a rough track (including a ford crossing) that led us eventually to the research hut on the edge of the catchment forest. There was a young farmhand living there who looked after the hut. It seemed an incredibly lonely and isolated life, but he seemed reasonably happy, although there was something of the Deliverance redneck about him. I couldn't spot a banjo though.

While John cycled off to check some rain gauge or other, Tim gave the rest of us a quick history of the catchment and why it was so important to the development of hydrological theories. It seemed that the catchment area had been set aside in the 1970s as an experimental beech plantation which would presumably be logged at some future date. During the 1980s, a series of hydrologists began using the catchment to do surveys of sub-surface water movement, each scientist refuting the theories of the previous researchers, until such a time when a degree of consensus was reached on the processes at work. The story was quite interesting, as much because of the clash of intellectual egos rather than just the science itself.

However, through lack of funding, most of the research equipment had now been removed or lay abandoned on the forest floor. It was a real shame in many ways, as there had clearly been a huge amount of effort required to set this up in such a remote location. We spent a about an hour beating our way through the forest (known as "bush-whacking"), and climbing up very steep hillsides, meeting some of the forest inhabitants along the way, including Robins and Bellbirds. We also encountered a weed known as "bush lawyer" as it has a tendency to stick to you and it is very hard to disentangle yourself without significant cost to the shirt on your back - doesn't sound like any lawyers I know.

We gathered our things and drove back to Christchurch through Arthur's Pass instead. This was our first drive through the pass but the heavy rain did little to improve the views we were hoping for. However, it was still pretty dramatic with heavy rain and lighting, and sheer drop off from the side of the road - drama which was enhanced greatly by John playing Wagner loudly on the tape machine. If only I had been so musically inspired the other day... However, John's initial inspirational choice was superceded by the more dubious Greatest Hits of Meatloaf. "Bat out of Hell" just doesn't compare to the "Ride of the Valkyries".

Still the Pass did look worthy of the famous train trip and I vowed to look into it soon - apparently they get the steam train out in a few weeks. The whole raod had been a single unsealed track until relatively recently being frequently blocked by snow and rockfalls. On one particular stretch they had constructed a huge funnel drain over the road to let all the meltwater cascade safely into the gorge rather than onto the road (as it had done previously). Once through the pass we came back to Bealey, where we had walked on Sunday. We stopped for a drink at the Bealey Hotel, a bar made famous because the owner claimed that he had taken a photo of a Moa bird in the area - a bird which has been extinct for about 400 years. The claim and the subsequent media interest had nothing to do with the fact that the sighting took place just weeks before he opened the Hotel for business...

Anyway, it had been a fine day out in the field and we had managed to see a little bit of the West Coast through the rain.

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