Backpacking Pensioners travel blog

Stick in the muds

The Source of the Buller River

Buller River on the journey

On the swing bridge

The superman ride

A view down the Buller Gorge

Beach near the campsite

Tauranga Bay

More Seals

More Seals

On the way to Cape Foulwinds

View from Cape Foulwinds

Our first Weka with chicks


Our camp was at Kerr Bay on Lake Rotoiti in the Nelson Lakes National Park. This alpine region is at the northern limit of the Southern Alps where ancient glaciers have shaped the dramatic landscape. The park contains a series of mountain ranges up to 2,340 metres high, (over 7,600 feet), and the Alpine Fault which runs the length of the South Island cuts through the northern boundary of the park.

The above was news to me. It is only a week ago we awoke to the news an earthquake of 6.5 on the Richter Scale occurred at Milford Sound. No damage was caused and we wont be in that area until the back end of November; so that's all right then. I thought it was time to do a bit more research.

New Zealand straddles the boundaries of the Pacific plate and the Indian/Australian plate and to this day remains the plaything of nature's strongest forces. Not for nothing is it called 'The Shaky Island'. I'm not sure I wanted to know that. The Southern Alps, which stretch for over 400 miles, are a product of a clash between the two plates. The lift still continues and the Alps are described as being on an express elevator that without erosion and landslides would see them 10 times their present height within a few million years.

So there you have it; if you want to walk up the Alps, you had better do it quick before they get too big. We would have walked up them if Sylvia had felt a bit fitter; honest.

It was a cold morning as we walked to the Information Office to pay our fees for last night and tonight. Summer fees began yesterday and the Trades Description people should be informed. We decided to try a walk and in the event we managed one of almost two hour duration. The walk took us up through the woods on the path leading to the summit, before branching off. Our path was on stones left by the glacier, or laced with tree roots, and often went through pools and muddy patches or had young streams running down. It was much more arduous than we had expected and light rain accompanied us for the last 45 minutes.

During the walk we observed a variety of bait boxes. Volunteers are assisting in the effort to eradicate introduced pests that have ravaged the natural ecosystems of mainland New Zealand. The hope is that the natural species that are in decline, will re-establish themselves in the area. By intensive trapping and use of poisons, the numbers of pests, such as possums, stoats, ferrets, weasels, rats, mice and wasps have been reduced. The work will have to be ongoing.

As we neared our van the rain became more intense and this continued for the rest of the day, watched by us from inside of the van. There are a lot of possible walking tracks suitable for us, as well as some that take a few days which we will leave for younger people to enjoy, but they are all pretty soggy at the present time. With a bit of planning we should be able to come back this way in a few months time.

Sunday, 21 October and tomorrow is Labour Day, a Bank Holiday; a day associated with the start of better weather. It was brought in by act of parliament in 1899 to celebrate the achievement of an 8 hour working day, something that marked the young colony out as a workers paradise in a world where tradesmen routinely worked a 12 or 14 hour day. A newspaper informs that today 20% of New Zealand employees work more than 50 hours a week, a level exceeded only by Japan and South Korea in the developed world.

We get up and look at the very wet ground that our van is parked on, and the mud area we will have to pass through to get to the roadway leading into the site. Our first attempts were not successful. As Sylvia said to our neighbours, "At least we give you a good laugh". We had to skid our way to straighten up and move down to harder ground to make our next attempt. Bob, my valued helper at time of need when we entered the site, gave advice and guidance whilst trying to keep his face straight, and we managed to extract ourselves from the mire we were in. As I remarked, "I'm glad it is not my lawn"; (see picture).

Before leaving the area we went to view the source of the Buller River as it left Lake Rotoiti. Our journey then took us down the Upper Buller and Lower Buller Gorge, following the river. It was during the journey that I recognised that there does not seem to be any scenic lookout points along the roads in New Zealand. The reason for this is because every where is scenic. The urge to keep stopping to take pictures is immense.

At the small town of Murchison we bought food before visiting the Information Office. Although the internet facilities were not conducive to our needs, we did have a very good conversation with the lady in charge, and she was full of ideas for our ongoing enjoyment. The first of these was at the Buller Gorge Swingbridge Adventure and Heritage Park.

Here we had the opportunity to walk across New Zealand's longest swingbridge of 360 feet for a cost of £2. If we paid an extra £8 we could come back by way of an aerial chair, or for £11 we could be on the Supaman Ride. As Sylvia used her sore back as the excuse for not being 'Supawoman', I had to photograph another who clearly had more money than sense.

After bouncing our way across the bridge suspended 53 feet above the fast flowing Buller River, we did a walk through a forest to view a 300 year old tall tree, (New Zealand's tallest variety), before visiting an old gold mine shaft. The latter part of the walk past over the White Creek Fault. In 1929 the Murchison earthquake, 7.8 on the Richter Scale, was centred underneath this fault; 17 people died. The 14 feet uplift can still be seen on the other side of the river. It was time to bounce our way back across the swingbridge and get back to our van.

The chosen camp site for the night was south of Westport on the road to Cape Foulwind. We checked out the beach which was a greyish colour, looked at the large amount of driftwood, and watched and listened to the crashing waves. The roar of the sea could be heard all night if we bothered to listen; we just let it lull us to sleep.

Monday. You may have noticed we are devotees of seals. Just the other side of Cape Foulwind, named by my fellow Yorkshireman Captain Cook who did not have a happy time when he past this way, is a New Zealand Fur Seal Colony. The cape's Maori name meant 'Sheltered Anchorage'; in December 1642 the first European here was Abel Tasman and his name for the cape meant 'Rocky Point'. When James Cook moored the Endeavour here in March 1770, a furious storm made it anything but a 'sheltered anchorage'. He left the cape's foul name in his wake.

Today's walk was up the cliff path to the seal observation decks, and then onwards along the cliff top to Cape Foulwinds. This was a very undulating walk and not accomplished without a lot of effort. As we started back, to our surprise men and women came running past us at regular intervals. I had expected one man to hurdle the stile but he climbed it just like us. Apparently the local Harriers were out for a run. I'm not sure if I could have managed the down bit, let alone running back up.

Before setting off back to our camp site, we tried out the chocolate cake at a nearby quality café and had a good conversation with fellow motorhome/caravan club members. Freshly fortified we drove along and was surprised to see a Weka. The road signs warned us to watch out for this endangered indigenous flightless bird but we didn't expect to see one. As we took pictures two young ones came out of the hedge and joined the adult. This bird is described as one that eats eggs, chicks, snails, leaves, and your lunch if you don't watch out. Whatever, we were thrilled to have been at such a close proximity to it.

Tonight we will again be lulled to sleep by the roar of crashing waves, despite being about 500 yards from the beach; tomorrow we will drive to Karamea, pronounced just as it sounds, (Kara-meea); what a lovely name.

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