MistyNites

My Life in Motion

Archive for the month “April, 2021”

How Not to Hike the Heaphy Track

An unsettling feeling hit me shortly after lunch. As I hiked, the feeling got worse, a familiar and unwanted sensation brewing in my stomach, building as I made my way up the mountain. Finally it overwhelmed me and I grabbed a nearby rock to steady myself as I vomited. Immediately I felt better and I was relieved, returning to the hike. But it wasn’t long before it was back and over the next few hours as I slogged my way up in altitude, I had to stop again and again to purge my stomach, a hint of misery building as time went on and my destination failed to come into view. Having been dropped off by shuttle some hours before, I was 3 nights away from my car, and as my misery worsened, I contemplated my options: crawl back to the middle of nowhere and hope for a phone signal to call for a pick-up, or continue to traverse the mountains to reach my car. I’ve been called stubborn on more than one occasion, but never foolhardy. I’m not sure which one of these I was being (perhaps both), but I decided to push on, feeling the dizziness of dehydration creep in as I continued to be sick on the trail.

I’d spent Christmas day in 2019 packing and prepping for the hike ahead and early on Boxing Day I’d set off on the long drive from Christchurch to Kohaihai on the edge of Kahurangi National Park on the west coast of the South Island. Here marks the end of the Heaphy Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. I spent the majority of the drive in my own World, admiring the gorgeous scenery that the country is famous for. I paused briefly in the Buller Gorge to take some photographs before hitting the west coast and turning northwards. On a whim I picked up a hitchhiker who was heading to Karamea, something which I had never done prior to living in New Zealand but have done a few times since living here. She recommended the campsite she’d just stayed at and it turned out she’d just come off the track that I was about to start. Once I dropped her off and continued onward to the end of the road, it wasn’t long till I was stepping out in gorgeous sunshine to the sound of crashing waves on the beach.

I had 40 mins to spare until my shuttle was scheduled and after a walk on the beach, I watched the weka wandering about the site, admired the pohutakawa trees which were in full bloom and readied my hiking gear together to join the large group of people that waited at the shelter. My shuttle arrived a little early and before long we were all bundled on for the long and tedious drive to Nelson. As the crow flies, the start and end of the 4-day Great Walk are only on opposite sides of the national park, but the road network meant the logistics of track transport were going to take over 24hrs from leaving home to reach the start of the trail. It had already taken 6hrs to drive there, and now I had a 6hr bus drive back through the Buller Gorge and north to Nelson. But the shuttle was also responsible for picking up hikers and bikers on several tracks and so we wound our way from main road to back roads as we offloaded and loaded people in various parts of the region. Finally, well into the evening, we pulled up in Nelson.

 

Aside from my hiking gear I’d brought the remains of a bottle of wine I’d started on Christmas day, and obtaining a pizza, I sat out on my hostel balcony and chilled out in the summer evening air. I’d wanted to walk the Heaphy track for some time and was excited about the hike to come. I rose early and readied my gear, unwittingly sealing my fate for the hike ahead, and headed back to the bus stop to jump aboard the shuttle once more. This time we circled through Abel Tasman to pick up and drop off those doing the trails in that National Park, before finally those of us walking the Heaphy were dumped at a car park in what felt like the middle of nowhere. Roughly 28hrs after I’d left home, I was on the trail.

The start of the trail is an easy walk through lowland forest and grassland past a hut near the bank of the Aorere river. With everyone starting at almost the exact same time there was a bit of queue to sign in on the Department of Conservation (DoC) track book, but thankfully everybody spread out quite early on. Whilst I don’t mind socialising at the huts in the evening, I much prefer hiking solo. Not only does it let me get into my own head space, an act which helps me unwind from the stress of daily life, but I find I see more on my own, be it wildlife on the trail, or some random piece of beauty like the dew on a flower, or the dappled light of sun breaking through the foliage. Within half an hour of leaving the start point, the long climb up the mountain began.

 

Being summer it was a hot day, and I started throwing the water back as the trail wound its way up and up the mountainside. At a starting altitude of 140m, my destination for the night, Perry Saddle Hut was sitting at 860m, and the DoC sign stated 5hrs to get there. On these great walks, the distance signs tend to be an over-estimate, so I kept a steady pace, in no particular hurry, knowing I’d make the hut in good time. Every now and again a break in the foliage would afford a view across the valley to the nearby mountain range, but mostly I was among thick forest, passing through dappled sunlight as it peaked through.

 

But after stopping for lunch washed down with a big guzzle of water, I started walking again only to realise I just wasn’t feeling quite right. I worked out pretty quickly what the problem was and realised this was not a small issue. The day before when I had been packing, I’d gotten out my water bladder to discover I’d somehow left some water in it from a previous use and the water was bright green. I’d washed it first with soapy water then when my UV water treatment light failed to work properly, I sterilised it with boiling water, but clearly this wasn’t enough to get rid of whatever bacteria had brewed in the watery remnants. Having filled the bladder full in Nelson that morning, I’d given myself water poisoning and I was an idiot. It was a hot sunny day and I had a 4-day hike to do. I needed water to drink and I needed a receptacle to put it into. The more I was sick, the more I needed water and yet I couldn’t drink any. My increasing misery was self-induced and I staggered on in whatever stubborn foolishness took over me.

Eventually I reached the Aorere shelter after 5hrs. I should have been at the hut by now, but a vat of rain water allowed me to ditch my water supply and boil some water to replace it with. It wasn’t ideal as clearly boiling hadn’t worked the first time, but with my UV light refusing to hold its charge and with a need to drink some water, this was the best that I could do. The sign stated an hour to the hut, but this final section felt like it went on forever. Knowing though that I might not be back here again, the stubborn streak came out and I still made the most of the sidetrack to a lookout which afforded a view to the mountains to the south. Shortly after, I reached the highest point of the trail, and yet as I looked at the topographical map, I inwardly despaired about the distance in front of me.

 

It was approaching 6pm, over 6hrs since I’d started walking, when I suddenly saw a post stating the hut was 1km away. When at last I reached the hut, it was bustling with life and I headed straight to the bunk room to lie down. People came and went, and as I lay prostrate on the mattress I felt the awful sensation in my stomach return. Leaping off the bed to get outside I started retching before I’d even reached the door. Hand over mouth I was almost in tears as I pushed out into the boot room where I immediately threw up on the floor. I only made it as far as the decking outside before I was violently sick again in front of everyone walking past. My misery was overloaded with embarrassment, but I hovered there for some time as the feeling subsided. When at last it passed, I sheepishly went back inside to wash the floor of the boot room and flush the decking. This wasn’t the hike that I’d planned.

Huts of any kind are a great place to meet like-minded people from all around the country and all around the World. That night I was eternally grateful for the kind soul who provided me with sterilising tablets to treat my water bladder, which thankfully meant I could start drinking water again. Between my dehydration and a horrendous snorer in the same room, I got little sleep that night, but by the time morning arrived, I’d managed to keep my stomach contents inside my stomach for nearly 12hrs. I hadn’t eaten since lunchtime the day before and that hadn’t stayed down, but although I was no longer being sick, I couldn’t bare the thought of breakfast. I still contemplated heading back down the mountain, but not for long. As the hikers gradually packed up and moved on, I too set off across the ridge. Had things been different, I possibly would have taken the summit route up to Mt Perry, but as it was I had a long day ahead. On an empty stomach, dehydrated and tired, I started day 2 of the Heaphy Track.

A Weekend in Oz

I didn’t know it at the time but this was to be the last time I’d use my passport and go abroad. Back at the end of November 2019, completely oblivious to World events that were to come, myself and my partner stood in line at Christchurch airport, ready to hop the ditch for a weekend in Australia. My best friend had been living in Sydney the previous few years but was readying to return to life in the UK and with Sydney being my favourite city in the whole World, it was an easy decision to cross the Tasman Sea to visit her before she was to move to the other side of the World. I would have loved to spend more time with her, but at just 3.5hrs, an early flight there and a late flight back a couple of days later made a 3-day weekend jaunt do-able.

The Southern Alps were shrouded in low cloud as we took off, crossing the breadth of New Zealand’s South Island before spanning the width of the Tasman Sea. I adore Australia and will happily visit anywhere and everywhere within reach, and as always I was giddy when I saw the New South Wales coastline approach and the Sydney suburbs appear out of the clouds as we descended into the city. Sadly the country had been hitting the headlines due to the extreme amount of wildfires that were taking place in various states, but as we landed there was no evidence that any of that was going on.

I always stay at the same place every time I visit, the YHA hostel in the Rocks district. Not only do I love this part of the city, but the hostel is the best hostel I’ve every stayed at and its rooftop viewing deck with a view across to both the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House is worth every cent of this dearer-than-most hostel. After dumping our bags there, we met up with my friend and her partner, taking a leisurely stroll through the Royal Botanic Gardens by the waterfront of Sydney Harbour. It was a bit overcast and hazy but it was warm and in the bay a couple of catamarans were parked on which Christmas parties were in full swing. Despite the years I’ve now lived in the Southern Hemisphere, I fail to feel festive with a summer Christmas but I did acknowledge that the summer did lend itself to better parties and outdoor festive fun. We laughed at their crazy antics as we passed by, and as we moved beneath the trees I sought out the loud and obnoxious cockatiels that I adore to spot when I’m in Oz.

At the far side of Mrs Macquaries Point, a swimming pool was built a few years prior which spans the side of the gardens. We stopped in at the poolside bar to enjoy an Aperol Spritz, a neon-orange cocktail that despite being Italian in origin, to me is quintessentially Australian. It turned out our waiter was from Glasgow which is where myself and my best friend used to live so it was both nice and surreal to chat away with him about life at home and life in Oz. We were pretty much the last people in the place by closing and we continued on our merry way back through the gardens, musing at the various painted koala statues as we passed.

As we reached the Sydney Opera House, the behemoth of cruiseliners, the Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Sea was negotiating its exit from the harbour. It’s strange to think how uncommon this must be now after everything that has happened in the last year, but at the time it was a normal Sydney event, and we stood to watch it turn with precision and be guided out of Circular Quay by a support boat, tiny in comparison to the enormous multi-decked ship. Sydney harbour has a constant flow of leisure and commercial craft ploughing its waters and these other vessels were simply dwarfed as they zipped past the slow moving liner.

After a while we continued on into the Rocks, taking my friend and her partner up to the roof of the hostel to see the view before we all headed round to Darling Harbour for expensive cocktails in a swanky bar up one of the skyscrapers there. I felt rather underdressed among the fancy socialites out for a Saturday night, but from the bar we had a view up the Paramatta river and the suburbs that flank the river. After dinner it was time to retire to the hostel and get some much needed sleep after the early rise for the morning flight.

 

Stepping onto the rooftop balcony first thing in the morning I was immediately confronted with another cruise ship which had arrived in the middle of the night. Now the first day of December, this was peak season here, and there would be little gap between the myriad of cruises that include Sydney in its route. We walked down through the Rocks past a giant inflatable snow globe, and down the many steps to Circular Quay where it was busy as usual. It was a familiar walk round to the Opera House and back before it was time for the 4 of us to get together once more, this time catching a ferry across to Taronga Zoo wharf on the north side of the harbour.

It wasn’t the zoo we were aiming for, but the coastal walk that runs the length of the harbour from the headlands far up the Paramatta river. I’ve walked sections of it before, but this was to be a new part, where we first headed east towards Bradleys Head. Bradleys Head cuts deep into the harbour and is well positioned to offer a view across to the Sydney skyline. There are so many places to get a view of the Opera House, Harbour Bridge or both, and every time I come to Sydney I go somewhere new to obtain a new perspective. When we reached the amphitheatre near the lighthouse, we found some bush turkeys strutting around the grounds and a couple of kookaburras. Although New Zealand to me is the land of birds, Australia has some incredible bird life, many of which, like the cockatoos and the kookaburras, are loud and raucous. It adds a whole level of auditory stimulation to city explorations. We sat there talking for a bit, watching some people out on the pier as the waves smashed into the concrete.

 

After a while, we headed back to the Taronga Zoo pier but continued on the harbour trail to the west, where the coast cut deep into Sirius Cove. The water was littered with boats and the beach in the cove was busy on a Saturday. Enjoying the company and the views, we reached the far side of the cove and cut up over the headland through the residential streets to reach Mosman Bay, another cove that was crammed full of boats. I often dream about living in Sydney, but the reality is that the city is an expensive place to live, and as much as a harbour view would be the dream, I know it’s not a realistic option for me. So instead, I just admire people’s houses as I pass. We eventually reached our lunchspot, the Mosman Rowers restaurant where it was time for more cocktails and a bite to eat. These are the kind of days that make me immensely happy, away from the stresses of life, with no schedule to keep and little care in the World. Just a group of old and new friends hanging out, enjoying the Australian way of life.

After lunch, we continued to follow the coast round the very deep Mosman Bay towards Cremorne Point. I was surprised to see a bush turkey sitting in a tree as we walked. Used to seeing them rummaging around in the undergrowth, it was strange to see one just sitting on a tree branch. Once at Cremorne Point we were back in view of the Opera House again, with an unrestricted view across to the far side of the harbour once more. We didn’t have to wait too long for a ferry to carry us back to Circular Quay where we passed the light rail that was new at the time, before heading into the Rocks for their Christmas market.

 

The last time I visited Sydney was for Vivid Sydney, the annual light extravaganza that occurs in autumn, but this time, instead of light installations spread between the streets, it was Christmas trees, and toy soldiers and fake snow. These are the kind of events where I wish my family lived nearer. I moved to the Southern Hemisphere on my own in late 2011, and only getting to see my family in Scotland every few years, I miss out on a lot of family outings and celebrations. Sometimes I see mothers and daughters out for tea or siblings hanging out at a bar, or families having picnics and I simply ache to have my family closer. One of my brothers at least has had a brief snapshot of my life over here with a visit a few years ago, but for the most part, my family has no idea what I experience with life Down Under. New Zealand and Australia feel as much, if not more so, of a home as Scotland does, and I know that being here is the right thing for me. Still, I walked round that market, soaking up the buzz, enjoying myself immensely, albeit with a small piece of my heart wishing my mum especially was there with me.

At the far end of the market, we posed under the neon sign before cutting down to Campbells Cove. We were simply dwarfed by the Norwegian Jewel cruiseliner that was parked up at the harbour, and under a hazy sky we just hung out, watching the World go by. The benefit of having friends living in a foreign city is that you get to find out about cool local hangouts. We mulled over choices of where to go for drinks, eventually deciding to catch an Uber into the city. Unfortunately where we aimed for didn’t work out, so we walked through Hyde Park and made our way to Marble Bar, a speakeasy underground in the Hilton. This place was incredibly atmospheric with walls lined with whiskies and liqueur, and a grand ornate ceiling above leather couches. The weekend had already been about cocktails and now it was cocktail time again, with a bit of whisky to balance it out.

 

Having made the most of the cocktail hour at this awesome bar, we eventually headed back to Circular Quay where there was still a few hours of daylight to ogle over the Opera House. The cruiseliner had by now left and we went for dinner at the Squire’s Landing at one end of the ferry terminal. Over the years that my friend had lived in Sydney and I had lived in New Zealand, I had seen her more often than when she had lived in London and I had lived in Scotland. She treated us to a delicious dinner as a goodbye, and we ate as the sun lowered, and the sky changed colour over the sail-like roof of the Opera House, the harbour ferries ploughing back and forth in front of it.

 

The four of us had a final catch up that morning, enjoying breakfast out in a suburb somewhere, sharing stories and making plans for my trip home in August 2020, 8 months later. We said our goodbyes at the end of it, plans in place for our catch up in Scotland, cheerily oblivious to what was to happen over the coming months. Alas, my trip was cancelled, and 16 months later I still don’t know when I’ll see my family or friends again. But at the time we knew none of that, and with our flight home not till later that day, my partner and I took a walk to Sydney Observatory where we had a view of the opposite side of the Harbour Bridge than we’d been looking at so far. I’d been to Sydney more recently than my partner had and he wanted to go to Manly, so we worked our way back to Circular Quay to catch the ferry.

 

As much as I always want to do something new when I visit, I do enjoy a few firm favourites and taking the ferry across to Manly is one of them. For less than the tourist ferries charge, the Manly ferry sails the length of the harbour offering stunning views the whole way before depositing you at a pier by a small beach. From there it is a short walk up the Corso to the gorgeous Manly beach, a long curved stretch of yellow sand that is a popular place to swim and just hang out. From there, a promenade leads round the coast to the more secluded Shelly beach where we grabbed an iced fruit lolly to enjoy in the sunshine. The previous couple of days had had high cloud and a slight haze, but out there we’d left the clouds behind, and we were under more of a blue sky. It was exceptionally hot. After lapping up the views and the heat, we headed back to Manly beach, walking under the summer banners declaring Merry Christmas next to an ice cream cone. Once again I laughed internally at the absurdity of a summer Christmas.

 

Rather than head straight back to downtown, we caught the private ferry across the harbour mouth to Watson’s Bay on the south side. The wind was stronger over here and the weather felt like it was turning. We headed up to the Gap, a clifftop lookout that gazes out onto the Tasman Sea. Sadly this is a popular suicide spot, and over the years since my first visit in 2012, suicide prevention fencing, security cameras and emergency Samaritans notices have been erected all around this area. As the waves crash on the rocks below, it almost feels a little mournful. Cutting back through the park we finally got close up to a Sulphur-crested cockatoo, one of my favourite Australian birds. It simply watched me as it ate above my head, not caring that I was taking so many photos of it.

 

The wind was starting to whip up so much now that as we waited for the ferry back to Circular Quay, we were surrounded by grounded seagulls that stood by our bench, reluctant to take off to save being whipped away on the wind. There was a good bit of chop as we sailed back and after taking a final walk round the waterfront to soak up the view and the atmosphere, we retired to the rooftop of the hostel to sunbathe until we had to leave for the airport.

 

As we lay there, we watched the sky change, at first subtly but then quite dramatically. From behind the downtown skyscrapers an increasingly thick wall of smog appeared, turning the air thick and the sky a funny colour. It didn’t take long to realise it was the smoke from the nearby wildfires that were raging a little way out of the city. The wind direction had blown the smoke towards Sydney, and as we left the hostel for the last time, the visibility was closing in. For a brief while I was worried our flight home would be cancelled, but although the sky was a hazy pink when we got to the airport, we were able to take off without much concern. The sun was getting ready to set as we left Australia behind, returning to New Zealand to scan my passport for the last time.

The Wild West

Deep within the Lewis Pass region of New Zealand’s South Island is a myriad of hiking trails snaking through the forests and across and around the mountain ranges that snake through there. In November 2019 on a 4-day weekend thanks to Canterbury Anniversary Day, I decided to take a trip across to the western half of the island, and stopped on route to take a trip through Nina Valley. There was little space to park despite the slightly dreary day as Nina Hut at the end of the valley is a popular spot to hike into for the night. Aside from mud, I found my usual forest walk companion in the form of a South Island robin, one of my favourite birds to accompany me on hikes. What I also found was a cute pair of mice which when I stopped to watch them, proceeded to come out and nosy around the undergrowth whilst I photographed them silently. Mice are a pest here in New Zealand, one of the many invasive species responsible for decimating our native wild birds, and at the time of visiting, we were experiencing a ‘cast’, a higher than average tree seed production that led to a spike in pest numbers. Still, they were wildlife, and I love spotting wildlife. Plus they were exceptionally cute and I couldn’t help but be a little excited watching them go about their business.

 

I’d planned on walking as far as the Nina swing bridge, an hour along the trail, but between stopping to watch the forest creatures and taking a break by the river, I decided to turn back before I got that far. It had taken a few hours to drive this far from Christchurch and I’d stopped for lunch at a favourite cafe in Hanmer Springs, a detour off the main road, so I was mindful about the drive ahead to my destination and not wanting to arrive too late. So after spotting some riflemen flitting about the trees, and with the sun bursting out a little as I returned to my car, I finished my hike and continued westwards, crossing the summit of Lewis Pass and heading into Reefton, my home for the next few nights.

 

The West Coast has an unfortunate reputation for wetness, and although I was some distance from the coast, I was on the wrong side of the mountain range, so I wasn’t surprised to wake to grey skies and drizzle. I was in no hurry to do anything so had a leisurely breakfast at a local cafe before wandering along the historic street front. Like many places on the West Coast, Reefton has its history in mining and the region is full of relics. It was also the first place in the Southern Hemisphere to gain electricity with the first electric bulb to light up being outside the still-standing Oddfellows Hall off the main street. Not many people were staying here but there was plenty of traffic passing through so there was a reasonable bit of activity going on despite the drizzle.

The rain wasn’t hard enough to stop me going for a local walk so after heading up the main street, I passed the original gas lights that still lined the pavements, and continued out of the village and down towards the river which was a power source for the region back in its day. The Inangahua river is broad and tannin-stained and just outside Reefton it is crossed by a suspension bridge which leads to the remains of the old power station. The drizzle meant there were some cool views down the valley of clouds hugging the mountainside, and although still a little wet, it wasn’t too bad to walk along the river bank and read the displays about the ruins that are still left. Only as I was at the end of the circuit back across the road bridge to head into Reefton again from the other end did the rain get a bit heavier again, so I decided to take a drive and see if I could escape the rain clouds.

 

Heading west from Reefton, I drove almost the whole way to Greymouth before circling past the old Brunner mine which I’d visited a few years prior. Even on the main road there were signs of mining at regular intervals, be it a memorial at the side of the road, or signs pointing to historic mining routes or mining works. Both gold and coal have been mined in this part of the country, and there are still some active mining works in action today. There are hundreds of old coal mining carts littered about the countryside here, and several of the local walks have them as points of interest, where they’ve been abandoned to rust and be reclaimed by nature.

 

A lull in the rain by mid-afternoon allowed me to get out for another walk again. This time I headed up the hill at the eastern end of the village. Over the tops of the invasive gorse, the elevation offered a view over the rooftops of the village below and the misty-covered peaks of the mountains on the horizon. There was even a goat wandering about here, and despite the grey skies that were my constant companion, a couple of water reservoirs provided some pretty reflections as I passed them by. The trail led out towards the back of the village and I followed it for a while before heading down an access track that brought me down at an industrial area. As I cut back through the streets I passed the old courthouse and several other original buildings before finding myself back on the historic main street.

With several hours of daylight ahead, the late afternoon still allowed for another walk before darkness would fall. Taking a long drive up a gravel road, I picked the Alborn Track to visit some of the mining remnants close to a still-active quarry site. It was muddy underfoot and threatening to drizzle again, but scattered all over the place were rusting winch equipment and even an old truck alongside some large coal carts. On the return leg, the track passed the opening of a couple of caves, marked with a warning about poisonous gas and danger on entry. I do like to explore caves but I’m always wary of man-made mining caves, so I heeded the warnings and kept going, returning to my car and heading back down the hill in time for a bit of sunshine.

I’d spent the first couple of days alone, but my partner was to join me for the last night. He had a bit of a drive over so whilst he was making his way across the country the next morning, I headed east past Springs Junction to the Marble Hill campsite. From here there is a walking track to Lake Daniell which I’d read was a good hike to do, and it was indeed a lovely forest walk on a day that was actually sunny. Predicted to be 3hrs each way, I set off under a blue sky and crossed the first river before following the bank of another river as it wound through the forest. I love New Zealand’s forests, they’re so different from the cultivated forests of pine from my homeland back in Scotland. In New Zealand they feel natural and wild, even in places where that’s not actually the case, but full of various canopy levels and with a carpet that’s often as alive as the trees are, there’s so much to look at for ecology geeks like myself.

As always, there was an inquisitive South Island robin to entertain me as I followed the path through. These and the fantails or piwakawaka love to follow humans through the forest, but the fantails tend to flit-flit about more, refusing to stay still for long, and especially not for photographs. In comparison, the robins often come right up to you, cocking their head and looking straight at you in full engagement, often hopping alongside or flitting between the trees as you walk. I’m always happy to see one, and find myself talking to the birds as I go.

 

I reached Lake Daniell and the hut on its foreshore after just 2hrs, and found the hut to be in the process of being rebuilt. The lake level was up from the rain so the surroundings and the end of the boardwalk were actually submerged, but I was able to pick my way out to the pier on the lake without getting my feet wet, and here the wind whipped across the lake a little as I stood enjoying the view. There had not been a single person on the trail and I was out here on my own with the view to myself also. It was delightful. I’ve been told that the hut is often busy as schools use it and with it being just a few hours from the main road it is popular for parents to take their children out to it as a starter hike. So I was lucky to find it so empty, and enjoyed the solitude for a while before heading back into the forest again. Once again I was befriended by the local robin population, and as I reached the end of the trail I stopped to watch the water rush through the ‘sluice’ a natural rapids that had been created by a gorge in the hillside.

 

By the time I returned to Reefton my partner was waiting for me. Without the rain, we took a wander through the streets and stopped at the local distillery for a tasting. Their produce was pricey but I felt awkward leaving without buying something so took a chance on a tayberry liqueur that wasn’t even able to be sampled before purchase. I’d never even heard of a tayberry, so not knowing anything about the taste it was a bit of a gamble. It’s a very sharp taste, and one that definitely is enjoyed in small quantities but the lady in the bar suggested using it as an ice cream topper and I’ve still to try it this way.

We had to set off early the next day to leave our Air BnB behind and head north then west to Charleston on the coast. Since I’d heard about the Underworld Adventure tours I’d been eager to take part in one, and finally it was time to go exploring with them. There was a threat of rain once more but we were heading underground, so this wasn’t going to matter. Set within the Paparoa National Park, the company offers a mix of tour options from a train ride through the forest, to tubing down rapids, or a cave walk. We were there to go cave exploring, a favourite activity of mine, so we bundled into the van and drove into the park, parking up in the apparent middle of nowhere next to a large container. Out of the container popped a small train and linked carriages and once on board we set off through the forest.

There was evidence all around of the limestone nature of the landscape with large limestone cliffs jutting through the foliage as we followed a river upstream. Eventually we hopped off in the forest and those going tubing went down to the river and those of us going caving followed the path across the river and up the hillside to reach the entrance of the Ananui cave system. I love taking cave tours, exploring the world of underground river systems and ogling over the stalactites and stalagmites that litter the caverns of limestone caves. I loved this place, it felt huge and there was so much to explore down the long passageways as we went deeper and deeper into the cave system. At times there were giant boulders to climb over, and after some time we found ourselves in a lower section that split into two, a large dark cavern to the right, and a large open-ended cavern to the left where the outside forest became visible.

 

We turned first to the left, and saw a waterfall streaming down from the ceiling near where the cave opened out into the forest. The river at its bottom cast a reflection of the cave entrance and it was simply glorious. We spent some time here just enjoying the view. We turned back into the cave heading into the other lower chamber where once out of the light from the lower cave entrance we turned off our headlamps to view the twinkles of glowworms. Although nothing has ever competed with the level of glowworms I saw in the Waitomo cave system back in 2012, there was still enough here to not only be pretty, but they were close enough to actually view the larval structures and their beaded web. Like a beaded necklace these larval flies pupate within a sac from where they lower these sticky threads, butts glowing to attract their prey towards the ropes of death. It’s one of so many marvellous things that nature has evolved to do to fill a niche in an otherwise inhospitable environment.

 

Climbing back up through the cave system was just as enjoyable, returning through the network of limestone formations, eventually popping out at the entrance, and hiking back down the trail to the train to return through the forest. The sun was out now, enlivening our drive back to Charleston where a viewing point at the Underworld Adventure office gave an elevated view into the forest to the east, and the crashing waves to the left. We decided to head back to Christchurch via Punakaiki, the site of the famous Pancake Rocks. Although we didn’t go to visit the rocks, we stopped here for a late lunch, and with the sun out and the crowds of the summer at every turn, I parked up next to a flax bush, spotting a tui feeding among the flowers. Tui are good pollinators for this species. For a nectar reward, the tui regularly wear a golden crown of pollen after feeding here, the yellow dust adorning their heads for them to spread onto the next flower as they move around to feed. I love tui, a bird I don’t get to see much of in Christchurch, and I was loving the close up experience here. It was a long drive back to Christchurch across the breadth of the country, but it had been well worth it to spend a snippet of time in the wild west lands of the South Island.

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