10-13 March 2015. They are right there when we get out of the car, in the car park. Most don’t notice them, or are not interested. People park their cars and walk on over to the visitor centre, but I notice them, and a couple of others do too. We follow them as they dart here and there after whatever scraps of food they can find, in and out of the surrounding thick bushes where they live, adults and chicks, seemingly unafraid with their feisty curiosity. We are at the famous Pancake Rocks of Punakaiki, and have a welcoming party of Wekas, a native New Zealand wood hen. Large, brown, flightless, and apparently rarely seen in broad daylight, we are watching several of them. Those that live near tramping huts and farms have a reputation for pilfering small objects.
About thirty million years ago, and about two kilometres under the sea, a whole layer of tiny lime-rich fragments of dead marine creatures, skeletons and shells, landed on the seabed. Gradually over millions of years, the layer was followed by a weaker layer of soft mud and clay. Then another layer of lime-rich scraps of sea creatures, and another of mud, and on and on. It sounds scarcely believable to me. Why would all the tiny remains of dead sea-creatures land all at once? Why the layers? Wouldn’t the sea churn everything together? In this case, apparently not. All the many layers solidified under the immense pressure of the water, and then, after a few more million years, along came a giant earthquake and pushed the entire formation up above sea level where the waves have been relentlessly pounding against it ever since. Because it is mainly limestone it eroded quickly, creating one of the most unique and rugged coastlines in the world. My knowledge of geology is miniscule, but I have trouble believing in the explanations of how it was created. Everything I read about the Pancake Rocks of Punakaiki just leaves me with more questions. And pancakes? I suppose the land looks somewhat like stacks of pancakes, but whoever made these pancakes needs a few lessons. They are the most ragged looking pancakes I’ve ever seen. I suppose I was expecting them to be round. It is an extraordinary landscape, beguiling in it’s curious uniqueness. Layer upon layer, a folly of rocks, all horizontal stripes and tatters.
We enter into a darkened room, barely able to see even after our eyes have adjusted to the darkness. To our left is a long curve of glass and beyond it we can just make out a kind of forest, with twigs and branches, dead brown leaves and dirt. There appears to be no clear space on the ground at all. It is interspersed with small trees and ferns. Peering into the darkness, no matter how hard we try we can’t see them. We can hear them, rustling in the undergrowth, but we can’t see them. We get the woman from the front desk and she comes in with a red light and shines it into the gloom and there they are. Kiwis! Two adults and two chicks. The woman stays with us and finds them one by one. We watch them scurrying about, finding food in amongst the leaves. They have really long pointy beaks, and their feathers apparently have the feel of fur.
Kiwis! I thought they were extinct, but no. There are five species, all endangered. Although they are quite small, they are related, surprisingly, to the emu, ostrich and moa, a giant, and now extinct, flightless bird native to New Zealand. Kiwis are also flightless, and nocturnal, hence the darkened room. There is a nation wide program to save the kiwi. Adult wild breeding birds are monitored. Transmitters on the male birds indicate if an egg is being incubated since it is the male birds that sit on the eggs. Department of Conservation rangers collect the eggs and transport them to wildlife centres away from the many introduced predators. In the centres the eggs are incubated and the chicks hand raised. They are then taken to a safe predator-free environment until they weigh over one kilogram. This increases their survival rate by seventy percent.
We visited the West Coast Wildlife Centre. This is a photo of a photo from their brochure:
11 March 2015. From my journal: I realize I have been living in disappointment. Disappointment in myself, and in our New Zealand adventure – not enough adventure, Don’s fear of over-doing it because of his still-healing spine, always caution, no sense of freedom, always rushing because of lack of time, a quick look at this, a quick look at that, then on to the next thing, no time to really get to know New Zealand, just a quick rush through it. I see that I have been in a glass-half-empty place: not enough time, not enough adventure, to much being cautious. Putting it all on external speaker, saying it all out loud to Don, clears away the mental cobwebs and makes room for an attitude adjustment and a glorious day in Abel Tasman National Park.
Stretching along fifty kilometres of coastline at the top end of the South Island, and featuring an array of coves, granite outcrops, idyllic golden sand beaches, and numerous walking tracks, Abel Tasman National Park is New Zealand’s smallest park. What it lacks in size it makes up for in beauty.
We take a short ride in an open boat from the picturesque town of Kaiteriteri
to Anchorage bay. On a dazzling sunny day we soak up the holiday feeling along with our fellow passengers.
Sitting near us is a family from France. I guess the older daughter is about eight years old. French chic: they start learning from a young age.
Scenes from the boat: big sky,
and Split Apple Rock.
Hungry seagulls on the beach at Anchorage Bay.
We hike along a ridge through forests of Black Beech trees and New Zealand tree ferns
out as far as Pitt Head and along the other side of the peninsula to Te Pukatea Bay.
In the forest we meet the New Zealand transgender bellbird noted for having the characteristics of both sexes.
Sitting on the soft golden sand at Te Pukatea Bay eating our lunch,
we have a long conversation with a very hungry seagull,
inhale the beauty of place, and absorb a sense of peace and tranquility, as if we are the only people on the golden shore of a tropical island. It is an easy place to sit and stare.
Continuing our journey north, the next day we drive to Picton. After three short weeks on the South Island we take an uneventful three-hour journey by ferry across Cook Strait to the North Island and a functional but utterly soulless hostel in New Zealand’s capital, Wellington. We plan a one-day stay in Wellington and fill it with a hike up to Victoria Lookout
and a visit to the wonderful Te Papa Museum. In the large open foyer of the museum: a gaggle of young children resplendent in their school uniforms. It immediately takes me back to my own childhood. It’s a British thing I guess, that spread to countries colonized by the British. In Australia we didn’t wear uniforms in primary school, but everyone did in high school, and much like those pictured here – the shirt and tie, the gray tunic with three box pleats front and back, and the blazer with an emblem on the breast pocket. Children in India and Burma also wear uniforms to school, and no doubt in numerous other countries. I remember being surprised, seeing American movies in my teens, at the lack of uniforms.
But best of all in Wellington was the night market: people out playing, good food and good music. It’s Friday night and time to party.
Next post: In the land of Lord of the Rings – Mount Doom and Hobbiton
All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2015.