Sunday 24 November 2013

Pink Ponds & the Salt Shaker

We didn’t move too far south after leaving Blenheim, just 45 kms down the road and passing through the fast expanding vineyards of the Awatere Valley on the way. No matter which direction  you looked on the road out of Blenheim it is evident that grapes are providing the Marlborough district with a very profitable income, there are many grand wineries & homes along the way. We will no doubt spend a bit more time in the area checking the wineries, their cellar doors & restaurants out when we are back this way later in the year.

In the end we had three nights at the Blenheim’s Top10 Holiday Park, each morning deciding to stay one more night. We’ve met quite a few people who spend time on the road & sing the virtues of  freedom camping; about the minimal costs associated with it, the excitement of finding the next overnight “spot” etc, and even though our membership with the NZMCA gives us access to hundreds of “park over properties” & “low cost parking” options we fully intend to take regular advantage of the many camping grounds & holiday parks dotted around New Zealand. Aside from the fact that many are in great locations with superb grounds & facilities we want to be able to hook up to the power, access the internet, have a shower without keeping track of our water use, do the laundry, wash the ute & do other chores, or even to just chill for a couple of days. We’ve a long time on the road ahead of us & this will also give us more of a balance in our new lifestyle.

There are a few places along the way, on this journey south to Invercargill, that I have earmarked for a visit. We will be back this way in time but possibly in a different season & some of the phenomenon’s only happen at certain times of the year & the rather alien looking salt flats at Lake Grassmere is one of them. This is where the bulk of NZ’s salt comes from, last summer over 88,000 tonnes of salt was harvested. The seawater is pumped into deep holding pens & then into the shallow crystallisation ponds & allowed to evaporate leaving great expanses of salt behind to be gathered & processed. At the end of the lake are the gorgeous coloured crystallisation ponds, the colour is caused by green algae bloom that changes to pink in the high salt concentration and the colour is usually very intense in spring & early summer.

Initially after stopping on the main highway I could see that I couldn’t get up close to the ponds from the road and while you could see the terraces of pink, I wanted to get right up beside them. So this morning I parked up beside the main rail line and walked down the rail line and over a bridge to the ponds. Being a Sunday there was no one around and I managed to shoot quite a few photos. Quite a few, now that’s an understatement if ever I heard one. Way, way too many to process. I keep saying it, I just need to learn to shoot less otherwise I’m going to be spending an awful lot of time indoors! But the setting was fantastic and the ponds really quite fascinating and one click lead to another and another and……….you get the picture. Well actually you get a few! You don't think I'm going to go to all that effort & let you get away with just a couple do you? :)

Beside Lake Grassmere and overlooking Clifford Bay are Marfells Beach & the DOC campground which is where we are now staying. There’s something about the seaside that gets your senses singing & it’s been a few months now since we’ve heard the waves crashing just below our bedroom window & smelt the sea in the air (I don’t count Mt Maunganui in this as we were set back off the beach a little & the waves you could only hear during the storm(s) or in the small hours after the city noise had died down). This place reminds us of Port Jackson, way up there at the top of the Coromandel. Beautiful curved crescent of white sand & blue water & nobody about (well nearly).

At the approach of low tide a steady convoy of wet-suited people on noisy quad bikes made their way past our campsite along the beach and under the white limestone bluffs of Clifford Bay & around the point and further on. We walked to the point, aptly named Mussel Point as it turns out, & that was as far as my feet would take me which was just as well as we would have missed this spectacular view of the Cape Campbell Lighthouse. 


The bikes and their occupants disappeared into the haze heading for the reef just off the cape where by the look of their bins and bags on their return they got enough paua (NZ abalone) & crayfish(lobster) to feed themselves & an army. David failed to work his charm this time, the people he did speak too were quite secretive & wary of giving too much information away. I would think that poaching is very much alive & well in all parts of NZ.

The foreign couple in a van staying next door to us walked to the lighthouse and were rewarded with two large paua by one of the divers. They weren’t too sure what to do with them so I gave them some tips & when I next looked out they were beating the hell out of the poor things. Later one of them said to me, we didn’t know when to stop, the centre is still tough! They sliced it thinly & stir-fried it quickly in butter & were quite impressed that it didn’t taste like leather.

At the point we were also rewarded. As the tide dropped away the exposed rocks revealed a bounty of huge green lip mussels which David gathered and we had for dinner cooked using my “world famous in NZ” recipe. We passed some onto the couple to have with their paua; I think they were more impressed with the broth that came with them (garlic, ginger, sweet chilli, lemon zest, spring onions & wine) which they added the paua too as well.

                                                                                                              "Just don't collect any mussels on the left there David"
David found this swarm of flies that were settled in a shady recess in the rock, the weren't your usual flies as you can see from the close up. We wondered what they are doing and why they're doing it there, when we disturbed them they stirred and flew in a big mass only to resettle when we moved back. I need to Google or ask my bug man photographer friend or perhaps some one out there can solve the mystery.... ETA- mystery solved by my Dad, they are Brine Flies, they live most of their life under water hatching out when the water warms in early summer but only lasting a few days as flies, just long enough to mate & lay eggs on the water surface. I guess the saltiness of lake Grassmere is an ideal habitat for them.

There are some beautiful rock formations at the base of the limestone cliffs on the way around the bay.

The tracks are from the quad bikes

We could also see some of the scars from the recent earthquake. On August 16th this year (it’s now Nov 24th) a magnitude 6.6 earthquake struck the region with the epicentre being directly under Lake Grassmere, several severe aftershocks struck during the next few hours. There was major damage in and around Seddon and out here at Marfells Beach where some of the limestone cliffs collapsed. The campground was closed as the only road into it was blocked by slips and cracks opening in the road. The quake was also one of the strongest to hit Wellington city, directly across Cook Strait from here, in recent time & shut the city down for a couple of days. 

The road in the middle was tarseal before the quake & is the last tight bend before reaching the beach & the campground.

And to celebrate this, my 100th blog post I'm going to leave you with some fluffy ducklings that were in the stream beside the Top10 campground back in Blenheim.


  1. They could be Brine Flies.

    1. Is that you Dad? I bet it is. And if it is, I think my very knowledgeable father, you might be right ! :) Thanks.


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