Wednesday 25 June 2014

Waitaki Waters & Riverstone

Sunday at Waikouaiti was overcast and very cold but we decided to take a drive to Trotters Gorge, a DOC reserve & camp site inland and about 12kms north of Palmerston. The camp was closed for winter but there were a couple of tracks to walk and caves to visit. There was quite a steep ford to cross at the entrance to the park, we wouldn’t have been able to get the 5th-wheeler in had we stopped here in the summer.

The walk was average & the caves nothing to write home about, in fact they were a bit of a disappointment; very shallow more just scrapes in the limestone but there were a few cave wetas on the ceiling which helped with the interest factor. The best part was the sign on the fence near the entrance to the park. Pet Pig = Trotters Gorge...hmmmm.

Monday morning we were up & on the road bright and early heading back into Dunedin to have the van looked at. As it turned out it wasn’t major, just one of the motors on the slide-out needing to be re-aligned. After our earlier issues David in fact knew more than our Dunedin contact & he was able to re-programme it and we were back on the road after an hour or so, hauling ourselves back up those long northern hills out of Dunedin and heading for Waitaki Waters Holiday Park, just north of Oamaru.

Waitaki Waters is located on the southern side of the Waitaki River & very near the river mouth. The river’s catchment area is second only to the Clutha River & includes the glacier fed Tekapo, Pukaki & Ohau Rivers along with many others. The river is famous for it’s huge sea-run salmon & trout fisheries.

I found this photo on an article about fishing the Waitaki; pretty impressive eh?
There are two fishing crib (bach/hut) villages near the mouth on the south side of the river and during the season the river and mouth are filled with fishermen both on shore & on water. Jet boats & quad bikes are the transport of choice for many, it’s a long & hard walk down the shingle spit to the river mouth. During the whitebait season the gravel banks are lined with whitebaiters and their scoop nets.

It’s a rough coastline along this stretch and there’s obviously a reef somewhere off shore as the driftwood is littered with hundreds of large broken paua (abalone) shell. Someone has made a bit of paua & driftwood sculpture here.

At the mouth we watched as hundreds of welcome swallows swooped in low over the water feeding on thousands of tiny flies. The swallows were also resting on the gravel banks but I couldn’t get in close enough before they’d all lift and move in unison down to the next ridge.

I gave up on trying to capture them but as we made our way back along the beach I caught sight of a tiny movement in amongst the gravel which revealed itself to be a male Banded Dotterel (Tuturiwhatu), he has the chestnut breast. He led me on to a couple of very well camouflaged juveniles hunkering down in the warm stones. Then as I was stalking these birds a flock of dotterels, including females & more males flew in to land not far from me. In the photo below, bottom left you can see the thousands of flies backlit in by the sun.

The Banded Dotterel is endemic to NZ & the most common of our small plovers although they only number around 50,000. They are found on seashores, estuaries and riverbeds and are usually solitary birds but do roost together outside the breeding season.

One of the reasons I had wanted to stop for a few days at Waitaki was so we could have lunch at the award winning Riverstone Kitchen which was just a couple of kilometres away on the main highway. As bad luck would have it, the restaurant closed for a two week break on the afternoon that we arrived. Had we not had to wait the weekend out near Dunedin we’d have been there in time. Darn! Now that lunch will have to wait until be are in the area again.

Riverstone Kitchen (above photo, bottom left) is located within a collection of quirky buildings containing the Riverstone Country Gift Shop which sells some gorgeous home & giftware. The buildings are surrounded by large organic vegetable boxes, green houses, flower gardens, a huge aviary and much, much more. This highly successful enterprise belongs to the entrepreneurial 65 year old Dot Smith, the lady with the shocking pink hair! She describes herself as ‘a woman's dream and a man's nightmare!’.

Spot the imposter…..she has whiskers!

Just recently I listened to a radio interview with Dot and was taken with her enthusiasm and engaging personality. After a lifetime of hard work on their dairy farm this lady and her husband are now very successful dairy farmers with six farms and 4000 dairy cows. After initially setting up the successful Riverstone complex (a son & his wife run the restaurant), it was time to fulfil a childhood dream. Dot is soon to become the queen of her own castle, a magnificent & huge building, set on a man-made island at Riverstone, complete with moat, dungeon, drawbridge, secret tunnels and six towers. I kid you not. Riverstone is well worth a visit just to see what can be achieved when you have a dream (and money).

It’ll be another two years before Dot & her media-shy husband shift into their castle. It will be the only “new home” that they have lived in. Imagine furnishing that, I’m sure the furnishing will cost as much as the building! Puts a new slant on the “Your home is your castle”.

One Woman’s Folly

Just down the road from Riverstone was the very long Waitaki River Bridge, we stopped in a picnic area at the north end of the bridge so I could take a photo in setting sun and David decided to try his luck spinning for trout off a point just below the bridge. Once the sun disappeared it turned very cold & with no sign of any fish we headed home to the warmth of van.

Looking towards the Southern Alps

In the end we stayed on at Waitaki Waters for five nights, it was a large & well maintained camping ground with just a few permanents and the odd overnighter at this time of the year. The weather remained fine and sunny for us, we rested up for a couple of days and also did a tiki-tour inland to Duntroon.

On one of the nights, we met and had drinks with a lovely English couple who had sold up in the UK and were travelling the world for the foreseeable future. They had a motorhome and were exploring NZ for the next few months but didn’t have much of a plan. They were very happy for me to give them some advice on what to see during their next few weeks as they travelled the south of the South Island.

Tailless fantail (piwakawaka) in the campground

Next…The Vanished World

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