Tuesday 29 July 2014

The Seal Pups of Ohau Stream

Winter has now well & truly arrived, there’s a good coating of snow on the mountains behind Kaikoura as we packed up and headed north along the Kaikoura coastline.

We stop at both the well known & iconic crayfish (rock lobster) caravans that sell the expensive delicacy on the side of the road just north of Kaikoura. Cays Crays might be more well known for being the main player & inspiration behind one of Fat Freddy Drops' song “Cay’s Crays” (a well known New Zealand band from Wellington)

Do I question my loyalties?
Do I try to work it out?
Well you're the part of my memories
That I never wanna live without
So long I've been gone
So many things have changed
But I know where I belong and
I know when I reach that place
I know when I reach that place

Starts in my heart when I reach that place
Home again where I belong
Starts in my heart when I reach that place
Have I been away too long?

Unfortunately it would seem that not everybody appreciates the significance of this little piece of Kiwiana. The back window has been smashed and broken glass lay over the table & floor of the caravan. It looks like the caravan hasn’t been used for quite some time to sell crayfish. It’s a pity that the owners or locals haven’t cleaned up the vandalism as it will likely attract more.

Nins Bin was just a little further north and had it been open we would have treated ourselves to one of those expensive crays (I believe they are going for around $90 at the moment), there’s no hope of us ever catching a cray ourselves and it would have been a nice treat to finish off David’s birthday celebrations with. And afterall what better place to eat a cray than in Kaikoura-  'Kai' means eat and 'koura' means crayfish. But it wasn’t to be so we’ll just have to wait until we pass through another time.

And finally we get to Ohau Point & the reason we are travelling this stretch of SH1 again, the seal pups of Ohau Stream. It is here, for about five months every year, that dozens of seal pups gather and play while their mothers are away at sea, for 2-3 days at a time, feeding. We missed them on our way down back in November, they had already weaned and gone to sea.

A short walking track follows the rocky Ohau stream inland for about 500 metres to where a small pool has formed beneath the Ohau waterfall. The seal pups make their way up the stream clambering over rocks and swimming up the stream until they reach the pool where they hang out & play with their mates. A seal crèche without grownups.

You do have to look carefully as you walk up the stream as the pups are quite hard to spot against the rocks and they can swim very fast through the deeper sections. I followed four pups up the stream that I had spotted under the road bridge at the beginning of the walk, they moved very well over the rocks, sometimes giving each other a bit of encouragement over rocks by pushing & biting each other as they went. Once they got to the big pool they launched themselves into the melee; diving, jumping, swirling & floating about in the turbulent water under the falls. 

There were a number of resting spots for the pups in the area with the main one on a rocky ledge above the pool. There was a constant stream of pups arriving and leaving the ledge (and leaving and arriving in the pool from the coast) Some pups slept while other had little tussles with each other, others tried to avoid the bullies by climbing vertically up the steeper sections of the rocks.

There was also a constant stream of visitors arriving to see the pups in the pool. The children were fascinated with the pups & some of the pups were quite inquisitive too, climbing out on the rocks at our feet to check us out. There are times when this pool is packed with seal pups, and the rocks at the front are covered with them too.

Flying pig? See if you can make the head out from the tail…because I had trouble. Some of the pups were very funny swimming in the pool, quite a few did headstands leaving their tiny little back flippers sticking up in the air for ages like peace signs. I wonder what they were looking for on the pool floor.

This little guy was keen to model for quite awhile, he came right in close and settled on a rock watching us watching him.

There was a large rock at the end of the track & at the entrance to the pool. Another pup decided he would climb up on top and scare the living daylights out of anybody he decided he didn’t like. He let some people through with no problems but with others he’d launch a mock attack on them. Of course he made an ideal prop & at the right height for people doing “selfies”. I watched him for quite awhile then managed to grab David’s attention to get him to take a photo of me beside the pup. You can see one of the results after the pup decided he’d give me a scare!

I did take a few videos of the pups but I’m unable to upload them because of my data limitations but I found a good You Tube video of them that you might like to watch. It’s gives a much better indication of the noise and movement going on around the pool. Here is the link-

Once again I could have stayed all day watching the pups but we had a plan in mind to get to Ward before the late afternoon chill set in so we set off up the highway stopping not too far on at a rest area to have a late lunch.

There are some large seal colonies along this coast and in fact we saw some of the sleeping seals spilling out onto the grass verge beside the road. It’s the first time I’ve seen a road sign advising to watch out for seals on the road. Our neighbours the night before had told us that on their way through they saw a seal that had been hit by a vehicle lying dead on road with blood everywhere. Not a pretty sight and I bet the vehicle that hit it wasn’t either.

At least the seals at the rest area were safe and sound and oblivious to the dangers just down the road.

Sunday 27 July 2014

Piwakawaka- Black Morph Fantail

Morph comes from the word metamorphosis, which is a Greek word meaning “a transforming”

While I was waiting for David to collect me at the end of the Kaikoura Coastal Walk I spotted a black fantail (piwakawaka). We’ve seen a few black fantails on our travels but most of them haven’t stayed still long enough for me to take some shots. This one was doing a little circuit of the bushes beside the walkway so I knew if I stayed still long enough he’d come back round and stop for a few moments before launching himself up into the air again chasing bugs & flies that were flying around in the late afternoon sun.

Black morph fantails are very rare in the North Island but make up about 5% of the South Island population. For readers who are unaware of the usual fantail colouring here is one I prepared earlier Smile  I took this one in Napier last year.

And here is Kaikoura’s black fantail

Friday 25 July 2014

Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway

With an entry point to the Kaikoura Walkway just a few steps away from where we were parked it was too good an opportunity to miss. The complete walkway is a 12km long loop that takes in the town, the coast road to Point Kean, the peninsula’s cliff tops, South Bay and Toms Track across farmland back to town. I decided to just walk the 4.5km sea cliff section from South Bay to Point Kean, where I’d call up David to come and collect me.

I set off up the the very steep stairway behind us and after crossing a couple of paddocks came to a junction in the track with no signposts, one headed over the hill in the direction of town so I took the other track and carried merrily on my way heading towards the cliffs. After a short while the path headed down hill through a pine plantation and next minute (nek minit) I popped out into an alleyway beside the backyards of some houses. Houses in South Bay! South Bay just a short FLAT 20 minute walk along the beach from where we were parked.

Low tide at South Bay with the snow capped Seaward Kaikoura Range behind.

By the time I wound my way through the back roads of South Bay and crossed the reserve to the grand entrance to the walkway I had wasted an hour! (I suppose not wasted as such, it was good exercise). I then realised I had forgotten by binoculars so I was able to call David up and he delivered them to me just down the road. Everything happens for a reason. That’s what I told myself anyway.

The South Bay Powhenua, at the entrance to the walk, tells the story of Maui going fishing in his canoe and pulling up the house of Tangaroa (God of the sea)

It was a very impressive walkway entrance, in fact the best I’ve seen on our travels. The building is shaped like a waka (Maori war canoe) & has a number of large interpretation panels inside explaining the wide range of geology in the area. The second Powhenua is of Maui fishing up the North Island.

The shelter also had a large panoramic section cut-out in the wall providing the perfect frame for the limestone tidal platform out front.

A wide fenced boardwalk led around the edge of the bay to a steady steep climb on a cobbled pathway to the top of the first cliff & to a lookout platform, again shaped like a waka, overlooking Limestone, South & Goose Bays, and the mountains beyond.

At various points along the way there were interpretation panels telling the stories of the land, the sea, the animals & of the people who lived on the peninsula. There was a very cold and bitter southerly blowing and I was very thankful for my scarf, hat, gloves & warm jacket and although there were very few people on the track the few I did pass were not dressed for the weather, no jackets, short sleeves and unsuitable shoes.

Limestone Bay

Behind a predator proof fence located on the sea cliff near Whalers Bay are the nesting burrows of a new colony of endangered Hutton’s Shearwaters. Kaikoura is the only place on earth that the Hutton’s Shearwaters breed. The usual breeding colonies are up in the mountains behind Kaikoura but these sites are under pressure from various environmental issues so this new site was set up as a safe guard.

Chicks are brought down from the mountain colonies a few weeks before they fledge and are fed & housed in artificial burrows behind the fence for up to four weeks. This ensures that this new site will imprint (on their bird brain) and that they will then return here to breed. In 2009 the first of the chicks returned to breed, five years after leaving. It will take some time to fill the area fenced off but eventually the fence will protect a breeding population of 10,000 birds.

I liked the little fenced booth to sit in and catch your breath......and to protect you from marauding sheep perhaps......? :)

The peninsula has many small bays and tidal platforms that would make for some interesting exploring in the summer.

Whalers Bay & “The Sugarloaf”- a wooden stairway follows the same route down the cliff to the shoreline that former whalers used many years ago when Kaikoura was a very busy whaling station.

Whalers Bay nowadays supports a very large NZ Fur Seal (Kekeno) colony. Well I thought it was large until I walked a little further on. These seals appeared to be a lot more skittish than the ones at Point Kean & further up the Kaikoura coastline because as they saw me coming most started to move away looking over their shoulders as they went. I didn’t want to disturb them so I took a few zoomed shots and headed back over the path and up the steep stairway.

Seals rest on a "Hanging Garden"

“I’m the King of the Castle”

Outcast- this little fellow was all by himself out to the side. He wasn’t happy to see me either.

Back at the top I continued on along the walkway and at the next view point it was a huge surprise to see the size of the seal colony below. Like chocolate sprinkles on a cake there were hundreds of seals, dotted across the grass & resting head to tail over the limestone rocks. White rocks with lots dark patches, stained from the resting seals. I was too far above them to get a whiff but I can only imagine the stench that would emanate from that lot.

The track continued on around another small bay to another platform…..

…that revealed even more seals, hundreds of them taking up every available space on every limestone peak that cleared the tide.

It was fascinating watching them through the binoculars, a withering mass of blubber moving about, some finding new spots to rest, others getting a growling for encroaching into another space, some arriving, some leaving, some cooling off in tiny pools of seawater and many just sleeping. A city of seals going about their business. Imagine the food bill!

This next photo should give you an indication of how high up I was. Can you spot the two people exploring on the rocks? While I was standing taking photos near this edge here I got the fright of my life when a person suddenly appeared in my viewfinder. How could that be I thought, I’m pointing it out over the cliff. I moved closer and he had climbed up a very steep ridge that came up the point from below, a steep clay wall with no plants on it and a few gouges he could use for foot & handholds. How he made it I have no idea. He looked pretty startled himself when he found he was at the top. Some people…..

Finally I reached Point Kean & the carpark (with the town of Kaikoura in the distance), and the end of the section I was walking. I thoroughly enjoyed the walk and although it was cold I had walked it in the right direction, I had the wind to my back the whole way.

The carpark seals slumber on. These guys have no fear, unlike their cousins in the colonies further round the point.

My personal taxi arrived and we headed off to get groceries with just a quick stop at the historic Fyffe House, Kaikoura’s oldest surviving building & a link to Kaikoura’s whaling past. It was built in 1860 and stands on piles made from whalebone vertebrae. Across the road is an old brick chimney, this is all that remains of the former customhouse. I thought it looked like it would be a great place to cook up a pot of mussels or BBQ the crayfish you just pulled out of the sea.

Back in town the clouds had lifted off the mountains to provide this beautiful snow covered backdrop. Imagine waking up each day with this on your doorstep, you couldn’t help but go off to work smiling.

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Kaikoura- Too Cute for Words

Normal transmission resumes.....

We took the Inland Road from Hanmer Springs to Kaikoura even though the forecast was for rain and snow showers as the alternative route direct to the coast via Waiau was closed on SH1 due to a truck crash and with the driver missing we weren’t too sure when it would open again. The cloud was low, the road winding & wet and we passed a grit laying road maintenance team waiting for the inevitable snow but we managed to get through with just a couple of snow flurries along the way. Unfortunately we missed the fabulous views of a snow covered Mt Lyford and the surrounding range although we did catch glimpses of how low the snow was at various points along the way.

As we drove through a twisty bit of road I spied a sign post for “The Doone Grave”, I let out a yell to stop and my ever patient (suffering) husband managed to pull the rig over further down the road (actually I say "over" but what I mean is "to a stop", we were in a twisty bit and there was no shoulder so he stopped it in the middle of the road on a stretch where he could see oncoming cars.  I ran back up the hill to where I’d seen the signpost and scrambled over a stile and up the hill a little way to find a special gravesite for an little girl called Alice Doone. This was a grave not for a well known settler or famous explorer like others I've seen, this was for an ordinary little girl who died in a tent in the rugged back country wilderness.

The Doone Grave- In 1887 during the construction of the road from Waiau to Kaikoura there was a contractors camp situated on the Whalesback. Willie George was the camp cook, he lived in a tent with his wife & daughter Alice who was 1 year 10 months old. Alice fell ill & before a doctor could be brought from Waiau she died. Rev Campbell, the Presbyterian minister rode many miles over rough country to officiate at her burial on the roadside.

After the camp moved the site was neglected until a Captain AW Owles from Christchurch, who travelled the road frequently on business, made it his objective to raise money to have the grave fenced. Today a stone marks the grave which is enclosed by an iron railing with a post & wire fence surrounding the plot. In 2007 locals took up the challenge to tidy up access to the site so anybody could visit.

In Kaikoura we once again stayed at a NZMCA Park, this time part of the Kaikoura Trotting club grounds which are located in South Bay. Definitely not the best park we’ve stayed in, it was very cold as the sun (when it made an appearance) disappeared behind the large hill in the early afternoon and the snow on the surrounding mountains sent a very chilly breeze down to us at sea level. Can you see the “Out There” poking out from behind the trees on the far right. The one good thing about the site was that the Kaikoura Coastal Walkway had an entry point right beside the site. I took this photo from the steep stairway behind the site.

We went for a drive into town to find that there were black storm clouds approaching from all directions. This was looking out to sea from the Esplanade.

I was hoping we wouldn’t get caught out in the rain as we drove around to Kean Point where I wanted to say hello to the seals again. The reason we are heading north via Kaikoura instead of travelling over the Lewis Pass to the Tasman area was in fact because I want to see the seal pups in the Ohau stream. You’ll remember we missed them on our way south back in November, they had already weaned and gone to sea.

Looking back towards Kaikoura town with the mountain range behind covered in cloud. The cloud lifted the next day to reveal a heavy dump of snow on the mountains.

There was great excitement (from me) as we passed the little pond beside the road just before the point and I spotted half a dozen seal pups frolicking about in the water in amongst the ducks & geese. I hadn’t expected to see any seal pups here but then remembered that I’d read somewhere that seals had started to breed at Point Kean only recently. These pups would probably be around 4-6 months old.

We parked up in the car park as there was no stopping along the pond edge. I ran back along the boardwalk to the pond but not before being startled by a grumbling noise underneath. A troll? No a seal pup that had been sleeping and hadn’t taken too kindly to being disturbed by a couple of girls ahead of me. I stepped out onto the road and he mock charged me. He was a very aggressive little fellow and luckily a little bit too fat to squeeze out onto the verge and road.

A little further on I found more  pups hanging out in a tree right beside the boardwalk, they’d climbed up into the low branches and were resting up after their antics in the water. There were still three or four pups left in the water playing and chasing each other although a couple decided they’d had enough and climbed out just after I arrived. Across the water on the sand bank between the pond and the rocky beach and beneath the scrub were also a dozen or more pups sleeping. A seal pup crèche!

These two pups left in the water were very fast swimmers, racing up and down the pond, turning tight corners at each end and racing each other back to the middle where they’d have a rumble, twirling over & over each other. There were dozens of Welcome Swallows sweeping over the water and each time one came close to a pup, the pup would launch itself out of the water and try to catch it then chase after it down the pond. Just like a pup(dog) or a kitten playing. They were just too cute. I think their eyes must have something to do with it, they are so huge, great big round orbs peering at you.

It was low tide and while I was taking the photos of the pups David had gone exploring out on the rocks. He came back to get me as he’d found a lone pup right out by the waves. There were quite a number of seals out further but most were across a deep channel. A few people were also exploring the rock pools.

It wasn’t long before we located the little guy that David had spotted, he was sheltering under the rocks not far from the surging tide. He was a friendly little chap and we had to keep retreating so he couldn’t  get too close.

And what a little cutie he was, my heart melted especially when he looked at us with those huge eyes. He wasn’t at all afraid and stuck his nose out and moved closed any chance he got. I know they survive well in this environment but I couldn’t help wonder how they manage it, such tiny little vulnerable creatures, all by themselves on the big rocks and crashing seas with marauding male seals about as well.

The mothers are at sea feeding and are gone for 2-3 days at a time, I wonder how they find their pups when they come home. This little guy was very agile climbing up and over rocks, crossing small pools and popping out through gaps in the rocks, all the while checking to see where we were. I wonder where he heads to when the tide comes in and why he isn’t in the creche with the other pups. Perhaps he knows Mum will be home very soon and is waiting at the water’s edge for her.

How big are those eyes! Mind you they look a little scary here.

He looks a little sad here don’t you think?

I could have stayed and shot photos forever, or at least until it was dark (or the tide pushed me back in) but in the end our little mate went swimming in a big pool, disappearing under the bull kelp. We headed back to the car as the dark clouds closed in and big fat spots of rain started plopping all around us.