Saturday, 30 August 2014

Hidden Valley - Part 1

The Cobb Valley is a spectacular hidden valley located 30kms inland from Upper Takaka within the Kahurangi National Park. During the ice age the valley filled with a glacier which then carved the classic U-shaped straight valley, polishing and smoothing bedrock and dumping ridges of moraine (soil & rock) as it went. Today the valley has been dammed to form the Cobb Reservoir.

We had wanted to visit Cobb Valley after our trip to Mt Arthur & the Flora Area of the Park a few weeks ago where we saw on the information board that there were quite a number of points of interest on the otherside of the range, which actually wasn’t that far away from Flora as the crow flies. Of course there were a few very large mountains to cross in between, that’s the problem with leaflets & sign boards, they are flat and give a false impression of how difficult some of these tramping tracks are.

Initially I thought we may have taken the 5th-wheeler someway up the road and freedom camped on the side of the Takaka River but as we had already set up camp at Pohara we decided to do the 120km round trip to the valley. The road was great at the beginning, it followed the river inland and although it was narrow in places, it was sealed for the first 16kms right up to the Cobb Valley Power House.

We discussed whether we’d get the van in as far as the Power House and decided that there would be some areas like the one below that might give us a few issues. Solid rock overhangs or vertical walls tend not to move. This shot is a bit blurred, I took it through the window as we edged our way forward hoping that there wasn’t a vehicle coming the other way.

We stopped numerous times along the way so we could check out the river, David for trout & me for Whio (Blue Ducks). We saw neither but at one stop I heard a familiar honking. It seemed to be coming from above and I expected to see a pair of Paradise Ducks fly by. The honking continued but no ducks flew by and the noise definitely wasn’t coming from the river level. So I scanned the trees above us and then spotted a female paradise duck roosting on a dead tree high up in the forest canopy. And beside her but slightly lower and in the shade was her mate resting up too.

I wonder how many know that Paradise Ducks land in trees. I have seen it before, there was a huge gum tree at my old golf club and a pair of ducks often roosted in it. I’ve watched them fly in and land on the narrow trucks too, something you wouldn’t think a duck could do. Obviously Paradise Ducks love high points, remember the pairs on the picnic tables at Totaranui?

Next stop was the Power House. If you’ve been following the blog headers then this will look familiar. Although the header photo was a side view showing all the ‘spent’ water exiting through the side wall of the Power House (I'll post that photo again in Part 2). I’ve never seen water coming out the side of the building like that before.

David spotted his one and only trout at the bridge, a large rainbow who obviously knew it wasn’t the season as he was happy to stay put as we moved about above him. Another month and he’ll have to be a lot more wary.

The road turned to gravel (custard?) after the power house, it was extremely narrow and wound it’s way upwards through beautiful native forest, we were now in the Kahurangi National Park proper. There were very few areas to pull over if another vehicle approached and we sat on the edges of our seats peering around every bend hoping like hell nothing was coming.

Usually the road from the power house to the dam is just a short climb but this one was 6km, 5 of them at a very steep angle with very tight bends right up to the top of the range. And then, as we neared the top, we struck snow again, just as we did at Flora. In fact probably the same snow fall but luckily, there was just one thick ice patch to cross in the shade and a lot on the side of the road.

Once out of the bush the road levelled out and we were into an alpine landscape with the Cobb Ridge shelter and information kiosk ahead of us on the side of the road.

We pulled up ahead of the shelter and this was the spectacular view that greeted us; the Cobb reservoir stretching up the valley towards the snow capped mountains of the Peel Range. The dam wall and intake are hidden in the bottom right corner, and the building you can see to the left is one of three that house Hydro employees although only one was occupied. The track along the lake on the right is part of the walking track to Sylvester Hut & the Sylvester Lakes, it turns inland and heads uphill at the first valley. The road on the left side is where we’re headed, from the top here, it’s another 11kms to the head of the lake just out of view at the end.

While we were reading the information board I caught sight of a movement out the corner of my eye. It was a great delight to see that it was a weka, a large flightless bird that has a famously feisty and curious personality. He (or she) burst out of the scrub growing on the steep slope, gave us a cursory glance and strode off around the shelter to the sunny side where it set about preening and fluffing it’s feathers.

I’ve been waiting to make a weka’s acquaintance, this was our first weka on this trip, another bird to tick off my birder’s list. I’ve seen them a long time ago when we did a trip to the Westcoast but nothing since then as there are only a few small pockets of wekas in the North Island.

The weka let me get reasonably close but it wouldn’t stay still long enough for me to get a decent shot. And while I was trying to take photos it took off again, straight down a rocky slope in front of it where it suddenly grabbed something in it’s bill from underneath the scrub. It turned around and headed back up the rocks at full speed, crossed the road and disappeared under the bush on the other side, never to be seen again.

Not usually known for their speed, my shutter wasn’t set to "fast for weka dinner” and I only managed to grab a blurred image of what it grabbed. I thought it looked like a lizard but when I uploaded the photo and “enhanced” it as best as I could, it appeared to be a small frog (or, I even thought a chick at one stage). David thought it might have been a weta or a grasshopper. And all of these were suggested when I posted the photos on my bird forum (except the chick; it looked too small). See what you think. Here's the original-

And the "enhanced" & cropped shot- 

While I was trying to do the weka photo shoot, I heard a shout. It took me a few moments to find out where David has disappeared to. He had climbed down a bank and out to this marker post right out on the edge of the cliff. It had some sort of measurement indicator on it and there was another post down below on the dam wall with a measurement too.

We had a look across the road to see if the weka might make another appearance after it had eaten dinner but all David found was, what was probably the left-overs of his dinner last week. The empty shell of our giant native land snail, powelliphanta. A snail that is greatly endangered and only found in a few areas around the top of the South Island and the bottom of the North Island.

I should have taken a photo of this in my hand so you could get an indication of the size but it had about a 50mm diametre (2 inches). Powelliphanta can live up to 20 years & can grow up to 90mm. You can see where a bird has punctured the shell to pull out the body. Another first to add to out list, now we want to find a live one.

…….to be continued- Part 2


  1. There use to be a village on the hillside near the Powerhouse for the Operating Staff, but as the system is now remote controlled I gather that hat has been removed, was the asbestos outcrop still visible along side the road up on the tops ? Nice pics Shellie.


    1. We didn't realise that there had been houses near the power house Raymond but I guess they would have been over the extra bridge beside the power house. Amazing how quickly it reverts back to nature if you remove buildings. And no didn't see the asbestos outcrop either, mind you I'm not sure we would have recognised it! Thanks for your comment, much appreciated.


Thanks for taking the time to comment, it's much appreciated.