Sunday, 9 November 2014

Lake Rotoiti- Out & About

We’ve had a great 10 days so far at the Lakes, after four nights at West Bay (attending the rally) we shifted over to Kerr Bay. This DOC campground is a little dis-jointed with three separate sections for camping; two with power and one large area with no power. The amenities are all at the beginning of the road and on both sides of it. We decided on a power site and tucked ourselves in at the top of the section where bushes seperate us from the un-powered area. Most nights there's only been half a dozen campers spread about but over the weekend- & after an excellent weather forecast- all the powered sites were taken and most of the unpowered area was taken up with caravans, tents & boats.

During the week it felt like we were back to winter, on Tuesday & Friday we woke to a heavy frost and snow on the mountains. I was up early to catch the sunrises which was just as well as the snow had gone by lunchtime after it had warmed up.

Tuesday, November 4th- Snow on Mt Robert
Friday, November 7th- Sunrise
No one arriving during the afternoon believed me when I said it had snowed the night before and there was snow on the mountains. And who could blame them when this was the view that greeted them. This one, with the water taxi tied up, was taken Tuesday afternoon, the same day as the first snow photo above.

The forest of red, silver & mountain beech alongside Lake Rotoiti  is a 5000ha ‘mainland island’ where there are intense predator control programmes to try and keep on top of the devastating effect predators have on our native bird populations. And the results speak for themselves.

The bird life in the park and especially around the camp ground is amazing, the dawn chorus is deafening and while I leave the window open so I can hear it I'm not so sure it's such a good idea as the noise wakes me up just before 5am every morning. Bell birds are the main contributors, along with tui, warblers & kingfisher and early in the piece I can also hear morepork (ruru – native owl) calling good night before they retire. There are quite a number of kiwi in the bush and I’ve been hoping we might hear them calling in the night but so far, no luck.

The late starters and the nosiest of all are the kaka (large endemic forest parrot) who start squawking around 6am. Kaka have only recently been reintroduced into the Nelson Lakes National Park and they are thriving, and breeding, due to the intensive pest control that is being carried out throughout the park.

It was hard to count the kaka due to their antics but I think there are about 10-12 in the particular flock that hang out every morning and evening in the tall trees near the campground. They spend the whole time, 1-2 hours, bouncing from tree top to tree top, launching themselves out of the high reaches chasing others, hanging upside down, doing aerial acrobatics and screeching at the top of their lungs at each other. In between their high jinks, they also strip the bark off the trunks with those sharp bills.

They tend to spend all their time at the far reach of my lens so these photos are borderline but at least you can see the beautiful colour under their wings. South Island kaka seem to have more colour than their North Island counterparts.

The native fushia trees (kotukutuku) are flowering at the moment, tiny little flowers with blue pollen, hence the reason a lot of the bellbirds (koromiko) flying about have blue faces and bills.

We've done a couple of walks around the lake, including the Peninsula Walk which took us back around to West Bay. At the entrance to all the walkways & tracks at the moment are signs to let walkers know about the 1080 poison drop that will be happening very soon. The first drop by helicopters will be a placebo, so the rodents will be tricked into thinking the bait is ok to eat, the next drop will include the poison. Rats are very clever, they use younger males to test any new food source before they will eat it.

1080 is a contentious subject, there is and always will be fierce debate about 1080 poison and the harm it might do. While everyone is entitled to their opinion, David & I are of the thinking that at the moment there isn't a better option. We've listened to the debates, we've read the facts & figures, we've heard the pros and cons and we have seen & heard the results of predator control; a forest full of birds and birdsong. We also know that the concentrations, both in the pellet & over the area, are nowhere near what they used to be in the bad old days.

As most Kiwis know our native bird populations are under constant attack by introduced predators and this past autumn saw a beech tree ‘masting’, a phenomenon that happens every few years when beech trees, which make up most of our mountain forests, produce an incredible amount of seed. The seed feeds mice & rats which in turn feed stoats(the biggest problem and #1 predator) and then they all breed to suit the increased food supply. Of course once the seed germinates and the food supply dwindles, the increased numbers of rodents & stoats look for other food; the attack on our birds coming from two directions; they compete for food with the birds eating seeds & fruit and also eat the eggs & chicks. Stoat (and rodents) are prolific breeding machines; young stoat actually leave the nest pregnant after males enter and mate with them.

While the poison drop is a one off to cope with the latest increase in predators, there are constantly monitored trapping lines running the length and breadth of our national parks; rat & mice traps along with the bigger stoat & possum traps.

The northern South Island beech forests also support large numbers of native birds with honeydew: the honeydew scale insect provides an energy source for nectar-feeding birds. Right through the forest, beech trees and the ground surrounding them, are coated with a thick black residue from the scale. Tiny hairs (which is in fact the insect’s long anal tube) protrude from the gunk on the trunk & secretes a tiny drop of honeydew which the birds love. Unfortunately so does another pest, the wasp. In the summer the forests can be alive with swarms of wasps feeding on the honeydew. The orange trap, above left, is a wasp ‘trap’, poison is put on the base of the trap and the wasps carry it back to their hives.

I can see why a lot of visitors to the park, especially from overseas, think that there’s been a fire through the forest, the thick black stuff looks like its charred, I think it looks like a larva flow across the ground.

On the way around the Peninsula Walk, David checked nearly every rodent trap; the ‘Friends of Rotoiti’ look after all the traps around the village and shorter lake walks and Wednesday was their day to walk the trap line, reset and document the kills. We walked it on Thursday and there were 3 mice & 1 rat, I also walked another track where I saw two rats in the first trap. I don’t usually bend down to have a look- I’m scared something might jump out at me! But this trap was on an angle & I could see in.

The jetty at West Bay- I couldn't get a clean shot the other day as the rowing regatta was on.

On our way to West Bay we caught sight of a helicopter coming and going from what looked like the same spot as the RNZAF helicopter the other day. We thought they must have started the placebo poison drop early as we watched it carry a container past Mt Robert & up the Sabine River valley, returning a short time later, and with virtually no turn around time, heading back up again. So we walked around to the clearing and sure enough there was tanker and a couple of work vehicles.

But it became very obvious as we approached that it wasn’t dropping baits, the smell was vile! They were emptying the DOC hut longdrop toilets, carting it back in the containers which were then sucked out into the tanker truck. What a shitty job! We high-tailed it out of there as quick as we could.

We took a track that ran along the back of the West Bay DOC campground where we stayed when we first arrived, this camp ground (closed until December) has lovely new amenity buildings dotted right through it.

The track ran down to the Anglers Track which then followed the Buller River downstream. Along the way there were lots of interesting boulders and rocks with different mosses and lichen growing over them. We’ve seen lots of rocks with the red lichen (or algae) about, in some places the whole river bank is covered in red rocks.

We only walked some of the way down the Anglers Track before turning around and retracing our steps all the way back to Kerr Bay. The Buller River is very fast flowing and there weren't any areas that David could throw out his line so we decided to call it a day and try to make it home before the gathering storm clouds opened up. Which they did  before we got there and it wasn't rain but hail that battered us.

No one is allowed to throw a line off the jetties on the lake, although I bet there are a few who would love to. Under each jetty live dozens of huge, long finned eels which are protected. If you stomp on the jetty they come flowing out from underneath or from out of the cracks in the concrete boating ramp beside the jetty. They really are monsters, some are as thick as my arm and over a metre long.

Most visitors wouldn’t even know that they are there unless it’s nightfall when they tend to swim around in the shallows looking for dinner. But if you take them some food down, I had some meat scraps, they come out of the woodwork in their dozens. I’m sure there are a least 100 at the middle jetty; you can see the mandarin duck perched on a rail under the jetty waiting to grab the food I was throwing in for the eels. He was much gamer than the mallards, walking on water as he skittled across the top of them. The eels even push themselves up out of the water looking for food, you can see one thinking my foot was food in the middle shot.

After missing the previous Friday night, David had been looking forward all week to having fish & chips from the tiny shop beside the service station in St Arnaud, it's only open once a week. As so often is the case, the anticipation is so much better than the actual eating; most of my soggy batter was fed to the ducks.

We had our soggy fish & chips with some new friends; Lesley & Carl from Picton. We’d met them at the rally the previous weekend when they parked opposite us in their bus.It was a lovely surprise to come home from a day out on Friday & see a familiar bus parked beside us. Of course they had gone home during the week and returned on Friday so they could compete in a bike race from Kerr Bay to the West Coast on Saturday morning. And don’t worry, those are their mountain bikes, their road bikes are around the front.

A cycle race leaving first thing Saturday morning meant our quiet sleepy little bay was a hive of activity Friday night and Saturday as dozens of cyclists prepared for the race. I walked up the road to catch them coming around the corner, it was a tough climb out of the bay before they turned onto the main road.

But nothing like the climb this guy had to do! There were two penny farthings and they’d already ridden all the way down the Wairau valley from Blenheim the day before, Carl & Lesley had passed them on their way to the lake.

Go Lesley! That’s her in the red & white, she was riding through to Murchison, about 65km, and Carl was completing the relay to Westport. That’s a bloody long way, hope you did well guys! There's also a tandem bike, a mountain bike & a lie-flat bike in this shot.

And one final shot of the middle jetty; the one with hundreds of eels underneath. The guy was playing a flute while he waited for a group of people to return from a walk, such a lovely sound floated across the bay as I approached. I wanted to ask him to turn side on so I could see the flute but I didn’t like to interrupt him.

DOC Kerr Bay Campground, Lake Rotoiti


  1. Thanks for this lovely post. I particularly liked the kaka and eel photos. They seem to be mad about eels in Nelson and Marlborough - I remember seeing them and feeding them there on a family trip over 50 years ago. I've no objection, of course, I love seeing them. Such good news about the National Park there and the thriving birdlife. The 'pest' destruction is horrible but I'll take your word for it being the best course of action.

    1. They sure are keen on their eels Olwen, we've seen a few places advertising feeding the eels, in Nelson and in Golden Bay. It has been lovely seeing all the birds but remind me never to park up with ducklings again. Its been very stressful trying to keep tabs on 3 families, they have been losing ducklings left, right & centre!

    2. A friend who grew up on a farm tells me they considered ducks to be useless mothers and often put ducklings under chooks who were much better at the mothering business. It was nice that they bothered.

  2. Hi Shellie,
    Were you at Lake Rotoiti this morning? I'm sure there's a capture of your 5th wheeler on the Take a Break webcam! Evy (kikiflower)

    1. Hi there stranger! Lovely to hear from you. And what a coincidence, that you happened to see a similar 5th-wheeler to us just when you looked on the camera. It's not us but we know them from our travels.Wish we were back there :) Mind you the weather doesn't look that great. Thanks for the link, take care, Shellie

  3. Here's the link


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