Friday, 1 July 2016

Curly Tree & Ship Creek Treats


We left Haast Beach Holiday Park after the long weekend and on another stunning day, with thoughts that we'll definitely be back to explore further over the summer months.

We cautiously approached the one way Haast River Bridge, which at 737 metres, is the longest single lane bridge in the Southern Hemisphere. There are two passing bays in the middle of the bridge should we meet anyone coming from the other direction, although with the 5th-wheeler on the back it would have been awkward slotting into them. Luckily we had the bridge to ourselves.

Our first port of call on our road trip north today is the Curly Tree Whitebait Company beside the Waita River. A sign points the way in and we hope we'll be able to turn around once we drive down the gravel track. The track actually leads into Waita's fishing settlement and a farm house and yard beside the river.

 In a shed, alongside the farmhouse, whitebait fritters (they call them patties here) are made and sold, along with whitebait itself, when it's in season or the freezer full. Curly Tree is a popular place and is well known amongst visitors who've read about it on travel websites. 

We've had whitebait from Curly Tree before, when we attended the Bluff Oyster Festival a couple of years ago. When we were all evacuated as a violent storm blew through, and after Curly Tree had driven over a thousand kilometres to get to Bluff- via the Lewis Pass, as Haast and Arthurs were closed due to the weather. This lady remembered it well, it was a disaster for them.

There was a collection of whitebait nets beside the shed, including a large box net which is the one that's fixed beside the  lifting whitebait stands I mentioned in earlier blogs. The fritter was fine (with a little mint sauce drizzled around the edges, another thing I learnt from Curly Tree at Bluff) although I never know what the fuss is about, give me Blue Cod any day.

I walked back along the track and met David at the entrance so I could take photos of the fishing huts. There's no need for burglar alarms or guard dogs here, I walked around a corner to come face to face with a monster bull and 5 of his mates, equally as big. 

I'm sure they are docile enough but I wasn't taking any chances and gave them a wide berth as I made my way to the rig. I figured the closest bull would be held fast for as long as it took me to reach the ute if he did decide to check me out; he was knee deep in a bog.

It's not often that we explore along the road we are travelling with the 5th-wheeler on the back. We usually park up and then radiate out exploring over the next few days, it's easier to get to some places and we don't have to worry about parking. But with alot less traffic on the road over winter most of the car parks and pull-ins can accommodate our size fine. 

Our next stop is at Ship Creek. This has got to be one of the best short walk activities we've seen and is very well set out by DOC. I know I was impressed with the Hapuka Walk across the road from the Haast Beach campground but this was even better. Two totally different but stunning walks that showcase the many beautiful features of the West Coast's landscape.  A boardwalk leads us to a large shelter with a tower where...

...after climbing up a well fixed, standard aluminium ladder you get a panoramic view along the coast line south-west right around to Jackson Head in the distance, out over the carpark and to the swamp forest behind. 

On the pillar supports of the shelter there are a number of information panels explaining the reason for the Ship Creek name (click on the photo to enlarge). 

We decide to do the 1km, 30 minute Dune Lake Walk first. The boardwalk passes along the back of the dunes and we stop to check out the first of a number of interpretation panels along both walks. One of the reasons we'll be back in the summer is to see the Fiordland Crested Penguins/Tawaki that live on the Coast, they start arriving back in the spring to breed. Did you see the No' Dog' sign back at the carpark? No? Neither did that couple out on the beach! Grrrrr......

We leave the beach behind and follow the track into the bush where it winds its way through dense coastal forest stunted by the prevailing westerly wind, before climbing steps up onto a platform with more magnificent views and explanation panels.

We can now see the dune lake that gives the walk its name. 

I've included the panels again just because I know there are people out there (hi Dad) who like to have all the information. It would take me far too long to research and write my blurb on the subject and I'm in catch-up mode so I must move along! Also, you may not have noticed but the cream fishing crib back at Waita was named "'Drovers Rest' On the cattle track". Now you'll see why.

We leave the platform behind and follow the path on through the bush until we reach another boardwalk and the dune lake. There's one lonely Black Swan who makes a hasty retreat towards the reeds when he spots us. We don't see any other waterfowl.

The boardwalk skirts around the edge of the lake and winds up into the bush and up to another platform and more information. It was interesting reading about the water reeds/Kuta I must say, we usually only hear about flax being woven.

From the platform we can look down on the lake and see that there are still no birds in sight and that the black swan is still hiding. Personally I think this lake is a little slice of hidden paradise.

The track heads back towards the carpark and we're now passing through a magnificent emerald green forest, the understory draped in ferns, mosses and epiphytes. This is what a rain forest is all about. Small birds flit about, dart across the path or call from the canopy.

We pass back through the shelter and out to the other side heading for the second shorter Kahikatea Swamp Forest Walk, a 20 minute 800 metre walk.

The gravel track is wide and passes under the road bridge tracking up the side of Ship Creek whose dark tannin stained waters lay still and reflective. The path turns inland and becomes a winding boardwalk over the top of a dark soup-like swamp. Once again the forest trees are smothered in epiphytes and mosses. These are a few of the remaining Kahikatea (White Pine) left behind by pioneers of past.

We come to another platform deep within the swamp, with, what looks like a couple of large round crates as tables and one that someone has put on it's side. It's a wonder they haven't been thrown into the swamp, we think. Except that they are all fixed to the decking and don't move.

These are cheese crates made from the Kahikatea trees that were milled from the forests along the Coast. Back in 1769 Captain Cook thought the tall straight trunks of the Kahikatea would make ideal spars on sailing ships but the wood proved too soft. Settlers soon felled many trees as they drained the swamps, the land was flat and fertile and good for agriculture. Once dairy became established and product exported to England, the great Kahikatea forests came tumbling down, the pale and odorless timber was used for butter boxes and cheese crates to protect the exports.

We made our way around the swamp boardwalk loop and back onto the creek path, passing another deck with an impressive view of a lone Kahikatea standing very tall and alone. And not too far from the base of the mighty tree I spied another familiar sight, two tiny and slightly faded Blue Pinkgill mushrooms, not so rare on the West Coast but rare in the world; New Zealand and India are the only two countries where the blue fungi is found. 

I'd highly recommended both walks if you are travelling along the Coast road, and especially if you are visiting the West Coast for the first time or you have overseas guests with you. 

Our next stop is at Knights Point lookout. Knights Point (named after a road workers dog by the road gang) marks the meeting of the highway- road gangs worked from the south and north on the Coast road and Knights Point is roughly where they made a connection. A stone monument and plaque commemorate the achievement.  

There are more than enough 'love birds' holidaying in New Zealand at this time of the year; couples hand in hand on walks, couples smooching at picnic tables, couples cuddled up for selfies, couples sitting arm in arm on lone rocks looking wistfully out to sea, couples in motorhomes.....wait that's us.   

The lookout was boarded up and access closed and it looked to have been for awhile too. Obviously something's not safe on the overhanging deck. A pity because the views would have been stunning. I managed to take a photo between the greenery. 

We arrived at our overnight stop in the late afternoon. The DOC camp at Lake Paringa is just a short 60kms from our starting point. All those stops and walks have taken us most of the day to cover. That's the beauty of having no plans or itinerary, it's what we love about our life-style. Start and stop whenever and wherever you like.

Unfortunately as lovely as the camp is, the sites are all individually spaced out and set back into the reserve surrounded by bollards and far too small for our rig. There's no one else in the camp tonight so we decide that the best place to park is in the boat ramp carpark. I doubt there'll be an influx of boating traffic this evening.

The afternoon draws to a close and the reflections on the lake are beautiful.

Lake Paringa is a small horseshoe shaped lake with a large hill (or small mountain) at the centre point (out of picture, to the right). It was a shame, the sun sets earlier enough as it is at this time of the year, but it dropped behind the hill even earlier, and not long after we arrived.

Not before David got his spinning rod out and went fishing; having fun with a half a dozen or so small to pan sized trout and salmon. All caught and released of course. 

We woke to thick fog the next morning and a bone chilling cold- another reason we love this laid-back lifestyle, there's no reason to be up and off at the crack of dawn. It took a long while for the sun to even attempt to push through the pea soup...

...and then slowly but surely the mist lifted...

...with just enough blue sky & promise of some warmth for David to try out his luck again. 

More fun with some very sprightly fish and then it was time to hit the road again.


  1. Exrtremely beatiful! You had a great day for these fabulous walks! I gasped when I saw the dune lake. How can I not return for these charming places! I enjoyed very much reading every word of the Ship Creek panels, then came this line "I've included the panels again just because... " I can't help but laughed out loud remembering you said I'm starting to sound like your dad!
    Talking about dad, I have similar childhood tiki touring with dad like you, though maybe not as drastic :). When school holidays come and dad feels right, he'll say let's go and we'll start packing happily, jump on the car and off we go exploring north or south or east of the peninsular or to our neighbour down south. I particularly love venturing less traveled roads and passing through small towns. I was always the navigator, since 9 or 10 years old. That probably kindled my interest in maps and geography. Thinking back our style of travel was genuine tiki touring, no preplanning no booking no fixed itenerary. Traveling like this was rare in 1970s in our country, especially for a not well-to-do family like us. I deeply thank dad for the precious memories.

    1. What lovely memories you have Offstone, and they have obviously contributed to your love of travelling and of visiting and exploring New Zealand like the locals do; off the beaten track.

  2. Great write up and photos - especially along the Ship Creek walks. totally sold!


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