Wednesday 30 November 2016

The Gathering of the Grebes


Of course we couldn't stop over in Wanaka without paying a visit to our favourite birds' nesting sites on Lake Wanaka's waterfront and what a surprise awaited us.

Not just a handful of Australasian Crested Gebes this time, there were at least 25 grebes nesting, swimming, fishing, guarding, building, fighting, making babies, resting and searching (for a nest site) in the small area between the marina and lake edge.

The artificial nest platforms have multiplied too, obviously to keep up with the population explosion. 

There are at least 15 platforms attached to the marina and floating in the shallows.

And all but one are occupied and closely guarded...

This is the grebe equivalent of the penthouse suite; sheltered from the elements above and behind and complete with a natural greenery screen, providing privacy from the grebes next door.

It might have appeared peaceful after just a quick glance across the water but there were ructions going on all around the marina (this photo is a first- 5 grebes in one shot!)

This pair of grebes were on a mission... secure themselves a nesting site...

They were told in no uncertain terms to back off here but they persisted, trying a different approach...

...from the back.

No luck with that one, they moved onto the next platform and got told off there too...

At a different platform, this grebe just wanted to pass by and under the marina to open water. He tried the 'don't look her in the eye' trick and got past.

The determined couple were now trying it on at floating platform #15, one of the first artificial nest sites and the one that is closest to the shore. It has featured in several of my past blogs, it's also had some modifications with a screen added to break the wind.

If the couple headed to the other end of the marina, they'd find an abandoned nest and a NZ Scaup squatter they'd have no trouble evicting. And, it has greenery too.

Oops...don't look now. I smiled at his dismount; he nose dived over the front, tangling his huge feet in her mane and disappeared into the depths.

It just goes to show that Australasian Crested Grebes thrive with a bit of help. There are going to be a lot of gorgeous little striped babies riding around on their parents backs very soon.

If you'd like to read more, here are some links from previous visits, including chicks riding shotgun and the beautiful courtship display.

But actually, the main reason we stopped at Albert Town Campground was to see if we could spy the NZ Falcon pair that were nesting again in the same place as they did last year; right beside a couple of old logs in the campground. 

Unfortunately, I think it was a bit early and they were still sitting on the eggs out of sight. The area is fenced off so you can't get too close- not that you'd want to, you'd be dive-bombed fairly quickly. We thought we might see an adult flying in or out but saw nothing. In another 6-8 weeks the fledglings will be visible, climbing up on the logs to beg for food.

Tuesday 29 November 2016

Two West Coast Mining Towns


After our sobering and thoughtful visit to the Pike29 Memorial we carried on towards Greymouth, taking a side road to the old mining settlement of Blackball.

And although the streets around village's few shops and one of the pubs, were lined with vehicles, the streets were deserted of people. The only sign of occupancy were these two characters resting in the shade of an old cottage in the midst of a makeover. 

David dropped me off so I could take the necessary church photos and then drove around the block (the block nearly being the whole village) and pulled up outside the other pub in town and the one I wanted to check out- the 'famous in New Zealand', Blackball known as the former Blackball Hilton because of a certain international hotel chain's pressure to change the name.

Next door I finally found a single person checking out the Blackball Museum of Working Class History including an exhibition of the 1908 miners strike, which at 10 weeks, is the longest strike in New Zealand. Blackball is also the birthplace of the New Zealand Labour Party.

The Blackball Hilton publican & his wife came out to front table to have a smoko break and we got talking. The town was empty of people but full of vehicles because of a very large funeral for a local identity which was happening at the other hotel in town. When he heard we'd just visited the memorial he said we'd have to come in and see the hotel's memorial to the Pike 29. The first thing he pointed out was the clock, it was fixed on the time of the blast.

He took great pains in pointing out that his wall was the first memorial to the Pike 29 and that the hotel was in fact where many of the families and rescuers stayed and met each day during the early attempts at rescue. There were also memorials and information on the other walls right through the hotel of other mine disasters and important events in the area's history. After thanking them for their hospitality, we continued our journey.

Our destination for the night, as previously mentioned was Jellyman Park near Greymouth. We'd set up camp and were relaxing in the warm late afternoon sun when I had a brainwave (David would say a brainfade) was a lovely evening and when I checked my tide app, I saw that sunset was at 8:09 and low tide was at 8:15pm. 

Perfect timing for another visit to the fabulous hidden coastline at Motukiekie, 15kms up the coast- low tide, rock formations, a West Coast sunset & hopefully the special orange starfish, that inhabit the rock pools at very low tide and which I'd failed to find on our previous visit (although we did manage to find a caveman). All that combined (not the caveman though) could make for an epic photo shoot.

I told David I'd be happy to go by myself, but I'd love him to come; as back up and to help me down the steep bank and ladder to the beach. Otherwise I'd have to walk in from a couple of kilometres away and I really didn't fancy finding my way back to the ute after dark. Of course how could he refuse!

We left a couple of hours before sunset, which was a little too early but we were ready to go, so we took a detour via Runanga, another old coal mining town on the West Coast. I wanted to take a photo of the historic 'Miners Hall' which is adorned with famous socialist slogans. British miners brought a strong tradition of industrial unionism to New Zealand, where it quickly established itself, especially on the West Coast.

This Historic Places Category 1 building will hopefully be restored eventually (click to enlarge)

Runanga is also very proud of their mining heritage, rugby league roots and their international players; this large display was on the side of one of the shops.

Unfortunately the Buffalo Butchery didn't stand the test of time. I remember when we were on the Coast many years ago and had a buffalo burger at a cafe out in the middle of nowhere somewhere near Punakaiki. The cafe was actually at a buffalo farm (these are water buffalo), poor things, watching their mates being turned into burgers. It too had disappeared when we travelled that area last year.

While I was taking photos David decided that we'd have 'Chicken 'n Chips' for dinner from the local (the one and only) shop. It was rather surreal eating dinner at a picnic table on a footpath in a deserted and slightly rundown town.

But the 'Chicken 'n Chips'  were very tasty (hey, anything's tasty when you don't have to cook dinner) and we did see a few locals, mainly young people coming in for their daily fix; a packet of fags.

We carried on up the coast and checked out Motukiekie from the beach where I was going to walk in from. Hmmm....the tide looked like it still had a way to go and the sun had disappeared behind a thick band of grey cloud. 

We drove back to our secret track and headed down to the beach, finding the ladder just as it was the last time. 

The rocks came into view at the last turn in the track....that tide still looks a little high and the waves are still rolling in. And the sun has definitely disappeared.  

We swung down the rope (middle right) onto the rocks at the base of the cliffs...

...and walked up the beach to the rock stacks where unfortunately the tide was just not going to go out far enough tonight. It still blocked the way around the last section and the starfish pools were still covered in water. Oh well, it was worth a shot but we decided it just wasn't going to happen tonight so headed off back to the rope.

I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye and found this juvenile spotted shag trying desperately to blend into the rock-face behind him. He was actually warming himself in the sun that had finally appeared for a few brief moments...

...but he quickly decided he needed to find an escape route...

"If I tip-toe quietly this way, she won't notice me"

Meanwhile David had disappeared down the beach...

And while I was taking that shot, Master Shag made a quick escape.

As did we; back up the rocks, up the rope, the ladder and through the bush, back to the ute and home again...

...just in time to catch the sun setting!!

Sunday 27 November 2016

We're In Our Happy Place


I told you the rain would follow us and it sure did, it rained for most of the time we were parked beside the Clutha River at Albert Town. And when it cleared this morning we could also see why it was so cold overnight; snow on the mountains surrounding Lake Wanaka. Our diesel heater got another late season workout. 

How would you like to wake up this morning, pull the blinds and sit down to eat breakfast with a fabulous view up the Clutha and onto the mountains behind? Well that was what the Maui camper occupants were expecting to do. The Britz van arrived sometime after dark! 

We'd made a decision over the weekend to move on this morning. Move onto some sunny and warm weather hopefully. Move onto one of our happy places- a bit like comfort food we have a couple of comfort destinations. This particular one is 140kms away over the Lindis...

...and, what do you know, into lupin country and... 

...big salmon country! 

I'm not so sure about that stiff cold breeze blowing off the snow covered mountains behind though...

I'm sure a few thousand lupin photos and a salmon or two will make up for it (are you listening trout- we don't need trout). In a day or two we'll move down the canal to Lake Benmore and set David adrift in the Takacat again.'s great to be back in MacKenzie Country again.

And this just about matches a West Coast sunset...

Friday 25 November 2016

The Wet Coast


Well, once again we have succumbed to the West Coast rain. Two weeks ago today torrential rain started at Lake Kaniere and it hasn't really stopped since. While I was laying in bed last night listening once again to the loud drumming on the roof- and it had been steady for the last 48hrs- I counted out the fine days we'd had since the lake- 4 days, FOUR bloody days, that's four days of sun in two weeks. OK, I lie, there has probably been an extra four or five hours of sun here and there but basically it has persisted down non-stop for the last two weeks.

Franz Josef  NZMCA Park
And I know you can't have a rainforest without the rain but this has just been ridiculous! It's just as well we managed to visit most of the attractions during our winter visit otherwise I'd be seriously peeved off. And it's also just as well we managed a fine day to visit the white herons, the number one reason for our revisit to the Coast.

In the end we gave it our best shot, we even sat through 4 days of rain out of the 5 we had at Franz Josef before deciding this morning that it was time to head to the sun before we lost our.... (check the van name).

We did have a welcome distraction for a couple of nights though, our friend Jan and our favourite dog Blue came to visit. Jan had been to Cromwell in her motorhome and was heading back to her home near Picton, via the West Coast so she could say hello to us. We had a lovely couple of nights despite the wet weather and Bluey was a very spoilt dog. He was allowed inside the van where he made himself right at home. If you know David, you'd know that he doesn't allow just any dog in the van (cellphone photo).

It was a mass exodus out of the Franz Josef this morning in the pouring rain. Most of the vans were heading north including Jan & Bluey. We were heading south.

 I decided on a new name for the 5th-wheeler- I changed it from 'Out There' to 'Outta Here'.

The rain had settled into a heavy drizzle as we passed through Franz Josef village. 

I feel very sorry for the tourists that are on a time schedule, most are driving 'the tourist loop' around the South Island and are including the very long drive along the Coast to see the glaciers which remain hidden all the time the weather is like this.

On the only fine day we had, I drove to Franz Josef Glacier do one of the walks I'd missed when we'd visited during winter. I couldn't get into that walk's carpark (admittedly it was small) but then I couldn't get a park at the main car park where there are three large areas either, they were all full of campervans and hire cars. It was like Piccadilly Station, so I took a couple of photos, got back in the car and drove home.

Today, Fox Glacier was also shrouded in mist and raining as we drove through... 

And it continued to rain all the way south. We passed at least 8 cyclists along the way; you have to take your hat off to their dogged determination. Cycling along miles from nowhere; uphill and down dale, soaked through and no doubt cold on a day like today. They also take their lives into their own hands on such narrow roads with so much traffic and drivers that are often unfamiliar with the road and in some cases driving!

We had a short delay at one of the one way bridges waiting for the Stop/Go man to change his sign. I thought they might have been putting up the Christmas lights...but I think they're just giving the bridge a makeover.

We stopped at Bruce Bay for lunch and it lived up to it's reputation today- wild and windswept with waves crashing on the rocks. 

The West Coast of tourist brochure also known by us as the Wet Coast. As someone said to us, "Don't you know it has a silent 's' ". 

Approaching Haast, and along with the rain, the wind is now howling a gale outside.

Across the long one way Haast River bridge and the weather doesn't look like it's getting any better up in the the mountains.

Nope, that looks like rain.

We pull into a small layby on the edge of the Haast River to let the cars behind past and I take the opportunity of clicking a few photos looking down the river back towards the Coast. 

We pass through the Gates of Haast and crawl up to the top of Haast Pass and the rain is still persistant. 

And it rained all the way down the other side and onto Makarora and out the other side, as we drove alongside Lake Wanaka.

The road was dry but the spots still heavy on the screen as we passed through The Neck and onto Lake Hawea.

We stopped at the lookout and I had just enough time to take a few shots before the rain caught us up.


We carried on, finally leaving the wet weather behind as we passed Lake Hawea township. Shortly after we pulled into the Albert Town campground on the banks of the Clutha River, near Wanaka, where it looks like they haven't seen a drop of rain in weeks!

Pity that, because I have the feeling we brought it with us. As I type I can hear big fat plops on the roof.