For the moment, Sandi and I are running a friend’s splendid B&B at Okuru, near Haast in deep South Westland, New Zealand, a wonderful change of scenery and task at the same time. http://www.collyerhouse.co.nz/

This part of the world is all about the natural environment, containing as it does some of New Zealand’s most outstanding native rain forest, and along with that some of the country’s best birds and animals.

We are, for example, on the road between Haast and Jackson’s Bay, which is the furthest south you can go by road on this side of the South Island. A few kilometres away is a kiwi sanctuary, a vast area that has been cleared of feral animals like stoats so that the flightless, reclusive kiwi has a chance to regenerate.  http://www.kiwisforkiwi.org/about-kiwi/kiwi-species/tokoeka/haast-tokoeka/   Further up the Coast, at Franz Josef glacier and in Hokitika, it is possible to see kiwis in captivity.

There is a great paradox in New Zealanders being called Kiwis because, unlike the bird, they are anything but flightless, found all over the world in a bewildering array of professions and occupations. The West Coast, for example, produces a disproportionate number of helicopter and fixed wing pilots. That is a direct result of the isolation, with there still being a small number of stations where there is no road access meaning that boat, plane or chopper is required. It has been that way from the 1920s and 1930s when aircraft began to arrive in New Zealand, and since the 1960s when the chopper came.

The latter has created new industries ranging from sheep mustering through to heli-skiing and other tourist activities. One of the most innovative is the culling of deer from choppers. This is a complicated story that connects to kiwi preservation, among other things. When British settlers arrived in New Zealand they found relatively few native animals unlike in, say, Australia or Africa. Because many of those settlers had a middle or upper class set of aspirations that included social practices like hunting, shooting and fishing, they promptly introduced a lot of animals during the mid-nineteenth century.

Trout and salmon were among the most successful and led to New Zealand becoming a world destination for fly fishing enthusiasts who still make up a big section of foreign tourists, inspired early on the fishing books produced by Zane Grey who became wealthy through his cowboy and western novels. http://www.stuff.co.nz/nelson-mail/opinion/columnists/zane-mirfin/3041490/Mystique-and-misbehaviour-of-Zane-Grey

Deer, though, were a different story. They adapted fast to New Zealand conditions and soon became in plague proportions. That in turn produced legendary cullers like Barry Crump whose books became standard reading for New Zealanders in the 1960s and 1970s. Hardy types like Crump tramping about the high country, though, made little impression on deer numbers so that those animals began to decimate the forest floor and low bush vegetation that in turn threatened the few native animals and birds that did exist.

The introduction of aerial culling raised all sorts of issues about sporting and other social practice and about the ethics of such shooting – think of it as an early version of the debate over drones, if you will. http://jamesfaganhistoryblog.blogspot.co.nz/2013/05/the-history-of-deer-culling-and-deer.html  But it was successful. In the early days, for example, it was said that a chopper shooter might take out thirty to forty animals an hour in some bush blocks. Now it is said to be down to three or four, and there is little question that regeneration of the bush has been massive, to the benefit of the kiwi and the native birds.

Ellery 2The deer may still be seen, though. One of our visitors encountered one while driving back from Jackson’s Bay one evening, and Sandi and I saw one on the Munro’s Beach Walk which leads from the main road down to a beach that holds a penguin colony. And in the clear waters of Ellery’s Creek that leads into the magnificent Lake Ellery we saw a very large brown trout. They are everywhere.

OK Bird 2We have splendid birds, too. There is a pair of resident keas who come most evenings to nibble at the flax seeds in front of the house and who, just for practice, chew away at one of the outside wooden tables. The kea is a notorious chewer, and highly adaptable: it seems many touring cyclists have parked up their cycles and gone on a bush walk, only to return to find their bicycle seats decimated.

Paradise Duck 3Then there are the bush pigeons, tuis, bellbirds, finches and all the rest which we hear around the garden and in the bush nearby, especially on the delightful Hapuka Estuary Walk that is nearby and traverses a remaining stand of kowhai forest. Mention of these walks means mention of the Department of Conservation whose staff do a magnificent job of making and maintaining these remote tracks and make it so easy to enjoy the surroundings.  http://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/tracks-and-walks/west-coast/south-westland/

And we also have a resident pair of harrier hawks who effortlessly glide the currents in search of food.

Seeing another car here constitutes a traffic jam, and that luxury outweighs the inconvenience of having a two hour drive to Wanaka to do a major food shop. As I wrote in an earlier post, that involves driving the Haast Pass, one of the world’s most spectacular roads. On a recent trip back from Queenstown, heavy rains and a late drop of snow caused major waterfalls to develop on the mountains through the Pass, a brilliant sight.

Turnbull 8Needless to say, my camera travels everywhere with me, and going anywhere usually takes longer than anticipated because of the stops that have to be made.

There are the inevitable drawbacks. For one, the outside world of professional interests intrudes in thinks like the depressing news that three prominent New Zealand cricketers are being investigated for possible match fixing, a sign that the International Cricket Council still has no control over that problem more than a decade after it appeared.  http://www.theage.com.au/sport/cricket/chris-cairns-says-icc-investigation-must-run-its-course-20131205-2yu0z.html    There is the on-going quagmire that is Syria; the never-ending squabble that is Australian politics; the widening realisation about the invasion of privacy going on internationally, and all the rest.

Waitoto River 3And then there are the legendary sandflies of Westland that rival any in the world, so require a daily dousing in bug spray. They are indescribably irritating, but still cannot take the gloss off the landscape shown off in expeditions like a jet boat ride up the Waiatoto River to some of New Zealand’s most remote locations.

A further bonus is the regular stream of guests we have. They come from all over the world, entranced by the natural landscape and all it has to offer. The younger ones are especially impressive, full of optimism and vision – they show there is hope for the world despite all the bad news, so make it even easier to enjoy this part of the world.

2 Responses to “Haastaway”
  1. I am so pleased you are both enjoying your guests as well as your beautiful location. I envy you the peace and the birds, but not the sandflies.

    A good friend of mine who was a deputy principal in a large high school once said that her job gave her a warped impression of the students – the ones she saw were the naughty ones, the ones with problems. Politics is a bit like that (as is ‘news’) – what rises to the top and gets reported in not the best, just the lightest and loudest.

    Enjoy your time. When does it end?

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