Half a day north of glacier country is the small and unassuming settlement of Punakaiki, a very relaxing beach hangout and the home of some unusual rock formations. These “Pancake Rocks” appear as very fine strata being eroded by the sea, but their formation (according to the information boards) still baffles geologists. With plenty of time to spare in the area, I elected not to do any of the longer walks (due to recent landslides and high rivers) and instead took a wander up the Lost World-esque Bullock Creek, scattering hungry wekas (after my sandwiches) in my wake.
Continuing north, I went through Westport and out into the heavily forested and serene Wangapeka Valley, where I’d lined up a short farm placement. The place turned out to be a small enterprise (as many WWOOF establishments are), surrounded by rainforest and a profusion of bird life (not wekas though, as the dogs tend to chase them). My main jobs for most of the first week consisted of fence repair, and (aside from putting a lot of posts in) I learned how to use a wire strainer and construct a box strainer; both essential to any fencer’s skill set. A lot of time was also spent just walking around checking things, and (aside from the miles of fencing) I got to say hello to the cattle, sheep and small birds that inexplicably followed me around (possibly eating the sandflies that humans lamentably attract). Walking up an old track one day, I came into a beech forest where all the trees were blackened up to a height of several metres. I assumed that there had been a severe forest fire until told that it’s some kind of bee-feeding fungus.
The nearest town to Little Wanganui and the Wangapeka Valley is Karamea, a rural outpost that sees few tourists in the winter (many more in the summer, due to the popular Heaphy Track). When I rolled in for a look around, most of the businesses had closed for an hour or two due to a funeral, which made the whole place eerily deserted. I took a wander down to the beach (finding an always-interesting abandoned house), and then the estuary (keeping a wary eye on the tide) before the rain started coming down in earnest. Returning to the farm, we were forced to do some wet weather work for a few days (putting up curtains in the backpacker dorm and weeding the greenhouse), and then the skies cleared and I was given leave to start on a fallen tree (a Tasmanian blackwood that had blown over). I started off by trimming the leafy branches with loppers, then the thin flexible ones with a saw, and then I was let loose with a chainsaw to cut most of the rest up (the difficult bits, like those bearing loads, were left to someone more experienced i.e. Bill, one of my hosts). Stacked in the woodshed, it didn’t look like enough to make a whole tree. My final project before moving on was the construction and planting of two new raised beds for garlic. This was not only an excellent WWOOFer project, but very useful for the farm – over two days we put down a gravel base, extended the fence, moved manure into position, put in logs, put a sawdust layer on top, put in more logs, some compost, raked the beds over, separated the seed bulbs and finally planted them out and covered them with straw.
The day before I was due to leave, we took a day trip out to the nearby Oparara Basin – a gigantic limestone depression full of fascinating things like caves, arches, underground rivers and moa bones. Sadly, most is off-limits to casual tourists and we took in the (still spectacular) main sights. We explored two water-carved caves, and came across two of the more common troglobites – cave wetas (Gymnoplectron spp.) and cave spiders (Spelungula cavernicola). The spiders eat the wetas; I’m not sure what the wetas eat. Another site we went to was called Moria Gate – not featured in Lord of the Rings, but rather the first geologists who explored the area were Tolkien fans and saw the Middle-Earth resemblance long before any film-makers did.
After a thankfully calm crossing (albeit aided by lots of crystallised ginger), I’m in Wellington and have a short North Island trip to plan before moving on again. On to the i-Site.