Touring New Zealand 2019 - part 5
South Island - Otago Peninsula, Catlins and Lake Manapouri
Having left Ranfurly there were two options for the drive to Dunedin - either along the Taieri River valley through Middlemarch or further east to join the coast at Palmerston. The latter was the mainer road, called the Pigroot, and we were soon climbing up to the Lookout at Dead Horse Pinch Historic Reserve. The name is self-explanatory and there are old pictures of caravans of heavily-laden horse-drawn wagons struggling up the steep hill. It was the main route in the 1860s from Dunedin to the Dunstan and the goldfields of Central Otago. It was much later. in 1892, that the railway from Dunedin reached Middlemarch, and there are passenger excursions along that route now. Soon after the road from Macraes Flat joined our road we reached Dunback. We have never stopped there before but had read about the historic Bowker's Bridge which is the last remaining original arched stone bridge on the road, over McCormicks Creek.
It was then only 16kms to Palmerston, a nice town, but one which we went straight through, leaving just 56kms to Dunedin. Next time we will search out Evansdale cheese, it is not exactly in Evansdale but north, nearer Karitane.
Portobello: We went straight through Dunedin and out down the Otago Peninsula towards Taiaroa Head and the Albatrosses. There was a lot of road maintenance and replacement work and the winding oceanfront Portobello Road was even slower than usual. We stopped briefly to check in to our cabin at the camp site at Portobello. Everywhere was busy because it was O-week at Otago University and all the new students were starting to arrive with their families to start their studies. This was the reason we had so much trouble finding somewhere to stay over the following weekend.
1908 Café: In the evening we had booked for a meal at the 1908 Café just down the road from where we were staying - one reason why we return there! We have been there before and there are pictures of the food already on the web site - one always worries that when returns to one of one’s favourites it will have changed. We checked our booking as we passed in the afternoon and were pleased to see the same chef (another Pauline). The meals were as good and large as ever and the service was excellent. They no longer allow BYO but had a nice "The Last Shepherd" Central Otago Pinot Noir. We started with bread and dips. Last visit we had lamb shanks (plural) in orange with a maple syrup glaze and this was still on the menu but we were tempted by the Red Tussock fed Venison with pumpkin and cumin mash. It was excellent and we could only manage to share a red berry dessert.
Taiaroa Head: From Portobello it is compulsory to drive along the coast to Taiaroa Head to see if we could see any Albatrosses flying. On the other side of Otago Harbour there were two cruise ships berthed. Dunedin and its local coaches were going to be busy today. We did not take a tour but saw a couple of birds flying and also a couple of Royal Spoonbills. The shape of Taiaroa Head means that the birds all nest on the side away from the car park and are only visible at take-off and landing. The Royal Albatross Centre and its observatory is run by a Trust and we have been members of the Otago Peninsula Trust for many years. When we decide to visit the viewing shelter to see the nest sites we always renew our membership -it used to cost less to join than two entries by the time the free entry for a visitor accompanied by a member is taken into account and it is good for their numbers. There are two other properties belonging to the Otago Peninsula Trust: the Fletcher House and Glenfalloch Woodland Gardens. Both are well worth visiting and are on the road between Portobello and Dunedin.
The Royal Albatrosses come back to breed every two years to the same place and with the same partner - the remainder of the time being on the wing. They circumnavigate the globe many times achieving an average of 500 kms a day and often exceed 1000 kms in a day as they move from one feeding area to another. They are magnificent birds to see in flight exceeding 10 feet span. They often live for over 40 years and one known as Grandmother is known to have reached well over 62 years as she was breeding when first seen. The juveniles return after 5 years for their first landing ever on land, which can often be a spectacular crash when they realise the difference between sea and water.
There are often several nests close to the observatory. In 2012 the closest nest belonged to Button, the last offspring of Grandmother and we got brief views of the chick which was only days old. We did not expect to see her in 2019 - maybe next year. This time we were unlucky and did not see the birds flying in front of the observatory but have previously seen them close enough to completely fill the viewfinder on the camera and one time we were able to get a long video of two birds pair flying, probably juveniles “bonding”. There were a few groups of seals lying on the usual beach below the visitor's centre. seals
Returning to Portobello late morning we turned up the hill onto the high road along the Peninsula which has some spectacular views. It joins the main Highcliff Road at Pukehiki where we admired a church dating from 1868. Highcliff Road then continues to Anderson's Bay but all the roadworks back along the coast had been so tedious it was unanimous that we completed a shorter circular trip by going directly down to Company Bay and then back to Portobello. Even then we suffered the one really bad part with traffic lights and rough gravel. It will all be better next year !
Happy Hens: We stopped at 'Happy Hens' in Portobello as we wanted to find out about progress of the ferry, the Elsie Evans. In the past we have we spent a long time chatting to the owner, Shem Sutherland. He has spent a lot of time in the UK as a signwriter and narrow boat decorator. He produces many items with Roses and Castles, his letterboxes are particular favourites in New Zealand, and we were privileged to see some of his work which is not for sale. He also seems to have been involved or know of many of the restoration and steam projects we have taken an interest in. He has also been responsible for leading the restoration of the Elsie Evans. last visit we were privileged to be on one of the first trials when the restoration was hardly complete.
In the evening we returned to the 1908. We had not finished our wine the previous evening which gave us an excuse to return. We did not quite duplicate the meal and started with a big bowl of seafood chowder. Later we noticed one couple who were sharing a bowl of seafood chowder. It was really excellent, tasty and very substantial. The Red Tussock fed Venison had been so good we could not resist repeating it but could not manage anything for dessert.
The Catlins and The Southern Scenic Highway:: The road from Dunedin to Te Anau via the South Coast is a designated Heritage (Tourist) Route called the Southern Scenic and must be high on ones priorities to visit in the South Island. The Catlins are relatively unexploited and have some magnificent scenery, sculptured by the prevailing Southerly gales and hosting a wide range of wildlife. They include Yellow-eyed Penguins, Little Blue Penguins, Fur seals, New Zealand Sea Lions (Hookers Seals), New Zealand Elephant Seals and Hectors Dolphins. Owaka is on the edge of the Catlins Forest Park and is about 120kms from Dunedin. We stopped in Milton en route - a small town which used to be a centre for pottery as well as farming. The Information Office/Museum used to be the Post Office and sorting office for the local area - most of the inside forming the museum was unchanged. It is quite interesting and there were a lot of old photo albums which included coverage of the Royal Visit in 1953 when the Queen and Prince Philip stopped in the town. Next was Balclutha, where the road crosses the River Clutha, a large town with several possibilities for fuel and a New World supermarket.
Owaka: We had booked 3 nights at Pounawea which is on the coast about 6kms east of Owaka. Owaka has expanded as a tourist destination since we last visited with a useful new supermarket and an excellent museum, as well as fuel, pub and more coffee shops. The museum had many stories of the shipwrecks on the coast, with models and photographs of the ships and some items from those events. There was also information about the railway which passed through Owaka to Balclutha.
Pounawea: We stayed at the camp site at Pounawea, which we had used before. The first time we stayed in their original Bach (or to be more correct a Crib on South Island). Cribs were simple basic holiday homes built by many people which they returned to and extended every year, they were often close to beaches or lakes and would have started life with water collected from the roof or a stream/well and a long drop outside but by now some are scarcely distinguishable from a normal home with all mod cons. This one was built in 1938 and until recently had an original style Zip water heater. It has unfortunately now been done up, moved across the site onto wooden piles, and lost a lot of the character. We had rung ahead and booked a simple cabin but when we got there we were seduced by one of the larger Family Cabins which had a view over the estuary and found that we could sit and watch the bird life including several Royal Spoonbills. Since our previous visit the manager has constructed a row of individual waterfront cabins with decks which are very popular.
Purakaunui Falls: After unpacking there was plenty of time to go out and one of the famous features of the Catlins are the many superb waterfalls. The closest and best is Purakaunui Falls which rightly features in many postcards and calendars. Access is signposted from the Papatowai Highway about 6kms after the Catlins Lake. There is a bush/estuary loop track from the camp site which is only possible at mid-low tide and the whole area is alive with wildlife - we heard and saw several Tuis and it was here we first actually saw a couple of Bellbirds, small and brighter green than we had expected from the pictures.
Matai Falls, Horseshoe Falls and Historic Rail Trail walk: Passing the Catlins Lake the first interesting place was the Matai Falls and Horseshoe Falls walk with our first visit to the New Historic Rail Trail walk which gave access to part of the Catlins Railway Line between Balclutha and Tahakopa. Here the gradient has an average of 1 in 40, which is one of the steepest in the South Island. The embankments and cuttings are very impressive although becoming well hidden as they become overgrown with trees and bushes.
The Florence Hill Lookout gave a good view down of the golden sands of Tautuku Bay, and a glimpse of the spouting cave on Rainbow Island. Lake Wilkie was just visible ahead and we walked to the first viewpoint but did not do the full walk around the lake.
Lenz Reserve: The next stop was at the Lenz Reserve where there is a nature and tramway walk. The site celebrates the adaptation of the Fordson farm tractor for use on bush tramways by the sawmiller Frank Traills. There was also a typical engine stored under a shelter with a lot of interpretation boards.
McLeans Falls and Waikawa: The next of the superb waterfalls is McLeans Falls and The Chute, together on land owned by Alexander McLean who died in 1938 and whose care of the land is commemorated by a monument. Leaving the main road as it continues inland there are several important destinations on the south coast. The first is Waikawa, a small place with an excellent museum sited in the Waikawa School which opened in 1912 and closed in 1972. There is also an associated St Mary's Anglican Church. The church was opened and dedicated in 1932 and much later the Anglican diocese decided to sell the church and the Waikawa Museum was gifted the building in 1994. It is now open as part of the Museum during normal opening times. Inside it is in good condition and is well-looked after by the local community. When we previously stayed at the BBH opposite the ex-church was being leased as a cafe and it remained so until 2006. Today the BBH was not busy and is advertised as the historic harbour house "Penguin Paradise". It is a nice house but there is nowhere to eat in Waikawa now the church/cafe has closed.
Curio Bay: The main reason for driving along this part of the south coast is to visit the petrified forest at Curio Bay, and then perhaps to continue to Slope Point, the southern-most part of the South Island, and finally the lighthouse at Waipapa Point. This trip was only to Curio Bay; the other places were all visited on a previous visit to the Catlins. There is now a large car park at Curio Bay, and an adjacent camping ground with views onto Porpoise Bay. We walked up to the view down onto Porpoise Bay before retracing our steps to the petrified forest lookout and the steps down to walk among the petrified trees. Part of the area is protected because of penguins but it is still possible to walk over the rest. We noticed the erosion since our previous visit, mainly the stumps of the old trees which have been worn away. The tide was slightly too high to really appreciate the extent of the area, but it had the advantage that there were fewer people. We guess it would get busier an hour later when the water had retreated further. Niagara Falls: The final place to visit on the way back to Owaka was Niagara Falls, just 3kms south of the main road towards Waikawa. While it is named after the famous Niagara Falls it is a very small but pretty waterfall
Nugget Point: Having completed a tour of the Catlins to the West it was time to head the other way with our main target being Nugget Point - a must in the Catlins. The road was marked as unsealed in our Hema map but is sealed and except for one short length is wide. Although we were early the main car park was full so we drove back down to Roaring Bay and returned about 500m uphill to Nugget Point on foot. There is a lighthouse built in 1869 at the end, which is a good viewpoint - on the approach path we could see several colonies of seals below us with the pups gambolling in the rock pools. The area is covered in wildlife and we saw Royal Spoonbills in the distance and dozens of seal pups playing in the rock pools. Unfortunately the scales are big at Nugget Point and the wildlife always seems beyond range of the cameras even on 40x zoom although it was very clear with binoculars.
Roaring Bay has a hide for watching Yellow Penguins - this is the time of year when many are staying ashore for the moult and we were also a bit too early in the afternoon. So we did not see any, but have been lucky on our previous visit when one came ashore and we could watch it come up the sand then hop from rock to rock until it reached the edge of the foliage where it stopped for about ten minutes to preen. On an earlier visit we saw several come ashore and also had the rare chance to watch some playing in the surf. After a short stop for biscuits at the beach at Tirohanga, curiosity led us to continue along the coast to Kaka Point but it was just a small village with a beach and no kakas.
Tunnel Hill Scenic Reserve: Back on the Southern Scenic Tourist Route we stopped at Tunnel Hill Scenic Reserve. The railway tunnel is 246 metres long; it is the southern most railway tunnel in New Zealand and building was begun in 1891. It is part of the Catlins River Branch Railway from Tahakopa to Balclutha which we saw at Matai Falls yesterday. With the rest of the line, the tunnel closed in 1971. A torch is best to walk the full length, although the floor of the tunnel is reasonably flat. The brickwork is reminiscent of canal tunnels although the tunnel profile, with its sharper point in the middle, is unusual.
Surat Bay: On the way back we detoured to visit Surat Bay on the far side of the estuary opposite Pounawea. There are supposed to be New Zealand Sea Lions, also known as Hooker's Sea Lion's on the beach and on a previous visit we had seen the bulls fighting and jostling each other. The Sea Lions belong to the family of eared seals and the males can reach 400 kg and 3 metres in length and are rare and endangered. It is a long bush walk from the car park to the ocean and other people returning from the beach reported that there were no sea lions today. This saved a disappointing long walk. However we saw more Royal Spoonbills in the estuary and another group just outside our cabin.
Invercargill:We set off early for Invercargill and only stopped for a couple of moments to take a picture of one of the famous blowholes on the coast - it was only from a distant car park but the fountains of water were very clear. It raining hard when we reached Invercargill. We stopped at the enormous Hammer Hardware in Dee Street, the famous Hayes shop which has the major collection of Burt Munro memorabilia. The previous week there had been the annual motorbike event and the shop seemed fuller than usual of old motorbikes, memorabilia and souvenirs. The shop always has a lot of useful and interesting hardware and we were able to buy bits to repair the handle of our Red Devil BBQ.
Burt Munro was the archetypal example of the embodiment of Kiwi ingenuity. He was a cantankerous, eccentric and obsessive inventor capable of making use of anything available to turn out advanced and innovative engineering, using the most basic facilities in his backyard. He was in many ways like Richard Pearse, who arguably made the first powered flights in New Zealand before the Wright Brothers yet never gained public recognition for many years. He also had much in common with Hayes so it is not surprising they knew each other well and Burt made use of the Hayes Engineering works.
Burt Munro became a Kiwi motorcycling legend, and held numerous land speed records, some of which still stand. Burt Munro was born in 1899 at his parents home in Invercargill. At 21 year he was entranced by a brand-new motorcycle in an Invercargill garage. The bike was an Indian Scout, with a V twin side valve engine of 600cc capacity, cast alloy primary case, leaf sprung front fork and gleaming red paint. The price was £120 complete with acetylene lighting. This begin a partnership which was to last until his death in December 1978. The bike was destined to become the world's fastest Indian.
Burt's Indian Scout, engine number 50R627 was a standard model and although it was very advanced for it’s time the top speed was only in the region of 60mph. In the 1920's Burt started tuning the bike for speed. He raced it round Invercargill, much of the racing and trials were on the firm sands of the nearby beaches and ultimately he had it exceeding 90mph in side valve form. In the mid 1930s Burt made patterns for an overhead valve engine conversion but initially he was quite disappointed as it was not faster than the original side valve, he however persevered and in 1940 he gained the New Zealand Motorcycle speed record at a speed of 120.8mph. Originally the Indian Scouts had only two cams and this limited the valve timing so Burt changed this to a four cam system which allowed him to alter the valve timing on both the inlet and exhaust valves - his cam designs were a major factor in the performance of his engines and nobody seemed to be able to reproduce his results.
By now Burt was finding many of the original parts were no longer capable of taking the strain and he started making his own replacements from old but carefully chosen materials. He made his own barrels, flywheels, pistons, cams and followers and lubrication system. The con-rods were manufactured out of old Ford truck and Caterpillar tractor axles, largely by hand with a file, before hardening and tempered. Burt cast his own pistons using a large kerosene blow lamp and dies he made himself. A major problems was big-end failures. The original lubrication was a total loss system with no direct feed to the big-ends and crank pin. Burt made new fly wheels and increased the diameter of the crank pin which he bored to feed oil direct to the big-ends. He also fitted an Indian Chief oil pump and in doing so changed it to a dry sump lubrication system. Burt had very little equipment as far as machining was concerned and there was a lot of handwork associated with the manufacturing. Over the years Burt gradually increased the bore and stroke which enlarged the engine to just on 1000cc capacity. Burt built four different streamline shells for the Indian Scout over the years.
Burt took many NZ road and beach records. In February 1957 he set a NZ Open Beach record of 131.38 mph, raising this in 1975 to 136 mph at Oreti Beach. In April 1957 he set a 750cc Road Record at Christchurch at 143.59 mph. But Burt's ultimate ambition was to take the Indian to the Bonneville salt flats in the USA and find out her ultimate performance. He was a grandfather of over 60 when he finally achieved his ambition and on his first trip to Bonneville in 1962 he achieved a speed of 179mph, a speed that people attending “Speed Week” found absolutely unbelievable considering the age of both the bike and the rider. On the 26th August 1967 Burt claimed the World Record Class S-A 1000cc - with an average speed of 183.586mph (one way 190.07mph). This record still stands to this very day. His old Indian originally designed for speeds of 55 mph and still with many original parts was measured to be exceeding 200 mph on occasions.
The story of Burt's life and his sacrifices to the God's of Speed are detailed in the book “One Good Run: The Legend of Burt Munro” by Tim Hanna publisher: Penguin, 2006 ISBN 978-0143019749. We had tried to buy a copy in the UK after we had watched the film “The World's Fastest Indian” on a flight to NZ and then bought the DVD. We finally found and bought a copy second hand in Napier. We were enthralled by both and could not resist going to Invercargill to see his bikes at the Hayes shop. Hayes have just added a new display - the complete set of shelving which filled the wall of his shed which contained a collection of many of his development and other failures, some spectacular. He titled this collection "Offerings to the God of Speed". There is an excellent write up of Burt Munro's achievements and pictures of him in action as well as the bikes as they are currently in the museum on the E Hayes web site. The synopsis I have written above has drawn on it and many other sources including the book and film. Another site worthy of a visit is the tribute to the Tribute to Burt Munro on the Indian Motor Cycles web site.
Manapouri: It was still raining when we left Invercargill for our stay in Manapouri. It is often wet in Fiordland and the forecast had been rain. Manapouri is much more tranquil than the nearby Te Anau where most tourists stay and we had views out over one of the most stunning lakes surrounded by snow topped peaks. We rang ahead - it is not usually necessary but it would be late when we got there so it seemed a prudent move. We intended to stay for three nights In the end we had four nights at the excellent Lakeside Motels and Holiday Park in our favourite room with stunning views over the lake and mountains – a perfect tranquil and uplifting place.
It is old style camp-site we like with lots of character and at a reasonable price. Every kitchen cabin is different with some being two story mock stately abodes almost like home. It is a collector's paradise with a collection of old Morris Minors and other cars and a games room full of classic arcade games. It also has a good kitchen and although there was no Zip there were no less than 4 electric kettles. Pauline however noted it was the only camp site where there were more washing machines and driers than stalls in the ladies. They have been repainted which is unfortunate as they used to be full of interesting cartoons. There is still an Inn and Café next door.
Te Anau: We did little of great interest the first couple of days at Manapouri apart from visiting Te Anau and chilling out. In fact we went to Te Anau twice, the first time we went to the DOC office to get up to date information, checked out the La Toscana Pizza restaurant we know and had a quick look in the Op shop.
In the evening we ate at the pub next door to the camp site. By accident we ended up with a jug of the Speights Mid beer without our realising it was reduced alcohol (2.5%) beer. Apparently it has become one of their best selling beers since the levels for drink driving were reduced a few months ago and we can see why as it did not lack the body and taste of most of the low alcohol beers and we only discovered when we looked it up on the internet. We had not really intended to eat there either but were seduced by venison burgers and pork ribs at $20 & $24 which was much better value than our usual evening out at La Toscana and did not involve driving.
The following day started out very wet and Pauline spent most of the morning working on her OU course and Pete finished off sorting out pictures until the weather improved. We then returned to Te Anau shopping. Firstly we wanted to find the butcher who supplied the venison to the pub restaurant where we had eaten the previous evening - we found a likely on the internet and fortunately we guessed correctly - he turned out to be excellent and the supplier of the version burgers and ribs as well as much more. We bought vacuum packed venison as well as some home made venison burgers and also some smoked hoki.
The other reason to go back to Te Anau was to return to the Op shop which had some old Royal Doulton bone China (Counterpoint H. 5025 pattern manufactured from 1873 - 1987) and we wanted to have another look at and see if we had really read correctly that the whole collection was actually available for a fixed sum as well as the individually priced pieces. It is nice to be civilised rather than eat off plastic plates and bowls even when camping and we already had a single nice dinner plate and we were really only looking for another single plate. However this was a bargain we could not resist - there was far more than we needed but it was easier to collect the lot so we could select a couple of small and large plates and bowls, a bonus were some fine little coffee cups and saucers which were in 'as new' condition, all for the huge cost of $20. We are not sure what to do with the extra 75% left as duplicates and other sizes !
After leaving the Op shop with our huge box of china we went into the Fresh Choice supermarket and knew we were on a roll when we found two more of the Trophy winning wines we were seeking, both from a winery we did not know - Misty Cove Wines of Marlborough - and they were both on special. And there was also some more of the super Sauvignon Blanc from Wairau River, another trophy winner, also on special. Laden with meat, fish, china and wine we joked that we needed a larger van !
The Te Anau Bird Sanctuary is on the shores of Lake Te Anau, and is an easy 15 minute walk from town on our road back to Manapouri. It has its own parking and is open from dawn to dusk. Entry is free for self-guided visitors to observe and learn about their unique birds, including the rare flightless Takahē once thought to be extinct. DOC rangers carry out daily feeding tours at 0930. The birds are held in outdoor aviaries and have either been injured so they cannot survive in the wild, or are involved in captive rearing programmes. The injured birds are rehabilitated and if possible, released back into the wild. There are not a large number of birds but we found the visit very interesting and spent far longer than we expected. The main highlights were Takahē, Kākā and Green Parrots.
Takahē: The most interesting of all to us were the flightless Takahē. The Takahē is a bird only found in New Zealand, and loosely related to the Pukeko and Weka, which is also flightless. It was initially observed by Europeans in 1847 and only four specimens were collected in the 19th century. After the final bird was captured in 1898, the species was presumed extinct. Fifty years later, after a comprehensive search, Takahē were rediscovered in 1948 in an isolated valley in the South Island's Murchison Mountains which are North West of Te Anau. The species is managed by DOC, whose Takahē Recovery Program maintains populations on seven offshore islands (including Tiritiri Matanga which we sail past in the Hauraki Gulf) as well as Takahē Valley. The species has now been reintroduced to a second mainland site in Kahurangi National Park where 18 birds were initially released into Gouland Downs off the Heaphy Track. Although Takahē are still endangered, the population now numbers 346 (2019) and is growing by 10% a year so such experiments are now viable.
The Takahē is the largest living rail in the world with deep blue on the head, neck and underparts, olive green on the wings and back, and a white undertail, The huge conical bill is bright red, paler towards the tip, and extends on to the forehead as a red frontal shield. The stout legs are red, with orange underneath. Juveniles are duller with a blackish-orange beak and dull pink-brown legs. Adults weigh in at up to 3.5 kgs and overall it looks much more solid than its relative the Pukeko, which can still fly, and are smaller and more slender, with relatively longer legs, and black on the wings and back - once one has seen a Takahē there is no chance of any confusion.
Takahē predominantly inhabit grasslands, using shrubs for shelter. In Fiordland, alpine tussock grasslands and the red tussock river flats are preferred. Tussock has little nutritional value and they spend most of their lives in the wild eating and they now have to compete for with deer for the Tussock. The population has been dramatically reduced by natural predictors initially Maori who hunted them and then by introduced predators - stoats being the major problem at present but possums, ferrets, cats, dogs and rats can also take a toll. DOC's stoat trapping program has been extended and intensified to cover the entire 50,000 ha Special Takahē Area in the Murchison Mountains. It is now the largest trapping network in New Zealand. Testing and refining the effectiveness of this and deer control is now the focus of Takahē conservation work in the Murchison Mountains. About half the adult population of Takahē are now fitted with transmitters allowing regular monitoring via an aircraft creating a clear picture of what is happening to Takahē in the wild and the effectiveness of the various conservation measures. We got quite close to two Takahē in their enclosure.
Kākā: The Kākā is a large parrot belonging to the nestorinae family, a group that includes the kea. Both the North and South Island sub-species are at risk or vulnerable and the Chatham Islands kaka are now extinct. When Europeans first arrived in New Zealand kākā were abundant throughout the forests of both islands, but by 1930 the birds were localised to a few areas. Today, they are once more reasonably common in the Whirinaki, and Pureora forest parks, but even within these strongholds, numbers are declining. Other large forested areas are almost empty of kākā. The North Island kākā can be found in good numbers on some offshore islands, especially Little and Great Barrier islands and Kapiti Island. The South Island sub-species is still widespread, becoming progressively more common from Nelson (where it is relatively rare) down the West Coast to Fiordland and on some offshore islands.
Kākā are a large, olive-brown parrot with grey-white crown, red-orange underwing and deep crimson belly and under-tail coverts. Males have a noticeably longer and deeper upper mandible and bigger head than females but this is generally only apparent when the two sexes are seen side by side. Kākā can often be heard before they are seen - the voice is a harsh, repeated, rhythmic “ka-aa” when flying above the forest canopy and a harsh grating “kraak” alarm call when disturbed. They can also produce a variety of loud, musical whistles, but these vary markedly from place to place. The only species likely to be confused with the kākā is the kea, which is larger, olive-green rather than olive-brown, and confined to the South Island.
Kākā require large tracts of forest to survive. Habitat loss from forest clearance have had a devastating effect. Browsing by introduced pests such as possums, deer and pigs has reduced the abundance of food. Possums also eat the same kind of food as kākā, most significantly, high energy food types such as endemic mistletoe and rātā. Introduced wasps compete with kākā for the shimmering honeydew (excreted by scale insects) which forms on the barks of beech trees. Both the mistletoe and honeydew supply sugary food which is an important part of the bird's diet, and may be essential for it to breed in some beech forests. kākā have many characteristics that make them easy prey to mammalian predators, . Kākā nest deep in hollow trees, where there is no escape if they are cornered by predators such as stoats, rats and possums (which eat chicks and eggs). Young birds often leave the nest before they can fly, making them vulnerable to predators. Nesting females are the most vulnerable to stoat attacks demonstrated by a disproportionate male/female ratio.
DOC have a recovery program aiming to maintain a viable population of South Island kākā in the beech honeydew forests of the northern South Island including establishing a mainland island reserve on the doorstep of Nelson Lakes National Park. There is also a release program. Initially, in 1996, nine juvenile kākā were released into the Pukaha Mount Bruce forest, in eastern Wairarapa, from where the species had been absent for nearly 50 years. They were a combination of hand-reared birds from the Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre and wild ones from Kapiti Island, near Wellington More recently DOC have began releasing kākā into the Abel Tasman National Park. When we visited there were two pairs of Kaka at Te Anau, and Charlie (the girl) and Bling had delighted the DOC rangers by producing two broods of chicks this season. Charlie has been cared for since she was found as a local road casualty in 1999 so she is not young. As a new use of technology, the latest chicks can be watched in their nest using a camera connected to a screen in a box outside the enclosure. Unfortunately the fine mesh of their enclosure made it impossible to get clear pictures. Jimmy and Taonga are younger and with Stewart Island genes.
Antipodes Island Parakeets (Kākāriki). The last of the interesting birds in the outside aviaries were the Antipodes Island Parakeets or Kākāriki, meaning ‘small green parrot’ in Māori. There is an early mystery associated with this Parakeet. It was named by Edward Lear (of nursery rhyme fame) in his first book, a compendium of lithographic plates of parrots in which he illustrated and named a mysterious green parrot that was held at the London Zoo. No-one knew where the bird had come from, and it was another 55 years before Captain Fairchild of the New Zealand government steamer Stella solved the riddle, discovering that Lear’s ‘Platycercus unicolor Uniform Parrakeet’ came from the speck of land that is as far from London Zoo as it is possible to get – Antipodes Island! It is unmistakable being a uniformly green parakeet - the other Kākāriki have coloured heads - and is endemic to the subantarctic Antipodes Islands. Its voice is a deep loud kok-kok-kok-kok-kok. It is common throughout Antipodes Island, less frequent on smaller satellite islands with a total population estimated between 1000 and 2000 birds. The population is protected by the islands’ isolated location and status as a strict Nature Reserve, with strictly limited visits. They were introduced to Kapiti Island (1907) and Stephens Island (1986). They had died out on Kapiti Island by 1923, and were removed from Stephens Island in 1989. There is now only a small and declining captive population in New Zealand so we were fortunate to see these examples.
Kepler Track: By now we definitely needed some exercise and the morning was fine so it was time to walk a section of the Kepler track, starting from the swing bridge and going only far enough to sit on the beach at the Moturau Hut. It did not look like swimming weather where we were although the Shallow Bay Hut was on a beach facing the other direction which would have been more sheltered from the wind. The track section we did has only moderate height gains, has two swing bridges, a small lake and passes through beech forest. The ground and many of the trees are covered in a thick layer like moss - it is reminiscent of the Goblin forest round Mountain House on Mt Egmont. There are two huts close to the beach - the Shallow Bay Hut has only six beds and is surrounded by trees whereas the Moturau Hut which we went to sleeps 40, is on a sandy beach with stunning views. We first did a section of the track in 1998 when it was part of a DOC orientation excursion on the lake and track. The walk including both huts is about 14 kms and it is was about 12 to just go to the Moturau Hut.
The complete walk took us nearly 3hrs 40 but a lot of the time was taking pictures and sitting on the beach - the DOC estimates of 1 hour twenty mins to the point where the paths diverge to the two huts is perhaps a bit short but the 15 and 20 mins extra to the huts is about correct, the beach can reached after 10 en-route to the closer hut. The track is very good, perhaps too good, the courageous could probably take a wheel chair over most of the section we did, but for some reason it is not so popular and exploited as the Milford Track and some of the other so called 'Great Walks', perhaps because there are no fancy places to stay for the commercial operators. The track starts near the Control Gates which keep the level of Lake Te Anau constant, it is of course used for hydroelectric power generation. The Kepler Track crosses the river over the flood gates and we have walked over them.
The next part completes our time in South island with