Why it’s a boom year for kākāpō and rodents alike.
By the time Choie Sew Hoy arrived in Dunedin, Otago’s first gold rush was sputtering out. The supply of alluvial gold that could be extracted by pans, cradles and sluice boxes was gradually dwindling, yet large deposits remained, buried in river gravel. Sew Hoy was a merchant rather than a miner—his Dunedin store imported and exported goods to Australia, China, the United States, and Great Britain—and in the late 1880s, he persuaded other Otago investors to try a new type of gold extraction. His steam-powered bucket dredge on the Shotover River was so successful that, in 1889, it launched a second gold boom in the area. After the Shotover, Sew Hoy started looking for new claims. The Nokomai Valley in Southland was known to contain gold, but miners hadn’t been able to work there because its gravel layer was too deep. Gold extraction would require hydraulic sluicing, which used a lot of water, which the Nokomai Valley didn’t have. Sew Hoy had both patience and capital. He paid work crews to build two water races to the Nokomai Valley—one of them becoming New Zealand’s second-longest, extending 47 kilometres from Roaring Lion Creek in the Garvie mountains. It took a team of 30 men three years to cut it by hand, using picks and shovels. And it was with picks and shovels that, more than a century later, Southland farmer Tom O’Brien and a small group of volunteers cut the walking and mountain-biking track that now runs alongside it. It took them two years, working under sun, snow, hail and rain, as the first racemen did, using only materials found on the land. Blackmore Station has been in O’Brien’s family for several generations. The land straddles two regions: on one side, the tawny gold hills of Central Otago, and on the other, the green river valleys of Southland. In the centre is a schist tor, Welcome Rock. Today, the Roaring Lion Track is a 27-kilometre loop for walkers or intermediate-grade mountain bikers. Along the way are fragments of mining history, swimming holes, and, if you’re looking closely, Powelliphanta—giant carnivorous snails. The track begins near Garston, about an hour’s drive south of Queenstown, and must be booked in advance online at Welcome Rock Trails. It can be accomplished in a day, but two huts on the tops—the historic Mud Hut and newer Slate Hut—allow people to break their journey. They overlook the Nokomai Valley, where Sew Hoy’s company eventually made a fortune. Though Sew Hoy died in 1901, his gold operation continued under the direction of his son and, later, his grandson. By 1932, the Nokomai Hydraulic Sluicing Company had extracted £223,043 worth of gold.
Some of the most incredible experiences in Queensland sit on straight line between Cairns and Cape York, the northern-most tip of the Australian continent. For travellers who have wearied of Surfer’s Paradise, a treat awaits.
There are five ways to identify the deadly myrtle rust this summer. Do you know them?
You know you’re in for an adventure when the map says Zebedee, Wandjina and Bungle Bungle.
On Monday, February 13, an electrical fault on Early Valley Road at Lansdowne near Christchurch sparked a fire. An hour and a half later, another fire was reported several kilometres further east, near Dyers Pass, one of three roads crossing the Port Hills. By Wednesday night, the fires had joined to become one large conflagration, burning more than 2000 hectares, destroying nine homes and numerous other buildings and resulting in one death before they were finally extinguished, 66 days later. The fires started when a dry northwest wind was blowing. It wasn’t particularly strong, but the northwesterly had low humidity, typical of air that has crossed a mountain range. During its descent from the top of the Southern Alps, 3000 metres above sea level, the higher atmospheric pressure compresses the air, causing its temperature to rise. By the time it reaches Christchurch, it is often 10 degrees warmer than before it crossed the alps. Most of the water carried by the air falls as rain when it rises over the mountains, so there is very little moisture left once the air reaches sea level on the Canterbury side, where the humidity can be as low as 20 per cent. Heat radiating from the flames dries the fuel in the fire’s path, evaporating much of the water inside wood and foliage. Evaporation happens more efficiently when the surrounding air has low humidity. In addition, heat radiating from the flames travels more easily through air with low humidity—water molecules in the air intercept infrared radiation from the flames, then re-radiate that heat in all directions. Lower humidity means fewer water molecules in the air, and so infrared radiation from the flames is more directional: more of it reaches the fuel. The Port Hills fire accelerated rapidly when the wind increased on Wednesday, February 15. It was now blowing from the northeast, meaning that at first, it brought back the low-humidity air spread over the ocean by the previous day’s northwesterly. A day later, the northeasterly was blowing air that had spent a long time over the ocean. Consequently, humidity shot up to 100 per cent at the top of the Port Hills, and 90 per cent lower down, helping firefighters control the blaze. As temperatures rise around the world, wildfires are becoming larger and more frequent. The tropics are expected to warm faster than Antarctica in the decades to come. The increasing temperature difference between these two regions will strengthen westerly winds over New Zealand, raising the risk of wildfires over eastern areas of the country.
One of the most important historic buildings in the New Zealand mountains.
Autumn rainfall looks set to break records, and ‘teleconnections’ may be to blame.
Howletts Hut lies in a sheltered hollow on Daphne Ridge, an offshoot of the main Ruāhine Range. An appealing hut with an orange roof and blue walls, it has fine views of Black Ridge as well as an expansive vista of the Hawke’s Bay hinterland. In summer, it’s a place of golden tussocks, khaki beech fringes and rugged mountains streaked with grey scree slopes. From the hut, an hour’s tramp along Daphne Ridge leads through a stunted patch of mountain beech, over scree and tussock slopes, and up to a knoll beneath Tiraha, from where there is a stunning view of the Sawtooth Ridge. From this angle, the ridge certainly earns its name, with a broken spine that drops sharply to very steep, eroding gullies. During winter, after a southerly has dumped snow and an overnight freeze has cemented it in place, the ridge resembles the Southern Alps more than the Ruāhines. The hut takes its name from Hawke’s Bay schoolteacher and botanist William Howlett. Originally from England, Howlett came to New Zealand in 1875 as a remittance man (often a later-born son, not in line for any land or significant inheritance, who was paid by the family to go the colonies). He was an eccentric character. His strong interest in alpine plants drew him into the range from Mākāretu, where he taught at the local school. Naturally enough, the weather severely compromised his ability to explore the area, so in 1893–94 he and a companion built a hut on what he called Daphne Spur, named after the native daphne (Pimelea buxifolia) that grows there. In 1902, he even brought his young wife up the ridge to spend their honeymoon at the hut. Howlett’s construction lasted until about 1930. In 1938, a replacement hut was built, but by the 1970s, it had seen better days. The Heretaunga Tramping Club embarked on a major rebuild, and has maintained it ever since, with continual improvements. The hut has a distinctive design, with a steep gabled roof, and is cosy—especially on a winter’s night with the pot-belly stove glowing. Getting to Howletts is possible on several routes, all of them quite strenuous. The most direct route goes up the Tukituki River to the base of Daphne Spur, where a very steep grunt leads up to the hut (allow 6–8 hours). The Tukituki is impossible when flooded, but fortunately there’s an overland route that avoids all fords. This begins from Kashmir Rd, climbs onto the main Ruāhine Range past Longview Hut, then traverses the tops over Otumore and Taumatataua to reach Daphne Ridge. It’s a good summer route (allow 7–9 hours), but is exposed and can be slow-going in the snows of winter. A third option is to approach via Rosvalls Track, Black Ridge and the Sawtooth. Most parties attempting this route stay at Tarn Bivouac on the way in (allow 9–12 hours). Whatever way you reach Howletts Hut, you’ve earned a good rest in a fine spot.
Of all the Great Walks, the Kepler is the only one that was deemed ‘a classic’ from the moment it was conceived. Opened in 1988, it came about when the Department of Conservation joined several infrequently used routes on the Kepler Mountains to make a well-constructed track, with the aim of easing the number of walkers crowding onto the Milford and Routeburn tracks. That it failed in this intention and instead offered another high-standard multi-day track to walk in this wonderful part of New Zealand was entirely predictable. But its popularity seems to prove that a track doesn’t have to be an ancient Māori greenstone trail or a place of colonial history, or even feel the decades-old reverberations of explorers, hunters, trampers and their ilk to have poignancy in a world overwhelmed by humans. The well-conceived Kepler Track cuts a daring line across some spectacular Fiordland tops and links many disparate natural features—caverns of limestone, meadows of alpine plants, forests of lowland beech and two lakes of monumental size. Furthermore, it neatly returns to its start at Te Anau like a giant ouroboros (the serpent of creation that swallowed its own tail), having led you across a wild edge of Fiordland. It takes between three and four days to walk its 60 kilometres, and can be done clockwise or anticlockwise. From Te Anau to Brod Bay, the Kepler starts out gently enough through a forest of red beech and mountain beech on the edge of Lake Te Anau, the largest lake in the South Island. Whether you wander in silence or converse with a companion, these first kilometres help to clear the mind of the recent hectic past and other unnecessary thoughts. The harder work begins with the climb up the east-facing hill from Brod Bay to the bushline through an entrancing forest covered in lichens. From Luxmore Hut, the next day’s tramping is spent almost entirely above the bushline, winding around easily travelled mountain faces and ridges. The track zigzags a few times, then climbs gradually before commencing a long sidle under the northern faces of Mt Luxmore. The rocks around Mt Luxmore sparkle with crystals and mica, their grainy, gritty texture splashed in strong dark reds and blue–greys. Indeed the Kepler Track, of all the walks described in this book, has the most interest for those with a geological bent. Here it’s possible to point to the ground and roll your tongue knowingly around such expressive words as gabbro, dunite, pegmatite, diorite and gneiss. This second day, no matter what the weather, will etch long-lasting images into your memory. When glancing down to place your feet you will see rocks and alpine tussocks, flowering herbs and mountain grasshoppers; when you look out you will see huge Fiordland vistas, and may even experience an almost vertiginous feeling of spaciousness. By making an early start the following day you can walk all the way to Rainbow Reach carpark (allow seven to eight hours), or to the Te Anau outlet in 10–11 hours. But most prefer the five- or six-hour stroll down the Iris Burn to spend a third night at Moturau Hut on the shores of Lake Manapōuri. Beyond Moturau Hut, a boardwalk stretches out above a superb kettle bog, a soggy mire where tiny purple bladderworts, deep blue swamp orchids and diminutive sundews waver amongst rustling wires of rush and green sphagnum moss. After several swamps are traversed, the trail reaches the Waiau River where, at the Rainbow Reach bridge, you can catch (in summer) a shuttle bus to Te Anau. Otherwise the track continues for a further three hours of forest and riverside walk to complete the circle back at the Lake Te Anau outlet.
Fiordland is severe country with an uncompromising climate, which makes the Milford Track all the more remarkable for the relative ease with which it conveys people into the heart of this rugged wilderness. Not that walking the Milford Track is an effortless undertaking—it’s more that the Milford’s well-constructed path belies Fiordland’s severity as it comfortably steers trampers along two immense glaciated valleys and over a high pass within a spectacular landscape of mountains, snowfields and deep-green forests. In effect, walkers of the Milford are granted all the rewards of tramping in this exceptional mountain area, yet spared the struggles necessary to tramp in most other Fiordland valleys. What many aren’t spared walking the Milford is wet weather. It rains frequently (on average 7–10 metres a year) and torrentially, rapidly transforming the landscape as waterfalls formed in an instant career down previously blank rock faces, gentle watercourses become seething torrents, and water flows across the valleys—taking everything in its path like the mythical Assyrian army. Water is thus a dominant motif on the Milford, although not one that should deter you because the experience of a Fiordland storm—seen from the safety of a bridge—can be just as exhilarating as the stupendous vistas of a fine day. Beyond the immediate and awe-inspiring effects of a Fiordland inundation, water also works in more subtle ways, sustaining the luxuriant coatings of moss and epiphytes in its forests, and filling the pools, cascades and waterfalls that have added so much character to the Clinton and Arthur valleys. Gigantic Ice Age glaciers of frozen water carved the walls of these two valleys, and even today frozen snow released in mammoth winter avalanches continues to alter the landscape and vegetation. That water forms a major theme on the Milford Track is dramatically confirmed by the 580-metre Sutherland Falls, among New Zealand’s highest waterfalls (its status as the highest waterfall was only recently eclipsed by discovery of a higher one, also in Fiordland) and also by the fact that—uniquely for this country—reaching the track requires passage across two large bodies of water—Lake Te Anau and Milford Sound.
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