Sampling and Surprise Sightings

It wasn’t long after I got back from Australia before I had fieldwork again. In fact, it was so soon after coming back that I hadn’t actually changed the time on my alarm clock, so I ended up not quite waking up on time, so that was a good start!! Luckily, we didn’t end up heading off too late, and given the time of the tide that day, it didn’t really matter. Several people at the university, including my supervisor have been contracted by MPI (Ministry of Primary Industries) to do some research into the impacts and the recovery of the intertidal communities following the earthquake. I know that we were kind of looking into that before anyway, but now it’s official contracted work, which is great. This time, I was going up to Kaikoura with two other people – Tommaso and Shawn, who both work for another person on this contract. Even though we were all going up together, we had separate sections of the contract to be working on.

Due to the timings of things this time, we’re only going up for 4 days of work – but we got to work within half an hour of arriving in Kaikoura!! This was the first time that I’ve had to go up using the inland route, as State Highway 1 was closed at the time, following rainfall and slips. Our first site was one called Wairepo – which I have worked on before in January with Islay. At the time, we had described it as a plateau where everything was dead. Although, for the most part, there still isn’t much macrofauna, or living organisms at the mid and high shore, it was nice to see that the low shore was doing much better. My work here is following a similar plan to what I’ve done before, only this time, I’ve been trusted to do it all myself. I have to find appropriate transects ant the high, mid and low shore, and then do between 5 and 10 random quadrats specifically looking for starter snails, Lunella smagradus, and limpets, Cellana denticulata. If I find more than 50 within the area, I had to collect 15 individuals for further lab analysis. Given the current fisheries ban (particularly on things like shellfish) that is in place along much of the north west coast of South Island, w had to get a special permit from MPI in order to legally collect these samples (just in case anyone reading this thinks that I’m writing about something illegal).

Since we arrived at the turn of the tide, there was only so much work we could get done on the first day. The others do actually have quite a bit more work to do than me, so I’ve been helping them out where possible. Although when there are a lot of animals in the quadrat, I have a lot of work to do (because all the organisms that we’re studying have to be measured), if I don’t have many – or any – individuals in my quadrats, then I’m done pretty quickly. Tomamaso and Shawn have to record everything in there 1m by 1m quadrats, both the seaweeds and the invertebrates, as well as having to take marked photo quadrats. I ended up taking quite a few of these photo quadrats. They had to be taken sat a specific point along the tape measure so that they can repeat these photos over the period of 18 months to see how the plot is recovering. I have to admit, I quite liked the feeling of power that I got from taking these photos. Anything I took a picture of, they have to go back to and take another picture of for at least another year and a half.

We followed the same sort of system at all of our sites, so I won’t go into too much detail about the ins and outs of all that. The initial plan was to work on 4 sites, some of which had been looked at before, but we encountered some issues with one of them. In the end, we completed 3 of the 4 sites planned – which isn’t that bad at all, given that we had about  and a half days to work on them. Our other two sites were in Sandstone bay and Sharks Tooth Point, around the south side of the peninsula. Since I hadn’t found any limpets at Wairepo, I quickly found out that if I have to collect 15 limpets, that will significantly increase the length of time I will be working at a shore height. To get them off the rock, I had to use a blunt knife, and slip that between their shell and the rock before they realise what I’m doing and completely clamp down. At least this kept me more or less up to speed with the others. I still had time to help out with the photo quadrats though!!

The highlight of this trip, though completely not-work related (as in, it did not fit in our quadrats) was whilst we were at Sharkts Tooth Point. It was also where the most annoying part of the trip happened, but mad you will see, it was something that Shawn was very happy about and Tommaso and I are still bitter about. From our site, we could see what looked like a penguin standing up and basking in the sunlight on the other side of the peninsula. I did know that occasionally you do get Penguins in Kaikoura, but it’s not common, as Kaikoura isn’t really in range for any of the species. A quick check through the binoculars confirmed that it was indeed a penguin – a yellow-eyed one at that!! We decided that we would go over for a closer look once we had finished work for the day. Tommaso and I finished Shawn, so we were sitting, looking over at the penguin, while Shawn finished up his final quadrat. As Shawn came over, we both turned around to offer him some cake someone had made us when – “Oh my god, is that a whale!??!!!” In the few seconds that Tommaso and I turned around to give him food, Shawn had seen a humpback whale breach out of the water, RIGHT WHERE WE HAD JUST BEEN LOOKING!! Of course, we immediately turned around to have a look, but the moment had passed. Shawn was, understandably, excitation, while Tommaso and I couldn’t believe what happened!! We walked over to the other side of the peninsula, hopefully looking out for a repeat performance, but it never happened. We learnt our lesson though – never be nice and offer people food.

Despite the disappointment at missing the whale (which we’re both bitter about – especially since Shawn tried to fool us again on our next field trip, but neither of us were buying it), the penguin was still amazing. We got as close as we can (there is a legal distance you need to stay back, so we kept to that), and it was completely unfazed by us!! For the most part, it just stood around and enjoyed the sun. You could see it thinking about changing rocks, but it didn’t really do much about it. It preened and sat about, and I think quite enjoyed the attention. For the only yellow-eyed penguin in probably several hundred kilometres, it did really seem quite happy. Eventually, we did have to call it a day, as we still had  30 minute walk back to the car. Whilst we were out on the rocks, Tommaso and I spent the whole time glancing over our shoulders, just in case.

Due to the time of the tides, on our last day we actually had quite a lazy morning. Tommaso and Shawn went free diving, and I enjoyed some of the feijoa that Tony (who’s apartment we were staying in) had given us. Although the day started out quite clear, it got steadily cloudy throughout the day. By the time we actually got into the field, it had started spitting – but at least (at first) it didn’t get too much worse than that. Because of how the low shore is laid out, I spend quite a bit of time slithering up and down the Ulva covered rocks, so I ended up quite wet and cold. Luckily, as there wasn’t too much for me to sample, I soon got into my nice, warm (massive) rain coat. Shortly before the other two finished sampling, it started absolutely tipping it down. If you’re thinking I just mean that there was heavy rain, you should at least double the rainfall you have in your head – as it was terrible. When you factor in the wind as well, you would need the most heavy duty raincoat imaginable (which, luckily, I had on – didn’t stop my legs and feet from getting wet though). It was actually quite difficult to see in front of us on the way back. The penguin seemed quite happy though – but, given the circumstances, we decided against going over and saying ‘hello’.

The first thing we all did when we got back to the house was change into dry clothes, and put the heaters on. All of our field notes were laid carefully in front of the heater, because for some reason, they were all quite wet. In hindsight, we probably should have loaded up the car when we were still in our wet clothes, because even if we had started out the loading dry, by the time we were ready to leave, we were back to being wet and cold, which isn’t ideal when you have a 3-4 hour drive ahead of you. My feet had only just warmed up by the time we got to Culverden, so I decided against using our little stop to get out, stretch my legs and go to the toilet. I think one of the problems was that the car was so full I had no way of really stopping some of our wet gear from dripping on me. Back in Christchurch, we had to unload, and I had to deal with the live samples (which Islay was there to help me with), before we could all go home (and get some sleep so we were ready for work the next day!!)

 

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‘West Island’

After my trip on the Great Barrier Reef, I flew back down to Syndey to visit family. Once again, I had great views coming into the city from the aeroplane – and actually had better weather too, which was great!! Although I say that I was visiting Sydney, my cousins actually live in Manly, so I ended up spending more time there – which is fine with me. There’s only so much time I can spend in the middle of a big city. Alex, Bill and Amanda were very helpful with coming up with ideas for what I could do during my week staying with them. Alex had saved a lot of leaflets of places that she had shown a friend around, and Bill let me know about some walks that I could do on this side of the harbour. My first full day with them was actually Easter Sunday (as you can see, this update is going up very late), so we all more or less just hung around the house and caught up, which was nice. Since we’ve been coming into autumn and winter, it was actually quite nice to be able to walk around in shorts and t-shirts for a bit longer – there’s no way I’d be doing that in Christchurch right now!! It’s far too cold for that.

I ended up going into Sydney the following day. I quite like getting the ferry over from Manly – and you get great views of the Sydney Harbour coming in. I have so many pictures of both the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House now. Sadly, we didn’t see any dolphins on the ferry. My plan for the day was to go on a couple of walking tours around Sydney, both of which started in the afternoon, so I had a bit of time to actually get my bearings and grab some lunch. The first tour I was on was just a standard walking tour of Sydney. We met outside the oldest cathedral in Sydney – which, fun fact, is actually facing the wrong way. The main street in Sydney used to be in front of the building rather than behind it, and now the area in front of the cathedral is more of a dead end than anything else. To be fair, the town hall nearby is built on the remains of an old cemetery that had been moved when the city started to expand, and they still find remains that didn’t get moved for whatever reason when they do any work on the building. The walking tour took us all over the city centre. We went around the Queen Victoria Building (QVB), which has a statue of her outside that, until about 30 years ago, was actually in Dublin before they decided that they didn’t want it any more. Whilst we were in one of the parks, we were completely deafened by a circling police chopper. We were shown some of the oldest buildings in Sydney, many of which were built and designed by convicts. In fact, the first architect in Sydney was actually sent to Australia because he was a forger. He was on their $10 bill until a few years ago, which they changed the money and decided that they didn’t want a forger in such a prominent position (especially on their money). We also found out that the reason why there is an emu and a kangaroo on the Australian coat of arms – it’s meant to be symbolic. Neither animal can walk backwards.

The tour ended opposite the Sydney Opera House, near the Rocks. This meant that I had about an hour to kill before the next tour – a tour of the Rocks – began. The Rocks is an area of Sydney that was almost pulled down a number of times over the years for a number of reasons – including being where the plague broke out and because of the, apparently, ugly buildings. Some areas are still under threat, while others are getting more costly because of the amazing views that the area offers. On this tour, we were told about some of the darker parts of Sydney’s past. One of my favourite parts was when we saw a flying fox. There was also a small area of land pointed out to us which is apparently the only patch you can legally graze sheep in Sydney, as this small (1x2m approx.) patch of grass was overlooked while people were making the laws. My favourite story was about one of the three pubs claiming to be the oldest in the Rocks. They used to give sailors a free drink, not to be kind, but to help them get completely wasted. When the sailors passed out, they were taken into a basement (where there were some shackles, in case they woke up too soon), and a passageway that lead all the way to the harbour. The sailers would be dragged onto a boat that set sail while they were still out of it. When they woke up, they would be forced to work, or they would be pushed overboard. Although you do feel slightly sorry for the sailors, I admire the thought and effort that went into making it possible. Both of the tours I went on were very interesting, and I would recommend them to anyone else who is in Sydney and would like to learn more about the city.

As you can probably tell, going on two walking tours in Sydney in one day meant that my feet were quite sore, and it was reasonably late when I got back. Not that I ended up having a relaxed day the next day. I went on a walk that Bill had suggested on the Manly side of the Harbour. I walked around North Head, which looks out to Sydney Harbour. The walk includes going through some of the native bush (including a swamp), through some old army buildings, including gun encampments, and accommodation blocks. It was a pleasant walk, even if I did end up nearly walking into several spider webs (which is something I’d rather not do while I’m in Australia – their reputations preceded them). I managed to make this into an almost-complete loop walk from the centre of Manly, and came out onto Shelly Beach after walking past some very nice rocks. I also found several large lizards, including a couple of Southern Water Dragons, which really were quite large! When you walk along the path by Shelley Beach, you pass several engravings of animals that you could possible see including octopus, sea horse, a couple of fish species, snorkelers, penguins, gastropods and divers. I thought they were very nice.

After two long days of walking, I did end up having a rest day (kind of). I really wanted to explore the rocky shores of Manly, which I had walked past a couple of times each day so fa,I but hadn’t really had time to properly check out yet. It was nice to see some of the species that I recognised, from New Zealand, including Neptune’s necklace seaweed, Hormosira banksii, and some littorinid snails. There was a large gastropod snail, probably about the size of my fist, with really deep grooves in its shell that got me really excited, as I’d never seen it before. According to Bill, when I told him about it later, it’s actually quite common, but I was still very happy to see it. I enjoyed my casual stroll into Manly. The rest of my day was fairly lazy. I sat and wrote postcards on Manly Beach, before going to the beach by the Wharf to watch the boats. In hindsight, while I was sitting here, I should probably have moved with the sun – sitting in the shade is possible what at least helped me get quite a bad cold which came on quite quickly!!

For my last full day in the area, I decided to get the ferry back over to Sydney. I wanted to get some good views over the city, and Alex had recommended the Pylon. You have to walk up 200 steps inside one of the four pylons that hold up Sydney Harbour Bridge. On the way up (and down) you learn about how the it was built, the process and the people behind it. At the top, before you go outside, there are some facts about the bridge. My favorite, by far, is the fact that the bridge was constructed in 7 years and 356 days. Maybe their aim was to get it done in under 8 years? Whatever the reason, I love how specific they were. The bridge also grows and shrinks by up to 180mm per day, which really is quite a bit. The views from the top were amazing!! The poster wasn’t wrong – “Don’t rid yourself of the best views in Sydney (or Melbourne, if you’re one of those)”. You had views of Sydney on both sides of the bridge, but I particularly liked being able to see the Opera House.

Alex had also recommended going over to Cockatoo Island, which is what I had planned for the rest of my day. I had to get a ferry over to the island, which is the largest island in the harbour. This island has been used for a number of purposes – a girls school, a prison, a school for female prisoners, but mostly a shipbuilding yard (and sometimes, several of those at once). At one point, it was the largest ship building yard in the Southern Hemisphere, and was actually only closed down in 1992, which was quite surprising. You can do a self-guided tour around the island which is what I did. I tried to get around the whole place in the most efficient way possible (though I’m not too sure how well I succeeded in that). Many of the buildings that you can look out were used for repairs and construction of ships, but (particularly in the upper section) there would be buildings used for rooms for the girls school, or for prisoners. The reason that it was used for a girls school is slightly funny, in my opinion. The girls school was originally in Newcastle, but there had been riots, noise complaints, and girls trying to run away. In general, this was a school for girls who did not have a safe home, or any home at all to go to. Someone has done their research, and quite a few girls were sent here because they were seen talking to a prostitute. Anyway, because of the complaints in Newcastle, people were looking for another place to have the school and saw that Cockatoo Island was mostly abandoned and so someone thought – oh heres an abandoned prison on an island, so there is already accommodation for the girls, there won’t be noise complaints because it’s so far away from anywhere, and they cant escape because most of them can’t swim!! To be honest, I don’t really know what made them think it was a good idea, but it happened. It was interesting to wander around, and made for a good afternoon out!

Since it was my last night with family I I didn’t want to get back too late (if you’re wondering why I spent so much time while visiting family not with them, it’s because they had work). We had a nice, relaxed evening eating pizza and watching television and chatting. All in all, it was a great trip over to Australia. My flight back to Christchurch left Sydney at about 9 o’clock in the morning, which isn’t too bad. There were great views of the Southern Alps as we came back into NZ, but sadly, I was on the wrong side of the aeroplane. I’m sure I’ll get some pictures some other time!

 

Going Down Under

I’m sure that most people are probably aware of the fact that in recent years there have been increasingly large bleaching events on various coral reef ecosystems. One that always makes the headlines is the rapidly decreasing Great Barrier Reef. Since I’m already all the way over here anyway, and it does seem like time is very important here, I decided to make the relatively small hop over to West Island (also known as ‘Australia’) and travel up to Cairns to see the Great Barrier Reef. While searching for trips, I found one in particular that looked amazing – a 3 day live aboard trip where you can do up to 11 dives on the reef! Over the course of the trip, I did 10 of the dives (and went snorkelling for the last one because of Queensland diving and flying regulations), and got my Advanced Open Water certification.

Landing in Cairns was interesting… Bearing in mind that my flight had left ChCh (in autumn) at 6:15 in the morning, and so I had spent the night at the airport, I wasn’t really dressed for 28˚C weather. Once I got to my hostel, I basically spent the rest of the day chatting to the others in the room before an early night for the early wake-up. My pick-up from the hostel was at 6:10, before we went to the Pro Dive shop to sort out equipment. As this is Australia, we just needed to collect a BCD that fit, fins and a snorkel and mask – no need for dry suits, or even wet suits here! They shuttled us over to the boat, and we ate breakfast while they started assigning us numbers (I was 25) and rooms. The boat was a 27m long vessel with three levels. The bottom level is basically just cabins (I was down in one of these), the middle had a few more cabins and the kitchen and dining area. Out the back you had all of the diving equipment. Up on top you had a deck to relax on and the last few cabins. It was all very compact (understandably), and I think could host a maximum of 38 people. I reckon that if it weren’t for the case that all we were doing was eating, diving and sleeping the boat would be a bit cramped for that many people.

As the boat set off, they got us to sign a few forms and watch a health and safety video. Leaving Cairns was a bit rocky, and not all of us coped too well. I normally do fine on boats, provided that I’m out on deck and not trying to read anything. If I’m inside and reading something, that’s not good – and like I just said, we had to fill in forms. The 3 hour trip out to the reef was not as pleasant for me as it could have been, and I’ll leave it at that. (Just to note though, that is the only time in this entire trip I got sea sick, so that’s good!!) Although we don’t have to wear wetsuits, we all have stinging suits to wear as it is the end of jellyfish season. They haven’t had someone stung before, and they don’t know if it’s because of the suits, or there just haven’t been any around, but it seems better not to risk it anyway. We’re doing 4 dives today, one of them a night dive. Although we were all buddied up, for the first dive most of us went on a guided group dive, just to get a feel of things.

The coral, while not as bright and colourful as you see in some pictures, wasn’t bleached, which I was very relived to see. This trip I was going on was about a week after a large number of articles had come out about the state of the GBR, and Cairns had been marked as a badly hit spot so I was a bit worried about what we might see. Something I love about diving is that you can get up close to things and view them from all around. There aren’t really any limits to the way you can view something. You can swim all around it and then go over the top, or lower down if you so wish – it’s great! This first dive was interesting, as everything was new. The last dive I did was in a flooded Welsh quarry in a dry suit, before I got my prescription mask, so this was a very different experience. We saw fish flit in and out of the coral, and even saw a nudibranch (sea slug) moving along. There were quite a few sea cucumbers in the sand, and they were huge! They had to be at least half a metre long, and probably about 20-25cm wide. Although I know that parrot fish aren’t the best ones for the reef, I quite liked seeing them as they’re very bright and colourful.

We did a number of dives on the same reef. As we went down the line to the blocks (which keep the boat anchored in place), so fish would come by and nibble at the algae growing on the rope. Between dives we would either be eating or sleeping – not a bad life, really!! The third dive of the day was the first of the AOW dives, which I was doing with two other people: Brandon and Joel. Our instructor for our navigation dive had previously worked closer to the equator, and so found the 28-30˚C water of the GBR cold. My dives from Bangor were in 8˚C water, so this was quite nice for me. To get the AOW certification, we needed to improve our navigation skills, and find a way to measure distance using kick cycles. We had to swim a 30m line in a certain direction, and then in a 30x30m square. We also had to repeat these skills during the night dive. We were split into groups for the night dive (those who wanted a guide, those who wanted to dive by themselves, and those of us doing the certification). We were the blue glowstick group! After we did our navigation skills, we could just enjoy the dive. Our instructor had a UV torch, so we got to see some of the corals glowing in the dark, which was really cool! The organism that we saw the most of during the night was definitely the red bass. These fish have learnt to use the torch beam to hunt with. Before starting the dive, we were told to limit our ‘playing-God’ to three. I found it much more fun to watch the bass try and attack empty water, though some small fish did have a few close calls.

A highlight of the first night dive was definitely seeing a sea turtle. At first, we all had our torches on, but then we switched to just the UV torch so we wouldn’t disturb it as much. We watched the turtle swimming about, and as it swam it came closer and closer to me. I moved back a small amount, because I didn’t want to startle it, and by this point it was nearly headbutting me. I think it must have realised that there was an obstacle in its way, so it turned around (nearly kicking me in the process – but I don’t really care when it’s a sea turtle)! It was amazing to be so close to it! We headed back to the boat for a snack and then one of the instructors, Terry, started telling us about our AOW dive for the next morning. Since with the AOW cert you can dive deeper, we had to do our deep dive, and so Terry told us about the potential effects of narcosis. We were told about a couple of people – one of whom decided to use his dive computer as a spade, and another who would constantly look over his shoulder thinking he was being stalked by a fish. Since we would only be going down to about 26-28m, it was unlikely that any of us would feel these effects, but we had to know what could happen just in case.

Our first dive the next day was at 7:30 (before breakfast), so we had to get up bright and early! We weren’t going to have breakfast until after the dive, so it was pretty much, grab an apple, suit up, jump in. Terry was going with us for this dive, as Brandon, Joel and I were doing our deep water dive. As we went down, Brandon was having quite a bit of trouble equalising once he got below 10m (which had happened to me the dive before – don’t know why it happens), so in the end, Terry took him back to the boat, while Joel and I had a look at the coral bommie next to us. When Terry came back, we continued on our dive to 26m. To be honest, I didn’t actually realise we were quite so deep. Especially when you’re following a gently sloping sandy sea bed, you really don’t notice it. At around 20m, we saw an amazing Gregorian fan!! Out of all the things we saw on the training dives, this is the one thing that we only saw at this place, and I’m sad I wasn’t able to get a photo of it, but it was nice to have seen. Anyway – if I hadn’t done this AOW course, I wouldn’t have been able to dive deep enough to see it anyway, so there’s that. While we were down there, we had a few skills to do – my favourite of which being multiplications. Terry had a table of numbers, and a few on the side. He would point to one of the numbers and we needed to point at it, touch our nose, point at two factors that would multiply to that number, touch our nose again, and point at the answer. This is apparently meant to show us that our thinking process and physical awareness changes as we get deeper – but I don’t think either of us had any problems. Maybe 26m wasn’t deep enough for it to noticeably effect us. We started heading back (as there was a limit to how much time we could actually stay down there without needing decompression). There was a blue spotted ray feeding in the sand that we could look down on as we swam up. Something that I really felt when we were halfway up – so with about 15m of water above us, and 10m below us – diving is kind of the closest you can get to ‘flying’. You have the move anywhere in any direction, which is a pretty amazing feeling.

We moved on to another reef after this dive. To complete the AOW course, we now just had to do two more skills dives – we were doing Underwater Naturalist (and the number of people who thought I said ‘naturist’ there is surprising…) and Underwater Photography. We did the naturalist one first, and were given a few plastic sheets with species on, and the task to find at least 5 new coral and 5 new fish species on the dive. This was done in quite a shallow area, and I don’t think we got deeper than 8m on this dive (no need for a safety stop – yay!!). As we were so shallow, we were more effected by the surface swell, and sometimes had to swim quite hard to avoid bumping into the coral. We did find the number of species we needed to – but we stopped trying to identify them ‘in the field’ pretty soon. We spent about 20 minutes or more after finishing the dive discussing what we saw, rather than spend our dive time looking at the plastic sheets rather than what was right in front of us. I spotted a bumphead parrot fish from a distance that was quite big (and a fast swimmer), and Brandon spotted a very large blue spotted ray hiding under one of the bommies. At the end of the dive, we saw a white tipped reef shark. It was a great dive!

Terry joined us for the next dive, as did Flora (Joel’s wife). Now, one of the things that we found out in the theory for underwater photography is that you need to compensate for the rays of light being absorbed by the water – at the depth that we were diving, red. Joel had the bright idea of getting a red filter before the start of the trip (Brandon had thought of this too, but his filter was too red). I did borrow Joel’s filter for part of this dive, but my lack of filter is the reason that my photos are very blue and green. In reality, the reef was more colourful than my pictures show, but I haven;t had time to try and play around with them yet. I’m glad Terry went with us on this dive, as he took us through some blind swim-throughs that we certainly wouldn’t have gone through otherwise. These were tunnels through the coral that we couldn’t see the exit too (hence the blind part). If you didn’t know the reef well, you might think they were caves, and could get in a tight spot. These definitely forced us to perfect our buoyancy!! They were great fun to go through. We also found Nemo on this dive – which is always great. After this dive, Terry got Joel and I to fill in the forms for the AOW cert, as we were now officially Advanced Open Water divers!

The last dive of the day was a night dive after dinner – this time, just in our dive buddy groups. We could join in the guided reef tours, but Terry had semi-jokingly warned us against this, as the Open Water people had just got their certifications, and would be far more likely to kick up a lot of sand, so we’d probably see more if we went ahead of them in our small groups. Before we got in, we couldn’t help but notice that the lights of the boat was attracting a lot of attention in the water. The spotting of a number of sharks was causing quite a few people to get a bit nervous. Luckily, they moved a bit further away as we started getting in the water. I’m not, and wasn’t scared of the sharks, but even so – I was aware of the fact that even though they’re far more scared of us than we are of them, they probably wouldn’t be too happy if a large number of people started jumping onto their heads (which I don’t think is an unreasonable annoyance). Although we all started off heading in our different directions, all of our small buddy groups ended up in the same place eventually. We were trying to find the 1.5m, 100+ year old sea turtle, Brian. Sadly, none of us found him as he wasn’t in or nearby his cave when we were diving this time. We got to play around with the red bass again. My favourite fish of the night was the one trying to hide under a branch of staghorn coral. If you were directly on top of it, you couldn’t see the fish. From any other direction, however… I also saw small shrimp hiding in the coral – their red eyes flashing in the dark. For the most part, we didn’t actually see sharks on this dive (despite the number around the boat before we started), but there were definitely quite a few circling us while we did our safety stop, which was cool!

The final day of the trip – we had quite a bit to try and cram in today, so the first dive was at 6:30 (wake up 5:45). We jumped into the water as the sun rose. For this dive, my buddy was just Joel, as Brandon still needed to do his deep dive. I know we had just done our navigation skills, but they do say practice makes perfect – and clearly both of us were in need of more practice. We set off across the sand towards a big coral bommie that we could swim around. We ended up slightly deeper than initially planned because the sand slope was misleading, but we’re AOW divers now, so technically we were still in our range. Partway around the bommie, we could see bubbles from the deep divers. I particularly liked swimming close to the small fish, and seeing the feathery hydroids, and the colourful parrotfish. We had been told that for each dive, we should head back at 100bar or after 30 minutes, whichever came first. Joel reached his 100bar before me, so we started heading back (and here is where our navigation skills need more practice). To be fair, we did head back along the right angle, but between the bommie and the boat there weren’t really any particular features we could use to help us. We decided to surface (give our safety signal) and look around to find the boat. Which we had somehow managed to swim a long way past. Oops. We went back down to swim back, and found another white tipped reef shark. This time, we didn’t swim past the boat, but we did have to do a second safety stop. By the time we got back on the boat, Joel was below his recommended 50bar BOB (back on boat), but we were fine.

The boat set off to another reef for the last two dives. I could only do one more of them actually diving, so I really wanted to make the most of it. For this next dive, Joel and I were joined by Brandon and Flora again. This bommie was a very long one (that we wouldn’t have time to go all the way around), but it was quite steep, so we could go out at one depth and come back at a different one. We also had to keep an eye on our depth gauge, as it would have been so easy to just go too deep. As there weren’t too many paths for us all to take, at some points it did get a bit ‘busy’, which is really funny when you consider how much space we all had. At one point, we went for a hunt under the boat. A few days before a couple of mantis shrimp had been seen under the boat, so there was a chance we might too. We weren’t successful, but it was fun trying to find one. After we got back on the boat, we had a snack and took a group photo before getting ready for the final dive.

I was joining the only two snorkelers for this last trip (though some of the other divers were going snorkelling for the same reason as me). These two actually missed the boat on the first day (they thought we had to be at the dive shop at 8am not 6am), so they were dropped off yesterday. After spending most of the last few days diving, snorkelling did feel a bit more restricting than the diving. Despite the fact that I had much less equipment on, I couldn’t get up close to the coral, and I had less freedom for where I could actually swim. It was still great fun though – I didn’t mind too much that I couldn’t dive this time, as while snorkelling we could go over the tops of the bommies that are too shallow for diving. We did have to deal with the swell all the time which made things more challenging, but didn’t take away from the fun. I found clownfish again, and saw loads of parrot fish. Writing this is making me realise that I need to remember the names of more of the fish – that could make this a more exciting read!! We swam around until we noticed quite a few divers getting back on the boat (no dive watch to keep track of the length of the trip), and decided to head back too.

We ate our last meal on the boat after this dive (off paper plates so there would be no washing up), given the instructions for what we needed to do when on the way back, and started making our way back to Cairns. About half of the people went to the outside decks, and the other half stayed inside. Most of us inside started the way back by filling in our dive logs. After the first 30-45 minutes of this, and chatting, everyone seemed to start dropping off, which was quite funny. It was probably only 1pm, and yet nearly everyone on board was asleep or dozing. It does make sense after the amount of diving we had been doing – we all had to crash at some point. Needless to say, the journey back to Cairns was fairly uneventful as a result. When we eventually got back, we had to wait while they stocked up the boat for the next trip, and then collected our things to go back to the dive shop and pay for any extras (no money changed hands while on board, and quite a few people had ‘bought’ things like chocolate bars, or fizzy drinks during the trip). We were dropped back off at our accommodation, and had the afternoon to do not a lot (well, I can’t speak for the others, but I didn’t do a lot beyond re-arranging my bags for my flight the next day). In the evening, quite a few of us met up at a local bar / restaurant (the Bavarian Beerhouse – which I found quite funny, seeing as I was in Australia, but surrounded by all the beers and flags from near home). It was a nice, friendly way to end the trip.

(If you’ve got all the way down here – I just want to apologise for the delay in posting this. Part of my excuse for the wait is that I have been busy, but I also didn’t get around to it. This is definitely the post that took me the longest to write – I think I started it a month or so again. I hope you enjoyed it!!)

Filling this space with impeccable taste

I’ve noticed that recently I’ve only been updating this if I’ve gone away on a trip, or have been doing some fieldwork, and not really writing anything about my day to day life. In some ways, I guess that’s fair enough – I’m sure it’s far more interesting to hear about trips than just what’s going on in the lab and around ChCh, but I figured I might as well put a short update on about some things that I’ve been up to recently.

In the last few weeks, the weather has definitely changed from ‘summer’ to ‘autumn’ – because of this I keep getting lines from a poem I learnt years ago stuck in my head. “Of yellow leaves and gossamer in autumns that there were, with morning mist an silver sun and wind upon my hair.” The yellow leaves, morning mist, and silver sun are definitely accurate. (For anyone who wants to know, the poem is from the Fellowship of the Ring). These past few weeks especially it has been very wet and windy as the remains of the ex-tropical storm (as it’s called in the news) cyclone Debbie passed through. I love how ‘driest’ is relative. I’d heard before that out of the three main cities in NZ, ChCh was the driest. While that’s hard to believe with about 2 weeks of rain, and massive puddles and small amounts of flooding near the river – relative to Auckland and Wellington, where there was considerably more rain and flooding, technically, ChCh is still the driest. We’ve got sunshine now, so even if the air temperature is much cooler, it’s warm in the sun!

A couple of weeks ago, I met up with Beth (who I met on my trip to Stewart Island) in ChCh. It was nice to see her again and chat – but she also told me about a restaurant in the city that sounded like a lot of fun. You order 3 sliders off a menu, sit at one of the indoor tables, and your food comes to you through a pneumatic tube!! All around the ceiling of this restaurant are the clear tubes, so you can see when your food is coming. It comes in a capsule (with your name on – mine was spelt wrong, of course ‘Rhiane’. I did spell it out for her, but still wrong…) that you have to twist to open. Inside, you’ve got your sliders and the remaining space is filled with curly fries! The food was very tasty. The pneumatic tubes weren’t the only fun part about this place. You got your water but turning the wheel on an old sewing machine, and if you needed to go to the toilet, you had to walk up to this bookcase and when you’re close enough the bookcase slides to the side. Instead of the normal signage, there were Star Wars figurines tied to the doors – Luke, Leia, Stormtrooper and R2D2. My favourite thing about the toilets (not a line I expected to be writing when I first decided to do this blog) was the ‘music’ playing over the speakers. It wasn’t music, but Stephen Fry reading the Harry Potter audiobooks! When I was in there, he was nearing the end of Order of the Phoenix. This restuarant, C1 Espresso, is near ChCh corgi statue, which I first went to a while ago. The statue was what the CCC (ChCh City Council) decided to put up to commemorate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. A statue of 3 corgis walking around, with trailing leads, sniffing at a fallen ice cream. Sadly, someone has stolen the ice cream.

For the past few weeks, Priscilla Queen of the Desert the musical has been in ChCh. One of my flatmates, Izzy, and I decided that it would be quite a lot of fun to go to. It was the first time Izzy went to see a live musical performance – and it was definitely a good first one! The show was so much fun, and the costumes were amazing and hilarious. Some of my favourite costumes were the more ridiculous ones – like people dressed up paintbrushes or bright green cupcakes. At one point, everyone’s in these platform, tight-fitting, tent-like outfits with giant flower wigs (which might make sense to people who have seen the film, but is sure to sound crazy to anyone who hasn’t). I don’t think I’ll ever be able to hear the song ‘I will survive’ without picturing drag queens dancing along to it again, and to be honest, I don’t really mind. It was so much fun, and amazing to see. We were right at the back, but the only disadvantage that had was that we couldn’t see too clearly when Priscilla (the bus) bumped into a kangaroo, koala and teletubbie (Tinky Winky) right after passing a sign for all of those. As crazy as a teletubbie in the middle of Australia sounds, the really is a bird that sounds like it’s singing the theme song there!! It’s one of my memories from going around Uluru quite a few years ago… In the musical, the three main characters all climb to the top of Uluru (in full drag) to sing a Kylie medley at the end – and that’s the part of the musical that my title for this blog post came. I liked that line, and it seemed slightly appropriate for this post?

My work here has been largely lab-based recently. My supervisor has been doing some oxygen depletion experiments on paua, so I’ve helped out a bit with that. Paua are surprisingly mobile animals. When they choose to be. I’ve also been analysing data, working on reports, drying sediment, weighing sediment, ashing sediment, re-weighing sediment (the usual, for me). Just after coming back from Stewart Island, I helped out with a 4th year practical on the estuary (something I found particularly funny, seeing as I’ve technically only completed 2 years of study and have one more to go after this year of work!). We had to collect seagrass control and impact samples and mud control and impact samples. This was part of an ongoing study of how the estuary is changing post-earthquake (the one in 2011). That also involved a lot of weighing and drying and re-weighing. Like I said, pretty standard for me. Recently, I’ve been trying to get back and do some more sieving – but I keep running into issues. Unclear instructions, sediment still needing defrosting, lack of bags for samples, etc… My most recent issue is also the most annoying one. To hold the samples down when they’re being sieved, there’s a plate with two screws to keep the plate in place. I’m missing one of those screws. Such a small thing… Hopefully we’ll get a new one soon! Anyway, there’s still quite a bit of work for me to be getting on with (which is good), and soon I’ll be going away for an short holiday, which is also good! I’ll probably update this again when I get back from that.

Stewart Island

A place I’ve wanted to visit for quite a while now is Stewart Island, so a little while ago I decided to actually take some of my holiday days (seeing as I’d worked more weekends than taken days off) and actually go down there. Stewart Island is the third largest island that makes up NZ, after South and North Island. It’s off the south coast of South Island, so to get there in the first place I needed to get to Invercargill. The flight down was nice and uneventful, and I had some pretty nice views over ChCh and the Banks Peninsula shortly after takeoff. The further south we got, it unfortunately got more cloudy, and Invercargill was just grey and misty. Once you’re in Invercargill there are 2 ways to get to Stewart Island. You either have to drive / get a bus / shuttle down to Bluff and take the Ferry over, or you can fly over from the airport. Seeing as I wasn’t exactly going to be able to drive down to Bluff (and once you take that into account it doesn’t really make too much difference) I had decided to fly down. Now, there was just one little problem with that for getting down to the island. Invercargill wasn’t the only place that was cloudy, and we’d been told that there was a cloud of fog sitting over the island. For the first time in a while, no flights had actually left Invercargill to get to Stewart Island so far that day.

We now had several options, and really no control over what actually happened. We could sit around and wait in the hopes that the fog would clear up (and because the flight is so short, they can quickly hop over). They also asked us if we wanted to be put on a list of people to go on the 5pm ferry in case the fog didn’t clear – or we could try and get on a flight tomorrow. I was put on the ferry list, and at about 3:45pm the call was made that we would start heading down to Bluff. I arrived in Invercargill at about 11am. The airport is probably the smallest airport I have ever seen – you can see the entire airport from almost everywhere in the airport. The ferry crossing was actually quite nice. We saw loads of albatross and petrels and sooty shearwaters. I have found many times that if you’re wearing binoculars on a boat, or while walking, anyone else who wears binoculars or likes bird watching will always come over and chat to find out what you’ve seen and talk about what they’ve seen. It’s quite nice. I wouldn’t say that we stayed dry during the crossing, but it wasn’t as bumpy as it could have been, so I was fine!

In the hostel, I got talking to some of the other people staying there, and we had some pancakes. On the boat, one of the bird watchers had told me that a good place to try and spot kiwi was Trail Parks (the rugby pitch). He’d actually had a kiwi come right up to him and play with his shoe laces there!! Along with a couple of people in the hostel, Tessa and Sören, we decided to go up to the field and see if we could find any kiwi. We had this red filter to put over my torch so that we didn’t blind any potential kiwi. We wandered around the pitch a couple of times with no luck. Sören spotted a path off to the side (with a sign saying it was 600m), and since it was dark and getting late and trying to rain we decided that we would walk to the end of the path and if we didn’t see any kiwi, we would go back to the hostel. We’d probably only gone about 10-20m along this path when a kiwi ran out right in front of us, and we genuinely almost tripped over it! Tessa was a bit further behind, so we were trying to gesture to her to hurry up and come have a look at this, while the kiwi walked off into the bushes! Once it was undercover, it kind of froze and watched us for a bit. It must have eventually decided that we weren’t really a threat, because it came out of the bushes and started walking around us, foraging a bit on the path and off it. At one point it started walking directly towards me (though sadly it didn’t decide to play with my shoelaces). After between 3-5 minutes (we really weren’t paying too much attention to the time) the kiwi wandered off into the bushes again, and this time didn’t come back.

On the walk back to the hostel, I’d say that all three of us were practically skipping – we were all so happy! Seeing a kiwi in the wild is something that, if I had a bucket list, would have been on it for the last 10 years, so it was an amazing thing to actually see! It’s probably just as well that it was late and there weren’t too many other people around, because when you’re looking for kiwi you’re meant to be quite, and even though we tried to keep our voices down, it was very difficult to do so. Lucca was sorry that she hadn’t joined us on our expedition. It was a late night, and a long day of travelling, but so worth it, because I actually saw a kiwi!! The next morning it was grey and rainy and blegh. I did have to go out and buy food, because I had none, and I also got some maps of the area from the Department of Conservation Office. Although I’m here for a few days, I wasn’t planning on going on any walks too far away from Oban (the only town) because I don’t have the right equipment in NZ, so this was just easier. The DOC had a room to one side where they have a number of documentaries about Stewart Island and the surrounding places that anyone can watch (particularly on a rainy day). After a quick trip back to the hostel, Lucca and I went back to the DOC and enjoyed a documentary about the conservation of kakapo. We particularly enjoyed hearing the different names of the birds (including Richard Henry and Bill), but our personal favourite were a couple that had been given nicknames too. There was Ox ‘the hunk’, and best of all, Sinbad ‘the loser’.

When we left the DOC we were amazed to see a patch of blue sky! We raced back to the hostel to have lunch (before the weather could turn) and went on a walk with Tessa as well. The walk was nice – some of it was along the road, but a reasonable amount was through the trees and ferns. Something I like about Stewart Island is how much of the native vegetation is still here. We walked round from Halfmoon Bay to Horseshoe Bay (how many different words can you come up with for the same shape?). Whilst we walked, we saw a few tui flying about and singing. We also reached a beach called Dead Mans Beach, which sounds like there’s a story behind that somewhere… After the rain in the morning, it was nice to be able to enjoy the sunshine!

The next day it rained. Both Lucca and Tessa were leaving today, so neither of them felt like going on any walks, but eventually I decided to ignore the rain and go out. It wasn’t so bad. I walked around to Golden Bay, and then most of my walk was undercover! I saw bellbirds (different from the Australian bird of the same name). Some of them seemed fairly inquisitive. There were so many ferns around, it was great!! The walk came out at a place called Deep Bay, so I had my lunch there and decided to walk a bit more. There was a monument, Wholer’s Monument, for a couple who had basically been a farmer, doctor and teacher for the entire area. Although I wasn’t planning on doing any of the big walks, I wanted to try and do as many of the 13 shorter walks in the area as possible. I’d done walk 9 yesterday with Lucca and Tessa, and today I did walks 4 and 8. We took route 2 most nights to try and find the kiwi. Not that this will mean much with me saying it, but I could have done walk 5 but it was getting late, and I really wanted to do walk 8. Walk 5 was kind of short and to a view point that I’d been able to see quite a bit of when I was at Wholer’s Monument.

Walk 8 took me to Ackers Point, where there is a solar powered lighthouse. On the way over, I passed the house of Lewis Acker, which he built himself. It was a nice, modest brick house where he lived with his wife and NINE CHILDREN!!! Apparently, they slept on bunks to the ceiling up to 5 deep. I have no idea how 11 of them fit in the house. It’s not even like there was a lot of land around the area! From Ackers Point, at certain times of year it could have been a bit risky standing where I was at that time of day. I would have been a potentially target for the muttonbirds (sooty shearwaters) as they crash landed for their nights sleep. Apparently, they gather in big clouds that you can see at dusk before they come into land, but I was there at the wrong time of year to see that. On the walk back, I watched another tui for a bit. By that, I mean I was so engrossed in watching this tui fly very close above me that I almost walked off the path 3 times, which would not have been ideal. The rain was still mostly holding off, which was good because I had about 4km to walk on the road before getting back to the hostel. Obviously, my luck didn’t hold out, as it started absolutely tipping it down for the last 2km – so despite the fact I had my good raincoat on and some borrowed overtrousers, I got back to the hostel absolutely soaking wet. For the remainder of my trip on Stewart Island, I had to balance out how clean something was with how dry something was, and go with the lesser of two evils, or just what was mostly clean and dry.

In the evening, before we went looking for kiwi – Spoiler alert, we didn’t see one. Just so that I don’t keep coming back to this, I was on Stewart Island for 6 nights and went looking for kiwi on 5 nights – the only kiwi I saw was on the first night. It was quite a lot of fun looking for them, and we did hear them quite a bit. You’ve just got to be in the right place at the right time and looking in the right direction. At least I had the comfort of actually having seen one! Anyway, back to what we did on this evening – we went out looking for penguins (should have done this on more nights – they were more reliable!!). Like in Oamaru, we were looking for the little blue / fairy penguins. We could go to this place near the docks where they would clamber up the rocks. We watched one that was probably about 5m or so away from us, and then another came in to join it. The penguins would allow themselves to just be washed in by the waves, and one of those two actually came quite close to where we were before deciding to join the other one. Around the time that we were thinking of heading back and going to find kiwi, another one washed in at the rock just in front of the wall we were standing on!! It stayed there for maybe 5 minutes just preening itself. It was so cool to see one so close! I know I saw them very close in Oamaru too, but that doesn’t stop it from being an amazing experience this time around too. We left when it looked like it was silently screaming at us. Maybe that’s just what it did, maybe it was uncomfortable with us there, or maybe we were in its way. Who knows – we decided to give it some peace, either way.

The next day was one of my longer walking days. I combined walks 3, 11 and 10 (I did them in that order) and was probably walking for about 20km or so? The first walk took me to a place called Fern Gully, where they were planning on evacuating children to during the war. Since it was still raining, I was grateful for the fact that most of these walks were undercover. As the name sounds, this walk was basically just walking through loads of ferns, which was great. It had the most abrupt ending of any of the walks I went on. You come out of the trees and ferns into the open air and there’s immediately a sign: “END OF TRACK. DAY VISITORS SHOULD NOT PROCEED BEYOND THIS POINT”. I wasn’t a long walk to the start of the next track (both walks 2 and 11 were extra tracks off walk 10), and so I was soon heading off towards Kaipipi Bay. The bay used to be an old whaling base for the Scandinavians (it was there southern base). They would have some people out whaling, and some people were left behind to fix the boats and other pieces of equipment. After their last season down there, the boat based whalers never actually went back to pick up the land-based crew from the bay, so now you have Scandinavian-Maori (blonde-haired, blue-eyed of course) who have claim on some of the nearby Muttonbird Islands!

On the walk over to the bay, I know I could hear one, if not two, kiwi calling in the undergrowth but I couldn’t see them! It’s very frustrating when you know something’s there, but it’s not moving and there’s too much in the way for you to see them. Kiwi on Stewart Island and unique in the fact that they exhibit semi-diurnal behaviour, whereas in the rest of NZ they’re nocturnal. There were a large number of mussels on rocks in the bay itself, so I enjoyed looking at those (sounds boring, I know – forgive me, I study marine biology!!). It made a nice change to be looking at living and undisturbed organisms! As fascinating as Kaikoura is, it’s sometimes a bit sad when so much of what you’re looking at is dead or dying. A lot of the paths I was walking on while on the island were old sawmill paths. I believe there used to be 9 sawmills dotted around this area of the island, so now they’re walking tracks. Due to all the rain, most of the tracks were extremely muddy, which kept things entertaining!!

When I got back to the main path, I continued along track 10 (which was technically the long way back to Halfmoon Bay, but more interesting as I hadn’t done it before). Quite a lot of it was through similar scenery as I’d already done that day – but then we got to the other side where you could start to see the sea again. I found a very nice tui again (I like tui, can you tell?) and I also saw quite a few fantails (another very nice bird). As much as I enjoyed the walk, it was nice to get back to the hostel as I was getting tired and damp from all the walking and the rain. I chatted to a few people who had arrived yesterday (and we’d gone looking for penguins and kiwi with), Abigail, Beth and Zoe. This evening, we weren’t planning on looking for kiwi, but we were going to join in with the local pub quiz. Beth came up with our name – Attenborough’s Chicks. We could go double points on one of the rounds, and with two marine biologists and one bird biologist in our team of 5, we went double points on the ‘science and nature’ round. We were very pleased that we got full marks on that section! There must have been over 20 teams total playing that night (it was very popular), and we came 5th overall!! We were very pleased with ourselves.

On the Monday, Abigail, Beth and I decided to go over to Ulva Island, which is a small predator free island that you can easily get to from Oban. Our tickets for the Ulva Island Ferry were just native leaves with ‘Ulva Island Ferry’ written on them with permanent marker. I mean, why not? The trip over wasn’t very long and it was quite a smooth crossing (which I think the others appreciated more than me). We were on the first boat of the day over, so there weren’t too many people over on the island – for the next few hours our boat had it all to ourselves! There’s actually only a small part of the island that has tracks you can wander around on. The majority of the island you can’t really get to. We started seeing birds almost right away, which was amazing! Before we’d even spent 10 minutes on the island, we’d already seen bellbirds, Stewart Island robins, tomtits and red-capped parakeets!! Although the ‘rate of new species seen’ didn’t keep up with that pace, we did see quite a lot of birds. We had looked at the map before setting off and had worked out a route that would take us on all of the walking paths so we could see as much of the island as possible. Although we mainly saw birds, we did catch the occasional glimpse of seals from the beaches.

Off the main path, there was a more wild path for the ‘nature walk’ (not like we were walking around on a virtually uninhabited island, or anything like that). Here, we could admire the local flora, with labels telling us what all the different plants were. Not that I really remember those names too well – I seem to remember birds, not trees. We did see a weka in the bushes, and I saw a bird sneeze for the first time! Something I find funny about the weka on Ulva Island (and probably around NZ) is that it doesn’t seem to be uncommon for more casual birdwatchers to see a weka and think “brown, flightless bird – it must be a kiwi!!” I guess a lot of people will get disappointed if they think that. We saw quite a few weka on the island. Whenever we were out on the beaches, they would be there, foraging around (looking ridiculous with sand on their beaks), chasing each other around and then running right up to you in the hopes that you will feed them. They came incredible close.

Aother bird that we saw on the island that doesn’t really care about personal space was the Stewart Island robin. When we were walking down to one of the beaches, one of them hopped on Beth’s foot, and started attacking her laces. We were sitting down for a bit at one point, and there was a robin in an argument with a tomtit, and all three of us got the impression that we were being used as a human shield! That robin stayed with us for ages, and kept attacking the back of my bag! It would also periodically jump onto my foot and (once) jumped onto my knee! It didn’t seem as interested in other people feet, for whatever reason. Whilst we were walking through the forests, we saw a lot of smaller bird species including (but maybe not limited to – I might have forgotten a few) silver eyes, riflemen, yellowheads and fantails. We also saw saddlebacks and kaka (one of which flew down right in front of us, and gave us a bit of a shock!!). A more unusual find was a morepork up in one of the trees. A morepork is a species of owl, and I think this one was trying to sleep – but it was woken up by the ruckus that all of the small bird species were making!! It gave up trying to sleep and started to preen itself. When it was asleep (or trying to sleep), it just looked like a nest or ball of feathers (which, I suppose, is what it was). We only spotted it because we were looking around to try and spot what all the birds were making such a fuss about!

On the ferry ride back to the mainland (kind of? Not really a mainland, but hey) shortly after setting off, an albatross glided by the boat right in front of us! It was so close, and looked magnificent, but sadly none of us have pictures of it as it was before we’d got any cameras out. We probably got back to Oban at about 2:30, so we decided to go to the pub / restaurant / café / hotel (everything’s kind of piled into one since the place is so small) and have something to eat. The rest of the day was fairly relaxed, with us all trying to catch up with our respective diaries before we got too far behind! Abigail was also preparing to start the Rakiura track the next day, so she needed to get sorted for that. Apart from another (failed) kiwi hunt in the evening, we spent most of the time inside. Let’s just say I didn’t have the best weather while I was visiting the island.

The sun came out on our last full day!! I mean, we did have a short shower – but it was a short period of rain in a sunny day rather than a short period of sunshine on a rainy day – much better combination when you’re planning on going out walking. We had an early lunch at the same place as yesterday, sitting outside and making the most of the sunshine, before heading off. Beth and I (as we’re both heading back tomorrow) had decided that we would only go with Abigail as far as Maori Beach. Though we did go the longer way (intentionally) via a route called ‘Garden Mound’ (walks 12 and 13). Garden Mound too us to the highest point we personally reached while on the island – a staggering 164m, and what a view you could get from up there!! Most of it involved trees, but there were a few small gaps. The walk was incredibly muddy (and we thought that our previous walks were muddy). We did see a couple of people on the walk, and as soon as they were out of earshot, we all started talking. The woman we’d passed had walking boots that looked as though they were fresh out of the box!! It was a complete mystery how she’d managed to keep them so clean, given the state of the path. Still, we had a lot of fun speculating over it. I think our most realistic reason when we finally gave up was that she must have been carried over the muddiest spots by her husband.

The rest of the walk was slightly less muddy (only a bit though), and we spotted some more birds like tui and silvereyes. Abigail had quite a bit of fun recreating some of the scenes from the Hobbit. We had conveniently found three walking sticks at the beginning of our route, and so when we came out to the sandy Lee Bay, Beth and I decided to put them to good use – and (being adults, of course) that meant writing our names out really large in the sand. When we finally got to Maori Beach (which had a large number of steps going down to it) we all had an apple and battled sand flies. Here we also saw some of the remains of one of the abandoned saw mills just a short walk from the beach. Here is also where we left Abigail, as she had to go a bit further to her first hut of the tramp, while Beth and I still had to get all the way back to Oban! We took the more direct route on the way back, and walked through a bit of an information point. There were stories and facts along the path, though we read them all backwards as they’re put in with the intention of you starting from the car park, not Maori Beach. By the time we got back to Horseshoe Bay, we were both quite tired, as we’d been walking for quite a while, and we still had about an hour left to get to Halfmoon Bay. Luckily for us, someone driving by slowed down and asked if we wanted a lift (to be fair, it was getting late, so they’re probably weren’t too many trampers out and about at that time). We were very happy to accept this offer! We were back in Oban in about 15 minutes, rather than 1 hour and decided to treat ourselves to a pizza (which was very good). We had a final attempt to try and find a kiwi that evening – though we didn’t go out too late, as Beth was on the first ferry out of Oban in the morning. As I mentioned above, we were unsuccessful. I can definitely fully appreciate just how lucky we were on my first night when we found one so easily!

On the last day, I wasn’t leaving until about lunch time. I decided to walk over to Observation Rock (walk 1), since the weather was still nice. I hadn’t gone before because what’s the point of going to a place called ‘Observation Rock’ when there’s so much fog around? From this point, I had a good view over to Iona Island and Ulva Island. A group of day visitors came up with their tour guide after a while, so I decided to hang around and get some information about the place! Ulva Island used to be the central hub of Stewart Island, as most of the different saw mills were spread out around the coast but where they could see Ulva. Next to the post office on Ulva was Flagstaff Point, and whenever the post came in someone would raise the flag and then everyone would boat in (in their finest clothes) to Ulva. This would be the time that they would exchange news, and may be the first time in 8 months or so in which they’re seeing their neighbours.

We also found out that when Captain Cook sailed around NZ, he didn’t know if Stewart Island was an island, so drew a couple of lines connecting it to Bluff. The strait was later discovered by an American, Smith, and so it was (briefly) known as the ‘Smith Strait’. A group of Aussies later went over to map the island (in a trip funded by Foveaux and Paterson) on a ship called ‘Pegasus’. They named their landing point ‘Pegasus Bay’, and decided that they should thank their sponsors, a called another group of bays ‘Paterson Inlet’, and the strait between the island and the mainland ‘Foveaux Strait’ (RIP Smith Strait). The Aussies had hired a man named Stewart as their chief cartographer, but when they sent their map off to the UK, they had left the island unnamed (although a lot of these places had Maori names, Maori is only recently a written language, and so there wasn’t really any way of conveying their names on a map). The Brits, when they saw this, decided to name the island after the man who mapped it, hence ‘Stewart Island’, and the man himself found out about this name about 15 years later. This whole story was summed up by the guide: “First seen by Cook, the Strait was discovered by a Yank, mapped by the Aussies and named by the Poms.” (His words, not mine)

When I got back to the hostel it was nearly time for me to set off again. At least this time around, given how nice the weather is, I should actually be able to fly back!! There were 2 flights heading out, and I was on the second. I had my lunch on the beach before we were all loaded onto a minivan. The building where you check-in is the flight centre / post office, and then they bus you to the airstrip (at the top of a hill). We had to wait for the first mini-van of people to come back down before we could go up, and then we halted again on the crest of the hill. Just as we started to wonder why, our aeroplane flew right over the top of the van before landing on the runway. I think we all felt like if we’d been on the flat group the aeroplane may have clipped our heads! We followed the plane along the runway, and switched over at the end. The aeroplane was very small. I sat in the second row from the front (which contained the pilot and a passenger), and there were another 3 rows behind me each getting more and more narrow as the aeroplane tapered (I was glad I had checked in my rucksack as well – I doubt it would have fitted in the ‘cabin’ with me). After a quick health and safety briefing (as I had not flown over – they did it specially for me), we set off. It was definitely the loudest flight I’ve ever been on, which is not surprising. We had some really nice views of the island as we left it, and then nice views of Invercargill coming in! It was a very quick flight – 15-20 minutes total – and very nice.

Unfortunately, when we landed in Invercargill, I had another 5 hours before my flight left for ChCh. Writing postcards killed about 30 minutes… Spending 9 hours in Invercargill Airport in less than a week is an experience I would not recommend to other people – it’s quite a dull experience. On the plus side, I could probably draw the floor plans of the place out for you. The weather was still nice when the flight finally did leave the airport, and since I was on the same side of the aeroplane as coming down, I got the view out the other side. I had a very nice view of the Southern Alps, which got slowly pinker as the sun began to set. I think on this trip, it must have been the only times I’ve been anywhere near ChCh Airport when it’s not dark or raining heavily! Makes a nice change!

(No clever title for this one, sorry. Also, this one’s quite long… It took me so long to actually get around to uploading it, I wasn’t going to split it in two! Though it’s less than a month since I got back, even if it’s more than a month since I left, so that’s something.)

There and Back Again

I’m sticking with the Middle Earth theme for titles for the time being. because why not – I’m in New Zealand, so if I’m allowed to make these references anywhere, it’s here! Between coming back from the West Coast and going back up to Kaikoura, I had just under a week in ChCh (at least I knew I’d be going away again before I left) though it was very nice to be going up again. The plan, as far as I could tell, was basically to be doing a similar sort of thing as last time. We were going to be going to different sites around and below the peninsula and see how the shore had been impacted by the earthquake, and how it is dealing with and / recovering from this uplifting. Something that I noticed on the way up was that even though it’s only been a month since we were last up, the piles alongside the road were tidier, so they must have been doing something (and their workload gets added to any time there is heavy rain, as it causes more slips). Also, the interesting bridge we investigated last time has now been closed to public access, as apparently it’s seen to be a safety hazard (to be fair, they’re probably right).

We went to one of two sites by a place called Rahui (which is a no-take zone). One of these two sites is by the old wharf, the other by the new wharf – and today we were by the old wharf. It wasn’t too long before we could smell the distinct scent of seal on the air, and sure enough, there were two seals just on the other side of the gully. So long as they stayed there and decided not to venture over to our side we wouldn’t have to move. We were doing our usual – quadrat samples along a transect – though at times I think we probably weren’t being as random as we could have been. From time to time, we would look specifically at the substrate of the different environments before deciding if we should sample there. In our defence, there are certain substrates where you won’t really find anything living – and Islay and I know from experience that doing a load of quadrat samples where there’s nothing there, is fairly dull and depressing. One of the seals did decide to come over and investigate a bit closer, but it stayed in the gully out of the sun (it was getting too hot) so we could stay where we were. Something I found very interesting here was the shear number of catseye gastropod / Lunella. It was the species we were specifically looking for, but in most places we’d just see them around – here they would be completely filling the cracks and crevices. It’s nice to see that while a lot may not have survived the quake (the hermit crabs are doing well right now) there are still areas where the Lunella are thriving.

As well as our not-so-random quadrat sampling, we also went around the shores looking for young and juvenile paua. We went around several shores looking for them, and we did actually find quite a few. The ones we measured varied from 14mm to 150mm, so there are still a range of individuals around. Not that the names of where we found them would mean too much to you, but I got the impression from Islay when she was doing a talk in the Kaikoura museum that this information about where the juvenile paua were was one of those ‘we know where they are but probably shouldn’t be telling you’ things. It’s interesting. I’ve never known ‘non-disclosable’ information before, so that’s something new! At one shore, we actually found a rock that was absolutely covered in larger paua. From what we could see of it above the water, there must have been around 25 paua at least! At another shore our ‘interesting animal’ for the day was a juvenile rock lobster that I somehow spotted under a rock. This somehow led to a comment about how good my young eyesight must be (a comment I have actually received a couple of times recently). While I appreciate the compliment to my spotting abilities, the fact that my glasses seem to be getting thicker by the year kind of goes against this!

Over the weekend, Jan joined us up in Kaikoura so I recon we managed to get more work done. While you only really need two people to get all the tasks done (counting, identifying, measuring) it’s much quicker with 3 people. Along with our shore transects, we started trying to level the shore at one of our sites, which is strangely satisfying. We’re using the traditional methods, with a spirit level / bubble level thing (very technical here) sellotaped to a pole. Only the best, and most high-tech equipment can be used for this. There’s a rock that is actually higher than the road level – about 5-7m above the low tide level, and it actually still has small gastropod snails virtually all the way up. Islay and I decided that, while they’re still all living NOW, unless some of the higher ones move soon, they probably won’t be living for much longer. Around this part of NZ the tide varies by about 2m per day, so there’s no chance of those littorinids getting covered by the tide at that height.

I think, on this trip, we managed to take a look at all of the sites that we will be doing sampling at – and revisit a couple of our sites from last time. Since this is the first time in a while we’re looking at some of the sites there were a couple that Islay decided were no longer appropriate for the study. I guess some of them might have changed a bit too much, and there’s only so much work you want to have to do on a dead site. One of our sites, South Bay, is near where the Kaikoura Marina is, so we got to watch the machinery dredge out the area. They had some sort of conveyer belt system going, with some digging and others moving the product. We weighed up the pros and cons of each job – personally, I’d prefer to do the digging. While both jobs look fairly repetitive, the diggers just had to keep spinning around while the drivers had to keep turning around in a small area which seemed like it would require you to stay completely focused the whole time. It was interesting to see, either way. At this site, there were still living things, but not really any appropriate transect line that we could make so we just wandered around (it was also INCREDIBLY windy while we were down there, which would have made surveying quite difficult. I have already dropped all the contents of the clipboard in the sea before, and that was without this wind. A repeat of that would not be ideal).

On our last full day, we went to a site further south where there are greater amounts of uplifting. I have to say, I have never seen quite so many empty paua shells around. It definitely made you think that this was a place that had been hit harder. Luckily, I had made the decision the day before to stop collecting paua shells (I have loads of them – and that’s when I’ve been restraining myself – I could easily have over 100 by now). I now have been keeping an eye out for catseye operculum, which have a very pretty spiral on them and, like paua, are also commonly used in jewellery around here. Although there was a lot of death and decay around here (it smelt terrible) it was still an interesting site to look around. While it didn’t have many of the animals that we’re normally looking for and measuring, it did have quite a few more fish than we’ve normally found. Some were quite small in rock pools, and others were larger and swam about in small schools, periodically jumping out of the water! This was also the site that had more living macroalgae than anywhere else we’ve seen, so it was good for that.

That evening, Islay was doing a talk, along with one other person from the uni. There were meant to be 3 of them giving talks, but one of them lives very close to where the big Port Hills fire had been breaking out (and had been evacuated the night before), and so understandably we not present. I believe he is actually giving his talk this week, if the whiteboard in the lab is up to date. Islay’s talk was basically covering what we’ve been doing on the shore, featuring a number of photos from yours truly. The museum is new to Kaikoura, and was going to have it’s official opening in the middle of November. For some reason, that official event didn’t really happen… It was just quietly opened. (For those of you who don’t quite remember – and there’s really no reason why you should remember the exact date, since it’s more of a thing here than anywhere else – the big 7.8M earthquake was on the 14th November, so funnily enough, they were focusing more on making sure everyone had food and water rather than official museum opening ceremonies). The other person from the uni gave a brief talk on paua, and showed us some drone footage of some of their preferred settling habitats post-quake. He also made some comment about how, even now, the juveniles were fairly abundant at one of the sites south of Kaikoura, which is great to see, all things considered. Islay and I exchanged very confused looks here, as the site he was talking about was the one we had been to earlier in the day – and we were struggling to find any living animal at all, let alone a small, newly settled paua! Maybe we weren’t looking properly (surprise – my eyes aren’t so good after all!!)

After a very nice sun set, and a chat to the other people in the hostel we called it a day. The drive back to ChCh to following day was fairly uneventful. The day was beautiful and clear, but as soon as you got past the mountains around Kaikoura, you could see the haze over ChCh. The smoke from the fire could be seen from a considerable distance away – and back in ChCh, if the wind was blowing the right way you could just about smell it too. Luckily, on the Friday (it started on the Monday) the weather stopped being so dry and sunny, and they started to be able to get it under control a bit. It’s got to be one of the only times everyone really wanted it to rain heavily for several days!! After we got back from Kaikoura, I got the afternoon off, which is always fun!

Into the West

(So this update is just short of a month after it actually happened, and I no longer really have the ‘technical difficulties’ excuse – but I’m updating now, so it’s all good! In regards to the title, because of one of the places we visited I was trying to come up with as many Lord of the Rings references as possible, and this one seemed appropriate. Other titles considered (not from LOTR) included West-Side Story (it’s terrible, I know), but I like LOTR more so this one stuck.)

After Kaikoura, I probably had about 2 weeks back in Christchurch before we went away again. In that time, we did do some follow-up fieldwork to the estuarine work we’d done in December (with the PhD student). We had to go back to all of our Avon-Heathcote sites to count the number of reproducing snails and the number of egg coils, as well as collecting sediment samples. In some ways, this work was much quicker than before. We only had 2 days of field work rather than one day for each site – 4 sites on the first day,  3 on the second (one site did not have what we were looking for anyway, which is why we had 7 sites rather than 8). It’s just as well we did the sites that way around, because we had the usual time limit that comes with working around low tide. On the first day, we had a reasonable number of reproducing snails and egg coils. It was probably fairly similar to last time, with maybe a few more at a couple of sites. On the second day, each site we went to had more egg coils than the previous! On the first day, we’d been able to count all the egg coils within our plot, but on the second day we divided all of our plots up and just counted some of them. Our last site (which we were hoping wouldn’t have many egg coils at all) had more egg coils than all the other sites put together (I think – it seemed that way anyway). We drew measured quadrats in the sediment (with a conveniently found 50cm stick), and just counted the egg coils and snails within that. I worked out averages from the sites the follow day – our last site had an average of 14,740 egg coils at high tide and 20,930 egg coils at mid tide. I’m glad we didn’t try to count them all.

As a sort of continuation of the work we’ve been doing on the Avon-Heathcote, the PhD student and I are going over to the West Coast of NZ to take samples from three estuaries over there. Two of the estuaries, Orowaiti and Karamea, are relatively close to Westport, so that was where we went first. Instead of doing two 30x15m plots (one at mid and one at high tide), we’re just doing one 50x30m plot, and then dividing this up into 15 areas and taking random samples within those. Considering how much larger this plot was, we could get the work done much quicker!! We decided from the off around how many snails we were going to get the length of, rather than deciding on the number of quadrat samples we were going to take. The first Estuary we went to, Orowaiti, had much smaller snails than we were used to seeing on the Avon-Heathcote, which also mean that there were smaller egg coils! We looked around for reproducing snails, and after measuring a few we noticed that they were reproducing at a size smaller than we had measured as the length of maturity. As well as collecting a number of snails and sediment samples for analysis at the labs, we also had to collect a couple of litres of water from the estuary. I think this is because the snails will be living in tanks back at the uni for a while, or something like that. I’m not entirely sure. Anyway, at the first estuary, we annoyingly forgot to bring a spare jar or anything like that to transfer the water to the bottle. Since we’re there at low tide, the only way for me to collect the water was in the puddles from our footsteps with the lid of the bottle. Luckily for me, the lid was relatively large, but still. That was fun…

The following morning, we had to get up early to get to Karamea Lagoon which was our second estuary. The low tide was at 7am, and it took about 2 hours to drive there, so we had to get up at 4:30!! It was also my birthday, so I can honestly say that waking up that early (still 2 hours before sunrise, even though it’s summer here) was not quite what I had in mind. Still, I had a birthday card from some friends in the UK that arrived before I left, so I could open that (we have worked out that it takes far less time for post to get to NZ from the Uk than from Austria). The drive over to Karamea was fairly uneventful. I guess, in part this was either because it was very foggy, or still very dark (combination of both). We did see quite a lot of weka and pukeko along the side of the road (and had to stop fairly suddenly for a few in the middle of the road). One pukeko thought it would be easier to fly away from us (in a straight line in front of the vehicle) than just to walk off the road. If you ask me, although the pukeko are a NZ bird that CAN fly, the really don’t look like they should. When the bird was flying away from us, it genuinely looked like it was just trying really hard not to fall out of the sky.

We were fairly surprised when we got to our site. These snails that we’re looking at are basically mud snails, but this site was entirely made up of sand. It was great for walking over, as we didn’t have to wear our waders because there was no risk of sinking. The river flowing along the top end of the site was brown in colour which was interesting to see. Since the snails at this site were very sporadically spread we decided to take a number of random quadrat samples around until we had about 100 snail measurements rather than making our plot – which could give an unrepresentative reading of the snails at the site if we tried to work out the number of snails per area based on averages. It was interesting to see the range of sizes at this site. While most of them seemed to be fairly mean in size (around 17-18mm), in a few places – often by the river – they were massive, at about 25mm. Collecting the water was much easier today, partly because our hole that we’d dug at the beginning had filled up quite nicely with water, but also because I’d put a spare jar in with our equipment. We were done in the field by around 9am, so we decided to go and get a bite to eat and a hot chocolate and figure out what to do with the rest of the day.

After a quick search, and remembering a leaflet I’d left in my footwell, we decided to go up to the Oparara Basin which is part of a national park. The park was first explored in 1984, and the people noticed some similarities between what they were seeing and the descriptions of places in “the Lord of the Rings” and so named various features after places in Lord of the Rings! Clearly, someone noticed the similarities between New Zealand and Middle Earth before Peter Jackson did! There were a few creeks named after the “Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky” (Nenya, Vilya and Narya), and after looking at the map I decided that we should make our way towards Moria Gate Arch. The drive up to the national park was interesting and on more of a track than a road. At least the weather was clearing up. When we parked the car, a weka came out of the bushes and walked right up to us! It was probably looking to see if we had any food (it was later wandering behind two people eating their lunch who did not spot it), but it probably came within 30cm of me.

The walk to Moria Gate Arch was very pleasant, under trees and ferns. Apparently there are kiwis in the area (not that we expected to see any, since they’re nocturnal) but we tried to spot places that could potentially be their dens. The walk wasn’t meant to be too long, or too difficult. After a while, we came to a fork in the road and we basically flipped a coin to decide which route to take seeing as we couldn’t make up our minds. One of them was marked as having more difficult terrain, but the coin told us to go on the other route. We continued along this path for quite some time and enjoyed the local wildlife. We saw some NZ robins who (like the weka) seemed completely unphased by us. We quickly realised that this path was taking us far longer than it should have done and we were getting further and further away from the river. We gave ourselves a time limit before turning around and heading back. We may not have found the Moria Gate Arch, but there were some nice fungi all around, so this path ended up being a short cut to mushrooms! To be honest, I don’t know what we were expecting taking a short cut. After all, a short cut is the longest distance between two points. When we eventually got back to the sign, we noticed a subtle difference in the way the arrows were marked. Our route was marked as the Moria Gate Arch walk (which started heading back down the way we’d driven) and the other way was marked as the Moria Gate Arch. We must have overlooked this difference while trying to decide which way to go, which was unfortunate.

Although we went in a very roundabout way (including walking over the arch itself twice without knowing it), the Gates of Moria were worth it! We had to climb down through a small hole in the top back corner of a cave, where there were stalactites hanging from the ceiling – and then we had this view (framed by the arch) of the river flowing. For whatever reason, this route didn’t seem to be very popular, as we didn’t seem anyone else at any point during our walk but it was great because it meant we could enjoy the arch without anybody else. There were a few other tunnels and caves leading back from the river – but we could only walk too far along some of those before it was too black to see anything so I had to turn back. I’ll put a picture below so you can see it, because I feel like I’m doing a bad job of explaining it. Our walk back to the carpark was (unsurprisingly) much shorter than our walk to the Moria Gate Arch. Despite that, we still had more time before we should be heading back to Westport, so we decided to go to the Oparara Arch, which is apparently the largest limestone arch in Australasia. This one seemed to be much more popular, as we saw quite a few people on the walk. Although it was certainly impressive to see (it really is very big) I did think that Moria Gate Arch was more beautiful. That doesn’t stop this one from being nice to look at though. I really liked looking at it from the outside – one part of the arch had a hole in it, so there was this beam of sunlight coming through a hole in the rock and shining onto the river, which I thought looked very nice. Like the river that ran through our site this morning, the water was brown and we found out that this was a result of tannin (a product of decomposing leaves).

When we got back to the carpark, Nuwan decided that we should probably head back to Wesport, as we had about a 3 hour drive ahead of us. It would have been quite nice to see some of the other sites – there’s a cave with bats and wetas – but I guess I’ll have to save those for another time. The track was certainly much busier going back. As we past the path that lead to our site, we decided to go and have another look (it was now about 1 hour after high tide). It looked so different! The tide had come in all the way (as expected) but the two branches of the river had completely vanished, and the island between them was completely underwater. I knew that the tide would come in, but I hadn’t expected it to come in that much. I guess it makes sense though – it’s not like there was much incline on the shore. The kitchen in the hostel was quite busy, so we decided to go out for Indian takeaway for dinner. Around the time we were leaving, Nuwan remembered it was my birthday, which was nice! Since it was a nice evening we decided to try and find somewhere nice to sit and eat dinner, so I suggested the beach. I think Nuwan was a bit surprised when we got there at the lack of picnic benches, and then was surprised that I hadn’t expected there to be any and my plan was to sit on the sand to eat. We compromised and found a large tree that had washed up on the beach from somewhere, so he could sit on that (I decided to stick with sitting on the sand. The tree was a bit too unstable for balancing a pot of curry on my lap). I must say, it was very different to be able to eat dinner outside on a beach on my birthday. I’m fairly certain that’s not something that I’ve done before. The evening ended with a very pretty sunset. I particularly enjoyed seeing the sun reflect in the ripples of water on the sand.

The next day, we were heading down to Hokitika, which is much closer to our final site, Okarito. It was a fairly misty day, but that’s actually quite a nice atmosphere when driving down the west coast (I thought so anyway). We both wanted to stop at the pancake rocks, which was about halfway through the trip. I have actually been there before, but that was 10 years ago, so I’m allowed to go again! The rocks, like you might have guessed from the name, look like a stack of pancakes. There’s a loop walk you can go on to see it all and what’s really interesting is that no one actually knows how they were formed. People have come up with different theories (like different hardnesses in the rock leading to some parts being eroded and others staying), but there’s no confirmation on any of the theories. There’s a long loop and a short loop – and we actually did both of them because I wanted to take a particular picture, and had missed the opportunity the first time around. Some of the rocks look a bit like a chair, but I remembered it being a bit larger then. In my defence, I was quite a bit shorter when I was 9. The rest of the drive down to Hokitika was fairly uneventful, except for the mist and fog turning to rain. There was also one part of the drive where the single lane vehicle bridge was also for the railway line – so that was interesting!! We couldn’t actually check into our hostel until 4:30 so we got some lunch and kind of wandered around the town a bit. We didn’t want to go too far, or spend too much time outside because, like I said, it was raining! Near the hostel, there was a place called ‘Glow worm knell’ and even if we didn’t see any glow worms (being about 3pm) it was still nice and the overhanging trees stopped most of the rain. When we did check into the hostel – called Birdsong – all the rooms were named after different NZ birds, and we were in ‘kea’. There was also a very nice kea paining on the wall and a kiwi toy that I made look forlornly out the window at the rain…

Since it would take us about an hour and a half to get down to Okarito, we set the alarm for 6am. I actually woke up at 5:45, and could hear the rain absolutely hammering down outside. After a bit of deliberation, we decided to do the site tomorrow. The weather was meant to clear up in the afternoon anyway. This later turned out to be a good call as we were informed by someone connected to the uni who lives there that the estuary had flooded. We didn’t do a great deal in the morning, except go out to buy some food for dinner. In the afternoon (when the weather had cleared up) we decided to go for a walk around Lake Mahinapua. From looking at the map, I didn’t think our path would lead us to a point where we could see the lake, but it seemed like a nice idea. Once again, we saw a few fairly unphased weka, and we briefly saw a white heron go flying by. A significant part of the walk we did was over a swampy lagoon, so there were duckboards (I like that word) to give us a dry path. It really was very warm and sunny now – especially when you consider how terrible the rain had been in the morning! Our most interesting finds on this walk were different coloured fungi. We found a patch of fungi that was bright red, and in another location, fungi that was bright blue!! Eventually, we decided to turn around and not do the loop as we were still going along the top of the lake (and it didn’t look like we’d be turning to head towards it any time soon). Anyway, if we had tried to complete the loop (that was actually a bicycle track, and we didn’t know how long it was) we would have ended up walking one length of the lake along the road, which wouldn’t have been that interesting. Still, it was nice to get out of the hostel and enjoy the fresh air!

Back at the hostel, we played Trivial Pursuit for a bit, that had the usual challenges for me (the board having come out in the late 80’s or early 90’s and so having general knowledge questions from that time period). After a fairly large number of questions about NZ, we assumed that this was a NZ edition as well. Favourite questions included “In what city would you find the University of Canterbury?” We decided when we saw that one that neither of us where allowed to answer that one. I guess, to be fair, the answer to that one was on my UC t-shirt, so that would have been a giveaway! Another favourite (that was very appropriate, given the circumstances) “Which New Zealand catchment area recorded a record-setting 585 millimetres of rain in one day?” The answer to that one – Hokitika.

Whilst I was making dinner, we received a phone call from our friend down in Okarito. Apparently, there was so much water in the estuary that it would take at least a week to drain, so there was really no point going down to it, as we would not be able to collect our samples. I was sad about this – partly because it meant we could no longer visit the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers. Another time. Although we had been planning on staying until Friday (it was Wednesday) with this information, we decided to head back to ChCh tomorrow. We drove back through Arthur’s Pass, which was very nice but fairly uneventful. A couple of times we saw helicopters watering more difficult to reach fields. We stopped a few times for pictures – once, overlooking a viaduct where the stones and boulders around the river were covered with an intriguing red fungi? We don’t know what it was. The other stop was at the far entrance to Arthur’s Pass (we were just leaving it) where you had a view of some snowy mountains (I swear it is summer) with a river in the foreground. There were also so nice purple lupins by the river. Although I didn’t see them close up, during the drive I saw a couple of kea flying about – and I learnt that this bird is not only unique in being the only Alpine parrot in the world, it’s also unique to South Island. I guess although that’s logical (given that the Southern Alps are just on South Island), I just hadn’t really thought about it. We got back to the uni, where we had to sort out the snail samples and I had the fun task of cleaning all the equipment (Nuwan had to clean the car though). To be honest, it’s not so bad when you can use a warm high-pressured water hose to clean everything with (maybe I should have got my rain coat out though…) Once all that was done, we both decided to call it a day.