Into the outdoors – a nature nerd’s take on a favourite pastime

Department of Conservation —  28/01/2020

By Vanessa Mander, Community Ranger

I’m all for any crazy motivation that people conjure up to get them into the outdoors. The most popular being to take in the amazing view, to listen to the korimako, tūī and riroriro or even to be surrounded by the classic New Zealand bush. I am a nature nerd to the core and while these incentives are a real drawcard, I want to mix it up a bit. You may go for the birds and the trees, but I want to go to look at what’s below the knees. I’m not a poet – that last line is testament to that, but the sentiment is true. How often do you look at the amazing variety of life below knee level? Let me take you on a walk to the recently renovated Balmoral Fire Lookout in North Canterbury.

Spectacular views of the Hurunui River. 📷: Lloyd Mander

The Balmoral walkway is a combination of pasture and scrub but has those spectacular unimpeded views from the lookout. The fire lookout was built in the earlier 1900’s to act as an early warning system to fires in the State Forests and restored by the Amuri Lions Club in 2019. The best scenes are at the top, hence why the fire lookout was positioned in this place, so what do you focus on to help with the uphill hike? Grasslands are an excellent opportunity to discover and photograph the uniqueness of the macroscopic world doing its own thing. Small puddles or the sides of streams are a prime location to find water spiders. For those with slight arachnophobia tendencies, maybe I shouldn’t start here. My bad. But up close, this group of water spiders are beautiful in their own right. Nursery web spiders create those white, webbed “nurseries” you see on scrubs and clumps of grass, which keep their young protected until they are ready to face the world themselves. These pictures were taken at the same puddle, one adult and one juvenile – very different but are the same species.

Alright, I think I’ve likely cleared out around half of the readers at this point so for those that are serious, how about beetles? This is an example of the native New Zealand common tiger beetle, one of dozens on this clay/rocky outcrop. These beetles are one of the fastest and can run up to 5 miles per hour. Pretty amazing for something only 25mm long.

New Zealand common tiger beetle. 📷: Lloyd Mander

Or maybe you’re looking for something more graceful, like butterflies? New Zealand has several copper butterfly species and if you get up close and personal, you can see the exquisiteness in the wing patterns. While the beetle was a tiger, this invertebrate has the colouring. We are absolutely surrounded by different kinds of beauty.

Copper butterflies are abundant in this area. 📷: Lloyd Mander

For those with a slight horror bent, there is the dog-eat-dog part of the macroscopic world. While enjoying our lunch, we were buzzed by a rather odd sight. This New Zealand mason wasp is doing all those arachnophobes a favour. Mason wasps paralyse their spider prey (in this case a sad knobbled orbweaver) and fly them back to feed their young. This particular wasp appeared to have chosen a rather large takeaway lunch and was flying with some difficulty. My apologies to people reading this over their own lunch.

Mason wasp scores a decent dinner for the family. 📷: Lloyd Mander

For the small portion of people I haven’t driven away with the brutality of the insect world, I draw your attention to the endemic flora that can be found. My particular favourite is this leafless clematis, while spindly and weird looking initially, the seed heads have this wonderful cotton like exterior that look like they decorate the vines.

The leafless clematis, a mesmerising New Zealand native. 📷: Lloyd Mander

My family finally reach the top (I’m last because I’ve been nerding out on the way) and now choose to enjoy one of the other main prizes of this immensely enjoyable track – the view. You can’t beat it.

Restored Lookout. 📷: Leeann Ellis

4 responses to Into the outdoors – a nature nerd’s take on a favourite pastime


    Humorous and informative reading. Encouraged me to visit the lookout sometime. Thanks.

    Paul van Beusekom 18/02/2020 at 4:41 pm

    You could make this “below the knee” adventure even more interesting by bringing a simple magnifying lens ($3 at The Warehouse)


    Such a great description of your walk to the summit – cheers for sharing these species; I’ve learned a lot (including what a riroriro is!)

    Jasson Shane Bennett 28/01/2020 at 4:08 pm

    I love to work live in the bush taking cear of our wide life