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By Herb Christophers

Since I was a nipper in the backyard with an old woven mat pegged to the fence line, I have enjoyed camping outdoors! My first real pup tent was demolished in short order. It was like a light bed sheet held up by toothpicks’ – looked good but didn’t work properly!’

Herb's family campsite.

Herb’s family camp site

So, by the time I had been tramping over many years in many places – mostly with just a fly or a small tent, I was a dyed-in-the-wool camper! I did not find it difficult to adapt to a larger canvas tent when a family came along. I just applied the same principles as my lightweight days and accepted that I did not have to carry the load on my back!

Ashley from Greenland learns to turn a steak

Ashley from Greenland learns to turn a steak

My wife would have liked a spiral staircase but they don’t do those in canvas. Even so, I wondered how we used to fill the three rooms of a canvas mansion that spilled out to resemble a small village after the kids had decided that they wanted their own little tents! In spite of this, we have always kept it simple and resisted the temptation to get too high tech which is why we prefer the less well appointed campsites. We enjoy places where making do gives you a real sense of achievement and a healthy respect for the environment and what it can provide.

The kids hang out

The kids hang out

Over the years we have had some great camping holidays and my wife and I still take a small tent away with us to pitch at a convenient DOC campsite.

Coastal areas have always been favourites. The sounds and smells of the sea are so relaxing and even the sound of the wind tugging in the trees is something that keeps me in touch with the forces of nature. I tend to be a bit of a geek too. Out come the binocs – kaka here, dotterel there, heron over yonder by the banded rail… Summer in the sun!

Variable oystercatcher spotted at the beach.

Variable oystercatcher spotted at the beach

So, as summer holidays approach I bust out the tent and all the other paraphernalia, pitch it in the backyard to check it out and think back a few decades to when the adventure began!

Camping near the coast, looking out to Slipper Island.

Camping on the Coromandel coast

By Herb Christophers, 30 December 2011

In the North Island, gold mining was a key part of Coromandel’s early development. Similarly, in the South Island, Otago was the centre of the gold rush in the 1800’s. Today, both Coromandel and Otago offer great family camping and sight seeing, and a golden opportunity for those who like to get off the beaten track.

We had a look at Coromandel camping on Monday. Now let’s have a look at Otago.

Central Otago

Bikers on the Otago central rail trail

Dropping into Central Otago from the Mackenzie Country marks a change in many respects. Apart from the colour of the rugby jersey, the colour of the land changes too. The typical schist rock begins to show itself and the sun, if it is possible, gets hotter in summer. The Lindis Pass is usually a thoroughfare to further down to Wanaka or around to Alexandra in the Cromwell Gorge.

Lindis Pass Hotel

9 Mile Historic Reserve

To get some insight to the gold mining history of the Otago region, the disused Lindis Pass Hotel that dates from the late 1800s, provides an opportunity to see how isolated the Central Otago region was and how difficult it was for travellers over the pass.

Located at Nine Mile Historic Reserve, the building is undergoing restoration work as the stonemason stabilises the rock in the remnants of the hotel that sits in the middle of the campground.

Keep an eye out for the turn off because the campsite is not signposted, nor is it visible from the road. From SH8 take Old Faithful Road opposite Timburn Road and continue alongside the Lindis River until you get to the campsite. For those who persist, the rewards are worth the effort of going down the six kilometre gravel road—even for smaller camper vans. The road is part of a working farm, so be wary of other users. At the campsite there is a loo, water is from the Lindis River, and an interpretation panel that keeps the memory of the hotel alive.  On a hot dry, sunny Otago day, this is a perfect place to camp. And it’s free.

St Bathans and Naseby

If you are down in Central Otago doing the rail trail, there is a golden opportunity for side trips to historic mining sites in the region. St Bathans is an old gold mining town near the foot of the Hawkdun and Dunstan Ranges, 60 kilometres north of Alexandra, on the road to Ranfurly. Established in 1863 to service the area’s goldmines, St Bathans is a place that time has passed by and the streets are straight out of mining history. There are no facsimiles here.

Oterehua frost Otago Central Rail Trail

St Bathans was typical of a gold mining town because the first buildings were probably not intended to last very long, due to the fickle nature of gold mining. Unexpectedly, some have survived and form an eclectic mix of mud brick and timber buildings including the town hall which has been restored.

Camping is available at the St Bathans Domain campsite. It’s a basic DOC site with toilets and water from a tap. There are nine tent sites and it’s free to stay there.  You can always stay in Ranfurly, or in any of the small towns like Wedderburn on the way around the Central Otago rail trail or even Naseby, another former gold mining town where DOC manages the old Post Office. The building contains much of its original fittings and equipment and is currently leased as a craft shop and information centre. A camp ground at Danseys Pass coach inn has the basics of camping on hand and sits adjacent to an old arboretum (tree collection to those who had wondered). The site provides access to Oteake Conservation Park at Buster diggings with gold mining relics like mine tailings and water races.

Oteake – Homestead campsite

Golden hills in Oteake

Getting into a Graham Sydney landscape can be as easy as a visit to Oteake Conservation Park. Over 64,000 hectares of the St Bathans, Ewe, Hawkdun, Ida and St Marys ranges form the park with outstanding landscapes including mountainous high country, rolling tussock hills, scree, wetlands and shrubs.

There is a network of huts in the park but for those driving around and looking for a less adventurous access to the park, the Homestead Campsite is a good starting point. This basic campsite has water on tap and toilets. Like many of DOC’s more obscure sites, it’s free to stay there and provides an ideal platform for exploring options for mountain biking, 4WD, fishing, and easy tramping in the nearby St Bathans and Hawkdun Ranges. From SH85, turn into the Ranfurly end of Loop Road, then into Hawkdun Runs Road and follow the road to the campsite. There are two unbridged fords to contend with but these are not an issue in summer.

By Herb Christophers, 28 December 2011

In the North Island, gold mining was a key part of the Coromandel’s early development. Similarly, in the South Island, Otago was the centre of the gold rush in the 1800’s. Today, both Coromandel and Otago offer great family camping and sight seeing, and a golden opportunity for those who like to get off the beaten track.

Today I’m going to show you around the Coromandel. We’ll head down to Otago on Wednesday.

A little paddler practices in the shallows

Coromandel – Off the grid but on the internet

The sun shines, the surf bubbles on the beach, pohutukawa blossom and people’s minds turn to summer.

Like generations before them, people repeat the summer migration from urban sprawl to that place where priorities get re-ordered. Where meeting old friends is more important than meeting deadlines. It’s a place that has become part of family folklore and generation after generation, the families keep coming back.

These days with technology, ‘coming back’ can start when you let your fingers do the walking on the DOC online booking system. Some Coromandel gems are off the grid—no cell phone reception in some places—but they are on the internet.

Let’s have a look at the great opportunities that beckon from the click of a mouse.

Colville

Colville is an interesting place. Not long after you drive through this small settlement, the road turns to gravel, the cell phone drops out and you drive past the last place to get an ice cream! Mind you, there is a truck that does the rounds of the DOC campsites and ice cream is one of their staples.

A left turn, to continue up the western coastline leads to three stunning campsites. A right turn takes you over to the East Coast either up to Stony Bay, or on the circuit back past Waikawau Bay via Kennedy Bay to Coromandel.

Stony Bay

This is the far eastern end of the line for the top of the Coromandel

After you leave Colville, the short climb over the hill to the eastern side of the peninsula leads to a fork in the road. The choice to turn right at the bottom of the hill is the path most taken towards Waikawau Bay. Turning left however, takes you further up the East Coast to the remote beach at Stony Bay.

Stony Bay is a deep inlet, flanked by the bush-clad hills of Mount Moehau. This is the far eastern end of the line for the top of the Coromandel. From the 5-hectare campground, you can drop down to the sea to go fishing or diving, otherwise follow the Coromandel Walkway to Fletcher Bay or loop high up the hill on the mountain bike track (grade: intermediate).

As a standard DOC campsite, Stony Bay has good facilities. There is water from the tap, toilets, a barbeque and even a cold shower. That’s a good excuse to take your solar shower.

You can book via the online booking system.

Longitude: 175.4226609
Latitude: 36.5125151

Waikawau Bay

Hungry boys come back from the shop

Waikawau Bay campsite is DOC’s most popular site in the North Island and it’s not difficult to see why—a stunning beach, an open camp site and relative isolation.

In spite of its popularity, it is easy to get away from other campers, if that’s what you want, and the beach, which stretches to the north, is a great place to do just that—you might have to share the sand with NZ dotterels and oystercatchers, they are all busy with nesting around the summer period. Just remember, it’s no holiday for them!

Waikawau Bay campground has undergone a transformation in the last few years as flood prone areas in the camp are retired and others are brought into use to cope with the demand during the peak season.

The camp shop can keep you supplied with essentials.

Longitude: 175.538218
Latitude: 36.6061165

Fantail Bay

Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt

Fantail Bay faces west onto the Hauraki Gulf under the giant pohutukawa trees that characterise the coastal vegetation in the Coromandel. The westerly aspect keeps the day warm, and dappled light through the trees keeps the tent sites cool in the hot midday sun.

The fishing must be good because last summer when I was there, some campers I met were throwing back the snapper under 10 pounds (why do fishers still talk in pounds? New Zealand went metric in about 1972).

It was a fishing competition among the camping families who have been coming back for four generations and it wasn’t just the oldies catching the big ones!  Having a boat is a good idea.

Fantail Bay campsite has a toehold to a corner of the Coromandel Forest Park and the track behind the camp leads up towards Mount Moehau. In the evening you can climb up the steep hill track for about 30 minutes and hear kiwi. There are a few pairs up there and the pest control operations by MEG (Moehau Environment Group), local iwi, and DOC allow them to thrive.

Longitude: 175.3283698
Latitude: 36.523345

Port Jackson

With Granddad in front of the campsite

Shoehorned onto the sandy strip between the beach and the road, this long thin campsite is very popular and it is easy to see why.

The safe beach is at the front of your tent, the pohutukawa and dunes are all around you and the northerly aspect means you have sunshine for most of the day. This makes it an idyllic spot to camp and to launch your boat. The sandy beach sweeps east to the Muriwai walkway that begins at the headland and travels along the coastal cliff towards Fletcher Bay. The views from up there are stunning in all directions and recent pest control work has seen the cliff-dwelling pohutukawa trees coming back strongly to provide a spectacular sight in the early summer.

The chances to paddle, swim and fish in this area are countless and with a family friendly atmosphere, Port Jackson makes a great summer camping site that’s away from the madding crowd. If you are missing your phone fix, the northern-most phone box in the Coromandel is outside the camp gate, but obviously you can’t text on it. Just carry on camping.

Longitude: 175.3416975
Latitude: 36.4840486

Fletcher Bay

Eager to get back to playing

It’s the end of the line here. If you go any further east, it will have to be on foot or on a bike around the Coromandel Walkway to Stony Bay.

The old timers will tell you of the days of camping in a sheep paddock. These days, it’s a bit more organised, and a bit more popular. It’s still raw, but with intensive plantings over the last winter, and a bit of subtle landscape management, the place will be stunning in a very short time.

Hardly surprising, the fishing is still good and the location, looking out towards Great Barrier Island, is an image straight off the lid of an old biscuit tin. If you need more salubrious accommodation, there is the backpackers lodge at the back of the campground.

Longitude: 175.3907775
Latitude: 36.4777358

By Herb Christophers, December 22nd, 2011

Between Picton and Nelson on State Highway 6 in the Rai Valley, a turn off to the north that looks relatively inconspicuous opens up a world of opportunity. For some people in the know, it is an annual summer pilgrimage to access the calm waters of Marlborough Sounds and to get on to the bushy tracks that link many of the less accessible beaches. No wonder the area is popular among those who enjoy time by the sea. It’s all about adventure around every corner and camping opportunities in some lesser known locations. Once you are off State Highway 6 heading north, a turn to the right takes you to Tennyson Inlet (following the main road takes you through Okiwi Bay and beyond to French Pass).

Nydia Lodge Jetty

Elaine Bay

Getting to Okiwi Bay and beyond to French Pass is a journey that many campers take. On the way, there are other less distant camping options. One particular place is Elaine Bay that faces into Tennyson Inlet. This is an ideal place to launch a boat or kayak into the calm waters of the inlet and to cruise around the wider Pelorus Sound.

Elaine Bay

From Elaine Bay to the south east is Penzance which is accessible via a 10km walking or mountain bike track that hugs the coastline around the steep hills.  The views are great out to Maud Island and beyond, and hint of potential adventure around every little bay in the inlet. You can get to Penzance the easy way by road too – it’s that earlier right turn after you leave State Highway 6 in Rai Valley.

Elaine Bay is a standard DOC campsite with water on tap, toilets and other basic facilities for 20 tent sites. Cheap at $6.00 adult ($1.50 child)/night.

View from Red Point near Elaine Bay. Maud Island in the background

Closer in

There are great paddling daytrips throughout the Sounds. There is always somewhere sheltered to paddle and the trip can be as easy or hard as you like, determined by the distances between stops. One option from Elaine Bay would be to paddle out into the sheltered part of Tennyson Inlet to Tawa Bay campsite and explore further down the inlet to Matai Bay or further into Duncan Bay at the head of the inlet.

Duncan Bay

There are campsites at Harvey Bay near Duncan Bay and Tawa Bay. Like Penzance,  Harvey and Duncan Bays are accessible by road.  Tawa Bay is only accessible by boat or kayak. If you decided to stay overnight, there are tent sites at $6.00 adult ($1.50 child)/night.

Further out

Those of you who are a bit more adventurous and well prepared for longer overnight camping trips can paddle out along the Tawhitinui Reach and turn into the entrance of Pelorus Sound. From here it’s a haul to Jacobs Bay campsite which has 8 tent sites tucked in out of the prevailing wind at the sheltered northern end of Fairy Bay Scenic Reserve. After some time in the boat it is a great way to stretch your legs by walking around Dillon Bell Point into Fairy Bay. There is water and a loo at Jacobs Bay campsite and if you don’t want to go for a walk, you can paddle around exploring the adjacent shoreline or just fish off the jetty.

Nydia Track start at Duncan Bay

Next day, it’s a relatively sheltered paddle to Nydia campsite at the head of the scenic bay with further opportunities for walking.  The Nydia Track winds its way from Pelorus Sound to Tennyson Inlet and passes through Nydia Bay. A walk up to Kaiuma or Nydia Saddles will be rewarded with views back into the bay or beyond.

The view of Tennyson Inlet from Opouri Saddle

This is a shared track so don’t be surprised to see mountain bikers taking advantage of the great scenery and riding opportunities.  There are 8 tent sites at Nydia Bay and because there is only boat access or people on foot or bike, you will feel a lot more isolated without vehicles nearby. The campsite is on one side of the bay and Nydia Lodge is opposite. The bookable DOC lodge is particularly popular with school groups who have the chance to get away from the rigors of school life for a bit of time in the outdoors. Sounds good?  Sounds great!

The view into Nydia Bay from the Kaiuma Saddle

If the weather is favourable a paddle out of Nydia Bay to scenic Pipi Beach on the Hikapu Reach is on the cards. Pipi Beach is a great place to stooge around in the kayak and explore on shore and watch the boat traffic coming and going from Kenepuru and Pelorus Sounds. There are four camp sites at Pipi Beach and it is at the heart of what it means to get away in the Sounds.

A return paddle north across Nydia Bay to Jacobs Bay will put you in a good place to get back to Elaine Bay the following day.

DOC manages about 40 camping opportunities in the Marlborough Sounds – many not accessible by road.  Much of the information about accessing these facilities is available on the DOC website, and Visitor Centres or i-Sites at Picton and Nelson can provide advice in person if you are looking for a bit of time on the water.

Buzz words usually get up my nostrils but one particular word strikes an accord with me because I like the active engaging process that is sounds like. That word is ‘Synergy’.

There is a lot of synergy between the Department of Conservation and volunteers. Without the energy and enthusiasm that volunteers bring to conservation work, many tasks that may be lower in priority, can get done and add real value to the overall conservation effort.

Volunteers relax during a days work.

Volunteers relax during a days work.

I did that!

It’s about making a positive difference. It could be painting a hut, planting a wetland, helping on a species recovery programme, clearing predator traps, being a hut warden and the list goes on. Being a conservation volunteer is about taking responsibility for your environment and having a good time into the bargain. The mutual benefits for DOC and volunteers are etched on the smiling faces of everyone involved.

A young volunteer chips in with tree planting.

A young volunteer chips in with tree planting.

Up up and away!

Volunteering may mean getting to places that are out of the way and almost inaccessible. Take the case of some keen rock climbers who, under normal circumstances, would never have gotten to the middle of Fiordland to climb. An opportunity arose to look at a rare lizard that lives on steep rock faces and to access the site, rock climbing skills were needed. The climbers were able to access the steep cliffs, bag some climbing and provide support to understanding a species that is known from only one site in the world! Now that’s a win-win, isn’t it?

On a less arduous scale, there are opportunities to work in visitor centres. Become involved in telling stories about landscapes, historic sites, natural values and other !!

Volunteer work isn't necessarily easy.

Volunteer work isn't necessarily easy.

Put your best foot forward!

So if pounding the pavements and sitting in an urban jungle doesn’t raise your pulse rate, click into the DOC website or contact your nearest DOC office and ask about volunteering opportunities. See you out there.

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An isolated island archipelago in mid ocean with a relict population of plants and animals found nowhere else and under threat from invasive species. Does that sound familiar? Nahh!  Not New Zealand this time!

What’s natural?

The Azores are a group of volcanic islands in mid Atlantic and have small remnants of forest types that once covered much of the land around the Mediterranean Sea. These remnants are fragmented and scattered over the 9 main islands of this Portuguese autonomous region. The native plants and animals have taken a huge hit over the last 600 years of human occupation and live on the verge of oblivion with many already extinct from human induced activities. You know the story… Clear the land, bring in domesticated beasties to enable farming. Oh, and don’t forget a few unwanted hitch-hikers!

Indigenous Azorian forest remnant. Photo: Herb Christophers.

Indigenous Azorian forest remnant

What spins your wheels?

Still, the attractions in the Azores are stunning! The overlay of historic, cultural and natural attractions has put it among my favourite places on Earth – OK I haven’t been to Kazakhstan!

And weeds! Whoa! I was staggered to find so many of the weeds there are our dire enemies here too.  The cliffs are strewn with ginger, woolly tobacco weed and bamboo. The exotic forests are asserting themselves in the spread and conquer process and hydrangers are the adopted regional flower in spite of being a noxious weed.

Grapes, bananas and bamboo going wild. Photo: Herb Christophers.

Grapes, bananas and bamboo going wild

Homesick?

An interesting feature of the landscape was the use of New Zealand pohutukawa in main amenity areas. The islands are at the same latitude as Auckland and my guess is that the pohutukawa found their way back to the Azores with whalers in the 1800s. And, the former flax industry has left New Zealand’s  harakeke all over the main island.

Pohutukawa planted in a park on Sao Jorge. Photo: Herb Christophers.

Pohutukawa planted in a park on Sao Jorge

On the beaches, there is New Zealand spinach and on the shore line there are karaka trees and cabbage trees.

New Zealand spinach on the rocky shore. Photo: Herb Christophers.

New Zealand spinach on the rocky shore

In spite of any degradation in the original natural state of the region there is a fierce pride in retention of the remaining natural values and there are the same tensions we have here. You can imagine that power supplies on an island archipelago are difficult. Wind power is going full tilt ahead on the islands to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Dairy farming has intensified (the cheese is magnificent!) but cows dot the upland landscape to fill out the postcard quotas. The grapes eek out an existence in harsh conditions and produce good rich wines from rough volcanic soils. Quality water is at a premium.

So next time you are thinking that New Zealand is the only island archipelago with major invasive pest problems, give a though for the Azores and pop in to mid Atlantic to say Hola! They would love to see you.

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Home and away

hchristophersdoc —  12/05/2010

A kereru flies perilously close to the top of my head leaving a whorl of air spinning in a vortex. A tui in a nearby kowhai coughs and chortles and calls to it’s neighbour in the adjacent tree. A small flock of waxeyes chirp their way through the canopy of the scrub accompanied by a cheeky fantail and a warbler trills sweetly from not far away. A bellbird was around earlier in the day, just after the morepork stopped calling.  I bend down and delicately remove a weta from in front of me.

Waxeye. Photo: Herb Christophers

Waxeye. Photo: Herb Christophers

Its March on a Saturday morning, I am on the deck in my suburban backyard and I am enjoying weak autumn sun.  My half-gallon, ¼ acre, pavlova paradise doesn’t have a lawn to speak of and I refer to it as my ‘regenerating jungle’. Less informed people like my wife, call it a pile of weeds. – I suppose she is half right. Still, with not much lawn to mow, I can indulge a while longer as the native world according to suburbia, spins around me.

Tui in my Silverstream garden. Photo: Herb Christophers

Tui in my Silverstream garden. Photo: Herb Christophers

 

Suburbia

Pest control on the edge of suburbia has benefits that are there for all to see and hear.

It’s amazing what committed local authorities and community groups, can do to reduce the scar of human impact on the natural world.  The Wellington Regional Council, The Upper Hutt City Council, Forest and Bird and other people working in specific reserves around the area have ensured that at least in the upper Hutt Valley that we can live alongside native biodiversity.

Sure, we get flocks of sparrows, finches, Eastern rosellas, spur winged plovers and starlings, but it’s almost a level playing field for the native species. Get rid of the mammalian pest species from the bush and the natives can mix it with exotics in some places.  I’m not just talking about birds here. You should see the rata in summer. Since the pest management work in Keith George Memorial Park and along the ridgeline between Whiteman’s Valley and Silverstream and in many little pockets of native vegetation, the rata are blooming magnificently! 

Big Country

So its off into the scrub for Easter. The South Island beckons. Rain, hail, sleet and snow does not deter the weka and once the sun comes out, the bush is alive with robin, tomtit and warbler and all the usual suspects. A rifleman here, a bellbird there and a falcon soaring above the valley. Too late for cuckoo. And anyway, how the hell do they know how to get back home?

Whio, our native torrent duck. Photo: Herb Christophers

Whio, our native torrent duck. Photo: Herb Christophers

Duck for cover!

The real coup on this trip was to encounter whio – blue duck that inhabit the faster flowing currents in the clear mountain rivers of Kahurangi National Park.  Their numbers have been declining and without management, they may slip away forever and I don’t mean downstream. The pest control on the river edges keeps the stoat, ferret and rat numbers down and this allows enough whio chicks to get clear in the summer so that populations have a chance of long-term recovery.

DOC 150 trap on Whangapeka, protecting Whio from rats and stoats. Photo: Herb Christophers

DOC 150 trap on Whangapeka, protecting Whio from rats and stoats. Photo: Herb Christophers

Maybe one day, we will have them in the upper Hutt Valley?

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