Archives For West Coast

DOC's Lizzy Sutcliffe.

Lizzy Sutcliffe

By DOC’s Lizzy Sutcliffe.

On the morning of World Wetlands Day this year, I was lucky enough to be in one of the world’s most beautiful wetland habitats, Ōkārito Lagoon on the West Coast.

At 7.30 am on  a perfect West Coast morning, I took a boat trip, courtesy of Ōkārito Boat Tours, to explore New Zealand’s largest unmodified wetland.

Ōkārito wharf.

Ōkārito wharf

Despite being drawn back to Ōkārito time and time again I had never ventured out on to the lagoon. I knew the trip was going to be pretty special and it certainly didn’t disappoint, with an absolute blue sky allowing views of New Zealand’s highest peaks beyond glassy, reflective water and lush rainforest. We were all in awe of this insanely picturesque place and grateful to our guide, Swade, for opening this hidden world, inaccessible by land, up to us.

Swade the guide through the Ōkārito guide.

Swade, our guide

World Wetlands Day

International World Wetlands Day is celebrated on 2 February around the world—a day set in recognition by the Ramsar Convention for the worldwide protection of wetlands—and this year’s theme was Wetlands & Agriculture: Partners for Growth.

In order to mark the day locally, DOC’s Franz Josef Field Base partnered with Ōkārito Boat Tours to offer seven, free boat trips for people living in the vicinity of Ōkārito Lagoon over the weekend of 1-2 February. The offer attracted 75 people (appropriately, many from rural/farming communities) from Fox, Franz, Hokitika and Haast all keen to get a glimpse of this nearby wonderland.


Ōkārito Lagoon vegetation

A precarious balance

Since 2008, when Paula Sheridan and ‘Swade’ Finch began operating their boat tours, they have noticed how even small changes in weather, wind and water levels can cause dramatic changes in the behaviour and sightings of various birds.

On this day Swade noted that wading bird numbers had been low this year due to unusually high water levels in the lagoon. We still managed to spot a good variety of birds including godwits, spoonbills, Caspian terns and several of the area’s, iconic kotuku/white heron whose only NZ breeding colony is located just up river near Whataroa. I was particularly excited by the very real possibility of seeing an Australasian bittern—but, sadly, no such luck.


Kotuku/white heron

Glaciers to Wetlands restoration partnership

Things are looking up for the huge diversity of species that rely on this precious fragment of the Coast. As part of its work to conserve the lagoon’s outstanding natural wealth, DOC has partnered with Air New Zealand Environment Trust (ANZET) on the four-year Glaciers to Wetlands project to restore the Ōkārito Wetland System.

Part of the project has been the creation of a community nursery in Ōkārito. The nursery will generate all the native plant species required to replant the areas at Ōkārito and Lake Wahapo. To date, thousands of seeds and seedlings have been collected, and will be grown at the nursery with the help of the community and volunteers.

View of the Southern Alps from Ōkārito Lagoon.

The Southern Alps

Already planning for next year!

As the sun rose higher in the sky and our boat returned to Ōkārito wharf, I struggled to think of a better way to celebrate the world’s vital and threatened wetlands. Paula tells me that plans for next year include land-based activities as well as the boat trips and sausage sizzle “so people can learn even more about the balance of this ecosystem and what it provides for all of us”.

If you can’t wait that long, you might have to just get yourself to Ōkārito and check out the boat trips, kayaking, walks and kiwi tours available from this humble township for yourself.

By Marysia Mcsperrin, DOC Communications Advisor

Marysia Mcsperrin at Punakaiki.

Marysia Mcsperrin

Having moved over from London in April last year, the Christmas break featured a lot of firsts for me. It was my first Christmas away from home, friends and family, the first warm(ish) one in the southern hemisphere and the first one where, instead of a roast dinner with all the trimmings for Christmas lunch, we ate sandwiches in the car!

Me and my partner decided to spend the break taking a road trip around the South Island, down the West Coast and back up the east. We didn’t do any real tramping or camping though, just a lot of stop-offs at stunning locations.

The gorgeous blue water of the Hokitika Gorge.

Hokitika Gorge

We saw some amazing sights and had a chance to really appreciate the diversity and beauty of New Zealand’s natural landscapes. It was hard to choose my highlights but a few places stuck out for me.


Christmas Day stop-off and people were building stone Christmas trees

Firstly, Hokitika Gorge, which is about 30 km inland from Hokitika. We would’ve missed this if our helpful hostel owner hadn’t insisted we go and I’m so glad we did. It featured the most unreal turquoise-coloured water I’ve ever seen.

The alpine blue waters of Lake Pukaki.

Lake Pukaki

Another place that took my breath away was Lake Pukaki, on the drive between Queenstown and Christchurch. Again, we weren’t intending to stop here but the amazing alpine blue water was quite mesmerizing, and we had to take a closer look.

Two Hector's dolphins near Kaikoura.

Hector’s dolphins

We finished our trip whale watching in Kaikoura, which was an incredible experience – spotting two sperm whales and pods of hector’s and dusky dolphins. It was an amazing way to spend my first Christmas break in the southern hemisphere.

The tale of a sperm whale near Kaikoura.

Sperm whale

Today’s photo of the week was taken over the weekend at the opening of new facilities on the Copland Track and at Lake Matheson in South Westland.


Local children joined with Ngāi Tahu kaumātua Sir Tipene O’Regan at the opening of upgraded facilities at Lake Matheson and the installation of brand new interpretation panels at the start of the Copland Track telling the story of Hinetamatea, a Ngāi Tahu ancestress, who discovered the Copland Pass/Noti Hinetamatea.

The day also marked the opening of a $230,000 upgrade to Welcome Flat Hut which includes a spacious new lounge and dining area, new fireplace and four new bunkrooms. The hut is a fantastic place to stay on the popular Copland Track with about 4500 people staying there each year.

This photo was taken by DOC’s Katrina Henderson.

Related links

Today’s photo of the week is from the Heaphy Track in the Kahurangi National Park.

A three year trial of winter mountain biking on the Heaphy Track has recently finished. The subsequent Kahurangi National Park mountain biking trial 2011-2013 report supports mountain biking continuing.

Biking on the Heaphy Track.

The Heaphy Track passes through diverse landscapes, from beautiful beech forest to expansive tussock grasslands, to lush forests, nikau palms and roaring seas.

It’s a tough ride, and not to be underestimated. It requires advanced mountain biking skills, being ranked Grade 4 rising to Grade 5/expert in wet or otherwise difficult riding conditions.

It takes 2 – 3 days to ride (4 – 6 days to walk) depending on fitness, skills and conditions.

This photo was taken by Jono B.

Related links:

Our photo of the week is this beautiful Powelliphanta snail, a large, air-breathing, carnivorous land snail endemic to New Zealand.

Powelliphanta snail. Photo: John Mason.

Their shells come in an array of colours and patterns, ranging from hues of red and brown to yellow and black. Their favourite prey is earthworms, but they are also known to eat slugs. Powelliphanta snails are an integral part of New Zealand’s unique fauna, and were as important in evolutionary terms as kiwikākāpō or moa.

Predation and habitat loss are the major threats to this species, although their outlook is improving with DOC undertaking work to protect these snails on the West Coast through long-term monitoring, translocation and captive breeding.

This photo that was taken by DOC’s John Mason.

By Suvi van Smit, Partnerships Ranger based in Westport

The West Coast Blue Penguin Trust have been busy building nesting boxes for the local population of little blue penguins/kororā.

Volunteers making nesting boxes. Photo: Natasha Perry.

Buller conservation volunteers group helping to build nesting boxes

Volunteer standing with a completed nesting box. Photo: Natasha Perry.

A nesting box ready for action!

Timber and materials were kindly donated by the local Mitre 10 in Westport during Conservation Week and the Buller conservation volunteers group spent a day helping to build the new nesting boxes.

These volunteers are a group set up by DOC. They meet at DOC’s Northern West Coast District Office every fortnight and go out with a DOC ranger to do a variety of work for the day—planting, helping community groups, track maintenance, historic maintenance and an array of other jobs.

The volunteers helped to build ten nesting boxes. The hope is that baby penguins hatch in the boxes and are given a measure of protection against predators.

The boxes were placed out in a penguin colony at Charleston on the West Coast to create penguin homes for when the little blue penguins are nesting. The West Coast Blue Penguin Trust monitors the boxes throughout the year.

It was a great day had by all, bringing together a wonderful partnership between the community, business, volunteers and DOC staff.

Little blue penguin. Photo: Brian Gratwicke.

Little blue penguin.

By Shaun Burnett, Community Relations Ranger, Greymouth

There are still a few old ‘plank roads’ hidden in the Grey Valley on the West Coast. These are wooden ‘planked’ roads constructed for the timber industry in the early twentieth century to help extract timber to the nearest road or sawmill site.

A mountain biker planking along a track.

Planking but not on a plank road

One rainy Tuesday we set out to record one such road on GPS. This particular road was rumoured to have half buried treasure abandoned along its route.

The road was roughly 3 metres wide and consisted of cedar poles laid along it to form a type of ‘boardwalk’ road for the logging trucks.

Walking along the plank road through a corridor in the bush.

Native planks rotting and a faint corridoor ahead

Today, nearly 80 years later, little remains of these roads but the trained eye can still pick a faint corridor in the trees and occasionally you can see the actual logs that made up the road, rotting away as the bush slowly regenerates and claims back its rightful place.

In a swampy clearing, celery pine grows up between the runners, as we stepped carefully between the logs and followed the remains onwards, into the bush again.

Plank road remains in swampy areas of the Grey Valley track.

The remains of the plank road are clearly visible in the swampy areas

After a short 40 minute walk, Historic Program Manager, Jim Staton, led us to his treasured find at the end of this particular plank road: a Marshall portable steam engine!  This old engine was used to drive a winch that hauled logs out of the bush.

The steam engine is in remarkable condition considering it has lain forlornly on its side in the bush for nearly 80 years. The question now is, what to do with it?

A Marshall portable steam engine.

A Marshall portable steam engine

DOC Historic Program Manager Jim Staton is considering the engine’s fate. We could remove it to a local place for public viewing (taking it out of context), or remove it to a place that will restore it to working order, or cut a track to it for public viewing that has an interpretation panel explaining what it was and why its here, or simply forget about it. What do you think should happen?

Marshall portable steam engine half buried.

Small parts have been poached, but it’s mostly intact