DOC Director-General, Lou Sanson, speaking at the official opening of the Arthur’s Pass Walking Track
150 years ago today (or thereabouts), in a time when an ‘epic’ was just a part of everyday life, the Dobson brothers stumbled across a pass linking the east coast to the gold fields in the west. That pass was Arthur’s Pass.
Legend has it that Arthur’s Pass isn’t named after Arthur Dudley Dobson as such, but rather that someone remarked that Arthur’s pass was the most suitable pass for direct travel to the west.
The name stuck, and Arthur’s Pass became one of only two places in New Zealand to have an apostrophe! (The other is Hawke’s Bay.)
Celebrations of this feat of discovery occurred over the weekend and resulted in the population of the pass swelling by over 400%.
Cutting the ribbon! Minister for the Environment, Amy Adams, and Zeb Patterson (the great, great, great, grandson of Arthur Dudley Dobson), open the Arthur’s Pass Walking Track
Festivities commenced on the Friday night with the unveiling of a bronze kea statue. As we unveiled the taonga, a member of the audience did a sterling haka, and a real kea flew over us.
Arthur’s Pass is one of the best places in New Zealand to see these amazing birds.
Arthur’s Pass is one of the best places in New Zealand to see kea.
In typical Arthur’s Pass fashion, the main attraction—the official opening of the Arthur’s Pass walking track—was accompanied by clear skies and warm weather.
The creation of the new track, however, was no easy feat. DOC staff, and the contractors constructing the track, had to cope with the extremes of local weather.
So far the track has coped with many deluges of rain, gale force winds, blistering sun, a minus 17 degree frost, and a 2 metre snow dump!
Many people took the opportunity to take a guided walk of the track and discover some of the magical flora and fauna of the pass
For those travelling to other places through the Pass, the route travelled has changed significantly from what it was 150 years ago.
Back then the journey took a long time. Once the coach road was constructed (can you believe that they managed to build the road from east to west in one year!) the journey was reduced to four days. Today it is a pleasant two hours to Christchurch, or one hour to the West Coast.
Discover the heritage and fantastic scenery of the Arthur’s Pass walking track yourself. Further information and directions can be found on the DOC website.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.