August 27, 2014 at 8:33 pm
Another cracker of a day on the West Coast. Have I ever experienced cloudless skies on the West Coast? Probably, but somehow I mainly remember the rain. Seems like this about to change as the forecasters on tele (an impressive TV set adorns one of the walls in my hotel room) only stick suns onto the West Coast portion of their maps. I do not complain. Not a bit.
First thing this morning, the whole crew – Sam, director Ida-san, camera man Hongo-san, the camera technician ‘Kay’ and I – headed down to Jackson Head. To have a look at the access to their designated film site. As it happens it is also the site where we will start our research in a bit more than two weeks.
The original idea was for the crew to film on a beach about half an hour to the North of Haast, which is a lot more scenic and easier to access than Jackson Head. But DOC changed their minds in the eleventh hour and condemned the poor guys to film on the steepest slopes only accessible via the treacherous rocky shoreline of Jackson Head.
And, as could be expected, I noticed a few furrowed brows when my companions laid eyes on the sharp and pointy rocks that we had to climb over for half an hour before reaching the site. But it wasn’t half as bad is it first appeared. Hongo-san and Kay dropped of some gear in water proof bags. And of course, all of them got to meet their first Tawaki. Some birds were boulder hopping just like us. Seeing the penguins really upped their spirits. As penguin usually do.
We headed back to town around lunch time before continuing on North, past Knights Point to Moeraki River. Ida-san was armed with the book by a Japanese photographer who indeed had taken photos of a Fiordland penguin swimming up what looked like a creek. I had my doubts that this could be Moeraki River, which is reasonably wide and deep and a whitebaiter paradise. Sam brought a map which had some ball point pen markings that seemed to indicate a footpath to the river mouth from the Monro Beach track. That turned out to be a dud – the area is an impenetrable swamp dominated by Kiekie. So we carried on all the way to the beach where we were greeted by a battalion of sandflies running a full attack on our exposed body parts. And the revelation that there is no access to the river mouth around the steep headlands to the West of the beach.
But it was a nice walk regardless.
Almost back where we left our car, we followed another track leading towards the river. After a short tramp through swampy forest we found an old whitebaiter’s hut with access to the river. And here wet met the hut owner himself as we was just about to tie his dinghi to a ramshackle jetty. He said his name was Syd and, no, in all his 40 years on Moeraki river he had never seen penguins swimming upstream. But he offered us a ride to the river mouth so that we could have a look ourselves.
So far I have only ever seen the bit of Moeraki river that is visible from the Highway, with Lake Moeraki to the east and the river disappearing in the forested hills to the west. In my imagination, Moeraki river was this crystal clear water way that gently solled through the West coast rain forest. Of course it did. But what I never pictured was the massive array of whitebait stands that lined both sides of the river. Every 50 metres there were the jetty like structures all pulled up out of the water by steel wires – the whitebaiting season only starts on 1 September.
One thing that blew me away was a majestic Kotuku, the New Zealand white heron, that took flight as we chugged downstream. I thought these rare birds could only be seen at the Okarito lagoon.
“No” Syd said. “That fella’s been here a few years now all by himself. But you guys want to see penguins. How about some shags?”
Well, yes, but no.