Spine of the Fish  Day 64: Rocking on

A leisurely road walk brings out the best of the northern Coromandel.

Alright…I know winter is starting to get serious. If you’re sick of the general tone and continual summer holiday vibe we’re giving off feel free to avert your gaze.

If not, you can read on…

As the sun broke into our perfect little bay things continued as they’d left off the night before.

The waves gently lapped at the beach a few metres from where we lay. The fish flew and the shags swum after them.

Pink tinged sky and sea returned to the cliché blue we’ve come to expect. Again, there wasn’t a breath of wind.

You’ll be pleased to know that all this vanilla weather didn’t last longer than the time it took us to brew our morning coffee and eat our morning chocolate Ricies and muesli, but it was a promising start.

Our campsite at the Balancing Stones.

Our tent was soaked inside and out with condensation but the time we took to dry it was time we could stay in the bay so it didn’t matter. Cloud may have been approaching, but it was muggy and our climb out of paradise was steep. Leaving was going to be hard.

Dying hut at Balancing Stones.

One last photo of paradise before we leave.

We were low on food so we had no option and we were soon sweating it out, past Richard’s house and down the road he’d made.

Letterbox art.

At an intersection we came across some fine art. I’m not big on quotes from The Bible but I know talent when I spot it. The beautifully painted letterbox sat on the side of the clay road near a small gathering of inscribed rocks. Scratched crucifixes and hearts guided us merrily down the track until we came across the small group of perpetrators.

Natasha, John, Ezra and Blessed.

Natasha (the letterbox painter), John and Ezra came around the corner in a little explosion of colour and energy. Blessed, their ancient dog was there in body but the spirit was a little lacking.

They’d been dropped off at the bottom of the hill by dad, who we’d missed by a whisker at the letterbox. The four were ambling up the track to their home and had plenty of time for a chat. Natasha homeschools the boys and our conversation soon became subjects of learning later in the day.

Skinks. Whio. Geography. A fine curriculum by any standards.

Before we left them to their day we wangled a few connections and coincidences out of the vastly different lives we all led. The rest of our journey down the hill was like an art gallery tour with more crosses, hearts and flowers decorating the way. We plucked a few wilding pines from the side of the road, but stopped when we remembered that it wasn’t actually public land. Perhaps they were supposed to be there. Oops.

More roadside art on the way to Port Jackson.

Pacific Ocean from above Port Charles.

It took a long time to make our way on to the road and into Port Charles where we stopped for morsels of our dwindling rations under a short row of Norfolk Pines. A small group of houses overlooked the bay. There was only one local in evidence.

‘You’ve got a nice little slice of heaven here!’ I offered as a way of breaking some ice.

‘Yep. Have a good day,’ came the cold reply as he turned back to the task at hand. Watering his truck.

We ate our crackers beside a large group of rare Pateke and a few not-so-rare pūtangitangi.

(I could tell you what pūtangitangi are, if you don’t already know, but suggest that you add it to your homework for the day.)

The crackers and cheese didn’t really do the job we’d hoped so we walked on toward a cafe we’d been told about, over a hill and down into Little Sandy Bay. As we approached the small gathering of cribs a voice called out.

‘Would you like a coffee or tea?’

Trevor.

We were soon sitting in Trevor’s kitchen eating up large. He’d been packing up in readiness for a return to his home in Auckland so had to open up his chilly bin for us. Bread, cheese, tomatoes, avocado, lettuce, mayonnaise and biscuits soon sat on the kitchen table. The jug was put on and we were encouraged to dig in.

Cups of coffee were had and Trevor imparted some wisdom upon us.

‘My mum told me never to take lollies off strangers.’ Trevor had got through his life quite successfully with this little gem of wisdom, but had found it difficult. ‘Last year a man stopped me in his car and gave me a lolly. I took it, but snuck it in my pocket. When I got home I put it in the rubbish bin.’

For someone as generous with food as Trevor is, refusing someone else’s generosity must have been hard to do.

Trevor had been coming to the family bach since he was a nipper. New neighbours had plonked an ugly new batch in front of his sea view, but he was happy with what he had and was happy to share his little slice of heaven.

While in his kitchen we found out that we’d missed the cafe. We’d walked past it and it wasn’t even open. (Thank you Trevor, you were a lifesaver…I was about ready to eat my hand when you intervened.) As we left Trevor handed us a bag of Oddfellows for the road.

Still more rock art, Sandy Bay.

We had a bit of a journey to get to our stop for the night. According to Trevor, Stoney Bay was a tortuous walk away, so we tore ourselves away from his kindness. The walk wasn’t too bad, but did twist on a bit, up, around and past several other bays and through beautiful regenerating forest. As we’ve come to expect, the roadside was covered in an impressive array of multicoloured markers – predator traps were everywhere.

One tree that we’ve really enjoyed on this part of our trail is the Puriri. It’s pink flowers often littered our path and have made much of our Coromandel walk into a bit of a fairy trail. It’s big shiney leaves and quiet stature have added much needed variety to our days. They seem like an important part of the forest, producing valuable food for larger birds and habitat for epiphytes.

We arrived at Stoney Bay before the sun ducked behind the bay’s surrounding hills. It took us a while to reach our tent site as the few people who were there all wanted to talk. We got so distracted that we forgot to sign in at the gate, so once we found a flat area, we decided to go up to the office and introduce ourselves.

Kuruho didn’t want to see our money. ‘I don’t want to touch it,’ he said as he pointed me to the nearby Iron Ranger. After I pushed the little bag of notes and coins into the slot we were invited in for a cuppa and an introduction to another side of the conservation battle in the Coromandel, the government one.

Kuruho was in Stoney Bay to do some predator monitoring work. He’s not from the region, but knew the place pretty well, a good thing because the trapping and monitoring network he maintains is a complex thing. He’s the sole DoC ranger in the area now, so much of the network isn’t being monitored anymore, but his work is being used to assess a planned 1080 drop around Moehau, an important Kiwi area. He’d set the monitoring tunnels in a grid pattern above the bay earlier in the day and would be going up to log results the next morning.

Moehau trap map.

He showed us the maps he uses to do his work and my brain spun with the complexity of them. Most of our trapping work is for Whio protection. This means that our traps tend to be set along, and parallel to streams. The maps that we use to keep track of our traps are traced with lines of dots that sit logically along geographical features like spurs and ridgelines. Kuruho’s maps were covered in a swathe of dots because the place is being trapped mainly to protect Kiwi. Kiwi don’t live in ‘easy’ to follow streams, they live and wander all over their habitat. Protecting them requires blanket trapping.

The Moehau maps are based loosely on the area’s geography, but covering the area takes precedence over ease of access. Following these maps is an insane way to get about in the bush.

After our cuppa, we were introduced to the local eels. The stream out the back of the ranger’s house is home to a large group that are very tame. Once they figured out that we were there, about fifteen came for a feed of tuna. They wound their way around each other in a low-key feeding frenzy. I’ve always been a bit creeped out by them, but they’re pretty amazing when you get up close. We’ve swum with them a couple of times and have been interested to see their curiosity. While trout scarper at the slightest hint of a human presence, eels will often find a vantage point to watch the giant pink idiots floundering around in the cold water. Do they think we’re food?

The more I’ve been around them, the less creeped out I’ve become, but we were in for a bit of a surprise that night in Stoney Bay. The largest eel took hold of one of the smallest eels by the tail and dragged it around as the feeding ended. It looked kind of funny.

Until it killed it and, we assume, ate it. As we watched, it dragged it into a corner above the rapids and started spinning around in some sort of death spiral. It’s silver belly pulsing white in the dark water as it spun. The other eels got quite excited by the event and no doubt the food. The bigger ones went in for a close look…the small ones wisely hung back. We didn’t stay to watch the aftermatch function.

I’m now creeped out by eels again.

As we all came to terms with what we’d just witnessed back at the house, a ute came up the drive. It was a couple of contractors and their Kiwi tracking dog. They’d been up the mountain recovering and maintaining GPS units on monitored Kiwi. Following a dog’s nose over the chaotic folds of the mountain was almost the opposite of Kuruho’s ordered monitoring, but both roles are an important part of the struggle to save Kiwi from the jaws of stoats and rats.

Arguably there isn’t enough investment in predator control in an area that could easily be exploding in birdlife. But it was good to see that there is still some government commitment to the place…possibly even enough to retain the status quo. A big map on the living room wall was a startling display of how contained the peninsula is. Kuruho showed us the path that a proposed predator proof fence could take across one of the narrowest parts of the peninsula. It made a lot of sense to us, but worried locals with other agendas have put their own barriers up to the proposal.

Perhaps the Coromandel will see sense one day? I reckon it would be the making of the place.

Wilderlife