Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Taranaki/Whanganui Roadie

Oh boy, I'm already starting to fall behind on this blog. That's the trouble with busy summers of travel, fun, and far too much good food! Lisa and I have just returned from a wonderful camping trip to Australia where the main event was the fantastic wedding of two great people--Nigel Jackett & Jaime Hall! More on that in another post.

Below are a few photos from a great little roadtrip Lisa and I took in early Jan down through the King Country, over to the Taranaki Coast (the western nob of the middle North Island), back up through the Whanganui River Valley, and home to Cambridge via Tongariro National Park and the west side of Lake Taupo. All of these places are worthy of write-ups of their own but given my time constraints and the fact that the camera was only brought out here and there, I'm afraid you'll have to live with my typical abbreviated notes below!

Our journey began dark and early, as Lisa suggested we rise before 5am to give us a good shot at Kokako in the Mapara Reserve over an hour's drive to the south--is she a keeper or what? We arrived at Mapara around 6am. This lovely reserve is unfortunately just a fragment of the native bush that used to abound in this area. It's almost completely surrounded by non-native pine plantations or sheep paddocks and much of the reserve itself is second-growth forest. Still, it has proven to be a tremendous haven for native bird-life with its flagship species being the ethereal North Island Kokako. Few of these birds remain in mainland New Zealand (and their south island cousins are presumed extinct), but habitat-management and predator-control programs in areas like Mapara are showing signs of stabilizing populations at the moment. Still, Kokakos are never easy to find. They tend to sing only very early in the morning or close to dusk, and forage in thick bush, often high in the canopy. As we reached the first ridge of the forest walk we were delighted to hear a couple birds giving their mournful songs from across a gully. Even hearing one was great, but around the corner our luck was to continue! A bush shook as 3-4 clumsy birds hopped away from us (these birds have powerful legs but are not strong flyers apparently. Thus they prefer to leap through the canopy). Although we could not see them yet I felt these had to be kokako. Then 2 flew up to a bare snag above us--sure enough: sooty-coloured jay-sized birds with black masks and blue disc-shaped wattles--KOKAKO!
Granted, not a fantastic shot but it was backlit in the early morning and regular readers of this blog will know that this is actually a fantastic photo ;) At least the moss is in focus!
Mapara is actually quite close to the farm where Lisa grew up, however this was a new place for her. We also took this opportunity to visit a few other great spots near her old stomping grounds. Of course I neglected to photo-document these places so they will remain top-secret...or at least limited to the select few of you that are on Facebook. Oh look...we're at the beach now! This turned out to be a pretty big day. After a few hikes, coffees, and waterfall visits, we hit the black sands of the west coast.
Lisa getting close to an ancient sandstone god.
The "Three Sisters" (minus one of the sisters--to the left--but Lisa is doing a great job filling in. For the bird-people reading this wondering when I'm going to mention a bird next---there are White-fronted Terns nesting on these stacks. Satisfied?!
Getting artsy
In addition to meat-pies, beaches, and netball, NZ is also really good at growing foreign plant-life. Here Lisa (and Scarlet--the car) pose in front of a small piece of the impressive Redwood stand that dominates Lucy's Gully--a pleasant place on the Taranaki Coast (SW of New Plymouth) to escape the mid-day heat.
Here stands the Cape Egmont Lighthouse, the westernish-most-ish point in the middle North Island. I visited here in June 2008. Great to be back in warm sunlight. My first albatross of the year was sailing offshore (unidentified mollymawk--likely White-capped).
I must say, while illegally camping around the west coast, Lisa and I found some great places to eat supper. Here we are watching the tide roll in over Opunake Beach. I believe it was Huevos Rancheros wraps that evening.
Ah finally, my first identifiable albatross--White-capped. Not far from Cape Egmont where we spent the night. The sky larks were very noisy here but that's the price you pay for rural paradise here in NZ
We figured we had seen enough beaches for the day so we chugged up into Egmont National Park (Dawson Falls section) and did a small hike in the foot hills of Mount Taranaki/Egmont. He's a beauty of a mountain as you can see. Lisa has summitted it and hopefully later this year I will too. Great looks at wee Riflemen on this walk--essentially the Golden-crowned Kinglets of NZ. Alas, too small and quick for my blundering camera fingers.
Another look at lovely NZ bush with Taranaki look splendid.
Dawson Falls, Egmont National Park.
We rolled into the city of Whanganui with napping on our mind. Little did we know that we had stumbled into the lair of a psycho! Meet Steve, the hungry New Zealand Scaup.
Like all the other diving-ducks of the world, NZ Scaup are general wary of humans and rarely get too close in city ducks ponds. Here at Virginia Lake in Whanagui however, scaup not only walk along gravel paths with mallards picking up bread etc., but they will happily nip your fingers in the hopes of a bite to eat! This fearless attitude has led to the extinction of many of NZ's avifauna. At least here it seems to be working out for Steve and his buddies. Also note my year-bird Eurasian Coot in this photo (as well as a juvenile Black Swan Head in the foreground). Waterfowl diversity at its finest!
Probably my favourite part of this road trip was journeying up the east side of the Whanganui River Valley. This remote and storied area is rich in both scenery and interesting people. The road was only paved last year so get in before other tourists like me find out about it!
More Whanganui River. Well known for its multi-day canoe-camping opportunities, now an easy day drive as well. In the background on the right is the settlement of Jerusalem. Once a cult retreat of the late NZ poet James K. Baxter, it has long been known as the site of a picturesque Roman-Catholic Mission (Tower visible in this picture). Its a lovely little place to explore. More HERE.
Colourful bee-hives, with blooming Manuka forest in the background (a favourite of bees)
More Whanganui River with the lovely Lisa for added beauty :)
As we headed deeper into the interior, we decided to pop down to the Ruatiti Domain for Blue Duck (Whio). This was the "classic" spot for them when I lived in NZ in 2008 but apparently they have been gone for a couple years. Well we didn't know this so naturally we rocked up and there were 2 resting on a riverbank including this chap, unbanded to boot. These fast-river-loving ducks have declined a lot due to habitat alteration and mammalian predators.
The mighty Mt Ruapehu in the distance. Time to get home and sleep-in!

1 comment:

  1. Just gorgeous glad you two are having the time of your life!