Thursday, 25 February 1993

1993 New Zealand Part 4

Jackson Bay
So after my success with yellowhead, I was now on a mission to get to Jackson Bay. This meant driving back to Lumsden and then heading north on highway 6 to Queenstown then route 99 to Wanaka and back on 6 to Haast. Blimey, a reasonably long way, still the roads were relatively empty so off I sped (of course keeping to the speed limits). At Queenstown I drove past a gorge with a bridge across from which I could see people throwing themselves off on a bungie rope, and a very large sign advertising this activity. To me it looked terrifying as I sped past only to stop off at a store for a quick meat pie and to get some milk.

I was getting closer to the coast now and the weather was changing with lush forest covered hill slopes and lots of water, more stunning New Zealand scenery.
The fantastic temperate rainforest of the wet south west.
Not the bungie bridge, but impressive anyway.

The drive from the Haast pass then turns left and follows the Haast river to the town of Haast. In fact the place is more of a small village with not that much there (at least I didn't think so). I did manage to see a few birds:
New Zealand falcon 1, bellbird, tui, silvereye and new zealand pigeon.

At Haast highway 6 then turns north east, but I turned south west on a minor road, still looking for my first Jackson Bay signpost. The cloud base was low and the early evening starting to draw in as I proceeded along the coast passing Waiatote, Arawata, Neils Beach and finally a sign for Jackson Bay, hurrah I had made it.

Jackson Bay, not renowned for its sun tans and sandy beaches.

I parked up by the local information board and toilet shack and yes the information confirmed that penguins did occur here and even breed in the forest. I looked at the forest and there was a lot of it and it was very thick and very wet and it was starting to get dark. I started to get panicky, I had driven a long way on a long shot and now found myself at the site with no more help from the gen as what to do and no sign of any penguins, in the water, in the forest, nothing. I found a path that led toward some huts that didn't look occupied but actually comprised the settlement of Jackson Bay proper, unfortunately a sign that declared 'No Entry' put me off going any further (whimp, I hear you say!). I skirted more forest edges and suddenly from deep within the undergrowth the sound of penguins, so they were still hear or at least one was. That was it, I had come this far, there was nothing for it, I would have to sleep in the car overnight and continue trying in the morning. No matter, I hadn't actually passed any accommodation in the 50K since Haast and I wanted to be at the Bay for dawn so I didn't miss any chances.

That night I settled down in the car trying to get as comfortable as possible which is nearly impossible when you are 6ft 2". At least I'd had the forsight to get some food and milk. I brewed myself a cuppa and added the milk only to find I'd bought condensed which dolloped into the tea, still I had to drink something. After my wholesome evening meal, I settled down to get hardly any sleep as the place was also home to a number of hungry mosquitos who managed to get a much better meal that night than I had.

It was no problem getting up early the next morning to find the weather was the same, low cloud and rain. I just had to keep on trying for a few hours to get my penguins, so looking out to sea, looking in the forest but I could find no sign. About 08:00 o'clock, a car draws up and someone that looked like a park ranger gets out, I was in two minds as to whether to speak to the ranger but as luck would have it I made the right decision. By the time I strolled upto the guy he was busy reparing one of the toilets, I mentioned that I was here from the UK and trying to see the penguins. I don't think he could believe that I had actually slept at the Bay in my car and probably took pity on me thinking I must be a little deranged. He told me that the penguins were definitely here but I'd ne lucky to see any as most of the adults and chicks had departed given it was the end of the breeding season. He suggested that my best chance would be to follow the path that I had found the previous day and ignore the no entry sign, cross over a stream and then follow a track through the forest that led to another bay. So off I went, the path was easy walking with the forest edges closing in on the sides, everywhere was dripping with moss covered branches.

Southern Rata

It was amazing to think that penguins actually lived here, I always tend to think of snow and ice when I think of penguins. I was creeping along as quietly as possible when I heard some penguin like noises off to my left, this time I was determined to try and see if I could check out what was making the noise. I scrambled up a wet muddy bank and parted some very damp branches, getting soaked in the process to look upon two adult penguins. I couldn't believe it, I barely dared take a breath and I was precariously balanced on a wet branch halfway up the bank.
Fjiordland Crested Penguin

One of the penguins was perched on a tree root and its partner was just stood at the base of the same tree. The penguin on the root hopped down and then went up to it's partner with both of them making little grunts and noises all the time which is what I had heard from the path. It was magical, I couldn't really take it all it, they were so close and so amazing with their red coloured bills and striking yellow eye stipes. After watching them for 10 minutes I left them as quietly as possible and decided to go back to the car for my camera, I was back at the same spot in less than 15 minutes and quietly parted the same branches but this time, no penguins, they had gone.
I continued along the path until it came out of the forest and ended at the next bay, I scanned the bay and quite incredibly there were some amazing seabirds just offshore:

Bullers shearwater 40, Australian gannet 70, sooty sheawater 200, shy albatross 2 and bullers albatross 4, arctic skua 6, caspian tern 4, white-fronted tern 60. In the forest i'd also had bellbird, silvereye, tui, fantail and new zealand pigeon.

So being very pleased with myself I left Jackson Bay and headed back toward Haast where there was an information centre in which I could get a coffee and something to eat. I must have looked a bit bedraggled as I entered the centre as the person behind the information desk did give me an odd look, but hey, I had just scored a great bird, did I care what people think, nah!
I then started to drive back north, first heading back to Wanaka to join highway 8 that would take me to the hostel at Lake Tekapo. The interior of South Island is much drier that the region I was now leaving with rolling countryside of brown hills.

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