By Amelia Norman
According to Sam de Reeper, there’s “a whole lotta rubies” in the hills above Lake Wakatipu. Sam, our suntanned, dreadlocked kayaking guide, points across sparkling water to the head of the lake, where snowy peaks and velvety brown hills crowd together, thick as thieves.
The rubies were discovered there centuries ago, he says, embedded somewhere in the inhospitable rock faces of the Holliford Valley. Sam’s long-told legend of lost fortunes and dreams hints that the rubies are still there – you just need to know where to look. The glint in his eye as he speaks suggests Sam knows much more about these rubies than he’s letting on. But that’s probably a good thing: we don’t have all day, and Sam’s grasp of local facts (and fictions) is enthrallingly endless. As much as I’d like to sit here, scanning the snaking Wakatipu and hearing tales of olde, our cluster of brightly coloured kayaks awaits.
In 2007, fresh out of university with a Bachelor of Applied Science in ecology, Sam returned to his hometown of Queenstown and set up his own kayaking company, Rippled Earth. With experience in kayak guiding in Milford Sound and the Abel Tasman area, Sam chose to base his operation out of Glenorchy, 45kms from Queenstown. It’s an idyllic part of the world, and one to which Sam is intrinsically connected. Paddling gently across the clear, sapphire water, we see snow glistening atop nearby mountains and a waterfall tumbling into a snaking valley. Sam’s voice joins the rhythmic swishing of our paddles. He regales us with the history of the island to which we’re headed, and of the surrounding hills; the umber-hued furrows of which inspired his company name.
Hidden far from the parasails and jet boats of the Lake Wakatipu known to most, we land at Pigeon Island – home to no one but an increasing number of native birds. Since predators have been eradicated here by the Department of Conservation, a number of native birds have returned to, or been reintroduced to the island. Native tree plantings have added to the island’s well-being, joining the mature stands of kahikatea, miro, southern rata and kowhai already thriving in the mild lake climate.
Upon the pebbly beach we perch on driftwood logs and devour fruitcake that Sam has brought as sustenance. Whilst the birds twitter and the lake water laps against our beached kayaks, Sam reads from the local history book that is his mind, producing tales of love and double-crossing; fortunes found and lives lost in days of yore.
“That’s Mt Earnslaw over there,” he proclaims at one point, indicating a commanding frosted peak towering above the ruffled lake. He tells us about the first man to successfully climb it – a feat doubted and unproven until after his death many years later.
“I climbed it once, with a mate,” Sam throws in, casually.
“Had three days off work for my sister’s wedding. So, the day before the wedding, decided we should get out there and give it a crack.
“Never again!” says Sam as he laughingly relays the epic, unplanned journey that ensued.
In his woollen hat, thermal top, shorts and mismatched jandals, Sam guides us on a stroll of Pigeon Island. He wanders slowly, discussing the medicinal benefits of the horopito plant and the antics of the ancient moa. He recounts days of his youth spent at family BBQs on the island, and more recently, weeks on study leave when he’d come here to cram in peace.
“But, time runs like a scared rabbit when you’re on the island,” says Sam, regretfully.
And we soon discover what he means. Checking our watches we scamper back to our boats. A buffeting wind has turned the sparkling, still lake into a choppy mass of white tips. With the wind to our backs we let the waves pick our kayaks up and propel us forward in great, surf-like surges.
Surging water isn’t unheard of here on Wakatipu, Sam tells us. New Zealand’s third largest lake has a mysterious habit of rising and falling at a rate of around 12cm every five minutes. There are various explanations for this unusual phenomenon: the fluctuating atmospheric pressure causing a lake seiche; or even the rhythmic, still-beating heart of the giant whose sleeping body is said to have formed the lakebed aeons ago.
Of course, science tells us the lake was, in fact, formed by a glacier that carved out the zigzagged bed during the last ice age. But you can’t trust everything you hear. After all, science also tells us we won’t find rubies in these sun-scorched, rippled valleys…
Amelia visited Pigeon Island courtesy of Rippled Earth Kayaking, Destination Queenstown and www.fourcorners.co.nz.
In 2005 I set out on a lone kayak trip to Bligh Sound from Milford Sound in my brand new ‘necky sports’ Elaho and thoroughly enjoyed the empty expanses of the Fiordland National park. I had planned on returning there one day and after starting and operating ‘Rippled Earth Kayaks’ in Queenstown back in December 2007, I decided to treat myself to a holiday at the end of the summer season. Somewhere along the line my intentions were released to some of my old colleagues from Rosco’s kayaks in Milford, Jason Carter, Matt Walker (Tex) and Ross Hore (horey) were well keen on joining me on this two week adventure into the wilderness. Right so this is the kayaking mission in Fiordland 2008.
I had pre arranged to meet up with Tex in Queenstown at 7pm he had just finished work and driven down from Christchurch. We drive through to Te Anau in the middle of the night, upon arrival we cruised down to the red cliff for a couple of beers and meet up with Edd White, we ended up sleeping over at his place, which sure beats sleeping in the van (Tex sleep talks).
On the second day we woke early and set off to cruise down the Milford road ,when we got in however, Jas and Horey had gone to town for groceries and are not due in till later that night, I race the around the fiord in my loaded up kayak for a while and Tex loads his boat up.
later that night Horey and Jas turn up and I went down to the wharfs to organize the ride down the coast in the fishing boat Vanaka, Curly, the guy we have organized it with is looking pretty pale and says, probably not going for a couple of days yet.
Back at the ‘Paddle on in’, a collection of odd and run down caravans, we got on the turps, after a few we decide to meet Horey later down at the pub.
About half way through the night the legend that is Horey turns up in true form, a purple cowboy hat a dance style that has everyone in fits and really gets the party going, splits on the dace floor, shots of absinthe, dancing on the table and eventually me and Tex have to carry him out, I took his legs, Tex his arms. He insists on driving home but we took him back squashed behind the seats, absolutely priceless. I have many great memories of antics performed in the Milford Pub, there’s no place like it!!
The next morning we find out that Curly, the fisherman I spoke to last night has had a stroke so we aren’t leaving for a few more days, Horeys not feeling all that good so it’s probably for the best.
After a day of lounging around we woke the following morning to find that the Contessa is tied up at the wharf I ask the skipper, Garth if he'd give us a ride down the coast for a 24 of beer and a bottle of Jack Daniels, convinced of this argument, he says he's leaving in half an hour (shit) me and Tex are ok, Horey is throwing gear at his kayak and we still need to prize Jas out from his girlfriend’s bed, but we're off.
We sit on the top deck like kings as we steam down the fjord and out onto the open sea, it’s a magnificent day. At Southerland sound we launch out onto a calm sea and quietly paddle down to Bligh sound with albatrosses following. I get out and check out an old Maori camp site, and there are lots of caves and inlets to explore, we pitch camp in a nice wee spot in Bligh sound.
Its raining, but we get up and paddle down Bligh sound, right down to the wild natives river with forest all around broken by towering bluffs and waterfalls, getting pretty cold but there is some beautiful country around, we found this cove with a big bluff rising out from the sea, because of the over hang there is a big area out of the rain and we sit in there catching big Blue Cod for dinner. Cold and wet we return back to a cold camp. Tex makes a disappointing salt water tea and we slop and slither off to bed.
Sun is out and we paddle out towards George sound, I’ve never been this far south down the coast before so it’s new country for me. Tex a.k.a danger mouse is in and out of the rocks and boulders along the coast however before long the wind has picked up and its hard going, soon we're battling to make any head way, the boys in the double kayak are off ahead and soon out of site, you learn a lot about your self when you out there on your own. There are 1500 m (5000foot) mountains disappearing behind the waves and the sea crashes over you leaving you with stinging eyes and a mouth full of salt, an albatross serenely eyes you as it wings on by, its heart rate slower than when it sleeps, while you struggle on below. at 3.30 we meet up at the entrance to George sound, it had taken us two hours to paddle about 1 and a half k's, we were tired and beat. The truly shattering thing is that we had another 15 -20 km to go to get to the hut. The double got there at 7 pm I dragged my self in at 7.30 and Tex another ten minutes behind me, paddling a strange fiord tired, wet in the moonlight is something id rather do another time, still as the darkness envelops me I struggle on, to the sound of Kaka high up on the slopes and the first Moreporks calling the night in. I do not know the location of the hut and strange headlands and islands loom out of the darkness confusing me as to where I might be however the quick flash of a torch points me to where the others have gone. This saves me a very uncomfortable night on a beach or up against a rock somewhere in George Sound.
We sit around the hut and dry out our gear, trying to repair mind, body and soul. Big open fire and Jas nicked out and caught a couple of cod, fried fresh with lemon pepper, beautiful. The next three days were much the same, fishing, exploring resting up. Sandflys in their swarming, enquiring millions find any exposed piece of skin and make the stunning views fleeting experiences as you rush for the sanctuary of the hut.
We leave out early and paddle out of the lower arm of George sound, there’s big head winds and its raining, I was a bit antsy with the boys as I figured we could have picked better weather, I had to abandon my water bottle as the need to go to the toilet was too bad, it’s a lot easier being a guy on these trips, however the day improved and we checked out Anchor cove and the George river, finally we camped out on a beach near the entrance and it had a large unnamed river cutting through it.
The idea was to camp close to sea so when the weather picked up we could start towards Milford sound via Bligh, poison bay and Anita bay, though the forecast that night said northerly systems for another three days, so I figured we'd be there a while. We lit a bonfire on the beach and watched the sun set over the Tasman, this is more like it.
Right so it’s the 19th my 26th birthday, we packed up early and headed out to sea, we were hoping to muscle it around to Bligh sound if Horey’s wrist could stand up to it. As we moved closer to the entrance the swells got bigger and the wind gusts more frequent, once we rounded the corner the battle was on. Man Vs Sea, however it was a useless fight. After swearing, cursing, spitting into the wind and wiping off spit for an hour we had moved 500m up the coast, we turned about tired, beaten and headed back to the previous night’s camp. Jas and I were feeling a bit crook coming back through the swells so we stopped for a bite to eat on the way back. We were in no rush to get back as the only thing that awaited us was a damp, Sandfly infested camp on the rocks. 26 sucks.
That night we huddled in a tent on the beach playing 500 and drinking stones ginger wine, when the sun and Sandflys had gone we had a good meal of canned corn beef and hash round the fire, it lifted spirits a bit.
A day in camp, I can hear the swells roaring up, savagely attacking the beach and the forecast says gusting northerlies again. I’m not sure if its raining or if its the thousands of Sandflies knocking on my tent, I’m happy to be inside it, though I need to go to the toilet but not that badly yet, its 8 and a half hours till Sandfly free time again.
Latter on that day I heard the whine of an engine, a fishing boat on the fiord! I raced out of the tent and hailed it on the radio to see if they could give us a lift home. They weren’t going that way, though they had been told to keep an eye out for us. I needed to get out of the tent to go to the toilet anyway. The next day we all spent the whole 24hr day in our tents, it was raining and the Sanflies were out.
The fateful day.
We left out early, the sun was out and the day looked good, we got out round the point there was some strange winds coming from all directions but it was too early for it to have made up its mind yet. We were making good time when we got to Cats eye bay, there was a fairly solid wind pushing out of it, however we cruised passed on our way to Bligh.
At Bligh sound the wind was thundering out, we tried to push our way into it, the wind was pushing around 50+ knots huge whilly walls 2-3 power polls high swirriling around the corner, mushrooming out on top to swoop down towards us in a wall of wind and spray that stung the skin, we'd yell heads up as it came towards us so no one would be caught unawares and knocked in, I raced the floats that connect to the Cray pots, but I just kept getting pushed back, they eventually won. I gave the cut out signal and we drifted back behind the point, it was fairly certain that we weren’t going to get into Bligh sound. We had a bit of a group discussion and I remember Horey saying, "if its blowing like this here it'll be doing the same in George sound" we all sobered up a little then, realizing that we couldn’t get back into land, it was 11 o clock but we couldn’t wait around too long with out getting cold. We all knew we were in trouble. We decided to give paddling in another shot, it beats sitting around getting cold. Same as before we couldn’t get anywhere, It was like those strong men that can pull a train, you can do it and it takes an immense, heart breaking, body eroding effort but this train is going up hill and at the first let up you are back where you left off. I pulled up and said ' lets just keep paddling north across the entrance, if things go wrong we're going to need rescuing' probably a helicopter called out by our emergency locator beacon, this means we loose our kayaks, tents, sleeping bags pretty much all of our equipment 'and if things go right we are still going to need rescuing but well be a lot closer to Milford where the boats are' using channel 16 we can call up a fishing boat to make an emergency run to pick us up, we keep our gear but it costs about 5-700 dollars.
We paddle across with huge winds beating into the side of us, no one is in a position to help one another, each person is on their own. The waves smash up against you like a wall and you lean 45 degrees towards the wind, the only way to remain up right.
On the other side we are half dead and surprised to see everyone made it, we all uttered things like ‘we are never doing anything like that again’. It had taken us 2hours we rested up, Horey with his stuffed wrist looked pretty bad, id lost most of the skin on my thumb but it was numb anyway. We munched on snacks and carried on, we still hadn't any place to land and nothing had changed.
At the entrance to Southerland sound it looked pretty calm. We foolishly ignored Tex's request to try and pull in here to camp and we pushed on for Poison Bay. Within 500m we all knew this crossing was going to be worse than the last, it was an eternity of strong wind big smashing waves and lost hopes as the shore gets further and further away. Once again we all pulled up on the other side after almost 3 hours, it was getting dark and we were so tired it was difficult to talk, Tex's incessant response of "What?" drove me mad as I would have to repeat what I had just said and it had taken soo much effort. It was never said but if we couldn't have gotten into Poison bay I was going to put in a mayday, we were all in bad shape and hadn't been able to call up any boats in the area.
at Poison bay the wind had dropped and we struggled in, there was a swell rolling up onto the beach, Horey and Jas got swamped and we all sat near the edge of the break, I was the only one who knew roughly where the hut was so I went in first to find the river, I timed it fairly well and was paddling up to shore when a big wave nailed me and knocked me into the water, after leaning to the right all day I had leaned the wrong way when the wave came, it quickly turned me over. I tried to roll but I had no energy left, ‘what the hell’, I was already soaked so I pulled the tag and dragged my boat on to the beach, I was pumping the water out of my boat when the next wave filled it again, and the boys were yelling something, I couldn’t hear. I thought they were camping out on another beach and I was in a bad way. I jumped into my boat and paddled up the river to a camp I had used once before. I was hypothermic, couldn’t think properly everything was working but really slow, I tried to pitch my tent but couldn't work it out properly but got most of it up, it was inside out and I couldn’t find any pegs. No coordination I was a drunken man, I staggered to my kayak and retrieved some clothes, a sleeping bag and my bedroll, I wrapped up in a survival blanket then in my sleeping bag and tried to stay awake as I was not sure I would wake up again if I went to sleep. The wind was really gusting, rocking me as it picked up the tent, one big one picked up me and the tent and rolled me down the beach and into the ferns, I got up and tied the tent to a tree and slung the fly around it as it was beginning to rain. I was worried about loosing my kayak too so I tied that up and took my paddle to bed with me. I eventually warmed a little and went to sleep.
I awoke to a day with no wind and rain, it was very unfamiliar. I couldn’t find many clothes as I had lost most of my stuff, so with a big jacket on I went to the shore in search of some pants. On the other side of the river I seen smoke, the boys had camped within 500m of me with a big bonfire going as I shivered in the ferns. I crossed the river and wondered up. Much to everyone’s amusement I had a bit of a conversation with Horey, without any pants, blowing in the wind we might say. I borrowed some pants from Horey and quickly munched down some brekie. The boys had thought id found the hut and had stayed there! We packed up and hit the water pretty early.
It was hard to believe the calm day after yesterdays torment. We skipped by an island full of seal pups that followed us for 300m but we were all pretty jaded and in need of repair after yesterday. We limped passed transit beach not sure of which of the far away points we were aiming for. Expecting it to be the furtherist point we could see, so as not to be let down. Then we spotted the light house on St Anns point, it had never looked so good!! Within a km the wind picked up again. I looked to the sky and yelled “Were Sorry, what ever we’ve done, we’re sorry!” but the wind is an unseeing, unhearing, uncaring adversary, It is not a god that can be placated with prayers it is inanimate, no wonder the old sea fearers were so superstitious. Anyway we ground our eroded bodies around the corner, paddling on open wounds with lymph and watery blood washing off my paddle shaft. I was the last get there and about half way I heard a very calm “Quack”, this was somewhat strange in the torment of wind and waves, then I heard it again! ‘This is it’ I thought ‘I’ve finally lost it, I’ve gone insane’ the next wave picked me up and I got a look down the next wave. There it was, a little blue penguin calmly looking back at me, ‘what a disgrace to the penguin community to have such a call, our fiordland crested penguin has the cry of a drowning bride, definitely not a quack’, still I was somewhat relieved to know hadn’t yet cracked up completely. Well we seen one of the cruise boats pass by and got a message through to get the guys at ‘paddle on in’ to come pick us up. But we had made it! The boat came after a while and we got a ride the rest of the way in. That first shower was bliss; I swear I was two inches shorter. Tex had decided he wanted paddle all the way in, respect to him he done it too, but I had nothing to prove and was more than happy to take that boat. Hot water, toilets and a soft bed, Bliss.
There were times on that trip that I thought that it was highly unlikely that we’d get to Milford on our own steam, and being rescued would be highly embarrassing though better than being dead, the only time I feared for my life was my night in Poison bay, I truly think that if I didn’t act accordingly I might not have made it through that night but that’s the decisions we make in life, its like crossing the street through traffic. Still it was good to get home and a proud feeling to know what we had overcame to get there.
Sam de Reeper
Rippled Earth kayaking
Millions of years ago New Zealand was connected to Australia, which in turn was connected to Africa, Antarctica, South America and a piece of India. This giant land mass is known as Gondwanaland.
At this time mammals were either at a very early stage in development or had not yet showed their selves on earths evolutionary paths. New Zealand at this time began to break off from this land mass and very slowly move eastward into the pacific, where it has been drifting, isolated and a world apart over next few million years.
The Group of Islands now know as New Zealand was void of mammals, some bats made their way over from Australia at some point and our shorelines where inhabited with seals and Sea Lions, thus the only Mammals that existed before the arrival of man in New Zealand were three bats and the Marine mammals along the coastal areas.
The arrival of man brought about many changes, as it did in all places throughout the globe however; New Zealand is one of the last habitable places that the Human being arrived at. It is generally believed the first people to arrive in New Zealand were the Polynesians, who made their way across the pacific hopping from island to island and the southern most place, the last place these explorers traveled to was New Zealand about 2000 years ago, it is believed they never settled until around 800 years go.
This is how we have gained so much knowledge of what New Zealand was like before the people arrived, because unlike everywhere else in the world it was not that long ago.
People arrived in New Zealand and found it a very different place to anywhere else they had been. Many people finding it difficult to adapt to this strange environment, changed the environment to suit them better. The Polynesians who later become the Maori brought with them foods that they had previously known, Kiore, the rat, Kuri a dog, Kumara or sweet potato. Later Europeans arrived and brought a whole array of different animals and plants, some of the major ones being; stoats, another two types of rat, cats, more dogs and the Australian Brush tailed Possum. Many of the native New Zealand Species disappeared with all these knew predators. The birds especially were very different from birds sound elsewhere, %70 of New Zealand birds were flightless or flied poorly, so many of these ground birds had their eggs taken by rats and the parents latter eaten by dogs, stoats or even people themselves. New Zealand has lots about 2000 species in the last 2000 years.
The Group of Islands on lake Wakatipu are very important in that they are the last refuges for some New Zealand species, their conservation value has been recognized and Department of Conservation has put in a lot of work to ensure these species are kept safe.
The islands have been managed to try bring them back to the way it was before people arrived here, the rats, mice, stoats, cats and possums have all been removed. There have been birds released onto these safe havens that would otherwise been destroyed by the introduced animals.
In this kayak trip I will take you to these islands and hope to point out some of these rare New Zealand species and tell you about their various problems and how conservation in New Zealand manages these unique problems. This is a great opportunity to learn about the true New Zealand and how it came to be so different from the rest of the globe. (Sam de Reeper, 2008)
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