Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A trip to Mason Bay - part 4

The last part of my Mason Bay adventure spotlights the Island Hill Homestead initially built by William Walker in 1884, five years after he took up the lease for the 2,500ha of Pastoral Run 419. Walker built his flock of sheep up to 1600 sheep before selling the farm in 1893 to Welles Orton Charlton, who subsequently sold up to Arthur Traill Junior in 1923. George and Stanford Leask, who were farming the Kilbride run, took over Island Hill from Arthur in 1942 and the last owner, Tim Te Aika, bought the lease in 1965 and ran 1,200 merino/romney sheep for 20 years before selling his stake to the Government in 1985. Since the final muster in 1986 the sheep paddocks have been left to revegetate naturally and the Homestead is now a base for DOC operations at Mason Bay and scientists. Down the track 200m stands the southernmost woolshed and sheep yards giving a glimpse of the hardship of farming in such isolation.

Mason Bay Homestead kitchen - the new gas stove has recently been
installed. The coal range needs to be lit for heating and hot water.

Mason Bay Homestead lounge/dining room

Mason Bay Homestead bathroom

My bedroom

Jen's bedroom
The woolshed was built in 1953 by Stanford Leask and, each summer, around 1500 sheep were hand shorn. Around 1966 electric clippers, first powered by tractor and later a generator, made the job easier although it was always a challenge to get the wool clip off to market.

Mason Bay Woolshed - Jen's looking at the sheep dip

No wire netting here - all done with rope
We walked back to Freshwater Landing with the wind at our backs. There's several hundred metres of long narrow boardwalk over the Chocolate Swamp, so called due to the colour of the water - I would definitely think twice about walking it in a severe crosswind. There are a couple of wider sections so you can pass trampers coming from the opposite direction but with heavy pack and tramping boots I'm very glad I didn't have to try them out!
Boardwalk over the Chocolate Swamp

Finally, a couple of bikes! The first is Mother Nature's version...

...and the second was a strange discovery we made about an hour's tramp from Freshwater Hut.

Not sure who added the recent hoodie jacket, the bike has been there
for quite a while!

Monday, October 22, 2012

A trip to Mason Bay - part 3

We had planned to have lunch on the beach but the fierce westerly gales and passing hail showers suggested that we find a more sheltered place. I love the wild nature of west coasts but was unprepared for the large quantities of rubbish that were all around. Apparently the currents move around Stewart Island in such a way that all floating debris, sooner or later, washes up on the west. There used to be an annual beach clean up but the cost of ferrying volunteers and fadges of rubbish got too expensive. We picked up some of the smaller stuff to bring out but it didn't make much of a difference.

Jen on a windswept Mason Bay (looking south)

Mason Bay looking north
Duck Creek - our turnoff up to the Mason Bay Hut
Before we continue up to the hut, I'll add a few photos of the plants/herbs we found growing in the sand dunes - let me know if you can identify them!

Native sedge, pīngao

Nothing but rock and a few grains of sand surround these tiny plants

A mini-mountain of ??

Close-up of last photo
Kiwi footprints and probe marks
We reckon this sand dune was going through a hair transplant (see below)

I wonder which is the windward side??
The DOC hut is about 1km walk from the beach, the first half through low-growing scrub and the last half through a wide grassy path as though you are wandering in someone's garden. Dracophyllum, manuka, harakeke and ferns line the path, cutting out the wind and making for a delightful walk.

Walk from beach to Mason Bay Hut
The Mason Bay DOC hut sleeps 20 (with 3 sleeping areas) and looks warm and comfortable. It costs $5 per person per night and isn't on a booking system. Last Christmas there were 37 staying there one night, what a squeeze! We recommend people to bring sleeping mats and/or tents to ensure a more comfortable stay.

Mason Bay Hut - kitchen/dining area

Mason Bay Hut - one of 3 sleeping areas

Mason Bay Hut - there are several wall panels with great info

Mason Bay Hut - view from the deck

A trip to Mason Bay - part 2

Jen and I had one full day at Mason Bay; nowhere near enough time to explore in-depth but long enough to know we need to return. The Homestead backs on to Big Sandhill, a 156m high sand dune with bush hugging its leeward flanks. The track through the bush gave precious shelter; once out in the open we were sandblasted with westerly gales making it difficult to stand up when we were on the windward side of the dunes. Sand swirled in tornado-like fashion along the flatter parts of the dunes and eyes were barely open as we struggled against the wind for the 2-3km stretch down to the sea. Magic!!

Looking north

Looking east

Looking west, beach just visible in background
There were magnificent sand sculptures...

...and loads and loads of kiwi probe marks (not that clear in my photos though). Some of the kiwi footprints showed the tenacity of my favourite bird - eg walking across 45° slopes with deep gouges as they dug their claws in to keep their balance. Despite searching the dunes and walking the tracks late at night/early morning, the kiwi stayed hidden from view; we heard heaps of calls though and came across fresh kiwi poo - will definitely have to go back.

The distance to the beach was deceptive, it took 75 mins from here to reach it

Hummocky dunes loosely bound by native sedge, pīngao
Marram-covered foredune - next on the weeds plan for eradication

A trip to Mason Bay - part 1

Mason Bay is on the west coast of Rakiura and consists of extensive and nationally-significant dune systems. Unfortunately marram grass was planted in the 1930s to stabilise the dynamic sand dunes which flowed on to the landholders' marginal farmland. Marram is very dense and crowds out other species including the endemic sedge Desmoschoenus spiralis (orange pīngao) which binds the sand in looser, flatter dunes that provide a unique habitat for other species. By the late 1990s marram had completely covered the foredunes, was steadily moving inland and threatening over 30 threatened and uncommon herbs/plants including the native Gunnera hamiltonii, Pimelea lyallii (sand daphne) and Coprosma acerosa (sand coprosma). In 2000, the Department of Conservation started a marram eradication program, the biggest dune protection project in the southern hemisphere - see here for more information.

Getting to Mason Bay is a breeze if you fly in and land on the beach at low tide; tramping is a tad harder but made easier by getting a water taxi from Oban (rhs red cross on above map) up to Freshwater Hut (middle cross) at high tide, then tramping 15km (3-4hrs) on a relatively flat track. A more strenuous option is to tramp from Oban with an easy tramp to North Arm Hut (4-5hrs), then a toughie over Thompson's Ridge to Freshwater Hut (6-7hrs), then on to Mason Bay (3-4hrs).

Jen and I took the water taxi option and stayed at the historic Island Hill Homestead (lhs cross) so didn't have to take pots/stove/gas which meant our packs were a bit lighter. Tramping is still not my 'thing' - I love being in the bush and taking photos along the way but am usually over the heavy pack novelty after 2-3 hours!! The Homestead is 2.5km from the beach - the Mason Bay DOC hut with 20 beds is halfway, sheltered nicely from the prevailing wind and with large windows overlooking a lawn area which kiwi apparently frequent.

Walking over the swing bridge to check out Freshwater Hut - our
water taxi is just departing

The low-lying track is muddy in places but compensated by the
striking greens and browns of the swamps

Scott Burn - the track (a bit more to the right) follows this fast-flowing
stream and is subject to flooding during wet weather

The historic Island Hill Homestead - our home for two nights
Mason Bay DOC hut

The Spring weather served up sunshine and hail, gales and fantastic cloud formations. Sitting on the deck we could watch the ever-changing clouds scud by, highlighting sand dunes and wetlands as the sun tried valiantly to shine through the gaps. The severity of the elements was apparent in the vegetation - this bush was about 30cm wide, less than a metre tall and shaved on both sides as the howling wind prevented any side growth. Tucked safely deep inside the divaricating branches were wee pink flowers.

Over 1600 sheep were farmed here - I know not how! A tough life for the farmer but I reckon an even tougher one for his wife! More in the next blog!

Time to sit back and enjoy...

Yay - the painting is finished, the Community Vision Workshop on Saturday moved us another step closer and I've survived a super-busy couple of months. It was lovely to have Jen visit again although next time she comes I'll make sure I have time to spend with her! My next priority is to get back to blogging on a regular basis - I've missed keeping you up-to-date on my wee corner of Aotearoa and thanks for your patience.

Sunshine is flooding into my whare at present bringing a warm hint of yellow to the walls. I'm surprised that the Double Rice Cake semi-gloss of the kitchen joinery looks white compared to the (single) Rice Cake low sheen walls. Jen helped me put up some artwork and I'll live with the 'look' for a while before deciding if I want more colour for the kitchen joinery.

It sounds like most of Aotearoa has had a wet and wintry Spring; the Oban weather website is having problems, first the usual URL went to a horse supplies website and now the address is right but the date is stuck on 5 October - not particularly helpful for checking temperature and rainfall. I was very lucky to get the exterior painting finished as I think it's been raining every day since! Nice to see the puddles and the very dry rainforest is soggy once more.

Jen and I went on a great trip to Mason Bay - check out the next blog...