Nelson Lakes National Park is centered around 2 glacial lakes, Rotoiti (“little lake”) and Rotoroa (“long lake”), nestled in mountains at the northern limit of the Southern Alps. We’re spending our time at Rotoiti because it has a town there, St Arnaud, population around 100. The only town that’s close to this park. I’m guessing it won’t be too crowded there. The trip
down is pretty, with mountains and meadows. A river along the route is a beautiful pale turquoise, apparently from glacier run-off. Most rivers here look like a fisherman’s paradise; too bad we don’t fish! I can see the pleasure in the skill needed to hook a fish (and then eating it), but I just can’t see me standing still that long in between events. I could be hiking, with changing views!
Lake Rotoiti is clearly glacial. In the picture below, one is looking down the glacial bore; the mountains have eroded into a slant, but the effect of the mountains popping up suddenly on two sides is impressive.
Our first walk is around a nearby peninsula that juts into the lake. It’s an attractive walk. The path, as shown, is bordered by a huge variety of mosses and lichens in a great
variety of colors. There are also quite a few predator boxes! As we mentioned in an earlier post (Oct 20, NZ Birds, Birds, Birds), early NZ had no mammals except bats, and therefore no predators of birds. Bird evolution filled this mammal void, resulting in ground-dwelling flightless types. The introduction of predators was devastating. NZ is engaged in a huge effort to protect and expand its surviving native birds, much of it with volunteer effort. In particular there is a strong ongoing program to eradicate introduced mammals like rats and stoats. We meet three fellows servicing these traps, and one stays to answer our questions. He says the aim is to effectively eliminate rats from NZ. I’m incredulous; I think rats and cockroaches will be the ultimate last survivors on this planet. No no, says our fellow. Over the last several years their group has killed 12,000 predators in the Nelson Lakes area alone (!), resulting in a substantial growth in the bird population. Technology will prevail, he says. Already the new traps are more sophisticated, with gas-cartridge-driven reciprocating bolts killing multiple predators per box, and technology will improve more in the future. Hmmm, says me. Maybe. Thinking about it later, maybe there is a chance; killing is something we humans are good at, after all. What is heartwarming is the magnitude and commitment of this government/private-citizen initiative, going strong with much enthusiasm and success. How long has it been since the US has asked its citizens to join in a cause, and gotten a huge response?
We continue our walk, and notice the beech tree trunks are black! Very black. I mean, they’re pretty, in fact striking, but what is this black stuff? Are the trees rotting?? It’s a fascinating story, really. If one looks closely at the black coating, there are also a whole lot of very fine, white, almost silvery hairs extending several inches from the black surface, many with a tiny drop of liquid at the end, as shown in the pictures below.
What is this, you say? Would you believe those filaments are insect anuses expelling a sweet liquor that feeds a black tree-covering fungus and also supports entire animal ecosystems? Butt manna? No? Would you believe the trees have a virus, those filaments are dripping beech proboscises, and the trees have the flora equivalent of the Black Plague, explaining the trunk color? Which crazy answer is correct? Neither you say? Actually the first. Mother Nature does have a giggle at times. Each whitish filament is the anus of a tiny scale insect that lives under the bark of the beech tree and sucks the sap; the insect extracts what it needs from the sap and then excretes a super-concentrated sugar solution through its incredibly long anus. The black fungus feeds on the sugar solution that dribbles down the tree, but it is not alone. Entire animal ecosystems depend on the sap: birds such as the Tui and the Bellbird, bats, lizards, and other insects. Non-native wasps (like the one in the picture) can completely coat the beech trunks, denying the birds, and so at certain times of the year the predator-trap people switch from killing rats to killing wasps. One bird, a type of parrot called the weka, absolutely depends on the sap to kick-start its reproductive cycle. All that from just a little scale insect shaking its booty and pooping a sugar solution! Y’know, it’s hard to make this stuff up.
This hike was the warm-up. Tomorrow we climb Mt. Roberts, the mountain to the right of the lake in the left
picture, and straight ahead in the right picture. It will be tough; it’s a 6 mile loop, but also a 2,000 foot ascent. We’ll go up the Pinchgut Track, which is labeled “steep”. The trail name itself is slightly foreboding. Ginger will see how far she gets.
The trail starts off in a beech forest. It’s pretty. Soon we start a gentle climb. The first overview, the picture to the left, below, shows the peninsula we walked yesterday, and behind it the bustling town of St Arnaud. It’s there, honest, right at the base of the peninsula. We’re choosing to climb Mt Roberts rather than the Saint Arnaud Range (the
range on the other side of the lake) for two reasons. The trail to Mt. Robert zig-zags in and out of the beech forest, so there are early views; for the Saint Arnaud range, you’re in the forest until you’re above the tree-line. Second, both yesterday and today there are clouds obscuring the top of the Saint Arnaud range (picture above right), whereas Mt. Robert is relatively clear. There is something dispiriting in climbing to a mountain top and not being able to see a hand in front of your face. As an aside, from the picture above right, do you notice the angle of the mountain we’re climbing? The climb quickly stopped being gentle.
The trail on the hillside is crushed gravel, as shown below. The footing is good, and that is needed! Not only is the trail steep, but the wind is gusting and can blow you a bit. Ginger
has been setting walking goals for herself – to the next switchback before stopping – but the switchbacks often stop where they have to, at nasty points with very steep drop-offs. Maybe you can tell from the picture, above right, that you’re not looking down a cliff face, but it’s sure darn close to vertical! You would not want the wind to blow you off trail! I suggest to Ginger that maybe she should set her goal to be the next switchback plus about 20 feet. She sees the point and quickly agrees.
The view is opening up and we can see the vista off to the side. It’s impressive! However,
also impressive are the ominous clouds heading somewhere in a big hurry. It’s also getting quite chilly, especially with the wind. We have jackets, of course; good thing. The trail periodically re-enters the forest, however briefly. The beeches are perhaps even more
picturesque; they have a coating now of lichen decorating the branches. The trees are also quite a lot shorter as we climb higher. Note in the picture on the right, above, that this trail is steep! The picture on the left, below, gives you a feeling for the exposure and the
steepness of this climb; and there is Ginger, still going up! And up. And up. Below is another view of the steepness of the climb. Note that I am looking almost straight down
on the just-walked trail below me! Oh yeah, this is steep. And there is Ginger, still truckin’. We do take time to notice the varied and colorful moss and lichen, and the
birdlife – like the very tiny tomtit. The trail does however continue to go up. And up.
We stop to smell the roses, figuratively. Surely we’ll find the top soon? The trees are getting shorter and shorter, the light brighter and brighter. We’re stopping a lot now; Ginger is struggling, her legs are shaky, and it’s cold and windy. I’m a bit concerned, but she is determined to get to the top, so off we go. The forest has changed; moss is everywhere, even climbing high up tree trunks. The lichen hangs everywhere, looking otherworldly. The trees get shorter and shorter, a good sign.
And then looking up it looks pretty open, and then we’re out! The views are quite spectacular. The clouds are whipping by just above our heads. Happily there is a hut nearby (how about that!), and we huddle inside out of the wind to have a late lunch.
Looking over at the Saint Arnaud range, I’m glad we did Mt. Robert. The top is indeed in the clouds. And the view of the range from here is pretty spectacular, don’t you agree? The wind is present here on Mt. Robert, but it looks like a gale over there with the boiling, roiling clouds.
Well, we’re near the top but the trail keeps going up – thankfully, not as steeply. The views are great in all directions, although the rounded nature of the top does block some of the view. Take a look!
We keep hiking until we get to the top and the trail starts down. I’ll share the views!
Now comes the hard decisions. It’s getting late, there’s a chance of rain and storm, Ginger is pretty tired, and her knees ad hips are bothering her. We’re at the top of the climb, but we’ve taken the steep-but-short route up and have only gone 2.5 miles of the 6 mile loop. It’s all downhill in both directions, but it’s shorter downhill the way we came up – and we know the route; there will be no surprises. Discretion wins, and we decide to bail and take the known and short route down. I’ll close with the triumphant Ginger, comin’ down.
We make it down just fine, no problems. In celebration of conquering this hard climb, I take Ginger out to dinner to St. Arnaud’s fanciest restaurant, where she has a steak, several glasses of good New Zealand wine, and finishes with a big smile. As they say here, “No problem, mate”!
Next: Back to Nelson – we’ve decided to rent a house there.