Posts Tagged ‘New Zealand’

Travellers’ Tales – beasts of the forest

March 2, 2011

Mount Tamborine – 7th February

We borrowed one of Ross’s cars and drove up to Mt Tamborine, turning off the highway where you start to see the suburb of Pacific Pines sprawling over the hills.  There are no longer any pine trees, and I doubt if there was ever a view of the Pacific.  There was a better road to take, an earlier turnoff that we missed, so we took the familiar exit near Helensvale.  The road potters past streams, fields and horses, then climbs winding through the high stands of eucalyptus and on into the rain forest.  For a long time I have imagined that I would like to live up on Mt Tamborine, where the beautiful rain forest is cool and dark and the community is open to creativity.  Perhaps I am over-influenced by reading Peter Carey – Bliss is very persuasive, set in the rainforest.  Anyway, all the world has now come to Tambo, and tourists by the busload sustain the craft shops and cafés of Gallery Walk. 

Witches’ Falls Park – Australia’s first National Park – starts at the top of the mountain in bushland, promising to let us descend into rainforest. 

Through the bush the farmland to the west of the mountain glowed calmly in the afternoon sunshine.


looking westwards


 Scrub turkeys were ubiquitous.


exit turkey, stage right


I like the way that my camera only caught the departing rear of this one, as it flounced away like an outraged dowager.

 The paths through the park tumble down the mountainside to the west, weaving past strangler vines and giant fig trees with their grotesque ribbed roots, as if the witches’ hair flowed through eternity, not petrified but turned to wood. 

There is a familiar look about these root structures – something almost alive, or even almost dead, like the bony hide of an animal that has died of thirst in the desert.  Later I saw the same shapes from the train in New Zealand, where the long mountain slopes divide and descend in folds to the plain.


Scambled boulders, carelessly flung down the hill somehow display an ancient memory of the power that shot them there.  It is as if they are still dynamic and capable of rolling at any moment.  But they are rooted firm: mossy and embedded in undergrowth.


Little lizards sit very still, camouflaged grey against the grey-brown mulch of the forest floor. There’s a ginger-brown flick from their underside as they slip away.


(This could be another of my trick pictures: can you find two lizards?)

At Witches’ Falls itself we are still only about halfway down the mountain.  It’s been a wet season (of course) and the little creek is running fast, pelting downhill over shiny-brown stones in the sunlight.  The lookout is closed for renovations, and indeed two men are working on it with shovels and a digger.  Turning back southwards from the falls the path moves levelly along the side of the mountain, and the atmosphere changes.  It is dark under the tall trees and the ground is deep-littered in brown palm branches and dead grasses – the remnants of earlier flooding.


In the gloom of the deep forest two ducks float incongruously on a stagnant marsh, and the trees rise, unearthly, above them. 


As we start the climb back, there is a rustling in the low bushes.  Suddenly I remember that snakes exist, and begin to walk more carefully, glad of my strong trainers and hearty socks.  My companion is only wearing sandals, but I am more concerned about this than he is.  And then, just a few paces further on, there appears a most wonderful beast of the mountain: a big goanna is sitting very still on a rock.  I see him so suddenly that I am surprised into a shriek.  He (why are they always ‘he’?) is clearly waiting for us to go away, and hoping that we don’t really notice him, just like the little brown lizards earlier.  This most beautiful creature has the longest tail – much more than his body length, tapering back over the rock.

goanna staying very still

 We move into a kind of very slow dance, in which we gently try to get closer and take good photos without scaring him into moving (while I am feeling irrationally very scared of him – but he can’t harm us).  And it works.  We are closer and closer.  He seems to be feeling more tense: I guess we are not doing what he hopes.  He starts to flick his tongue in and out – a long, pink tongue.  They can smell with their tongues, so perhaps he is smelling us, to work out what we are. 

flickering a pink tongue in and out

 Eventually we edge past him,  and he moves – at first slowly, then a quick slither and he is away, off into the bush.

Walking to Cathedral Cove: 22nd Feb

March 7, 2010

At Hahei Beach, on the Coromandel peninsula, there are two activities that visitors are expected to undertake: a trip to the Hot Water beach (I pass on that) and a walk over the northern headland and along the top of a beautiful ridge, to Cathedral Cove.  Both of these are best done at low tide. On the first day there – ariving late-ish in the afternoon – I swim at Hahei and walk along the beach. 

My shark-phobia means that I like to check on the situation before swimming in the open sea,  new Zealanders are unanimous that there are ‘no sharks’ off the Coromandel, but there is a suspicious difference in the reasons they offer.  For some it is an article of faith – no big predators in New Zealand, therefore no sharks.  Other narratives include:
1. They are out there but they just don’t come inshore.
2. They get hammered – which I take to mean that they get meshed, fished and driven away.  This seems likely.
3. The fish stocks are better in the deep ocean.  They don’t need to come in here, where the fish are fewer.

A leathery-skinned man fishing from the beach gives me answer number 1 to my shark question.  He it is who tells me about the dolphin who have been coming to play off the beach between four and six, for several evenings now.  (I do slightly wonder why the dolphin come into the bay, if not to eat.  Maybe it’s to socialise. And why do snorkellers see plenty of fish, and why was the guy fishing off the beach . . . ? However, this explanation does fit with point number one. Furthermore, on later days I see intrepid sea-swimmers moving gamely across the bay, with no apparent fear.  Confidence is contagious and I felt perfectly happy every time I swam in that sea.)

Later on that first day a German man of about my own age at Tatahi Backpackers advises me (firmly) how to go  to Cathedral Cove: namely ASAP and at low tide.  Snorkelling is better at low tide – and he narrates an encounter with a stingray which doesn’t exactly persuade me.  Though unconvinced by the idea of snorkelling, I nevertheless set off early-ish in the morning for Cathedral Cove – to catch the low tide – also,  as it turns out, avoiding the crowds. 

As well as the usual cicadas creaking and sawing, something is clicking – a rattling like rolling dice; like little twigs on fire; like a bike crunching on a gravel path as it approaches you quickly.  Like none of these.

A steep set of steps finally takes the path down into Mare’s Leg Cove, and from there Cathedral is the next beach. There are signs at Cathedral Cove, telling you not to go through the walkway underneath the stone arch for fear of falling rocks. The way has been fenced off.  The wire fence, though, has been breached, and a clear path of many footprints leads through to the beach beyond, where the swimming is wonderful, and there are very few people. Also, very little shade.

Blyton-esque notiuons of being trapped by the high tide cross my mind, so I soon go back into Mare’s leg Cove – equally charming – where a young man has whizzed in via an inflatable dinghy and has started to set up a kind of kiosk under an awning.  From this rather makeshift location he advertises soft drinks for sale and snorkelling gear for hire.  Inspired!   I discover later that this  

Only on the way back do I realise just how popular theses beaches are, as group after group pass me, climbing down as I climb up the long, wooded hills. 

The Puriri Grove is dark and cool, and a small group of people are taking one another’s photos there. They graciously take one of me:

There is always a bit of yourself that you forget to cream against the sun: today, for me, it’s my chest.   And it lets you know later, most spectacularly.  Where others are brown, I am red-and-white.  By afternoon, I am exhausted from the walk, the swim and the snorkelling. Spend the afternoon reading Audrey Niffenegger and putting anti-itch cream on my heat rash, back at the Backpackers. Bliss. Later in the afternoon I go looking for the dolphins – and there they are – rolling and leaping far out by one of the islands. Such joy!

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