Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Wharariki Beach and Te Waikoropupu Springs

A bit farther down the road from Farewell Spit is a bit of scenic farmland known as Wharariki Beach and the Green Hill track.
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The most interesting view at this is some seals.  Specifically NZ fur seal pups.
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A shallow, sheltered pool is a favorite spot for females to give birth and fatten up their pups.
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Of course the pups spend lots of time practicing seal life skills like diving, backflips, catching prey etc.   The nearby rocks make for a great viewing spot, often less than 5 meters from the pool.
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On the other side of Takaka Hill lies Te Waikoropupu Springs.  With some of the clearest water in the country, these springs are the outflow of the sinkhole-and-cave-fed rivers on Takaka Hill.  After spending up to 10 years filtering through the limestone, the water pours out of the ground a crystal-clear blue. DSCN7991

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Our parking spot for the night was at Pupu Hydro Power Station.  Located in the mountains above Golden Bay, this private power station uses an old gold-mining water race to feed a 250kW turbine.  Originally rejected by the government as too expensive, the local government secured a loan to build the station in 1929.  This became the first electrical supply for the region. It operated for 51 years continuously at 0.8 gigawatt hours yearly before its first major failure due to previous lightning-strike damage.  Currently the station makes more than 150,000$NZD per year in electricity, with post-restoration capacity being double initial output.

The facility is an operating museum, and a walking track loops around the water race and penstock.   Check out the power room below.  The turbine in the cylinder closest, and the alternator is farthest.  Notice the enormous flywheel and mechanical/hydraulic governor.  Most of the equipment is original from 1929.
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The replacement pelton water wheel cups (machined from solid stainless).
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Here is the cableway used to move materials up to the water race.  Just below it, the penstock starts its 107-meter vertical drop to the turbine.
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It is a bit of a hike up the mountain to where the race begins.
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Here is the river that feeds the station.  Being whitewater rapids, the blue ducks were right at home.
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Here is the race entrance gate.  Under the blue drum (left) electronic controls regulate the water flow, and monitor for blockage.
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The walkway straddles the race as it winds precariously across the steep mountainside.
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This is the inlet filter/grate.  An automatic brush cleans debris from it regularly.
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The penstock and cableway from above.
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Past the penstock, the remains of the original raceway are still present. 
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Check out that old valve and pipe.  The pipe is spiral wound sheet secured with rivets, and wateproofed with tar paper!  Likely original.
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Still holds water in places…
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Monday, April 23, 2018

Takaka Hill, Harwoods Hole, and Farewell Spit


On our hiking list was the Tablelands Circuit in Kahurangi National Park.  The  access road is a narrow and very steep dirt and gravel climb to over 900 meters elevation.  Upon arriving at the car park (a Sunday morning), we found it completely full!  With only a few bunks in our ideal first hut, we decided to come back at a later date.  After visiting the track, we discovered that most of the cars were likely from hunters and mountain bikers who were doing day visits.

With our first option on hold, we decided to drive up the coast from Nelson, and across Takaka Hill.  The whole of Takaka Hill is an enormous outcropping of limestone which is riddled with sinkholes and streams, making an enormous cave and waterway network.
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They apparently have a feral hog problem.
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Our next stop was Harwoods Hole.  Starting out as a sinkhole, it eventually became a waterfall and underground river.  After the river found another route, the hundred-plus-meter-deep hole and canyon approach were left high and dry.

Evidence of the river that once raged through here abounded.
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Don’t want to trip!
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At one point a torrent of water fell, starting in the upper right, and slowly eroding down and back, eventually starting its fall from where we were standing.

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Cavers will repel down into the depths, before exiting several km away via Starlight Cave.

Check out the moss prints on the rock.
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Our next stop was the Farewell Spit.  A narrow strip of sand dunes jutting out into Cook Straight, this 27km-long sliver of land is a bird haven.  During nesting season, hundreds of thousands of seabirds nest on dunes, and probe the vast mudflats at low tide.

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Saturday, April 21, 2018

Kaikoura and Lake Daniells


With a goal of seeing some sperm whales, we headed to Kaikoura.  Only just reopened after the 2016 earthquake, the whale watching tours had been operating out of Christchurch.   The continental shelf is only a few miles offshore from Kaikoura, where the ocean floor plunges abruptly to over 3600ft of depth.  A combination of cool Antarctic and warm tropical currents make this a very fertile and productive ocean region.  This draws large amounts of wildlife, including dolphins, whales, seals, and seabirds. 

The sperm whales spend most of their time (around 75% of it) swimming and hunting in the total darkness of the deep ocean.  With a recorded dive time of over 2 hours, they will often only spend 15-30 minutes on the surface before diving again to hunt.  

Sadly, our first tour was not successful, all the whales were far off shore, and not within range of our 3-hour tour (the boats are fast).  In exchange, we got plenty of vomit.  The swell was up, and the crew had used all the available time looking for whales, so we had to take the shortest, fastest, and roughest route back.  I stopped counting after the 15th passenger filled a motion-sickness bag.  Mostly because I had to duck down and make a deposit of my own.  The vessel we were on was a shallow-draft catamaran with about 2,000hp.  It basically just surfed the swell, which didn’t help.  Here are a few photos of other marine life we got to see on the trip (not for long usually).

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Having missed the whales, we were entitled to a 80% refund or a rebooking.  We opted to rebook (with a 20% discount after the 80% refund) for the next day.  Sadly the next day was also a failure.  Thankfully, this time it was not as rough, and we took some travel sickness medication beforehand.  Much less vomit all around.

So we had the option of a 80% refund (off the 20% discounted second fare) or a rebook.  So we rebooked for two weeks out, and planned on changing it when we heard the whale and weather forecasts.

We headed south to Christchurch to get some supplies, and do some kayaking in the various bays on Banks Peninsula.

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We saw a Hector's Dolphin (the smallest species, endemic to NZ only).  Sadly no pictures.

From there we headed inland through Lewis Pass.  We stopped over at a DOC campground there. Before the day finished, we walked to Lake Daniells.  It was nice to have a track mostly to ourselves.  Only a few locals were present. 

The valley bottom follows the alpine fault line, a curious concrete wall had been built right across the center.
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Back before GPS, this wall was an experiment to see the the fault moved slowly, or in sudden jumps.  In the decades since, the fault has not moved at all!  About 10 years before this wall was built, the fault shifted a meter vertically, and several meters horizontally during an earthquake.  You can see the slight incline in this photo.
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During the 2014 earthquake, the fault line running along the Kaikoura coast shifted violently.  In less than a minute, the seabed rose between 2 and 4 meters.  The old shoreline is easily visible as we walked the coast.  The Kaikoura marina was left too shallow to use, and large rock outcrops  are now exposed to the air.   They don’t call NZ "the shaky isles" without due cause!

We continued onwards to Lake Daniells.  This feature, called the Sluice Box, is a 20ft wide, and 20ft deep channel flowing between two walls of harder rock.  With a smooth, flat bottom, only the ripples give away the rushing torrent (over 20mph).  Not a good place to swim!
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Like many predator-controlled areas in NZ, there are stoat/ferret/weasel traps scattered about the tracks.  Having been in place for several years, most are rarely called to action.  This one had just recently caught a stoat!  About the size of a ferret, and native to Europe, these skilled hunters take down rabbits often weighing over 10 times their body weight. For that reason they were introduced in NZ to control rabbits, which were introduced because settlers were stupid, I mean, homesick.   Of course, stoats much prefer the birds, eggs, and chicks of NZ's native birds.  Having evolved for millions of years with no mammalian predators, they were easy pickings!

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I wonder if there is a kiwi hiding in there?
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