Saturday, January 9, 2010

Henley to Taieri Mouth

John Bull Gully picnic spot
Happy New Year !

31/12/2009 New Years eve day was fine and warm if a little windy in Dunedin and I managed to negotiate and mount a most-of-the-family (16 y/o and over excepted) expedition, to walk from the end of Taieri Ferry Road towards Taieri mouth. They started off a bit reluctantly on the justifiable basis of many times bitten (by my various previous family trip schemes and paternalistically induced suffering) many more times shy - however in the end were very good company and we had a good day of it. There is a "millennium track" along this route - one of a number of these around the countryside, and its a very well maintained and enjoyable track to walk. Its about 9kms right through to Taieri mouth and the Pacific Ocean and me being me was keen to go all the way - groans and growls all around at this suggestion initially but once we got half way, to a fantastic picnic spot down by the river / estuary at a place called John Bull gully, my offer to walk back and drive the car around the long way to pick up the rest of them at the other end if they wanted to continue was taken up, with even moderate enthusiasm - the charm of this track on a nice day had done its job and generated a second wind in what is lets face it mostly a fairly sedentary and un-intrepid family !

(Watch the stinging nettle just before John Bull Gully ! - its an interesting looking plant which seems to appeal to children who then touch it and get a very big fright)

I'd been out that way a few years before with a couple of people from work, and two of my at that time pretty small children, on a morning's canoeing outing (aka paternalistically induced suffering) - however on that day it was too windy so we gave up, after a bit of nautical nonsense involving me in my canoe towing the two small children in theirs and everybody being slightly out of control. There is a bit of a wind-tunnel / venturi effect through this gorge I suspect. New Years day 1/1/2010 looked promising for having another go at canoeing this place, after enjoying walking it the day before (i.e. - to quickly capitalise on my no doubt very short lived credibility from that successful expedition.....and probably knowing me, thereby overdo it !) - fine and warm and although gales were forecast inland, I couldn't see much going on out the window on New Years Day out our way in Dunedin on the east coast, and as they were westerlies I figured the sea-breeze that would be trying to blow up the gorge from the Pacific as the morning wore on and the land heated up, might cancel out the situational westerlies.

It turned out a great day - we managed to fluke canoeing down the river , which is estuarine at this point, on an outgoing tide , my 11 y/o daughter Rosie in one canoe and I in the other. Our canoes are pretty basic - I've got an ancient one-seater fibreglass river (i.e. round-bottom, no keel or rudder) canoe I've had for years , and the other one is a lurid pink two-seat plastic canoe suitable for kids - i.e. quite wide and stable. But its amazing what you can stow away in even a small canoe (keys, camera, cell-phone, goggle and flippers in case we wanted to snorkel, picnic lunch, water bottles.....and still plenty of room). And how much speed you can make with these streamlined vessels. At this time of the year birds have been breeding - we spotted some ducklings and at one point cruised close by some large black-back seagull chicks - the chicks seemed almost the size of adult oyster-catchers. Forgot to time it but it can't have been much more than 1.5 hours, including calling in and disembarking for a picnic at good old John Bull gully from the day before, where we saw a family offloading huge amounts of picnic equipment from an outboard boat up from Taieri mouth.

After completing the trip, disembarking and climbing a hill to get cell-phone coverage at Taieri mouth, we (politely) requested backup from home - Andrew (9 y/o) was fairly keen to canoe back up the river with me, so his Mum Adele very kindly drove down from Dunedin (about 30 minutes by car) to pick up Rosie and deliver Andrew and a cup of tea. All the while, the tide had turned so Andrew and I were able to canoe up on a (according to somebody I was talking to ) very strong incoming tide - maybe it was a spring tide, I forgot to check. So we had a fairly easy trip back up-river, with me towing Andrew some of the way. On the return journey I noticed now the black-back gull nesting sites, which seem usually to be in the bush a metre or two above the water - marked out by one of the parents standing there and then taking off and squawking and dive-bombing if you loiter. Rosie and I had not noticed these on the way down - maybe because the tide was out and the parents were down on the mud-flats feeding or leading mostly-sedentary families on New Years Day family trips.

Its a surprisingly beautiful little stretch this - once you get into the gorge a bit, either on the track or by canoe, you could for all the world be on some river in the middle of the Brazilian rain forest.....though just up over the next ridge, its all sheep and dairy farms, commercial exotic (pinus radiata) forests, and towns. Oh and the jet skis and outboard boats that scream up and down there on a nice day give the true location away a bit.

The inland (Henley) end is a popular fishing spot, you can apparently catch ocean-going trout. I have a New Years resolution, to go down there after work the odd day while the days are still long and try to catch a fish. Easier resolved than done but I'm hoping I can make it happen.