The car is crammed with toys, camera lenses and camping equipment, and we are almost ready to go! I had finally submitted my report for the course in GIS so the family can go away for the weekend. The breaks from the studies are really needed, as I tend to sit at the University until late in the evening. We’ve been traveling around on the weekends with our baby Lima almost all over the South Island with many adventures.
This time, we are going for a shorter trip to Kaikoura to watch some seabirds and possibly whales. While I was putting on Lima’s seatbelt, Julia was running back and forth after spoons, chocolate and other important details we had forgotten to pack. Alright! I enter the driver’s seat and start the car……hmm…….I start the car……..come on…damn it!??The car didn’t start. And jumpstarting it didn’t work either! The car is now at the mechanics to get fixed. And this means that I finally have some time to write a blog post!
New Zealand has been great, and there is much to say and explain, both from the perspective as a dad and as a conservationist. How is it to travel around with Lima? Great! How is New Zealand’s nature? Great and Awful.
New Zealand has a macabre and bizarre mix of stunning and soul-dead nature, in combination with remoteness and overexploitation. I will attempt to explain more of this later (in another post) – but let’s begin with the start.
Getting around the globe is always a big effort – and with a baby even more so. Long flight hours means a risk of getting jetlag, over exhausted and sick for all of us, and logically it was the same for Lima, just 6 months old. We came to New Zealand with separate flights, me and Lima. I traveled a week ahead to prepare for my studies (and buy a car and fix accommodation) while Lima came with her mom and grandmother. It is a long and exhausting flight but everything went smooth. Lima was only jet-lagged for a couple of days. On the contrary, it was so great to finally be here! Instead of dressing up in three layers of pants as in Germany, Lima could sit barelegged in the warm grass in the garden and look at butterflies and grasshoppers. Starlings and blackbirds were all around and it seemed to me like I had a 40-hour flight to the neighbor.
For being the adventure of a lifetime for a lot of people – New Zealand is not that much different from Europe. People talk English, they eat similar things to what we eat at home and most people are of European origin. Not a big cultural shock directly – but it is a perfect adventure for splendid new parents like Julia and me. On top of that, most of the nature is familiar as well. They have several birds from Europe, rabbits, stoats and deer – all of them pests that are causing damages to the indigenous ecosystem.
Together with some friends, we found a house to live in, and after a couple of days I found a car too. It fits the whole family both for driving and sleeping. That way we can make the most of our time in New Zealand!
On our first weekend in New Zealand, we headed off to Victoria forest park, which is about five hours drive from where we live in Lincoln. I had read that there were Kaka’s in the forest there, which is one of the endemic parrots of New Zealand. It is classified as Endangered by the international red list, meaning that it is under direct threat of extinction within our lifetime. Parrots are highly intelligent birds, which makes them fun to watch and sadly also nice pets. I had only seen a wild parrot once in my life in the rainforest of Mauritius, so seeing a Kaka was something I really looked forward to!
We started driving rather late and drove until it got dark. To be honest, the first day wasn’t the best part of our New Zealand adventure. Lima was crying vigorously and we forgot most of the things we really needed (insect repellent, water, soap, etc). We stopped at a resting place by the road to eat and sleep for the night. I tried to fry some vegetables but the cooking spirit wasn’t burning. By this time, we had low blood sugar which made us grumpy. While preparing some sandwiches instead another car drove up on the on the gravel beside us, but then immediately left again. He drove over my kitchen – great. Now we had nothing to cook in for the rest of the time either! The sky had thousands of stars and there was a beautiful little lake where we had parked – but I was just grumpy.
Once we got some food and sleep – things got better. We continued towards victoria forest park the next day and had some coffee in a hotel located close to a river. There was a nice pathway on a dried riverbed, which we walked. The pathway was overgrown by thorny blackberry bushes with large blackberries. They were as juicy as the blood from all the thorns.
By evening time, we arrived to the rainforest. It is here the unique New Zealand is found. Every tree was covered from top to in moss and lichens, and large fern-trees covered view of the sky. But not long after we had arrived the sky opened upon us. We stopped the car again at a resting place by the road for the night. I cooked a tomato sauce with rice while Julia stayed in the car and prepared Lima for the night. With the cold rain pattering on the window, we ate the warm food and went to bed. Lima sleeping in the middle.
The morning dew was covering the grass and spider webs when we woke up. We were going to climb the Mt. Haast and it was the all-time first hike with Lima. While Lima was completely unaware of what was going on, it was very exciting for us as parents,We put Lima in the backpack specially designed to carry a baby and started hiking up the mountain.
Only within a couple of minutes, New Zealand robins came and started curiously to inspect us and then came also tomtits and riflemen. Since New Zealand has been isolated from the rest of the world historically – the birds here don’t have the same defense mechanisms as in other parts of the world. The little birds jumped after us almost for hours in the forest.
When we took a break, Lima was curiously looking at the birds that were standing only a meter away. I was photographing lichens in the forest when Julia shouted “Wilhelm!! Come!”. I ran up to where we were having our lunch and saw Lima half naked. She had taken a huge crap! Her poo was covering the body, and her pants. What was even worse was that had not even brought extra pants for her on the hike. At first, we were thinking we had no option but to go back – but we didn’t travel all this way to turn back because of forgotten pants! Instead, we used what we had for dressing Lima – her rainjacket. Her legs were a bit tight in the arms, but on the other hand, we didn’t expect it to be perfect.
To have the best chance of seeing a Kaka, I expected it would be better to cover a large area with a long hike instead of taking long rests. However, the extra minutes Limas toilet-habits had cost us, rewarded me with a real treat! While we were still dressing her, a loud wing flapping was heard above us. Two beautiful kakas were sitting in the canopy.
That was the peak of the week – we watched the kaka’s feeding and jumping in the tree tops for about 30 minutes before continuing. However, we did not reach the top of the mountain. The steep slopes, rain and tiredness hindered us, but we had still gotten our first awesome wilderness experience in New Zealand. On the way down the kakas came back and gave us another show. Most exhausted was Lima who was crying loudly in the forest. Her scream seemed to rather attract the wildlife than deter it. A weka (a type of rail, see picture) approached Lima until it was just a meter away. Lima threw herself towards the beautiful bird and scared it back into the bushes.
New Zealand has a lot to offer people traveling, but Victoria forest park was really something special. Looking back, I’ve been in old rainforests in many places in both Africa and Asia, but the forest in Victoria forest park struck me really as a unique forest.
The mechanics managed to fix the car, so we got to take off to Kaikoura after all! Hopefully, you will read about that another day! So long!