SEA Currents: Robert C. Seamans
Springtime in New Zealand
Leigh Marine Laboratory
We’ve been off the boat for a few days now, and our newfound freedom is getting less disorienting and more enjoyable. It’s been a good mix of working hard to finish up projects and taking time to explore the beautiful scenery of Leigh. Although my mind thinks it’s autumn, and I have an inexplicable craving for a Pumpkin Spice Latte, the itchiness of my nose, eyes, and throat confirm that it is in fact springtime here in the Southern Hemisphere. There are several ways to enjoy this season, and here I provide a brief travel guide in case you should ever find yourself at the Leigh Marine Lab without any automotive transport.
In the morning, you could walk up the hill behind campus, through the sheep and cow pastures. The sheep and their little lambs are very shy and you would be hard-pressed to get within 100 feet of them. The cows, or more correctly steers are less shy, but still skittish and not used to humans. You might try feeding them grass, but take care to walk away slowly if one of them stamps his feet at you. Also be careful not to step in cow poop or twist your ankle in the holes left by their hooves. From the top of the hill, you can get a great view of the coast and Goat Island. Climb over the stiles and meander down dirt roads until you find yourself on a trail again. The trail is lined with tree ferns, native flax, Norfolk pines, and lots of other plants that give the forest a primeval feel. You can stop for a picnic lunch on a grassy knoll by some mudflats, just watch out for the seagulls. If you make it all the way to the Leigh town center, you should reward yourself with some Tip Top ice cream from the general store. You will probably notice that there is not much to do in town, at which point you’ll likely head back the same way you came.
In the afternoon, I would suggest walking north from the marine lab, along the beach. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the tide tables or else you might get stuck. You can go barefoot on the sandy stretches, but most of the walk is pebbly or just straight-up boulder fields, so you should bring shoes along as well. The tidal pools are really something. Filled with all kinds of seaweeds, snails, urchins, and mussels, they serve as natural touch-tanks that can be explored with your hands as well as your bare feet. You may be tempted to climb up a waterfall, but you should not because the rocks are only weak slate and will invariably crumble when you try to come back down. Once the afternoon sun has gotten hot enough, you can go for a swim in the calm ocean. The water will be cold, but you’ll be colder once you get out. Swim the short distance across the channel to Goat Island and let the waves help you up onto the rocky shore. You can’t stay too long there or else the Oyster-catcher bird will chase you away from its nest, squawking, swooping, and trying to impale you with its long red beak.
Dusk is the perfect time to go up into the bush in search of kiwi birds. Bring a red flashlight, your sneakiest sneakers, and a lot of patience. The best place to find kiwi is in moist woods with lots of leaves on the ground that they can probe for insects. You might see their burrows or cone-shaped holes in the ground where they have dug for insects, but you are more likely to hear their calls. You do need a discerning ear, as morepork owls, tuis, pukekos, and other birds will be competing for your attention. If you don’t see a kiwi, don’t be too discouraged; they are very shy and most Kiwis have never even seen a kiwi. Just enjoy the stars and the night-time sounds and smells of the bush, and plan to go back out another night.