We Dis­cover a Hid­den Glow Worm Trea­sure


The South Is­land of New Zealand oc­cu­pies a pretty small piece of the uni­verse, and be­cause of our size and dis­tance from most other coun­tries in the world, Ki­wis are pro­lific trav­ellers. There are thou­sands of us scat­tered across the globe, en­joy­ing new cul­tures and ex­pe­ri­ences, pos­si­bly earn­ing some de­cent money, yet al­ways re­main­ing staunchly proud of our home patch, never shy of ed­u­cat­ing oth­ers on the won­ders of lit­tle old New Zealand, and in most cases in­tend­ing to re­turn even­tu­ally one day to set­tle into our idea of par­adise un­der the long white cloud.

So when you live on one of the world’s great­est small is­lands, as the South Is­land most cer­tainly is, where do you go for a wee trip away? When look­ing for some­thing dif­fer­ent, new and ex­cit­ing to ex­plore with just a week or two up your sleeve, what ex­otic and dis­tant des­ti­na­tions do you dream of? Well for this South Is­lan­der it’s pack the suit­cases, grab your pass­ports, make sure your will is in or­der and head for… the West Coast.

Ac­tu­ally we didn’t bother with the pass­ports and the suit­case is just a fish bin of clothes un­der the bed in the camper and I haven’t ever writ­ten a will so it’s all pretty easy. (ED. You must have a will!)

Here in New Zealand we are blessed with so many won­der­ful places close to wher­ever you live, that for the cost of a bit of fuel and food and what­ever en­ter­tain­ment you fancy along the way, a new and in­ter­est­ing trip on a small budget is al­ways a pos­si­bil­ity. Es­pe­cially if you have your own mo­bile ac­com­mo­da­tion.

Our camper is a re­cent ac­qui­si­tion, a 1987 Nis­san Civil­ian with a 3.2 diesel and one of those ex­cel­lent ‘Su­per Shift’ gear­boxes that ef­fec­tively gives you ten gears to choose from, one for any pos­si­ble sit­u­a­tion or gra­di­ent.

It’s au­tumn school hol­i­day time and it’s also the first big trip away in the new wagon, so join us for a jour­ney west, then south as we look for ad­ven­tures new in some favourite old spots. OUR JOUR­NEY BE­GINS HEAD­ING south from Motueka to­wards West­port, stop­ping to in­spect the his­toric ghost towns of Kawatiri, near Murchi­son and Lyell in the Up­per Buller Gorge.

I have al­ways thought that New Zealand has a very long and in­ter­est­ing his­tory, as long as any other coun­try in the world, it’s just that hu­mans weren’t around for most of it to mess it all up and ruin the place, though we cer­tainly had a swift and dam­ag­ing im­pact when we did fi­nally turn up.

If you think that his­tory is only in­ter­est­ing in hu­man terms, take a mo­ment to imag­ine what this coun­try or any coun­try in fact would have been like be­fore people ar­rived.

In New Zealand the birdlife would have been in­cred­i­ble in both va­ri­ety and quan­tity, the size and age of the forests would have been stag­ger­ing, the wa­ter qual­ity pris­tine and if you’re look­ing for drama and ex­cite­ment, con­sider the daily bat­tle for life and sus­te­nance be­tween, for ex­am­ple the now ex­tinct Moa and the mighty and awe in­spir­ing Haast’s Ea­gle which preyed on them in the an­cient, primeval forests which once cloaked most of our coun­try.

One thing that some­times dis­ap­points me is the lack of vis­i­ble ev­i­dence of man’s habi­ta­tion of places such as Kawatiri and Lyell.

All over Europe and the United King­dom there are ru­ins and sur­viv­ing ex­am­ples of cas­tles and vil­lages many cen­turies old but I sup­pose here in New Zealand, the na­ture of tran­sient pop­u­la­tions chas­ing gold and the pre­dom­i­nantly wooden struc­tures that they thrived or suf­fered in meant that build­ings were ei­ther de­con­structed and trans­ported to the next ‘lucky’ spot or left to slowly re­turn to the for­est from whence they came, which, com­ing back to my orig­i­nal dis­ap­point­ment, when I think about it, is not en­tirely a bad thing.

It’s ac­tu­ally quite sat­is­fy­ing to know that left alone, na­ture will, in its slow yet mag­i­cal way, qui­etly undo, re­claim and con­ceal the var­i­ous en­deav­ours of mankind.

What I do like are the ex­cel­lent in­for­ma­tion boards found at most spots of in­ter­est or his­tory around New Zealand and I just love the old pho­to­graphs with the “you are here” marker, en­abling you to place yourself within the pho­to­graph, next to the ‘ho­tel and board­ing house’ per­haps or ‘the black­smiths shop’. It’s as close as you can get to be­ing there; or should I say be­ing then…

There’s quite a story at Kawatiri, about how the train track was meant to go fur­ther but didn’t and there was a fa­mous scene in 1955 where the lo­cal wom­en­folk staged a dra­matic protest at the nearby Kiwi rail­way sta­tion by sit­ting on the tracks to pre­vent the train from em­bark­ing on its fi­nal jour­ney. The story is re­counted both in Sonja Davies’ au­to­bi­og­ra­phy Bread and Roses and in the film of the same name with the Glen­hope sta­tion (which still stands in its orig­i­nal lo­ca­tion just down the road) stand­ing in for the Kiwi sta­tion, which these days ex­ists as a mu­seum on the main street of Ta­paw­era.

The sur­viv­ing rail tun­nel at Kawatiri makes for a short and in­ter­est­ing stroll and the leafy pic­nic area is a great place to feed the sand­flies. LYELL IS AN­OTHER NEW Zealand min­ing ghost town and lovely re­mote DOC camp­ing ground and these days is the start (or fin­ish) of the Old Ghost Road walk­ing and cy­cle trail which I have men­tioned in a pre­vi­ous ar­ti­cle, so Lyell is go­ing to be­come a busy place once again, but for an en­tirely dif­fer­ent and more mod­ern rea­son.

In­ci­den­tally, if you are the sort of per­son who likes spooky old grave­yards, then Lyell is the place for you. Tucked away a short dis­tance into the for­est is a gen­uine hor­ror movie ceme­tery with just a few graves jammed into the hill­side with suit­ably eerie wrought iron sur­rounds and chill­ing epi­taphs: Mary Edge: “Af­flic­tions sore long time she bore, physi­cians were in vain, till God above in his great love re­lieved her from her pain” or Ellen Wil­liams: “Yet for mother still we call. When we lost her, we lost all.”

It’s ac­tu­ally quite sat­is­fy­ing to know that left alone, na­ture will, in its slow yet mag­i­cal way, qui­etly undo, re­claim and con­ceal the var­i­ous en­deav­ours of mankind.

Not far down the road is an­other Lyell ceme­tery and I have heard old sto­ries of horses be­com­ing ag­i­tated and re­fus­ing to walk past this spot in years past. Might be worth spend­ing a night here dur­ing a full moon.

Af­ter a night spent in the sis­ter in law’s drive­way in West­port we cruise up to Den­nis­ton for a look at the old min­ing com­mu­nity, much of which is still vis­i­ble or eas­ily imag­ined thanks to the ex­cel­lent in­for­ma­tion boards and com­pre­hen­sive pho­to­graphs on dis­play, and also the world class coal min­ing tours I have men­tioned in a pre­vi­ous ar­ti­cle.

We have a wan­der around the vast and mys­te­ri­ous Den­nis­ton plateau while we are here too, which I al­ways en­joy. There are few land­scapes like this in New Zealand and I have never been any­where that has quite the same feel or am­bi­ence.

NOT FAR NORTH IS Gran­ity, where my wife spent a few of her younger years, so we pop up into the salty haze for a bit of lunch on the beach.

It’s a bit of an odd spot Gran­ity. You have the thun­der­ous and dom­i­nant ocean, vig­or­ously erod­ing prop­er­ties and any­thing made of metal with cease­less ef­fi­ciency, while vivid and beau­ti­ful na­tive for­est tum­bles down huge steep hill­sides just me­tres from the beach.

Wedged be­tween these two dra­matic forces of na­ture is a rib­bon of tar seal and hous­ing. It wasn’t that many years ago that you could buy a pretty rea­son­able house around here for $30,000 or so, but like every­where else, prices have risen. Most of the houses are very “west coast”, which is both crit­i­cism and com­pli­ment, depend­ing on the house, and on a good day, this does look a pretty at­trac­tive spot; just don’t ex­pect to find any work.

While Kim wan­ders off to have a peek at her old house the lit­tle one and I sit in the sun on the beach and en­joy lunch on yet an­other bril­liant West Coast day.

I end up yarn­ing to a chap named John, sun­ning him­self on a bench close by. John has lived in Gran­ity for about 18 years af­ter hav­ing worked for 20-odd years for the old Na­tional Air­ways Cor­po­ra­tion, while it ex­isted. He likes life on the coast for all the usual rea­sons but con­fides in me that the worst thing about life here is try­ing to get any­thing done. It took nine months to get some­one round to in­stall his new fire­place he reck­ons. I give him a copy of NZTODAY to take home and he tells me he re­mem­bers Al­lan, our founder, from his Ra­dio Pa­cific days.

“I once rang John Banks on Pa­cific”, John tells me “and told him that since I had started lis­ten­ing to him I didn’t need to take sup­pos­i­to­ries any­more.” I won­der if he was the only one.

Kim re­turns with some pho­tos of draw­ings she did on the garage wall of her old house more than 20 years ago, af­ter the new own­ers were kind enough to show her around, and we pile back into the bus and head south for Charleston.

Sun­set at Knights Point, South West­land.


Kawatiri Junc­tion,as far as the rail­road from Nel­son ever got.

A spooky ceme­tery if ever there was one.

Lonely ru­ins on the Den­nis­ton Plateau.

Sea­cliffs at Charleston’s Con­stant Bay. Spot the rock climbers.

John from Gran­ity. Now sup­pos­i­tory free, thanks to John Banks.

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