Thursday, February 25, 2010

Kiwi Quest 2010 - Hiking Day 5

Hooray, hooray, we're staying at Cannibal Bay...
Photos: 1) 3 sea lions on the beach at Cannibal Bay. The smaller, lighter-coloured ones are female. 2) View from the observation deck of the fossilised forest shore. 3) A lone Hoiho penguin coming ashore. 4) Our Hangi dinner of yum!

This Catlins Coast area of the South Island is beautiful! You should definitely come down here to see it for yourself. If you squint hard enough, you might even be able to see Antarctica!

Today was a pretty relaxed day which means we didn't have to shoulder our giant packs and trudge uphill for hours. Instead, we were released from the confines of the van by a nature preserve with instructions to enjoy a walk through it to the beach at Curio Bay. Ok, twist my arm. We walked along the gorgeous beach for a while until we met up with Sophie and the van again. Then it was off to see a fossilised forest nearby at a tidal platform. Check out this cool link for more info on how the forest got fossilised:
It was very cool to be down on the rocks at low tide and picking out long tree trunks preserved in the rocks. I even saw a big paua shell in one of the tidal pools. The channel off to the side was also neat because the waves would come crashing up to shore and be forced through the narrow channel, throwing up a swell of giant kelp and spray. We saw a Hoiho (yellow-eyed) penguin up the bank on the far side of the channel.

Next, we got dropped off again at what I like to call "Sea Lion Beach" although I'm sure it has another name. I call it that because as we walked along it (for a loooooong time because it was very big), we encounted at least 30 New Zealand sea lions and were allowed to get within 10m of them as long as we weren't bothering them or standing in their way. COOOOOOOOOOOL!!!! The first one we saw, a male, was GIGANTIC! The lighter coloured females tended to blend in with the sand and grass colours while the darker males tended to look like the giant piles of kelp. A lot of the lions were up at the top of the beach where the dunes with grasses came down to meet the sand so they were a little tricky to spot. Sean was posing with one big male in the background and had to move quickly when it started lumbering toward him. We thought it was pretty damn funny. One sea lion we came across was sleeping half on a pile of kelp with a flipper draped over it. Very cute.

We ended our long beach trek at Cannibal Bay, so named for human bones discovered there in the last century that were part of a Maori feast. It was time to pitch our tents next to an abandoned barn and get working on our Hangi project for dinner. Crap, here comes the rain! Quick, attempt to throw up a tarp in the blowing wind and rain with poles that won't stay in place and sticks that keep breaking. Next, huddle under the makeshift shelter and cover our table in lunch food for sandwiches. Keep a lid on things so they don't get wet. Squish the group under the sagging tarp to slap together some food before we tackle the rest of the work. Rain's letting up - time to dig for the Hangi.

Still wondering what a Hangi is? Check this out: Sean got elected to dig our hole since he's strong and durable. The rest of us helped with tents, lunch clean-up, food prep for dinner, and dragging rocks/sticks across the grass to the Hangi pit. Fire's going well, rocks are warming up. Pose for pictures with the basket of food, then watch solemly as Sean carefully buries it. Yep, we buried our dinner. Now let's go see some penguins!

Off we go to a nearby sheep farmer's property. This is one of the few locations in the South Island where Hoiho penguins come ashore. They are the rarest breed of penguins in the world too. The property has a little beach cove area as part of it, and the farmer built a viewing area up on the bluff at one side. You have to hike down through his land to get there and it's not open to the public. Secret South indeed! We took a little picnic and a lot of warm clothes with us since it was overcast and windy and we planned to be there for a few hours until dinner was ready. I ended up wearing thermal bottoms, pants over top, 3 layers of shirts including a wool sweater, a balaclava, winter hat, mittens, my fleece jacket and my rain jacket on top. I get cold. Sean couldn't stop laughing at me after he asked if I was on my way to the Antarctic. We assigned one person to keep a penguin vigil at the fence while the rest of the group huddled on the ground below wind level, eating cheese/crackers/pickles/meat and an awesome Cadbury cream egg as a treat. Mine lasted about 3 hours, much to the amusement of the rest of the group.

Eventually, the shout went out that a penguin was coming in. We all leapt to our feet and hurled ourselves over to the fence. Sure enough, way down below us, a little (from this height) Hoiho was just finishing his swim to the beach on the waves and started waddling up the beach to drier ground. Some grooming and preening, then he/she hopped, hopped, hopped up the grassy bank into the farmer's paddock where they stay. Sophie told us that in the spring, it's not uncommon to see penguin chicks and lambs mingling in the same paddock. Awesome! By the end of the next few hours, we'd seen another two penguins coming ashore and were getting hungry for dinner.

Unfortunately, I had a bad stomachache that night (probably from the everlasting cream egg) and didn't partake in the Hangi meal so much. Once we carefully dug it up, we unwrapped it to find some mouthwatering, steaming food ready for the taking. Lamb, vegetables like "pumpkin" (squash) and "kumara" (what we would call sweet potato), butter, yum! Kirsten did a bang-up job of marinating the lamb, according to the reports I got from the rest of the group who ate the meal. Hangi is definitely a "slow food" way of cooking, but appears to be worth the amount of effort required for it.

Quick clean-up of dinner, one last trip to the outhouse, then it was time to wedge ourselves 2 each into a 2-man tent that I'm still convinced was designed to fit 1.25 people. You get to know your tentmate pretty well very quickly....

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