I recently had the privilege of walking the Dusky Track, a hard 6 day tramp from Lake Hauroko through to Lake Manapouri. Others take a 2 day detour to Supper Cove in Dusky Sound as well but this was considered too much for trampers of my generation.
Three quarters of the hut book entries were from tourists – trampers from Germany, Czech republic, Slovenia, Latvia, Israel, China and others. What a bargain they have had. It costs $5 per night to stay in these huts. But where are the young kiwis? Are their PlayStations keeping them at home?
Fiordland is wet. The forest is wet with lots of moss, bogs, and mud. The main trees are beech with an understory which is heavily modified by deer browse. We heard deer “roaring” so there are plenty there. The ubiquitous Griselinea littoralis or broadleaf is like icecream to deer so there are no small ones and those which are there are “pruned” up by browsing animals. Where will the next generation come from? Deer do not like pepper tree/horopito so this is now the dominant shrub. They also do not like crown fern so this is now the dominant fern. The entire botanical ecosystem has been changed. To care for these forests properly DOC should be controlling deer numbers to low levels. There is no sign of this happening. At the entrance to Dusky Sound is a large island called Anchor Island. The Clarke government spent millions trying to make this island predator and deer free. I am told no money has been spent on deer control on Anchor Island for 3 years so the deer will be making a comeback.
Hauroko Burn is home to yellowhead/mohua which sadly we did not see. The Pleasant Range is home to rockwren/piwauwau near Lake Roe Hut. DOC staff regularly monitor these. The main predator of both of these species is the stoat. The battle for the birds program was not able to extend to these valleys.
We did see rifleman in one spot in the Spey River, kaka in the Seaforth valley and kea. Many of these species are in decline and I was left wondering what is being done to protect them? Often these populations are dominated by males as the females are predated on their nests. We also saw robin, tomtit, fantail, bellbird, and kereru. But generally bird life was sparse as is often the case in our forests. The most birdsong we heard all trip was at the West Arm wharf at Manapouri where flocks of bellbirds were eating coprosma berries very noisily. Presumably there is predator control around the wharf.
As we walked into West Arm over a new solid concrete new river ford, we gazed in disbelief at the steel remains of the old ford strewn down the river. Another letter to write.
The scars of the power station development are healing with beech returning to the cleared areas. The power lines are ever present but generally the development is low key to the naked eye. I related the Lake Manapouri battle to my 25 year old son as the greatest environmental battle New Zealand has seen. My ancestors were some of many opposed to the raising of the lake. I fumed at the arrogance of the Holyoake government as we pictured what a 20 meter lake rise would have done to this centrepiece of our natural environment.
The boat ride back to Manapouri township is shared with tourists returning from the Doubtful Sound experience. A keen birder from the UK said he had seen a total of six birds in the whole trip on the sound. Not six species, six birds.
Our forests need a lot more work to keep them healthy. To do this work requires money which DOC is not currently getting. You can help by writing to your MP urging them to spend more on keeping our forests healthy.