Driving the route east of Lake Brunner, then back to the coast via State Highway 73 through Taramakau Valley [click here to view map], I was struck by the palpable human imprint even on the most (at first glance) wild and rugged looking landscapes. Through the Taramakau Valley, the hills and mountains on either side of the Taramakau River are so steep that landslips are frequent events, sometimes missing farmhouses perched precariously at the bottom of these slopes by a breathtakingly small margin. Flat land is so much at a premium that even the power poles carrying the region’s power supply to the coast have been positioned through the middle of the river – one of the only flat areas available.
However, what most struck me as we made our way through this landscape was that even the steepest and highest slopes of these hills were covered in thick, regenerating bush – meaning that at some point, even these inaccessible and dangerously unstable surfaces were cleared. Yet, only the most optimistic of individuals could have genuinely thought they could make a living from these inhospitable (from a human or domesticated animal’s perspective, at least) slopes.
This clearance may have been as a result of government schemes providing incentives for the clearance of bush (and penalising those who didn’t), such as under the Land Act 1877; or indeed, it may have been out of blinding (but probably fleeting) optimism. But today, it is obvious that nature has won the battle and is making steady progress towards reoccupying this realm, probably much to the relief of those hardy souls who make their home at the foot of these hills.
Photo top: The West Coast at its moody best. The layers of rain cloud create shards of light and render the hills in muted blues tones. This shot taken facing west on SH 73, near Turiwhate [click here to view location]. Above: Moana Station, on the northern tip of Lake Brunner [click here for map]. In the background can be seen regenerating kahikatea swamp forest which edges much of the lake. (Photos by C. Knight.)
See also: A West Coast odyssey