The Silver Fern

The beautification of Kaikoura, which involves cutting down non-native trees to replace them eventually with native bush, looks ugly indeed, at least in this first phase. The view of a clear cut area is always disheartening (unless you’re an evil person). But the program itself, if well conducted, could lead to great results. New walking tracks, a new wetland, the native bush of course. Sounds lovely. I particulary like the Trees for Travellers initiative. I normally try to offset my carbon footprint by devoting frequent flier miles to similar projects. In this case you can also get the gps location of your tree, so that you can visit it in the future.

The whole project of restoring native bush and wildlife in NZ is very interesting. So far it has lead to beautiful results in some areas, for example the fenced Karori reserve in Wellington where kiwis are now able to live wild (or the best available approximation of wild) in the mainland, some stretches of the Queen Charlotte Track, many small islands in the north. Walking in a native bush, or kayaking along one, is a magnificent experience. Having visited Hawaii, I marvelled at the similarity of some Pacific species, especially ferns. But there’s always the lingering awareness that that the newly restored bush, nearly always second growth and regenerating, requires a lot of unpleasant work. Cutting down mature non-native trees is one of them. Another is poisoning them selectively, leaving a landscape where here and there tall trees are dead and grey among the lush surroundings, and than there’s the poison. There’s poison everywhere. You walk happily your track in this magnificent, seemingly pristine area, and every 10 meters there’s a sing reminding you to remain on the track because poison traps where positioned the previous week to kill “pests” (mice, possums etc). Other sings inform you about the date rabbit burrows were fumigated. All and all, a landscape of death. At least your boots are always clean. In order to prevent the diffusion of dangerous algeae and assorted diseases from one area to the other you are constantly approached and asked to spray your hiking boots with a special product (which I learnt to be biodegradable dish soap basically), not to mention that you’re seriously asked to check your backpack for rodents upon entering nature reserves, and to pack any food in hard plastic containers (which are rodent safe).

Anyway, once you’ve followed all the rules, you do get your reward. At night, the native bush is a marvel of bioluminescent insects, the glowworms, tiny blue lights everywhere, far better than Avatar. You have the Austral nightsky and the nearly extincted calls of wetas, very tiny frogs, strange birds, and you may even spot a kiwi, which is incredibly cute. In Karori at night even the cold Wellington wind becomes more gentle.

There are also places where the mix of native species and non-native species has lead to special environments, for example the Redwood forest in Rotorua. The Californian redwoods were planted one century ago and have thrived in the hot-cold weather of Rotorua, while pongas were able to grow underneath, creating the strangest wood where my memories of Hawaii and Pacific Canada meet.

New Zealand has fabulous landscapes, second growth and poisoned and anthropized but still very beautiful, imagine what they looked like as primary environments. It’s easy, walk to a look out area and imagine the mature kauri trees, the moas, the huge ferns. It’s all lost now, and we’re busy protecting and reverently visiting what little remains. One mature kauri here, a kiwi living in a fenced reserve there. Still, it’s beautiful.

Even the countryside is. Sheep and cows are not native obviously and are raised for commercial purposes, but at least they roam free, and the landscape is one of contented, grazing animals. Well, crops are nearly all transgenic. Driving two hours across Waikato, for example, you can spot hundreds of Pioneer signs. Hobbiton is surrounded by transgenic potato fields (Sam’s taters, apparently).

And you may think that with all those sheep, finding great merino clothing to be an easy task. Not at all. You go into a shop, check out the merino shirts, they’re all made in China. Sometimes they’re designed in NZ, often they’re not, anyway, they’re made in China. But anyway, if you look closely enough, you can find yourself a few lovely woolen items made in NZ, especially if you follow the advice of like-minded locals. For example in Wellington I bought merino mitts by Jill Main, made in NZ. I found the ones with the rata design at Ora. At the Hobbit Artisan Market, one of the initiatives in Wellington during the premiere week, you could buy Marlborough scarves, made from local wool by a family-run enterprise, the one Peter Jackson selected as a supplier for his movies. Also Global Culture features a special “made in NZ” line.

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