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Published: March 30th 2016
Having the most hours sleep in one night for months I'm feeling surprisingly groggy as I set off to the meet up place at Glacier Kayaking's office along the street from my hostel. When I arrive I'm given an iPad tablet and have to fill in a health and safety/information questionnaire before being introduced to bearded Canadian Colin, one of our guides for the morning, who drives us to the lake we'll be kayaking on, Mapourika. Lawrence our other guide is already there setting up the equipment.
We are an all female group, four kiwi friends, four Germans and me. As we are an odd number a volunteer is required to paddle solo, one of the German girls steps forward. And then the pairs have to decide who will be in charge of the foot pedal operated rudder system the kayaks have. I volunteer for this as I'm used to canoe steering from the back with a paddle so reckon this system will be a doddle in comparison. We then do 'skirts' and buoyancy aids. The skirts fix to lips around the seating 'holes' in the kayaks to make us water tight. Those of at the back of our kayaks are shown how to operate the foot pedal rudder system and have adjustments made to make sure they are set up right. We are all given safety instructions including how to remove the skirt while upside down in the water in the unlikely event of a capsize. This is the bit that worries me the most but I find Colin's reassurances that it's really hard to capsize these kayaks live up to scrutiny as we are pushed off and feel how stable they are on the water. Me and my kayak partner Marietta get into a rhythm and I practise with the rudder system. It's really good. We should have them fitted to all canoes in the Broads. It would save all that zig zagging into banks that you see lots of newbies doing.
The lake has a very mystical, ethereal feel this morning with a misty haze hugging the mountain views, the lake itself completely still and quiet. It's wonderful. We are aiming for the other side of the lake and it's just as well our guides don't explain quite how far it is before we start. It seems to never get any closer! We have the instructions - see that tree sticking up slightly more than the others? Aim for that! Yeah, real funny guys, the trees are all non-descript from this distance merging into a blur of green! The guides both have cameras so are taking shots for us to be collected after the event. I'm glad I don't have to risk getting my camera wet and for once leave photos to someone else. We are given facts about the lake. It's another glacial lake scoured out by glaciers moving through, leaving a chunk of ice behind making the depression and this filling with water as the glacier ice melts. Another kettle lake! There's no-one else on the lake so far this morning, but anyone can launch a boat here and there's no speed restrictions or tolls. They even do water skiing here. Glad they're not out this morning!
The only bird life we see are some black swans taking off using the lake as their runway. We make it across the lake and have a breather. Kiwi guide Lawrence explains we are now going into some smaller dykes (that's not what he called them, but Broads folk know what I mean) so the pedal controllers would have to concentrate and by the way, 'hope you're all good at doing the limbo!'
We find we are going to the area of ancient rain forest surrounding the lake where the kiwi conservation guys release the chicks they have previously plumped up on predator free island reserves. These are the rarest kiwis of all - the Rowis. Only about 500 survive, but this is way better than the handful of birds they found here not that long ago having previously thought they were extinct. It's just like canoeing up the section of motor boat free dykes you can go up if you hire canoes from Banks Boats; narrow, twisty, loads of edge vegetation to negotiate, but, best of all completely away from it all and peaceful. We reach the end point and find we've faired rather better than some of the other pairs who have all sorts of twigs and foliage caught in their kayaks. The water is almost black here and it seems so secret and special to be here knowing that just a few metres away could be a Rowi kiwi in the wild sleeping off a night's foraging in its burrow.
Sadly we do have to go back and manage to negotiate our way out of the narrow dykes after some fun and games trying to turn round in such a tight spot. We do some set up photos as we pass Lawrence on the way out, one girl accepting the challenge to chuck her paddle in the air. I didn't trust myself to catch mine, I'm such a clutz!
On the long paddle back across the lake I have a chat with Marietta and Colin. Marietta is one of, seemingly, thousands of Germans staying in New Zealand on a work visa. All the hostels are full if either Germans or Chinese. She is nannying in Timaru and really enjoying it. Colin's here for four months over the summer period leading the kayaking tours from Franz Josef. He's just completed a physics degree, but was a kayak instructor back home during the vacations. What a great skill to have, giving brilliant opportunities for working holiday experiences around the world. Sadly the kayak tour has to end and we head back to Franz Joseph.
What to do for the rest of the day? Well it has to be a visit to the Kiwi Centre to see some real live Row I kiwis. After a shower and change of clothes - it's got really hot again - I walk over to the kiwi place. There's some video information explaining the conservation programme. Seeing how massive the eggs are in comparison to the size of the poor female kiwi helps explain the reason the males are required to incubate the eggs. This is also the reason the males are radio tagged, to help locate the eggs out on the reserve we'd just kayaked out to in the morning. The Rowi Rangers (what a great job title) radio track the sitting males, find and take the egg, to make sure it's incubated properly (some males are pretty rubbish at it), and to avoid them being taken by stoats or possum. They make encouraging kiwi whistley noises when its time for the chicks to hatch. They hatch as really well formed birds thanks to the size of the eggs, the long incubation and the egg snack they are born with to keep them well fed for the first few days. the Rowi Rangers feed up the chicks with a protein rich diet before releasing them to the predator free island reserves. Once they are big enough they can be relocated to their final home at the lake side reserve. And so to the kiwi house. At the moment there are two chicks of six weeks and eight weeks old. It takes a while for my eyes to adjust to the dark, but luckily there a couple of other people in there already so I know where to go and look. The young kiwis are adorable. Their coat (although they are feathers it looks much more like fur), seems so strokeable, I just want to lean over the barrier and pick one up for a cuddle. And literally I could, they are that close. The side of the barrier is glass too so when they forage along the edge, prodding their long beaks into nooks and crannies looking for grubs and insects, I'm squatting down on the floor, with my nose shoved up against the glass they are just centimetres away from me. Wow! The couple leaves and just as they do I get to witness the chicks bumping into each other. They seem to sense or hear each other rather than seeing. They instantly fight each other, the dominant one pecking the other's behind and chasing it around the enclosure, still pecking when it gets a chance. It's so comical. All is accompanied by annoyed little grunting noises. Soooo cute.
There's some other stuff at the end section of the kiwi centre about glaciers, which I do the Miranda 'sweep-browse' method on as I really just came to see the kiwis.
Last activity of the day is another soak in a thermal pool a little further down the road. There are three pools of varying heat, the hottest and best being 40 degrees C. I have to keep getting out of it to cool off in one of the other pools though. I stay in long enough to get rally wrinkly fingers and then go back to the hostel to sort out my bags for another move tomorrow, this time to Greymouth.
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