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Chocolate Swamp

Chocolate Swamp
 
 

I was awoken by Furhana at about five o’clock. Initially I couldn't register where I was. Then I remembered, I was far from home in a remote part of Stewart Island beyond the end of the world. It was still totally dark and will be for at least another hour. Silently the five of us collected our bags and left the Mason Bay Hut, ensuring we didn’t wake anyone else.

Slowly we inched our way along the trail through the total darkness illuminated only by Furhana’s light. She didn’t want the rest of us using our torches. This made the going very tough. The night air was very still and rather cold. We did hear some kiwis calling occasionally, but there were none to be seen.

After half an hour we could hear some rustling up ahead. Furhana switched her light to red and beckoned us to follow her. Initially I couldn’t see anything, but then I saw some movement in amongst the undergrowth. I squinted hard, then I realised there were three kiwis foraging the undergrowth.

They were fairly small birds, exploring the undergrowth for grubs. We watched them for about twenty minutes before they disappeared into the forest.

Muddy trail approaching Chocolate Swamp
Muddy trail approaching Chocolate Swamp

By now it was just beginning to get light  We continued walking silently along the trail until eventually reaching the farming hut we had stopped at yesterday. We continued another twenty minutes along the trail before reaching a few more old farming huts. By now the sky was light, or as light as one would expect on a heavily overcast day.

At this point the terrain changed from being surrounded in sand hills to swampy grasslands with large tussock and flax plants. The land was a lot flatter with the sand hills disappearing behind us now. The big one we had climbed yesterday was directly behind us. Our direction had changed to a more northerly direction now.

Native sundews
Native sundews

In amongst the flat swamp land were several small domed granite hills. A small range of perhaps sandhills concealed the beach a good two or three kilometres away now.

Further along the trail there were some small native irises. They were in flower with small one to two centimetre wide white flowers just off the ground. There were also some sundews hidden in amongst the grass. These had small reddish leaves with drops of sticky secretion to attract and capture insects. The swampy soil here provides little nutrient for the plants, so they get most of their diet from the insects they trap. By now we had already crossed one big muddy patch with the entire track ankle deep in thick mud.

Kiwi feather
Kiwi feather

A little further along the track I found a small hairy kiwi feather. They still have feathers but they are more like hair now. The trail had entered some thin manuka scrub by now and a narrow boardwalk ran along the length of the track.

Soon the manuka scrub gave way to open swampland. Here the boardwalk was elevated. The grass changed to reeds growing out of black water beneath. The boardwalk passed through the sea of reeds. Only occasionally were there clear patches where I could see the black soil below.

Chocolate Swamp
Chocolate Swamp

This area was known locally as Chocolate Swamp. The boardwalk hasn’t always been here. Up till about ten years ago hikers had to wade through the mire of the swamp. It would have made for a very slow and mucky trip between Freshwater River and Mason Bay. With it raining most days of the year it would always be wet here and after heavy rain you would have to pretty well swim through it.

Today we were fortunate to have the boardwalk, and it was a good metre above the muck. For a full kilometre the boardwalk travelled straight across the swamp to the other side, where the reeds were replaced by grasses and flax bushes. At this point a tannin stained stream began running out of the swamp following the track towards Freshwater River.

The burn
The burn

The boardwalk ended at the start of a large manuka forest. We followed the reasonably dry track through the stands of kanuka leaning inwards on either side. The stream ran unnaturally straight alongside the track, indicating this had been artificially excavated.

Some of the trees hung low over the track, one of which had a boot tied to it. As we followed the track the stream became larger. Occasionally it had undercut the bank with the trees above it leaning over towards the water. In a few places huge cracks formed on the track where the bank was caving into the stream.

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Date:

 

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Latitude: Longitude: Altitude:

20 February 2009

 

Stewart Island

New Zealand

 

46°54'S
167°51'E
4 - 12m ASL

 

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