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Mike Leahy's Diary

Day 14: Rest Day

Election day
glacier at nightToday is a rest or prep day. Can't remember which. Even so Mikey and I have a few tasks. We aren't sure exactly what the challenge will involve for the third programme of the series but know that it will be quite extreme. Therefore Steve (the producer) and Martin (one of the directors) are taking us out for a recce. Before we leave, Mikey and I wander down to Ricky's café, ‘The Cheeky Kia', where we have a couple of ‘special hot chocolates' (hot chocolates with added brandy - shhhhh). It's a good start to the morning. We then drive north in one of the four-wheel drive Mitsubishi L300s. It's still very frosty and the sky is a wonderful blue. We know that we are visiting a remote highland sight, so I take binoculars, GPS, camera and warm clothing. As we motor along the road we see ducks everywhere. They are as common as rooks or seagulls here and may well fill a similar ecological niche. The local bird life (feathered type Liz) is very interesting and I promise to buy a decent guide.

It's pretty cold half an hour after we have left. So cold that the steam still rises from two cowpats when the culprit has walked maybe fifty metres away. We come to some woodland and have to slow. In the shade the road is still frozen. The Mitsubishi rumbles on. I open the window. Why do the lakes look so much like mirrors here? This has to be the most beautiful place in the world. I'm still blown away by the views even though I've been here for two weeks. If there is one thing that I would like people to do if they read my diary it's visit this place, preferably out of season. Check out the people mentioned and have a great time.

Ecological problems exist even in this natural paradise. We messed up big time when we arrived here (we meaning Europeans), and the Maoris weren't totally innocent before then. Today it is particularly introduced species that are causing problems. My first degree was in environmental biology, and I understand that the struggle to get rid of these ‘noxious pests' is hard. Large areas are poisoned which some people think adds to the environmental problems in some ways, but what else can be done? No one knows. That's the problem with natural systems - they tend to be very complex, and manipulating them is pretty tricky. Unlike knee jerk campaigners I realise that it has to be done though.

We stop by the side of the road in a lay-by just North of Hari hari. Martin speaks on the radio. Within seconds a small helicopter appears above the trees on the horizon, and within minutes is landing on the side of the road. We climb into the tiny Hughes 500D, apparently the ‘Rolls Royce' of small helicopters, and take off towards Mt. Rangitoto. The others say that I should be excited. I check my pulse - 60 bpm. My resting pulse is 64 bpm. My pulse stays at 60 bpm until I see the ‘landing pad'. He's having a laugh………..If only he was! We land on a pile of logs in a clearing, which isn't much bigger than my Dad's greenhouse and a good deal less level. It's wild here. I fire up the GPS. We are 2,200 feet above sea level, but it feels higher because it's cold. The sun doesn't rise above the surrounding peaks in winter. It's also very damp. Above us is rain forest, and above that impenetrable ‘monkey scrub' which rarely extends above six feet in height (two metres approx).

mineshaftWe follow a very rough single track path to a creek. It's steep. There is evidence of landslips everywhere. This is genuine wilderness. Mikey and I love it. A little further along the path is a rather ramshackle hut. There is plenty of evidence that someone came here and stayed in the hut until recently, but it is hard to believe because the place is so remote. We follow the track until it ends abruptly after maybe fifty metres and climb up the side of the creek. Maybe a hundred metres above the landing site is a reef of quartz next to a cave which is full of lichen, moss and ferns. It looks man made. Lower down the creek there is another cave - definitely an old mineshaft. Mikey goes into both, but they look pretty dodgy so I just take photos. He comes out of them very wet. "It's damp and warm in there" he laughs.

Later we speak to Richard, a geologist with a metaphoric boulder of schist on his shoulder. It transpires that the caves are mine shafts that were probably dug in the 1870s when 30,000 men scoured the west coast of New Zealand for gold. The mineshafts were primitive, the mountain cold. A man could die up here and no one would know for weeks or months.

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Photo: Mike Leahy
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