As we walked it became increasingly cloudy and the trail increasingly muddy. We had just spent the previous day in St. Arnaud trying (in vain) to wait out a spell of rain. It was nicer now but the conditions seemed to be deteriorating once again. The rain had obviously had an effect on the soft ground. In some areas it was clear that there was once a basic unconnected plank boardwalk but that it had sunk halfway into the pale clay-colored mud. Once you slipped into the mud you had the disconcerting effect that it was some sort of quicksand situation and you tried to get back out as quickly as possible. After the muddy areas there were some nice rocky stream crossings to navigate and a little while after that we reached the southern end of the lake. Here the land opened out into what seemed like a vast grassy river-plain. Here was the Lakehead Hut on the edge of the valley, sheltered at the edge of the woods with amazing views of jagged peaks in the not too far distance. There wasn’t much snow on the mountains, just small patches of gleaming white. At a nice camping area under some large beech trees we decided to settle. Very slowly, the light started to fade as it became evening. As we made dinner we noticed a New Zealand Robin clinging to a tree about a meter from us. It commenced to calmly snatch up the hundreds of sandflies that were swarming around us. While my sister was stirring the pot, the robin hopped up and peered in. However much our rice looked like little worms it didn’t take any interest in it as food. A little later one of our campground mates suddenly looked up and pointed into a tree in the middle of the campground. “Kea” he said. I was of course very excited and immediately began taking pictures. It was hard as the light was fading but I still pulled off some nice ones. It was interesting to see one so far from the alpine areas they are famous for inhabiting. After a couple hours sitting in the tree it flew off showing an obvious transmitter antennae protruding from between its back feathers.
After a while of sitting around the campfire and talking to some new-found friends and getting progressively colder we finally went to bed.
At about 2am I was slowly woken by a violent plastic rustling noise. At first I of course assumed it was my sister, as I hadn’t yet oriented myself. It was pitch black so I just sat there terrified for a while. By the time I finally realized the noise was coming from outside the tent it had moved away and gotten quieter. I grabbed my headlamp and opened the front fly to see a large furry animal bounding away from a green wrapper on the ground a few meters from the tent. I had a moment of confusion as I realized the green wrapper looked familiar. It looked just like our nut bars…
And then, in another moment of panic I looked back in the tent in the area where my head had been where the nut bars were in their plastic bag. I found the plastic bag neatly pulled through one of two new slits in the tent. I quickly pulled it back through and checked to see if one of the bars was actually missing. That confirmed it as there were only four left. I started with six and I had eaten one yesterday. Another quick look out the front of the tent revealed the identity of our tormentor: the Kea. Once again it bounded awkwardly away from the stolen nut bar. I decided to get out of the tent to try and warn the Kea away (don’t ever try this it is futile). After depositing the wrapper farther away from our tent in the fire pit we noticed a Brush-tailed Possum on the other side of the campground. It calmly stared at us, its eyes glowing orange in our headlamps. And then, back by our tent where the wrapper had been there was a rat. Probably nibbling at the remainder of chocolate crumbs it ran up a nearby tree when we approached. Great, two introduced pests and a rampant Kea, what fun. By this time everyone else in their tents were awake because the Kea had either tried to nibble on their legs or rip into food bags. After our food bags were deposited in the nearby hut for safety we slept a little better, but the Kea still could be heard slinking around nearby, its metal leg bands clinking loudly together.
The next day was horrendous and we hid in the hut to wait it out as it thunder-stormed and lightning flashed. A couple who had camped on the other side of the lake from us came in with similar stories of Kea slashing although they hadn’t had any food in their tent. I guess this just goes to show how much Keas love to have fun (or more accurately, what they do in their spare time when they’re not dismantling cars).
When the weather cleared in the afternoon we could see fresh snow up in the mountains. And, needless to say after getting word of an imminent ‘rain event’ and hearing that there was now snow on the saddle we would have to cross in a few days and that while we were not in St. Arnaud it had hailed there, we got the hell out of there and came down here to nice, sunny Kaikoura.