Five Days Over in Blenheim and Picton

Grovetown Lagoon

I had heard about this lagoon several years ago when they were starting to set up pest traps. I guess they got in touch for some advice in building the trap tunnels. It is near Grovetown, not very far from Blenheim and is an oxbow lake formed about 155 years ago when the Wairau River changed course.  I had wondered how they got along with the trapping, with clearing weeds and constructing the track around the lagoon.  Well, we walked the circular track around the lagoon but as it was very windy we didn’t see much bird life although they say there are 30 species that live and breed here. A lot of native planting has been done with much more to do but well on the way. 

Wairau Lagoons Revisited

We visited this area again on another windy day but a good walk all the same. We did the circular walk reaching the wreck of the Waverley and stopped for morning tea on the banks of the Wairau River. Again, not much wildlife but we did watch some royal spoonbills feeding in the shallows of the river. They walked their way upstream, with their bills in a shovelling motion seeking food. The birds were in breeding plumage and the wind, being so strong, the feathers on the back of their necks streamed out horizontal. It wasn’t a time to linger so we headed back via the loop track over the wide open spaces of saltmarsh. 

The Blenheim Farmers Market & Omaka Museum

The next day it rained on and off. So we went to the Farmers Market. Lots of local garden produce with probably a lot more on a fine day. We then headed out to the Aviation Heritage Centre, more commonly known as just Omaka. One part of the museum was a World War 2 exhibition. It had a number of war planes from a Hawker Hurricane, Mk. 14 Spitfire, Messerschmitt BF 108, Focke Wulf FW-190A, Junkers JU-87 Stuka, Yakovlev Yak-3, and a Lockheed Hudson.

The crashed Hudson in the jungle.

All restored but the Hudson had crashed in the jungle and as one stood and looked past the aircraft and around the jungle undergrowth, I spotted a spider, then another. Large ones! The more one looked other animals like snakes and such ‘appeared’. There were lots of memorabilia and an ‘Eastern Front  Experience’. I watched this twice as there seemed to be so much going on in the large screen. It showed an aerial attack on Stalingrad along with all the noise of sirens, anti aircraft fire, bombs landing and all that. Another section was a display of World War 1 aircraft and the like. About an equal number of aircraft to the other exhibition, which included a Curtiss Flying Boat, Fokker Triplanes and the death of the Red Baron. This real life display had troops seeking souvenirs from his crashed aircraft.  A number of other scenes or enactments, no doubt with the help of Sir Peter Jackson’s Weta Workshop teams, which looked pretty much like the real thing. We had lunch there in the cafeteria and in tune with the museum, with the coffee came small aircraft  lollies. 

At Picton

Another day was spent around Picton, visiting the two water storage dams,  in the Esson Valley, the Barnes Dam and the Humphries dam. I’m sure the Barnes Dam is leaning out. I was saddened to see a sign at the start of the track to the Barnes Dam saying it was not recommended for younger or older walkers.  It was only for fit and competent walkers who should proceed with care it said. Just what is the place coming to with signs like this? To me, it was just another walking track and I’m 82 years old!! Or young? Sometimes it doesn’t feel like it but with signs like this, what will they put up if it is truly dangerous? And more importantly, who will believe what they say? 

The Barnes Dam.

We then drove up onto The Snout, a peninsular that overlooks the Picton Harbour, and continued along to  Karaka Point. This is a short walking track passing old Maori food pits and such to the end looking out onto the sounds. A chap and his two children and fishing rods passed us on the way. We reached the end of the track to see the chap and young boy casting out into the sea and then the chap hooked a fish. He played it while the boy placed his rod down and then took over his father’s rod, playing the fish.  At one stage dad asked if he was tired, but no the boy didn’t want to hand the rod back even though he was struggling winding in as the fish took off to deeper water several times. He finally drew the fish towards the rocks where dad netted it for him.  It was good to watch the action. “Do you want to keep it” the father’s voice floated passed me. Yes, said the boy. 

Father helps son land a fish.

On the way back to Blenheim we passed an old monument which acknowledged an incident of 1843. It was over an argument of land between settlers and Maori resulting in  about 3 to 4 Maoris and 22 settlers murdered. It used to be called the Wairau Massacre  but in this ‘funny’ time, it is now called an affray!  It’s a bit more than an affray I’d say as although 18 settlers surrendered, they were all killed. 

The Wairau Bar

On the way home we called into Rarangi Beach and Monkey Bay and then went out to the Wairau Bar. This was the Northern end of the Wairau Lagoon and the Wairau River. Not much to see really but we noticed the remains of an old wharf and the wreck of the TSS Kennedy of 174 tons and 136 feet long. 

The Kennedy arrived in Nelson in 1865 and has an interesting history of carrying goldminers, cattle and other cargo mostly it seems from Wellington and Nelson to Taranaki, Hokitika, and other West Coast ports. She carried 31 saloon passengers and sixteen in steerage. In the gold rush days she was packed with gold seekers for the 36 hour trip to Greymouth with some of those who missed out on a fare, trying to jump from the wharf in Nelson and scramble up the sides of the ship to get on board.  Such was the effect of gold fever disease.   

Her propulsion was a single boiler which provided steam for two engines driving twin screws but retained the use of her sails which were used in good conditions, to give more speed than with just the single boiler. 
During 1929 she was towed to the Wairau River mouth to form a breakwater along with the TSS Waverley.  A flood washed the Waverley away to where she now lies in the Wairau Lagoon. Not much of the Kennedy protrudes above the shingle and sand near the remains of the old wharf today.  On a sand bank on the other side of the river, a large group of shags rested and further along a few spoonbills waded in the shallows looking for food.

Rainfall for December 2019 was 182.5mm.  December 2018 was only 85mm For the year 2019 rainfall was 1184mm but it was 1410.5mm for all of 2018. Our average for a year is 1359mm 

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