Molesworth Visit

“Do you want to come and help with being a patrol ranger at Molesworth Station” Karla asked. Well now, that sounded interesting. Except for the dusty road to get there. The only answer once I’d self consciously  dusted my sleeve in preparation, was of course, – ‘when?’  We had to check in and be brainwashed at the department offices in Renwick first so we stayed the night before in a tavern at Renwick. After all this, the next day, we left Renwick, passed through Blenheim and met up at the Hodder River bridge for lunch. We finally arrived at the Molesworth Ranger Station around 2 pm. 

Oystercatcher nest

Molesworth Station is the largest farm in New Zealand comprising of 180,787 hectares in South Marlborough and winters about 10,000 beef cattle. It ranges from 549 metres to over 2100 metres above sea level with the homestead about 900 metres the same as our home for the next week. It is owned by the government, administered by the Department of Conservation with Landcorp running the farming side. Lots of recreational activities are permitted but there are restrictions  depending on farming operations and the weather. A metal or shingle surfaced road from the homestead to Hanmer Springs and further south, with the homestead about 100 km from Blenheim. The Ranger Station is nearby the homestead and the old historic Cob Cottage (the original homestead). The road is only open during the summer season and from one end to the other is about 60 km taking about 2 hours to drive through from one campground to the other. All vehicles must be out by 7 pm each day. The gates are opened at 7am and close at 7pm. At each end is a camp ground and we were to look after the northern end campground. 

Remains of an old fence line.

It is wilderness country; no telephone coverage, no shops or petrol stations, only a long dusty road.  Great country though and big country with wide valleys and rivers that control everyone’s travel. So we settled into our new accommodation for the next week. It was just one main room of dining room, kitchen and bedrooms (bunks) plus a separate shower. We had to use the public or camping ground toilet but it wasn’t too far away.  Our job was to monitor anyone camping nearby (translation – make sure they paid the camp ground fees), keep a tabs on people travelling the road, clean the toilets, and  do a daily patrol of the road.  All voluntary. We did have it pretty easy as the approaches to the bridge over the Clarence River was washed out meaning that very few people were about. And that suited us fine! 
Saxton River & Hut
After the campground chores on the third day we went on a road patrol stopping for a walk up the Saxton River to the Saxton Hut for lunch. It took about an hour and a half’s walk following the river and crossing it now and then. There was no real track as such but easy to find the way as the valley was tussock, stream bed but many rose-hip plants in the good growing spots.  They were easy to avoid but they look to be a real problem weed pest. 

Saxton Hut.

As we drove along the road to the Saxton River to park the ute, we were startled to see a chamois running up a bank ahead of us. A little further along and it seemed as if a number of starlings had dug holes in a road bank and were nesting there.

 Going up the Saxton we saw black-fronted terns, harrier, paradise ducks, a grey warbler in the rose-hip bushes, two hares and some rabbits. As the day warmed we spotted a number of skinks out sunning  themselves. At one bend in the river there were a number of shags nesting higher up on some rocky faces. 

Native buttercup in flower.

Mt Chisholm

The next day we decided to have a wander up the slopes of Mt Chisholm which they say is 1518 metres above sea level. This bit of a hill rises up from Ward Pass and runs high up around the back of the Molesworth Station Homestead. We took about 11/2   to 2 hours to reach the summit disturbing some hares and rabbits but also passing some native buttercup in flower and Carmchaelia monroi, a low growing native broom which had been grazed by hares I guess. This was all stock grazing country, even this high up and on a lower ridge we came across the remains of stockyards and old fences. Rusty fence wire  lay about and I picked up a short piece of wire, thinking of the untidy fencing people, bent it in half and dropped it over the top wire of the fence. I’m not sure, but I think I got more of a shock on finding out that it was a live electric fence than the actual shock itself! Seeing that I had worked at Gallagher Electronic’s, admittedly it was only building some of their factories, I should have known better. The insulators were a treated hardwood batten fixed to another post. The batten had holes which the fence wires past through. When I first started at Gallagher’s these insulators were being made but they don’t make them now. 

Old fencing wire join.

Around and near the summit there was lots of speergrass, celmisias (mountain daisies), and the pest weed hieracium.   A little too early for much flowering though. We followed a scree skink but it moved too fast for a photo. On the way back we found a skylark’s nest tucked neatly in a tussock clump with two chicks begging for food. 
Patrolling the road to Acheron Accommodation House

We drove to this early accommodation house on the road to Hanmer Springs by the Clarence River to meet up with our fellow Rangers for morning tea. This we did then drove down to the bridge over the Clarence to view the washout bridge approaches. We had a look at the old recent earthquake damaged accommodation house, then headed back to our ‘end’ of the road cleaning toilets  and checking on things as we went along. Talk about a dusty

The washed out approaches to the bridge over the Clarence River.

road, one just had to move your eyes across the road and the dust rose. We did stop for a little walk up the Pudding Hill track and found a lot of 1080 poison pellets scattered about. They say this is for controlling TB. Maybe. I’ve heard that 300 to 400 deer had been poisoned and that’s not a nice way to die. 

I’m not sure about this 1080 poison as I remember when they said that DDT was safe, and now? I don’t think any poison  is good but if it is used it should be very targeted and controlled. From my field observations, this is not so. Just why can’t they let some young hunters do the control work and at no cost to the taxpayer? Back to the Ranger Station to cool off with a glass of wine! 
The previous afternoon we had heard thunder beyond Mt Chisholm and the Saxton valley way but no rain fell where we were. The next morning as we drove over Ward Pass heading for the Acheron, we saw that the Saxton and Severn Rivers were in flood with the water a light chocolate brown and were thankful that we hadn’t walked up the Saxton that day!  

New plantings just below Grassy Saddle with Will’s Gully down the hill.

Will’s Gully Update
There was not a great deal conservation wise but work continued along the track. One morning we were given a good hand by the people of Keep Richmond Beautiful in sorting out a boundary fence. The Waratahs were taken out, the old netting fence ‘rescued’ from the long grass, the track widened and then all put back. Actually the gully gang finished off the last bit. This took place near the start of the track, just past that steep section. A little further up along the track, a slip had occurred so Kevin and I had a go at making a detour a little higher above the slip. It was very hot and once we had started, we had to finish the job to be on the safe side. This we did  but little did we realise that while working away, the track was closed due to the fire risk. We did wonder why there weren’t any track walkers going past! 
Other work recently has been clearing the walking tracks of overhanging weeds and trimming some of the native plants doing the same. It’s a bit of a pain to have to do this but on the other hand, there is some satisfaction to have to trim back the plants that we have nurtured for several years and have now grown to be above our heads.   
We have had a good season’s planting with 711 native plants being planted in the gully this year. We have planted 8027 plants in the gully since 2002 and have caught 1221 pests. These are the likes of rats, possums and stoats and we hope this will help the local bird population. 

Family History Publications.

Family History
Karla and I, along with help from interested family members, have just completed a book on family gravestones. This doesn’t sound too good (don’t look for me; I’m not in there yet!) Basically, it covers cemeteries from England, Chile, Turkey, Cook Islands, and of course New Zealand. It includes Rickerby’s, Addison’s, Harding’s, Oliver’s and other related families along with some selected notes on notable family members of the past. It has even a little essay on graveyard superstitions  and the World War I Deadman’s Penny. 
This book is the fourth in a series. The earlier books are: “A Hundred Years of Writing: A Collection of Rickerby Family Letters from 1900 to 2000”;  “So Your in the News Again? Rickerby & Addison Families Newspaper Cuttings”; and “Letters Home 1955 – 1966,” – this is me being a good boy in writing letters to my mother and, bless her, she had saved them all. 

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