Bruce Wills: Water Too little, too much

By Bruce Wills

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A trip south took Bruce Wills from dry country hills to a wet and wonderful north-west of the South Island.

I can only imagine what the Garden of Eden must look like but, for me, the Heaphy Track must come close.

Recent weeks for me have been a break from regular Wellington trips, allowing more time with family and farming. For a Hawke's Bay hill country farmer this time of year is largely about sheep - shearing, weaning, dagging, dipping, drenching and drafting. These involve time in yards and hours behind mobs of sheep, which means dry heat and clouds of dust.

We are back to a typical east coast summer - not enough rain, parched hillsides, drafting earlier to keep mouths off browning pastures and dust. Some of our paddocks now have no water and farm tanks are low. In Hawke's Bay these conditions are usual, so we are not talking drought, yet, but a good, wet easterly would be very welcome.

This year, for a change, I went in search of water. The great thing about this wonderful country of ours is, after very few hours travel, I was in such heavy rain, it came with a weather warning.

Some months ago two of my children and I decided to walk the 78.4km Heaphy Track through the Kahurangi National Park in the top north-west of the South Island. Some would say 'madness', but I was keen to do the longest of the Department of Conservation's Great Walks.

The average annual rainfall there is more than 5 metres, unlike Hawke's Bay's less than 1 metre.

For four days rain poured down, 150mm one day, 85mm another.

I can only imagine what the Garden of Eden must look like but, for me, the Heaphy Track must come close. I am lucky enough to have done most of the 'Great Walks' - this ranks up there as one of the best. Recently, a respected publication rated the Heaphy as the eighth best walk in the world.

A number of things struck me; the variation of flora and fauna between damp gullies, above the bush line and, finally, groves of nikau along the beach. DoC has invested in two large new huts and numerous swing bridges. Possum control has resulted in Rata flowering like I have never seen before and, of course, almost four days of constant rain!

But it didn't matter. The New Zealand bush has its own beauty in the mist and rain. The track is built for the annual 5m of rain with more culverts and drains along the side of the track than you would probably find in the whole of Hawke's Bay!

This walk was great for the soul of a dry-country farmer, who is back to drafting more lambs in hot, dusty yards.

- Hamilton News

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