April 19, 2014

Standing in front of Earland Falls set to full noise is an exhilarating experience. The force of so much water is an assault on the senses which makes one feel small, yet part of something amazing. In our adult lives, we don’t receive many experiences as powerful and pure as this.

The rush of water coursing over the land was apparent in all directions as I walked the Routeburn Track with a good friend of mine from Germany, Dirk Springborn, at the beginning of the year. Thankfully for us, we managed to see Fiordland doing what it does best immediately after the heavy rain that transforms this landscape (rather than during the deluge). This journal entry shows some of the special plants that we viewed during three days in that part of the country.

In the zone surrounding waterfalls, certain plants thrive on the moisture that hangs in the air. One such species is Ourisia macrocarpa (pictured below), a beautiful native herb which was in full bloom in the vicinity of Earland Falls.

Further along the track (we started from the Milford side), compact shrubs of Hebe subalpina and Olearia moschata assumed orderly forms within low shrubland. The silvery-grey foliage of O. moschata (shown below) made a sharp contrast against the intense greens of other members of these plant communities.

Hebe subalpina (shown below) is a very beautiful and useful shrub for low structure within gardens in the South Island. Despite being native to wetter habitats like Routeburn Track, it is reasonably tolerant of varying moisture levels within gardens (as demonstrated by the garden that we planted at Lake Tekapo, in which this species plays an important role).

At several points along the side of the track, groups of Blechnum montanum provided vibrant flashes of colour, such as within the striking garden-like association shown below.

The photograph below shows some of the waterfalls that flowed down the opposing flank of the Hollyford Valley in the wake of the heavy rain that fell up to the point at which we began our walk. Water does not just limit its flow to the major routes of the waterfalls; and as we set off on the track, ephemeral watercourses flowed over much of the track.

As the track ascends towards its higher points, a beautiful daisy called Brachyglottis revoluta was in bloom – its yellow flowers standing well clear of the satiny, mottled foliage. A clumping species of Dracophyllum (called D. menziesii, pictured below on the right) is a major element of several habitats; such as on top of the bluffs above Lake Mackenzie, where it forms large patches.

Reddish clumps of D. menziesiii are visible in the image below, amongst the tussock and shrubs above Lake Mackenzie. Within the huge diversity of plants found in this habitat, snow totara and horrid spaniards (Aciphylla horrida) are also conspicuous elements of these communities.

One final image shows a much more diminutive spaniard (Aciphylla divisa) that was a charming detail at higher points near Lake Harris.