Quails, Pines and Lyttelton


It has been two weeks since I last went for tramping. I was also feeling much better physically to go for the next one. As it would turn out, my landlord was planning to go to a near by island – Quail Island.

Quail Island is a small patch of land near the Lyttelton Harbour, out in the bay surrounding the harbour. The interesting part is that there is an active conservation project going on in this small island which lies in the bay created from the Pacific Ocean. The project aims to ecologically transform the island by planting flora that is native to New Zealand. The island has a long history of being an isolation camp for the English colony. Lepers and immigrants were first quarantined in this tiny island before they could move on to the main land. This also meant that the island had been introduced to a variety of foreign fauna and flora. The most significant affect has been due the californian pine tree. They have grown old and stand tall and broad. It has also lately been cause for concern due to chances for forest fire. The point is that these foreign flora that sweep across the island is really foreign to New Zealand. So, in an effort to restore the ecological balance and increase the native flora the conservation project has been trying hard to plant lot of native species.This has also created an environment where weeds, esp. thistles. It is a hard job to weed out large areas off thistles.

Our trip this time had another significance in this backdrop. We were not just going there as visitors. We were volunteering for the conservation project too. It was a completely different experience. We were to help them in weeding out thistles. That was the first time I ever heard of a thistle. So, this time the experience was  a complete eye opener.

We set out to the Lyttelton harbour in the morning and caught a ferry to Quail Island. The ride took us through the bay, formed out of the pacific. It was my first time going through the pacific. The faint memory of the last time on a ferry was in Mumbai, and then much closer in the Marina Bay in Singapore (which was a completely city experience more than a natural one!!). Once we reached the Island, we were guided by the team lead to the spots where they have planted. It stretched across many acres of land. All clad in white brown grass, almost touching the horizon. The grass was almost chest high at many places. The team lead showed us how to identify the thistles. And the best part was that there were two varieties, one that is harmful, and another harmless one. So, things were a bit more complicated. For the first one hour we couldn’t find any of the harmful thistles. We waded through the sea of grass, with the gum boots, back pack and a sharp tool in our hands. We were wading and hunting for thistles,  all in vain. The fact is that this team had made a sweep over this region about 2 weeks ago. That’s why we weren’t finding much. In about 2 hours we were tired and exhausted. But towards the end we could find and weed out some thistles. After that we took our lunch out and refueled ourselves. After some rest we went back to hunt for thistle. We moved on to another part of the island. A hill of plants. All native ones, surrounded by again a sea of grass. Another daunting task. We walk for few minutes to find a plant, then search the surroundings for the thistle, and then finally move on to the next plant. A test to our patience. A test to our exhausted mind. We had been seeing plants, native and not so native for the past 3 hours and we decided to take some time off. The team lead told us to take a tour of the island through the island track.

The best part of the trip was yet to come. We went around through the serene track, passing through the tall grasses on one side, and a steep cliff on the other side, looking over on the pacific ocean. The pine trees stand tall all along, with it’s fruit strewn all over the place. And of course, all along the island we could see the Quail, the bird which lends it name to the island as well. We walked on for some time to a spot from where we were overlooking on the ship wreck. Down below on the beach there were remains of ships which were left on this beach once they became out of use. There were at least 5 which were visible from the spot we were standing. Way down the path we were nearing the beautiful sight of the beach. The white sandy beach, with few birds flocking around, and a light blue sea caressing it’s shores. Oh!! We were struck by it’s beauty!! We couldn’t help by detour to the beach to sit there. To be in that wonderful feeling of being in the small body that is so insignificant in this vast setup of natural beauty. We couldn’t help but think of the beauty that surrounded us. We were looking at beautiful piece of art. A natural one. Carved out of ages of brush strokes by the creator. The nature was at it’s most beautiful look.

We had to move on to the jetty to get our ferry back, or else we could have sat there gazing at the beauty that nature is. After about an hour at the beach, we set forth on our journey back. A nice day of work and fun!! The nature was at it’s best..!! Every time I go out on one of these tramping trips, I am deeply convinced that nature has to offer a lot to us than we could ever give back. The beauty that it beholds if far more than what I could ever imagine!!

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