Wentworth Falls, Whangamata

Monday 3 January 2022 – Whangamata, New Zealand.

There was a brief moment after I entered the bush as the others walked on down the gravel path towards the cars, their scuffed steps and voices receding into the short distance, when all I could hear was nothing at all. It was as if all the birds had collectively held their breath while they guessed my intent and the gentle breeze stopped disturbing the trees to allow them to listen to me blundering about below. A half second or two of silence and then the wind ruffled the tops of the punga ferns and the bird chatter and song started up again. A brief moment of what seemed like total silence, a thin gap between human sound and nature, like a line drawn in the sand that I was allowed to cross. It was heavenly.

I love punga trees as much as I love quiet; The punga is a tall fern, almost palm-like, that grows in most low-land New Zealand forest. I love the vivid green of their fronds and how they spread out canopy like. I have been trying to take photos looking up into the mixed fronds of neighbouring trees with a bright sky above. It has been difficult, the punga is a low to mid canopy tree, meaning there is often a taller or even two taller trees growing above, between it and the sun. I’ve yet to find exactly what I want, and today was no exception, though, I’m happy enough with this photo and more importantly enjoyed stepping off the track to it.

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With another scorching hot day and uneven waves that were no good for surfing and a little too rough for family swimming I was surprised but not that surprised to find a lot of cars parked on either side of the narrow road to Wentworth Falls. The car park is a ten minute drive from where we are staying in Whangamata and it was busy. Half of Whangamata must have had the same bright idea as us; a cool walk in the bush.

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I love the New Zealand bush. Though it’s just a bunch of trees and scrub, maybe some ferns and grasses; all grouped together there’s nothing like it anywhere else. Due to New Zealand’s long isolation from any other land mass there are plants and trees here that don’t exist anywhere else on the planet.

Before I go further, and leave any wrong impressions ‘the bush’ is what Kiwis call a forest; large, small or any size in between, if there are a bunch of trees together and those trees are primarily New Zealand natives then it is the bush. A pine forest is not the bush, it is a forest.

The bush is generally considered to be ‘safe’, and I say this in quotes as it’s not entirely safe; the bush can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing, get lost or fall or otherwise hurt yourself away from other people, there are vast tracts of densely forested and unpopulated bits of New Zealand. However, New Zealand has no land animals that will kill you; there are no snakes, no majorly poisonous spiders, no crocodiles, no tigers/lions/other large cats/wild dogs with large teeth, nada. You can yomp around in the bush in bare feet to your heart’s content and nothing is going to fatally bite or sting you. There aren’t even any stinging nettles. However, there are lots of spiky things and some grasses with really sharp edges, so walking out of the bush with dried blood on your legs is not uncommon.

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Unlike the south east of England, and due to its volcanic and tectonic birth, the New Zealand landscape is very bumpy; steep sided valleys are everywhere, which means there are a lot of rocky fast running streams, and these often lead to some pretty fabulous waterfalls. I used to take a lot of photos of fast running water, lots of lovely tripod mounted long exposures to blur the running water. With no tripod those photos are impossible, though I still enjoyed watching and listening to the water.

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The bush was lush and cooling, it took us most of an hour to walk to the falls, mostly along a gravel path with a gentle gradient until close to the destination when, as you would hope when you are going to a waterfall, the path became a lot steeper. This is old gold mining country and there are a few bits of the old works still around. Though we didn’t have the time to do a proper explore I did find this huge stone wall, and I can’t tell you what it was for either. A mystery stone wall, with yeas of scratched graffiti and a punga stump in front of it.

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The falls have a have a total drop of 50 metres and are in three stages and would be fabulous after some heavy rain, though were pretty spectacular as it was, though hard to capture on a wide-angle lens at that distance. There were a few people at the viewing areas so we didn’t linger and hog the selfie spot. It would’ve been nice to just stand and listen to the water pounding on the rocks below, the wind in the trees and the gentle song of the birdlife, but it was not to be; too many humans.

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We walked up to the top of the falls to take a look at the view over the bush and out to sea. Glorious. I could spend all day here if I could, but sadly that was not the case today. Onward, upward (in this case downward to the car) and enjoy it while you can.

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