ecause Westland was forested for much longer
than many other areas, it attracted the attentions of the early bird collectors, who
sometimes took birds in large numbers. Of one collector on the Coast, Potts commented:
You are not expected to speak out on this subject of bird slaughter;
you are numbered with the Philistines if you murmur at the wounding and maiming in the
interests of museums; mortal offence was said to have been given by an indiscreet
individual who recorded the fact that one collector alone collected and disposed of above
two thousand specimens of the harmless kiwi.
It is as a result of collectors such as these that kiwi are so common
in museum collections worldwide. The first exhibit I saw in the Natural History Museum in
Montevideo in Uruguay was a kiwi far from home.
Because the West Coast faces Australia more rare birds have arrived
here than in any other part of the country, and recent arrivals include the Nankeen night
heron, Australian darter, glossy ibis, and the Australian barn owl.
Butterflies, too, arrive in Westland, some annually. The blue moon, one
of the most striking species, turns up each year as does the Australian painted lady and
the Australian blue tiger. What is amazing is that so many of these delicate creatures
survive the rigours of a stormy Tasman Sea crossing. However, Westland does have
butterflies of its own. The forest ringlet, one of the most attractive but least known
endemics, was first discovered in its forests in 1881.
With a population of around 8000, Greymouth is the largest town on the
West Coast. It also has much of interest to the naturalist. Hectors dolphin occurs
offshore along with a large variety of seabirds and by using Greymouth as a base much can
be seen in the surrounding countryside.
From Greymouth there are two routes north. The first is inland along
State Highways 7 and 69 to Inangahua Junction and from there either north to Nelson or
back to the coast by way of State Highway 6. The alternative route is the coastal road to
Westport along State Highway 6.
For those with an interest in history the inland route is recommended
as it takes in many of the sites of the Coast's once frenetic gold-mining activity. Here,
the land was devastated by mines whose wealth, as the explorer Charles Douglas cynically
observed, 'goes directly home to the shareholders who never saw the land and who never
intend to'. The forest is now gradually covering the scars of the worst excesses of this
endeavour but it will be many generations before the land is completely healed.
Reefton, 79 kilometres inland from Greymouth, is one of the few
surviving mining towns, although with a population of 1200 it is now a mere shadow of its
former self. It does, however, provide access to the Victoria Forest Park. At almost
210,000 hectares, this is one of our largest forest parks and despite some logging still
has good stands of beech as well as mixed beech and podocarp forest. It also has roa, the
great spotted kiwi, weka, kaka and whio along with such introduced species as red and
fallow deer, pigs and chamois. Some yellowheads are also still found here and it was near
here that the naturalist William Walter Smith observed them moving through the bush in
company with saddlebacks:
On reaching near the top of the gully, I heard the shrill ringing
notes of a flock of yellowheads... 7hey numbered about two hundred, and were in
rich plumage ... before the yellowheads had quite disappeared I heard the rich
flute-notes of a flock of saddlebacks advancing ... probably no scene in bird life
is more attractive or beautiful ....
For the naturalist, though, the coastal route offers more. The Port
Elizabeth Walkway, seven kilometres north of Greymouth, offers a walk through typical
coastal vegetation whose 'shaven appearance is due to the prevailing salt-laden
winds. Also of interest are the limestone bluffs that have been pushed by uplift to an
impressive 300 metres above sea level.