One of the things New Zealand is best known for is its plethora of jaw-droppingly stunning landscapes. These were brought to the general attention of the world largely in thanks to the Lord of the Rings film series (and, wow, how did I go a whole 11 posts without mentioning LOTR?), which travels the nation with abandon to make sure every scene has a stunning backdrop. Not once I’ve felt that being a location scout for those movies would be an absolute dream job. To travel around the country, looking for beautiful places that resonate with the words of Tolkien’s fantasy world? Unbelievable.
But there must be something about daydreams coming true, here— because since arriving in this country, I’ve become a sort of location scout myself.
That’s what 3 labmates and I are up to this week: location scouting. Instead of looking for Tolkienesque landscapes, though, we’re in search of estuaries. We departed Christchurch on Sunday, and are away for a week of driving across the northern tip of the South Island, sampling estuaries along the way.
There’s scientific rationale for this. All of our research has been based, to date, in the Avon-Heathcote estuary near Christchurch, but that’s just one tiny part of the total estuarine environment of New Zealand. The habitat cascade patterns we observe in the Avon-Heathcote— are they representative of patterns going on across New Zealand estuaries? Is our home estuary unique, or does it match the rest of New Zealand? A nationwide survey, it was decided, would strengthen our findings. And maybe nationwide is a bit ambitious for the moment— but surely South Island-wide would be manageable.
So we’ve spent the past several weeks researching potential estuaries on the northern tip of the South Island. The scouting process, as it turns out, starts with a lot of background sleuthing. We’ve talked to labmates and collaborators, people who have worked around this area and are familiar with the nearby habitats. We’ve pored over Google Earth images, looking for the dark smudges along shallow coastlines that might indicate a healthy seagrass bed. We’ve searched tide tables and weather charts, mapping out a route that would allow us to reach each estuary at the prime low tide. We’ve contacted private landowners, cold-calling to ask if rogue marine biologists might trespass on their land to access a promising bit of estuary (this was such a remarkable cultural experience, actually, that it bears retelling in the next post). We’ve combed storage rooms and hardware stores to collect the equipment we’ll need, assembled grocery lists, booked accommodation, found a vehicle, printed collecting permits. Hours of work have gone into the preparations—
And now, at last, we’re here. And I’m in love.
Our first stop on the estuary scouting trip is Golden Bay. Maybe it’s not the ideal LOTR film location (seascapes feature minimally in that entire series, in fact…go figure), but this place is incredibly lovely. The water is silky smooth and lustrous, and as the sun rises over the bay, you understand the name “Golden”. Our little bach (that’s Kiwi for something that’s a cross between a beach shack and a cottage…all the amenities you need, but nothing fancy) is tucked into a patch of native wood and looks out onto the Bay. This is where we get ready for a day of scouting, drinking coffee and organizing field gear while oystercatchers work the tideline nearby.
And then when we get out to the estuaries— it’s like a grand scavenger hunt that has played out over the past few weeks and we’re just now getting to the treasure. It’s amazing to see in person the places we’ve been examining on satellite images, amazing to actually travel the routes we’ve mapped out from the distance of our offices. Today, when we made our way to the first of six estuaries we’ll visit on this trip, there were (remarkably) no calamities— no forgotten gear, no dangerous tides, easy access to and from the mudflats, seagrass right where we expected it would be. This is rare, for field work (or life? When does anything ever go as planned?) but makes me grateful for the planning and preparations of the past few weeks.
No hobbits or elves spotted yet, but I’ll be sure to keep you posted—
Until next time,
PS: Well, there maybe was just one small calamity— I forgot my hat in Christchurch, which means I’ve finished the day with a rosy glow.
It’s fitting, though, because with all that glowing, my skin matches my soul.
(Too cheesy! But then, I did warn you.)