A small running shoe. The mouthpiece of a snorkel.
Greenfinches, pipits, piwakawaka.
The remains of a storm-wrecked shearwater, the tips of its wings pointing to the sky; a glimpse of twisted vertebrae. The head, hardly more than a skull, lay on the stony beach with its long bill pointing towards the past, as if the bird were resting, remembering. I crouched beside it, looking, and left the camera in my pack.
Blackbacked gulls fighting on the edge of the surf. Biting, grappling, screaming. An oystercatcher flying south, fast, with a bivalve in its beak.
This is how I live my life; lost among the details, wondering in what they’re embedded.
Lying stretched out on the shingle, waiting for the fossicking pipit to work its way closer, to fill the frame. It tosses drying wrack in the air; snatches something—a sandhopper, perhaps. I wait for the moment it turns its head and pauses, the sun a point of light in its eye. This, the catchlight, they say, brings a bird to life.
Plastic bottles everywhere—I guess the only items that outnumber them are the gaping shells of wrecked mussels, the vast drifts of washed up wood—sticks, branches, bleached planks, fence battens—and the stones themselves, their number unimaginable. Of course, this is not literal, but the point’s made—this littoral’s littered: bottles, cans, blue strapping bands, plastic bags, fishing line, fragments of toys, floats, a shriveled party balloon. Nothing would surprise. Yet all this human flotsam seems to matter less than it might elsewhere. It’s all faded and bleached, lessened by the sea—even if it’s not, it soon will be. A reminder of impermanence. The sea will always be able to do this—but what sort of sea will remain when we’re gone? What will live in that sea? What will have vanished from the sea a thousand years from now? I have no way of knowing, but I believe the answer will be: “Too much”.
The next day—or was it the day after?—I extracted the bike from the back of the car and rode through Eastbourne to Point Arthur; working hard against the cold; traveling fast with the northerly behind me. Out along the Coast road, past the people fishing by the barrier gate, past elderly couples and jogging women and dog walkers. With the wind at my back the ride seemed effortless—weaving through crater fields of potholes full of opaque water the colour of cold coffee; hearing the hiss of tires on damp, hard clay, the crunch and spatter as I cut across gravel to find a less rutted path. On towards Pencarrow Head, past Inconstant Point, the names hinting at histories, stories from the past.
Then the warning sign. Don’t collect shellfish, paua , crays ; don’t swim or dive here; pollution hazard; health risk.
I stopped near the old lighthouse, wheeled the bike onto the beach and watched the surf heaving up and bursting against pinnacles of rock, rushing up and sizzling back down the shingle. Someone—an anonymous, hooded figure—searched the high tide line further along the beach; occasionally stooping, placing something in a bucket. I became engrossed in photographing details—a gull’s feather trapped in shingle and vibrating in the wind; sunlight on cast up kelp; a feathery coral frond, startlingly white on grey stones. When I stood and looked around again, the hooded person had moved past me along the beach and now stood at the edge of the sea, waiting while a diver hauled himself from the ocean, shedding the water in which it’s not safe to swim. He dragged himself up the beach as if re-enacting that immense evolutionary step, labouring under the weight of his yellow tank, all his paraphernalia, his catch bag banging against his thigh. I wondered what it contained; how successful he’d been at harvesting the shellfish and crays it’s not safe to eat. They’re probably abundant here, I thought, realizing that one of the seals of doom for a species is to be delicious or pharmacologically useful.
I rode on, pausing at
Eventually I turned a corner and saw, hauled out a long way from the sea, a huge, double-hulled launch. The sight—so technological, so expensive, so manmade—appalled me. Others, I suppose, would have said, “Wow!”
The road led through an open gate, past a sign saying “Private road beyond this point”, with the name of the station appended. I think the road’s open to bikers and walkers, but I’d lost the urge to go any further. Immediately by the gate a large body of semi-stagnant water stretched towards the ocean, separated from it by a low shingle bar. Part of a rusted drum protruded through the surface of the dark, still water—brownish-black water with a hint of iridescence. Sinister water, its depth impossible to gauge. Just below the surface and close to where I stood, the tendrils of a decaying frond of kelp stretched out towards me like the desire of an evil creature. Something not known to us. If Kohangapiripiri had seemed like grace from the past, this seemed like a portent of the future—the damage that might be left after humans have vanished.
I struggled back, battling the headwind, grateful for occasional easy going where the curve of the coast sheltered me. Relentless surf pounded the shore, great swells rolling in and smashing against the rocks with such ferocity it seemed impossible that anything could survive. But the mussels and limpets and chitons, the barnacles and paua and kelp and who knows how many other forms of life survive and thrive in those conditions—even if they’re filtering our shit from the sea, their home. Their sheer tenacity, their ability to survive, astounded me. But, I wondered, for how long can they survive us?
 Haliotis iris and H. australis.
 Crayfish, rock lobster, koura, Jasus edwardsii; and packhorse crayfish Sagmariasus verrauxi.
 Find as much information as you want in: Gibbs, G.W. 2002: Pencarrow lakes: conservation values and management. Wellington, Department of Conservation. 35 pp. ISBN 0-478-22187-8. (Warning: it's a 798 Kb PDF, so it'll be slow on a dial-up connection ).
 Tuturiwhatu, Charadrius bicinctus.
Photos (click on them for a larger image):
1 & 3. Along the Coast road between Point Arthur and Lake Kohangapiripiri, Wellington Harbour.
2. Little shags, kawaupaka, Phalacrocorax melanoleucos. Near Inconstant Point, loc. cit. Here you see three phases: white-throated, black, and pied.
4. Lake Kohangapiriri; a view from Bluff Point lookout on another day (this one, actually).
5. Blackbacked gulls, karoro, Larus dominicanus dominicanus; near Point Arthur.
Photos and words © 2006 Pete McGregor