I tried to arrange this essay in one mighty instalment but it didn't do the route justice, which is the whole point, really, so here's the first half.
You don't hear much about the Charming Creek walk even in New Zealand. Most of us wouldn't have a single clue where or what it was and that's both a pity and a bloody relief given the pretty hellish congestion on all the 'big' South Island walks during the high season. R, Felix (it's a dog-friendly route) and I set off downhill from the Seddonville end at 5.30 in the morning.
The grade and geography are as easy as the DOC notes suggest and the whole thing could be walked by virtually anybody with half-decent footwear and no major physical challenges. We are fit and fast, spent a long time taking pictures and still knocked the 9kms/one way off in about 3 hours. That being said, it can be both sticky-hot and pretty cold depending on the month, and a day pack is a good idea since neither you nor your dog should drink the heavily mineralised water. Old, half-buried trolley tracks and broken/fallen rock form 90% of the trail, meaning it's disturbingly easy to complacently zone out and go arse over tit in the dim conditions. Vigilance and adequate eyesight are required.
The walk follows the titular waterway from Manuka-dominated hill country into the heavier forest of the Ngakawau Gorge, emerging with the river beside the Tasman Sea. This upper section in particular is recovering from mining, forestry and farming and has that kind of disturbed, suspicious feel about it, as though it distrusts human encroachment. Can't blame it, really.
Mornings in these hills have a slight chill all year round and smell of hard, dark water, crushed moss and that reedy, pale-green honey note exhaled by the flowering Manuka. The Seddonville end is the least popular with civilians, a fact confirmed by the number and variety of native birds, some of which we had never seen before. Most were so confiding that we could've pissed away hours gathering their portraits had the light not been so difficult.
Photography note: Charming Creek is a dark, overgrown walk that may frustrate the casual snapper and vista-queen. It does however offer endless detail and intricate framing to the observant. Bring a monopod and your macro gear. We hand-held a D300 and a P+S and fluffed half our shots due to shutter speed issues.
> Petroica australis australis, the South Island Robin or toutowai; my first encounter with this strange little bird.
They look oddly Narnian, standing too upright, staring fixedly at you from a low branch, then dropping down onto the ground as if to tell you to git or to force you to answer some sort of sinister riddle before turning you into a toadstool for being a dumbarse. Their petulant dialect supports this contention.
< Just as exciting was our first glimpse of the Fernbird or mātātā, Bowdleria punctata. It is another furtive antipodean weirdo, looking a bit like a blackbird wearing a rail's skin with its droopy stripes and slightly awkward Spongebob demeanour. This one followed us for some time hoping to score the insects we disturbed.
We were privileged to hear another Fernbird singing a surprisingly beautiful song almost at arm's length when we were up at the Millerton waterfall, although we can't find any reference to this mellifluousness in descriptions of the species. It sounded almost like doodling mimicry. Or a forgetful canary who'd been hitting the brown liquor. Which was alright with us.
It is both a psychological and visual relief to leave that rusting debris behind.
Relics of industry at the abandoned mine site. Not sure what you'd have to pay either of us to grub coal underground in this quake-prone, unstable and thoroughly soggy geology, but it is safe to say there are a fuckload of noughts on the end of that figure.
About a third of the way down the track the sneaky water begins to coalesce behind your back and before you know it you are walking alongside the Ngakawau river proper, just as it settles down into the gorge it is scouring for itself.
The hapless NZ Department of Conservation is responsible for fully half the shit that ever happens outdoors here in this little land and our current regime has been busily stripping it of staff, morale and funding because what's left for conservative monetarist fucktards when stalking beneficiaries and bankrolling Saudi hobby farms begins to pall? Needless to say, they don't tell you any of this while they're stamping your visa. If you're coming to New Zealand to peruse the scenery, consider donating to DOC. The little they get is generally put to good practical use and they need every damn cent you can spare.
For expanded context, view the first bit of our holiday photoessay in the Buller region on the West Coast of NZ; enjoy all the benefits of no fucking selfies and jaded local commentary.