New Zealand post 9: CONSERVATION BY POISON & DOG RACES IN BLACKBALL
Despite the cosy cabin I don’t sleep well. The midge bites from a few days back are itching like crazy and it’s impossible not to scratch, which only makes it worse. I finally drift into a fitful sleep, only to be rudely awakened by a screaming siren. I shoot up and flail around in the dark for the bedside lamp. In the process I knock over my water glass and saturate my phone. I get the light on and see it’s the smoke alarm that’s wailing, but there’s no fricken smoke!! Seriously, this is taking cry wolf too far. This health and safety lark is getting to be a right royal pain in the %^#&*@ arse!!
We stand on the bed and bash it with a pillow until it shuts up , then check the time – 02h30. We settle back to sleep, only to be woken again at 05h00 by the same screeching. If I had a baseball bat handy, I’d gladly smash the little fucker to smithereens!!
Ok, not very equanimous, I know, but under the circumstances…
After the rough night we struggle to get it all together in the morning and only get away by 10h00, but no sweat, we have plans to meet friends in Blackball for lunch at 30km and then only have a further 30km from there to Greymouth, all on easy tar – a relative rest day.
I won’t lie, the riding is boring compared to yesterday. It’s pleasant enough, rolling through pristine-looking farmlands, but there’s a theme developing that’s making me very uneasy. It’s been bugging me for days now. Ever since the batty people really. I’ve noticed lots of small birds dead on the side of the road, more than one would expect from normal day-to-day mortality and numerous perfect possum carcasses, that have clearly not been hit by anything. Put this together with the regular poison bait warnings, and the conclusion is obvious.
Passing through the little hamlet of Moonlight, we come across an information display, that explains about the conservation efforts in the region. A map shows the number of traps that have been laid down in the area – a red dot for each trap, which is baited with deadly poison- at 2017, there were 1300 traps spread over 8500 Hectares!! The “conservationists” are clearly thrilled with their efforts.
What’s bugging me, is what happens to the poisoned carcasses? Certainly they are not all collected and burned, so my conclusion is they decompose and the poison seeps into the ground water and eventually ends up in the river systems.
Treating, boiling or filtering water might eliminate pathogens, but will it neutralize poison?? The river water looks crystal clear, but I don’t trust it at all!!
These are my thoughts as we turn off the road and climb the hill to the old mining town of Blackball.
As we enter town, I am drawn to a bunch of colorful hand-painted signs:
“TOURIST WARNING DANGER! OUR GOVERNMENT IS TORTURING OUR WILDLIFE TO DEATH. OUR WATER AND LAND IS TOXIC. DON’T DRINK FROM WATERWAYS!!”
I am not crazy and paranoid after all! This feeling of unease I’ve been carrying for days is justified. I feel so relieved and vindicated. But clearly this town is the exception and not the rule.
We have an amazing lunch at The Blackball Inn, where we are joined by our friends, Steve and Dahlene and as the afternoon progresses, we get the distinct impression that the town should be called Oddball, not Blackball!
I mean this in the most delightful way. It’s like a Hogsmead Village occupied by wizards and witches. Not a muggle in sight. The highlight is when the locals all congregate on the green for a spot of dog racing. The whacky owners line up on the start line with their equally whacky dogs, that take off in various directions at the sound of the whistle. I’m weak with laughter. What finishes me off, is that they all act as if it’s as normal as can be.
We could happily sit here all day observing the characters and I decide that if I was forced to live in New Zealand, I’d want it to be in a place like Blackball. I feel an affinity with these passionate, unique and alternative individuals.
We reluctantly tear ourselves away at around 17h00, as we still need to cycle the 30km to Greymouth. I am still laughing as we climb the first hill, but this is soon tempered by the continued poison warnings, which bring me back down to earth and make my head spin with confusion, frustration and unanswered questions…