By Parley Reynolds – MOA Asia Market Manager
Pretty quickly I realized that hunting is mostly just walking quietly up hills holding a gun.
While riding up front in the ute with our guide Dave, I was given the 101 on hunting in the area. He is seriously a knowledgeable guy whose family has lived on the station for many generations. If you ever get the chance, look him up on his Stronvar hunting page on facebook, I really recommend the experience of joining a hunting tour. I have lived in New Zealand for most of my life but this was my first time to the high country of Marlborough. Driving through the seemingly endless maze of vineyards up into the surrounding hills in Marlborough is a seriously stunning drive.
While translating Dave’s chats for the Chinese boys in the back, I felt an overwhelming sense of pride for being a kiwi and having the opportunity to share the history, culture and scenery of the area with our overseas visitors. Looking down from the hill tops you could see large pockets of native bushland poking out amongst the vast expanse of open paddocks cleared for grazing animals. The braided rivers snaking their way through the ragged hills is a sight to behold. The large white domes of the Waihopi Spy Base are an interesting addition to the otherwise quintessential kiwi landscape.
My mind wandered to what it would have been like 600 years ago when 3.6m tall moa were
roaming around the area. How freaky would it be to have seen a giant Haast eagle swoop down and pluck up a moa to eat. What a wild place it would have been! Being slightly out of breath from where we left the car 50 metres back, I could only imagine how much more difficult it would be to run up to thrust a taiaha or a hit your prey with a patu. I’m glad we had the guns.
We must have seen hundreds of wild animals running around the surrounding hills that afternoon. Plenty of deer, pigs, goats, stouts, even a couple of wild cats. I was really surprised how plentiful the wild life was in the area. Still, we were having trouble finding a red stag. Low hanging cloud was starting to settle in and according to David, the stags were all up together hanging out on the top of the ridges. Apparently around this time of year the males rarely come down and mix with the females who are caring for their young. Those useless buggars!
Red deer were introduced to New Zealand by British settlers in the 1850’s. Their vision was to turn the island nation of New Zealand into a massive wild game hunting park. Not being a native species to the area, the red deer encountered no predators (apart from humans) and their numbers flourished. The deer numbers in New Zealand have skyrocketed to the point where they are now considered as noxious pests, eating into virtual extinction a number of native plant species from the forest floors that absorb water and prevent flooding in the land below.
Since the 1950’s the New Zealand government has supported a programme of dropping 1080 poison in native forests to eradicate introduced pests – mainly the bushy tailed possums from Australia. These giant rodent looking freaks kill and eat the eggs of native bird species. When not busy eating unborn babies, possums are out and about, spreading free TB love amongst themselves and any other species they can get their grubby little mitts on. They cause millions of dollars in damages to dairy and deer farmers each year whose herds get infected with TB from these red eyed, foamy mouthed, rat faced zombies. Basically, no one seems to really like them. Although, I have to say that possums do have the most lovely, softest and fluffiest fur to touch. Possum scarves are just heaven darling! The introduction of possums from Australia to New Zealand in the 1830’s was actually an attempt to ‘enrich’ New Zealand’s wildlife and encourage a business opportunity through fur exports. Oh cheers bro.
The use of 1080 is an ongoing divisive issue in New Zealand played out amongst a number of interest groups. 1080 indiscriminately kills deer, pigs, goats, birds, dogs and other mammals that eat the poison (must be delish!). There have been no cases of human deaths by 1080 poison in New Zealand. Yet. Symptoms of 1080 poisoning would include vomiting, twitching, seizures for up to 21 hours before an ultimate death by lung failure and heart attack. Nice… Luckily no 1080 was on the menu where we were as none had been dropped on Stronvar Station. Geez, between eating poison and getting a bullet I know which one I’d prefer!
With no luck on the stag front for us, the weather starting rapidly deteriorating with increasingly heavy rain accompanied by darkness settling in. We decided to head back to camp and retire for the night. I was expecting a tent or hut but we actually had really nice accommodation with mattresses and everything! Gareth cooked us up a mean feed of steak and eggs and David had brought up a selection of beers from the brewery. There was no cellular reception or wifi at all up on the station though. It was actually quite strange. We got to talk to each other without the constant distraction of beeping screens. It was a great chance to pick David’s brain on his 41 years of brewing experience and what he had in mind for the velvet brew once we shot a stag. Confidence was still high for the morning hunt and it only seemed to improve as the beer supplies dwindled.
This wireless-less environment lends itself to telling tall stories accompanied with made up facts and supporting statistics that cannot be immediately checked on Wikipedia. The kinds of stories that go hand in hand with a dozen beers. The best one I heard was the story of the ‘bulldogger’ crews who would fly through the valleys and jump from helicopters down onto wild deer. The bulldoggers had to wrestle them to the ground, tie them up and fly them to a fenced off area. These were the early days of commercial deer farming operations around the country. Sounded a bit full on to be real but I watched a youtube video of “the last great adventure’ when I was back in civilization and it’s true! Thousands of red deer were rounded up this way. The footage is pretty wild.
The beers had all been drunk and we were also growing tired of unsuccessfully trying to coerce a moth to fly into David’s mouth as he now sat snoring on the couch. We decided to get some sleep for the early morning hunt.
First thing in the morning we were back in the truck just as the first signs of sunlight were peaking over the ridgetops. Deer usually come out to feed during the early morning and late evening hours. We definitely noticed the increased deer action as herds sprinted away from the road across the hills when they heard the hum of the approaching vehicle. The rain from the night before made the air crisp and cool but the roads on the way up the hills were a bit much for me. Dave’s family had carved these roads from the hillsides by themselves with a digger and David was obviously very familiar with every narrow twist and turn on the mountain roads. The rain had made the gravel roads slippery and my poor little heart just couldn’t handle looking out over the edge of the road to the valley below and wondering how long it would take to roll to the bottom. Anxiety started kicking in and my Chinese mate Alex and I decided to hop out and walk the rest of the few hundred metres to the top.
Up ahead the boys had spotted something. They had left the truck and were crouched over ready to have shot at a stag across a small ravine from their position. I could see the situation unfolding clearly. I ran to catch up as fast as my social smoker lungs could take me. As I approached the group my heart was pumping. How exciting! As I made my way across the wet grassy hillside to where they were crouching I slipped over and fell onto my ass. I looked around. No one noticed. Cool. After a few more steps I managed to fall again. This time I landed flat on my back. It kind of hurt. Luckily for me the boys were focused on lining up the stag and weren’t aware of the slapstick comedy show being performed behind them. I whispered (loudly) to the group “I’m gonna stick back here guys and take some photos’. The response was a collective hand gesture for me to shhhh! After a long drawn-out few seconds of silence.
Off to the brewery!