The last time I saw a celery-top pine (Phyllocladus) was on Mount Kinabalu in Borneo.
There are a number of ferns in New Zealand with strap-shaped leaves, like this one; it may be Lance Fern (Anarthropteris lanceolata).
finding the evidence for such a claim is difficult at best), then this plant is, in Jared Diamond's evocative phrase, an evolutionary "ghost", retaining adaptations that evolved in the presence of animals now extinct. It is a reminder, perhaps, of the days, not so very long ago, when feathered giants roamed these forests.
I knew that the robins were tame and inquisitive, but Kerry-Jayne surprised me by demonstrating that rustling your hand in the leaf litter will bring them almost to your fingertips. It seems that they are adapted to respond to the sounds a large animal - and as this is New Zealand, that probably means a large flightless bird - might make as it crosses the forest floor and, presumably, stirs up insects and other creatures in the litter. Could robin tameness be a vestige of the days when they had moas, and other flightless giants, to follow around? Are we moa substitutes in their eyes?
Whatever the explanation for their obvious curiosity about people, robins certainly brighten the forest depths (and are an ideal bird to appeal to a non-birder like Eileen - no squinting through binoculars required!).
One of the worst things European settlers did to New Zealand's endemic birds was to introduce the stoat (Mustela erminia), the animal we call short-tailed weasel in North America. Controlling this voracious little predator is a neverending necessity if any of the small forest birds are to survive on the main islands, and we came across several stoat traps deployed along the tracks at Oparara. In some areas stoats are controlled with poisoned bait, but this practice - arguably a practical necessity in remote and difficult areas where the bait can be air-dropped - has met with a lot of local opposition, particularly from dog-owners fearful for the safety of their pets.
Not all of the wildlife along the Oparara lives in the forest. The valley contains a series of caves, some of which are off limits without a special permit. Kerry-Jayne and I dipped into one of the more accessible ones in search of two of the specialized creatures that live there: a spider and a cricket.
The cave spider's egg cases hang from the ceiling too, suspended on a silken line.
The other notable cave dweller is an impressively large and long-legged cricket, a Cave weta (one of many species in the Family Rhaphidophoridae). It has the dubious distinction of being the chief prey of the cave spiders that cling to the roof over its head.
At various points during the day we crossed back and forth over the Oparara river, scanning the waters for a sign of the prime search object of our day, the Blue Duck, but not a whisper of the bird did we see until our very last sally in the late afternoon. By then I was pretty convinced that the elusive creatures would remain elusive - until a pair sailed down the river into beautiful close view, calling their distinctive onomatopoeic whistle (by the way, the Maori name "Whio", an imitation of its call, is pronounced "fee-o").
The Blue Duck is like no other waterfowl on earth. It is not the only duck in the world to be adapted to rushing streams and a diet of stream-dwelling fly larvae - the Torrent Duck (Merganetta australis) of Sourh America, Salvadori's Duck (Salvadorina waigiuensis) of New Guinea and, to a lesser extent, the Harlequin Duck ( Histrionicus histrionicus) of North America are other examples, but the flesh-pink rubbery beak of the Blue Duck, so beautifully adapted for probing under rocks in the streambed, is the most extreme anatid adaptation in that direction.
After the ducks gave us the requisite mouthwatering views, they proceeded to give an equally impressive demonstration of why they are so hard to see. One by one they crossed to the bank, hopped onto the shore and simply disappeared beneath the vegetation.
Dusk began to fall not long after the Blue Ducks made their appearance. We ended our day in a nearby campground, where we received a troupe of visitors: a family of Wekas (Gallirallus australis), an adult and two half-grown chicks, barreling down the trail in our direction in a fast waddling run, obviously in search of whatever bounty we might provide them. Ah, New Zealand... where the flightless rails hunt down the birders...
The adult (the female, I presume) stashed her offspring in the shelter of a patch of ferns before setting off to give us (and a camper settling in for the night) her undivided attention.
Trouser legs and camping gear got a thorough inspection, successfully in that we finally broke down and gave her some bits of bread. At last we left her and headed off into the night while our visitor, presumably, dealt with the remaining camper.