Serious recreation in Marlborough's backyard


Last Modified: 21-4-2021 10:52

Polypodium vulgare - a pretty looking fern, but something you definitely don't want to find in Marlborough.
Polypodium vulgare - a pretty looking fern, but something you definitely don't want to find in Marlborough.
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

Oops! I did it again.

Recently, on one of my regular walks up the Wither Hills, I photographed an innocuous looking fern growing by the side of the track, and posted it online in iNaturalist for identification as I frequently do when I find any interesting plant or animal species that I’m not confident about identifying myself. I never expected that simple act that I’ve done many times before to end up raising the alarm and going before the Marlborough District Council Environment Committee, and attracting media attention. I think personally, I’d much rather identify some previously unknown native species than ending up finding a noxious weed where it hasn’t been present before, however if being alert helps protect against new biosecurity threats, and publicity helps encourage other people to do the same, then it’s a good outcome.

On Saturday, I decided to go for a bike ride. I bought myself a ‘Father’s Day’ present of a ‘new’ second hand mountain bike. It’s the first bike I’ve bought in my life, as previously I’ve had them bought for me when I was a child, or my last one was given to me by someone who had good intentions but found they never got around to riding it. I’m showing signs of what I call ‘growth rings’ associated with middle age, and gym workouts just induce an inexplicable rage in me, so if I’m going to get exercise, it’s going to have to be outside. The luxury of a bike with disk brakes (although I soon wished it had ABS), front suspension, and gears that could go low enough to actually pedal up hills was a bit of a novelty, and I wanted to put it through its paces.

What with the global Covid-19 pandemic turning Aotearoa/New Zealand into something of a giant floating ark, there’s been a lot of promotion of ‘back your backyard’, or closer to home, ‘Make it Marlborough’, to encourage New Zealanders to fill the gap left my international tourists. Of course I’ve been backing my backyard by writing about Marlborough on this website for over twenty years, even though I don’t get paid for it.

I love travelling, and my guilty indulgence is a good road trip, however I’ve become increasingly aware that jumping in the car and going for a long drive maybe isn’t really backing my backyard, as Māui’s ark might be a good refuge from a pandemic, but sadly it’s vulnerable to climate change, and I don’t really want to be a contributor to trashing my backyard.

Fortunately, Marlborough has plenty of scenic places that don’t have heavy traffic, a growing number of cycle ways, and even if you’re like me, and not exactly an icon of physical fitness, a bike is a pretty good way to enjoy guilt free exploration of the region.

I decided to take a ride up Taylor Pass Road, a fairly popular destination for cyclists that quickly gets you out of Blenheim and into rugged rural countryside not unlike parts of Central Otago, as it follows the Taylor River, before climbing to over 300m the dropping down into the Awatere Valley. I was perhaps a little bit ambitious, when I decided that I’d try for actually reaching the pass. At a little over 17 kilometres from home, climbing gradually most of the way, and reasonably steeply the last kilometre or so, I certainly could have picked an easier ride, but I knew that there would be plenty of opportunity to spot interesting native plants, so decided it was worth the effort.

Sure enough, I was starting to get a sore backside and tired legs, not to mention getting a little wet riding through the ford at Vinegar Point, as I neared Taylor Pass, but that was rewarded with a diverse variety of ferns, native trees and shrubs, and Marlborough rock daisies along the roadside. If I’d stopped to photograph everything of interest, I wouldn’t have made it home until after dark, so instead I looked for spots with the most biodiversity so that I could record a variety of species in one place. One such spot I noticed was up a bank under a māhoe tree, where a large number of different fern species were growing close together. I scrambled up the bank and began photographing the different varieties, only to notice to my horror something that looked remarkably familiar; the same noxious pest fern that I’d found several weeks earlier well to the east on the Wither Hills. After I got home, I uploaded an image of the suspect fern to iNaturalist, and within minutes I had confirmation that it was indeed another example of the same pest.

Taylor Pass
Taylor Pass

My experience exploring my own backyard, and dealing with a biosecurity threat raises an interesting opportunity with the current collapse of international tourism. There’s a highly controversial form of international experience known as ‘voluntourism’, where people have a holiday and do some feel good volunteer work while they’re at it, often will little or no real benefit provided to the communities where they volunteer. ‘Voluntourism’ here in New Zealand could work very differently, as anything you do is helping your own country. It’s no secret that New Zealand isn’t the clean, green paradise that’s promoted to overseas tourists, but of course if you’re a local tourist, you’ll already know that. New Zealand could become the clean, green paradise promoted in the glossy brochures and websites though, if people get stuck in and lend a hand. If every one of our ‘team of five million’ pulled out one wilding pine, or planted one native tree, or collected roadside litter, it might be a small difference, but it would be a difference. Some people will want to do a lot more, some will not be willing or able to do anything, but if enough do take up the challenge, there will be a measurable difference.

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Cookson, C. (2021). Serious recreation in Marlborough's backyard. Retrieved July, 25, 2021, from

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