Friday, August 16, 2013

Shag Point, Kelp, Coal, and Sea

Early on Wednesday morning I visited Shag Point, which is about 20 minutes drive up the coast to the North of us. Although there is easy road access, and a gaggle of old houses that mostly serve as holiday homes, Shag Point can feel fairly wild and remote.

It is a fine place to watch the sun rise above a steel coloured sea, with nothing but the sound of the wind in the tussock grass, and the cry of sea gulls for company.

The point has several short and narrow inlets between slabs of sandstone and mudstone. Out at sea are dangerous looking reefs over which waves crash at high tide.

Looking South. On a good day you can just make out the Otago Peninsula near Dunedin.

Shag Point has the Maori name, Matakaea. Matakaea is the also the name of the pa (fortified village) that overlooked the Shag River mouth. I tried to find the meaning of the Maori name, but have been unsuccessful so far.

I did not notice any shags at Shag Point, but there were a good number of seals that looked like big black slugs when seen at a distance... Just imagine what slugs that big would do to your cabbages!

Hidden away at the landward end of one of the inlets, is a boat shed and a steep boat launching ramp. The rocks and the sea look particularly unforgiving around here, so I think that it would need an experienced sailor, and someone well versed in the local area, to use this harbour safely.

I did speak to someone who said that people used to go out in boats from here and harvest kelp by wrapping chains round it and dragging it back to shore. Kelp is a heavy, and enormously long, variety of seaweed; and the shore is ringed with bull kelp, whilst just off the coast is a subsea forest of giant bladder kelp.

You can see dark masses of kelp just off the rocks in the photo above.

A partly collapsed tunnel and a short seam of coal.
Exposed cliff faces at Shag Point sometimes have dark grey seams running across the yellowish rock. This is coal, and coal was mined here from around 1862 until 1972. There are still exposed mine shafts, and the ground has been known to slump as underground tunnels collapse.

This would have been used in the mine to move coal.
A few years ago I talked to a man at a coal yard in Oamaru. He said that he went down the mine at Shag Point when it was still operational, and that it was a frightening place. Evidently the tunnels went a long way under the sea, and he said it was possible to hear the sea from inside the mine. The tunnels had to be continuously pumped of the water that leaked into them, and he said that the mine finally had to be closed when the pumps could not keep pace with the sea water that was coming in.

Probably history has recorded the mine as being closed due to economic reasons, but I can picture pumps churning desperately, sea water rising and imagine the booming sound of waves echoing in dark tunnels. There used to be a short railway branch line that connected to the main South line to transport the coal, and you can still see some clear and level areas where the railway once went. Many of the small houses at Shag Point date back to the coal mining days.

This area is rich in Maori and European history, fossils have also been found in the mudstone rocks here that include a 7 metre plesiosaur, but it is the sea that makes all history seem insignificant.

Shag Point looking South. NZ flax in foreground (Phormium tenax).
This sea gazes skywards with green-blue eyes on a clear day, grey eyes when there are clouds, and her stare is almost black in a gale.

Indeed, the sea watched over the infant land like a midwife whilst it steamed and quivered, and finally set.

Now the sea nibbles and sucks at the land's cold toes, turning hard rock into sand.

One day the sea may cover this place again, sliding over it like an undertakers shroud; and where grass and trees once grew, forests of sea kelp may dance and weave, and fish swim in a new sky of water, like ghosts of the birds of the air.


smartcat said...

It looks austerely beautiful and cold. It's scary to think of what men did to earn a living. I think there are places in Great Britain where they mined out under the sea. I shivered as I read your post.
Hope things are continuing to improve healthwise.

Michèle Hastings said...

Wow, I had no idea that coal was once mined near and under the ocean. I can just imagine how scary being in a mine and hearing the sound of the ocean above you.

B. Rogers, Living in Black Mountain said...

Thanks so much for the shared beauty...first photos that are gorgeous, and words that sparked my imagination about sea and land...concepts a bit different than I'd ever thought, bringing me inspiration. Lovely. (Oh dear, you've got word robot verification...which I hate, but will do this time, only)

Angie said...

Again some amazing photos much movement and tone them. What an amazing place ...thanks for sharing. xx

Arkansas Patti said...

The idea of an undersea mine gave me chills.
That picture of the steel sea and silver sky is just beautiful.
Hope that earthquake was no where near you.

Melissa Rohrer said...

I can almost hear the ocean. What a beautiful place!

Amy said...

Only 20 minutes away? Lucky you! The pictures are gorgeous and how interesting a place that is. Thanks for sharing. How are you healing these days? Hang in there and I hope you stay connected with folks, which I've been told helps with depression.

Armelle Léon said...

Beautiful photos, the story is frightening and it's better to sea seals on the rocks rather than men picking coal below.
How are you doing Peter, better I hope?

Peter said...

Dear All,
Firstly, a big thank you to you for writing in, it is lovely to feel part of a wider community and I appreciate your comments very much. I would have liked to reply to each of you individually, but I have ended this day rather tired and can't seem to gather my thoughts together all that well, so I will have to make this to all of you. I am sorry for that.

It was nice to share a little glimpse of this beautiful part of the world. Taking photos, and putting them together for the blog also helps me appreciate this place more too!

Thank you Barb for writing in. I am sorry that I have the word verification thing on this blog, I don't much like it either. When I started the blog everything went OK without it, but after a couple of years I started receiving frequent spam comments with links to sites on them that were trying to sell products and services that I wasn't happy about, so I had to make it harder for such things to arrive here.

Regarding the recent earthquakes in New Zealand, we are too far South of where they are occuring to be affected, but we do feel very sorry for those that have been. It is so hard for people, as there are many aftershocks which can be nightmarish after a while.

Some of you have asked after my health, and the truth is that things are a bit frustrating at the moment. I don't have too much trouble doing light things around the house, but I quickly discover my limits! The longer this back trouble goes on, the more uncertain I become about my return to potting. I am happy to report that I did some drawing late last week at the beach, and started to enjoy it.

Sue said...

"This sea gazes skywards with green-blue eyes on a clear day, grey eyes when there are clouds, and her stare is almost black in a gale.

Indeed, the sea watched over the infant land like a midwife whilst it steamed and quivered, and finally set..."

Now the sea nibbles and sucks at the land's cold toes, turning hard rock into sand.

Beautiful descriptive words. Love the sunrise pictures. The sea does look steel grey, and the sky, captivating.

Glad you're enjoying the drawing. All you can do is go with whatever your back enables you to do.
You have a creativity which will emerge any way it can.

Keep smiling, and try to have a good laugh ... I've heard laughter is beneficial to the health. There is such a thing as laughter yoga. Therapy where everyone has a good laugh.... fancy that!


Peter said...

Hello Sue,
I enjoyed doing the descriptive stuff, it is a very satisfying process trying to find words that capture a place, or something as vast as the sea.

You are right, having a laugh is wonderful, and I am sure it has healing properties. I am missing Rhonda and Mark at the moment, for some reason laughter seems to happen with great ease round there which is a delightful thing and a great gift. Anyway I'll keep trying the sketching down at the beach (if it would stop raining!!), it was nice to feel some drawing skills emerging out of hibernation.

Linda Starr said...

the way you've captured the swirling sea makes me think of the style of painting by Edvard Munch./

when we lived in the sierra nevada mountains we have slugs called banana slugs and they were huge and slimy, now those are some large slugs, haven't thought about them till you mentioned the seals, good to see them sunning there on the beach

hope all is going well

Peter said...

Ha ha, banana slugs sound truly horrible! As you were in the Sierra Nevada mountains, I suspect that those banana slugs didn't eat bananas?!! :) But I guess they might have been large enough to have some food value! I wonder if slugs that have fed exclusively on cabbages, taste like cabbage??

We were lucky enough to see a Munch exhibition many years ago, mosty prints, and they were wonderful.

David Barber said...

Beautiful photos.

Peter said...

Thank you David. Good to hear from you. P.

Cassandra said...

Matakaea translated is The Mother Leads - so lovely. Shag Point is so special it has captured me.

Peter said...

Hi Cassandra,
Thank you so much for your comment, and for Matakaea and its translation. There is something very special about Shag Point, I used to go there some times with my watercolours and do paintings. It was especially beautiful early in winter, with lovely colours in the sky and sea.