Marble Hill Campsite and The Little Guy
Located within Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve, Marble Hill is home to one of NZ’s most beautiful DOC camping grounds – a row of sites tucked into beech forest, overlooking a grassy meadow and encircled by snow-capped mountains.
This special place represents a landmark victory for NZ’s conservation movement. Back in the 1970s, this significant forest was saved from the chop by a 341,159-signature petition known as the ‘Maruia Declaration’, which played a part in the Department of Conservation’s establishment in 1987.
An end to logging native trees
In October 1971 a government white paper proposed large-scale milling of South Island lowland beech forest, to provide timber for one or more pulp mills. Half of the milled area was to be replanted with exotic Pinus radiata, while part of the remainder was to be selectively logged and planted with eucalypts.
At the time, the only New Zealand environmental group concerned with forests was the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society. But the proposal prompted many others, including the Beech Forest Action Committee, which later became the Native Forests Action Council. It produced the Maruia Declaration, signed on the banks of the Maruia River – one of the first areas designated for clear-felling – on 4 July 1975. This was circulated as a public petition before being submitted to the government in 1977. It demanded legal recognition of native forests and an end to their logging.
Although the Maruia Declaration seemed radical at the time, almost all of its demands were met in the next 30 years.
Marble Hill Campsite
Bringing to mind what Lonely Planet had said about the area while I’m standing on the banks of the Maruia River and looking towards Marble Hill is quite the symbolic gesture: gazing across flat, grassy areas set aside for campers, and lifting my gaze to the hills with their skiff of snow softening the dark green foliage of red beech trees.
Whereas: Pine plantations for as far as the eye could see, usurping clear-felled natives, and groves of eucalypts, is a vision to supplant the former that’s disturbing and all too easy to conjure up because we’ve seen such sights elsewhere in our country.
I owe a debt of gratitude to all those environmentalists who fought so hard for so long to end the logging of native trees. They are the ones who ultimately ensured that Lonely Planet could tell lovers of the great outdoors from all around the world that “Marble Hill is home to one of NZ’s most beautiful DOC camping grounds”.
We’ve been speculating that the Department of Conservation may be planning to use the Marble Hill campsite as the starting point in a development of the area that might one day see it, along with other scenic wonder and wander lands, being given the status of ‘Great Walk’ to ease the unsustainable demands being placed on our existing Great Walks such as the Tongariro Northern Circuit and the Milford.
It was our day tramp to Lake Daniell that triggered the speculation. A five-to-six-hour return trip from the camping ground, it lived up to DOC’s ‘easy’ tramping classification. There’s little in the way of roots, boulders and logs to slow you down – it’s more like a stroll in the park for long stretches and you’re barely aware of the gentle rise and fall of the land, with the occasional board walk traversing most stretches that are remotely boggy or otherwise a little more challenging.
Just as ‘easy’ though, is to get caught unawares when the going’s good. An hour from camp on the return journey, I veered to the left side to avoid the worst of a boggy three stride length of track and sank in to not much more than boot sole depth. June went to the right and her left leg got completely swallowed – must have been a hole hidden by the surface murk. Miraculously she neither toppled completely over nor crippled herself. Ankles, knees, hips were fine, but she had mud from boot to bum and her left shin was bloodied and bruised for several inches despite the covering of long johns and trousers. The incident was so ‘out of left field’ for such a cruisy tramp that the very painful graze shook her up far less than the shock of wondering how on earth it could have happened in the first place.
We’d been walking like automatons along manicured track leading up to it and had completely let our guard down, mired down in an emotionally charged discussion about family. Then June plunged into a brown bog that mired her to the waist! If I’d plunged in as well, you could have said that poetic justice had been well served!
But that and a few other potentially nasty surprises dealt to and DOC will have themselves a three-hour starter stretch of ‘Great Walk’ to get tourists as far as Lake Daniell, and to a hut by the lake that’s gone way past what we would look for on a tramp! It was the beginning of spring and so no doubt understandably deserted – that is apart from the two of us wallowing in sunshine and lake view as we sat at a table on its expansive deck to eat a lunch of avocado, boiled egg and homemade seed loaf.
Big enough to accommodate twenty not so intrepid trampers, double glazed, wall-to-wall benches, massive and mod. log burner, fancy and odourless long drops just outside the back door, large outdoor shelter: all adds up to a lodge for pampered walkers that wouldn’t look out of place on the Milford.
On our first stay at Maruia Springs Thermal Resort thirteen years ago, we’d walked to the lake on a bleak late winter day and hadn’t factored in the wind chill when it came to clothing – the cold got to us so bad that not even a lunchtime stint inside the much smaller, poorly insulated hut that was there at the time made any difference. We were so cold, only strenuous exertion kept our core body temperature up on the tramp out. After that ordeal, we vowed never to take wine (our booze of choice) on tramps. Swigging it down with lunch, it’d repaid our devotion to the vino by dilating the peripherals to give our body heat an easier escape route.
Our freshly minted return, after so many years, to the Marble Hill area and to the lake with its glamping-grand hut, has been quite the revelation. For one, it was fair weather friendly this time round which made it so much easier to embrace the experience in an elated state of mind; and now we knew (which we didn’t back then), that 341,159 people (the vast majority as ordinary as you and me), had signed a petition that you could say was a death knell to all those who wanted to keep logging native trees. Now that’s some victory for the little guy.*
*the little guy: an ordinary person who is not wealthy, famous or powerful – used to refer to such people in general.
That’s all on modern-day homesteading at Little Owl Gully till next Monday. Thanks for your company. Bye for now.