After climbing aboard our 4WD vehicle in Murchison we drive up a beautiful, remote valley. We pass capped oil wells and hear about the oil drilling history started last century, before we enter private land.
Deer farming in New Zealand has a fascinating and turbulent history. This is a chance to see a farm from the inside of the fences and hear how the industry got started.
Rough tracks take us across fenced paddocks and whilst no safari can guarantee sightings, there is always something of interest to see. Depending on the season, we may see hinds with fawns or stags battling, ‘beefies’, or lambs.
From the far end of the farm, we start our walk through rich beech forest. We explain why some of the trees are all black and furry, and point out other fauna and flora as we come across them.
Entering a large clearing we often encounter wild deer and goats quietly nibbling the grass, surrounded by mountains.
Crossing a side stream we re-enter the fairy tale like forest, full of ancient mosses and primeval ferns; it’s easy to see why ‘Lord of the Rings’ was filmed in NZ!
Native birds encountered include bellbirds, tuis, kakariki, tomtits, friendly fantails and tame robins. Wood pigeons crowd the tops of the Kahikatea, feeding on its colourful fruit.
After about an hour, the bush becomes denser, and pushing our way through the undergrowth we stumble across a remarkable sight.
Flames flickering on the floor of the forest, surrounded by ferns and shielded from above by beech trees? It’s not what you expect in a rain forest!
We make ‘billy’ tea over the flames and cook pancakes, eaten with bush-honey. Take care though – a native robin has a taste for them and often steals tidbits!
Sitting here for a while, we soak up the atmosphere of this magical spot for undisturbed except for bird song.
Reluctantly, we retrace our steps to our vehicle – and a return to ‘reality’!
In 1922 a couple of local farmers were hunting deep in the bush when they smelt gas. In a moment of madness they lit a match and whoof – the Natural Flames were alight! They have been burning pretty much ever since with occasional visits from picnicking locals and the odd hunter.
When they first arrived in Murchison in 2004, Merve & Shirley Bigden heard about these ‘Flames in the forest’ but thought the locals were having a joke! Upon finding them, although they have lived on four different continents, they realised they had never seen anything quite so magical. Here was something that could help put Murchison ‘on the map.’
There are a couple of places in the world where flames come out of the ground, but a unique set of circumstances occur here to make it the only place we know of where flames are burning on a floor of a forest – without burning the trees down!!
In 2012 they secured exclusive access through the farm and started taking small groups up to see something quite different.
In 2015 Steve and Elizabeth Riley purchased the Explore Murchison business when Merve, Shirley and Kali moved to Europe.
He has experience in farming, development work in Africa and as a Sky TV tech.
He enjoys caring for the bush and bird life through pest control and adding to his knowledge of the plants and wildlife.
In his spare time Steve goes hunting and fishing.
Elizabeth finds the Murchison outdoors is a great place to explore, while getting lots of exercise, walking and swimming.
There is also the pleasure of learning what other people enjoy about the place.
She also likes reading, writing and studying.
Shelley has a background in bee-keeping, forestry, bus-driving and cooking.
With her links to local history (ask Shelley who her great-grandfather was!) she enjoys showing our clients the wonders of the NZ bush and telling historic tales.
Shelley also makes her own soaps, and with partner Jason markets delicious local honeys.