Southland – That’s a Wrap

 – Katie Thomas PhD Student

When you’ve just got married and driven hundreds of kilometres down the wild West Coast of the South Island, you’d think it’s quite hard to top such experiences. I won’t say it was better than my wedding day… but flying over the endless fiords as the sun breaks over the horizon to land in some of the most untouched places in NZ… that’s something pretty darn special!

Left: Sunrise over Lake Te Anaua from helicopter. Right: Sean searching for signal, Lake Lucille.

Arriving at the tail end of a monumental field campaign, still riding the hearty highs of our wedding day, I wasn’t convinced I was a welcome sight to the weary field veterans of Te Anau. But there’s nothing like a beautiful deep blue lake with Kea flying overhead to reinvigorate even the most fatigued of field teams. I was lucky enough to join the final helicopter day out to Lakes Lucille and Troup, to the west of Te Anau, near the top of Doubtful Sound. Flying over the Wilmot Pass, we reached the edge of Doubtful Sound, lined with waterfalls washing over the edges of countless river valleys cut short by a long-gone glacier. Getting a bird’s eye view of these dramatic landscapes really helps put into perspective the large-scale process that create them, as well as the much grander geological timescales in which we must consider them. As a biologist, you tend to think about the tens, or sometimes hundreds, of year it takes for organisms to cause change to a landscape. But these rivers have existed for possibly millions of years, to then be gouged out by a giant chunk of ice during a glacial period some 18,000 years ago. This is precisely why we appreciate the knowledge and perspectives that our colleagues at GNS, Victoria and Otago Universities bring to Lakes380.

At a dizzying depth of 98 m, Lake Troup was by far our deepest lake across all regions visited so far – the next closest being Lake Lockett (57 m; Nelson/Tasman region) and the Acheron Lakes (54 m) east of Te Anau. This should not have been too surprising, looking at the sheer cliff faces surrounding us. Despite our best efforts to retrieve at least some form of core sample, the best we could get were some chunks of boulder…which just goes to show, sometimes lakes are like a box of chocolates…we never really know what we’re going to get! I have a feeling we will back here one day, next time with some serious coring equipment!

From left (clockwise): Outlet of Lake Troup looking across the top of Doubtful Sound and end of the Wilmot Pass at the many waterfalls. Left: Attempting to retrieve a Ponar grab sample at approx. 42 m. Middle: The resulting grab. Right: Lake Troup’s cool, clear water surrounded by vertical rockfaces.

Our last day of sampling in Fiordland threatened to bring wet, cold and miserable sampling conditions as we drove the long gravel roads out to South Mavora Lake. But we were pleasantly relieved of this by the time the boats were ready to launch. A misty and magical place, it is in fact one of many sites of pilgrimage for LOTR fans. No Hobbits, Orcs or Urak-hai were spotted unfortunately, though some of the grunts and contorted faces of core retrieval could have been mistaken for some undesirables of Mordor…

Left: Glassey water and stunning mountainous view down the Mavora valley. Right: Successful core retrieval.

It might seem unfair to give all the attention to the beautiful and dramatic landscapes of the high-country lakes, but I can’t say I wasn’t saddened to leave them behind as we headed further south to the big smoke of Invercargill. It was here I reminded myself that the whole reason I started my journey as a freshwater scientist was to help understand and restore these highly impacted lowland waterbodies. I had to repeat this mantra many times over as we battled the soft, gumboot-swallowing mud of Lake George, a 0.9 m deep coastal lake west of Invercargill, near Colac Bay. Thankfully the other three lakes were more forgiving but similarly shallow. What I can say for the southern plains is, what they lack in picturesque, clear lakes, they make up for in hospitality and cheese rolls – a classic Invercargill delicacy. And who knows, perhaps these sediment cores will reveal some intriguing untold tales when we cast a finer eye over them back in comfort of the lab.

From left (clockwise): Big Lagoon proving wetland lakes can be pretty too. Left: Putting the 4WDs through their paces at Lake George. Middle: Lake George putting the team through their paces, and a lot of mud. Right: Smile, it’s the last Lake! Waituna Lagoon.

Southland Summary

-Rose Gregersen- PhD Student, Auckland University

The Southland field trip began for me with a nightmare flight into Invercargill, and ended with no desire whatsoever to head back home to Auckland.

This immense trip was an immense success. Thanks to hours and hours of organisation and preparation, seamless team work and leadership, the team was able to sample a total of forty lakes. Many of these lakes are in as close to un-impacted condition as possible and the cores collected will provide important long-term records of climatic change and reference ecosystem state.

With much of Southland being inaccessible by road, our main mode of transport to and from site was Helicopter. Not only did this serve us amazing views but also gave me immense awe for those travelling the Pounamu trail by foot hundreds of years earlier. Wanting to make the most of helicopter time we aimed to sample two lakes per day in fine weather. Adding on the time between lakes for cleaning, pack down and setup makes for long days in the field – Lucky the team is made of determined, hardworking and passionate people.

I think the breath-taking scenery is partly responsible for this determination – no one was particularly keen to take their scheduled days off. It often felt as though my eyes were deceiving me, the landscape serving as a constant reminder of the importance of Lakes 380


Sampling Southland

– John Pearman – Molecular Ecologist, Cawthron Institute

It had all started two weeks earlier when I arrived in New Zealand to start my career at Cawthron. Now I was heading south for my first experience of sampling the lakes of New Zealand in Southland.

My first experience of the sampling was an early morning start to meet the helicopters that would take us up towards the alpine zone and the first lake of the day. We rose up over the mountains with lakes emerging in the bottom of the valleys.


After a short flight we descended through the clouds and set down next to the lake side. We wrapped up warm to protect against the morning chill and as soon as the sling arrived with our equipment we got down to the business of constructing the inflatable boats. It was not long before the sun broke through the cloud, allowing the far side of the lake to be observed and a sweat to be brought about as we prepared for the upcoming paddle. With the sun beating down, the only similarity to my previous sampling experiences in Saudi Arabia, the smaller inflatable was the first to venture out onto the water. After a bit of paddling around, not quite in circles but almost, the deepest part of the lake was identified and the larger inflatable (Kea), on which the coring took place, maneuvered into position. While those on the coring boat used their brawn to tap the corers into the sediment the action on the smaller boat was slightly more sedate taking samples for water quality analysis. These included: nutrients, total and dissolved organic carbon and trace metals as well samples for zooplankton and phytoplankton. Finally, not to miss out on the fun of playing with sediments, a ponar was deployed to sample surface sediments. With the all samples on board and the coring team having pulled up four cores it was time to head back to shore and collapse and clean the equipment before the short, yet scenic, hop across to the second lake of the day where the whole process was repeated.


A speck in the vast expanse. The coring boat positioned at the deepest part of the Lake Roe to collect sediment cores.

The next couple of sampling days took place on more lowland and potentially anthropogenically impacted lakes. These two lakes were situated on farms in the Te Anau region and would provide a variety in the lake conditions sampled when considered alongside those in the alpine zone. At the first lake after meeting the farm owner and discussing his philosophy on farming and taking advantage of his local knowledge of the system the team headed down to the lake, hefted the equipment over the barbed wire protecting the lake and started unintentionally chasing the paradise shelducks around the lake in the name of science. The second lake down in the lowlands followed a similar procedure, although without the shelducks leading the way. In preparation for heading back up into the mountains a healthy dose of bleach was used to make sure the equipment was extra clean so as to avoid cross contamination of the delicate systems.

The next day started with another scenic helicopter trip (note to any budding future (or current) scientists out there…. choose your sampling field sites well). The team settled into the pattern of constructing, the boats, sampling and then dismantling and cleaning the inflatables and another two lakes were ticked off.

The next day though was not quite as uneventful. Firstly, the first lake sampled had a sandy beach from which the boats were launched. It was also the first time I had properly been stationed on the coring boat and had to use muscles that had long been forgotten about. Four cores later and am arms wondering what I had against them, we started the paddle back to shore into the strengthening breeze just to make sure that the upper body had had a proper work out and arrived just in time for the what seemed like lunchtime for the sandflies. The second lake was to bring the true excitement and will go down in Lakes380 folklore as the lake of the flying eel. The sampling went off without a hitch, with some good 1.8 m + cores obtained. As the boats were dismantled and cleaned, Jamie was down at the water edge cleaning his gloves when a post watershed shout was heard. An eel was seen gracefully arcing through the air, a position it was most likely unfamiliar with, before gravity got the better of the situation and the eel landed in the grass. It turned out that the eel had decided to take an opportunistic nibble at Jamie’s finger and this had led to the spontaneous flight lessons for the eel. The good news though is that after the recovery from the shock and disbelief both the finger and eel survived the episode.


The next lake to be sampled brought its own perils. Those of frisbees as equipment was carried across a frisbee golf course in Te Anau. Luckily this time no one was hurt in the pursuit of science and the sampling of the small Lake Henry proceeded with no dramas.

The last lake of my time in Southland also happened to be the most scenic and deepest I had sampled. The helicopter flight brought us into a bowl with steep sides encompassing most of the lake.


With Kea’s circling above the boats headed out onto the tranquil lake and started to sample the 50 m water column to obtain the water quality samples as those on the coring boat heaved up four long cores from the depths. With the sampling complete for my time in Southland all that was required now was to pack up and have one final scenic helicopter ride back.



The Lakes380 team heads north to Auckland

Lake Tomorata

The third installment of Lakes380 field sampling brought the team to Auckland’s dune lakes.

First up was and environmental DNA survey at Tomarata Lake, which lies on the edge of Mangawhai forest. Being away from laboratory facilities can be difficult, but the team is comprised of well-experienced problem solvers, and an improvised motel laboratory was quickly constructed and day one ended with a late night of sample processing.

Day two we returned to Tomarata to collect sediment cores and water quality samples. Close by Lake Spectacle was next on our list. Getting stuck in the mud here  tested our four-wheel drive capabilities (or should I say, our ability to read rental car manuals, how many scientists do you think it takes to switch over to four-wheel drive?).

We cruised through day three at the beautiful Lake Kareta in South Head; smooth sailing credited to the fantastic facilities, company, and kai provided by Ed and Nicole Donald who are passionate about the future of this lake.

After refreshing our forestry safety protocols on the morning of day four, we headed further up South Head to sample in the footsteps of Kawheru the giant; lakes Rototoa and Kuwakatai. Rototoa lived up to its namesake of “strong lake”, challenging us to a tug of war over the first core. It seems our determination convinced the lake to return the corer with core intact, along with what felt like permission to continue sampling. After Rototoa we ventured into the forest to peaceful Lake Kuwakatai. Unable to launch the motor boat, we paddled the raft out managing to complete all our sampling from one vessel.

The final day took us south to Lake Wainamu, a unique lake surrounded by beautiful native bush and towering black sand dunes. Access to the lake would have been impossible without the expert ATV dune driving skills of Harry from Auckland council. With help from Kevin Simon (Auckland University) and Matt Bloxham (Auckland Council) we sampling and pack down went super smoothly and was the perfect to end a successful trip.

One of the really fantastic aspects of this project is meeting and talking with members of the community, people who are passionate about the health of Aotearoa’s lakes. There are some stories lake sediment cannot tell.

-Rose Gregersen


Captions (clockwise): Susie and Andrew work late into the night filtering eDNA samples (but remain happy). Rose field sampling. The ATV loaded and ready for the sand dune trip. Sampling Lake Wainamu.

L380 team with Ed and Nicole Butler - Lake Kereta

Caption: The Lakes380 Auckland sampling team with Ed and Nicole Donald in front of Lake Kareta.

L380 team - Lake Wainamu

Caption: The Lakes380 Auckland sampling team with Harry and Matt (Auckland Council) in front of Lake Wainamu.

See the Lakes380 team in action in this short video from Golden Bay

IMG_9961Sampling Golden Bay/Mohua – part 2

The quest to sample our 380 lakes continued last month when the crew headed over the Takaka Hill to Golden Bay. Lakes Rototai, Killarney, Otuhie and two of the Kaihoka lakes were ticked off the list early in the week (read more about these sites in Charlotte’s post below). We like to refresh the field crew to keep energy and momentum going on these lengthy and often remote field trips, so I tagged in for the second half of the trip.

The much-anticipated first heli-sampling day of the project finally arrived, bringing a stunning day of sampling on Lake Lockette in the Kahurangi National Park. Despite the picturesque surrounds, this was no holiday for the sampling team. At approx. 700 m wideand 57 m deep, Lake Lockette proved to be a physical challenge, taking over 5 hours to complete the full suite of sampling

Unfavourable weather the next day meant no heli-action, but the sampling didn’t stop. We headed northwest to the shallow, low-lying Lake Mangarakau. Wind and dark cloud descended over us making for some slow paddling progress. Having two inflatable vessels certainly makes it possible to access a range of remote lakes – but, on days like this you really miss an outboard motor!

The second chopper trip took us back into Kahurangi National Park to the much smaller and shallower Lake Peel – tucked in a mountainous bowl over the ridge from the Cobb Valley. We swooped in and got our sampling done in under three hours, but had to pack up and get out smartly before the cloud, rain and hail set in from the northeast. We better get used to these unpredictable mountain conditions for our Southland campaign, where over half of our lakes will be heli-access only!

Stay tuned for our next adventure before a well deserved christmas break, this time further north in the Auckland region.   – Katie Brasell


Sampling Golden Bay/Mohua – part 1

Anneika Young, Kura Stafford and Lenaire Crockford observe the Lakes380 team at Lake Rototai

Lakes380 launched our fieldwork in Mohua/Golden Bay with Manawhenua ki Mohua at a small blue lake, Rototai, near Takaka township. Karanga, karakia and waiata rang out in greeting to the lake and the tūpuna connected to this rohe; a karakia timatanga led by Te Ātiawa, Ngāti Tama and Ngāti Rārua whānau. It was very uplifting for all involved and opened pathways for a deeper connection to lakes and the stories accumulated within layers of whakapapa and sediment deposits. In the afternoon, we drew cores from Lake Killarney in Takaka – a small suburban lake where locals recall childhood memories of playing in the waters which are now regarded as unsafe for submersion.

Over the following few days, the team cored the two Kaihoka Lakes at Westhaven Inlet in northern Golden Bay. David Ferguson, whose family has farmed there since 1915, led us across rolling hill country through multiple farm gates on beautiful lush land where his son now farms 1700 sheep. These coastal lakes are surrounded by dense bush with grand nikau palm trees protruding like a sentinel presence, causing me to ponder who is the observed and who the observer.

Another cancelled helicopter trip meant that we made an unplanned diversion to take sediment cores and water samples from Lake Otuhie. Access was challenging and required digging a slipway by hand to launch the dinghy and inflatable canoe onto a flax-flanked creek. As we entered the wide amphitheatre of Otuhie, it felt as if the scars of separation between Ranginui and Papatūānuku were still raw, in a slow process of healing. Muscular limestone bluffs towered above, softened by the green cloak of Mother Earth, and as we worked the tears of the Sky Father fell gently upon us.

  • Charlotte Šunde, 6/11/2018
From left to right: (back row) Marcus Vandergoes, Jamie Howarth, Andrew Rees, Lenaire, Crockford Harvey Ruru, Aneika Young, McKayla Holloway, Sean Waters, Mailys Picard (front row) Charlotte Sunde, Susie Wood, Kura Stafford.

(Clockwise) The Lakes380 team prepare at the edge of the Kaihoka lake a, surface sediment from Kaihoka 1, Lake Peel and the outlet of Lake Otuhie.


Lakes380 Launching Off in Wellington!


Our Lakes380 campaign began in earnest last week when the team descended upon Lake Waitawa, near Otaki, to collect our first samples in the Wellington region. The team included eight people, two boats, and three vehicles packed to the brim with all manner of equipment. Our mission: to collect all samples and clean down within half a day.

The first lake was always going to be a learning experience; the loose soupy mud and thick algal blooms at Lake Waitawa presented some logistical challenges. Nearby Lake Waiorongomai, a shallow coastal dune lake, was our second target and the first test for our shiny, new, red inflatable raft – would it fit the bill for those remote South Island lakes, accessible only by helicopter?

While the GNS Science crew retrieved four long cores from the lake bed, the rest of the team listened intently to some great korero from local kaitiaki, Caleb Royal – tales of how his ancestors once fished thousands of tuna (eels) from Waiorongomai and would bathe in its water to wash away the blood and anguish of battle on their journeys home.

Next stop was the Wairarapa and Lake Nganoke, a small shallow lake on private land in the south Wairarapa. Our sampling efforts on here saw us finishing in approximately 5 hours. We even had time to pick up a few extra samples from a very glassy, picturesque Lake Wairarapa (pictured above).

With some great improvements in coordination and teamwork we were starting to look like a pretty slick operation. The inflatable boat will be a great assets for the helicopter trips in the coming months, with the possible addition of a second smaller raft to speed up the process. Next on the agenda – sunny Nelson/Tasman! Watch this space for more updates in early November.