Expanding a hundred meters offshore the tide retreats exposing wavy ripples of soft sand. Cutting across the new desert at low tide, thousands of embedded cockles, whelks, ostrich shells, conches, tangles of uprooted seaweed and driftwood large and small are engulfed in a thick porridge of fine sand and seawater.
Isolated pools harbor anemones, Cat’s eye snails, and eleven-armed sea stars. Using both hands, I pry a rock from the wet sand. A suction-pucker sound, the rock lolls over, and colonies of tiny crabs scuttle from oasis to oasis.
Variable oyster catchers, pied cormorants, weka, blue heron, Canadian geese, and the occasional spoonbill come to inspect. Green-lipped mussels are tangled in the barnacle-coated rocks. Fur seals lay camouflaged, sunbathing.
Sandy Bay is ever-changing.
The ins and outs of high and low tide reshape and form a unique landscape teeming with life. Situated in Marahau, a short mountainous fifteen-minute hill-hugging car ride north of Kaiteriteri, and an hour and a half from Nelson, the town is a gateway to Abel Tasman National Park.
A hidden slice of paradise, for six months I lived in a cottage up on a hill overlooking Sandy Bay and Fisherman’s Island off the northwest coast of the country, south of Golden Bay.
It was my base for what would become an eventful winter-long foray exploring every crevice, dead log, tree, moss-covered stump, coastal track, shoreline, and understory in the park. It is here where my interest in fungi “mushroomed.”
I walk the tideline across Sandy Bay and the shallow waves wash the beach clean of my tracks. Sidestepping across toothy rocks, squidgy kelp, Neptune’s pearls, and crushed barnacles; I’ve become a crab.
From the entrance of the park to Tinline takes about half an hour, but when one searches and scans the forest floor time slows down and the destination is secondary.
The sound of rain pocks the packed sand of Coquille Bay and I take cover in a driftwood teepee.
One of the weka patrolling the shoreline on the hunt for breakfast invades my territory, or am I invading his? I unfold my mini burner and screw on the butane tank at the base, light the gas, and place a pot on top to boil water to make a cup of soup while I wait for the rain to pass.
My new friend cocks his head and looks at me expectantly asking, “where’s my toll?” The thought runs through my head that it’d be just as easy to grab the unsuspecting bird and throw him in too while I’m at it. The sound of rain letting up snaps me out of my delicious daydream and I make my way into the bush.
Where grass meets sand, I spot what Maori believed to be ghost dung from Whatitiri, their thunder God. Maori in the South Island refer to them as whareatua – house of the devil – which is linked to its net-like appearance. A few white basket fungi have hatched from their gooey alien-like eggs.
The perfect symmetry of pentagonal cages makes them look more like hollow soccer balls, as if a 3-D printer started with the design outline then ran out of material. Along the Abel Tasman Coastal Track many white basket fungi grow.
RELATED: The Alienness of White Basket Fungus
I continue uphill from Coquille Bay to the coastal track and head back towards the Tinline Trail. Shooting upward are shoulder-high ferns, and moss-swarmed floors.
Sword ferns, liverworts, lichen, and leaves as small as sand grains cover every inch of the dank, downed logs as I climb up a trail into the bush between the bay and the coastal track. Once I reach the top, I’m rewarded with a view of Coquille Bay below.
I stop in my tracks, stunned, dumbfounded, in awe at what I spot next. It solidifies that what I am witnessing is truly strange, unreal, and that what nature has in store is more imaginative than any science fiction.
A white and spikey capped Amanita pareparina, also known as a Maori Palisade Lepidella growing up from golden fronds at the base of a fern.
Later I would find an Amanita australis. Geoff Ridley suggests an appropriate common name would be the “straw flycap”, while Rodham Tulloss calls it the “far south Amanita”. The specific epithet australis means “southern”.
An open field with a picnic bench let’s me know I’ve made it to the Tinline Campsite. A sign points to bush saying it’ll take twenty minutes to hike the loop.
Warmth of the slanting sunlight makes its way through the open-branched trees; combined with the rising scents of fresh rain and forest, they loam to make the day enticingly sleepy. The sound of water trickling over stones in the creek empty into Tinline Bay.
A parent and child duo of Amanita muscaria grow under a tree next to the creek. A festive red and white Christmas, older than Christ himself. I continue along the trail and walk in silence, crunching the thousands of invertebrates in the undergrowth. The earth gives beneath like a shot mattress. Maybe I could lay down for a nap?
A hint of blue juxtaposed against the verdant green moss at the base of a fern along the Tinline trail puts me at alert. A trio of Entoloma hochstetteri.
If you’re not burdened by money, you may have missed the blue duo on the backside of the $50 dollar banknote.
New Zealand is the only country in the world to feature mushrooms on their currency – Entomola hochstetteri alongside the endangered and fabled Kokako, a bird that Maoris believed to have gained it’s coloring from rubbing it’s wattle against the blue mushrooms.
A common question for any mushroom found (especially of the blue variety) is, “is it edible? Or is it psychedelic?”
Although this mushroom won’t have you uncovering a hidden layer of reality, it has been researched for cultivating an all-natural alternative to blue food coloring. It has proven to be tricky though, as getting down the exact conditions to replicate the species alludes scientists.
Nature has its secrets.
The famous blue mushrooms were on my bucket list. Although, the list of fungi I would like to find is ever-expanding and every foray offers something new and unexpected. The sheer amount of fungal diversity in the forests here, paired with what little is known about the forgotten kingdom adds that extra motivation to continue searching and discovering.
Out of the estimated 25,000 fungi species to exist in New Zealand, only between 7 to 8,000 have been identified. Two-thirds of fungi are yet to be classified.
I look up at sturdy boughs so much like human arms, lifting upward at the drip-tipped leaves like hands proffering, elbow bent from the larger limbs, which lower themselves to earth and thicken into new trunks. Mushrooms ladder up the sides in terraced ledges.
With each trip out into the bush, a new discovery is made. A new memory is created. As I expand my fungal consciousness and lexicon, I’m brought back to where it all began. The time spent in Abel Tasman National Park is something I cherish.
I urge those who aim to hike trails in New Zealand, not to just go during the warmer, spring and summer months, but go out in the rain, the cold and damp, the winter months that may be deemed “uncomfortable” or not “ideal” hiking conditions.
It is here where a new world emerges.
All the razzmatazz of flora and fauna formed by the mind-boggling mycelial act of decomposition, decay, rebirth, the finale. A brilliant show of a fleeting fruit body, a dazzling display of Earth’s oddity, a mushroom. The forgotten “F”, a precursor to flora and fauna– the kingdom of fungi.
In total, I logged a few hundred observations on iNaturalist over the winter in Abel Tasman, yet this is barely scratching the surface.
What new species will you find?