Life behind the Blue Bluff

MY16_BlueBluff- David and Kathleen_F
David and Kathleen Campbell at the Home beyond the Blue Bluff slip, they can watch machinery working at the slip site from their house

“It’s been different,” say Kathleen and David Campbell from their home beyond the Blue Bluff slip, since the slip cut direct access to their Ōtaki Gorge property last December.

Life has changed, now there are few visitors or guests at the Prayer Retreat property, hindered by the daunting trek from Shield Flat via the DoC track which goes through both Department of Conservation and private land and forest. The biggest deterrent:THE HILL necessitating a steep climb to the summit and down the other side with just a rope to hold onto and you carry everything in with you. David or Kathleen may meet you at the bottom of the hill with the quad bike and cart your gear the last 45 minute hike to the house. 

“It’s been a challenge to get up the hill using a rope and down on a rope!” Kathleen said. “The hill (on the DoC track) is very steep making getting in and out challenging. It’s ok in the fine weather and we’ve had no rain yet, but will I be that keen in winter….!”

David had installed 100 metres of rope up the track to help haul them up the steep hill. 

They had to purchase a 4×4 quad bike to get along part of the track and help carry in supplies. “We had to have help with lessons driving the four wheel drive through the forest track, I’d never done this type of driving before! Then there was the possibility of meeting diggers, logging trucks and other vehicles (through the forestry blocks). Fortunately we are able to use hand held radios to communicate our movements,” Kathleen said. 

They had to give up their commitments in Ōtaki because of the difficulty getting out. Trips needed planning — an extra set of clothes to change into, overnight stays organised if they attended an evening function. Supplies had to purchased and mostly carried in, although some orders go in by helicopter. DoC pays for the helicopter to take supplies into the Campbell’s and the DoC ranger at Ōtaki Forks. 

“We have been incredibly blessed, neighbours have been great, they’re very helpful and supportive and our friends have been really good to us,” David said. Some friends arrived with 20 litres of petrol and “masses of groceries” and a week later they sent 20 litres of diesel. Another organised for 10 kilograms of rice and 10kg of wheat to go in. Kathleen has her own flour mill so she can make her own bread.  

They are off-grid for electricity and most of the power comes from their solar panels and they have a diesel generator for the winter. The petrol is for the quad and some power tools. Telephone and internet access is via a silicon signal “I’ve no idea where it comes from. There are no aerials in sight!” Kathleen laughed. With the large property they have a few sheep, hens and quail and grow a lot of their own vegetables and some fruit. They even have their own bees which supply honey and Kathleen has an extractor to remove the honey from the frames. 

Part of the property is heritage forest and they are building tracks through the bush and contemplating whether to get a digger in later to clear some of the tracks or get rat bait stations to clear the area of vermin. At one end of the property are the remains of the power dam built by former land owner, Charlie Arcus in the 1990’s. They are working on a two kilometre long track down to the river and the dam. Campbells purchased the property in 2000.

When the first slip came down in December they were able to walk over the fallen debris to their car, although Kapiti Coast District Council weren’t too happy but realised it was their only access, so gave them hi-viz fluorescent jackets to wear and lots of safety instructions. Since the bigger slip in February they have had to use the track from Shield Flat, through forestry and private land and a couple of times they used a river crossing. But the DoC track from Shield Flat is their main route where they can take their quad bike part of the way and use it to carry supplies down to the house.

“I’ve been trying to write a blog to keep track of what’s happening, for family and friends,” Kathleen said, “I often wonder about the pioneering women up here, my life is very easy it’s not hard. I just have to make choices, decisions and plan. I’d like to write a book on pioneering women’s lives up the gorge.”

They often ponder on what they’ve gained from their experiences of the last few months; have they used the time to the best opportunities. “It’s really quiet, an interesting life up here. When the slip is cleared and the road opened again, I can’t imagine what we’ll do, we’ll have more people visiting and staying again, but ……..”

More on the Gorge in this issue: