I’ve been on the West Coast with friends this weekend. The South Island’s west coast always reminds me of Panama. Though one is a temperate zone in a modern, developed country and the other is a tropical, developing country, there are striking similarities in the landscape.
Both are landscapes in which agriculture struggles to hold its own against encroaching rainforest (or the other way around, depending on your point of view).
Giant trees in the middle of paddocks clearly grew up in the middle of the forest and were left for stock shelter. Stumps dotting the farmland attest to the recent clearing of the forest. Drainage ditches rush with water, and the lush vegetation defies a climate harsh in its abundance.
Towns and villages cling precariously to the wet slopes. Lichens and moss encrust rotting weatherboards. Sheds are engulfed by vines. Human sounds are drowned out by a cacophony of raucous birds. Nature dominates the human world. One good storm, one bad decision, and nature will reclaim what people have temporarily usurped.
Of course, this is where the similarities end. Panama’s sweltering heat, its humped Brahman cattle, and volcanic clay soils are nothing like the West Coast, where glaciers reach the rainforest, and black and white Holstein-Friesians graze the paddocks.
I love visiting the West Coast, with its unkempt abundance. It is a sparsely populated frontier, where only the hardiest survive. Lush and lovely and harsh.