[TRAVEL ★★★]


New Zealand Fire

(P1) There are plenty of TROUT swimming through the rivers that SURROUND the ISOLATED New Zealand village of Murchison, and ANGLERS come from all over the world to TRY THEIR LUCK. But the trout don’t run in the Blackwater River.

(P2) A SEEMINGLY typical clear and swift South Island river, the Blackwater has one UNMISTAKABLE TRAIT: the water carries a WHIFF of KEROSENE. It’s FAINT, but it was enough to give the Blackwater its name, and strong enough to keep the trout away. There’s oil buried in these hills, and in a deep fold of BEECH forest in the Blackwater Valley, the oil feeds a little-known natural PHENOMENON – if you know where to look.

(P3) Locals call it the Gas Blows, but Merve and Shirley Bigden – a small husband-and-wife tour operating team – have named it the Natural Flames Experience. Unknown to most travellers – and indeed to most people outside of Murchison, a two-street village 125km southwest Nelson – a BIZARRE CAULDRON of bright yellow smokeless flames burns ETERNALLY in the bush here, feeding off natural METHANE gas leaking continuously from the ground.

(P4) The bowl of flames has been burning, so the legend goes, since the 1920s, when a couple of hunters sat down for a smoke and one threw away his match, suddenly IGNITING the leaking gas right next to him. The Bigdens say the hunter actually SNIFFED the air and, in a moment of madness, tossed a light to see what would happen. Yet, another story says the hunters smelled gas, banged a pipe into the ground and then lit it. REGARDLESS, the flames have rarely gone out since.

(P5) On a recent winter’s morning, I EMBARKED on the four-hour Natural Flames Experience, with two other guests and local Shelley Neame as our guide. A BUMPY 15km drive south led to a gentle, UNDULATING 2.4km walk through the VERDANT bush. Neame is of old Murchison STOCK, tracing her family back to when the area was settled in the 1800s, and knows plenty of local history.

(P6) After about an hour, the bright yellow flames popped suddenly into view, CRADLED in a SHALLOW bowl a couple of metres wide. Surrounded by a green SWATHE of damp native FERNS and trees, the quietly spitting fire pit was totally unexpected. In fact, it felt EERIE, as though bush spirits had abandoned the place just moments before. But on a cold and MISTY day, it was a welcome sight. I gazed in wonder, and then hurried closer to warm my CHILLY hands.

(P7) Neame dropped a camp pot over the flames, boiled water and added tea, which STEEPED until it was deep with smoky flavour.  She then placed a SKILLET on the hot rocks NESTLED in the flames and cooked pancakes, offering us local HONEY as a TOPPING.

(P8) The honey was DELICATELY sweet, the pancakes soft and steaming, and we chewed and GAZED at the fire and wondered about the twist of geology deep in the earth that created it.

(P9) We sat on the RICKETY wooden benches on a small LEDGE above the flames for close to an hour, staring down at the fire nestled in the misty cool bush threaded with frost. It was ASTONISHING to think it had burned almost continuously for nearly 100 years (though sometimes after a heavy rain, the gas needs to be re-ignited).

(P10) There are at least nine other spots around the world where eternal flames burn from natural gas. But this natural wonder is ONE-OF-A-KIND: nowhere else in the world do the flames burn UNDISTURBED in the middle of thick, UNINHABITED bush.

WORDS: 593



If you found the passage difficult to read or had problems understanding specific words or idiomatic expressions, please discuss them with your tutor. The following discussion questions should be answered in your own words and with your own arguments.

  1. Briefly summarize the content of the article in your own words.
  2. Most people probably don’t have a clear idea where New Zealand is. Could you find it on a map?
  3. What is the most interesting thing you have ever seen out in nature?
  4. Have you ever been on a tour with a guide? What was it like?
  5. What is your favorite kind of food to cook outside?


What do the following expressions mean? Practice using each expression in a sentence; extra points if you can use it in conversation.

  • Try your luck
  • One-of-a-kind

Cambly Practice Button

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