New Zealand has few native creatures on the island–aside from the various birds, most have been imported (for better or worse) from other parts of the world. This means many of the animals and pests we most fear or loathe in the U.S. are absent: no worries about stepping on a snake or encountering a bear or cougar as you tramp across the countryside. No, the most fearsome creature you’ll encounter when tramping about the South Island is the sand fly–specifically the female sand fly (the biting gender of the species). They may sound like small potatoes compared to other pests, but do not underestimate them!
The first place we encountered these pests was Ship’s Bay, a place of tranquil beauty but also a breeding ground for female sand flies apparently. Out of our car no more than five minutes, we were surrounded by swarms of these blood seekers. They collected on our feet, our ankles, any part of exposed skin. As an offensive measure, I tried to pull bug spray out of a suitcase from the back of the car. Seemingly drawn to the red of the suitcase, there were suddenly more sand flies than I could count. I jumped around, swatting wildly at the suitcase, my legs, the air, trying to disperse them. Tim grabbed the bug spray and began spraying everything in sight: the suitcase, our bodies, the clouds of flies, all in an attempt to cause retreat. But it was too late: the wounds had been inflicted and days later the intense itch reminds me of the attack.
To make matters worse, leaving the doors open even for the amount of time it took to enter and exit the vehicle created a Trojan horse opportunity for these tireless warriors. They hid on the floor, on suitcases, and in seat crevices and came out for the attack when we thought we had safely escaped. The pandemonium in the car that ensued when they mounted their attack would have been comical viewed from the exterior. We try frantically to cover exposed skin, swat the feasting marauders, and roll down the window to create a vacuum to suck all the beasts out of the car. The shouts and erratic movement alone could have been sensory overload for those devils if they hadn’t been so keen and focused on their mission.
The sight of a single sand fly is enough to send us springing into action now. The only good sand fly is a dead one!
Heed our warning: unless you want to fall victim to these demons of the south, be sure to apply bug spray liberally before any South Island adventure in the summer. Failure to prepare will leave you scratching until you bleed and begging for mercy and peace from the most ferocious predator in New Zealand.