Wikipedia says there is a Maori legend about the sandfly:
“The god Tu-te-raki-whanoa had just finished creating the landscape of Fiordland, it was absolutely stunning… so stunning that it stopped people from working. They just stood around gazing at the beauty instead. The goddess Hinenuitepo became angry at these unproductive people, so she created the sandfly to bite them and get them moving”.
I had never heard of sandflies before our trip to the South Island last year. They aren’t a problem in Auckland or the North Island at all really. So when my partner started warning me about them before we went camping I blew him off. I’m from Texas, I told him – land of mosquitos and chiggers. I’m tough.
I’ve mentioned this before but our trip was three weeks long with a combination of camping and hotels. And for the biggest part of the trip, sandflies weren’t an issue. Te Ara has an awesome ‘Sandfly Nuisance Map” that shows you were they are a problem. The picture below is from their site:
At our campsite in Wanaka, we were camped near the lake and had a bit of a breeze – sandflies can’t tolerate wind and rain and left us alone there. Walking around was fine, but as we relaxed at the campsite the sandflies discovered us. Stealthy, non-buzzing, annoying things that look like little flies but have a bite! It doesn’t hurt when they bite really, but there is often a quick little sting and then a few minutes later your body starts to react and the itching begins. The worst thing about sandfly bites is that the itch is intense and lasts for an hour or two — a lot longer for some people. The picture on today’s post is from Te Ara’s site, I unfortunately was too busy fighting them off to take a picture of my own.
We stopped for lunch at a nice picnic stop near the Fox Glacier. We thought we were lucky to find a picnic table that wasn’t being used so lugged out the chilly bin (cooler) and lunch stuff and started setting the table. Within seconds of opening the car door we learned an important rule in dealing with sandflies – put on the insect deterrent BEFORE opening the car door. Once the door is open, if you’re in an area where they are common then in they come. And you will be swatting at them while trying to put the repellent on and four letter words will be bandied about. After a few minutes at the table trying to get the flies off our arms, noses, food, etc. etc. we decided that this picnic spot wasn’t for us and moved on.
But the worst, absolute worst was at Milford Sound. We lucked into what must have been the last available campsite at the campground in the town of Milford Sound. We had a nice steak dinner planned and expected to spend the evening at the campsite over a nice glass of wine. But the sandflies found us as soon as we pulled up and started setting up the tent. Within minutes we were hopping around like crazy people – trying to nail in the tent spikes with one hand while brushing away sandflies with the other. After the fastest camp setup we had ever had, we huddled inside the camper and debated the next course of action.
Some of us voted for roughing it with the sandflies, others thought the café in the main lodge would be a peaceful respite. In the end we tried to eat at the campsite, gave up, and went for wine and dinner inside the café. And that’s where we ate the rest of our time in Milford. The campsite is in a beautiful secluded area with trees and a river flowing nearby. But no wind to deter the sandflies and apparently they breed in fast flowing water.
There are some recommendations for deterring them. We found that the store-bought repellent worked pretty well as long as you applied it everywhere. Wearing long sleeves and pants also helps of course. They can’t see at night so they don’t bite as much in the dark and they bite more at dawn and dusk. More ‘alternative’ treatments I’ve heard of (but not tried) include mixing olive oil with Listerine or Vicks Vapor Rub, eating lots of Vegemite or Marmite, or taking lots of Vitamin B.
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