Friday, March 5, 2021

Escaping east, away from the rain

The north east portion of the South Island is in a bit of a rain shadow. Hot dry summers with cool nights makes the Marlborough region perfect for grape growing, but it also makes for a handy bolthole when the other side of the island, and the mountainous regions, are enveloped in cloud. After 3 days in Takaka, having done the laundry, written a number of blog posts, had some long conversations with other hostel residents, and visited a gin distillery, I realised that the weather wasn't going to clear for at least another week so I sadly left.

Besides, I needed to head back to Renwick as I had had some replacement credit and debit cards sent to me from Australia that I'd redirected to my friends Rick and Barb. Sometimes life admin gets in the way....

There was a small weather window to go visit another bay in Marlborough Sounds. This time I needed to walk in. I drove back to Duncan Bay in Tennyson Inlet, and instead of going paddling, I stowed my raft in my backpack and headed up the Nydia Track.

The Nydia Track joins Duncan Bay in the north with Kaiuma Bay in Queen Charlotte Sound. It goes up over a saddle at each end of the track to descend to the picturesque, sparsely populated Nydia Bay. There's a DOC lodge you can stay in, as well as private accommodation and a DOC campsite. I chose the campsite, and what a view!

It only took 3.5 hours from Duncan Bay, not bad going given my pack was fairly heavy, what with tent and packraft on board. After a nice cup of tea I inflated Lola to go for a paddle, but the wind was blowing just a bit too strong for my liking. So I read a book instead....

The next morning I was up early, for sunrise, but also to get on the water whilst it was calm. 

I paddled straight across the bay to the other side, where the mussel farms began, then pootled my way back, skirting the coastline. I saw a gannet dive for a fish, although it was a long way off, and saw lots of shoals jumping out of my way. The water was murky, which made for nice colours...

I stopped in to check out Nydia Lodge, and decided my bayside accommodation was the superior, then slowly made my way along the shoreline, keeping just out of the shallows. Nydia Bay was extensively logged of its native timbers, mostly Rimu, as evidenced by a few old rusty pulleys, and a predominance of exotic pines over podocarps.  

A gentle breeze came up late morning, but it was still an easy paddle back to the campsite, where I had lunch then packed up camp for the walk back out. The pack felt no lighter, though I did manage to shave 15 minutes off the return trip!

Back at Rick and Barb's I scoured the weather forecasts and decided to head further east again, because even Renwick was going to be wet. 

My next stop was Conroy Flat, south of Kaikoura, to spend two days walking The Kaikoura Coastal Track. This is a private track, that traverses a couple of farm properties, with comfortable farmhouse accommodation and luggage transfers. It was inspired by The Banks Track, which pioneered these type of options. Not only does it provide some farm income from tourism, but it allows the paying public to access walking opportunities not otherwise available to them.

The first night was spent at The Beach House at Ngaroma. The surf pounded all night, reverberating off the cliffs just across the road from our accommodation.

The next morning our rag tag group of seven (three other couples and myself) headed off in our own time for the walk south along the coastline. I left just after high tide, so opted to walk the entire way along the black sand beach. Even with the tide going out there were a few short scampers to miss being washed by a rogue wave.

The sea cliffs were quite magnificent, with little gorges heading inland, filled with native bush, or sometimes weed choked instead.

Flotsam and jetsam on the beach was mostly natural, including a few seal pup bodies...

After two and a half hours the trail left the beach, to a small shelter under some shady trees, with a gas ring and supplies to make a nice cup of tea and take a break. Then the track climbed up onto Medina Farm's clifftops for a spanking view of the coastline way north of Kaikoura, and south to Banks peninsula if you took advantage of the supplied binoculars. Unfortunately no whales spotted...

From the lookout the track crossed some paddocks full of sheep and Angus cows, then dropped down to a small creek. From here the track entered a private reserve, fenced off from stock since 1984 and covered by a QE2 covenant. The trail followed up the stream for some kilometres, through shrubby bush with a few quite impressive black pines and matais, alongside some sheer cliff walls. It's no wonder they fenced it off, stock falling over those cliff sides wouldn't survive!

Once out of the gorge, the track meandered back downhill, past a eucalyptus fringed pond and up one final hill to our accommodation that evening at "The Whare". There's also a cottage situated a distance away on the other side of the farmhouse, which has accommodation for a couple. We helped ourselves to a few pears from the nearby orchard.

The next morning we were taken by minivan to the main highway and dumped on the side of the road, a gate was unlocked for us, and we were directed to walk up a blackberry bush lined track and through a pine plantation. This rather unattractive start to the day's walk was tempered by the opportunity to sample the ripe fruit along the way.

Once some altitude had been gained the plantation ended and the track travelled along a bush lined creek for some time, before climbing through a piece of remnant beech forest.The birds in this section were a joy to listen to.
Once through the beech forest the track climbed through overgrown grassy paddocks to reach a saddle, and views back down to the ocean far below.

From there it was a short climb up to Skull Peak, the highest point on the property, with more stunning views up and down the coast as well as the mountains inland.

Descending from Skull Peak was quite steep, and then a farm track brought us to Skull Peak Shelter, where I had an early lunch and a nice hot cup of tea whilst revelling in the view.

From the shelter it was downhill all the way, often on quite steep farm tracks, with one diversion through a protected area, with "no cows" signs. I'm sure they can't read, it must be the physical blockade itself that stops them in their tracks!

After a couple of hours I was back at the beach house enjoying a cold lemon drink courtesy of Heather, our host at Ngaroma.  

So what was my overall impression? The accommodation and hospitality were fantastic, especially David Handyside from Medina who gave us a great history lesson whilst driving us to the highway drop-off. Much of the track was weedy and needed maintenance, but I suspect that either finances, time, or getting older, might be getting the better of the chaps who started the track all those years ago. Farm management has been passed down to their children, so the older generation are just managing the track now, but I feel a bit more effort on track maintenance wouldn't go astray.

The views were amazing. And the shelters with gas rings, water, toilets and tea and coffee were a great addition. As was the supply of binoculars to use at the lookout and the Skull Peak shelter. No whales seen on Day 2 either...

This is now the second trip I've done where my baggage is transferred whilst I only walk with a day pack. It's quite nice, especially after the last trip carrying tent and packraft. But I can't see it ever becoming my norm!

In fact, straight after that I headed back into the hills, this time in to the high country, to do some off track tramping no less. Which was a good thing, because an earthquake off the North Island had triggered a tsunami warning!! 

That's next!

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