On the Kaik­oura Coast Track

Dol­phins, seals and spec­tac­u­lar coastal views are highlights on this two-day walk, writes Siob­han Downes.

Sunday Star-Times - Escape - - FRONT PAGE -

Turn east off State High­way 1 at the Con­way River Bridge, where Can­ter­bury meets Marl­bor­ough, and make your way along a quiet, back-coun­try road.

Even­tu­ally, you’ll turn a cor­ner and gasp, as acres of green farm­land turn un­ex­pect­edly into ocean. This is Kaik­oura’s hid­den coast­line. The Kaik­oura Coast Track was es­tab­lished by a group of farm­ing fam­i­lies who wanted to share their piece of par­adise with the world. They set to work con­struct­ing a pri­vate walk­ing track on their land in 1994.

It’s a glamp­ing-style tramp, with lux­u­ri­ous ac­com­mo­da­tion, and a lug­gage trans­port ser­vice. At the end of each day, you can soothe your aching mus­cles with a hot shower, be­fore set­tling in for the night with a glass of wine be­side a crack­ling fire.

The Kaik­oura Coast Track is still welcoming walk­ers fol­low­ing the Novem­ber 14 earth­quake, and can be ac­cessed from Christchurch on SH1.

Where

The Kaik­oura Coast Track takes place on Con­way Flat, about 40km south of Kaik­oura. You’ll be hosted by two lovely lo­cal farm­ing fam­i­lies, the Mac­far­lanes and the Handy­sides.

Time

It’s a two-day walk, and you can ex­pect to be hik­ing for about four to six hours each day, de­pend­ing on your fit­ness level – and how long you al­low your­self to be dis­tracted by the breath­tak­ing views along the way.

The track is open from the be­gin­ning of Oc­to­ber to the end of April.

Dis­tance

The track cov­ers 26km, di­vided into 13km each day.

Start­ing point

You’ll spend your first night at the Beach House, Ngaroma – for­mer shear­ers’ quar­ters on the Mac­far­lanes’ sheep farm, which has been con­verted into a de­light­ful lit­tle bach.

To get there, it’s a two-hour drive from Christchurch, with se­cure park­ing.

You can also take an In­terCity bus or Atomic shut­tle, and re­quest to be dropped off at the Con­way River Bridge.

Dif­fi­culty

The track is suit­able for most walk­ers, though best for those with a rea­son­able level of fit­ness.

The walk kicks off with a long trudge through soft sand, which will have your legs burn­ing in protest the next day.

There are steep hills and slip­pery sec­tions, which could be chal­leng­ing, par­tic­u­larly in wet weather. But the ex­pe­ri­ence as a whole has been de­signed with com­fort in mind.

There are hot show­ers, flush­ing toi­lets, and fully equipped kitchens in the cot­tages.

Your hosts will trans­port your lug­gage be­tween stops, which means you only have to carry a light day pack.

You can bring in your own food, or have home­made meals pre­pared for you at an ad­di­tional cost ($50 for din­ner, $20 for break­fast and $20 for a packed lunch to take on the track).

We went with the lat­ter op­tion, and en­joyed two beau­ti­ful, farm-in­spired roast lamb feasts.

Our lunch­boxes were stuffed with left­over lamb sand­wiches, fruit, and de­li­cious bak­ing. At the end of each day, a pitcher of fresh lemon drink and a tin of bis­cuits were wait­ing for us.

Along the way

Day one takes you along a moody, black sand beach, past cliffs em­bed­ded with 8000-year-old tree stumps and fos­sils. Keep a watch­ful eye on the ocean – you might just see Hec­tor’s dol­phin.

After a cou­ple of hours, you’ll turn off the beach and head into the bush for a billy tea and some lunch at the bliss­fully peace­ful Cir­cle Shel­ter, an an­cient Maori camp­site.

The track then climbs to a spec­tac­u­lar look­out, where you can see Banks Penin­sula to the south, and Kaik­oura Penin­sula to the north.

If you open up a box on the bench, you’ll find a pair of binoc­u­lars have been thought­fully stowed there so you can take a closer look.

From here, you’ll walk across open farm­land and through a conservation area of re­gen­er­at­ing bush. Drink in the fresh air like a tonic and be sure to lis­ten out for the bird­song of fan­tails, wood pi­geons, and grey war­blers.

Take a break at the pic­turesque ‘‘Rest and Re­flect’’ bench at the top of the hill, be­fore mak­ing your way to the Whare cot­tage, where you’ll be spend­ing the se­cond night.

The next morn­ing you’ll be up early for a van ride to Bunt­ings Gully, where the next sec­tion of the track was cut through the bush by hand.

It takes about three hours to reach the sky­line, where you’ll be re­warded with panoramic views over the Kaik­oura Ranges and the coast – that awe-in­spir­ing place where the alps meet the ocean.

Carry on along the track to Skull Peak Shel­ter, where you can have a hot drink, fill up your wa­ter bot­tle and go to the loo. After that slog up the hill, it will be one of the best lunch breaks you’ve ever had.

The rest of the af­ter­noon will be spent mak­ing your way down to­wards the coast, across rolling farm­land and through more of that sweetly fra­grant coastal bush. You’ll end up where you started, back at the Beach House.

Highlights

The magic of the track lies in its many beau­ti­ful rest stops, so make sure to take your time and soak in all of the views.

There’s also plenty of wildlife to be en­coun­tered along the track, in­clud­ing dol­phins and seals, if you’re very lucky.

Un­like New Zealand’s crowded ‘‘Great Walks’’, only 10 peo­ple are al­lowed on the Kaik­oura Coast Track each day, so you can go for miles with­out en­coun­ter­ing a soul.

At some points, it might even feel as though you and your walk­ing bud­dies are the only peo­ple in the world.

Best for

Those who want to es­cape the city with­out leav­ing be­hind life’s lit­tle lux­u­ries. The track ap­peals to ev­ery­one from in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors, to fam­i­lies, to older walk­ers. It costs $200 to ex­pe­ri­ence the Kaik­oura Coast Track.

More in­for­ma­tion

kaik­oura­track.co.nz

The writer was hosted by the Kaik­oura Coast Track, and trav­elled be­fore the Novem­ber 14 earth­quake.

Leave plenty of time for ad­mir­ing the spec­tac­u­lar views on the Kaik­oura Coast Track.

SIOB­HAN DOWNES

The Beach House, Ngaroma, is a for­mer shear­ers’ quar­ters on the Mac­far­lanes’ sheep farm.

DOWNES SIOB­HAN

The Beach House pro­vides a cosy home away from home.

KAIK­OURA COAST TRACK

The track goes through pri­vate farm­land at Con­way Flat, near Kaik­oura.

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