On the Kaikoura Coast Track
Dolphins, seals and spectacular coastal views are highlights on this two-day walk, writes Siobhan Downes.
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.
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.
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.
The track covers 26km, divided into 13km each day.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Beach House, Ngaroma, is a former shearers’ quarters on the Macfarlanes’ sheep farm.
The Beach House provides a cosy home away from home.
The track goes through private farmland at Conway Flat, near Kaikoura.