MistyNites

My Life in Motion

Archive for the month “January, 2020”

Mount Thomas (Ridge Route)

With a need to take every opportunity I could to go hiking ahead of an upcoming mammoth of a trek, despite having to work in the morning and a class in the early afternoon, I set off mid-afternoon to go to Mt Thomas Forest Conservation Area. I previously hiked Mt Thomas back in 2015 and had summited to no view when the clouds descended as I ascended. I had made a couple of attempts to go back in 2018 and been thwarted by the weather each time. Now, in January 2019, I was confident the weather was in my favour. With another hike planned for the following day, I reached the Wooded Gully campsite and set up my tent for the night, choosing to camp out rather than go home. By the time I’d done that and got my hiking boots on, it was after 4pm, but with the long day to my advantage, I set off to hike Mt Thomas for the second time.

Almost immediately after leaving the campsite behind and taking the direct summit track, I was shocked by the difference. Part of the forest in the lower part of the hike had been felled and this left a giant scar in the landscape: a muddy, roughened track of clay-like dirt amidst a mess of tree stumps and abandoned branches. This also left me totally exposed to the hot summer sun and with this part of the track being especially steep, I suddenly felt immensely unfit and had to stop often to catch my breath. It worried me a little. This hike was nothing compared to what was to come the following month and I couldn’t help but chastise myself for struggling with this track. Reaching the forest only offered relief from the sun but the steepness of the hike continued.

It was only in the last 100m altitude gain that the forest opened back up again and the view across the ridge stood before me. It was at this point last time that I’d found myself in dense cloud, so it was great to finally see the vista that I had missed. Looking behind me, I could make out the expanse of the Canterbury Plains. After this short section, the track reaches a forestry road which then leads the way to the summit at 1023m (3356ft). It was very windy but at least without the cloud this time, I could see inland across the outer reaches of the Southern Alps, and seaward to the sweeping arc of Pegasus Bay and Banks Peninsula in the far distance. The heat had not browned the vegetation here, and everything looked green and beautiful. I had the place to myself, unsurprising considering how late in the day it was. I would never normally hike up a mountain this late myself, but on this occasion it had worked out well.

 

From the summit there are a multitude of walks to take. It is possible to return the way you’ve come, or to cross the ridge and take the Wooded Gully track or the Ridge track, both of which lead back to the campsite; or continue across the mountain tops and follow a track deep into the mountains to a bivvy for an overnight hike (Bob’s Camp route). Having done the Wooded Gully track last time, I opted for the Ridge track this time round, to make it a longer hike, and to prevent monotony. Crossing the ridge was exposed with a crosswind, and I was quick to make work of this section of the trail. I passed the Wooded Gully turn-off in no time at all, but the junction I needed for the Ridge track took a little longer than anticipated to reach. When at last it appeared, the sign offered 5 different hiking options to choose from. My campsite was listed as 2.5hrs walk away, and the angle of the sun was starting to lower.

Almost immediately the track delved deep into the forest, and this it shared with the Wooded Gully track. What differed though, was the route it took back. Whereas the Gully track almost immediately lost altitude to follow the lower slopes of the hillside down, this one remained up on the ridge as the name would suggest. In fact the drop in altitude was so gradual that for a long time it felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere nearer to my destination. Deep within the forest it was hard to tell what altitude I was at as the views were few and far between. The bird life was minimal and the wind caused a lot of tree movement. At one point, a large tree had fallen over and the path had to skirt round the base which had been ripped up in the process. I wondered whether I was at risk of some of the flimsier trees falling down around me.

 

Eventually as the drop in altitude finally became noticeable, the forest proper suddenly came to an abrupt end, reaching a clearing which was scattered with young forest starting to push up at its margins. Finally I could see the Canterbury Plains again but I was still quite high up. As I got lower though, I reentered the active forestry zone and once more I found myself among tree stumps and a churned up and degraded track. In the process of deforesting this section, a few of the hiking markers appeared to have been lost and it was purely common sense taking me in the right direction. I knew I was on the look out for a forestry road and eventually I reached it at a large wasteland where abandoned tree limbs had been piled high at the margin. My topographical map had me follow the road to the next bend and then another track would lead me through the forest but as I trudged down the 4×4 track, this next track never materialised. I briefly clambered over some logs in search of it, but alas could not find it. Luckily the forestry road would take me to the same place, albeit with a few more bends so I just kept going.

 

I had seen not a single person on the whole hike, apart from a couple heading down right as I was setting off. But when I returned to the campsite there was a lot of activity and even more people had set up camp since I’d left it 4hrs prior. I finished at 8pm, ready for dinner, and had to make a wind break to stop my stove being blown out. Being next to the river, the sandflies of course were in full-on hounding mode and as soon as I’d eaten, I was straight into my tent to escape them. Despite being deep in the gully, the wind that I’d hiked through continued to pick up strength and seemed to just whip through the gully, rattling my tent and creaking the overhead trees. In fact it got so strong in the night that I couldn’t sleep from the noise as well as the concern that a tree might end up on top of me. In the early hours of the morning, I even got into my car and tried to sleep in there. Although I felt safer, it was so uncomfortable that I didn’t really feel any better off. Eventually, eager to get horizontal, I crept back to my tent sometime later, finally dozing for a few hours before the morning sun lit up my canvas. I love camping but I hate it at the same time. I never sleep well but there’s something kind of fun and isolating about it that makes me do it over and over again. But needless to say, having been stimulated by the increasing brightness of yet another sunny day, I arose early, shoved my camping gear in the boot of the car, and headed off for another day of hiking.

New Year Adventures

With the toughest hike of my life just a few weeks away, every day off work was an opportunity to do some hiking. The good thing about the festive period being in the Southern Hemisphere’s summer, is that the public holidays mean long hours of daylight and a reasonable chance of warm and/or dry weather. I haven’t done anything special for Hogmanay or New Year’s Eve for a long time. In fact, I haven’t even made it to midnight for a few years either, and the end of 2018 was no exception. I rose early on the first day of 2019, packed up my car and headed deep into Canterbury. With Christchurch on the coastal border of the Canterbury Plains, it takes over an hour to reach the mountains to the west and I was making a very familiar drive to the foot of Mt Somers, where a road leads into Hakatere Conservation Park. I’ve done a few hikes within its boundaries, including Mt Guy and Mt Sunday, and I’d sussed out a long walk to a couple of Department of Conservation (DoC) huts nestled among the mountains. Where the tarmac ended, I turned north, taking a long drive down a gravel road to reach Lake Heron.

I’d left sunshine behind and as I arrived at the lake, a wall of cloud lingered over the nearby peaks. I wasn’t sure how far the road went, so initially drove past the start of my hike, skirting round the edge of the lake and finding myself at a rather grungy campsite. It was busy, but it didn’t seem all that appealing to me. But it was the only place in the area with a toilet block and it allowed me to turn my car around and return to the stony car park where my hike started. Following a 4×4 track, I took a brief detour on the Kettle Hole walk which cut up a small hill to overlook a kettle, or depression in the ground formed by a historic glacier. I was a bit underwhelmed by it so didn’t hang around long before returning to the track to follow the edge of the lake. The wind danced across the water creating a bit of chop, and despite a sign stating that the area was a nature reserve and wildlife refuge, there wasn’t much in the way of wildlife to spot on or off the lake. Every now and again I got covered in a cloud of dust as a car passed me on the track, heading to a car park a little way around the shore.

 

I was a little disappointed to reach the car park and see the DoC sign which stated the hut I was planning on walking to was 3hrs away. This was a lot further than I’d anticipated when I’d researched my planned walk and I started to realise that I just didn’t have the time. My camping stuff was in the car, not on my person, and I’d already booked a spot at a campsite ahead of the next day’s hike, so it wasn’t an option to break the hike up and stay in the hut. I made the decision to hike based on time, to keep going until it was time to turn back, irregardless of how far I’d reached. Through a gate, the track cut down to a river where there was a ford or a boardwalk to get to the other side. After this brief detour, the track returned to the lakeside.

 

Soon after, there was a side track to Lake Hill, a 762m (2500ft) summit that gave a raised view of the lake and the surrounding conservation park. The actual elevation gain from the lake was barely 100m (328ft) but it was enough to get a broader view of the landscape. Across the lake, the snow-speckled peak of Mt Arrowsmith poked up behind the nearer peaks in front of it. The ground was covered in meadow flowers and an information board gave a brief overview of how the glaciers formed this valley and lake. It was a great spot for lunch, sitting down among the flowers and feeling the wind on my face. After a while, I took the track back down to the lake and continued to follow it round to Mt Sugarloaf.

 

The track starts to turn away from the lake at Harrison’s Bight, an inlet that keeps Mt Sugarloaf out of reach. The 4×4 track leads to here and there were a couple of utes parked up, their occupants nowhere to be seen. Soon I reached a track junction and took the Swin River track which was to take me to join the Te Araroa trail (the long-distance walk that spans the length of New Zealand), and from there would lead to Double Hut. The DoC sign showed the hut was still 2hrs away and as I walked along this flat, rather uninteresting section of the walk, as the sky grew darker around me, I realised that I wasn’t even going to get close to it. I could see it in the far distance nestled at the base of the mountain range in front of me, but after a while of it never getting any bigger in my view, I decided that enough was enough and duly turned round to return to my car. Double Hut and Emily Hut would have to wait for another day and another hike.

Spots of rain began to fall as I headed back and the clouds grew stormier as I worked my way back round the lake edge. I set off back along the gravel road, returning to sunshine as I headed south. I pulled over at Maori Lakes, a wetland area at the side of the road which sparkled under the sunshine here. The sandflies as always threatened to ruin my enjoyment and after taking some photos I pushed onwards. Back at Mount Somers village, I turned south towards Geraldine and Peel Forest. I’d booked a camping spot at the Peel Forest campground and the place was pretty busy when I arrived. I was able to secure a spot under the shade and set up my little hiking tent which looked positively dwarfed by the family-sized camping tents that were all around me. The area is covered in walks, long and short, so before dinner I did the Kahikatea walk which looped through a forest and wetland zone near the campsite.

 

I enjoy camping although rarely sleep well, so I was up and ready early the next morning, packing up and getting on the road with a grand plan. It wasn’t too far away to reach the car park for hiking Little Mt Peel, one of my favourite mountain hikes in Canterbury. It had been a few years since I’d been up, celebrating my 33rd birthday on my first and only trip up there. My plan for the day was to aim for Mount Peel which involves summiting Little Mt Peel, and following an unmarked path across the ridges to Middle Mt Peel and Mt Peel behind that. It was an ambitious plan as it is a full-on hike, and part of the reason I’d been keen to get going early. Little had changed as I followed the Deer Spur track up the slope and despite the early hour, I was surprised at the number of people already on the trail. It is a popular hike, and with good reason: the views are spectacular on the way up and from the summit itself. Now hiking with poles, my hiking style has notably changed as I’ve adapted to their use. I do find they slow my walking down at times and with the lower parts of the hike in the forest, they became a bit of a nuisance as I needed my hands free to aid negotiating tree routes during the initial climb.

The higher I climbed, the windier it got and there was a lot of cloud in the sky above me. When I reached the summit of Little Mt Peel (1311m/4301ft) there was a strong crosswind. I sat by the trig marker eating my lunch and stared across the ridge towards the neighbouring peaks, musing how to proceed. I’d told my partner my plans for the day, but not being a hiker himself, I wasn’t sure if he actually understood where I was planning to go. As I looked at the exposed ridge and the distance, I made time calculations in my head as I watched the clouds move across the neighouring ranges. Hiking alone involves risk. Hiking in groups does also but when I’m responsible for my own safety, sometimes I chicken out and take the safe option instead. As the wind was strong, and I wasn’t 100% sure what the weather planned on doing, I decided to leave the higher Mt Peel peaks for another day. I slightly kicked myself for being too scared to continue, whilst trying to justify with myself that I’d made the right decision.

 

Last time I’d hiked Little Mt Peel, I did the loop, descending down the South Ridge track which was rough and steep. I’d decided at the time that I wouldn’t do this track again, but having already changed my plans, I decided I’d go down this route after all, rather than the more popular Deer Spur track that I’d ascended on. I skirted behind the little shelter and went to use the portaloo behind it, opening the door to be presented by a scene of mayhem where some poor sod had clearly had explosive diarrhoea all over the inside of the portaloo itself. It was utterly gross and I was quick to shut the door again. With my poles again being a hindrance on the upper sections where the track is steepest, this route is actually quite enjoyable going down because you lose altitude exceptionally quickly which looks cool whenever you turn round to check your progress. The view to the neighbouring mountains is also nicer on this track than the Deer Spur track.

 

Eventually, the track turned almost 90 degrees and disappeared into the forest, finally coming out at Emily Falls and joining the Emily Falls track. Last time I’d come this way, I lost the track as it followed the river on the way back from the Falls. I knew what to look out for but as the bank had had a slip, I nearly missed the exit again. This final section in the forest is always a little boring for me. There wasn’t much bird life to spot and I was tired from the hike. Back at my car, it was time to head home. Neither day’s hikes had gone to plan, so I was a little frustrated but I had 4 more weekends to fit in some more mountains before heading abroad, and at least I was feeling positive about my fitness as the year began.

Adventures in Tasman

It was just a matter of minutes before we hit a snag. Loading back onto the bus at the Farewell Lighthouse, we cut down onto the sand and crossed the wide pool of water that sat at the edge of the beach. As we reached the far edge of the water and began to lift out onto the sand, the large tyres of the bus dug in and lost traction and very quickly we were stuck. A brief attempt to drive us out buried us deeper into the sand and in the windy afternoon, we were instructed to get off the bus. Luckily there were two buses on the tour and the other bus picked a different route through the water and made it safely onto the firm sand on the far side. Both drivers and several of the passengers took turns digging tunnels to drain the water away from the tyres. I’ve injured my back several times and was too worried about a repeat issue to help out, but my partner despite awaiting surgery on a torn muscle in his shoulder, leapt into action to help out. I felt a little guilty just watching but at the same time was worried that he’d injure himself more, failing to talk him out of doing what was instinctual for him. It got cold as we stood there, and eventually I was able to help with some lighter work, passing the chain between the two buses. It felt like a lot of time passed when eventually to great relief, the other bus was able to pull ours out the water and haul it onto the firmer sand.

 

Finally we could get back on board and on our way. We were driven some way down the massive expanse of Farewell Spit before we stopped at a relatively high sand dune. A trudge to the ridge revealed a view over the sand and Golden Bay across the far side. The cloud limited the horizon a little but it still felt like we were far away from anywhere with no signs of civilisation apart from us and our buses. A little further along the beach we stopped to see some baby oyster catchers, running alongside their parents, still in their fluffy spotted fledgling wear. We were both getting tired and hungry as the bus reached the base of the Spit and turned inland to make the crossing to the far side. The sand here was really soft and as we crossed the widest section, ready to lift up onto the track, we once again ground to a halt and bedded into the soft sand. Our driver, who had been a little too cocky on the drive up to the lighthouse, was paying the price and there was much disgruntlement among the passengers as we again had to disembark and my partner again put his shoulder at risk by helping to push the bus. I was concerned that the other bus would not be able to help us this time as he had to negotiate the soft sand at an awkward angle to help us out. There was a brief moment where I held my breath, concerned that he too would get stuck, but thankfully in less time than the initial grounding, we got out of our conundrum and were finally back on the other side and heading for Collingwood.

 

But things were not over yet, as with the tide in, we had to partly drive through the sea to reach the car park and the main road. Thankfully we reached the tarmac without further ado but as we crowned the hill and reached a one-lane bridge on the far side, we came face to face with a campervan who was forced to reverse on the narrow road to give us space. A tone of shock filled the air as one of his wheels nearly went off the road, threatening to topple him into the lake by his side. We could all see the look of fear on the passengers faces, but thankfully they were able to stop themselves just in time, and with a bit more negotiation, we were finally able to get on the road and return to Collingwood for a much needed drink and food.

We awoke to sunny skies on Christmas Eve, and having had a taste of what was on offer the day before, we retraced our steps to Farewell Spit. Sadly the cloud moved in as we made the drive, but that wasn’t going to stop us getting outside. Parking up at the Farewell Spit car park, we made the walk through the farmland past grazing sheep to the beach at the bottom of the Spit on the far side where we’d stopped on the bus the day before. Sadly there were no fur seals in sight this time, and with my partner struggling with cramp, we didn’t stay for long before heading back. A cafe sits atop a hill nearby and this made a great snack spot with a view over the bay and a small exhibit on the natural history of the place. Almost immediately behind it, a path led up through a paddock to an even higher spot affording an even better view over the rolling hills and the glistening water below. New Zealand is such a stunning country, and each new place I visit never fails to disappoint with its natural beauty.

 

We’d spotted a walk whilst on the bus the day before, so although we were headed out to Wharariki Beach, we stopped at a small pull-in to make the trudge up the steep slope to meet the Hilltop Walk near a small lighthouse. It is possible to walk from the cafe where we’d eaten all the way to Wharariki Beach if you have about 4hrs to spare, but we were just using the opportunity to get some views of the coast. It was difficult to get a clear view of Farewell Spit due to the vegetation but in the other direction we could see the wonderous cliffs and rolling hills that made up the coastline as it disappeared into the distance of Kahurangi National Park. Despite the burning sun and heat of the summer, the vegetation was a lush green, a stark contrast to the browns of the Port Hills that we get back home in the summer months. We could just about make out Cape Farewell where we’d stopped on the bus, but beyond that we could see a dip in the coast that marked our destination for the day.

 

It was a long gravel road that took us to the exceptionally busy car park for Wharariki Beach. This is one of the region’s top attractions and in the height of summer, it was full of tourists and their campervans. There is a bit of a walk to get to the beach even on the most direct route, but we opted to take the long way there, following the path past grazing sheep to round a pretty little lake. The sun had all but gone now, and the clouds had thickened up to grey the sky above us. Still, I could feel the power of the UV raging through and as usual, I had to continue to lacquer on the sunscreen despite the cloud. After a while, the track cut up onto a ridge and we got our first sight of the offshore rock sculptures that this beach is famous for. Past a lake on the hilltop, we headed down through a copse of trees and finally found ourselves at a small cove, completely surrounded by giant rocks, and one that we had all to ourselves apart from a fur seal that was resting at the back of the beach.

 

Initially we weren’t sure if we could get out of the cove without backtracking but after a bit of investigation, we were able to clamber over some boulders and found a cave that led us through to Wharariki beach proper. Even here, there were more giant rocks and we discovered a multitude of caves and arches to walk through. The position of the tide meant having to get just a little bit wet, and on more than one occasion we accidentally startled a fur seal that we stumbled on without warning. The further up the beach we walked, the bigger the crowds became. Despite the overcast weather and the expanse of the beach, it was quite busy around the middle section where a large cave and the area’s most famous sea stack can be found. One of several off the coast, this most famous one resembles a baby elephant, an arch on one side making it look like a trunk, and the slope on the other side creating a head and back. I wasn’t the only one playing around with the reflections in the tide trying to get a decent photo of it.

 

Although spots of rain threatened and the temperature dropped, I was reluctant to leave. Sometimes I can find it hard compromising when I’m travelling with other people. A lover of solo travel, I enjoy the freedom of spending as much time as a I want in a place, so I was a little disgruntled that my partner wanted to go. He’d been struggling with cramp and was getting agitated and restless. I begrudgingly traipsed behind him, making an arc to follow the water’s edge at the top end of the beach, doing my best to prolong my time there. The walk out involved a long trek through soft sand that was built up on a ridge behind the beach. As we reached the top, it started raining quite hard and suddenly I was as happy as my partner was to leave the beach behind. Although we were using the direct route to return to the car park, it was still a good 15 minute walk, and despite the rain, there were still plenty of people heading down to the beach.

 

Unfortunately the rain persisted into Christmas Day and we whiled away the hours watching movies at our motel. When eventually the rain eased, we were quick to get out on the road and make the most of the weather window. Driving round to Ligar Bay and beyond, we cut up the steep hill to take the gravel road into Abel Tasman National Park. This was the opposite side of the peninsula to where we’d previously been when staying in Kaiteriteri back in 2013, and the road was steep and winding, and with the rain that had fallen, it wasn’t the most comfortable road to drive. Despite this and the lack of tarmac, there was an inordinate amount of campervans and trailers heading over it, and I was very grateful that I wasn’t the one driving. I’m not a fan of driving New Zealand’s gravel roads, but unfortunately many of the hikes I’ve done over the years have involved negotiating them. They vary a lot in smoothness and gradient and on more than one occasion I’ve lost traction on a hill or skidded on the loose stones.

When at least we reached Totoranui, the car park was full and there were people everywhere. A large camp site hugged the back of the beach and we waited in the car for a bit as more rain passed through. When it eased again, we started walking the Abel Tasman coast route, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. My partner had noticed on the map that there was a lookout about 20mins along the coast so we headed there. The view in both directions was of sweeping coast, the sand here a vibrant orange colour. On a sunny day, the waters off New Zealand are usually a staggering blue, but on this day under the constant threat of more rain, the sea was a steel grey. Heading back to the campsite, my partner stuck to the track while I cut down to the beach, listening to the waves lap against the shore as I kicked my way through the sand. There was only a handful of people on the beach because of the weather so it felt peaceful here until I cut back up to the campsite. Legs feeling stretched and cabin fever relieved, we made the drive back to our motel to settle in for a Christmas dinner feast and a night of movies. Before the sun set though, we managed a walk round the deserted streets of Takaka to ease our full stomachs.

 

Boxing Day was a gloriously sunny day, but sadly we were heading home. I had wanted to do the caving experience on the top of Takaka Hill, but overcome with festive laziness, I didn’t get ready quickly enough and by the time we’d packed up, checked out and made the trudge up the long and winding road to the brow of the Hill, we’d just missed the guided tour. We stopped at a couple of lookouts instead which on one side of the road gave us green hills descending towards Golden Bay, and on the other side green hills descending into a large and deep valley. It was stinking hot, and we decided to turn into Kaiteriteri for a wander along the beach and some brunch. Sadly, Abel Tasman National Park has become a victim of its own popularity, and unlike our visit in 2013, the place was crammed full of people. There was nowhere to park, and despite circling round a bit and getting frustrated as we dodged pedestrians at every turn, we couldn’t find any space. In a last ditch effort, we took the turn-off to Little Kaiteriteri and finally found a patch of grass to park on at the far end of its beach. There was nowhere to eat here though, so although we could get a bit of a walk along the beach, our appetite drove us onwards, so after soaking up a bit of heat it was time to bid the coastline goodbye. The traffic back to Christchurch was busy, but more people were heading where we’d come from than where we were going and I wondered where all those extra people were going to fit.

Golden Bay

Since emigrating to New Zealand in early 2012, I’ve spent a lot of time exploring the country and gradually I’ve crossed off more and more places to the point that only a few key parts of Aotearoa remain unvisited. With both myself and my partner having time off over Christmas in 2018, we had secured a motel in the Golden Bay region, a place that I hadn’t been to before. Setting off from Christchurch a few days ahead of the big day, we mosied our way up through Lewis Pass and north beyond Murchison towards Motueka before cutting west towards the infamous Takaka Hill. I visited Abel Tasman in early 2013 and this was the furthest west I’d previously been on the north coast of the South Island so as we crept towards the hill, joining the increasing traffic, I was reaching new territory. Thanks to previous foul weather, landslips had reduced the steep and winding road to a single lane in multiple places, meaning the drive was periodically held up by traffic lights and queuing traffic. As we climbed high, the view over the valley behind us opened up and when at last we reached the brow of the hill and crossed the summit to reach the steep descent on the other side, I was presented with yet another stunning part of the country.

The hills made it feel like this corner of the island was cut off from the rest of the country, and indeed it had briefly been so when the landslips initially happened. The massive Kahurangi National Park divides this corner of the north coast from the wild west coast and surrounded by hills, we descended into a lush green valley below full of farmland. Having not paid enough attention to the geography, we had booked to stay at Takaka, and it was only when we got there that I realised that we weren’t actually by the coast. My partner was tired from the drive and after a walk around the compact little town, he wanted to veg in front of the tv whereas I was antsy and eager to get to the beach. Eventually after a rest, I convinced him to come with me and we drove down to Pohara where the expanse of the sandy Golden Bay was finally in front of us. It was a gorgeous evening, and with the tide out, we took a brief wander along the wet sand.

 

A few bends further along the road is the local marina, created out of reclaimed land and after a wee wander to admire the boats and the man-made hole in the rock where the road cut through, we followed the road a little further towards Ligar Bay. On a raised part of the coast, just before the bay was the Abel Tasman monument. Abel Tasman was a Dutch explorer who is credited with discovering New Zealand (the country had in fact been inhabited with Pacific Island settlers for some time before his discovery) and this region bares his name, both in the National Park, and also in the name of Tasman District (the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand is another nod to the explorer). The monument itself wasn’t much to look at but the view down over Golden Bay proper and in particular Ligar Bay is stunning. Once down at this beach, we both took another short walk and I wished we had rented a place here as there were so many houses with an incredible view over the bay.

 

The next day we took the same drive back to Ligar Bay but this time continued to Tata Beach. Just like the night before, I was wishing we were staying round here as again there was a beautiful beach, this time with a couple of islands offshore to look at, and there was a bit more activity here as families sat on the beach while others kayaked or jet-skied out to sea. After a while, we headed back to Takaka and out the other side, heading west and making the short drive to one of the area’s most famous attractions: Te Waikoropupu Springs. The springs are the largest freshwater springs in the country and the largest cold water springs in the Southern Hemisphere. But it is the purity of the water that makes them so famous, with a recorded visibility of 63m, they are almost the purest waters in the World. I’d seen pictures of stunning blues and had been eager to see them for myself for some time.

 

Arriving early in the morning, there was already plenty of cars in the car park, a typical finding in the height of summer in New Zealand. The country has had a tourism boom in the last decade and even in the time that I’ve lived here, I’ve seen popular places get increasingly overcrowded and over-stretch local infrastructure, resulting in a lot of development in an effort to accommodate the influx. Passing the information boards at the entrance, we followed the loop trail which meanders for a while through the nearby forest until eventually it comes out at the first open expanse of the water, where a boardwalk crosses the edge of the pond. The sun was behind a thin layer of cloud creating an unfortunately dull colour to the water here and the low angle of the sun meant you couldn’t see below the surface. It wasn’t until we continued round the trail a little and found a separate section of the pond with a boarded area facing away from the sun, that we could really appreciate the clarity of the water. I’m still not sure just how deep it is here, but it looked shallow given the clarity and the hint of the blues I’d seen in photographs could just about be discerned here.

 

There really was just these two main areas to see the expanse of the water. The returning section of the loop trail was again in the forest, although this time it followed a broad and fast flowing river where we watched some ducklings trying desperately to fight against the current to stay with their parent. We took our time to read the information boards back at the car park, acknowledging the crowds that had arrived as we’d walked the trail. It wasn’t just the car park that was full of activity, as there was plenty of manuka trees here and the honey bees were busy flying from flower to flower around us. Manuka honey is special, and is used not only in the food industry, but also in medicine as it has antibacterial properties and can aid in wound care.

Continuing west we turned off the main road to cut down to Patons Rock where there was yet another expanse of sandy beach. I’m not really one for sitting still on holidays, and prefer to be on the go and exploring over sunbathing on the beach, however, when I saw the various families splashing around in the water and lounging on the sand, I did get a little pang of jealousy and wished I could do the same. But we had booked onto a tour for the afternoon and so had to keep pushing onwards, so we continued on the last stretch of road to reach Collingwood, a small town that felt a million miles from anywhere. Sandwiched between the waters of the bay and an expansive estuary, we walked around the calm waterfront behind the peninsula, overlooking the mountains of Kahurangi National Park, and continued round to Golden Bay where the wind had by now whipped up and blew sand on our face as we walked amongst the driftwood on the beach here.

 

Before long though, it was time to join our tour and at the office of Farewell Spit Eco Tours we were assigned a bus and driver that was to take us out onto Farewell Spit that afternoon. Heading north to Puponga, we cut inland a little to reach Cape Farewell, the northernmost point of the South Island. A short walk from the car park here took us up the hillside to the sheer cliffs where under the heat of the summer sun, we looked down on a dramatic cliffscape complete with sea arch. A short walk from here took me up to join the Puponga Hilltop walk where I could see behind me over the rolling hills, and in front of me to the sparkling sea over which a small group of Australasian Gannets soared over. It was a beautiful lookout spot but I was keen to get out to the Spit where I hoped we’d spot some more wildlife.

 

The giant tyres of the bus seemed ridiculous for the tarmac on the drive to get to the spit but as soon as we went through the locked gate on arriving at the end of the road, it was clear why they were necessary: from this point onwards, the rest of the tour was via the sandy beach. Farewell Spit is a long sandbar that curves east from the northern corner of the South Island. Protecting this corner of the coast from the brunt of the wild Tasman Sea, it has created the deceptively calm and shallow slope of the expansive Golden Bay. The tidal movement within the bay is so dramatic that the difference between high tide and low tide on the sheltered side of the spit is dramatic, and it is believed that the shallow shelving of the seafloor here is at least in part responsible for the sadly regular event of mass whale strandings that occur in the bay. Time and time again, large groups of pilot whales beach themselves in Golden Bay, a large percentage of them dying as a result, despite the concerted efforts of Project Jonah, the country’s registered charity to try and refloat whales.

Only the lowest section of the Spit can be accessed by the public. To experience the full length of the spit, it is necessary to join a tour. After a brief spell on the Golden Bay side of the beach, the large bus cut across to the other side where we were exposed to whatever the Tasman Sea chose to throw at us. We’d already gotten a hint of the wind whilst in Collingwood, and here with the full exposure of the sand bar to our right, we paused to watch the sand whip madly towards us. We got the chance to get out nearby to explore the geology of the rocks and managed to spot a couple of New Zealand fur seals hiding out below the cliff, but then it was time to head along the expanse of the spit, the gloomy clouds to our left and the wind whipping at us as we drove.

 

We tanked it along the sandbar, twice slowing down to negotiate and annoy a sleeping fur seal hauled up on the sand. I was a little annoyed at our driver circling one of them which clearly pissed it off as it growled at us before it ran down the beach a bit. The sand itself was dotted with pools of water left from the retreating tide and the two buses had to work out the best way to negotiate these safely to get us to the lighthouse. The largest of these was at the entrance to the lighthouse itself, where the pool was long and of varying depth. Our driver scouted it out first of all before gunning it and making it across without any issues. The second bus was some way behind us but eventually caught up and picking a different route through the water, also made it across. In the blustering wind, we all bundled out to explore the grounds of the lighthouse, poking our noses in windows and walking amongst the dunes here. Outside one of the buildings, a whale skeleton stood and I inspected it with scientific curiosity while the others on the tour relaxed with drinks and snacks. I’m a cetacean enthusiast and back in 2005 spent a glorious 3 months in South Africa studying them, and this skeleton brought back so many memories of the anatomy lessons I’d received whilst there. After a while, it was time to board the buses for the return trip down the spit, a trip that turned rather awry…

Crater Rim Walkway

By December last year, the countdown was on to the toughest hike of my life and I was using every possible opportunity to get some walking or hiking in. The weather had been so variable and unpredictable across the spring and even if the sun wasn’t shining I had to get out and do something. Having walked various sections of the Crater Rim walkway over the years, I decided to take on the full length of it, starting at the Godley Head car park and heading west towards Gebbies Pass, where my partner would pick me up at the end of the day. It was surprisingly busy as I took Summit Road round the back of Sumner and Taylors Mistake. As I reached the car park I discovered that there was an orienteering event taking place and so there were people milling around everywhere. Thankfully I was able to park and soon I was on my way. It was overcast but in the way that my Scottish skin can still get burnt so I had to lacquer up in sunscreen throughout the long day’s walk.

The initial section of the trail is the Breeze Bay walking track which curved around a low peak overlooking Mechanics Bay and then Breeze Bay. The cloud was low over the mountains of Banks Peninsula and the summit of Mt Herbert, the peninsula’s highest peak, was hidden from view. It was an easy track, barely varying in height and with a constant view of the harbour with its blue-green water. As it continued on, curving round Livingstone Bay, the Lyttelton port came in to view and shortly after the track takes a turn and heads up an incline to skirt round a rocky bluff before cutting down to the road at the junction of Evans Pass. At the time of walking, the road down to Lyttelton was still closed off but since then it has opened up again after being closed for 8 years following the Christchurch earthquake of 2011.

 

A short walk along Summit Road is necessary before heading back onto the ridge again and away from the traffic. This next section is high above the port town of Lyttelton following the ridgeline round to an old gun emplacement from WWII. The place was full of invasive and introduced thistles but it was also full of insects as a result, including a gorgeous red admiral butterfly which sat perfectly still as I photographed it. There were a few people milling around here, the first people I’d come across since leaving the orienteering participants behind at Livingstone Bay. Once at Mt Pleasant, I got the first view over to Pegasus Bay since I’d left the car at Godley Head, and here, on weekends, there would be the option of cutting down the road to My Coffee at Hornbrook, a quaint little cafe in a local’s back garden with a great view over the spit at New Brighton. I wanted more than coffee though, so stayed up on the ridge, continuing on to Mt Cavendish where the Gondola top station and the Red Rock Cafe is.

 

It was a late lunch, by now after 2pm, but the food at the cafe here is delicious and filling, and I chowed into some Thai noodles whilst watching the tourists come and go. The Christchurch Gondola is a popular tourist attraction and with having an annual pass myself, I come up regularly throughout the year. But I still had so far to go and I was already realising that I’d set off too late to make Gebbies Pass a reality. I decided to make the Sign of the Bellbird my destination and was soon on my way again, heading down the most familiar section of the walkway from the Gondola down to the top of the Bridle Path. The views here are of Lyttelton Harbour and Quail Island to the left and Ferrymead with the estuary to the right. For visitors that are short of time, this is my most recommended section of the walkway both for the views but the ease of accessibility via either the gondola or the bridle path from both Lyttelton or Ferrymead.

 

From the junction with the Bridle Path, I was most used to joining the road but this time I stuck to the walking track which was raised just a little bit off the tarmac. Once past Castle Rock, the view into the harbour was blocked as the track stays a little below the ridgeline on the city side, and so for the next wee while, the city and if you’re lucky with the weather, the Southern Alps, are the main focus. When the harbour comes back into view, you are almost directly opposite Quail Island above Cass Bay. The track skirts under Mt Vernon, effectively hugging Summit Road, cutting briefly through a small copse of trees before dropping below Sugarloaf where the large antenna stands out as a landmark. It was muddy underfoot where the vegetation had prevented the track from drying out, and as I approached the road where the Sign of the Kiwi cafe stands, the number of people on the track steadily grew.

 

The cafe wasn’t far off closing but I was able to get an ice cream to keep me going for the final section of the hike. I’d previously walked this part when my brother had visited in 2017, and although a few others were milling around this section, I soon lost the crowds again as I left the cafe behind, continuing west above Governor’s Bay and joining the Mitchells Track. The grasses were high here and peppered with foxgloves and as I continued, I found myself among the new growth that had sprouted following the bush fire of February 2017. Approaching the bend before Kennedys Reserve, the path split and I could choose which side of the peak I walked past. I chose to cut down underneath it on the harbour side and as I dropped to the lowest point, I passed 2 climbers that were rope climbing below the peak. Beyond here, I found the blackened and scorched sign that prior to the bush fire was a track marker and soon after that I found myself at the Sign of the Bellbird, a little after 6pm.  The clouds had never lifted from the mountains of Banks Peninsula and with the tide now out, the water of the harbour looked dull and grey. I hadn’t managed to make it to Gebbies Pass, but I’d managed to walk a decent chunk of it, and I was nonetheless satisfied with my achievement.

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