Two weeks into our NZ trip and we were keen to do some multi-day tramps using some of the 2000 or so huts maintained by the Dept of Conservation (DOC). These range from luxury spots with flush toilets and gas cookers to more humble shelters. For most you pay $5-10 (thats 2-4 quid) per night but for the posher ones you pay up to $25! Our first hut experience was Lake Daniells in Lewis Pass, just a two hour walk from thr road through beautiful virgin beech forest. OK, so you could quite easily walk to the lake and back in an afternoon, but there is something exciting about staying out in a hut; the beds are more comfy than a thermarest and you get to meet some interesting people, more of which later. Although we could (and should) have spent more time around Lewis Pass the far north west beckoned! In 2003 we did not make it as far as Karamea but noted the existence of amazing caves and arches there (Kerry had a poster of one of the arches on her office wall!) The motor park in Karamea backs onto a great lagoon where we ticked pied stilt and
bar tailed godwit, and the campsite itself had several rather over-friendly wekas. Kahurangi National Park was only protected in 1996 after a massive campaign by environmentalists (inc David Bellamy) against logging, coal mining and road building. The Oparara arch, box canyon cave and Moria arch were every bit as spectacular as we had been led to believe and well worth the long trip up the gravel road. At the very end of the road north of Karamea is the start of the famous Heaphy Track, one of NZ's great walks. There is also an excellent DOC campsite here where you can pitch your tent virtually on the beach with huge rollers coming in from Australia. It was a great place to explore the coast and watch the sun go down, and the strong sea breeze kept the sandflies at bay most of the time. Less well known than the Oparara caves are the Fenian caves, names after Irish goldminers who flocked to this area in the late 19th century. These were full of stalactites and stalagmites and were also excellent for glow worms (who needs to go to Waitomo?). After Karamea we had hoped to approach Kahurangi from the south
as there are some pretty groovy mountains and karst features here, but the weather turned bad so we decided to follow the sun instead, ending up in Golden Bay, one of our favourite places in 2003. Having spotted on the map that the remote Kahurangi Point lighthouse had a DOC hut we found out how to get there at the Farewell Spit visitor centre. It involved walking along a beach at low tide for about 4 hours and crossing 4 rivers. We were fortunate in having spring tides so the tide went out a long way, and even more fortunate to meet 3 blokes (in their 60's-70's) setting out on a wild cattle hunt. They planned to be out for 3-4 days and had a 4x4 full of food, beer, guns and ammunition. Still they found room for us and gave us a lift over two of the rivers thus lessening our journey considerably. They even gave us a cup of tea at their accommodation- a large 'luxury shack' which could sleep 18 (busy around shearing time appparantly) and even had Sky TV! We crossed the Big River at extreme low tide which was just as well- the water was
Whio or Blue Duck
We have better photos !
thigh deep even then, and we arrived at the hut at about 7pm, to find that we had a 22 bed house all to ourselves. The lighthouse keepers house (for this is what it was) was built in 1903 when Kahurangi Point lighthouse was constructed. It has a huge kitchen with range and back boiler (and plentiful firewood supply), four bedrooms, a bathroom with a huge bath, and even flush toilets outside. All this for $5 per night! Next morning our solitude was shattered as the cattle hunters turned up on quadbikes, together with the farmer and proceeded to unload their coolers full of lunch and beer into the kitchen. They were obviously staying for the day. The cattle managed to give them the slip so they had to spend the next 6 hours having a few beers, a few steaks, telling tales and waiting for the next low tide before they could venture back. We had only intended spending one night at the hut but had thrown in some extra food just in case, and were glad we did. The second night we shared the house with three friendly kiwis, then walked out early next morning when the tide
Sunset at Kohaihai
view from the tent
allowed. Our third and final foray into Kahurangi was a three day tramp from the Cobb Valley involving one DOC hut and one rock shelter. Balloon Hut at 1260m is right on the tree line between Mount Peel and Mount Arthur. It is supposed to sleep 14 but with a family of 4, an eccentric American hunter and us it was pretty cosy! It would have been OK but nobody really talked to eachother! The family were in bed by 8.30pm and the eccentric hunter was laughing his way through Anna Karenina (didn't know it was funny, will have to read it now!), so we just ate chocolate and sipped whisky in the semi darkness. They probably thought we were the weirdos! Next night made up for it- we had a superb rock shelter all to ourselves(Gridiron Shelter- also a DOC 'hut' but free) and went to sleep with the flickering flames of a campfire, the hoots of morepork owls and glimpses of stars through the tree canopy. In the morning we all but tripped over a pair of blue duck or whio, and managed to get reasonable pictures. Whio are only just coming back after intensive stoat trapping and
Weka with beer
Our first encounter with cheeky Wekas at Karamea
captive breeding programmes so it was a privilege to get so close.
So, how do you follow two excellent 'wilderness' trips like that? You hire a kayak and head off into the Marlborough Sounds of course! In 2003 we had paddled the length of Queen Charlotte Sound so this time we wanted to explore the more westerly sounds such as Tennyson Inlet and Pelorus. Luckily we found someone to hire us a large double boat and set off with enough food for four days. The sounds can be very sheltered offering flat calm paddling, or they can funnel the wind making conditions rather unpleasant. We had two beautiful days and one very windy day where we were paddling into wind for about 6 hours! It was great fun and we added arctic skua and little blue penguin to our list (loads of penguin in rafts of 2-8, look abit like auks when on the water). Having used our arms for four days we were keen to use our legs again, but this being Easter we needed to find something a little out of the way to avoid the crowds. Mount Richmond forest park is a huge area between Nelson and
Blenheim, with huge hilking potential and lots of huts. Easter day saw us climbing Mount Richmond (1760m) through more amazing beech forest to encounter vegetable sheep at the summit. We were lucky, the low cloud which we had climbed through started to lift at midday and the views from the top were quite stunning- mountains as far as the eye could see in just about every direction. There is so much more to do here, but in a couple of days we have to catch the ferry to Wellington, so we stay on night at Richmond Saddle hut (1200m) with a friendly Kiwi couple and two Czechs (there are lots of Czechs in NZ, and they do a lot of tramping!), then make our way, slowly, to Picton and the ferry terminal. Ah well, we'll just have to come back!
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