Kaikoura Wilderness - a hidden gem.
As we arrive in Kaikoura I am struck by the majestic snow covered mountains so close to the sea, I am later to learn that this is only in place in NZ where this is to be found and is one of the reasons that the Whales are here.This trip has been variously described as “Sophisticated Wilderness” or “Glamorous Tramping”; amongst other things I am much looking forward to carrying only a light daypack whilst my luggage is transported to the lodge by Rhino? This is small ATV not the animal variety!
Kaikoura Wilderness Walks offers a 3 day experience hidden in the Seaward Kaikoura ranges 50 minutes to the north of Kaikoura. The morning has dawned fine & having been collected from our accommodation we drive up the scenic Puhi valley to the historic Puhi Peaks station, which is to be the start of our walk.
Anticipation is high, or perhaps we are nervous about our abilities to meet the challenge of getting to Shearwater Lodge? Our guide Sam greets us enthusiastically, he is Nicky’s son, and I feel reassured that we will be well looked after over the next 3 days.
During our briefing Sam enlightens us that this is truly a walk in the wilderness, something he tells us people are often surprised and delighted about, no well-worn tracks here. Puhi Peaks Nature Reserve is for sharing with just your fellow guests, along with the birds, bees and odd deer, it allows for a unique opportunity to enjoy a remote part of New Zealand.
We set off to walk through native manuka, kanuka & beech forest, the white clematis is in flower and incredibly beautiful, we have seen NZ native wood pigeons by the Woolshed and already I feel in another world. We head on upward immersed in wonderful scents of the bush before finding the surprise lunch that awaits us in the newly constructed lunch shelter at Totara saddle. A note from Nicky – “Enjoy your walk today and take time to enjoy each moment.” It is to be several hours before we are to reach Shearwater Lodge; the eco luxury lodge set at 1000m where we will be able to relax and reap the rewards of our days exercise and meet the author of this note.
Over lunch Sam points out where the extraordinary Hutton’s Shearwaters nest (6,500ft) – they are found only in Kaikoura, this is their last place on earth and they are the only seabirds to nest in the subalpine. Kaikoura Wilderness is very involved in their protection being one of two only wild colonies left in the world. (www.huttonsshearwater.org.nz).
After lunch we cross Happy Valley stream and make our way into the ancient Totara forest. A sense of Lord of the Rings country here, but we climb higher and just when I find myself wondering how much further we break out of the bush and catch our first glimpse of Shearwater Lodge. How did that get there???? Sam assures me this question has been asked by many guests and is what makes this experience unique, the remoteness and unlikely location for an eco lodge. It is to be another hour though before we are to walk onto the deck of the lodge where Nicky awaits us with afternoon tea spread across the table, I am beginning to understand the tag “sophisticated wilderness”, hot scones, fruit platter, Shearwater Lodge punch and a much needed cup of tea.
We are warmly and enthusiastically welcomed. Nicky, owner & operator of Kaikoura Wilderness is obviously passionate about the experience she and her team offers. We join them by the roaring fire and I get the sense of why one guest has written in the guest book “ I somehow feel that no one who visits Shearwater Lodge will be disappointed”.
After being shown to our rooms, I indulge in a stunningly hot shower, wilderness walking takes on a whole new meaning here. We may be in the wilderness but creature comforts are everywhere – it is the attention to detail that impresses me.
I return to the fire ready to enjoy a glass of wine and we talk about what the moro holds for us. Sam tells us we will climb to 5,000ft – I feel daunted as do one or two of my fellow guests but he assures me we will find the walk and the views some of the best to be found anywhere.
Dinner is shared round the dining room table and we compare notes of the highlights of our day. Our delicious dinner is mostly sourced locally and we are spoilt with crayfish, venison and New Zealand wines. Cordon Bleu trained Nicky shares her vision of all guests feeling as if they are part of a family. Sated and well-exercised most of us are struggling to stay awake and I retire early!
Following a hearty cooked breakfasted, Sam gathers us and tells us it is essential we take our coats, that New Zealand can experience 4 seasons in one day and that are going high. Anticipation is evident as we set off “Into the World of the Gods” as Te Ao Whekere the local mountain is called. We climb gradually and are continually rewarded by ever expanding views and as we gain Surveyors Peak Sam invites us to place a stone on the Cairn. We stand and absorb the 360 degrees panorama from the mountain tops to the sea, it is breathtaking in its grandeur.
We sit quietly to enjoy our packed lunch, this seems to be a time for reflection and as we munch away quietly, I think we are all trying to absorb the overall magnificence of this scenery.
Sam quietly suggests we should move on and give the scree a go. He tells us many New Zealanders have never had the opportunity to run a scree and for many it is a highlight, for others they get to hold the guides hand. Either way we all agree it is an accomplishment to have run a scree.
The reward for our efforts is to find Nicky and her team waiting under the “wedding tree” (Hoheria Lyalli) with afternoon tea spread on a white tablecloth. When asked why the name she tells us that when she first saw the tree, the flower petals were strewn beneath the tree in late summer and it reminded her of confetti, today it affords us some welcome shade following our exertions!
We return to Shearwater Lodge to relax and enjoy the luxurious comforts of this homely lodge. Run on its own hydro the feeling of remoteness is fantastic, - I am not missing my cell phone one little bit – or for that matter my emails!
Our last day is highlighted by our visit to “Beverley Falls” a jewel in the crown of this nature reserve. Sam guides us back to the station where our transport awaits to return us safely to Kaikoura.
I am struck by how totally rested and relaxed I am and I feel as if I have been in another world for a week or more. Kaikoura Wilderness tells us to “get away from it all” and this experience has certainly given us all this opportunity. As we drive into Kaikoura my phone begins to beep as the messages arrive welcoming us back to the real world.