Thursday, 9 January 2014

Walking the Banks Peninsula - South Island, New Zealand

With my friends on the first night at Onuku Lodge
I'm leaving my Turkish tales briefly to write about a wonderful four day hike I did recently on Banks Peninsula.  I was delighted when a friend rang to ask me if I would be interested in joining him and another friend on the hike. I had heard how scenic it was and could think of no better way to spend the week before Christmas away from "shopper mayhem" in the city. This is a private 35 kilometre walk created by a group of farmers and property owners who were looking to diversify their businesses and show off the stunning scenery of the Peninsula. A limit of 12 people a day are permitted on the 4 day walk which can also be done in 2 days (maximum 4 people), although I suggest the 2 day option is more suitable for super fit or seriously time stretched people.  We chose to do it in the more leisurely 4 days and were so glad we did.  This gave us plenty of time to enjoy the views and surroundings and to hang out and relax at the end of each day's hike.

 Our group of 3 was joined by a German couple in their 50s and a family of 4 including 2 young teenagers.  Strangers to start with, by the end of the 4 days we were like family however out on the track we scarcely saw the others.

View from the trig at 699 metres - a hard climb with a heavy pack!
Starting from an overnight stay at Onuku, a short drive from the picturesque French settlement of Akaroa (I have written a previous post about Akaroa) the first day is quite challenging as the track slopes steeply up to reach a height of 699 metres and then back down to sea level on an uneven but beautiful bush track. After that everything else seems easy in comparison.  The initial climb is well worth it, though, for the gob smacking and panoramic views.

Much of the track is across farmland and on coastal paths and there are plenty of opportunities to view wildlife along the way. The land and sea are pristine and the owners pride themselves on the fact that this is an eco walk. Apart from the stunning views and prolific wildlife, which includes penguins, seals, and many native birds, another highlight is the overnight lodgings.  Each of the 4 stopovers offer unique, characterful, clean, accommodation and the ice cold beer in the fridge is a great bonus at the end of a hard day's hike. Two of the huts have well stocked stores which reduces the need to carry much food and the kitchens are kitted out with pots, pans and dishes, in fact all equipment needed to cook a meal.

I made it!!

There is also an option to have your packs carried on the 2 most challenging days.  I kind of regretted I didn't get mine carried on the first day but was later secretly pleased with myself that I had managed to haul it all the way up the longest and steepest part of the track.

Waterfall on the first day

Our second night's stay was at Flea Bay, so named for a type of flea which lives on penguins, not because it is infested with fleas! Our farmer host, Francis Helps,  has a passion for penguins and has created a vast sanctuary for them across his farmland.  He took us out on a dusk viewing of the penguins as they came ashore to nest for the night. He has specially erected, camouflaged  stations along the cliff which make for a marvellous wild-life watching experience.  The next morning, as we ate breakfast in the quaint old farmhouse, we watched the farmer mustering sheep on the hill behind with the help of his two trusty farm dogs, a real kiwi experience.  A kayaking option is also offered here which some of the group took up and thoroughly enjoyed.
The shower Room at Stony Bay

The third night's accommodation, at Stony Bay, is a quirky, eccentric delight.  A small village built specially for the hikers out of all sorts of reclaimed and recycled materials...a bit like Hobbit land. There were even penguin chicks nesting under each hut, cute, rather smelly, balls of fluff. Fortunately there is gas for cooking but the candles for lighting and an outdoor bath snuggled in bush and heated by a log fire, which we all had turns soaking in, make it deliciously atmospheric.  In the evening we lit a camp fire and sat around it telling each other tales of our travels and scarcely thinking about the poor souls in the city caught up in the Christmas rush. We struck the only rain of the hike here but didn't mind at all, just passing  time playing scrabble, reading, writing our diaries and chatting until, by midday, the weather was fine again for us to continue on our way.

Otanerito Homestead

Otanerito Beach from the track

Our final stopover was at Otanerito in a beautiful old house set in pretty gardens beside  an isolated, sandy beach. The final day's hike is through the magnificent Hinewai bush reserve, beside the bubbling Narbey Stream, where you can safely drink the water straight from the stream - delicious! -  and up through the beech forest  to the saddle, at 590metres. The final leg was a steep but easy walk down hill to  sea level and Akaroa again.

Near the top of the saddle
From the final saddle, looking down on Akaroa

I highly recommend this hike.  It is superb.  Well designed, well organised and utterly beautiful.  Each hiker is provided with a comprehensive guide to the track, the wild life, history and points of interest along the way. Because the numbers are limited, there is a feeling that you have the track all to yourself.  It is also extremely good value - between $230 and $285 for 4 days (depending on the time of year) and between $150 and $175 for 2 days.  As I mentioned earlier, I would suggest taking four days to enjoy it as much as we did.