Sunday, May 20, 2012

Beach, a lighthouse and sandflies!

The day after finishing our walk of the Abel Tasman in April we headed off to do a walk down to Kahurangi Lighthouse. We had been looking at all sorts of tracks in the Kahurangi National Park but stumbled across this walk to the lighthouse and the thought of it really appealed. After a quick food restock and an overnight stay in a holiday park (ridiculously expensive for a tent site but the hot showers were pretty darn good!) we headed off to the beginning of the walk. We drove to Turimawiwi River and parked] the car there and headed to the beach to start walking. Here's a map so you can see where we were. Sadly Blogger seems to have cut off some of the map image - the coastline shown is the west coast of the South Island up towards Farewell Spit.

The entire walk from Turimawiwi to the DOC hut should take 3 hours from the Turimawiwi River or 4 hours from the Anatori River (if you don't have a 4-wheel-drive you will probably walk from Anatori instead). The walk from Turimawiwi is all on the beach so it's easiest to walk at something other than high tide.
Like the Abel Tasman walk there were some low-tide crossings that we needed to do. The first one was the Aneweka River. This was pretty straight forward. The current in the river was a little swift and there were holes in the river bed that we needed to be careful about but we all managed to cross with no incident.

 The second crossing was of Big River which proved to be more problematic. We investigated crossing right at the river mouth but it was too deep to cross there. We headed inland a little to where the river widens into a calm estuary. After attempting to find a shallow way across the estuary, darkness was falling and so was the rain. At this stage we decided that it would be prudent to set up camp for the night. Low tide was due again first thing in the morning so we'd figure out a place to cross in daylight hours.

We found a place to camp in amongst the bush and focused on getting a fire going and getting the campsite set up. We got the fire sorted and cooked up some dinner before heading into our tents and sleeping bags for the night. We woke to a much nicer day and broke up camp quickly so we would have a chance of crossing the estuary right on low tide. 

After some investigation we couldn't find a really shallow spot to cross so decided to strip off and cross anyway. The water was up to waist deep in places and pretty cold. All bare flesh was fair game for the sandflies to attack us so that kept us moving at a brisk pace. After crossing the estuary we carried on walking along the beach until we got to the hut. After hanging all our gear up to dry we had breakfast sitting in the sun on the deck. There was no-one else staying in the hut while we were there although over the Easter weekend there had been over 40 people.

The hut used to be the lighthouse keepers house so it's a little different from a lot of the other DOC huts we've stayed at. There are several bedrooms with bunks and a large lounge / dining / kitchen area. There's a woodstove in the kitchen which has a wetback - and there's also a bath! 

After sorting out our gear we packed a picnic lunch and headed off to some sand dunes to the south of the hut and to walk out to the lighthouse. The sand dunes were huge. In the map above you can see a long white smudge just south of the lighthouse / point. That's the sand dunes.

The walk back from the lighthouse along the coastline is supposed to be done at low tide. We'd managed to mis-time this so we had fun running along sections between the waves. There were some curious formations on the tops of some of the rocks. Perfectly round rockpools. It's hard to believe that they were natural but they must have formed where a round rock, made of a softer material, had been in or on harder rock. Erosion from the sea and wind would have eroded the soft rock completely to leave these amazing rock pools. Very cool! Sadly I didn't take a photo of the pools. Maybe next time.

The downside of being on the West Coast of the South Island would have to be the sandflies. We get sandflies all over New Zealand but the ones on the West Coast are brutal. There seem to be a lot more of them and they are particularly adept at finding flesh to munch on. Even after applying repellant they will find that little bit you missed beside your watchstrap and bite you there. Needless to say we went through a lot of insect repellant while on the West Coast. 

After dinner that night we had heated the water enough for us all to have a bath - sheer luxury!

The next morning we packed up, had a good breakfast and retraced our steps to return to the car. Again the crossing at Big River was deep and cold but we'd accepted that we wouldn't find a shallower route. An upside of this walk is that you can do the whole thing in bare feet.  There's not many walks I've been on when you could do that.

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