In part two of our two-part story (read part one here) Huw Kingston enjoys coastal views, local wildlife and plenty of creature comforts on NZ’s Banks Track.
The second day is only 8km but how easy it is to let that wander across four hours or more. A violent nor’wester had picked up during the night and, had the fattened lambs been a month younger, I’m certain they would have been rolled toward the sea by it. Our sea kayaking booking that morning was understandably cancelled.
The wind did drop as we climbed away, beginning the most spectacular section of coastal walking. A pod of Hector’s dolphins, the smallest and rarest in the world, entertained us near the mouth of Flea Bay. Then it was all sea caves, seals, sun and seabirds as we crossed into the Armstrong property, the track winding up down and all around the cliffs.
Gorgeous was a gulch where a small creek flowed directly over the cliff into the sea near a seal colony. A hut too, built into some boulders, a pair of carved chairs outside, thronelike in position. We took our seats, looking out to a passing cruise ship.
Eventually we zig zagged out of the gulch and along the clifftops to overlook Stony Bay. No rush at all, we sat again, using a stile as a table for our lunch spread.
The hot sun had us descending for shade, and soon we were amongst the delights of Stony Bay. A little commune of cuteness, a hobbit’s hamlet. Small cottages of varying sizes and styles hid around an open area featuring firepit, outdoor pool table and more.
A bathroom built around a thick tree had steaming hot water running from a tank tottering high above, nearby a wood-fired open-air bath. Behind one little door a camper’s fridge, behind another, perhaps the best stocked little shop outside of Akaroa.
Whilst electricity powers the shower and fridges, Sonia and Mark Armstrong, whose family have farmed here since 1891, provide candles for the cottages. It seems the right and rustic thing to do.
Meeting a legend
Dragging ourselves away from Stony Bay the following morning, waterproofs were donned for the first time as we crossed into Hinewai Reserve, a renowned success story in NZ conservation. The trail ascended, steeply at times, up the forested Opatuti Valley. At 690m, it popped us into more open country where out of control non-native gorse dominated, but snow tussock too.
Nearby, at a little shelter, was Hugh Wilson. Starting with 109 hectares purchased in 1987, the reserve has grown to some 1250 hectares. Now approaching 79, Hugh has been there from the beginning, fencing the reserve, trapping feral animals and seeing the slow return of native flora and fauna from previously overgrazed and overgrown land.
Some of Hugh’s methods are quite controversial, but certainly make you consider alternative approaches. Given the near impossibility of eliminating gorse, Hinawei uses it to shelter native flora that then can out-compete the gorse when big enough.
Hugh also explains that you need to be careful when trying to remove feral animals. Using the example of the feral cat, he says that whilst we need to get rid of them, unless there is a control program for rats, they will grow in plague proportions once the cats are removed. It is a fraught balancing act.
The sun appeared and we walked on with Hugh, infected by his enthusiasm and impish sense of humour. We said our goodbyes at the Purple Peak track junction, Hugh to climb back to where he’d left his mountain bike. Hugh, who has no car, no mobile, no computer, tells me “I’m far too young for an E-bike.”
Then, with the warmth on our backs, Wendy and I descended the final kilometres to Akaroa, certain, as this account has shown, that our Banks experience had repaid with more interest than we could ever have imagined.
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Words and photos_Huw Kingston