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The journey along the Kahurangi Coast

Now usually I would blog about a trip that I would promote doing as I hadn’t had any hiccups doing it myself, but I think this time i’ll blog about a trip you should think twice about doing. One of the most compelling yet most dangerous trips i've ever done; The Kahurangi coast.

New Zealand is surrounded by beautiful coastline on all it’s stretches and corners. Many of the more visually appealing have been transformed into townships and cities as time has gone on, with major roadways built in order to make them more accessible. I would say there’s 2 last bits of major coastline that I know of which remain inaccessible; the final frontiers if you like. This would regard the coastline surrounding that of the Milford Sound area and also the stretch of coast going along the Kahurangi National Park.

This trip had been on the minds of the Steve, Richard and Kieran for a number of years, having been told it was possible from people they had known who’d done it and made it back to tell the tale. The real motivator for this trip to go ahead was Steve, he did all the planning, the forecasts, tidal times you name it. When I got invited to come too, I was fizzing over how good it was going to be, unbeknown to what dangers I was letting myself in for.

We started out on Saturday 22nd April, driving from Takaka (Golden Bay) out to Paterau which is the end of the road on the North West Coast South Island NZ. It was then we took off and began to head down the endless beaches, our aim to get to the Kahurangi Keepers House by that afternoon. We had a couple of river crossings, the Anaweka and Big river which due to it being low tide, were fairly simple and not much hassle. The sun was shining, baking the sand around us; it was a glorious start to the trip. We reached the House only a few hours later, and with the tide being out, started out looking for Pau finding a few amongst the exposed rocks. The nights are getting darker earlier and with the sunsetting around 6pm, I decided I would spending the evening while I was still fresh taking a post up on the rocks, looking upon bays on both sides and capturing some shots of the sunset before joining the others around a fire. All was good, and everybody was excited yet nervous for what lay ahead of us.

We woke early on Sunday 23rd April, eager to get moving so we could walk along while it was an out-going tide. After a short trek, bush-bashing up Camp Creek, we climbed over some sand dunes and dropped down into the mouth of the Kahurangi River. We had time on our side at this stage, and Richard told me of a waterfall which lay just upstream from the mouth which we decided to visit before our coastal battle began.

We had acclaimed knowledge about the trip from various sources, and with all the information we were given, it had one thing in common; the first day was meant to be the hardest. Well they weren’t wrong. Within the first half hour, I found myself clinging onto onto a vertical face of the rocks we were attempting to traverse, staring down past my feet to the waves and rocks somewhat 5-8 metres below. This we all agreed was one of the toughest pinches of the trip, with us having to take off our 20kg packs whilst backed up against this face of rock, attempting to not let the pendulum of the weight of them sway us forward, and throw them over to Richard who seemingly had become a ruthless mountain goat and managed to make it over with pack on his back. It was at this moment I probably should have said a few better goodbyes before I left for this trip…

That first pinch definitely set the tone for what was to come, and it was a good job Kieran had brought some rope as it came in use a lot through the early stages. One of us would climb pack-less on top of a bluff, tying the rope to the packs below and hoisting them up; there was no other way and climbing up these faces with packs on would be too dangerous. With the cliff faces so sheer and the bush above so thick, along the rocks was the only option. We came to another pinch a short while later which involved a pack-less climb but a jump across a few rocks first before a wave came crashing in. Timing wasn’t on Richards side this time and he was the first to go get washed away by a wave for a swim, luckily no harm done and he made it the second time round.

We endured for much of the day, sometimes having to take our time with sections with the drops being so sheer and the rocks so slippy. With the main threat being that of the waves, the other, seals was also keeping us wary. Steve had planned it so the trip was done out of mating season and so there wouldn’t be many aggressive bull males chasing us. Nevertheless, the others weren’t keen on our presence and it wasn’t long before one dive bombed on top of Richard and myself from a rock above, narrowly missing us. Death from above, as one would say.

We trundled along, climbing up and over bluffs and eventually called it a day when we reached a camping spot by Christabel Creek, a nice small quaint bay which was full of seals but we didn’t care; we were beat. We had managed to get a few Pau as a little treat for dinner time but we all took early nights that night, 7pm I think it was, but it was clear we were invading the space of these seals. Around 4 am the next morning my tent was surrounded by seals making all sorts of moans and groans, I mean I hadn’t set my alarm till 6 but I guess that will wake me up.

Monday 24th came and we were blocked in this bay by the tide so we didn’t set off from Christabel Creek until 10:30am. We made good progress and once again put our climbing skills to the test. I went swimming first thing where I didn’t quite make a leap of faith and the wave washed me into the rocks, much to the amusement of the others. We didn’t need much of the rope, but we came to one pinch where we weren’t quite sure what we needed to do to get round. Around the rocks was impassable, so Richard the mountain goat went and did a vertical climb. Not too keen to break my back on the 3rd day I along with Steve and Kieran, opted to climb up into the bush and work our way over; big mistake. Steve and myself got caught up in some nasty thick bush and scrub which tore into our arms and legs and after a bit of a battle eventually made our way out to see Kieran and Richard waiting for us on a point nearby. Needless to say, I think I’ll attempt the climb next time.

We carried on, passing through Seal Bay rock hopping our way through, where we came to another point. This one was impassable also and so our eyes stared ever upwards at a creek leading up into the cliff above; it was the only way. Not too motivated for another walk in the bush after the last attempt, I lead us up until it levelled out where then it was a guessing game as to which way next, we knew the bay over the other side was a beach which held the mouth of Moutere River; where most of our sources had stayed their second night. But we also knew it would be a steep drop, but how steep? There was only one way to find out. We dive bombed down, Kieran at the front, machete in hand cutting a path forward, until it petered down to the sight of golden sand eventually. My pack had taken a beating from the drop and a few zips broken on the way down. It’s been on every big trip i’ve ever done that pack, maybe just maybe it might be on it’s way out.

From there on it was very much rock hopping and hoping you wouldn’t break your ankle for a wee while. We made it to Big Bay, and so the name suggests it was an endless beach which must have been 3km in length; I don't think i’ve ever seen a beach like it. Being out all this way we had seen no signs of humans since we had left, yet at Big Bay, we came across a used camp site with benches and plenty of space to pitch up our tents. No seals presented themselves here but the sandflies were rife. Dinner done with, Kieran got a fire going on the beach and within a short while, the stars were glaring and we were presented with an amazing view of the milky way. Some people call it the “wild west coast” mainly for it’s less attractive weather, and no kidding either, when it rains it bloody rains. We had struck lucky and not had a drop of rain whatsoever had interrupted our journey.

We had arranged for the next morning to set out early knowing that we could walk the length of big bay at least whatever the tide, we had 13km to go until the Heaphy Bluff and we all believed we could make it with an early start. I think we all realised through what we had come through that the worst was over and we had a hint of hope that we might actually make it to the end of this thing.

7am we set out that morning, the colours coming through over the cliff tops, we knew that if it was plain sailing like the TOPO maps we were using promised, we could make it to the Heathy bluff.

It wasn’t long before we hit our first stop, and with it being high tide we came to expect it. We had got to “Steep Point” and as the name suggested, say no more. We knew we would have to wait a while before we could carry on, with the drops being too sheer and the waves coming crashing in; it was a death wish. It wasn’t long before we got agitated and were eager to get moving again so I went forward trying to see if there was a route that was passable and sure enough with timing, there was. With the waves crashing I sensed a lull and made a break for it. When you know you could get a wave to your back at any second, fear definitely get’s you moving which we had found out for ourselves in the first hour of this journey. We got round in one piece and began the rock hopping once more, the smell of seals everywhere followed by the beings themselves in great numbers along this stretch. But with hope we got through pretty quickly, picking up the pace until we reached that of Wekakura Point, the last major point of the trip. I went on ahead and did a reccy, and for what lay ahead I really did think we were going to have to call it a day on the trip right there, it just looked impassable.

We evaluated our options which were to go up and over a bluff which was a very steep initial climb, or we sit it out, wait for the tide to reveal some of the lower rocks which would make it easier to get around. We chose the latter, which turned out to be some of the funnest sections of the trip, if you enjoyed getting smashed by waves that is. The waves were big at this point in the day, and whilst we had been waiting there was nothing like watching the waves crash down into the rocks; we all watched in awe.

We watched for a lull and went for it. Back-to-back like a big conga line, we surged onto the rocks and scrambled up onto the bluff, keeping an eye on the incoming monster out to the side of us. We wanted to be quick, and we jumped down into the water marching through while the next wave was coming in; Kieran leading the way. Richard turned back to me and his face said it all, he was laughing and I knew what it meant, the next part was gonna be interesting. We dropped down into waist deep water with incoming waves and surged as fast as we could onward, clambering onto the rocks at the end of the stretch, and spotted a beach so we made haste. We took a glimpse at the map, it looks promising from here, around 4-5 km remaining which looked to be long beach stretches, we could manage. We came to one more bluff and spotted a marine reserve sign at the top, followed by substantially thick rope dangling along a sort-of used steep upward track, this provided amazing views along porters beach and back towards the way we came, Wekakura point.

We were on the final stretch of our trip, it was actually looking do-able! However, we knew we had the biggest obstacle yet to come and that was, The Heathy Bluff. It was coming up to 3pm and we had radioed the helicopter pilot to ensure that we wanted picking up at 3:30pm, giving us a half hour window to get around, if it was possible! The Heathy Bluff is renowned for being impassable even at the lowest of tides. We were making headway along the bluff, only to hear the sound of a helicopter inbound, it had come slightly earlier than expected and with much of the bluff yet to cover, we decided we were very much satisfied with what we had achieved here, a mission many of us thought we wouldn’t make it back from!

It’s definitely a do-able trip and for anyone that would consider undertaking such a trip, I would advise time and most of all patience. Waiting for the tide to go out can be a slow process but definitely would ensure safe crossing across some of the gnarlier points. What a trip it was, It definitely is and will be a story to tell for a long time to come, I don't think i’ll venture back along that route anytime in the near future though!

Well once the pilot came and picked the guys up, I was left on Porters beach just before the bluff where I waited for the chopper to return and took me to Kohaihai, just north of Karamea and also the gateway to the west coast beginning of the Heaphy Track. This is where I undertook my 2nd of the 9 Great Walks, which i’ll tell you all how it went in my next blog!

THE GEAR

Jetboil stove kit

Since taking on a lot more adventures of late, I

feel investing in good, quality equipment is

always a good investment; it makes life in the outdoors that bit easier. Jetboil, produce a variety of different stove kits, different sizes and shapes, ones adapted for cold weather etc. These stove kits boil water at an insanely fast speed, which is definitely handy if your on top of a cold, windy ridge line and in need of a hot cuppa. I wouldn't go on a trip without one of these in my pack now, so take a look at their website www.jetboil.com and see which stove kit best suits you. I opted for the "Mini-mo" set-up which is rated for below freezing temperatures and even has simmer control.

Macpac Minaret Tent

Purchasing a tent is never easy, it is essentially your home in the outdoors and if you're deciding to take on much more challenging trips, you'll need one that's up to the task. Weight is always a big topic as no-one likes to carry more than they feel they should have to. The Macpac minaret is a 3-season tent built for the weight conscious. Coming in at 2.4kg and classed as a 2-man tent, this definitely was both spacious, light and it stood up to being pitched up on ridge line tops. It comes with a seam sealer which can seal the interior

fly seams to make it fully waterproof, no-one wants to put wet clothes on, right? The interior walls are lined with pockets to place ready to hand belongings and saves you digging through your bag.

Personally, I love this tent and can't wait to get out and use it more and more.

Strangely enough, I look forward to pitching it up!

Check out the link here and see for yourself. http://www.macpac.co.nz/minaret-tramping-tent.html

Macpac Epic 800 Sleeping bag

It's amazing how much the temperature drops when the sun goes down, particularly when your up on the tops. I always would prefer to be too warm than too cold with a sleeping bag, especially if the surrounds you're going to be in are those of the mountains. I opted for the Epic 800 sleeping bag from Macpac. It's designed in a 'mummy' shape which is close fitting which keep you warmer and is rated down to -20. It comes in a water proof sack which saves you the worry of pulling it from a wet pack and it being soaked as well. They come in different sizes short/tall as well to get you the perfect snug fit. Take a look and see what you think http://www.macpac.co.nz/epic-800-sleeping-bag.html

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info@jackaustin.org

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Evesham, United Kingdom

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