Monday, April 25, 2011

Banks Peninsula Track

On April 12th, I picked up Stephen's mom at the airport. She was here for a quick two week visit and we were cramming in as much fun stuff as possible. For the first few days, while Stephen finished up his teaching before the term break, we stayed around Christchurch, exploring our new neighbourhood, sharing our earthquake experiences (and visit to our old place) and walks along the river. On Saturday, with our hiking bags packed we headed for the hills, to experience the Banks Peninsula Track.

The private organization that runs the track is made up of local farmers, conservationists and other landholders along the route. There is a strict limit to the numbers of people who can start the track each day, as there are only so many beds. So, we all met up in front of the information centre in Akaroa Friday night and clambered onto the bus that would take us out to the first hut at Onuku Bay.

The first night, we walked the 5 minutes from the bus to the hut, made up a quick dinner and crashed into bed. While Jan slept inside, Stephen and I opted to try one of the 'stargazer' huts dotted
in the neighbouring paddock. With a plexiglass used for the top third of the ceiling, one presumes on a clear night the stars would be visible from bed. Unfortunately, we were clouded in and so could not enjoy the stars as such. However, we were treated to strange bugling in the middle of the night from around the bay below us.

The following day, under the heavy shroud of mist and fog, we pulled on all our wet weather gear and made for the next bay. Despite the dampness of the air, it wasn't too cold and with the large climb we had, there was no trouble keeping warm. So, onwards we marched, through the wet grass and slippery mud.

Once we'd reached the summit of our climb for the day, we were treated to a lovely sign indicating which way to look for the view. After taking a moment to enjoy, we shuffled on back
down into the valley below. Which despite the seemingly suffocating mist simply sparkled with the diamond drops of rain and dew, giving us the surreal experience of walking through West Coast rain forest here on the East coast. Huge tree ferns shook gently as each drop of rain hit it, the red barked New Zealand fushia slowly shed its bark in long swirling strands of paper and the countless numbers of fantails followed us along seeming to escort us along our path, all the while scooping all any bugs we happened to disturb. Eventually
though, we emerged back into the farmed landscape of grass and gorse, with the promise of a dry bed at the distant end of the valley. . .Flea Bay.

We arrived, soaked to the core and shed our outer layers to hang by the fire. Back into dry clothes, we cooked up some late lunch and curled up on the comfy couch to read. People slowly trickled in and the lines in front of the living room fire filled with socks, shirts, and trousers. It was a cosy, if damp, cottage, but we all shared the space we had and games of cards soon started with ferocity.

The next morning we were woken early by the landowner who was just about to feed the
straggling Little Penguins as they fattened up for their winter at sea. Everyone trundled outside and around the corner to find a couple of still molting penguins waiting anxiously for some fish. With the feeding out of the way, our hostess told us that there were gusts of 55 knots expected for the day and if we were to stay around until lunchtime, we might catch a ride around to the next bay. The wind had certainly seemed a bit more bitey that morning.

We all went back to the cottage to see what the wind would do and decide whether a walk or a ride would be the way to go. After another hour of reading and relaxing, Stephen and I decided we wanted to walk and headed off up the track. Wow, was it windy. And more than a little high up at some points. We quickly adopted a technique of diving for the ground when a particularly large gust came along. It seemed the better alternative to being pushed over a cliff. The flip side of all this was having help with all the up hills. Just by opening your jacket and leaning back into the wind, you would be pushed, quite quickly, up the hill. Once on top of course, you would drop your jacket and stay well away from any edges.

Eventually, we reached Stony Bay, our next stop. And what a place. It reminded me of the fairy towns I used to imagine as a kid. With tiny cottages dotted throughout a clearing with several pear, apple and fig trees heavy with fruit. A shower house carved into an ancient tree and a fire
heated bath tucked away into a secluded shroud of ferns and trees. After dropping our bags into one of the two person hide-aways, I filled the tub and started a fire. This is what I had been looking forward to for a while now, since hearing about it from my parents on their foray down these shores. As the others finally arrived (they had decided to walk, but their bags were driven over), the bath reached completion and I sank into the warm waters with a glass of wine and just relaxed. No sore muscles here.

The following day, after a lovely night, we packed our things again and hit the trail. Off to our last bay, Otanerito. It was a beautiful hike, no dense fog restricting our views and not huge winds threatening to toss us off the sides of the cliffs. We wandered around the headlands, admiring the sea, the sky and the land around us. Finally, dropping through a dense thicket of Kanuka filled with Bellbirds, we arrived at the last hut - the old farmhouse for Otanerito Bay.

Arriving at about noon, we had lots of time for naps, lunch and even a short trek into the neighboring natural forest preserve of Hinewai. We wandered down the beach, watching seals and Oystercatchers, picking up the random bits of humaness that had floated in on the tide. And after a tasty dinner, we whiled away the hours playing Pictionnary and reading about Hinewai.

The next day, our final day, took us up through Hinewai. Through stands of regenerating native forest, from Kanuka to Totara and the surprising non-native gorse, that served as a nursery for young natives. We eventually came out at the top, and wandered over to the saddle and down back into Akaroa. We collected our bags (carried over for those who wished) and enjoyed a lovely cup of tea before heading home.

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