This track doesn’t come across people Radar that often, I’m not quite sure the reason why, but it could be that it’s a very long day hike or nor quite long enough for an overnight hike. So usually it blips on the radar then is often forgotten about.
Last time I walked this track was about 20 years back, as it’s a through track we partied up with another group to swap keys in the middle. 20 years is a long time so I decided to refresh my memories of eels nibbling my fathers toes at the Kaituna forks and the gratification of the ocean views at the west coast end of the track.
Before we talk about the track itself it’s worth talking about the history and geology of the area as they are intrinsically linked to each other. Populations in New Zealand in the early colonising days have always been quite transient, people were usually following the boom and bust cycles that followed the harvesting of natural resources whether that be native timber or Gold and coal. The Kaituna track and surrounding areas were no exception as they are geographically placed in some of the oldest and most complex geological landscapes in New Zealand which meant lots of mineral resources. Rocks of metamorphic and igneous origins interact in strange ways in this corner of Nelson, this itself not only adds some pretty cool vegetative and geological diversity on the track, but also means that there’s a fair bit of human influence on the landscape from fairly early times.
Enigmatically in New Zealand we describe rugby as a game of two halves, but if I were to describe the Kaituna track in the same way, it would be a game of four quarters.
The first Quarter
The track start is nestled hard against the flanks of Mount Haidinger, an impressive monolithic mountain that dominates the skyline as you drive up the Aorere valley. It takes no more than twenty steps before you are firmly ensconced in the Jurassic feel of west coast rainforest. The tannin-stained Kaituna river, engorged by yesterday’s rain flows swiftly, stained dark by the tannin of the forest it flows through.
This part of the Kaituna track was home to a very short lived gold rush in circa 1859, people continued hunting the elusive metal up here until the end of the 1800’s, no huge hauls were found but the evidence of the prospecting sites have been well preserved by the Department of Conservation.
This part of the track got severely damaged by cyclone Gita back in 2018 and it’s only due to massive effort of a group of local volunteers that this track is still open. Evidence of their work is seen throughout the many re-routes around slips on the way up the valley to Kaituna Forks where the river branches into its two significant tributaries.
The Anatoki river has to be forded at this point to continue the track on the other side, when I crossed it it was still at a reasonable flow, but someone had made a semi submerged bridge out of a log and hung a length of wire above the river ,. making it relatively easy to cross.
Once you cross the river you realise what the volunteers on this track have been up to, not only have they done a great job keeping the track open but they been actively trapping pests and have even opened a new trap line that runs from the Kaituna forks all the way through to snake river road on the west coast, which gives adventurous folk another option to get through to the coast, or maybe even use it to make a cunning overnight loop!!
The Second quarter
The 1st quarter gets quite a lot of traffic , but in comparison to this the rest of the track is defined as a route, don’t get be wrong there’s enough DoC markers for the geographically unchallenged to find there way through, and if you do walk of the track, you’ll probably know about it pretty fast as the vegetation is to put it mildly, quite intense!!
There’s no mucking around leaving the river valley, the track climbs steeply onto forest ridges as the roar of the Kaituna river fades into the background and the first beads of perspiration adorn your brow. The forest changes rapidly on the way up and you get a strange mix of vegetation at low altitude, quite often you see kidney fern forming a blanket on the beech forest floor and then turn a corner in the track to be greeted with a mixture of Dracophyllum and Rimu stands. This stands testament to the great diversity of landscapes and flora you’ll see on your journey through the Kaituna track
The Third quarter
The third quarter kind of bleeds into the second quarter. At this stage of the game you’ve covered a few kilometres and are feeling a bit claustrophobic from the hours that you have spent under the forest canopy. It’s about here that the geology in the area does a little bit of a U turn, in between the forest canopies you start to delve into manuka-dominated low lying ridges , and then it breaks into what I can only describe as one of the most fascinating landscapes. The manuka gets more sparse and you burst into some pretty strange fernlands which stretch across the ensuing hills interspersed with small conclaves of podocarp forest erupting from the gullies. The track is merely a furrow through the three foot high umbrella ferns and it really feels that you are passing slowly through some lost world. This part is really worth walking through slowly and occasionally using the umbrella fern mat as an armchair to rest the weary legs and let you mind explore the landscape.
The fourth quarter
Towards the end of the third quarter you start to dip in an out of the fernland back to mixed forest, the land here is quite flat and meandering streams drain nearby swampland, they flow darkbrown twisting like a snake and slowly flowing back through the landscape to feed the Kaituna river.
At some point of un-dipping out of the forest the landscape takes another twist, a huge prominence named knuckle hill rears itself 200 metres out of what are now vast sprawling tussock . It’s quite a contrast from walking through the lushness of the fernlands into what I can only describe as some kind of ultramafic badlands.
On this trip I didn’t venture up knuckle hill due to time restraints for a pick up, but I always encourage people to time their Kaituna walk so as to catch the sunset at knuckle hill, it’s a twenty minute one way side trip, and well worth doing for the sunset that catches the folds of the land and the views down to whanganui inlet and its sparkling waters. The track down from Knuckle hill to the exit of the track is an old logging road so is easily walked with a head torch to the road exit ( approx 1,5hrs), this road is also open to mountain bikes so if you can’t do the whole Kaituna then you can make a side trip of it if you are out west in Golden bay.
The walk down to the car park exit is dominated by ocean and coastal views and is asuper pleasant walk not just for you but also for less physically able people…. who want an easy day walk.
Well that’s my write up on the Kaituna track, I’d thoroughly recommend this track, and I myself rate it as one of the best day tramps in the Nelson area due to its sheer diversity. If you want any more info on the track and the area please feel free to get in touch
DOC walking times are approx 8-9hrs, you can find more info on the Kaituna track here