Strap on your boots! Walking season is underway in the Marlborough Sounds with surging demand on the Queen Charlotte Track. Like the Abel Tasman Track, the Top of the South offers hikers some world-beating walking experiences. But if you’d rather hike in relative solitude, serenaded by birdsong, a tasty alternative to the heavily-trafficked walks is the Nydia Track in Pelorus Sound.
Carved by loggers in the 1870s, the track is a lesser-known gem in the treasury of rewarding hikes. The 27km-long circuit is best accomplished as a two-day trek, first to Nydia Bay and then on to Duncan Bay. DOC classifies the track as “advanced,” although I’m not a mountain goat but found it a very manageable work-out. It’s also open to mountain bikers, classified as an advanced Grade 4 track. Steep and super-narrow in places, with unforgiving drop-offs, I couldn’t imagine doing it on two wheels! From Havelock, the southern entrance to the track begins at Shag Point in Kaiuma Bay. An unsealed road connects the bay to Havelock.
Photo / MarlboroughNZ
After being transferred to the track entrance, I set off on my climb through dense, damp podocarp forest, book-ending a tract of commercial pine forest. It’s tricky in places, with fallen forest giants to traverse and streams to ford. The undulating track twists and turns, dips and rises, until you reach Kaiuma Saddle at 400 metres above sea level. Take your time hauling your way your saddle, where you’ll be rewarded with the salivating sight of Nydia Bay’s vast electric blue sprawl. Aside from the pine forest, where the blanket of pine needles inhibits the ability of an understorey to take hold, the remnant podocarp forest enrobes you in nature’s balm.
500 year old giant rimu, tentacular rata vines and red beech anchor the forest, with a supporting cast of lush ferns and ponga. Once over the saddle, it's a steady descent through bush and farmland to reach Nydia Bay, with sporadic glimpses as far as Kenepuru Inlet, whose peninsulas fold into the distance. Indignant-looking cows grazing in paddocks cast me a suspicious glare, as if to say “What an earth are you doing in my paddock?” Finally, the gently lapping waters of the lake soundtracked my the final stretch of the first day’s walk.
Photo / Mike Yardley
Nydia Bay is steeped in history as a timber milling powerhouse, which roared into life in the 1870s. In 1910, a 300 metre long wharf started servicing the timber trade, capable of holding five steamers. A steam-powered winch hauled timber over a 500 metre-high saddle in the Opouri Valley. From there, timber was drawn down to the wharf at Nydia Bay on a tramway line. Much of the timber was shipped to Lyttelton to help build the city of Christchurch. Timber milling ended here in the 1920s.
After trudging my way to Nydia Bay over four hours on the 11km-long route, it was time for some down time. You’ve got a range of options including the campsite and DOC’s Nydia Bay Lodge. But for some soothing indulgence, lock in a stay at On the Track Lodge. Warmly greeted by Spud, the lodge owner, with freshly made cupcakes in hand, this lakeside haven accentuates nature’s balm.
The lodge offers a range of accommodation for up to 24 people including a vintage train carriage, a Mongolian-style yurt and several beautifully-designed chalets. There’s a variety of on-site amenities including kayaks and stand up paddle boards, a library & games room, firepit, wharf fishing and a fabulous hot-tub to soak those tired legs under a star-flecked sky. Best of all, the on-site cuisine, headlined by hearty home-cooked dinners.
Photo / MarlboroughNZ
I tucked into a delicious beef lasagne, broccoli & cranberry salad, topped off with French waffles for dessert. Many of the salad ingredients are plucked fresh from the garden. I slept the night, swaddled in comfort, in the lovingly furnished 1930s train carriage, replete with retro nods. It’s luxury-laden overhaul includes an ensuite shower and bathroom. The passenger carriage previously serviced North Island railways lines. There’s a variety of short walks you can also from the lodge, plus the Pelorus Mail Boat calls into Nydia Bay.
A huge highlight was to marvel over so much native birdlife at the lodge. Flocks of tuī were ram-raiding the kowhai trees, bullying the bellbirds outs of their way. Super-plump kererū nonchalantly sat in the fruit trees, after binging on berries, while chirpy fantail and curious weka happily flitted about. Spud remarked to me that the birdlife this spring has been abundant. He partly credits that to his two automatic traps, that have killed 50 possums in the past six months alone. www.onthetracklodge.co.nz
After enjoying the deepest of sleeps, I awoke fresh and revitalised rearing to knock-off the remaining 15km stretch of the track to Duncan Bay, after a fortifying breakfast. Spud also equipped me with a lunch bag to-go. As I made my way around the shoreline of Nydia Bay, weaving in and out of the bush, the track swings by a pool of long-fin eels, who right on cue poked their heads out of the water as I strolled by. Then the ascent began to Nydia Saddle, which gradually climbs up through the forest to 350 metres. It is not a steep ascent, so take it slowly and intersperse it with some mini-breaks and you’ll conquer it with ease.
Photo / On The Track Lodge
Much of the forest on this part of the track is regenerating, dominated by tall mānuka and kanuka. You’ll notice a variety of future forest giants rising up from the forest floor. In summer, native orchids decorate banks beside the track. At the top of the saddle, expansive views serve up perspectives on Tennyson Inlet. As I made my way to Duncan Bay, the array of forest specimens broadened. In the wetter gullies and lower slopes, I gazed over rimu, mataī and miro. Kawakawa, nīkau and tree ferns formed the understorey. You certainly can’t beat forest bathing in solitude.
From Duncan Bay, the sealed Tennyson Inlet road, leads you back to the main highway at the Rai Valley. The drive itself is a thriller, bracketed by a magnificent mixed forest of giant podocarps and beech – an unmistakeable glimpse of what the Sounds looked like before the logging era. The Nydia Track is an understated revelation.
Treat yourself to a brilliant break in Marlborough. For updating trip inspiration and unmissable experiences, head to www.marlboroughnz.com
Mike Yardley is our resident traveller on Jack Tame Saturday Mornings.
Take your Radio, Podcasts and Music with you