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Kaikoura unchained

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January 2021 Issue

Dave Mitchell heads to the whale watching capital of New Zealand to ride the 45km Kaikoura Trail

Massive earthquake uplift may have transformed the rugged Kaikoura coastline, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the spectacular backdrop of the often snow-capped Seaward Kaikoura Range. With a scenic easy bike trail roaming the land between coast and mountain, it’s no wonder I keep coming back to this amazing place.

We began the Kaikoura Trail from South Bay where it follows the coast south on single-track, benched nicely between SH1 and the sea. We rode past the manicured golf course and through an airy pine plantation before heading inland just before reaching the Kowhai River.

The Kaikoura Cycling Club has been busy digging their way from the sea to the base of Mt Fyffe on the Kowhai River’s true left bank, creating a trail that meanders in the nicest possible way through a mix of towering pine, eucalyptus, mānuka and beautiful broadleaf natives with flowering kowhai trees, fuchsias and tree ferns. On this gentle uphill, there were plenty of great views to the snow-capped Seaward Kaikoura Ranges and the picturesque mixed open farmland that follows the valley surrounding the Inland Kaikoura Road.

After 15km of superb trail, there’s a gravelly intersection where a large stop bank, protected by huge boulders, leads to the Mt Fyffe car park. If you have the energy and inclination, you can continue to the car park to hike the Hinau Walkway – an amazing bush trail full of wild ferns and prolific birdlife.

Whale-watching wall art.Photo: Dave Mitchell

The marked bike trail heads east on the gravelled Postmans Road which eventually becomes tar-sealed. Turning onto Mt Fyffe Road, the trail heads north onto gravel where there’s a short climb up Topline Road, or you could ride further up to the spectacular Mt Fyffe Forest Walk. The lower slopes are full of tree fuchsias while the upper part  of the track passes tall totara, matai and rimu. It’s a steep but good trail to stretch your legs on.

At the end of Topline Road there’s a surprising single-trail link to the exclusive Koura Bay Golf Resort and subdivision. We exited via Koura Bay Drive trying not to leave any muddy tyre prints, and hung a left onto Bay Paddock Road and out of sight onto Grange Road, which turns to gravel and joins up with the Hapuku River. This is where the fun starts and the single-track takes hold. The trail follows the river east through regenerating native forest, past the Puhi Puhi River confluence under the SH1 road bridge and out to the coast on an amazing section of superbly-crafted trail.

The trail hits the coast after crossing the main trunk line on Lovers Lane and this is where we ate our lunch while a train full of rocks trundled by, shaking the ground.

The Seaward Kaikoura Range provides a spectacular backdrop to the Kaikoura Trail. Photo: Dave Mitchell

The route back into Kaikoura initially takes the Old Beach Road but it’s worth heading to the very end of Hapuku Road to check out the beautifully-restored Hapuku Co-operative Dairy company building.

Old Beach Road curves around the coastline with the railway on its east side and only deep blue sea beyond. It’s a rugged slice of coast where swimming gets the thumbs down but the whales like it a lot. The bike trail eventually leaves the road and heads under the train tracks onto a dune trail lined with tall sand grasses, tussock, lupins and sedges.

We eventually popped out at the famous Kaikoura Whaleway Station with a leisurely cruise through town and a café stop before closing the loop back to South Bay.

Total Ascent
Easy / Moderate
The loop starts from South Bay, Kaikoura and is well signposted
The trail is marked on the local town map available from the i-Site

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