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Sandfly Bay in Abel Tasman National Park is a tempting location for trampers. Photo:

Under normal circumstances, sandflies are to be avoided, but these four locations are worth a bite or two

Summer is a great time to be in the New Zealand backcountry. Except for those pestilent sandflies. 

If you want to avoid summer sandflies, avoid most of Fiordland and anywhere on the West Coast, particularly near lakes and the coastline. In fact, avoid most of the South Island backcountry. While North Islanders may not be able to boast the country’s highest mountains, they can at least be smug about the generally lesser number (and size) of sandflies. 

It seems most of the world’s beautiful mountains have some nasty biting, blood-sucking insect. Alaska has tiny but painful ‘no see ums’, Scotland is beset with hordes of midges and Chile harbours some horrible biting flies. Aotearoa, of course, has te namu. 

Māori legend has it that after the demigod Tū Te Rakiwhānoa carved the 14 fiords of Ata Whenua (Fiordland) with his adze, culminating in his masterpiece Piopiotahi (Milford Sound), he created sandflies to protect the astonishing beauty of the place. It worked pretty well; at least until the invention of DEET and mass tourism.

Fiordland sandflies are no laughing matter, as this old joke attests: Two sandflies have bundled up a tramper. One sandfly asks the other. “Shall we eat him here?” The other replies, “Nah, we better carry him away to our hideout or the really big sandflies might steal him off us.” 

In that same spirit, Tony Nolan of the Tararua Tramping Club once wrote a song ‘The Big Sandfly’, about a West Coast miner who starved himself to death rather than provide the local sandfly with any more blood.

I’d always assumed that winter was sandfly-free, but on a June trip to Canterbury’s Youngman Stream Hut they were voracious. And I’d long believed sandflies are pretty good at obeying the two sandfly commandments; ‘thou shalt not go above the bushline’, and ‘thou shalt not harass trampers during the night’ – until a trip into the Landsborough Valley proved both these rules wrong.

Here are four backcountry locations all named ‘sandfly’, but worth visiting all the same.

1 Sandfly Stream, Marlborough 

Bull Paddock Creek Hut (two bunks) lies at the bush edge of the Raglan Range, in the headwaters of the Wairau River. From the Rainbow Road, cross the Wairau River, and pick up a steep track that leads up Sandfly Stream, before crossing a ridge into Bull Paddock Creek. Happily, the hut’s position on the edge of the tops at the head of the creek means you’re above sandfly altitude.

2 Sandfly Bay, Abel Tasman National Park

This attractive bay is pretty much the idyllic Abel Tasman beach: bush fringed, golden sands, and a pleasant estuary for bathing. It’s reached on a short side-trip from the main Abel Tasman Coast Track.

3 Sandfly Bay, Otago Peninsula

This lovely bay on the south side of the Otago Peninsula is named not for its biting insects, but for the fact that in a southerly blow the sand really can fly. The beach, accessible from Seal Point Road, offers enjoyable coastal walking with a good chance of seeing New Zealand sea lions.

4 Sandfly Point, Fiordland National Park

Sandfly Point is at the end of the four-day Milford Track, where trampers prepare to catch a boat back to civilisation. Lots of idle humans waiting around makes it a perfect trap for the ravening sandflies that frequent the area. Not surprisingly, Ata Whenua (Fiordland) has two other Sandfly Points: in Preservation Inlet, and on Lake Te Anau. It also has a Namu River, culminating in Mt Namu.