Admittedly, this scene was at the end of a two-day hike along the Kaikoura coast in New Zealand’s South Island, which is known for its substantial hills. (They would be called mountains anywhere else in the world.) On the first day alone, my Health app showed I’d walked 13.2km and climbed 145 floors! The second day was the same distance with slightly fewer steps – and ‘only’ 70 floors climbed. Let me assure you, I felt like I’d climbed at least another 70+ by the end.
Jump down to the At a Glance summary section (we won’t be too offended!)
My two girlfriends who organised the trip (you know who you are) led me to believe the track was a ‘simple, easy walk’. Looking at the website now, I see that the walk owners also adhere to the art of Kiwi understatement, stating it as ‘suitable for most walkers,’ qualifying further with ‘a reinvigorating walk for those of reasonable fitness’. Hahahaha…
Seriously though, the Kaikoura Coast Track is friggin’ fantastic and you should sign up! But put in a bit of extra training beforehand, as I should have done, rather than just thinking about it (note to self: walking in London is nothing like walking in NZ) and you’ll be as right as rain. The experience is definitely worth the pain (and the pain doesn’t last that long!)
You’re probably wondering why I’ve written a review about a walk, as this is a food-focused website after all! However, for me, the Kaikoura Coast Track delivers a quintessential ‘local’ Kiwi food experience (should you decide to take the catered option). It’s what I remember from growing up in New Zealand in the 1970s and 80s. Starting with the friendliness of the hosts, in the true-blue South Islander manner, which is WAY more under-stated than many people are used to. It’s a given that they’ll deliver the best they can, yet there is an underlying sense of their pride in seeing satisfied visitors raving about the food throughout the trip.
The food itself is honest, home-style cooking – just like my mum and other kiwi mums make. Being farmers, locally grown and raised ingredients are used wherever possible. As an example, on the first night, we had melt-in-your-mouth lamb shanks. (We did look out at Rambo – more on him below – and wondered what his fate would be, but were assured he’d become a part of the farm’s family.) The homemade lemon drink and biscuits at the end of the second day are just one example of the small touches that make this walk such a personal, special experience.
Highlights of the Kaikoura Coast Track
- Do not fear: it’s a perfectly civilised walk! Your bags are collected each morning and dropped off at the farmhouse, where you’ll spend the following night. The only thing that you’ll need to carry during the walk is a day pack for your water bottle and a packed lunch.
- Spotting the wildlife along the way. We were lucky to see a couple of seals on the beach – and being serenaded by inquisitive bellbirds was truly heart-lifting. Our funniest encounter was being welcomed and then chased by a rambunctious lamb, who we nicknamed Rambo. He was hilarious, jumping up on the table outside the first cottage we stayed in. He only wanted food, which he’d obviously been receiving from other visitors, as he packed well above his weight. The walking track is privately operated and meanders through two, working farms, so you’ll definitely encounter farm animals along the way.
- You will barely see anyone, except for the property owners, who make an appearance every now and again. Oh, and there was a guy travelling by himself who stumbled upon us… he quickly moved on when he worked out how crazy we are as a group! There were eight of us, which meant we had the run of the place; the track has a maximum capacity of ten guests per day.
- You can either bring your own food, or pay extra and have your stay catered. We went for the latter, and it was worth it. The food is fresh, home-cooked and super-tasty. They even cater to those with dietary requirements. And you will WOLF it down, with no guilt whatsoever, after all the miles walked and climbed (did I mention that already?!?)
- There is also booze to help get you through it! You can either purchase it at each house, or you can bring your own (which is transported with your bags, should you have any left over from the first night of over-excitement.)
At a Glance
Our top tips to make your Kaikoura Coast Track experience more enjoyable:
- Proper walking shoes/boots are a necessity. They will get wet as you have to cross streams and rivers over both days. So make sure you have good socks – or even a little hand towel to dry your feet if you choose to keep your boots dry.
- On the first day, do not be seduced by the idea of meandering along a beach. Definitely take the route which shortens your walking time on the beach. Oh. My. God. That. Beach. Soft, deep sand, with nowhere to escape to, gave our legs an exhausting workout.
- If the weather is playing nice (which fortunately it was for our trip) pack your togs (swimsuit for you foreigners) as there’s a swimming hole near the first day’s lunch stop. A much-needed reinvigoration after the beach marathon.
- Pick some native kawakawa leaves and use to make your own tea at the lunch stop. Refreshing and sure to be of some medicinal benefit.
- Once finished, if you’re looking for some rest and relaxation, there is no better place to go than Kaikoura itself. The easy one-hour drive north takes you along the coast, where you might be lucky to spot a whale or two! Along the way, you’ll see the impact of the large earthquake that hit in 2016. The engineering feats being undertaken to restore the road and rail are incredible.
- Where to stay: the Kaikoura Boutique Hotel is brilliant. Passionate about kiwi wines, the super-friendly owners have a well-stocked bar of interesting wines.
- Finally, the meaning of Kaikoura in Maori is “to eat crayfish”, so it’s not hard to guess what makes Kaikoura famous. Nin’s Bin, the old caravan parked at the beach as you head north out of Kaikoura, is a great place to try freshly cooked crayfish – although beware, it’s not always open!