Wading knee high in walking boots.....

Trip Start Nov 09, 2011
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Trip End Ongoing


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Where I stayed
Sawcut Gorge
What I did
Sawcut Gorge
Seals

Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Thursday, March 22, 2012

Thursday 8th March
After breakfast today we drove along to the Kaikoura Peninsula car park. The tide was out and the rocky platform that adjoins the car park, and which is covered by the sea at high tide, is home to seals. We wandered down onto the rocky ledge and as we continued around the headland sure enough we came across a number of seals resting against the cliff faces. As we walked passed them they raised their heads to check us out then continued in their slumbers.

We considered taking the headland walk from the car park from which there was the possibility of catching sight of whales offshore. However, as we reached the intial summit of the walk the rains returned and we decided to head back to the 'van for cover. We continued up the east coast towards Blenheim. Along the way were a couple of look out points. Below one was a colony of perhaps 20 to 30 seals. The youngsters were playing about in the rock pools and generally having fun. The majority of the adults were basking on the rocks, though a few were clearly suckling young pups. One young pup returning from the rock pools seemed to be calling for its mother and as it went around each of the adults it was clearly getting told in no uncertain terms 'I'm not your mother, go away...'. Hopefully the two got together, though there was no obvious acknowledgement from any of the adults.

In the i-site we had noted a walk to sawcut gorge that looking worth a visit. It was not too far out of the way so we decided to make that our next objective. Unusually it didn't seem to be sign posted off the main SH1 road that runs along the coast. We eventually found the turning and headed off inland. 13km of unmetaled road lay ahead of us. Fortunately this one was significantly smoother than our experience at Mount Aspiring and we were able to make good progress. However the road quickly left the rivers edge and climbed steeply. It twisted and turned and very soon we were looking down onto the river hundreds of feet below us, with the narrow dirt road clinging to the edge of the hillside with no visible barriers to keep us from driving over the near sheer drops below.

I was beginning to wonder how this road would return to the water's edge alongside which the walk to the gorge ran when around the next bend it suddenly plummeted down what seemed an unbelievable incline, a gate across the road clearly visible at the bottom, and a private house beyond that. The possibilty of turning around, or reversing several km back along the tricky road didn't seem a realistic possibilty, so the lesser of two evils was to drive down the track trusting that our 2 wheel drive, 3.5 ton van would get us safely back up on our return.

Passing through the gate the sign suggested that 4x4's continue down to the river and park along side the river bed, but that 2 wheel drive vehicles continue no further. Apparantly we were now to park on these people's drive / garden whilst we undertook the 3 hour walk up the river to the gorge. By now it was 4pm and if we were to undertake the walk now we would not be back before 7pm, by which time the light would be fading and we would be needing to sort ourselves out for the night. The alternative was to attempt the drive back up the way we had come and attempt it all again tomorrow.

The house was home to a middle aged couple. The man explained that in attempting the walk we would get our feet wet, it was impossible not to. He gave us a sheet with details of the walk. If we were going we would need to sign in the book. After chatting it over we asked cheekily if we could stay overnight on their drive and attempt the walk in the morning. They agreed, so we settled in for the night wondering what lay ahead of us?

Friday 9th March
We dressed ready for a 3 hour hike, not quite knowing what to expect. We had checked out the river the previous evening and it was clear that we would need to cross it (more than once). We were soon clambouring along the waters edge trying to stay out of the water as much as we could. The sides of the river soon started to rise steeply on our side as the river cut into the rocky outcrop. We had run out of options it was time to cross the water. We choose the widest point possible and set out across the river bed. Unfortunately the water covered the top of our boots and our feet found themselves swimming in water inside our boots.

We continued up the far bank until this too reached a rocky outcrop and we were forced once again to cross the river. This time the river was a little narrower, and therefore a little deeper. The path was not always obvious - which side of the river should we be? - and as we squelched along the few bits of path we found they soon petered out. We lost track of the number of times we had to cross the river bed. All the time the valley was becoming narrower, the sides where becoming steeper, and our options were becoming more limited.

Once or twice there seemed to be no easy route across. The water rushed between the rocks and we we forced to cross in water that was now around knee high and flowing quite fast. We linked arms for mutual support and pressed on.

At one point the water seem to come out from a narrow valley through steep rocky sides. Our 'map' indicated that a path climbed above this section through the trees. The path was the narrowest of ledges above the rushing waters below. We eventually found our way through and clamboured back down to the water. A sheer cliff ahead meant that we would have to cross the water one more time.

After the final section of path we finally came across our goal - Sawcut Gorge. Here the water flowed through a gap in the cliffs no more that 2 metres wide and perhaps 100 metres high on each side. The river had clearly cut its way down here over hundreds, if not thousands of years. By now there was no option. To enter the gorge we climbed down into the water and waded our way through the cutting. The sides were not vertical, but hung this way and that above us. Daylight immediately above us could not be seen. It was like walking through a cave.

The one and a half hour walk here had taken us nearly 3 hours. Our boots were soaked, our feet were in the pools of water now inside our boots. We were wet. But it was worth it? The walk was awesome, the sight all around us was awesome.  

We managed the trip back to the van in less than two hours. Would our boots ever dry out? Who knows. We dried ourselves, changed our clothes. got a quick bite to eat and then faced the drive back to the main road. Annie opened the gate and I drove delicately in 1st gear (probably the first time I had had to use it) up the incline and waited for Annie to catch up on foot. Concerned that if I stopped on the steep slope whilst Annie closed the gate we might never get going again.

We made it. What an experience. We headed onto Bleheim for a hot shower and a rest.

Saturday 11th March

Today we decided to take things easy. We drove into Blenheim parked up and wandered around the town. It was a beautiful sunny day. As we walked through the park and on along the path that wound its way through the town by the river we came across a cafe. Outside the terrace was full of people enjoying a drink, and maybe a bite to eat in the sun. Full, save for one table at the front, overlooking the riverside walk, and bathed in sunshine. Well it was obviously waiting for us.

We ordered a drink and took our time browsing through the menu. What followed was one of the tastiest meals we have eaten. The end to our South Island trip?

We drove onto Picton intending to stay overnight and taking the ferry back to the North Island tomorrow. However when we went to book our ticket at the empty toll booth the lady asked would you like to go now? Apparantly the afternoon ferry was just about to leave. It was still a sunny blue sky, with little wind. We didn't hesitate. Bought the ticket and drove straight onto the ferry for a delightful sunny and calm crossing.

What a great few days....
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