Adventure South's latest hike

17:00, Jul 26 2011

By the time I reach Picton, my companions have already stretched their legs on the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway, while I have been bending my elbow on Bluebridge's new Straitsman.

Seated in front of picture windows at the bow, entering Tory Channel becomes an up-close-and-personal treat.

A shared meal in our Waikawa Bay motel prompts a cultural exchange between five Aussies – two couples from Queensland and a Sydneysider – and three Kiwis. What do we have planned for Waitangi Day? ask the Queenslanders, who are used to large Maori parties in their neighbourhoods. Well, nothing, actually.

Day 1: Coffee at Lochmara Lodge before a four-hour warmup walk to Anakiwa, mostly downhill through farmland then beech forest. Spectacular views are marred only by dying wilding pines, a testament to the persistence of volunteers in poisoning the pest plants.

Day 2: Choose lunch at the legendary Picton Village Bakkerij. Take minibus to Havelock and the start of the 27-kilometre Nydia Track. Geoff drives to the other end, walks back to meet us.

For one more used to a harbour's edge walk to coffee, this gives new meaning to "uphill battle". Bed is four hours' walk away – over two saddles, through pristine bush, on a Department of Conservation-maintained track linking old bridle paths.

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The Sydneysider is way ahead. The Queenslanders, in training for the Routeburn the next week, plod on. Alison encourages me to aim for the next ponga and look ahead, not down at my feet. "If you stop before the top, it's much harder to regain momentum."

On the downhill straight into Nydia Bay we meet mountain bikers on their way up. Incredibly, this is promoted as a "highly recommended, if quite technical" ride. In a grassy paddock, a very large bull remains preoccupied with his herd of cows. After a couple of creek crossings, we're at the water's edge, a short walk from Te Mahoerangi, our home for the night.

Day 3: Waitangi Day. Passing track devastated by wild pigs. It's a relief to be under towering rimu, beech and nikau. The reward for a steep climb is breathtaking views to the turquoise waters and ancient forest of World's End, in Tennyson Inlet. Later, we share a tiny pebbled beach and pristine water with families who have walked 10 minutes from the end of the road. We take the plunge, feast on our Dutch lunch and follow this with icecreams at Hira, before hitting the road for Motueka.

Day 4: A carpet of dusty footprints testifies to the Abel Tasman Track's international popularity. It's a classic four-hour dappled beech forest "walk in the park", until Torrent Bay comes into view. Then the track heads unrelentingly downhill: hot, dry and hard on the knees. At last, we sink our toes into The Anchorage's golden sand. Our catamaran waits with lunch.

The wind has got up. Dark clouds gather. It's the end of the golden weather. The idea of sailing back seems less appealing, but our single-handed skipper, Mike, is so laid back we too relax, along with the American seniors who have come up from Kaiteriteri. After three days walking uphill and down again, it's bliss to stretch out my legs on the big cat's trampoline, in spite of the occasional dowsing.

Day 5: A very different landscape. Mt Robert looms over St Arnaud and Lake Rotoiti in Nelson Lakes National Park. Pinchgut Track zigzags through grasses, dipping occasionally into beech forest, up to the snow line. A kea flashes orange underfeathers. We nibble sweet white snowberries, chat up a couple of Czech boys on a working holiday, and encounter our first gentians, which are not blue at all but are making up for that in sheer volume. From the alpine meadows, the views are dizzying – down to the lake, up across scree to the Angelus Hut. We head for lunch at Bushline Hut, before starting the knee-jagging descent, glad of borrowed poles.

Our last day is more sightseeing than slog. After driving through Rainbow and Molesworth valleys, with a detour to Lake Tennyson, we hit a southerly at Jacks Pass. We make do with a gentle climb to Hanmer Springs lookout, followed by a soak in the hot pools (more sandflies) and a very pleasant last supper at Nor'wester Cafe in Amberley.

Christchurch is blessedly aftershock-free, with no hint of what is to come.

The writer was hosted by Adventure South & Bluebridge.

The Dominion Post