Summer-bare or plastered with winter’s snowy coat, Mount Fyffe and the Seaward Kaikoura Range dominate the Kaikoura skyline. These little-known mountains safeguard some unusual natural inhabitants, and provide recreation opportunities ranging from a family stroll to a serious backcountry journey.
Time: 8 hr return
Superb views over the Kaikoura plains and peninsula reward those who climb on Mt Fyffe. On a clear day the view at higher levels includes Banks Peninsula and the North Island. From Mt Fyffe carpark follow the 4WD road up the mountain's long south-west ridge. The road goes right to the summit; a return journey of about 8 hours.
Those wanting a shorter journey could go as far as Mt Fyffe Hut (5 hours return) or the lookout point near a firepond, which is just an hour above the carpark. The Spaniard Spur Route offers a steeper alternative route to the upper mountain via the Kowhai River.
Mountain bikes are permitted on the Mt Fyffe Track. It is very steep; both the ascent and descent will challenge those who try it. Stay in control of your bike and give way to walkers.
This is a shared-use track. Follow the mountain bikers code: respect others, respect the rules, respect the track.
Time: 45 min loop
This track also starts at the Mt Fyffe carpark. It is a 45-minute loop through an unusual forest with a number of large hinau trees. There are also many mahoe, putaputaweta, broadleaf, tree fuchsia and pigeonwood. For a contrast in vegetation the track passes through a stand of kanuka. Classified as 'walking track', the Hinau Track is well formed and suitable for families, however, there is an unbridged stream which in normal conditions is easy to navigate.
Time: 2–3 days
This rugged 2–3 day trip over Kowhai Saddle is typical Kaikoura country. It is classified as a 'route' and in places is not marked at all; there are no bridges. Boots and experience at backcountry route-finding are recommended.
Mt Fyffe carpark to Kowhai Hut (4 hours). Most of the route is in the Kowhai riverbed; in places rock cairns mark short sections across the few riverflats.
Kowhai Hut to Hapuku Hut (6 hours). Kowhai Saddle (1153 m) is visible from Kowhai Hut, to the north-east. Just above the hut follow cairns beside a side stream leading directly to the saddle. On the Hapuku side the route descends to the riverbed. Follow the river to Hapuku Hut, mostly on the true left through scrub.
Hapuku Hut to Grange Road (4 hours). Follow the Hapuku valley bed and banks for about 30 minutes. Look out on the true right side for a track which skirts the deep Hapuku Gorge. Below the gorge a combination of route and track follows the riverbed down to Grange Road.
Time: 1 hr 45 min return
This track leads from the end of Mt Fyffe Road, initially following poles across farmland to the regenerating forest of Fyffe-Palmer Scenic Reserve. There is a picnic area along the track with excellent views.
Kaikoura is on State Highway 1 along the South Island east coast. It is 154 km south of Picton and 183 km north of Christchurch. Regular bus and train services pass through the town.
Mt Fyffe carpark is about 15 km from town via Ludstone, Swamp and finally Postman's Roads. To get to Fyffe-Palmer Scenic Reserve drive out of town on Ludstone Road; turn right onto Mt Fyffe Road and follow it to its end. The Hapuku road end is 3 km along Parson's Road which leaves State Highway 1, 10 km north of town. An on-demand shuttle service is available to these places.
Geologically this area is young and unstable. In many places the bedrock has been exposed by slips and the layered, once horizontal rocks can be seen, twisted incredibly by massive upheaval over millions of years.
Huge volumes of rock have spewed out of the mountains to create the short plain that connects the mainland to Kaikoura Peninsula.
The high ranges are home to some animals usually associated with much warmer habitats: a native snail, three species of giant weta and the endemic Kaikoura black-eyed gecko.
The vegetation varies greatly with the terrain, from riverbed and flat to mountain slope and alpine basin. Diversity is also added as vegetation recovers from slips of different ages.
The original river flats vegetation would have been podocarp forest (matai, miro, totara and rimu). Beech forest is largely absent; instead Hall's totara and mountain celery pine dominate the mountain slopes below a fringe of sub-alpine shrubs.
A number of shrubby plants such as pink broom, Marlborough rock daisy and the New Zealand lilac occur in Southern Marlborough but nowhere else.
Uwerau Nature Reserve protects the world’s largest colony of Hutton’s shearwater. Each early summer, when snow still lies on the ground, thousands of them fly to their tussock ‘city in the sky’ to mate. During this time they are often seen feeding near the coast.
Other birdlife in the mountains includes the brown creeper, tomtit, robin, bellbird, rifleman, wood pigeon, falcon and kea. The large areas of regenerating forest provide a rich supply of insect food for the smaller birds.
Little record exists of Maori knowledge of the Kaikoura Range. It is likely that the Waitaha, followed by the Ngati Mamoe and Ngai Tahu tribes explored the range to hunt favoured birds and journey to the West Coast in search of greenstone.
In 1843 Scottish-born Robert Fyffe started the first whaling station at Kaikoura. Six years later he introduced the first sheep and milking goats to Kaikoura. In 1854 he was joined by his cousin George who leased an area north of Kaikoura known as the ‘Mt Fyffe Run’ — thus Mt Fyffe was named.
The Seaward Kaikouras and Mt Fyffe should not be taken lightly. Even for a short walk to the lookout on Mt Fyffe on a fine day, a windbreaker is necessary.
All backcountry visitors should seek detailed advice and leave their intentions with someone reliable. Always carry warm, waterproof clothing and plenty of food. Remember your safety is your responsibility.