Summer-bare or plastered with winter’s snowy coat, Mount Fyffe and the Seaward Kaikōura Range dominate the Kaikōura 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 Kaikōura 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 Kaikōura backcountry. It is classified as a tramping track, but post-earthquake and flood debris makes this rewarding tramp a real challenge. Sturdy boots and experience at backcountry route-finding are recommended.
Grange Road to the Hapuku Hut (4 hr). Heading upstream from the roadside, make your way up the unmarked braided riverbed for the first 2 hours until you start to enter the narrowing deep Hapuku Gorge. At this point look for the track entry point on the true right taking you through mature bush around the gorge. The track has been re-routed around a slip to provide safer travel. The track drops down into the river again and earthquake damage is evident with some rock fall sections and several river crossings on the way to the hut which is situated on the true right.
Hapuku Hut to Kowhai Hut (6 hr). Leaving the Hapuku Hut, the track crosses to the true left and follows the river through sections of mature bush and tōtara up to the bush edge where marker poles lead up largely open scree to the saddle which at 1153 m, the highest point of the tramp. Care is advised over this section as weather conditions can change quickly. From the saddle, the track descends a semi open creek of rock, tussock and hebe scrub. Follow the marker poles to an entry point on the true left where the track descends quickly through a mixture of scrub and mountain tōtara and very rough creek bed until you meet the true Kowhai River which you cross to the true right, the hut is then a short distance further on. This section from the saddle down to the Kowhai Hut is the most challenging.
Kowhai Hut to Mt Fyffe car park (3 hr). After leaving the hut the track crosses to the true left and is markedly different to the terrain above the hut, sections have suffered flood damage, but entry markers lead along a relatively flat track through mānuka to the junction of the Spaniard Spur Track. From here, the track is largely unmarked as you follow the braided river out through patches of buddleia to the Mt Fyffe car park.
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.
Kaikōura 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 Kaikōura 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 Kaikōura 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 Kaikōura 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 Kaikōura. Six years later he introduced the first sheep and milking goats to Kaikōura. In 1854 he was joined by his cousin George who leased an area north of Kaikōura known as the ‘Mt Fyffe Run’ — thus Mt Fyffe was named.
The Seaward Kaikōuras 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.