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A Wild Things trail running holiday

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A Wild Things trail running holiday

By Jenny Hirst on 26th March 2019 Trail Reports

A Wild Things trail running holiday

Hello Rotoroa! A new trail guide in the making...

How to arrange a Wild Things trail holiday:

Step 1 – book camper van for 10 days

Step 2 – spend hours studying Wild Things Trail Directory, and DOC websites for inspiration

Step 3 – Count down the days

Step 4 – Flurry of last minute activity:  printing trail guides, packing plenty of running clothes (and some other stuff)

Steps 5(a)(b)(c) – Fly to Nelson, pick up camper van, head to supermarket for supplies (and beer – pleased to note the very good selection of Deep Creek beers in Nelson New World!)

Step 6 – Drive to Nelson Lakes….and then the real fun begins

Day 1 – St Arnaud. Camping at the Kerr Bay DOC campsite, next to Lake Rotoiti. This campsite is pretty flash with hot showers, recycling etc. We headed out on Wild Things trail number 1 – St Arnaud Sampler, guide provided by non-other than Malcolm Law. 12km of lakefront, river, beech forest and mountain bike trails.We are off to a good start. The intention is to run a moderate amount, no huge missions (and no injuries!) as we both have the Tarawera 102km in a month.


Day 2 dawns with low cloud. Forecast is improving, and the plan for the day is Wild Things trail number 2 - a climb to the Parachute Rocks and St Arnaud Ridge. We set off early afternoon with clear skies. A few kms of climbing through beech forest, finally breaking clear of the tree line for spectacular views, especially once we reach the ridgeline. The heights are a bit dizzying - a couple of planes fly past below us!  Back down a bit faster for a dip in the lake, avoiding the eels.  Champagne to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary follows.

Day 3. We head west and stop in Murchison for Wild Things trail number 3, The Kahikatea Walk. This is possibly the shortest trail in the whole directory – a 2.5km loop near the Buller River, with some sweet forest trail. Jandals seem appropriate for this one; we do not plan to smash any course records. On the trail, we locate a good picnic spot by the river and return with the camper van, and end up rescuing an Aussie angler who runs into trouble crossing the river. As 2.5km seems not quite enough for the day we find a track 10kms south of Murchison, the Six Mile Walk, on the site of an old power station. Nice beech forest, waterfalls, if a bit overgrown. There was no Wild Things trail guide for this one – but there is now! Enjoyable despite the cows and one bull in the paddock at the start….


Day 4. We wake up at the DOC campsite at Lyell – time to hit the Old Ghost Road. There is a Wild Things trail guide for OGR in its entirety, however we were doing an out and back – to the Lyell Saddle Hut return, around 36km. This is a steady climb up, levelling out a bit after about 11km, a combination run/hike to the hut with some side trips to view the sites of old mining settlements. The run back to Lyell is fantastic, way easier than I remember it being at the end of the Old Ghost Ultra! There are some other short trails at the Lyell end, the old cemetery is worth a visit.

That afternoon with a craving for pizza and beer we head to Westport. Check into a "proper" campsite to get some washing done, and restock supplies in town. We undertake a 4km round trip on foot around the mean streets of Westport to get aforementioned pizza and consider writing up a Wild Things guide to detail our adventures….

Day 5 dawns with heavy rain – it is the West Coast! We head north, ultimate destination being the Kohaihai DOC campsite north of Karamea. A planned run en route is abandoned due to conditions; we do not fancy filling the camper with soaking running gear with a bigger adventure planned the next day. Kohaihai proves to be an almost idyllic campsite – paradise with sandflies! In addition, although the beach is magnificent, so are the waves, and there are warning signs not to swim, or even venture near. The weather clears and we explore some smaller tracks, climbing a nearby trail to overlook the beach, and a nikau forest walk, a taster for the next day. 

Day 6Heaphy Track! Once again there is a Wild Things trail guide for this 78km long Great Walk in its entirety, but we were doing another out and back. The plan was to run 18km total, but the track was so cruisy and beautiful a few more kms were added. Dense nikau forest, white sand beaches, swingbridges and creeks, and crashing waves. Plenty of weka to keep us entertained, and numerous walkers heading south on the last day of their 4 to 5 day adventure. We spent 3 very happy hours on the track, keen for more one day.

Day 7, south again. The initial plan was to run at least some of the Oparara Valley Dreamtime Wild Things trail, but a chat to a DOC ranger alerted us to the fact we would have trouble driving the camper to the start, the road being very rough. We consulted the trail directory and hatched an alternative plan. Headed south to Ngakawau, north of Westport, to run the Charming Creek Walkway (another Wild Things trail). This is a 20km out and back along an old railroad constructed to transport timber and coal down to Westport.  Lots of info boards, old machinery, more swingbridges, and a superb waterfall – the Mangatini Falls. Great run and not too taxing. The only complaint is that the famous pie shop at Waimangaroa has closed since the trail guide was written – update needed! We hit the road again heading to Punakaiki. 


Day 8. After a night camping beneath the towering limestone cliffs at Punakaiki, we were keen to get exploring. There are a couple of trail guide options here - The Punakaiki Pack Track full loop is tempting, but is 38km, further than we want to run, so we opt for the shorter Punakaiki - Pororari loop, with a side visit to the Limestone caverns and the Pancake Rocks. Part of the attraction here is that this track will be one end of the new Great Walk, the Paparoa, due to open later in 2019. This is definitely on the wishlist. Tracks winding alongside spectacular rivers between the cliffs, caverns, forest, more swingbridges (of course!) The limestone stone caverns on the main road were worth a vist, head torches necessary. Trotting around the Pancake Rocks with hundreds of tourists was a little surreal!  There is a short road section on this loop to get back to the car.


Day 9. Following a road trip to Greymouth the previous day to sample some Monteiths products, we had set up camp at Iveagh Bay, on the shores of Lake Brunner. More overnight rain made for a muddier adventure the next day. The trail guide we were using was for the Mt Te Kinga trail. This is a steep climb, around 1400m with 6km of climbing up Mt Te Kinga on the Ara Te O Kinga track. We opted to do 6km return to the lookouts over the lake. The first part was easy but the track got more technical and muddy after a few hundred metres. Good views and some very impressive trees – mostly kahikatea, miro and rimu. After descending, we paid a visit to the Station café in Moana for coffee and cake, before heading to Blackball. No running here but we spend a good while getting familiar with the history.  The new Great Walk,The Paparoa Track, will be opening near Blackball in 2019, and The Paparoa ultra run and mountain bike event should happen early next year – we are very keen!

Next stop was Reefton, with a stop on the way at the very poignant Pike River Memorial. Reefton has plenty of trail guides to choose from. As the morning's effort had been quite short we thought another run was in order. Starting at Blacks Point we headed up on the Murray Creek / Konini Track Loop…and up….and up…and up.  Lots of gradual climbing (5km+) through beech forest, and it was getting perilously close to beer o'clock and the trail was not particularly "runnable".  An interesting aspect of this run was seeing the long-term damage done to parts of the forest due to the coal and gold mining many years previously. Nothing grows on the gold mine tailings – and is over 100 years since the gold mine there (Ajax mine) was closed down. The open case coal mine, abandoned 50 years ago, is still a dead scar on the landscape. Anyway, what goes up must come down – in this case very steeply. Back to the van and off to the Slab Hut DOC campsite (and a late dinner and beer) for the night.


Days 10 and 11. Slow start sampling the cafés, galleries and vintage stores of Reefton, as well as the excellent Reefton distillery before heading to our final destination, Lake Rotoroa. This is the smaller of the Nelson Lakes, and not far from St Arnaud where we started. No trail guides in the Directory for Rotoroa, however we explore a bit and made a plan for our final morning. On my wish list - runnable forest trails, maybe a waterfall, no huge climbs!  What do you know – my wish was granted.  On our final morning, we rose early – before the sandflies, and connected the three DOC walks nearby, the Nature Walk, Flower Brothers trail and the Braeburn Walk.  This made for a perfect 7.5km farewell to the South Island, with some of the best trees and ferns we had sampled, lake views, and even a waterfall!  And it now exists in the Wild Things Trail Directory – Hello Rotoroa is a perfect little adventure in between or after all the other big adventures.

This was our second camper van holiday running South Island trails. The Trail Directory is such a great resource – cheers to all the Wild Things who have contributed to our adventures. There is much more to explore, so another trip is in the planning stages.

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Do you have a short story to tell about a Wild Things Trail Directory run (or runs!) that you've done? If so, we'd love to hear from you. Please email us with your story and photos (or just an idea for a story). If published, you could win some cool Wild Things merchandise or $ to spend in the Wild Things shop.

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