An Overnighter to the Kahurangi Lighthouse and Keepers Cottage
We used the excuse of snow in the mountains, to make a weekend trip out to the Kahurangi lighthouse and keepers house. This beautiful West coast walk was a delight! The long drive in to the Anatori River, via the causeways of the Whanganui inlet near Farewell Spit, was incredible in itself. The main event – the hike to Kahurangi Point and the lighthouse crosses beautiful farmland to the Turimawiwi river. From there you head over the giant sand dunes and walk South down the wild, windswept, and extremely beautiful West coast.
DoC recommends 4 hours from Anatori. We took 4.5 hours, possibly owing to the number of times we took our shoes on/off to cross the rivers! Plus we spent a bit of time negotiating the best place to cross Big River.
This is no ordinary stroll along the beach. There are a few river crossings to negotiate so you have to plan your weekend to coincide with a low tide in the afternoon (we were glad to have a packraft with us for the homeward journey). We were also a little perturbed by the sinking sand we found ourselves wading through… something I hadn’t come across before. Then there are the Nikau palm groves along the shore and the rock platforms on the beach. All this, an awesome hut AND the added bonus of a lighthouse made for a great adventure!
Getting to Anatori River – Kahurangu Lighthouse
It took around 3.5 hours to drive from Nelson to the Anatori river. We headed over the mountain to Takaka, then Collingwood on the SH60 then continued up to Pakawau, where we swung a left, West onto the Pakawau Bush Road (unsealed, narrow and winding but in excellent shape). This continues into Dry Road beside the beautiful Whanganui inlet. I have driven plenty of New Zealand, but the drive around the Whanganui inlet was pretty special, over lots of little causeways. We even saw a rare white heron!
We eventually crossed the Paturau river and continued along the spectacular Cowin Road to the small and very basic camping area at the Anatori river. It was a terrific 40Km or so drive from Pakawau.
The Anatori River – Kahurangu Lighthouse
We met some friends and stopped for a cuppa and home made cup-cakes (!) at the tiny camping area right at the mouth of the Anatori river. Tea and cakes done, we drove to the larger car park at the Anatori river. If you have a sturdy enough vehicle, you can drive across the Anatori river. We crossed on foot, but had fun waching the huge stock trucks haul themselves across.
We took our shoes and socks off to cross the river. It wasn’t very swift, but it was deep enough. Even though I had tucked my shorts right up into my undies (always a good look) I was about 2mm away from a wet underwear situation. It was mid-thigh deep for everyone else.
Anatori River to Turimawiwi River
We set off at 12.15pm to make the most of the low tide and river crossings down the coast. The initial 7Km road walk to the Turimawiwi River reminded me a little of the Waikato (think limestone-country-on-sea). After an initial climb the track gently undulated through beautiful farmland. The views on all sides were very impressive.
Inland was the vast expanse of the Western side of the Kahurangi National Park. We knew the Heaphy Track ‘great walk’ was in there somewhere. It was stunning.
As we walked we were overtaken by a selection of motorbikes, quad bikes and other assorted off-road vehicles. It was the first weekend of winter and a holiday weekend. The thrill seekers and party people were out too. We were offered a lift to the beach – which was nice, but as we’d only been walking for an hour or so, we thought we’d better continue walking. We reached the Turimawiwi River at 1.50pm just over 1.5 hours from the Anatori.
Turimawiwi River – Kahurangu Lighthouse
The Turimawiwi river wasn’t as deep as the Anatori (my mid thigh) and again we removed our shoes and socks to cross. The river is crossable by vehicle if you don’t mind the rocks. After we had crossed a small crowd gathered to watch a minibus towing a motorbike on a trailer. We held our breath for them as they lurched and bumped their way over… and broke into a ripple of nods and admiring glances when they successfully made it out the other side.
Turimawiwi River to Anaweka River
Shoes and packs back on, we headed towards the enormous sand dunes on the coast, and walked into the headquarters of party central. Most of the occupants had whizzed off on some kind of fast petrol driven vehicle and we could hear them buzzing around on the beach.
As we walked through the collection of vans and tents we could smell a terrible burning smell. We were literally almost upon it when we saw what it was! a 9Kg barbeque gas cylinder (still intact) smouldering in the middle of some almost-burned-out tyres. We exchanged glances, horrified that someone would do something so stupid, and knowing that if it went up right now, we’d probably go with it. Doing our best not to think about it, we hurried on past and were glad to get on the beach.
We had around 7Kms of beach walk to take us to the Kahurangi lighthouse Keepers cottage.
Judging by the camp, we obviously knew the beach walk wouldn’t be the remote, isolated experience we had initially thought it might be. Nevertheless it was incredibly beautiful. It was a lovely sunny winters day, and there was a pretty stiff headwind, so we donned our hats and gloves.
To our right were huge sand dunes, and the beach stretched in front of us all the way to Kahurangi Point. It was almost completely low tide, and the motorbikes, quad bikes and 4-wheel drives were having fun on the hard sand.
The Anaweka River
As we neared the Anaweka River estuary a couple of Kms down from Turimawiwi the low tide revealed some beautiful rock outcrops. We reached the Anaweka around 2.30pm and took off our shoes and socks to crosss.
The Anaweka river wasn’t really too much of a problem to cross, until we reached the middle of it and found ourselves sinking considerably further down into the sandy bed with each step. It was really quite unnerving as you didn’t know how far you’d sink. Luckily with the low water and sinkiness the water only came up to mid-thigh on me/just above the knee for everyone else.
The Anaweka River to Big River
The next few Kms to Big River was equally as beautiful (and noisy with vehicles). We reached Big River right on low tide as reccommended by DoC. We took off our packs and walked into the estaury to find the best place to cross. I had read a Wilderness Magazine article which recommended either the mouth or around 200m upstream. Upstream was looking pretty deep and we couldn’t see the bottom, so we took our chances closer to the river mouth.
We picked a spot across from the rock platforms on the beach where there were a few little islands and we could see the bottom clearly. I changed into a quick-drying pair of shorts, and hitched up my tops as I knew this was probably going to be a deep crossing. We linked up as a unit to cross, and sure enough we all got a shorts soaking! We climbed up onto the maze of the rock platform and got back to the shore.
Big River to the Keepers Cottage
There were a couple of smaller steams to cross as we headed towards Kahurangi Point and we ended up walking in our sandals or barefoot. Really annoyingly I had developed a tiny blister on the underside of my heel from not drying my feet properly after the first two crossings – so it was nice to keep my trainers off.
The highlights of this section were the incredible rock platforms stretching out to sea, the beautiful caves in the cliffs, and the Nikau palm groves on shore.
Kahurangi Lighthouse Keepers House
We reached another little stream at 4.30pm and saw a track leading up from the beach. A little further was up was the gorgeous Kahurangi lighthouse keepers house/DoC hut.
Just as we were settling in to our new digs, and quietly hoping that we’d have the place all to ourselves – we heard the familiar noise of quad bikes and motorbikes making their way up the track. We were amazed they had made it across Big River, and our hearts sank when we saw the boxes of beer they were carrying. I think we all secretly hoped that our evening wouldn’t be spent hosting a party at the hut.
Thankfully the group had just come up for a recce and they used the bathroom and left – but not before one of them did a loop of donuts on the front lawn, churning up the grass. Idiots.
The Keepers house was lovely, and had several bunk rooms, and a lovely wood burning stove. We lit a fire and swept the main room clear of all the sand and dirt. Then we settled in and started eating. The cottage had a great information folder with history of the lighthouse and the settlement.
Exploring the Kahurangi Lighthouse
We enjoyed a lovely warm night in the hut, and a leisurely breakfast in the morning. It was another stunner of a day! We went exploring to the Kahurangi lighthouse. Vaguely knowing where we were heading (from a rudimentary map we’d seen in the info booklet) we headed off to the beach, then over Camp Creek. It was very much follow your nose. We got ourselves up onto the high ground and followed a clearing. There was a beautiful little lake at the top, then we spotted some markers/posts closer to the coast which led us in the general direction of the lighthouse.
We eventually found it – and what a beauty! We had a bit of a wander around before making our way back.
We came back in time for lunch. The weka were out in force, so we kept a very close eye on everything!! We knew that low tide was going to be at 4.30pm, but that would only give us an hour of daylight left to make it back to the car (at least 3 more hours and several river crossings away). One of our group had bought a pack raft, so we knew we’d be able to make it across Big River.
We set off at 12.15pm. The tide had turned almost 2 hours previously and was going out, but we still had to negotiate a couple of sections where the sea was coming in against the cliffs on the shore. We each timed our runs perfectly, and got across dry!
We got to Big River and it was still pretty high. It took 20 minutes to inflate the packraft then we did a few trips to ferry ourselves and our packs across.
By 1.30pm we were all across Big River and headed back up the coast.
After the unnerving sinky-sand experience of crossing the Anaweka River on the way in, we tentatively made our way across. We tried a few crossings but waded into the sinky sand or deep water at almost every point we tried from the beach. We decided to walk into the estuary to try to cross, and after a good 20 minute detour and numerous smaller crossings on more stable sand we were across.
The rest of the homeward journey passed without any drama and by 3.20pm we had crossed the Turimawiwi river and started the road-walk leg back to Anatori. The farmland was bathed in late afternoon sun, and it wasn’t as windy as yesterday had been, so we enjoyed the walk back.
A couple of jeeps rolled past us and offered us a lift, which we accepted with delight. This saved us about 30 minutes walking, with the added bonus of being driven across the Anatori river too! We arrived back at 4.15pm, four hours after setting off from the hut.
Logistically the trip to Kahurangi lighthouse is a bit of a nightmare, due to it’s very remote location, the lengthy drive in and the need for low tides for the river crossings. It would certainly be easier in the summer when you have more daylight hours, and even better if you have a vehicle capable of crossing the Anatori and Turimawiwi rivers.
But don’t let that put you off – it makes a wonderful weekend!