A walk up to Tokomaru/Mount Robertson summit (1036m) is a great excuse to visit this beautiful area of Marlborough. The route to the summit is via the loop track and back. It took me 4 hours and 40 minutes to walk up and run (most of the way) down, including a 30-minute break. DOC recommend the timing as 7-9 hours return and classify it as an Advanced tramping track. I assume advanced because there’s a lot of ‘up’ – the track itself (on the day I did it) was about as perfect as you could get.
If you look to your left when heading from Renwick to Blenheim, Mount Robertson is the tallest mountain close to the coast. It’s the one with the golf ball (radar station) on top. From Blenheim, head towards Picton on the SH1, turn right at Tuamarina, and head along Hunter Road towards Rarangi. Drive through Rarangi – a lovely beach settlement with a DOC campsite at the end, then head over the hill towards Pukatea/Whites Bay.
I stayed in the wonderful Whites Bay DOC campground, which was already busy with families at 6.30 pm on a Friday night. Whites Bay is named after ‘Black Jack White’ an African American man who deserted a whaling ship in 1828 and lived with local Maori in the bay. It is worth a visit for the beautiful sandy beach, exploration of the cool rock platforms and hole in the rock, and the Cable Station cottage. In 1866 the first telegraph cable was laid on the sea floor between here and Lyall Bay on Wellington’s South Coast.
I bagged a marvellous spot at the campsite, ate dinner and tried to get an early night – had it not been for the 8 or so mozzies I unknowingly let into the van when I got out to clean my teeth. I found each one painfully slowly.
Whites Bay Track
I woke early and left the campsite at 7.15 am. The forecasted wind wasn’t up yet, and the gorgeous cove of Whites Bay was calm and gently lit by the early sun.
I shouldn’t go any further before a shout-out to my guide – the excellent and very accurate trip report I found on the Wild Things trail running website. I stuck with their plan and walked clockwise. The trails are well signposted all the way, and the tracks themselves are nice and wide, so you’d find it difficult to get lost.
The Whites Bay track starts to the right of the Rarangi surf club building. I followed the concrete path and at the turning shortly afterwards headed left up and over the headland to the southern side of the cove which had been cut off by the high tide. It’s a short walk to the beach and definitely worth a look. You can climb the rocks out to the right for some great views of the hole in the rock and the bay. I turned inland to the Whites Bay track and climbed up a series of switchback turns through the pine forest and up to the road.
The track comes out onto the road back to Rarangi. Out of the forest I turned left up the hill and not far around the corner was a four-wheel-drive track, signposted with the Mt Robertson loop. This led up to a pylon with splendid views over Rarangi Beach and South to the Kaikouras.
Shortly after the pylon, a tramping/mountain bike track headed off to the left – the Mount Robertson Loop track. It took me about thirty minutes to this point, from Whites Bay.
Mount Robertson Loop Track
I was on fire today! The track was wide and in good shape. Even though some parts (later on) were quite steep I found the gradient very doable and it came easily. (I love those kinds of days!) . Tell me to do a 1000m before 10 am on another day and it might be a completely different story… I’m sure if it had been wet, the track would have been pretty slippery underfoot.
As I was climbing the four-wheel-drive track I realised I forgot my sunscreen, but from here it was nearly all under cover anyway. The track became a little bumpier through the beech forest later on, but nothing technical.
At 8.25 am I reached the turnoff for the Pukaka Valley track, which went down to the left. The loop track continued straight on and not far before the summit track, I took a (non-signposted but obvious) track to the left, to get a view of the mountain and the golf ball.
The little detour met the main track again and by 8.45 am (1 hour 35 mins into the walk) I reached the junction with the Mount Robertson summit track/Whites Bay Track. I would head down to the right on my way back for an alternative descent.
Mount Robertson Summit Track
The summit track heads up along the ridge to the radar station and back the same way. The first part was reasonably flat and I was feeling so good, that I ran the first kilometre. From there it was into a 250m or so switchback climb, a little rockier underfoot, but nothing difficult.
The only obstacle to negotiate on the entire track was a fallen limb of a tree – easy to step over.
At 9.25 am I came up onto an open section with 360-degree views. Spoiler alert – there are no views from the top, so make the most of this one. I could see across to the North Island and down to Mt Tapuae-o-Uenuku, New Zealand’s highest mountain outside of the Southern Alps (do-able by non-alpinists.. it’s on the list!).
As I had a phone signal, I spent far too long faffing as I tried to remember how to do a live video on Facebook. Given it was now blowing a gale and I was a long way up, I regretted my decision to leave my gloves in the van at the beach.
I motored up the final climb. There was a respite where the track was a little boggy along a flat section, before another short climb to the top.
When I reached the radar station I couldn’t quite believe it. It was only 9.50 am – I had taken 2 hours 35 minutes.
There is no view from the top of Mount Robertson, just the radar station and the trig. Unfortunately, without a leg-up, I couldn’t climb the trig for a better view because the bottom panels have come off (I imagine because everyone climbs it to get a better view). I took a break and warmed up in the sun, sheltered from the worst of the wind.
At around 10.20 am I headed back down. I was in such good spirits that I decided to run most of it. When I say run, I mean slow plod with the help of gravity. I found a few shortcuts between the switchbacks which I hadn’t noticed on my way up.
Thirty minutes later at 10.50 am, I took the left turn at the junction back towards Whites Bay on the loop track. It was easy running and I really enjoyed it. At 11.15 am I reached a large metal gate, and continued straight on down the four-wheel-drive track. I passed another pylon with views to the North. By 11.30 am I was at the Port Underwood road.
Black Jack Track
I crossed the road and continued straight on, through the gate to the Black Jack Track. About five minutes later there was a sharp left turn, leading to the Port Underwood lookout.
The last time I was here, the undergrowth close to the lookout had been completely uprooted by pigs. It didn’t look quite as bad a year or so later, but by the looks of it, they are still pretty active.
From the lookout it was downhill (almost) all the way, and I kept left towards Whites Bay.
I was back at the van kicking my trainers off at 11.55 am and went to the beach for a swim. What an excellent morning’s work! Turns out I had unnecessarily lugged 1.5 litres of additional water, snacks and lunch up and down the mountain, but any walking without an overnight pack feels pretty good!
For more walks in the area check out DOC’s White Bay Tracks.