Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Bulwer… Bul–where?

Our next road trip was to Bulwer. You will recall that on the multiple sign post at the turn off to this arm of the Marlborough Sounds, there was a pointer for Bulwer, a place I had never heard of before & one I wanted to visit as it was right at the end of the road,  80kms away. Camped at Elaine Bay, we were already half way there but 40kms on a gravel winding road will still feel like eighty.

We climbed back up to the top of Elaine Bay Road and turned onto the ‘main’ road heading once again towards French Pass. David kindly pulled over to let a truck carrying a digger past, he repaid us with a view full of dust for the next 10kms! We pulled back to let him get ahead but with not a breath of wind the dust hung in the air.

Next right Bulwer, 30kms…..

The lambs are fattening up at a fast rate around here, Christmas must be getting close. Although David tells me he heard on the radio the other day that they don’t dock Christmas lambs, too much stress toughens the meat. So it may be that this chubby chap has a little longer to enjoy the green pastures overlooking Pelorus Sound.

We wind our way down the side of the ridge for a couple of kilometres before we come to another road junction, Bulwer to the left this time but we take a short detour to check out Cissy Bay & Te Towaka.

I walk to the edge of the road on the left to check out the view and what a fabulous view it is. This is Admiralty Bay looking north towards the outer sounds and Cook Strait. D’Urville Island is the far distant finger of land on the left (with a smaller island in front of it). French Pass a good distance around the middle point on the left and we are heading to and over the far point on the right. Once again there are dozens of rows mussel floats filling every bay in both directions.

We drive down towards Te Towaka to find out that it's the farm we saw the other day from high up on the ridge on our way to French Pass. It's tucked into a beautiful deep cove with a private jetty. The road down to Te Towaka is private but we take another branch to Sissy Bay on the otherside of the bay where there were a number of holiday homes and permanent residents including one with a sense of humour.

Back up on the Bulwer Road we stop often to check out the scenery, the road is gravel, narrow & winding and we seem to be the only one travelling today. Not a soul in sight in all directions (and in fact we see no one on the way in and just 3 cars on our way back out). We can see the road following the contour of the hills along the coastline for miles ahead of us.

D’Urville Island fills the horizon.

The road drops down to sea level for a short distance in a little bay and tucked up beneath the bush are these wonderful little fishing huts. The dark green hut has a 'Kozy Nook' name plate on the wall outside.

We push on and it’s about now that David wonders whether it’s worth continuing on, the views are spectacular when we break out of the bush and pine forests, but the road is getting narrower and the twists and turns are starting to become a pain… the bum. I tell him we’ve come this far we can’t turn around now but we've only covered about a third of the road. This is looking back the way we've come, you can see the road running along the hill on the other side of the bay.

There’s a stain of dirty water on the shoreline of this farm ahead of us which means there must be muddy water entering the bay from the farmland behind and as we move further along the road I see that there are thousands of arum lilies blanketing the slope down to the farm buildings. Arum lilies love damp ground and there are a few water tanks buried amongst them so I think perhaps there’s a fresh water spring located under there somewhere.

My sister Gaelyn, would love to get in amongst these lilies! Arums are her favourites, many years ago she had trouble locating enough arums for her wedding bouquet. She found a couple of plants on a farm near the main road and after asking permission to pick them, kept a wary eye on the flower spikes hoping they wouldn’t bloom before her big day. In the end she was able to pick a precious few, just enough for her bouquet.

The road starts to wind higher & higher & disappears into bush again, we start to wonder whether we’ll ever get to the end.

At last we can see we’re nearing the end of the ridge, the view is magnificent, tiny cabbage trees dot the slope out in front of us and off in the distance we can see the stock yards of Port Ligar farm where we’re heading. The islands in the centre are the Trio Islands, the ones to the left protect the top end of D’Urville Island.

I zoomed in on the cabbage tree slope, this should give the shot above a bit of perspective; it was a long way down to the water.

The road is now little more than a farm track and we stop near the stock yards. It’s no wonder the sign way back at the beginning of the road says ‘Port Ligar – No Beach Access’, you’d feel pretty cheated driving all this way to check out the port and then finding out that there isn’t one. Port Ligar is a farm and although the bay we’re about to see on the other side of the ridge is also called Port Ligar, it’s surrounded by private farm land.

Looking out to the right of the ute we can now see French Pass clearly across the bay and the tiny township tucked beneath the dark green pine forest with a shallow crescent of golden sand showing where the beach is.

In front of us is another cattle stop, we must have crossed at least a dozen on the way in but this one takes the cake! I’m not sure what all the string, rope, old mudguard and other bits of plastic are doing nailed to the side frames but it sure looks like an abomination. Add to that the right hand metal cross bar has a nasty sharp end to it that has broken loose and is pointing upwards. I wonder how many tyres that has shredded on the way out.

Before we move on I climb the fence and walk along a track around the edge of the hill where this amazing sight comes into view, this is looking towards the top of  Pelorus Sound. This is Port Ligar with Homestead Bay in the foreground. The large bit of land in the centre that looks like an island is part of Port Ligar Farm and is actually joined to the tip of the point of land that we’re on.

Below us we see a dirt road winding down to the water and a homestead, at first we think that it must be Bulwer but it’s not until we drive on, that we realise the Bulwer road carries on winding it’s way along the ridge and over the two promontories on the right. The road we see is a private road down to Waterfall Bay Lodge which has cottage accommodation along with rooms in the lodge. What an amazing, secluded and remote area of the Sounds to stay at.

We carry on across the cattle stop, Bulwer can’t be too far now. Mr TomTom says 6kms which again feels like double that with all the winding up and down and around, we feel like we’re heading back up the finger on the eastern side. We can now see Homestead Bay and the lodge from the other side and the thin isthmus that joins the large ‘island’ to the mainland on Port Ligar farm.

Finally we pass a sign advising us that we’re now entering Bulwer Scenic Reserve, it’s now about 2pm and we haven’t stopped for lunch along the way in the hope that we’d get to Bulwer and be able to have it on the beach.

For the next 2kms we herd this family of sheep (including the black sheep of the family) down the road, they try running up the bank but then come crashing down in front of us and they refuse to run off the other edge when there are a few gaps. I tell David to slow down even more and then stop as they tire, hoping they’ll make their way over the edge without the pressure but no, no matter how long we leave it we find them ahead of us again. Finally as we break out of the bush they take a flying leap over the side and head off towards a collection of houses in the bay below.

And there below us is Bulwer and by the look of the road end, cattle stop and signs it’s a private farm too, which will explain the sheep in the reserve. Bloody hell! All that way and we can’t get down there.  David’s reserved English nature (yeah right) tells him he can’t intrude and we must turn around.  I tell him we’re not coming all this way and not going down there. Plus I’m starving and I certainly don’t want to drive all the way back up to the top to have lunch. I can see a couple of people wandering about so I tell him I’ll ask if we can have our lunch on the water’s edge. He’s very reluctant but we drive on.

We stop near a woman walking up towards a house with a large sheep walking alongside her. I get out and for my troubles the huge wether sheep head butts me in the bum. ‘Lucky’ doesn't like me interrupting his walk.  I explain to the lady that we were hoping for a reserve at the end of the road where we could have had lunch and were surprised to find that Bulwer ended in their farm.

She says no problems, drive on down to the beach and you’re quite welcome to have lunch at the ‘Cigar Hut’, just watch out for the farmyard animals they may make a nuisance of themselves, as she slaps the sheep on the nose just as he lines me up for another head butt. This farm also has some motel units, 'Cedarview Cottages' and guests obviously use the hut for happy hour drinks. We move the picnic table out into the sun and make ourselves at home.

There are some old boats moored out in the bay and in dry dock on the beach, there’s old sheds and old houses and a few baches in the settlement too. A small runabout arrives at the wharf with guests for the motel. The farmer is a little shy, he’s working in the shed (old house) near where we’ve parked. He tells David that his grandfather jumped ship when he was young and swum ashore and claimed the bay as his own. And the family have farmed it ever since. He had lived there all his life (about 65 years I’m guessing). It's a 2 hour drive to the main road and then another hour to Nelson if they want to visit the 'big smoke' although I suspect he hasn't left the farm in years.

This was the shed the farmer was working in, as it turned out it was his grandparents home and up behind that was his parent's family home (now rented out) and off to the side and towards the back of the settlement was his family home. By the look of it, the jeep must have belonged to the grandparents! The old cargo shed would have been used to store wool & other farm products, waiting for the coastal shipping boats to come and collect from the wharf.

We finished our lunch and thanked the farmer for his hospitality (his wife had disappeared along with 'Lucky'). After another interesting road trip it was time to turn tail and head for home…


  1. Hi TwoGoTiki,
    Do any of those "Reserved Pohms" read your blog ( being reserved is such a waste of time!)
    The bloggs are fair flying of your puter, can I get some skype lessons in writing retrun I'll teach you how to ride a unicycle....Deal?

    1. You want me to reserve one for you Jimu? :)
      I'm not too sure whether I need to know how to ride a unicycle! ....But send me an email re your thoughts on your blog and I'll see what I can do. Might have to wait a few weeks though, disappearing into intermittent internet reception again this weekend.

  2. Interesting stuff, and all new to me. Sheep are hard to fathom sometimes but those you chased seem to have had a plan in mind after all.

    1. I never thought of that Olwen, of course, they didn't want to be lost in the bush and have to fight their way home through it. Silly me, not silly sheep! :)

  3. Replies
    1. Haha! I loved them too, look at all those different tail curls.

  4. Very interesting as a local to stumble upon your blog and read your descriptive posts about French Pass and Bulwer etc. I own Port Ligar farm and my neighbours at Bulwer are very close friends of mine. Your age estimation is a tad short so that would be pleasing to him. Must be all the fresh air and sunshine & the lack of stress ;-) And despite him not enjoying town life he does indeed go out to visit his family, although not as frequently as his wife!
    The road is always long and somewhat arduous the first time, but think of us who drive that road to the city, often weekly! We are incredibly grateful for that road. It was pushed into French Pass in 1957 and the out to Port Ligar & Bulwer in 1968. The French Pass district in the northwest of the Marlborough Sounds was one of the last places in New Zealand to be opened up by road. It profoundly changed the district and the lives of its inhabitants.

    1. Hi Raewyn and thanks so much for commenting and filling in a few more facts about Port Ligar & Bulwer. That road must have been a God send! Glad you enjoyed the blogs, you certainly do live in an amazing and beautiful part of the country. We can't wait to get back there to explore some more.


Thanks for taking the time to comment, it's much appreciated.