Sunday 12 April 2015

Kohaihai- Sandfly Heaven

Our shift from the Karamea Domain to the DOC camp at Kohaihai has to have been our shortest moves yet. We travelled all of 16kms, no morning rush to get on the road (not that ever is with us), no dump station, no groceries, just a top up with water, a wave goodbye to the hosts and then a leisurely amble up the coast to the end of the road which is as far north as you can go on the West Coast.

We could have stayed on at the Domain and visited Kohaihai as a day trip but I like staying at the DOC camps and we also wanted to do a bit of exploring around the beginning of the Heaphy Track- one of NZ’s ‘Great Walks’.

Dairy farms border the road both sides right to the last 3kms of gravel and the beginning of the Kahurangi National Park (we’re back again). It’s a pity the entrance to the park is not a lot nicer, the last farmer has his sheds on one side of the road and his house on the other, and everything in between and surrounding them is one big jumbled mess. Why they have to leave their bale wrap scattered about where it's dropped, I have no idea.

We smile as we pass a hitchhiker, he only has a kilometre or so to go and if he’s intending to walk the track he needs all the exercise he can get! We've passed quite a few hitchhikers on our travels & when they see such a large vehicle approaching, I think, they think, we have heaps of room available Or perhaps we’ll let them into the van to sit and have a bite to eat as we tow it along. The look of disappointment on their faces is priceless.

The DOC camp is quite large with a mixture of sites available; under pine trees overlooking the sand dunes, along the edge of the river and on grassy areas on the inside of the road that circles one way through the camp. There’s also an information shelter at the start of the Heaphy Track, with the tide times and the weather forecast.

We leave the messy BBQ pits and picnic tables for the tent dwellers and we don’t get sucked into setting up under the trees where we’ll not get TV reception. We park on a large grassy patch where a caravan, that looks like it’s been there for a few days, is parked and where a motorhome joins us later in the afternoon.

The beach is stunning, there is a deep drop off behind the wave line and swimming is not recommended although the sea looks very inviting this day. Going by the angle the wind-blasted bush on the hill behind is growing, there is obviously a strong prevailing westerly wind.

One thing I have noticed on the west coast beaches is how far the waves come up the beach at high tide or when it’s rough. We’ve seen a few places where the waves actually come up and over the crest, reaching into the dunes behind. It must be to do with the steep drop off, the waves don’t break until they’re right inshore. At Flagstaff Beach near Karamea, the waves actually broke through the dunes and flowed down into the estuary behind.

Flagstaff Beach - Karamea Estuary
The West Coast is famous for it’s sunsets but so far I haven’t done too much about them with regards to taking photos. I’m usually busy getting dinner, or having a wine before getting dinner. Unlike an evening in the North Island, you mostly can’t sit outside enjoying the last of days rays because of the constant harassment from sandflies, another thing the West Coast is famous for.

We’d been warned numerous times about the sandflies at Kohaihai- they swarm in great clouds, they are huge (the smaller, the nastier in my opinion), they bite uncontrollably, they suck the blood until you’re dry. And everyone has a remedy that works. For them.

Unlike a couple I overheard in the Westport iSite, we decided long ago (after a major run in with sandflies at Mavora Lakes) that no amount of harassment was going to put us off visiting places because usually the most stunning settings are the sandflies’ favourite places too- Mavora Lakes, Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound, Nelson Lakes, Marlborough Sounds, Lake Kainere and now Kohaihai. The couple I overheard were wanting to travel from Wesport to Nelson, camping along the way at the DOC camps for a night or two. BUT they didn’t want there to be any sandflies! Hmmm…..I struggled to keep a straight face as the woman behind the counter tried to explain to them that wouldn’t be possible. It brought to mind a quote I once read;
If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try spending a night in a tent with a sandfly.
We have tried many different sprays of many different strengths- I have half finished tins and bottles of potions spread far & wide, I have a wrist/ankle bracelet to wear with smelly stuff in it, we even light the appropriate candles after dark when we are outside. But I’ve found none of them totally deter sandflies, most deter them a little, some are totally useless- the best option is too wear long sleeves, long pants & long socks- I can’t do that, I get far too hot even with the lightweight gear. I’ve just learnt to ignore the bites if I get any and if I do inadvertently scratch an itch, the Soov goes straight on. So far, *touch wood*, other than a bit of swearing every now and then, we’re surviving ok.

The elderly lady in the photo above had the right idea, thick gloves and a hat with an insect screen. She’s a Coaster and even she is not immune to the little blighters! This lovely lady was camping in her van under the trees at Kohaihai, her daughter & son-in-law were in the caravan beside us. They’d been there for two weeks and came from further down the Coast near Okarito. This morning she had ridden down the road to the dairy farm, returning later with a very large bag, full of tasty fresh mushrooms, some of which she shared with us.

There are a couple of short walks that can be done when visiting Kohaihai, you can also do day walks on the Heaphy Track if you don’t intend to walk the complete 78km track. If you are walking the complete track it takes a bit of organising to arrange your transport options; the ends of the track are 463km apart by road and are both in quite isolated areas. We visited the other end when we were in Golden Bay last year

This is the Kohaihai River swingbridge, it’s just a few steps away from the camp. Like all the waterways in the area the river is tannin stained. The mouth of the river is partially blocked- the waves were crashing in at high tide but nothing was flowing out once the tide receded. We heard that the Nikau Walk was flooded the other day with walkers having to wade through thigh deep water. I guess the winter rains will flush it through.

The Nikau Walk leaves the main Heaphy track just over the swingbridge and does a short circuit through a beautiful grove of Nikau Palms.

It reminded me of walking through our lovely native bush & nikau garden at home in Tauranga, albeit that we only had about 20 palms, here there were hundreds. David wasn’t impressed, he thought it looked untidy with all those fronds laying about. “This is natural rainforest, not my garden!” I told him. I think I spoilt him keeping our garden’s understory trimmed and tidy. Once again there were quite a few flowering rata vines climbing in amongst the palms.

At the end of the Nikau Walk you can either return to the camp back along the boardwalk or carry on along the Heaphy Track walking up and over the Kohaihai Saddle to Scotts Beach. We decided to do this, I would have liked to have walked to the Heaphy River & Hut where the track turned inland but that would have been a 10 hour return walk and you have to time it right with the tide around Crayfish Point at the end of Scotts Beach.

The view of the campground from near the top of the saddle.

The lookout over Scotts Beach below. The day was very hazy with sea spray and mist reaching high up into the bush behind.

We cross a rocky stream just before we reach the beach…

...and then the track skirts along the edge of the sand. There are a number of signs warning us to watch out for rough seas and, explosives? We hesitate for a moment and then move out onto the sand where we can then see that DOC are blasting a track through the rock around the point. We had seen the helicopter flying in supplies, it was landing near our campsite, and we also saw two motorcross bikes tucked into the bush just off the track when we arrived at Scotts Beach, we’d seen their tire tracks on the way in. But the riders were nowhere in sight- maybe they were having lunch.

We stopped below where they were blasting (don’t worry, we could hear if anything was about to happen) and sat on the rocks to have lunch. The tide was on it’s way out and had only just left the rocks trampers had to walk around to continue on their journey- these ones were a little further out.

I can never get over the fact that just when you think you’re the only people around for miles, someone makes an appearance- this time it was a young woman with a huge pack coming around the point from the other direction. After 5 days of dried or reconstituted food, her mouth must have been watering at the sight of our lovely fresh fruit, sandwiches and cup of tea!

More Nikau Palms- imagine the clean up underneath those ones David!

After getting beaten up once again by those darn pesky sandflies we head for home back along Scotts Beach. You can see it’s just a short climb up to the saddle- the dip just back from the point- although our legs complain when we get home, so it must be steeper than it looks.  I think if it had been a clearer day then this walk would have make a better impression on us, we both thought is was just average.

There’s another short walk- the Zig Zag Track- to the top of the hill behind the camp ground, in my book it says 20 minutes one way. I know it’s going to be a steep climb but I’m wanting to see the view. The sign only says 2 minutes and it’s looks like someone has rubbed away the zero. I head up the track to find out that it is only 2 minutes, the track ends on a small plateau just above the camp. I think DOC have let the bush reclaim the rest of the walk, I can see the hint of a track through the overgrown scrub but it’s too thick to walk. I head back down taking this shot of the river and swingbridge on the way.

We decide to leave Kohaihai after two nights, the weather forecast isn’t great and we have in mind that’ll we’ll take a quicker run down the coast than planned, through to Hokitika so we can go inland to Lake Kaniere for the Easter break. We stay at the NZMCA Westport Park for one more night on our way through, it’s amazing, after the very busy nights on our previous stay, that now there are only 3 vans in for the night. Either it’s the change in weather or everyone has gone home for the holidays.


  1. I remember going to Kohaihai about 1977. We just did a day trip, and walked up the track as far as the Saddle. Amazing nikau, amazing beach!

    1. And I bet not much has changed since then either, just the Nikau are a little taller. Happy to revive some memories for you.


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