Nydia Bay, Marlborough Sounds
I take for granted that I grew up tramping. Some people didn’t grow up with the character-building torture of going for ‘short walks’ in the rain through the middle of nowhere as a kid. My friend Grace hadn’t grown up tramping, preffering the hotel lifestyle. When she asked if we could go tramping I was a bit surprised. We ended up agreeing on Nydia Lodge in the Marlborough Sounds as a suitable destination, I think mostly because it has hot showers.
It was horribly muggy when we got out of the car in Kaiuma Bay. We set off up the track, which climbed steadily through lush podocarp forest. The track was benched, making for easy going up the hill, or at least I thought so. Grace was steadily puffing away behind me, and I gently encouraged her by chanting “yes you can, yes you can”. On our ascent we passed a gaggle of older ladies who seemed delighted to see someone else on the track. Crossing over a low saddle, the track began to drop taking us through exotic pine to two pleasant streams gurgling under the trees.
Once over these we were faced by an unexpected climb. Unexpected because I hadn’t properly looked at the map before we left. I did my best to reassure Grace, but I really had no idea how long this climb would go on for. It was a relief when we finely reached Kaiuma Saddle at 387 metres. A gap in the ponga let us see all the way down to Nydia Bay, although the tops of the hills were hidden in by cloud.
Nydia Bay is known to the mana whenua Ngati Kuia as Opouri — ‘place of sadness’. As with elsewhere in the Marlborough Sounds, several pā and kainga with their associated cultivations and uropā once lined the bay. In 1828 Te Rauparaha and his band of Ngati Toa warriors armed with pākehā muskets swept through the Sounds vanquishing all those in their path, greatly reducing the size of Ngati Kuia. The Crown’s influence in the latter half of the 19th century further contributed to the decline of Ngati Kuia in Pelorus Sound, including at Nydia Bay.
Dropping down the other side of the saddle we began winding our way to the farmland at the valley floor. A gentle mist of rain continued to fall. There were a couple of times that I nearly stacked it, slipping on the smooth wet clay, my life flashing before my eyes. The slip and slide ejected us into a large grassy paddock, on the otherend of which was the bay. As we trotted across this Grace attempted to make friends with the cows, which looked rather unimpressed. It was here that I had to kiss goodbye to my dry shoes, splashing through two shallow streams in our path. Once at the water’s edge it was a simple business walking along the bay track next to the bay to get to the lodge.
The area around Nydia Bay was once forested in dense podocarp, dominated by mighty rimu and kahikitea. From the 1870’s the area was extensively milled, within four years a mill at Nydia Bay had produced 10 million feet of timber from 1,000 acres of valley floor, at the head of the bay. By the 1900’s further competition moved into the area, leading to the creation of a bush-tramway into the Opouri valley and a 300 metre wharf at Nydia Bay to host trans-Tasman ships. Vibrant communities grew around both mills, boasting their own football teams, bush cabarets and tennis courts. The best of the native timber was exhausted by the 1920’s, leading to removal of most of the infrastructure to the virgin forests of the West Coast. There were plans to reforest the valley in pine in the 1980’s but this was aborted (thankfully) due to a change in government policy. For more information see: A Short History of Sawmilling in the Nydia Bay Area | NZETC (victoria.ac.nz)
The lodge sat 20 metres above the sea, a collection of cabins in a large grassy field. On arrival we were greeted by ‘Barry’ the friendly volunteer hut warden. It was immediately apparent that being a solo hut warden was a lonely gig, not that we complained when Barry asked us if we wanted any dinner (this is certainly not part of the regular Nydia Lodge package, we gladly accepted). Before dinner we had a wander down to the jetty and I took the irresistible opportunity to go for a dip in the inviting green waters of the bay. Drying off my eyes drifted along the shore, settling on a large black blob. “Is that black thing moving?” I asked Grace. “I think it is…”. Sure enough the block blob soon morphed into a large sting-ray, with another one close behind. I’m glad I swum before I saw them, personally I am not keen on having a Steve Irwin moment.
By the time we had returned to the lodge and had our hot showers (yes, hot showers) dinner was ready. Barry had cooked us up some chicken that had been left by some fishermen, along with peas (Barry loved his peas) and potatoes. The whole thing went down a treat, although I was a little worried when Barry told us that he had caught a rat in the pantry, he reassured me that it really was chicken. After dinner we had a long yarn about the state of the world. This ranged from the commericialisation of the Pouakai Crossing to the trials and tribulations of tramping clubs. Eventually we bid goodnight to Barry and took a walk around the “Fitness Track”, admiring the sunset’s reflection on the water before calling it a night.
The weather the following day was fine, with the water of bay reflecting the mountain tops in vibrant green. We waved goodbye to Barry before setting off, secretly hoping for his sake that he had more visitors to keep him company soon. Everything was going well until we got back to the streams we had to cross. Grace refused to get her feet wet. At the second stream I had to construct a ponga bridge for her majesty so she could walk across high and dry.
As it turned out this far from the only tribulation of the day. As we entered the forest it became apparent that the impact of a day’s walk and the thin DOC hut mattresses was hitting Grace. It took many words of encouragement and a lot of beef jerky to get her up to the Kaiuma Saddle - but she did carry her pack the whole way. At the top she was excited to get reception, not least so she could check on ‘her Pokemon’.
I had to threaten to leave her behind to get her away from her Pokemon. Thankfully inertia and gravity were on our side going downhill, so we made steady progress. However, this slowed dramatically when the incline picked up again. I believe the family we passed with a small toddler skipping along was the final bit of motivation that pushed her over the last climb and from there it was simply a cruise (or a limp depending on perspective) back to the car.
Despite the hissy-fits and temper-tantrums, I felt honoured to be able to take a friend tramping for the first time, even if she’ll likely never come again. There is nothing like seeing the look of achievement on someone’s face when they conquer their mountains. We all owe it to ourselves to be that friend who offers up opportunities for others to step outside their comfort-zone and enjoy our beautiful backcountry. I’m not sure how I’ll break it to Grace that cooked meals and hot showers aren’t usually part of the package… baby steps.