In three years of living on the road, we have travelled the length of New Zealand twice and have seen more amazing things than most people do in a lifetime. Yet nothing has come close to the three days we recently spent in the rugged landscape of Cape Palliser.
If you want to experience the absolute best New Zealand has to offer, from river to sea, highlands and native bush, immerse yourself in the paradise that is Kawakawa Station.
The secret southernmost point
Cape Palliser is a little-known area about 90 minutes’ drive south of Wellington. Getting there is pleasurable in itself. Cruising through farmland, following the rustic yellow pointers, it feels like going back in time, with the pace of life suddenly slowing.
Close to the destination, the view becomes dramatically scenic, with black sand and impossibly blue sea a stark contrast against the brooding sky. We tracked the edge of the coast, the only vehicle on this winding, undulating road until at last, we reached Kawakawa Station.
Even before we stepped from the van, we knew it is going to be unique. We were greeted warmly by Rebecca Thomas who, along with her husband Ian, took over the station in January 2019. It is one of the Wairarapa’s oldest sheep stations, and for Ian, it meant coming home since he lived here in his youth.
The couple’s love for the area is evident, and they relish being able to share their part of the world with visitors in a spectacular three-day hike. Every detail of our stay had been meticulously planned and taken care of, from the food to the accommodation. All we had to do is walk - a lot - and enjoy.
Keen for us to experience the additional glamping option, Rebecca took us to a private bush setting, where a beautiful Lotus Belle Stargazer tent awaited us, along with a tray of delicious nibbles.
As we lay in our comfy bed that night, we couldn’t simply see stars, but galaxies. There is even an outdoor bath. For a couple who expected to be ‘roughing it’, we were blown away.
As we set off on the first day of our hike, we were given a VHF radio and instructed to call our hosts each day upon leaving one hut and reaching the next. All we needed for the day was a small pack, with water and a few essentials. The rest of our belongings would be waiting for us when we reached our destination.
With 9km to travel on foot, most of it uphill, we wasted no time in getting going.
The conditions couldn’t have been more perfect as we started our walk along the coast road. Just before the fishing village of Ngāwī, we turned off and came face to face with our challenge for the day.
To reach our hut, we first had to climb 616m above sea level to a lookout known as The Ant. Daunting as it sounded, it helped that we were treated to staggering views with every step. Vast native bush was to one side of us, cliffs on the edge and behind us, coastal views as far as the eye could see.
We took our time and made many stops, but at last we reached The Ant and were treated to 360-degree views the likes of which we had never seen. We could see everything from the snow-covered Kaikōura Ranges in the south to a bird’s-eye view of the legendary Kupe’s Sail.
When we finally arrived at Jakeb’s Cabin, we spent the rest of the evening in total wonder. Just the two of us, out in the wilderness, looking out to sea. Everything was mind-blowingly perfect.
As promised, all our belongings were there, along with an amazing array of home-cooked, restaurant-quality food. Watching the sun go down over the ocean, we felt like the luckiest people in the world.
The next day’s hike was completely different and even more challenging. We spent the day deep in the bush, clambering over tree roots and traversing along narrow ridges. This stretch required as much focus as fitness, and again it was with much sense of achievement that we finally arrived at Purple Hut, an old logger’s hut, out in the middle of nowhere.
As we stepped inside, we were once again blown away by the attention to detail. The huts look so basic from the outside, yet inside is a different story. It’s a surprise Rebecca and Ian love to spring on their guests.
We took a welcome dip in the cool river, just a few steps from our hut, and spent the afternoon sitting on the deck in the sun, watching the world go by. How wonderful it was to be away from everything.
The last day was a shorter but still decent hike, following the river. This entailed several crossings and much hilarity as we got wet nearly to our knees. Fortunately, we were now on the home stretch and, as we arrived back at the station soaking wet, Rebecca and Ian were there to welcome us with towels and a hot shower.
One of the things we liked best was that we were allowed to get on with things and experience and discover everything at our own pace, while at the same time being spoiled by our hosts, who were only a radio call away if we needed them.
We were sad to reach the end of our three-day stay at Kawakawa Station and cannot recommend it highly enough for couples, families, even a workplace getaway. As the website so accurately says, “It is a journey of connection, discovery, enlightenment, adventure and experience of a bygone era.” We will be back.
Want to escape to Kawakawa Station?
Here are a few things to know before you go.
- A decent level of fitness is required, as well as suitable walking shoes, especially for day two, and gumboots for day three.
- The set-up is ideal for families. There is a tent for kids so the whole family can go glamping, and children are also welcome on the Station Walk.
- While the glamping option is self-catered, the Station Walk is fully catered. The food is fantastic and plentiful. Rebecca is an outstanding cook and goes out of her way to provide for people with special dietary requirements.
For more information visit kawakawastation.co.nz