If you’re travelling along SH1 from Kaikoura to Christchurch, and looking for a little adventure on lesser known tracks, you will love exploring the east coast of central Hurunui District. Whether you just want to drive a short detour in one day or spend several days discovering the area, there are options for everyone.
Once you reach the small settlement of Cheviot, turn east onto McQueen Rd and then right onto Gore Bay Rd. Look for the brown Tourist Drive signs. If you’re planning to spend a few days in the area, make sure you stock up on what you will need before leaving Cheviot, as there are no shops after this. Still, Cheviot is always just a short drive away, so you can also easily head back any time to check out the cafes and restaurants, or visit the Four Square for groceries.
Follow the Tourist Drive signs for about 8km, and you will reach the small settlement of Gore Bay. The campground is basic, but it offers undisturbed beach views and both powered and unpowered sites. It’s a small camp and popular with locals in summer, so it could be worth booking ahead – especially if you have a larger RV.
Gore Bay is a popular surf spot, and on most days it’s also relatively safe for swimming, though you need to be confident with waves. If that’s not you, there are other options to pass the time. Go for a walk along the beautiful beach or the Tweedies Gully Track (1–2 hours return), which is well signposted from the southern end of Gore Bay. The track traverses a reserve with a variety of vegetation and landforms before taking you to a lookout with stunning vistas over Pegasus Bay. Alternatively, just sit back and relax while enjoying the views.
CATHEDRAL GULLY AND MANUKA BAY
From Gore Bay, keep following the Tourist Drive south up the hill. Get ready to pull over at the Cathedral Gully lookout shortly after leaving Gore Bay, to see the spectacular siltstone pillars. These cathedral-like rocks were formed by the natural erosion of soft rock by rainwater, as in the ‘badlands’ landscapes of Montana.
Continue on Cathedral Rd for about 2km before turning left onto Manuka Bay Rd. This short gravel road takes you down to the Viewpoint Lighthouse and the remote Manuka Bay, which is heaven for driftwood collectors. It’s a beautiful spot for a picnic, but swimming is not recommended at this steep beach.
At the southern end of Manuka Bay you find the start of the Manuka Bay Track (Port Robinson Walkway), which takes you up the hill and then along the cliffs all the way to Hurunui River Mouth. From the 3km (one way) track there are glorious views of the coast. However, you’ll need a certain level of fitness, and proper footwear, as the track has some steep sections, involves several stream crossings and can be muddy after rain.
HURUNUI RIVER MOUTH
From Manuka Bay, head back to Cathedral Rd and continue south until you get to the intersection with Hurunui Mouth Rd (about 6km from Manuka Bay). Turn left and follow the road until you reach the small settlement of Hurunui River Mouth. Drive past the houses, then take the turn-off to the campground on your right. This peaceful area is nestled into the bush right beside the river, and offers basic toilet facilities for only $10 per night per site. However, it’s worth noting that the camping area is small and might not be suitable for large motorhomes and caravans when it’s busy. If in doubt, best to leave your vehicle and walk down for a look.
Hurunui River Mouth is worth a visit for the views alone. From the top, you can see the river winding through the beach before finding its way into the ocean, and the cliffs in the distance make for a great backdrop. Walk or drive all the way to the end of Hurunui Mouth Rd for the best views. This is also the other starting point of the Manuka Bay Track, so you could walk from here.
Once you’re ready to leave this idyllic spot, you have two choices. You can head back to SH1 via Hurunui Mouth Road, or you can continue off the beaten track: turn left onto Blythe Rd just after the settlement and then right onto Napenape Rd about 7km later. You can then make your way to the beautiful, remote Nape Nape Beach. This is a popular spot with fishermen and -women, as well as seals, which can often be seen swimming in the waves or relaxing on the beach.
Continuing south on Blythe Rd will eventually take you to the slightly more populated Motunau Beach, where there is another basic council campsite for $10 per night per site.
Chances are, after a few days in this remote part of the South Island, you will either never want to leave, or you will feel the itch to return to civilisation. If it’s the latter, Motunau Beach Rd will take you back to SH1 and the world of shops, restaurants, petrol stations, dump stations and cell phone coverage – all of which are non-existent along the roads we just travelled.
This detour off SH1 is perfect for those who love finding remote and peaceful places, and who don’t need much more to be entertained than breathtaking scenery and beautiful walks.