Taste of summer

Okia Reserve with successful revegetation in foreground and Pyramids in the distance. PHOTO:...
Okia Reserve with successful revegetation in foreground and Pyramids in the distance. PHOTO: CLARE FRASER
This walk injects a little summer into the middle of winter. There are beach sights and sounds and wide, walkable dunes with sandy soil, which means there’s practically no mud, writes Clare Fraser.

Choose a short option - park at the Okia Reserve car park and walk straight to the beach - there’s a pamphlet in the letterbox at the reserve entry. Or for a three to four hour walk, park at the edge of Papanui Inlet and take the route shown on the map.

Low tide allows you to shimmy round the edge of the inlet past some low saltmarsh vegetation so special it’s been covenanted. You can follow the sandy shore all the way to the curve of the inlet’s mouth at Victory Beach.

Otherwise, nip up the vehicle track which gives you the option of walking through the pine forest, just follow the bright ribbons. It’s not the most hospitable home for plants, but a few native fern species are popping up, including edible native spinach. Sea lions use this area to rest, so think twice before getting too close to what looks like a log and remember: give them plenty of space.

The treasure at the end of the trail is one of Dunedin’s long, white-sand beaches. It’s not quite pristine as there’s a historic maritime artefact or two to be seen.

In 1861, the steamer Victory ran aground in conditions so calm a passenger didn’t spill a drop of the coffee they carried. Today, all that remains is an embedded wheel visible through the waves of low tide, aping the protruding tip of the Statue of Liberty in the final scene of the 1967 film Planet of the Apes.

Just over the back some amazingly dedicated people are conserving nature. For nearly 30 years the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust has been restoring the 231 hectares behind the beach into a coastal ecosystem to host hoiho.

About two-thirds of the way down Victory Beach, yellow-tipped poles mark the track into Okia Reserve.

Grassy vehicle tracks make easy walking. They also act as firebreaks to protect plantings of thousands of flax and trees. With penguins potentially in the surrounding scrub, it’s a dog no-go-zone.

Heading north, the reserve is awe-inspiring as you walk along the old sea line at the base of tall cliffs. Sheep teeter high up, barely glancing down as they munch. Higher up, a hawk slowly circles to a background soundtrack of alarmed paradise ducks perched on top of coprosmas so clipped by the weather they look manicured.

The Margaret Hazel Slope must be a sun trap in summer with its view over the sea. It’s just a short walk up to a stand of bare-trunked cabbage trees and a seat.

Next are The Pyramids, solidified vents of the large, extinct Dunedin volcano. A track goes up the smaller one for a view of what a great home base Okia must have been for early Maori.

To break some new ground, you could head home via Riddell Rd or simply continue on the route marked on the map to revisit Papanui Inlet which, by now, might be showing off a new tide and a whole new look.


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