By ROBYN BRISTOW
Covid-19 and the closing of the borders has opened up an opportunity for people to see a diverse range of North Canterbury landscapes and vegetation.
The former Hurunui High Country Track has been re-opened as the Island Hills Station Track thanks to the efforts of Shaun Monk, a long-time friend of the station’s owners, Dan and Mandy Shand.
Shaun, who has spent a lifetime offering backcountry and bush adventures all over New Zealand, suddenly found the overseas clientele he targeted had dried up with the Covid-19 response.
He knew he had to change direction quickly, so approached the Shands to see if he could re-open the track they had closed about eight years ago, when station life became too busy because of other projects and family.
“We had a honey business in Waipara which grew quite a bit, and then there were children and we were doing a few other things which became very time-consuming, so we closed the track,” Dan says.
However, when Shaun, who had been targeting the Australian and other overseas markets for father-and-son bush and hunting adventures, approached them to re-open the track, they backed the idea.
Dan says Shaun and a group of volunteers began cutting tracks and improved the two and three-day options which meander through the high country farmland and private native forest reserves.
Accommodation is provided along the way.
Shaun’s wide knowledge on wildlife, plants, conservation, bushcraft, mountain safety and New Zealand’s unique history are an added extra while walking the trails or relaxing around the campfire.
Adventurous children and dogs – which must meet strict criteria – are welcome.
The walks start just 20 minutes inland from the historic Hurunui Hotel on the way to Hanmer Springs.
The self-guided private trail covers 30km and can be managed over two or three days.
Although high in the mountains, the placement of the track makes it suitable for anyone with a reasonable level of fitness and walking ability.
The three-day walk is the most popular, with two-day options for those with less time and a little more fitness.
The track is limited to 10 people each day who are guaranteed a bed each night.
A detailed pamphlet of information is provided about the surrounding wildlife, stories about Island Hills, and a map showing points of interest.
The journey begins at the cookhouse, where hikers are met by the duty track ranger for a briefing. They are then taken by four-wheel drive to the start of the track.
Packs are transported to the next accommodation, although day packs are needed for lunches, water and extra clothing.