Summer 2020 – 2021 Pandora Bay

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Nigel was ready for another day out. Well, he didn’t say he wasn’t and we had talked about going the other way from Tapotupotu Bay to Pandora Bay. The walk according to the DoC times and distances was either 9km or 10km and 5 and a half hours. After yesterday’s outing we were sure that it would be wrong so we decided to set off and see how far we got. I had done two reasonable runs in the last two days so was happy to go with the flow and walk more or less with Nigel. I set my watch to ‘hike’ rather than ‘Trail Run’ so that I wasn’t tempted to run. 

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Mangroves in the river that flows into Tapotupotu Bay

The plan was to get away earlyish so we weren’t walking in the heat but it was 10.15 before we set off! The best laid plans of mice and men! 

Oof! It’s a pretty steep climb out of the bay after a gentle warm up on the boardwalk through the mangroves.  Once we reached the first high point we could see the path in front of us – climbing up and then dropping down, and then up and down! 

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Looking down to Tapotupotu Bay from the top of the first climb
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Nigel trugging up one of the hills

There was little in the way of shade but the views are amazing. After about 3km the path settles into a Manuka lined ridge still undulating but trending steadily downhill. Much pleasanter walking.

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Manuka avenues – provided brief respites from the sun

The junction to Pandora comes at roughly 7km. Nigel had already said he’d make a call there about whether to continue on or head back. The sign said 2km and 1 hour. We’d just done 7km in 2 hours but it had been steep and hot.

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Looking down to the ridge we have just walked along. The track to Pandora goes off to the right a bit lower down. I climbed up to get the view.

We decided to continue along a red sandy track which seemed to hug the contours of a slope until we found a shady spot for lunch.  A few 100m further on there was a small stand of Kanuka trees which provided perfect shade for a picnic. 

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This track hugged the contours of the hill and eventually branched off down to Pandora Bay.

After lunch we carried on. Nigel decided he’d continue as long as the path was relatively flat. We soon came to a junction where the path looked like it was going to descend more steeply. There was also a path continuing on but very much upwards along another headland. It may have gone to a view point but we decided we didn’t need to go there! I continued on down. By our reckoning and Garmin’s navigation, and DoC signs (all considering any of those were accurate) it was another 1500m to Pandora. Nigel headed back. 

The path now descended steadily through forest, cool and leafy, a few wooden bridges crossed dried up stream beds, and it was a bit more uneven underfoot. I soon came out at the junction with the 4WD track that comes from SH1. Almost there! On my left as I went down the track there was a set of stairs which I had to investigate. They led to a rocky mostly dried up stream. There was a pool full of murky water…probably a good wee swimming hole when there is more water and also a dangerous swirly thing in flood! It looked like there would also be a decent waterfall dropping off from there in wetter weather.

Quick exploration over, I headed back to the main track and soon found myself at the Pandora Microcamp. This would be a cool wee place to stay; a grassy area with a shelter, a sink and water which presumably was fed from the stream I saw higher up, and long drop loos. There were also a few trees where you could pitch your tent to get some shelter and a great view of Pandora Bay.

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Pandora Bay

It was another few 100 metres to the beach so I scooted down there to have a swim. It was going to be a decent climb back up so I didn’t really want to do that either commando or with wet knickers. But…the beach was deserted apart from a wee fishing boat right at the other end ….There is something deliciously freeing and a bit naughty about swimming naked on an (almost) deserted beach! I swam out enough to see round the corner of the bay and then let the waves take me back to the shore.

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View from in the water….
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A welcome dip in the ocean

Body temperature suitably down, I sat on a rock for a few minutes to dry off then I got dressed. I almost lost my shoe in my attempt to wash my feet before putting them into my socks when the rock I had put my shoe on was washed over by a wave. Hopping on one foot (already with one sock and shoe on) I scrabbled to grab aforesaid shoe before it was washed away. In the process the other foot ended up fully under water too! Never mind, wet shoes and socks are all part of trail running and at least I still had two shoes!

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This way!

Re-energised and nice and cool, I set back off up the hill wondering when I would catch Nigel up. The return journey was simply a backwards version of the first 10km so little to report really except that it was now mid afternoon and stifling hot. The terrain provided little respite from the sun so in the patches where the path goes through the manuka trees it was hard not to dawdle and make the most of the shade.

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View out to Sand Dunes from the ridge

I ran out of water about 6km from home but still had a few 100ml of electrolyte which I rationed!  I bumped into the young couple from yesterday who once again expressed their admiration at my speed! They had parked their car at Spirit’s Bay, got the shuttle to Te Paki then tramped with full packs and tents over three days stopping in Tapotupotu and Pandora before finishing back at Spirit’s Bay. I reckon their effort was greater than mine! I caught Nigel up only a km from the van. He was just crossing the bridge over the river. 

Annoyingly,  I was going to end up on just under 20km so I had to ‘tidy up’ – past the van to the end of the beach and back again! 

When I got back to the van Nigel had made a cold drink for me – delicious! I persuaded him to walk down to the sea to plant his legs in the water,  I planned to swim but when we got there we were told that there had been a couple of sharks spotted quite close into the beach so everyone had got out of the water. We stood knee-deep and let the waves wash over us whilst scanning the sea for shark fins for half an hour at which point I decided to submerge myself in the shallows anyway!

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A good day out which ended up with more running and effort expended than I had expected. It’s interesting how the trails have been graded by DoC as neither yesterday’s trail nor today’s really seemed to fig the ‘Advanced Tramping Track’ label they have. I completed the 10km to Pandora in well under 3 hours, Nigel would have taken just over 3 hours, yet it is signposted as taking 5 and a half hours!  Go figure!

After a G & T, dinner and wine we ventured out to watch the sun cast its pink glow on the beach and the waves. Later on we sat on just looked at the night sky. So many stars and a such a bright Milky Way – I wish we could see it more often but in Kirikiriroa there is just too much light pollution. 

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