Lake Brunner has become a very popular summer destination for many Kiwis, many of whom own holiday homes on the shores of the lake. I recently discovered a secluded piece of paradise tucked away on the south-western side of the lake, away from the busy boat traffic, jet skis and water skiers. Requiring little more than a gentle 2.5-hour walk round the lakeshore, through beautiful native bush, and sidling past a bird-rich wetland, it is just the ‘cup of tea’ to settle the soul.
Moana, at the northern end of Lake Brunner, is a pretty busy place in the summer months. Holiday homes and baches abound, with many of the owners and occupants enjoying the myriad of recreational water sports on offer on the lake. Motor boats, jet skis, water ‘biscuits’ and water skis are the toys of choice, which at times can make for a fairly chaotic sort of environment.
However, if that sort of thing is not particularly to your liking, look to the south-western side of Lake Brunner for a very pleasant and stress-free half-day outing that should recharge your batteries just nicely. The Bain Bay walking track is 7.2km (return) of very easy, flat walking that will generally only take you 2.5 hours to complete. One of the main features of this walk is the restored and maintained wetland at the beginning of the track. The destination of Bain Bay itself brings another, rather more intangible, feature – that being a wonderful feeling of seclusion and isolation, removing you from all your stresses and worries.
The start of the Bain Bay walking track lies at the boat launching ramp at the tiny settlement of Mitchells, opposite the Lake Brunner Lodge. The beginning of the track is signposted including a warning of possible wet feet (or worse, being impassable) if recent rains have lifted the lake level.
Your first step on the track is up onto a boardwalk that initially takes you through a kahikatea swamp with huge flax bushes hemming you in on both sides. Scattered mature kahikatea trees extend a couple of dozen metres into the air dwarfing the flax and boardwalk beneath.
Five hundred or so metres and two foot bridges later, the wetland comes into view on your left. My first glimpse of the open water in the wetland revealed a lovely surprise In the form of a kōtuku (white heron) stalking stealthily amongst the weeds for small fish, frogs and aquatic insects. The current population of these iconic New Zealand birds is only about 200 individuals, so seeing this one was a real treat. During spring and summer, kōtuku congregate to breed at the Waitangiroto nature reserve near Whataroa on the West Coast, but outside those months they disperse all round the country as individuals, returning to specific locations year after year. The reason I mention this is that there is every chance you will see this very bird on your walk to Bain Bay.
Kōtuku are not the only bird species that frequent the wetland of course. Paradise shelducks, and a variety of shags and wekas were also present on or around the swampy areas. In fact as soon as I arrived at the boat ramp carpark, two very friendly and curious wekas emerged from the surrounding vegetation, obviously well used to the presence of humans.
The water’s edge around Carew Bay is literally spitting distance from (and sometimes right at) your feet. Being a keen fly fisherman, my eyes were continually looking out into the shallows of the bay for feeding trout and I wasn’t disappointed! Without looking too hard at all, I saw at least a dozen 2–4lb trout cruising in one to two feet of water gulping down nymphs of some sort. If I had known about these fish I would have taken my fly rod and spent the other half of the day fishing for them. Lake Brunner has a reputation for being a very healthy brown trout fishery with above-average numbers for a lake of its size. Bear this in mind if you too happen to be an avid angler, and perhaps do as I should have … take the fishing rod!
As the wetland peters out, the track drops onto the sands of the lakeshore to end up at the northern end of Carew Bay where the beach sands give way to native forest. The trail maintains its low level in the bush and is very easy underfoot as it navigates around the peninsula between Carew Bay and Bain Bay. A few small muddy and wet patches in the track don’t take any of the enjoyment away from this pleasant section of the walk.
There is a variety of native birds on this section of track albeit not in huge numbers. Ngirungiru (tomtit), korimako (bellbird), kererū (wood pigeon), tui and riroriro (grey warbler) were fairly constant companions all the way round the bush peninsula. A very gentle 1.8km of easy bush travel takes you to the southern end of Bain Bay and once again onto a soft sand beach. You also have the option to stay on the track and boardwalk which runs parallel to the shoreline just inside the bush. Either way, you’ll end up at your destination of Bain Bay and the grassy campsite, picnic tables and a toilet that exist there.
Bain Bay is steeped in the history of the logging industry that thrived there in the early 1900s. The bush country behind Bain Bay was heavily logged (mainly rimu) and the logs then carted to the bay by tramline. The logs were pushed into the lake on skids and tied to rafts then towed across the lake by barge to sawmills at Cashmere Bay. It took approximately two hours to tow 25 to 50 logs.
During the 1940s, near its peak, Bain Bay had five married couples and 20 single men living there. Being so isolated did not deter these hardy folk. Every Sunday the men would make the two-hour walk to the pub at Mitchells! And for the womenfolk in Bain Bay, a radio was brought in to give them at least some sort of contact with the outside world.
After spending as long as you like soaking up the history, seclusion and natural setting, it is a simple case of retracing your steps along the same track back to the start.
During the middle of the summer holiday season when I did the walk, there were a couple of families at Bain Bay that had arrived by boat. I would imagine that outside this period, you would probably have the whole bay to yourself. It is a very tranquil spot with no visible signs of human alteration as you gaze out onto the lake, and it’s not hard to imagine that the logging folk would have had exactly the same view 70 or 80 years ago.
Bain Bay Walk at a Glance
Start of track – From Moana, head south on Lake Brunner Road for 26.2km
Turn right onto Kumara Inchbonnie Road for 11.8km to Mitchells
Start of track at boat ramp opposite Lake Brunner Lodge
Grade – easy
Time – 2.5 hours return
Distance – 7.2km return
Birdlife to see:
Kōtuku (white heron)
Variety of Shags
Tips: Take a fishing rod. Good fishing for brown trout along lake edges. Carry a camera for chance of photographing friendly wekas and rare white heron, not to mention stunning scenery.
Take note of lake level after recent rains – track may be impassable.