For weeks I’d been hearing about this place from other travellers who had already stopped here. ‘It’s amazing’, they’d say. When I asked why, I’d always get the same response… ‘you’ll see’.
This was driving me crazy. I wanted to know exactly what I was getting myself in for. I had so many questions! What is there to do there? Is it expensive? Should I hop off for a couple more days? WHY does everyone give a knowing smile when Blue Duck is mentioned, but never give you any more information?? Gah!!
So what is Blue Duck all about?
It’s one of the only 2 night stops on the Stray North Island route, so I knew it had to be good. Essentially it’s a lodge in the middle of nowhere (the last town we passed must have been an hour away at least), nestled in a valley and surrounded by nature.
The Whanganui River, which is known as being one of the most spectacular rivers in New Zealand to kayak or canoe down, runs through the valley. There’s native bush, manicured farm land and absolutely no light pollution, which makes it incredible for star-gazing.
Blue Duck is a working farm but which also throws itself into conserving the land and protecting native bird life – namely the New Zealand Blue Duck.
Did you know that New Zealand has no native mammals, with the exception of a few species of bat? This means that every four-legged creature in the whole of the country has been introduced by man, unseating the natural balance for the birdlife, and driving some of it to near extinction.
This is, of course bad news for the Blue Duck, who has been making its home on the banks of the Whanganui River and its neighbour the Retaruke River for thousands of years. Rats, stoats, ferrets, weasels and feral cats have been feasting on their eggs and catching the adults, and up until just a few years ago the population has been seriously under threat. Now, thanks to the work of the Blue Duck Station, they are back on the rise.
They set humane (quick kill) traps for the smaller mammals, and organise hunts for any of the larger animals such as goats and wild boar which threaten the plant life or the farm animals. The staff also uphold the values of the Whanganui National Park, meaning that anything native must not be killed – including the dreaded sand flies!
Aside from the farming and conservational work, the lodge offers tourists the chance to get away from it all and spend a few days getting back in touch with nature. There are loads of things to pass the time, but really you can do as much or as little as you like.
So what is there to do?
There are a few really cool activities which are hard to find anywhere else, so make the most of them!
Kayaking – Take a kayak down the river and get back to nature at its best! I chose to do this activity and was so lucky to get a gorgeously sunny day. The river has a few small rapids, but nothing too strenuous or likely to capsize you, and you even get an awesome jet boat ride back to the start. If you’re really lucky the owner of Blue Duck will take you back to his house for a beer or a cuppa!
Horse trekking – The horses here are beautiful and extremely well cared for. Take a relaxing walk or trot through the valleys and across the farm landscape. You don’t need any experience and a lot of people who chose this said it was the prettiest horse ride they’d ever done.
ATV ride – They have these cool buggies which smash around the farm land, and on the ATV tour you’ll be able to see a lot of the National Park. Some of the guys who took this option saw sheep, goats, deer and wild pigs, but the show-stealer for them was the views from the high lands.
Hunting – Not for everyone (and certainly not for me), but a lot of Whanganui National Park’s conservation work depends on controlling the population of what they see as pests. This is anything from a humble rabbit, to a goat to enormous wild pigs which can devastate an entire field of sheep.
Alex decided to do the hunt and he was really impressed with the professionalism of the teacher, who showed him how to operate a gun, kill in the most humane way possible and then how to gut and skin the animal. Later, he ate some of the goat meat and the rest went to feed the working dogs on the farm.
Clay pigeon shooting – This is more my kind of shooting! I learned how to shoot but using small orange clay disks as my target. Lots of fun, and they make it into a small competition too!
Walk to the waterfall – This is for anyone who doesn’t want to pay to do any of the activities and from what I heard is a very beautiful walk through the valley to a small falls. There are loads of walks to do around the estate so if you’re interested in these then just ask the staff, and they’ll point you in the right direction.
How much does it cost?
Beds at Blue Duck are $31 a night (as of January 2016), and they’re normally in a 4 share cabin or dorm. Some of the dorms within the lodge are bigger (up to 8 beds) but much bigger so plenty of room to store all your stuff!
I stayed at Warrior Lodge, which had enough space for everyone on our bus (about 30 people), but there’s also Whio (pronounced ‘Fio’) Lodge, which has an awesome veranda with views across the valley. You can also stay in double rooms, but be sure to book ahead if you want this option, especially in summer.
All of the activities are between $120 and $140 per person, with the exception of clay pigeon shooting which is $40 (prices correct Jan 2016). I’d highly recommend doing at least one of the activities as it will give you the opportunity to really get out into the National Park and see why you’re there in the first place.
Should I spend more days here?
The Stray Bus stops here for 2 nights, but as it’s a ‘hop on hop off’ service, you can choose to spend as long as you like here. In summer, Stray has a bus going here 6 out of 7 days, but during winter it’s much less frequent, so you’ll have to fit in with the bus schedule.
I’d recommend spending at least 3 nights here if you have time. You arrive from Taupo on day one at about 5.30pm and then leave on day 3 at 6am for your hike through the Tongariro National Park. This gives you a full day to relax and explore, but if you have the time to spare, it would be well worth spending an extra night or two.
Can I visit if I’m not travelling with Stray?
Yes, but you’ll need your own transport and be prepared for a bumpy ride down a gravel track for the last 18km. The easiest way of course is to travel with Stray and make sure your pass goes to Whakahoro (the name of the nearest town). It’s also a really nice way to meet new people, finishing the day with a beer around the open fire.
Is there food there or shall I take my own?
Blue Duck has a cafe where you can buy coffee and snacks, and if you’re travelling with Stray then they put on a yummy BBQ dinner for you (approx cost $13) for at least one of the nights you’re there. You’re advised to bring what you need for breakfast and lunch each day, and one dinner, as there are cooking facilities in each lodge.
However, it’s really up to you as you can buy your food there if you want to. You can even hunt for it too, of course. Our group meal was wild pig which had been caught a couple of days before we arrived. Crisped up over the open fire, it was to die for.
So why aren’t you there yet?
Only one question remains – when are you going to go? Seriously, this was my favourite place on the North Island and well worth the journey! Do yourself a favour and experience it for yourself. Then when someone asks you why Blue Duck is so special, you can smile coyly and reply ‘you’ll see’.
Disclaimer: I was hosted as a guest of Stray for their Hop On Hop Off ‘JASE Pass’ which took in all of the North Island. Thanks to Stray for having me and as always, all opinions including gushing love for Blue Duck, are my own.
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