A Glowing New Year in Nydia Bay

January 15, 2016

When I think of New Year’s Eve, I think of sparkly dresses and sparkly wine, music and dancing, staying up late and counting, and generally being let down by the whole charade. There have been fun New Year’s Eves, sure. But they don’t usually live up to the hype. There’s some I’d like to forget and other’s too fuzzy to remember.

I didn’t plan on this year being any different. But it was different. It was epic. That always seems to be the way, actually, when you start with New Zealand, bikes, and adventurous friends. 

Our buddy Mel organized the rental of Nydia Bay Lodge at least 6 months ago. At the time I thought, New Years Eve? That’s so far away! Who cares!?… but I’m so glad she did this! The Nydia Bay Lodge is run by DOC, and it’s comprised of 3 or 4 buildings that are divided into rooms that sleep 4-6 people, with a grand total of 52 beds. There’s a common room, a large-scale kitchen, and a few freezers. If right now you’re wondering who could possibly get 52 (+) people together in the middle of nowhere for New Years Eve, let me tell you, Mel can.

And while Nydia Bay isn’t exactly the middle of nowhere, it is only accessible by bike, foot, or water taxi. Naturally, we chose the first option. Nydia Bay is located in the Marlborough Sounds, just north of Havelock. We dropped off 3 days worth of food and clothes at a water taxi in Havelock, who then shuttled it out to the lodge (and back). I am not into the kind of adventures where I have to carry 3 days of food and gear on my back while I ride my bike. No thanks.

We left cars at the end point to be picked up on New Years Day, then drove north to our starting point and left other cars there.

Map of the top of the South Island, and where we biked on day one:
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Close-up on our Start-to-Finish on the way in (25Km):

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The way out on New Year’s Day (16km):

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The first day’s ride in was 25 kilometers and hard. Like, stairs made out of roots with a cliff on your left hard. Like, is that even ridable for anyone? hard. But beautiful. There were lots of breaks while we took in the ferns and the views of the sounds, and enjoyed the cheeky weka birds, and just took time to catch our breath. Below, Andy bumping over the 40,000th root of the day:

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Above, we’re just a few KM from the lodge (it’s actually in the forest behind us across the water) and while I’m sure the guys would have been happy to carry on, I was so thankful to be that close to food (and wine!).

When we arrived, we were greeted by dozens of riders who’d come in earlier in the day, as well as about a dozen kids (who came in with a few adults on the water taxi). If you know me, you know the idea of a dozen kids is actually not my idea of a holiday, but they turned out to be quite self-sufficient in entertaining themselves. I couldn’t help but acknowledge what an amazing place this would be as a kid, with the swimming and tree climbing, and so many creatures to find and paths to explore. I also love that – generally speaking – parents here are willing to let their kids go do these things without hovering. Sure there was one or two designated adults that hung out by the dock to make sure no one drowned, but otherwise- have at it kids. This world is your car-less, predator-less, rule-less oyster.


And it was our’s as well! We rode in on the 30th, and on the 31st we said farewell to all the die-hards and guys (bye, Scott!) as they went out to conquer more peaks on their bikes. Us girls took a cruisy ride around the sounds, stopped and explored the lush B&B on the other side of the water, jumped and swam, and we laid in the grass and read and drank rose and champagne (NYE, after all!). We basked in the last day, the gloriously sunny and warm and perfect last day, of 2015.


Going in! Bikes clothes and all!



Our accommodation looked like a cross between a high-end bike convention and a Chinese laundry house. It was perfect.

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As the hours wound down on New Years Eve, we found ourselves wondering how to stay awake. At 9pm we had just cracked a little premium whiskey and put on our puffy jackets (it’s still New Zealand, guys). At this point Mel’s husband Richey gathered up all the adults and told us we were going on a night hike. Buzzed and not even considering that we were leaving all the kids behind in their beds, we set off up the hill. He told us we were going to look at the stars (or something) from the water tank up higher up the hillside. It was dark out, but the moonlight was bright enough to see by. At the water tank, he had woven a rope at hip height through the forest and advised us to follow it.

Picture it. 30+ relatively buzzed people blindly following a rope through the bush on New Years Eve, not questioning why. That’s how it went. And then there were screams. BRAINS!!! BRRRAAAIIIINNNSSS!!!! Little hands grabbing my ankles. Creatures jumping out of the forest. GAAAAAHHHHHH!!!! I WANT TO EAT YOUR BRAINS!!! 

Laughing and yelling (and swearing! Oops!) our way through the forest having children we thought were well in bed terrorize us was the most random, most Richey thing that possibly could have happened, but for our crew, it totally made sense. I also think it helped wind down a few zombie children with pent up New Years Eve energy.

From the creepy, we then stepped out into the magical. This time of year, the water of the Marlborough Sounds can have phosphorescence or bio-luminescence. This is an algae that glows when it’s agitated.

At 11:30 on NYE, Richey and several of the kids and adults were cannon-balling off the pier into the warm water, which glowed aquamarine with their every movement. Scott worked up the will to strip down and bomb off the pier, later telling me it’s one of the most awesome experiences he’s ever had. My friend Dave said when the water trickled down his arms, it was like his skin was sparkling. Scott said it was like having a light shining from below up onto him. From the pier, the swimmers looked like angels, with the glowing following their arm and leg movements as they swam (think snow angels). I walked down to the shore and ran my fingertips through the shallow water, and watched magical sparks fly from my fingertips. Cool!!! Occasionally just the lapping of a larger wave would cause the sparkles to illuminate, essentially creating a glowing ripple in the water.

No one there was a fancy enough photographer (or wanted to waste their time with that!) but I found a few photos online that sort of show what it was like:

The color was never as bright or illuminated as the photo above, but it was that color, and the little “dots” by the shore are what I saw in the waves. Below, a swimmer makes a similar angel glow to what I saw watching everyone else swim.

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Ringing in 2016 was quiet and satisfying. There was no countdown, there were no poppers or TVs, or cell phones, or internet at all. We’re not sure when it actually became 2016 but we think we got within a minute of it. It didn’t matter. The end of 2015 was so incredible, it didn’t necessarily need to end right away.


On New Year’s Day we awoke to another perfect day. Most of the crew stayed another night, but 7 of us headed out that afternoon. It was a steep, hot climb out, with a gracious breeze at the top. We all took a moment to eat and look back at the view of Nydia Bay. We reminisced a little about the night before, and took our time getting ready to drop down the super fun descent to the car. Andy even took the time to sneak in a sweaty proposal to his lovely lady Liz. What a start to the New Year!

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As we finished the descent out, I thought about my new year. I had started it off right. Here we were in backcountry New Zealand, conversing at length about roots and rocks and southern hemisphere constellations and luminary algae. We had been unplugged for three glorious days. We didn’t utter a word about work, politics, responsibility or worries. We enjoyed the company of new friends and old, and even enjoyed some other people’s children. We all pushed our limits physically and mentally, and sweat off several kilos.

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My new year started off exhausted and refreshed, at the exact same time.


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1 Comment

  • Reply Katie January 16, 2016 at 8:54 am

    The phosphorescent water must look so beautiful. Is that special algae there only at certain times of year or all the time? I would love to see it sometime!

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