The Kowhai River drains Mt Fyffe and the southern Seaward Kaikoura Range, and a popular tramping route is over Kowhai Saddle into the Hapuku River. The headwaters are an important breeding ground for colonies of Kaikōra tītī (Hutton’s shearwater), a seabird which was formerly a customary food source for Ngāti Kuri. Tītī breed between August and March in burrows high on tussock slopes above 1200m. Their calls (a rapid cackle) can often be heard at night around Kowhai Saddle. During the day they feed in the coastal waters, flying inland after dark. Kaikōura tītī are the only seabird globally known to nest in a subalpine environment. They are nationally endangered and fully protected. A DOC permit is required to visit the colonies.
Turn off State Highway 1 north of Kaikōura into Postmans Road and drive to the Hinau Track picnic and parking area. A 4WD track leads to easy river flats until about 4km upstream a short and normally easy gorge is entered. Above the gorge a marked track continues to Sandy Flat and Kowhai Hut (6 bunks, standard).