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 Hutton’s shearwater (titi), a seabird which was formerly a traditional Maori food source. Titi breed during late August to mid-April in burrows high up on tussock slopes, when 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 to the nesting sites. Hutton’s shearwater are protected, and a DOC permit is required to visit the colonies.
To reach the Kowhai River, turn off SH 1 north of Kaikoura into Postmans Rd and drive to the Hinau Walk picnic and parking area. A 4WD track leads to easy river flats. 4km upstream a short and normally easy gorge is entered, then a marked track continues to Sandy Flat and Kowhai Hut (6 bunks, standard).