A Tour to New Zealand’s Remote South - February 2017

13 April 2017

February saw an excited, if slightly apprehensive group of walkers assemble in Queenstown to greet each other and meet Angie and Peter, our local tour guides, for seven days of walking, sightseeing, hard work, sweat, fun and lots of laughs.

Our amazing guides decided to see if we were all as capable as we hoped, so they put us to the test the following day, when we walked nearly 20 kilometres on the moderately-difficult rated Moonlight Track. From our starting point high above the Shotover River near Arthur's Point we began traversing the high hills, gaining altitude all the time. A bit of rain and strong cold winds made the walk interesting and the views were spectacular; deep river canyons, a turquoise coloured river, snow covered peaks, craggy rocks and kilometre after kilometre of single track through alpine grasses. The snow line was so close that we were able to pick up and taste some of the wind-blown snow. After several hours walking, and 1000m gained in altitude, we reached the Ben Lomond col, where a magnificent view of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu was spread below us. From here, we still had four kilometres of a sometimes treacherous, downhill, rocky walk to reach the Skyline complex and take an easy gondola ride back down to Queenstown.

We all survived, but Gwen had damaged her knee and it looked like her walking might have to be restricted. A bus ride to Te Anau passed through more spectacular scenery, with the road hugging the shores of Lake Wakatipu.

After overnighting at Te Anau we set out on a day walk along the Kepler Track, a very pleasant, gentle walk starting at a suspension bridge that crossed the Waiau River. We walked through a wonderland of fern gardens, expanses of mosses  covering the ground like  carpets, and found some colourful fungi in a very moist forest environment. This area is a unique and fragile wetland and the mainly level trail was an absolute delight after the previous day's tough walk. Before long we reached the Moturau Hut on the shores of Lake Manapouri, where we had our lunch before retracing our steps to the bus for our drive to Tuatapere, our base for the night. An evening briefing at the Hump Ridge Track office prepared everyone for what we could expect on our three day hike of the 62km Hump Ridge Track through the pristine Fiordland National Park. The track profile looked daunting!

Early next morning we were bussed to the starting point of the Track, to discover that we were to travel by helicopter  across Te Wae Wae Bay to Flat Creek. That meant we wouldn't need to repeat-walk the 10 kilometre spur trail after completing the Hump Ridge Track loop, and eleven walkers were thrilled and very appreciative!  Because of her knee injury Gwen, with husband Chris, opted to use the  helicopter to Okaka Hut where they greeted us on our weary arrival many hours later.

We were now joined by Hump Ridge guides Dallas and Greg who both proved to be ultra-fit walking coaches and founts of knowledge about the Track and its management. Greg discovered chocolate can work wonders as an encouragement, and soon Bev, our pocket-rocket, became our chocolate-rocket! One-person-only swing bridges, constructed boardwalks, native ancient pine forests, crystal clear streams, mosses, ferns, fungi, roots, bog, mud and almost vertical slopes were all seen, experienced and conquered as we walked, climbed, pulled, scrambled and sometimes clawed our way upwards to the sub-alpine altitude of Okaka Lodge, the highest point on the Track. From the lodge and the nearby loop walk which circles around the tors and tarns further up the ridge we had 360 degree stunning, panoramic views over the surrounding wilderness areas and across the ocean to Stewart Island.

By day two, Kym had established herself as our pacemaker and led the way along the boardwalk that wound up and down through stunted beech forest along the ridge-tops towards Luncheon Rock, our first major break. Over 3000 steps up or down were covered over this 21km day. We dropped further down through mixed forest, and some mud, to reach the Edwin Burn viaduct and start a 7km walk along the old logging tram-way to the historical settlement of Port Craig, our accommodation for the night.

 We passed two mighty wooden viaducts including the Percy Burn viaduct—at 35m high and 125m long it's the largest wooden structure in the southern hemisphere. It is closed to walkers, which meant descending and ascending countless steps, but afforded magnificent views of the structure from below. On reaching Port Craig Lodge, we were able to explore the area's historical saw-milling relics and cool our tired feet and limbs in the Southern Ocean.

We made an early start on the third day to enable us to catch the ferry to Stewart Island. The walk was mainly at sea level and took us through sections of pristine rain forest past our helicopter landing site of the first day. We emerged to trek through a series of sandy bays where the walking was easy on firm sand, giving us time to explore some of the many rocky pools on the headlands. Lunch was eaten at a deer hunters' hut adjacent to the swing bridge at Track Burn, then we continued on past fishermen’s shacks and over the swing bridge across the Waikoau River. Not long after we were back at our starting point and our amazing adventure ended as we were picked up by vehicle and whisked back to Tuatapere; weary, but feeling very satisfied with our achievement.

The following day was a free day for everyone to do as they wished, including a taking taxis to an old whaling base, visits to the bird sanctuary on Ulva Island, local walks, kayaking, inlet cruises, visiting the quirky Bunkhouse picture theatre or just resting,  Some went on a night tour and were lucky enough to see a kiwi, penguin and sea lion in their natural habitats.

Another early start had us back in Bluff where we visited Stirling Point for a group photograph at the southern-most sign post in New Zealand. A stop near Invercargill was an opportunity to visit Oreti Beach, made famous by the movie The Fastest Indian. We explored some of the interesting buildings in Invercargill before lunch and then drove back to Queenstown, with stops at Garston and the Devil's Staircase along the winding road beside Lake Wakatipu. In Queenstown we enjoyed a farewell dinner together at a local restaurant, re-living some of our exploits with good stories and wine. Everyone was going their separate ways next morning, but not before experiencing a magnificent breakfast-time pink and golden sunrise over Queenstown and its lake. It seemed a fitting close to a perfect week of amazing activities and adventure, great company, good weather and experiences that will remain with us all for a very long time.

Written by group member Charmaine Harris on behalf of:

Ann, Tricia, Elsie , Kathy, Fran, Barbara, Gwen, Chris, Kym and Bev