Linda Daniels, Perth, WA
The tour commenced in Queenstown, where we walked the Moonlight Track. Starting from Arthur’s Point, the trail gradually winds its way around the back of Ben Lomond providing excellent views of the Shotover River, where people were rafting and others dared the world as they bungee jumped from a platform on the gorge wall.
Ascending 700m the Track took us up and around to the Ben Lomond Saddle where we were rewarded with expansive views of the Southern Alps with Lake Wakatipu and Queenstown far below. We descended to the Skyline complex and enjoyed a gondola ride back down the mountain where our bus awaited to take us to Te Anau, the gateway to the Fiordland National Park.
The next day started with a visit to the Department of Conservation (DOC) visitor centre—well worthwhile. We then walked a short section of the Kepler Track through beech trees and lush green rainforest with ferns, mosses and colourful fungi displayed in vast numbers, a huge contrast to the sparse mountain vegetation of the previous day. The walk took us to Shallow Bay where we enjoyed lunch at a small hut on the shore of Lake Manapouri. Our day ended with a briefing at the Tuatapere Hump Ridge Track office followed by a fabulous meal at the local pub where we stayed the night.
The next three days were spent hiking the truly scenic Hump Ridge Track. The track winds across some of New Zealand's wildest land, taking walkers along an alpine ridge, over historic viaducts in the heart of native forest and along deserted beaches on the south coast of the South Island.
The start of our three-day trek was an unforgettable experience—a helicopter ride from Rarakau car park to Flat Creek River. This spectacular four-minute flight across Te Waewae Bay gave us a birds-eye view of where we would be walking and negated the need to walk the same ten kilometres of track twice, as this section is a spur trail into the loop and we would be walking it on day three.
At Flat Creek we started the 890 metre climb above the bush line to the superbly located Okaka hut, perched high on the ridgeline to provide stunning views across to the ocean. The 13 kilometre hike took us over swing bridges and though pristine sub-alpine forest reminiscent of scenes from the Lord of the Rings.
The lodge provided great hospitality and comfortable, warm accommodation. Sadly, that evening we heard that Christchurch had been hit by another earthquake and our hearts went out to our guides and the people of New Zealand who had to cope with the tragedy.
The next day’s 19km hike took us up and down along the ridgeline, providing magnificent views and rocky landscapes, before descending into the forest and reaching an old logging tramway. Walking across three massive wooden viaducts made this day very special and provided a real sense of history. Finally we arrived at the old settlement at Port Craig Village where our lodge and another wonderful meal awaited us.
The next day was an early start as we had 17km to cover by 2.00pm in order to leave enough time to travel to Bluff and catch the ferry to Stuart Island. This final day on the Hump Ridge provided another change of scenery as we walked for a number of kilometers along pristine deserted beaches. The catch-phrase for the Track is “More wilderness…less people” and it certainly lives up to this promise. We were all blown-away by the outstanding quality of this track—from the natural beauty to the high standard of the staff and facilities. To find out more visit http://www.humpridgetrack.co.nz
The drive to Bluff took a couple of hours and we enjoyed a smooth passage across the Foveaux Straight to Stewart Island. Described as the last great frontier and the newest National Park of New Zealand, the island is a paradise for walkers, and home to an abundance of marine and bird life.
In the morning the group was given a short bus tour to see some of the key sights on the island. Some chose to walk back around the coastline while others took time out for a coffee and a look at the galleries. In the afternoon a group paddled kayaks over to Ulva Island, a renowned bird sanctuary, while others hired bikes or rested. At night a number of people took the opportunity to view the elusive kiwis in their natural habitat.
On our last day we travelled from Stuart Island back to Queenstown via Invercargill. Bibbulmun Track Foundation sponsor Back Country Foods is located in Invercargill and the owners, Kara and Brent Crossan, very kindly came in to their premises on a Saturday to give us a tour. Everyone was very impressed by the quality of the ingredients and the high standard of production. After sampling various sweet and savoury meals everyone was highly complimentary and there’s no doubt Back Country cuisine has another 18 fans.
Back in Queenstown we had a couple of hours to browse around the town or rest before our farewell dinner. The delicious meal was a fitting end to a memorable trip with a great group of people. We’d seen amazing scenery, taken hundreds of photos, shared lots of laughs and learnt a lot about New Zealand’s natural and cultural heritage. All in all it was out of this world.