Extended Trip - Saturday 26 December 2015 to Tuesday 12 January 2016 (18 days)

Percy Burn Viaduct

Our tramp was divided into 2 parts - a 10 day circuit from Blue Cliffs beach along the coast to Big River then inland to Lakes Poteriteri and Hauroko before returning to the Rarakau carpark via the Hump Ridge, then 5 days in the Lake Monowai area.

Part 1:

All were grateful Pieter reversed the direction of the trip so that we didn’t have to do the harder sections of the tramp with heavy packs. We eased into our work with a 2 hour first day (after a long drive from Auckland) before camping on the track, then half day tramps as we ticked off the huts along the coast - Port Craig, Wairaurahiri and Waitutu. There was plenty of spare time to explore the area and learn about the saw milling history of Port Craig and the 15 Km tramline constructed through the bush to transport the logs to the sawmill. The DOC hut at Port Craig is the old school house and Hectors Dolphins were spotted in the bay.

As we tramped west the condition of the track deteriorated. Initially we were on the Hump Ridge Track circuit which is well used and looked after. Beyond the Hump Ridge track junction the track was more overgrown and muddy in places and once the tramline finished it was a tramping track. On our journey we crossed 3 viaducts but the largest (Percy Burn) is closed for reconstruction work so we had to descend 30m to the burn and climb steeply back to the track.

Westies Hut

At Waitutu hut our group of nine started to splinter. Five continued on the route to Westies Hut and overnighted there before visiting Big River and returning to Waitutu the following day. This long day to Westies (12 hours) was made longer by wasting 1 ½ hours looking for the track junction to the hut which was

misplaced on the map - one occasion that overzealous use of a GPS was not beneficial! The route followed an old telephone line (made of #8 wire) that went all the way to the Puysegur Point Lighthouse and several sections were still intact. Insulators were attached to trees or trees were topped at about 2m and insulators screwed into the stumps for this bush telephone line. For those that made the effort Westies Hut was one of the highlights of the tramp. Two huts, a communal area hut and a bunkhouse, are built in a large sea cave. We were fortunate in that there was a couple in the hut who related the history of the hut and told us about the quirky person who built it and subsequent occupiers. They were also very knowledgeable about the area and once had been dropped off at Puysegur point by helicopter and made their way back through the untracked bush to the South Coast track - a major effort.

We were also fortunate that there was a gale blowing otherwise it might have been death by sand-fly. Those same sandflies didn’t let you linger on the open air toilet very long! The one hour side trip to Big River was also well worth the effort.

The regenerating bush along the coastal track contained a lot of Kamahi that was in flower and gave the bush a lovely red blush. In the unlogged mature bush there were large old Rimu, Totara and Matai trees. When we went inland and gained altitude the beech took over.

For those that remained at Waitutu there was the coast to be explored, or rest to be had, and the following day Brian made his own way to Westies and onto Big River passing us on the way.

The tourist section of the tramp was now over as we prepared to head inland. There isn’t a track to Slaughterburn Hut shown on the map but we found one penciled in on a map in the Waitutu hut. We prepared for a long day’s bush crashing but Pieter found the start of the penciled track and we followed this all the way to the hut and reached it by lunchtime. In the hut there were two hunters who had eel and flapper (duck) simmering in a big pot and we were invited to join them for lunch.

On the food theme our Kaimoana gatherer was Kay who collected mussels at Port Craig, Paua at Waitutu and was gifted a Rainbow trout at Lake Monowai that she prepared as an aperitif for our last supper at Te Anau - much appreciated Kay.

The track to Slaughterburn Hut is part of an extensive network of trap lines in the Waitutu bush. Along with the traps and bait stations there had been a concentrated and targeted 1080 drop in 2014. The results were a large number of Kaka (who let us know they resented our presence), Bell birds and the usual suspects. Our resident botanist Antal also pointed out lots of Mistletoe over several days indicating a lack of opossums. The dawn chorus, especially for those camping, was the best we have heard for a long time.

The following day was going to be our longest - a full day’s bushcrash from Slaughterburn hut to Poteriteri hut. Kay and Vicky declined to join us and would later meet up with Brian as they returned to Big Blue back along the coast track. They learned about a hut at Long Point from a hunter and had a night camped nearby. A large dead rat in the sink put them off staying in the hut.

Potential route planned, map, compass and GPS at the ready the super 6 ventured forth. It was slow going, even when we were following an old track along the ridgeline, because it was so overgrown with crown ferns and regrowth and there were lots of windfall to negotiate as well. The weather, which had been amazingly good up to now, had taken a turn for the worse over night with rain showers that continued until lunchtime. Obviously the bush was wet and before long we were all soaked through and the temperature had plummeted to such a degree we all started shivering when we stopped for lunch.

It was a true test of ability with map and compass and here Pieter proved he is an expert - the rest of us not so much. Pieter was happy with our progress all day long but the last hour was probably the worst as we dropped down close to lake level and had to cross a stream and swamp before reaching the track to Lake Hauroko about 100m from the hut. It had been a 12 ½ hour day but we felt pretty good about that when reading the hut book and finding others had taken a similar time and several not making it at all and having camp overnight along the way.

The next day to Teal Bay on Lake Hauroko (the deepest lake in NZ) was on a marked route and the DOC sign indicated 7 hours. After the previous days marathon we thought this would be a walk in the park so spent an hour or so exploring the largest lake without road access in NZ before departing about 9am. 10 ½ hours later we finally reached Teal Bay hut. Large sections of the track on the Lake Hauroko side of the ridge were very overgrown and once again there was a large amount of windfall. During the hourly breaks in the afternoon we worked out we were only travelling at about 1Km per hour - this rate for about 3 hours.

Our penultimate days plan was to camp on the Hump Ridge then explore along it. The day dawned fine and clear and the plan looked promising. By the time we had completed our 900m climb to the ridge and had lunch about 1km short of the Hump it didn’t look so promising with clouds appearing and a cold breeze bringing more in. By the time the track reached the point it dropped off the ridge there was very little visibility and the breeze was stronger so we had little option other than to head down. Pieter knew of a saddle a couple of hundred meters below the ridge where there used to be a hunters hut. This is where we ended up camping the night after he had done a little exploring and found a source of water for us. It turned out to be an amazing campsite as the weather cleared during the night and those who were forced to evacuate their sleeping bags for a call of nature were rewarded with a magnificent canopy of stars to gaze at.

Port Craig Schoolhouse / Hut

There were great views to the East and along the coast in the morning before we headed down the ridge to intersect the Coastal track. Amazingly when we reached the track there were Vicky, Kay and Brian who had walked from Port Craig and were having a break. Reunited, the 9 of us headed to the bus stopping for lunch on the beach.

We were booked into a backpackers at Tuatapere for the night and most spent the afternoon cleaning up and preparing for Part 2. We had dinner in the pub and farewelled Lynda who headed home the following day taking the good weather with her. Kays claim to be the talisman for good weather debunked!

Dave Best and I learnt one of the pitfalls of Backpackers accommodation when the third guest in our dorm room arrived at 12.30am drunk, very smelly and not impressed that there were only top bunks available "I’m 65 and over top bunks" he complained. He then proceeded to keep us awake the rest of the night arguing loudly with himself in his sleep. Dave saved his sorry a**e about 2am when he decided he needed to go to the bathroom but had forgotten he was in the top bunk. Could have been messy!

Part 2:

After an hour’s drive north to Lake Monowai we had a 6 hour tramp with an 800m climb to Green Lake hut. This Lake is at 820m altitude and we arrived in a strong cold breeze with the odd shower. The weather didn’t improve overnight so no activity the following morning. After lunch 4 of us headed out into the wind and showers on our way to the Clark A Frame hut (4 bunk) where we spent a cold night listening to the rain lash the metal roof only inches from our heads - insulation long gone from this old hut. Luckily the rain cleared by the morning as we headed through the tussock/swamp to the Historic Clark hut before the 4 hour return to Green Lake Hut. Once again we passed Brian who was repeating our tramp as a day trip. Meanwhile the others had been roughing it in the new, double glazed, well insulated hut with a wood burner to keep them warm. They occupied themselves looking out the picture windows across the Lake to the mountainous surrounds - a lovely place. Antal did climb one of the ridges near the hut and had some great views. Once again the weather turned bad overnight and all hopes of camping on the tops or doing a day trip to them were dashed. Plan "L" had us returning towards the bus but diverting to the Rodger Inlet Hut and overnighting there before heading for the bus on the last day. The decision to abandon the tops plans vindicated when we had cold wind and very light snow shower on the 1000m saddle on our way out.

Thanks to Pieter Holl for organizing these great trips that will be remembered and the other members of the group who all contributed to make it enjoyable.

We were:

Pieter Holl (Leader), Antal Kalocsai, Brian Delbridge, Dave Best, Kay Willcocks, Lynda Langridge, Margaret Law, Vicky King & Lee McKay (scribe).