Category Archives: New Zealand

Hiking the Milford Track


Track Information
Day 1 – Glade Wharf – Clinton Hut
Day 2A – Clinton Hut to Mintaro Hut
Day 2B – Mintaro Hut Mackinnon Pass to Mintaro Hut
Day 3 – Mintaro Hut to Glade Wharf

Track Information

Milford Track is located in the unique Fiordland in New Zealand’s South Island. It is considered one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. Read about my hikes in Abel Tasman Coastal Track , Kepler Track and Routeburn Track in previous posts. You can also see my Milford Track photos

-an early European explorer described Firodland as “utterly useless except for mountaineers”. Hence, that’s why it is still so pristine –

For independent hikers, registration and bookings are made through the Department of Conservation, Fiordland National Park. Booking is not only essential, book early as it is popular particularly between December and March. Milford Track had been sold by NZ tourism and is extremely popular with foreign tourist. I suggest booking on the shoulder season – early November and April to avoid the crowd. All booking must be confirmed at the DOC offices either in Queenstown or Te Anau prior to starting the track. Transport can be organised by Real Journeys and Tracknet. The Fiordland weather is unpredictable. Be prepared for mainly for rain and gusty cold wind.

This is normally a one – direction hike over four days. However, due to exceptional high rainfall in February, parts of the track including bridges had been damaged. The only road into Milford Sound had also been damaged. The 53.5km Milford Track had been re-branded as Southern Milford – Mackinnon Experience (52.3km). This required us to trek all the way up to Mackinnon Pass and return the same way in three days.

Day 1 – Glade Wharf – Clinton Hut

Departed Te Anau at 0945. It began as a cloudy day as we drove to Te Anau Downs to catch a ferry to our starting point of the hike.

There had been no rain in the Fiordlands for three days and it continued today. One local man said it was a drought. It was indeed, being one of the wettest places in the world. The bus journey to Te Anau Downs passed through pasture and farmlands. The morning sun rose behind the Earl Mountains and cast a beautiful lime green light on the moist pasture grasses. On the west is the shimmering Lake Te Anau. Closer towards Te Anau Downs we passed through native restored bush covered with spiky golden tussock grasses.


Start at Te Anau Downs

After an hour’s drive we arrived at Te Anau Downs jetty – the launching point to hike the Milford Track. This is the midpoint of the 65km North – South length of Lake Te Anau. The views are stunning. With rolling hills and blue -green mountains on the east and west, beyond the deep sapphire blue lake, the Kepler and Murchison Ranges rose to over 1600 meters.

We boarded the 10.30am Fiordland Express catamaran with several other hikers and day trippers. It was still cool as we prepared to depart. With hot coffee and sweet biscuits, I settled in for the journey. Soon after we took off, the reality of the cold winds hit us. I quickly zipped up my newly purchased yet-to-be-tested rain jacket.

With the Kepler Ranges behind us, we forged forward to unknown mountain ranges. A few islands are dotted around this vast freshwater glacial lake. One of them had Mackinnon Memorial Cross planted. The captain slowed down for us to pay our respects. Quintin Mackinnon disappeared on Lake Te Anau in 1892. His body was never found and presumed drowned. A small iron cross marked the site of the wreck.

Distant bluish mountains became more pronounced. We passed fiords and scarred mountain slopes. The wildness of the Fiordand began to appear. Like the lake itself, these mountains are also carved out from glacial actions. They seem impenetrable. Yet, thanks to men like Mackinnon, we too can take a similar journey through these majestic and remote mountains. Early Maori first travelled this route to get to Piopiotahi (Milford Sound) to collect greenstone (pounamu). After an hour plus, we arrived at Glade Wharf, the head of Lake Te Anau – the start of the Milford Track.

To protect the park, our shoes are disinfected at the jetty. With the obligatory pictures at the Milford Track signage taken, we set off. Today’s trek is short, just 5km to Clinton Hut. There was no rush. The trek immediately entered the beech forest. The walk, mainly under tree canopies, was soothing especially with the scorching sun. The ferry departed shortly after. The last of civilisation. The well laid stony track took us deeper into the forest. The familiar flora of the fiordland appeared – soft velvety ground spaghnum moss and hair-like lichens hanging from tree trunks and branches. I recognised totara, red beech, ferns and comprosoma plants. The filtered light through the hanging old man’s beard is striking. Parts of this forest still retained its primeval uniqueness. It is as old as in Gondwanaland.

Once we emerged out of the tree canopies, we entered a grassland. On the left is the slow flowing Clinton River. In the middle of the grassland – luxurious Glade House Lodge (used by hikers from the expensive guided walks) with mountains as the backdrop. Today’s short walk awarded us with plenty of time to wander. The shallow blue-green river flowed under a long suspension bridge. Trout thrived in these cold waters. A paradise duck just splash-landed on the water.

We crossed the first and long suspension bridge. Clinton River displayed several hues of colour ranging from emerald green to blue. Yellow algae on the rocks glowed in the shallows. The lush rainforest reflected in it’s crystal-clear waters. It was a serene setting. The bridge swayed with every step as we made our way across.


Clinton River

The river was absolutely stunning and inviting. It was cold though. The well laid track followed the bank of the Clinton River. Sunlight filteted through the beech canopy. Native birds like Tui, Robin and Fantails greeted us along the trek. I even spotted a Bell bird. At the confluence of Neale Burn and Clinton River, there were great views of Dore Pass – a range of mountains. Bare on top with lush vegetation below.

A side-track took us on boardwalks over a protected wetland. It is a fascinating place, with Mt Anau as the backdrop. Sphagnum moss covered ground is dotted with a reddish carnivorous plant – Sundew (Drosera genus). This is a fragile environment. Other bog plants include liverworts, shrubs, sedge, rushes and lilies. At the edge of the bog are a stand of juvenile silver beech trees.

Not long after, we arrived at Clinton Hut. It was a hot day. Like most trampers, once arriving at a hut, the first chore is to secure a bed. The hut warden, a lanky Ross, was busy doing maintenance work. He reminded me of Gandalf – the wizard from the Harry Potter movie. We decide to settle in with lunch and a wander around. The river is nearby.

Ross gave a talk on a raised platform behind the hut. The views of the surrounding forest, wetlands and mountains were outstanding. Ross, armed with a wooden staff, expounded his knowledge on the flora in the vicinity of the hut and river – including its medicinal use. It is one of the most interesting talks by a DOC hut warden.

The Clinton River flowed swiftly over rocks and moraines. I spotted a rare Whio (Blue Duck), feeding in the fast-flowing river, oblivious to our presence. The colour of the river is amazing. I was in disbelieve that this is Fiordland weather – blue sky, hot and clear day! A place which received over 200 days of rain. Judging the water level, the dryness of the track and surrounding vegetation, it had not rained for a while. Although it is not the best walking weather, Fiordland has a special beauty during or after a rain. Well, this is only day 1.

We tied the laces and hung the boots on hook outside the hut. This is to prevent the naughty Kea (alpine parrots) from ‘stealing’ them. There are no showers in these huts but toilets and running water is provided. Inside the hut, it is a hive of activity – pots clanging, steam and cooked food aroma filled the cosy room. More hikers arrived from the later boats. It was a mixed bunch of locals and foreigners. The hut was only 60% filled. Milford Track is highly sort after by foreigners since someone said that it is the “finest walk in the world”. Mass tourism, like in Queenstown, has its negative effects. Locals cannot be bothered to ‘chase’ the booking. Furthermore, there are other track options and less crowded. Milford Track has a reputation of being the dirtiest resulting from uncaring tourist. Although toilets are provided, they think it is permissible to ‘shit’ anywhere (understandably, in some cases unavoidable). This unwanted behavior has marred this pristine environment.

Like in other DOC huts, there is always a sort of camaraderie amongst the hikers. The groups and loners mingle with the experienced and novices. Everyone had a story to tell. Later in the evening, Ross returned to give the obligatory hut talk. He is a delightful character. With good weather forecast, inside information on ‘things’ to see along the way, he recorded our bookings. After our ready-to-eat Indian meals, we slept early. The stars were out. Nearby is a glow-worm grotto. I gave it a miss. Doors opened and shut; floorboards squeaked with heavy footsteps; bunks creaked as bodies turned inside sleeping bags and plastic mattresses. It is always uneasy for me being a light sleeper. I was quietly hoping to hear a Kiwi bird shriek in the nearby bush.

Day 2A – Clinton Hut to Mintaro Hut

Breakfast is something to look forward to. Not only to prepare the body but also the mind on today’s hike. We left early around 7am, considering that it would be an extended walk. Today’s walk will cover 26.5km (including the return hike to Mackinnon Pass).

It was still slightly dark outside. I managed to check out the glow worm grotto. They still emitted light but barely visible. No Kiwi bird cries either. Snorers and ‘movers’ kept me awake. The track continued along Clinton River heading northwards. Ross mentioned to look out for an old telephone post. I missed it but managed to spot some insulators stuck into trees. These are the remnant of the old telephone system linking the huts. At this stage, the track was easy and under tree canopy.

Nearby mountains reflected on the emerald green water and evidence of uprooted trees can be spotted sporadically. The forest is a mixture of Silver Beech, broad-leaves and ferns. Just before the 5th mile, the North and West Clinton Rivers merged. The track moved west from hereon. More open area began to appear. A couple of Kereru (Pigeon), the affable Robin and Bell Birds made their home here. The mountains opened up further.

As we approached the 7th mile marker, the bush weaned, and an unexpected clearing appeared. A expansive view of the U-shaped valley opened up. This is the beginning of the Clinton Valley. On both sides of the track, mountains, some with snowy peaks, rose perhaps 1000 meters vertically into the blue sky. The half-moon was still in the sky.

We made good progress. However, the distance that lay ahead played in my mind. Always calculating if we had enough daylight to reach Mintaro Hut and press on to Mackinnon Pass and return to the hut. It was certainly an uneasy state of mind that is not warranted under the normal four-day hike to Sandfly Point (at Milford Sound). We pressed on. I imagined the number of impromptu waterfalls on the mountains if it had rained. Another unusually dry and sunny day in Fiordland. The track is now through scrub-land. The Clinton River was distant, closer to the mountains.

Ten minutes later, in the valley, we spotted still water that reflected the mountains. This included the Pampalona Ice Fields. Trees, including Silver Beech, had been washed away due to landslide. This created the normal flow to be disrupted and a Dead Lake was formed. The water is darker with organic matter leached from the dead trees. Trout and eels thrived here. Perhaps, someday, with heavy rainfall, this lake may re-invent itself.

Past the Dead Lake, we re-entered the beech forest. Beyond the bush line, on the slopes of a bare mountain, a series of cascading waterfalls – Hirere Falls (about 100meters). Due to the drier weather, the flow volume was low. It resembled a white shoelace. The Hirere Shelter and toilet is tucked under the trees. At the top of the mountains, a little snow. We approached a beautiful part of the forest – the bluish Clinton River with lichen covered forest. I spotted a Kereru (pigeon) and a Tui. It was serene and very primeval.

It is in places like Clinton Valley where rain would have transformed the view – literally with 1000 waterfalls on either side of the mountains. We must be contended with the few we have today.

A single Robin perched on a Silver Beech tree branch, kept us company. The trees here are slightly shorter. Around 10 am, we arrived at the first viewpoint of Mackinnon Pass. The beech forest thinned out and opened into a second canyon mainly with shrubs. Not far away, we arrived at detour to Hidden Lake. The views were stunning. Grasses grew on the sides of the track.


Hidden Lake

We don’t want to push too hard that we become tired by the time we reach Mintaro Hut and little gas left to hike up to the pass. If too slow, the danger is hiking in fading light.

At Hidden Lake, the mountain was half covered in shadow. A small volume of water, like a thin ribbon, cascaded down into a dark lake. The water is icy cold. A pleasant detour indeed. Looking back, we have come a long way into the middle of the valley. It is in places like this that one lingers longer. About 30 minutes later, another signage – Prairie Lake. All of us, wanting to get to Mintaro early decided to carry on.

The track seemed to pass through pockets of beech forest along the banks of the Clinton River. I heard some sound. Three rare Whio (Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos) – Blue Duck, just landed on the bluish cold water’s surface. It was interesting to observe these birds in their natural environment. Whio are endemic to New Zealand, a vulnerable species and possibly facing extinction. Currently, the numbers are around 3000.

Lime green lichens hanging from tree branches, the turquoise blue river, the white pebbles and the lush multi-hued green forest were all very enticing. This is the magic of fiordland. Finally, the beech forest revealed a second valley. Here it is populated with grasses – like a prairie. It also presented fantastic views of the entire valley. Mountains rose to over 1000 meters on either side as we made our way through the grassland. A single duck foraged for food in a slow-moving stream.

We decided to have lunch in this scenic spot at Prairie Shelter. Unfortunately, the sand flies were furious here. Even with my repellent on, these nasty flies managed to find untreated spots. I hurriedly eat lunch and moved on. It is essential to bring insect repellent. A little Weka wandered around looking for a meal.

It took me almost two and half hours to cross Clinton Valley. Around 1145, we reached the Bus Stop Shelter. Beyond here is a very rocky climb over Marlene Creek. This is a dangerous crossing in bad weather. Best to stay in the shelter and wait out the storm or flooding. The climb can be treacherous. I crossed a movable metal bridge where only a trickle of water flowed in the creek. Red and green mould covered some of the rocks. The surrounding is littered with colourful wildflowers .

Some pest traps lay on the grass. We re-entered the beech forest and passed the Pampolona Lodge used by the guided walks. This is a great spot to see both the views towards Mintaro hut and the journey we had taken via the Clinton Valley.

The track ascended towards St Quintin Falls lookout. Beyond the mountain range is Mackinnon Pass. Heavy cloud descended upon the mountains near the pass. Above the fall, a small ice fields, mostly covered in clouds. As we progressed, we entered another valley. It was denser with vegetation and steep mountains. Clusters of ferns appeared on the sides of the track. It was a long walk as we passed the 13th mile marker. The day was still bright with blue sky.

We arrived at Mintaro Hut around 1320. We had walked 16.5 km so far. Our journey today had not ended. On the normal Milford Track, this is the end of Day 2. However, with the revised route, if we wanted to see Mackinnon Pass, we must do it today. I felt rushed. We sorted out our beds, chucked our packs and had a quick snack. After 20 minutes, we continued our hike. There were not many hikers here. Perhaps, they had all departed. Unlike my group of senior hikers, a group of young local hikers were in no rush. I was sure they will pass us soon.

Day 2B – Mintaro Hut to Mackinnon Pass to Mintaro Hut

We headed to the hardest part of the hike – to Mackinnon Pass. Mintaro Hut is at 700 meters and the highest point at the pass is at 1154 meters. Today’s hike will be about 500 meters height gain. The initial part of the track is through the rainforest. We passed a serene Mintaro Lake. Spring water appeared to fill the lake. There was not much time to explore. Such was our itinerary. We crossed a swing bridge over a dry and rocky Clinton River. Here, the river was not as majestic as downstream.

The track was well laid track through the forest. Someone was cutting grass with a trimmer. It turned out to be Andrea – the warden at the Lake Howden Hut on the Routeburn. After a steady climb, the bush gave way to an alpine terrain (at 900 meters plus). The gravel and rocks laid track gave way to stony uneven track.

The track zig-zagged up. I was slow at this point. Fortunately, I did not have my large backpack on me. I would be truly knocked out. With progressive ascending, the views evolved. The sun shined brightly and the sky blue. It was stunning. A rare occurrence in Milford.

Looking down, was the green Clinton Valley and in front a bowl-shaped valley – Nicolas Cirque. This valley had been gauged out by retreating glaciers. Very little pockets of snow and ice remained. One slope had heavy scaring resulting from a recent landslide. Several trails cut vertically on the slopes. These are left behind by streams during downpours and a rocky riverbed can be seen snaking out of the valley. This would then feed into the Clinton River. No wonder, the river we crossed earlier looked dry – no rain. Walking carefully on the movable large pieces of rock, we ascended.

Alpine plants populated the slopes. A curious Rock Wern (Piwauwau), one of the rarest alpine dwelling bird species, darted between the plants. This included the Mountain Daisy (Tikumu). I caught my first sight of Mackinnon Memorial, to commemorate Quintin Mackinnon, on the saddle. On my left is Mt Hart (1770m) and on the right Mt Balloon (1847 m). With a little more huff and puff, I made it to the pass. I was a relieved. The tiredness dilapidated with the surrounding sight. With the setting sunlight, it was stunning. Within minutes, the clouds moved in and cast a dark shadow. In Milford, some say there are four seasons not in a day but in an hour. It had not rained here for four days now. It is a drought by fiordland standards.

Imagine, besides a single road from Te Anau to Milford Sound and the Milford Track, nothing much had changed for ions. Fiordlands ancient beauty is here for all whom ventured. The views from the slope of Mt Hart towards Arthur Valley and beyond was exhilarating. The memorial blended with the surrounding grey mountains. There was no wind. The clouds moved rapidly giving Lake Ella, an alpine tarn, an organic black and sky blue appearance.

Incredibly, there was hardly any ice or snow on the mountain peaks except on Jervious Glacier (on Mt Elliot). Most of the other hikers were already resting on the opposite side of the pass. Beyond the edge is a very steep slope. I accidentally stumbled very close to the edge. My heartbeat jumped. There are no barriers. It can be very dangerous particularly in poor weather. On the left of Mt Balloon is the half obscured Mt Elliot (1984m). The evening light was incredible. From the edge, at the foot of Mt Pillans (1391m), l could make out Quintin Lodge, a airstrip and Arthur River in the green valley below. The original Milford Track continued through Arthur Valley to Dumpling Hut and eventually to Milford Sound at Sandfly Point. Not for us today though. We returned to Mintaro Hut.

Around 1630, we retraced our steps down the rocky switchbacks. High in the blue sky, I heard a couple of Kea’s high-pitched calls. The bright red colors under their wings visible as the flew past. Both soles of my feet started to hurt due to the pounding from the extended walk. We passed a playful Tomtit (bird) and varieties of sub-alpine and rainforest plants. Around 1800, a side-track took me to a picturesque of Mintaro Lake below Mt Balloon. In the stream nearby a duck foraged for food. Sumant, from our tracking group, was keen to have a swim in the cold water. He is a regular in these cold waters. Not me.

I was glad to return to Mintaro Hut. It had been a long days’ walk – 26.5km! I felt we were always weary of the time. We are not fast or strong walkers. The Milford Experience has been rushed. Today’s walk began with the thought of getting enough time to get to Mackinon Pass and return (before nightfall). Tomorrow’s walk will be chasing the 1630 ferry. This will also be an extended walk. From here to Clinton Hut and onward to Glade Wharf. For now, it was time to recoup, have dinner and rest at the hut. Lovely Andrea, hut warden, gave us the usual talk plus a fascinating story, amongst a few, about Milford Sound. It was Miso with noodles tonight. As usual, stories are exchanged. It wasn’t too cold today. Hopefully get some sleep.

the story –

“Milford Sound or in Maori, Piopiotahi was carved out by demi-god, Tu Te Rakiwhanoa. He was given the task of shaping the Fiordland coast. He started hacking the rocks with an axe, from the bottom of South Island west coast and worked his way north. With each creation, he got better and better. His final work, Piopiotahi – was his best and a masterpiece.

However, the underworld goddess Hinenui-te-po saw the fiord’s beauty, she feared that the visitors would never leave. So, she released sand flies to keep them away”.

Day 3 – Mintaro Hut to Glade Wharf

We got up early and prepared to leave around 0730. It is always tricky trying to leave early as some hikers are still asleep. I usually pack all my stuff in the evening and remove my stuff and packs into the kitchen for packing. There is a need to be considerate of others.

By a “natural selection” process – the early and late leavers, there is not much waiting time for the stoves. Everyone has their own rhythm of getting ready, breakfadt and packing. It is interesting to watch all these unique antics.

Today’s walk, 21km, is to retrace our hike not only to Clinton Hut but all the way to Glade Wharf in time to catch the 1630 ferry. They do not wait. Fortunately, my pack is lighter, and the soles of my feet less sore.

We entered the beech forest and retraced our track back through Clinton Valley. There was still no sign of rain. Quite extraordinary. Will climate change here sustain this magical landscape and diversity? There will be no rain forest without rain. Newer species of plants may replace the rainforest. Lichens and moss will likely be the first to disappear. We stopped briefly admiring Quintin Falls against the lush forest.

Just before Marlene Creek, I encountered a large group of guided hikers. It cost’s between $2200 and $3500. These hikers carried less in their packs as food and lodges are provided. Several guides inter-spaced between the high paying guest as the hikers scrambled along the track. I asked a guide at the back, “what happens with the slowest hikers? She sheepishly replied, ” that why I had to wait for them”.

Several of them could hardly move over this rugged terrain including on the flats. Even with walking poles to assist, the unfit struggled to move. Foreigners might join Ultimate Hikes to do the Milford Track without any thought of training and getting fit. Since we are in New Zealand, let’s do the most famous track. They were literally gasping for air and some hunched against the rocks. In my mind, I questioned, how are some of these, literally overweight and unfit “hikers” going to cross Mackinnon Pass? Then, scramble down all the way to Quintin Lodge? Fortunately, today’s hike will end shortly for them at Pampalona Lodge with wine, fine dining and warm beds waiting. In contrast, “total comfort provided in the last place you’d expect – in a wilderness experience!”. Well at least, they will cross over the pass and descend to see Sunderland Falls, pass Dumpling Hut and onward as they will be airlifted from Quintin lodge. Hence, the high cost.

Around 0900, we reached the rocky Marlene Creek. We crossed a series of bridges and scrambled over red and green mould covered boulders and rocks. Further up, we could see Clinton Valley. Lee Cheng and I briefly stopped at the Bus Stop Shelter. The great thing about these mountains in the Fiordland is, the water levels rise quickly and dangerously fast. At the same time, they subside rapidly as well. Sometimes waiting for a while may be detrimental to your safety.

I headed off on a sign posted detour to Prairie Lake around 1000. The others in my group continued (in order to get to the wharf on time). It is a stunning site. The exposed multi – coloured bare marble-like rocks reflected in the still clear but cold water. It is a small lake. Algae and lichens hung onto the steep slopes. Perhaps, during a rainfall, waterfalls may appear and feed the lake. Today, only a trickle of water fell. If not for chasing time, this would make a great lunch break instead of the dreaded, sand fly manifested, Prairie Shelter. I did not linger too long and re-joined the main track and into the Clinton Valley.

Traps are still deployed by DOC to exterminate introduced rodents that is killing our endemic wildlife. Along the track, one tree that attracted me is the Tree Fuschia (Kotukutuku) with its brownish-orange bark peeling off like a Eucalyptus. Having hiked three tracks in the Fiordland, I am just beginning to really ‘see’ the flora of this unique habitat.

The light on the lichen draped beech trees and crystal-clear Clinton River was stunning. The yellow algae covered rocks further enhanced its beauty. The impressive Pampalona Ice Field hung high above the green Clinton Valley,close to the Hirere Falls. We revisited the Dead Lake. With every major event like rivers bursting its banks or earthquake and, in this event, landslides – can alter the natural flow of rivers and re-shape mountains. Avalanches, are common in these mountains and can have huge impact on the track and landscape. However, they do create spectacular sights.

A couple of DOC contractors were having their tea break. These contractors maintain the upkeep of the tracks including repairing the gravel tracks. It can be back breaking job and thanks to them, especially after severe damage caused along sections of the track due to massive rainfall in February, we can hike today. Camera traps had also been set up to understand wildlife. I thought I saw a kiwi on the track in daylight (which is not common). It turned out to be an endemic and vulnerable cheeky Weka.

We reached Clinton Hut around 1300. The soles of my feet hurt again and was glad to have a break. Now, we were certain about the time to catch the only ferry back to Te Anau Downs. It is this uncertainty (timing) that made us walk quicker and sometimes miss the little things. I don’t like to be rushed and this track did exactly that. With my boots removed, and a hot cup of coffee and snacks, I was relaxed once again.

Some might say it is a different perspective walking the opposite direction of the same track. Well, not for me though. Today’s return walk to Glade Wharf is “similar” and quite uneventful. The major difference is the race to the boat and the light. We passed through the red beech forest and the interesting old telephone memorabilia. We arrived at the final bridge crossing of the Clinton River around 1445. The colour is an amazing azure blue to emerald green.

Lee Cheng and I were now relaxed and knew that there is plenty of time to get to the ferry. We sat on the small grassy field beside the swing bridge. We listened to the mellow flow of the shallow river, bird songs and the occasional rustling of the trees as the breeze blew. It was great. From here, the Clinton River made its way and drain into Lake Te Anau.

This track had been bitter-sweet. The Southern Milford – Mackinnon Experience is a little too long and saddened that we had not completed the full track although understandable. We had the choice to re-book to another date. The dryness of the fiordland environment may have contributed to a less “spectacular” experience particularly with rivers, streams and waterfalls. This is not synonym with the wet fiordland. However, getting to Mackinnon Pass and rewarded with spectacular mountain and valley vista was great. This is further enhanced by the fact that we had slogged, and feel “raced” to get there.

Again, I thought about the high paying guided walkers. Well kitted but unfit. Will they all make it unscathed to Quentin Lodge. Another 40 hikers from the same outfit passed us and rather looked fresh and excited. They were all foreigners. Some might have the idea this track is a walk in a park. I liked their enthusiasm though.

As I passed Glade House, the wine glasses on the table and waiters tending to guest made me wonder again – do we really want this kind of comfort in a wilderness place like this? With all comforts provided. I doubt any kiwi would resort to this. Perhaps, fear of being pampered and lost that ‘can do kiwi attitude’. If it is not pride, the cost will certainly deter most locals. Personally, to each his or her own – an opportunity to get into the interior and experience the magic of fiordland. We arrived at the wharf with an hour to spare. Today’s hike was another long 21km.

Some of the hikers arrived here in smaller water taxi boats. Ours was with Real Journeys, a catamaran. Looking at the size, I am glad we are in a bigger boat especially if the weather gets a little stormy, as they do in these parts. It was time to unwind, kick off the boots, smelly socks and soak a bit of the southern sun. I walked along the shore and soaked my feet in the water. It was warm but not enough for me to want to jump in. In the boat, with coffee in my hand we sailed passively back to Te Anau Downs. At the beginning of the hike – the mountains were like strangers. This time, I felt a satisfaction that Lee Cheng and I had done this track. I looked at the mountains and wondering which one we had walked past. It is like bidding farewell to an acquaintance. We arrived Te Anau Downs at 1730. A shuttle bus brought us back to Te Anau. Well done to our team on successfully completing the 52.5km Southern Milford – Mackinnon Experience.

This is a wonderful trek encompassing fiords and alpine sceneries. Was it the “finest walk in the world”? Not really, but still a decent hike. The lack of rain and the modified long trekking route, did not help. Perhaps, the track beyond Mackinnon Pass is much more scenic and rewarding. We won’t know!

Milford Track photos

In mid-March this year, I hiked the Milford Track. Not exactly Milford Track but the DOC modified The Southern – Mackinnon Experience. The reason – exceptionally high rainfall in February had caused heavy damage to the track and washed away bridges. On the Routeburn Track, a hut was completely crushed. The only road in and out of Milford Sound was not spared either. This resulted in completely closure of the road. Furthermore, Covid 19 was spreading around the world. A week after we completed this track, New Zealand went into total lock-down (Level 4)and closed its businesses, schools and borders.

However, with repairs and maintenance, we had an opportunity to experience this track, albeit partially. These are my photos of that hike. Please read my Hiking the Milford Track  story in the next post.

 

 

Tiritiri Matangi Island- a birder’s paradise

I had lived in Auckland for over 17 years and only recently I discovered this unique rehabilitated island in the Hauraki Gulf, a hours’ ferry ride (30km) from central Auckland. It is a 220 ha island free from predators. Early Maori lived here. Western settlers arrived and converted the island into farmland. Between 1984 – 1994, conservation staff and volunteers replanted the island with native flora and re-introduced native birds. Today, it is a bird sanctuary, 60% forest and 40% grassland, showcasing over 70 species New Zealand’s native bird. It includes twelve species of endemic birds. You can see my photographs in Tiritiri Matangi photos

I arrived here with John and family on his sailing yacht. It took us about three hours. We saw a small pod of dolphins and blue penguins. We anchored just off Hobbs Beach and motored to the wharf. A ferry was anchored at the wharf. Large flowering Pohutukawa trees lined the beach front. From here, we walked to the bunkhouse along the Wattle Track. We were greeted with a array of bird songs. I was excited and looked at every tree, branch and ground to spot the birds. My first sighting was the Tui bird. They flew low and fast. A small, introduced and naturalised Brown Quail foraged along the track margins. The track was mainly under the canopy of the forest. I spotted a lime green Bell bird (korimako). After twenty minutes, through the spiky cabbage and crimson flowering Pohutukawa trees, the light house appeared on top of a hill. On the way up, I met Richard – my fellow hiker on the Routeburn Track. A wonderful coincidence.

Lighthouse

At the lighthouse, by the cafe and visitor’s center, there were many visitors. Three quarters of them were day trippers. The other buildings include two cottages used by the ranger and volunteers. The lighthouse, one of the oldest in New Zealand, was built in 1864. A concrete building with a foghorn is located on the cliff face on the north-east. Great Barrier, Little Barrier and Waiheki islands; Rangitoto; Whangaparaoa Peninsula; and the Coromandel mainland were visible from here. On th3 way to the bunkhouse, high above a Kowhai tree, a single New Zealand Pigeon (kererū) displayed its colorful plumage.

Morepoke
Bell bird

After securing our bunk beds and lunch, I headed to explore Cable Track. However, some visitors advised on sightings of the native owl – the nocturnal speckled brown Morepoke (Ruru). Only a hundred meters on the East Coast Track, there were a couple – roosting. A short walk later, I encountered a pair of Red Crowned Parakeets (Kākāriki) foraging on the grassland. A mixture of trees included the Comprosma species and flowering kanuka trees. The track is under the tree canopy and well protected from wind. I had my first glimpse of a male Stitch bird (Hihi) and a North Island Robin (Toutouwai). The track eventually, like all track meet the main Ridge Road. The riots of bird calls is dominated and dictated by the Tui. They are territorial and disturb not only its on kind but all other resident birds. However, they are wonderful to observe.

Tui

My hike continued on the Totara Track and eventually connected with the Kawerau Track with a series of downhill board walks. A black and brown North Island Saddleback (Tīeke) was busy scouring the forest floor to feed, just two meters away. The birds do come close. Old twisted trees trunks of the Pohutukawa, barely recognisable, had the foliage above the canopy.

It was sunny as I emerged out on gravel Hobbs Beach. This is a swimming Flowering Pohutukawa and flax plants lined the shore. Seabirds foraging included the Southern Black-backed Gull and an Oyster Catcher. The ferry was still anchored at the wharf. Once again I followed the Wattle Track back towards the lighthouse. This track is exposed to the sun. Several Tui displayed their aerial skills to ward off intruders. I passed a clump of matured Nipah palms and paused at a water station. This is delightful site to spot birds as they swing in for a drink. The dominant Tui were a given, drinking and having a bath. It white wattle on its throat and the iridescent blue plumage shined in the light. A Bell bird couldn’t resist the opportunity in this hot day either. The crowds had thinned at the lighthouse. The sun was blazing across the grassland.

Foghorn Station

After dinner, I ventured out again hoping to see the rare Brown Kiwi. The ranger had suggested to walk along the Ridge Road and the side tracks. The cacophony of this afternoon’s bird calls mellowed. After two hours of walking, there was no sign of the illusive and shy Kiwi. I was already dark and quiet when I returned to the bunk house. Around 2230, I sat outside, perhaps optimistic, for a Kiwi to wander out onto the grasses. Suddenly, I heard the sharp and screeching call of the Kiwi somewhere inside the forest. I was satisfied.

The following day, I was out around 0530. no Kiwi in sight as I headed onto the East Coast Track which skittered along the cliffs. The Tui were busy and the calls heard throughout. I spotted a pair of Morepoke, heading home to roost. The Tui made sure the moved from that spot.  A few sea birds flew above the cliffs. Along the track, I saw three Tui confronting each other. They headed straight towards me. I ducked and heard their wings flap just above my head. That was too close. I had arrived at the craggy Fishermans Bay. Nearby is a small pond which reflected the dark sky.

I followed the Fishermans Bay Track back towards the Ridge Road. I heard an unfamiliar bird call. It was a handsome pair of North Island Kokako. it is a beautiful bird with a blue wattle under its beak, bluish plumage and a black mask! Unfortunately, a couple of Tui managed to disturb and the Kokako disappeared into the forest. I was lucky.

Kokako

I decided to wander again through the Totara and Kawerau Tracks. I became familiar with some of the birds including the Pigeon, Parakeets and Saddlebacks. A family of Quails, well camouflaged, darted in and out along the track margins. Throughout the two days, the only sound I heard was bird calls and the rustling of leaves. A tranquil environment. With well-established tracks and board walks, the whole island can be walked as ease. Guided walks are also provided. At the lighthouse, I managed to see one of New Zealand’s rare flightless birds – the Takahe. There was an adult pair with a chick. The adults had an amazing iridescent dark blue and olive-green plumage with a red beak (look similar to a pukeko). This is an open bird sanctuary with ongoing research. Imagine, this singing 220ha island is just an hour boat ride from metropolis Auckland. A must do when in Auckland.

 

 

 

Tiritiri Matangi photos

I recently explored Tiritiri Matangi Island, about 30km (an hours ferry ride) from Central Auckland. It is a rehabilitated island and restored into a bird sanctuary.  A birder’s paradise. A compact island packed with over 70 species of primarily native birds. This includes the rare Takahe, Kokako, Mopoke, Tui, Wood Pigeon, Saddleback and Hihi. There are wonderful beaches to swim. Numerous tracks and walkways make exploring easy. On an overnight stay, try spotting the elusive Kiwi bird in the evening. An amazing New Zealand paradise.

Hiking the Routeburn Track

Table of Contents

Track Information
Day 1 – Divide – Lake Howden via Key Summit
Day 2 – Lake Howden Hut – Lake Mackenzie Hut
Day 3 – Lake Mackenzie Hut – Routeburn Falls Hut
Day 4 – Routeburn Falls Hut – The Shelter
Suggested Food
Suggested hiking gear

Track information

Routeburn Track is located in the unique Fiordland in New Zealand’s South Island. It is considered one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. Read about my hikes in Abel Tasman Coastal Track and Kepler Track in previous posts. You can also see my Routeburn Track photos

The tracks and huts are managed by DOC (Dept. of Conservation). As such, registration and bookings are made through the Department of Conservation, Fiordland National Park. Booking is not only essential, book early as it is popular particularly between December and March. I suggest booking on the shoulder season – early November and April to avoid the crowd. All booking must be confirmed at the DOC offices either in Queenstown or Te Anau prior to starting the track. The Fiordland weather is unpredictable. Be prepared for mainly for rain and gusty cold wind. During my track in early November, we experienced heavy rain, thunderstorms and lightning in the last two days. Avalanche warnings are also high on certain stretches especially between Lake Mackenzie and Routeburn Falls Huts. Particularly near Harris Lake.

The 32 km track can be completed in two, three or four days. We decided to do a four day track to accommodate my injured thumb plus to take in the views. (Having done it, three days is ideal). It is a one way track that can be started from either end – the Divide from Te Anau or the Routeburn shelter from Glenorchy. Walking from the Divide offers an easier hike as the track climbs gradually. Plus, walk into generous views. Start from Te Anau and finish in Queenstown. Transportation to and from Queenstown and Te Anau to the Divide and the Shelter can be organised by Tracknet or Infotrack. For relocating cars between starting and finishing points, contact Trackhopper or Easyhike.


Routeburn track map

Day 1 (Nov 6) – Divide – Lake Howden via Key Summit (3.4km + 2km)

Will, my tramping partner, and I were picked up by Tracknet (transporter) at Te Anau at 0715. It was raining lightly. Soon after entering Fiordland NP, we passed through Elington Valley, grouched out during the ice age, covered with golden tussock grasses. The slow moving Elington River meandered through it. Soon after, we made a short stop at Gunn Lake. On a good day, reflections of the surrounding mountains can be seen mirrored on the lake. We arrived at the Divide, about 1.5 hrs from Te Anau on the road to Milford Sound, around 0830, starting point of the 32 km Routeburn Track with a side track to Key Summit.

At a shelter, we organised ourselves. The weather was very cloudy and it rained sporadically.
We entered Fiordland NP. Its distinct lichens hung from trees, lime green moss carpeted the forest floor with thickets of ferns. The air was crisp with clear visibility. I could almost see the individual leaves. However, clouds hung low above the tree top and mountains. We passed a few Kotukutu trees, the largest fuchsia in the world. It had a distinctive orange bark peels.

This is mainly a Silver Beech forest. We passed small waterfalls and crossed man-made bridges. The track was not too demanding at this stage. Furthermore, it is a short hike today. Secretly, I was hoping the rain clouds would clear when we approach Key Summit as we walked through the mainly silver beech forest. I was optimistic and excited. At the same time, apprehensive. How am I going to cope with my fractured thumb (sports injury just 6 days ago). Occasionally, icy peaks of the Earl Mountains emerged through the tree clearings. There were only three people on the track for now.

Once above the tree line, the Darren Mountains with the Hollyford valley and river stretched towards the horizon. My heartbeat jumped. I am always inspired by snowy peaks and high places. As hoped, the threatening dark rain clouds had thinned. The sun was out. The landscape was bathed in glorious morning sunshine and the sky blue. The flora here is mixed. Around 0930, we arrived at a junction, one descended towards Lake Howden Hut and the other, ascended towards Key Summit.

On this exposed section, we bumped into a bunch of school kids from Dunedin. The tranquility is broken with chatter and friendly banter among these kids. It was great to see these young ones enjoying the great outdoors. For a moment, the track was crowded. Eventually, once we arrived at the summit, the views were stunning. We were encircled but snowy peaks. I was mesmerised by the alpine tarns surrounded with yellow ground moss adorned with majestic peaks. On the west, the Earl and Darren Mountains. On the east – Humboldt, Ailsa and Livingstona Mountains. The clouds cleared, little cool wind and sun warm. I just had to sit and savour this natural beauty. In the background, laughter and chatter by the school kids.

Within minutes, the cold clouds partially reclaimed the mountain tops. This is synonymous with the Fiordland. There is an Alpine Loop Walk. Yellow moss surrounded an alpine tarn. It is a delicate environment. I was stuck like a magnet in this place. Continuing on further south on the trail, there is a viewing spot and rest area. With clouds almost covering the mountain, I was not sure what I was looking at. A small signage cleared that up. The school kids had also gathered here together with a guided group op. I was in no hurry and relished this magical environment. Several ice covered peaks with bare slopes appeared. Finally, I spotted the aquamarine alpine glacial Lake Marian, literally hanging off the slopes of Mount Christina. On the right is an aptly named Mount Crosscut. The Key Summit Track can be done as a day hike from the Divide (3 hrs return).

We retraced our tracks back to the mail trail and hiked towards, mainly downhill and under tree canopy, towards Lake Howden Hut. We arrived around 1130. The group of kids we met on Key Summit were, fortunately, to the next hut. Plus, a group of guided hikers were having lunch and also preparing to leave. Placid Lake Howden is surrounded by lush green mountains as a few icy peaks. The lake water flowed out just in front of the hut. It was cold though. Alert! Be prepared for sand fly. Soon, more trackers arrived and departed.

After lunch, as the sun was still out and bright, I walked along the lake on the Caples Track. It was all under the forest canopy. Bird songs filled the air. Trying to spot them is a different issue. Several streams criss-crossed the track. In an open valley, a small stream cut a grassy bog. The sky was blue and the weather warm. The hut was half full. I looked out of the window while sipping my miso soup, the sun was still out after 1900. Most people in this hut were mainly heading towards the Divide the next day. There were a few going in our direction. Dinner time gives us an opportunity to meet other hikers and hear their stories. Huts are never easy to sleep!

Day 2 (Nov 7) – Lake Howden Hut – Lake Mackenzie Hut (8.6 km)

I did not sleep well. Noises, snoring and movements of people within the hut is unavoidable. I was up around 0700 and the hut was completely engulfed by heavy fog. The surrounding rainforest were transformed into silhouettes. A thick layer of mist hung just above Howden Lake’s surface. After breakfast, we left the hut around 0800. We know there were three other heading our way.

The track ascended from the hut and lead into the forest. The air was still. The only sound I heard was my heavy breath and footsteps on the gravel track. Bird songs echoed through the misty rain forest. In the background, there is a constant sound, the roar of moving water. Either from the numerous streams that criss-cross the track and waterfalls. Synonymous with the Fiordlands, the forest is enriched with with lichens on tree branches and trunks, moss carpet on the forest floor and sporadic ground ferns. Similarly we crossed several fixed bridges. We met Richard, a keen birder making his way slowly. He explained that he had hip replacement just four months ago. Brave and determined man.

Loud roar resonated through the forest. Not long after, I could see a white column of water fall from a blackish cliff face. I felt the strong spray drift before witnessing the fall itself. This is Earland Fall (178m). Resulting from the night’s heavy rainfall, there was a lot of water. The track passed along the face of the fall. Be prepared to get wet. There is an alternative route just below the main track.

Strangely, past the fall, the ground seemed drier. Looking back at Earland Falls,it was even more impressive especially when the clouds disappeared. Snow covered mountains appeared. That brought some excitement. The canopy was thinner here. A signage said The Orchard. It is a flat area covered with grasses, thickets of ferns, flax and small ribbonwood trees. They look like apple trees. I ventured off the track towards a small pond flanked by beech trees. A couple of stunned hares hopped into the bush. In distant background, looming peaks glowed in the late morning sun.

The track zig-zagged along the slopes and the was a pleasant surprise – the Darren Mountains. The range was partially visible with clouds moving rapidly. As the clouds dissipated, the Hollyford Valley and river appeared. This is a perfect place for lunch. I was totally mesmerised by the icy mountains. While having lunch, I was hoping the whole range would open up. Optimistic perhaps. At times I could see the end of the Hollyford River which drained into the Tasman Sea. I dragged away from this fantastic view. The blue sky and sunny day was welcomed. Still walking along the slopes with the Darren Mountains on the west, I reentered the forest. With beautiful weather, I was really enjoying the hike. I am almost alone throughout the track. There were only about five hiker walking in the direction. That is a great feeling. Occasionally I caught up with Will. A. tiny green bird darted around tree branches (later identified by Richard, a bird enthusiasts as the Riflemen). The final part track ended on the flats covered with shrubs. The first huts were not for independent hikers. Its a lodge. Finally, around 1230 I arrived at Lake Mackenzie Hut. There were not other boarders yet.

It is an amazing site. I was attracted towards the emerald green glacial lake. Rough blocks of glacial rocks lay strewn on the west end of the lake. Two peaks loomed above, Ocean and Emily Peaks. With the sun shining, the views were stunning. After some hot refreshments, we headed out to explore Split Rock. There were great views of both Ocean and Emily Peaks. On the west, Christina and other Darren Mountain peaks gleamed in the midday sun. Bird calls echoed everywhere but hard to see. Near the hut, a couple of Kea made their distinct calls. Today is a fantastic day but we were warned of uncertain weather tomorrow. At dinner, we caught up with Richard. There is a sense of camaraderie amongst hikers.

Day 3 (Nov 8) – Lake Mackenzie Hut to Routeburn Falls Hut (11.3km)

Tried to get some sleep but quite unsuccessful. Late at night, the dark clouds that gathered earlier turned into torrential downpour aided with strong gusty wind. The storm lashed onto the hut with lightning and thunder. I was glad that I am tucked in my sleeping bag.

The weather forecast for today is not particularly good with potential for rain throughout the day. At breakfast, I was surprised there was no rain although dark and cloudy. We departed around 0730 hoping to take advantage of the weather. Kea calls echoed in the cold morning air from the nearby trees. I had my rain gear and thermals on. The track immediately entered the beech forest and skirted round Lake Mackenzie. The gravel track zig-zagged climbing steadily under the forest canopy. We soon emerged out of the forest and surprisingly with only a breeze. As we climbed around the slopes of Ocean Peak, there were great views of Lake Mackenzie and the surrounding mountains. The day was cloudy and rain was imminent. Above the tree line, the track passed through a high alpine plateau of tussock grasses and transformed into jagged rocky plateau. Unique hardy plants clung on to survive these harsh conditions. Then it began to drizzle.

The track progresses parallel with the Hollyford Valley flanked by the great snow peaked Darren Mountains. The wind picked up so did the rain. I struggled a little keeping my bandaged hand dry. Tussock grasses covered most surfaces. Icy peaks emerged as the clouds clear. At one point, the track is a narrow ledge with steep slope. Fortunately, a pipe handle, screwed onto the cliff face, provided some support. Sudden gusts of wind threw me off balance at places. On the west, Darren Mountains were almost invisible with the rain and thick clouds. Temperatures began to drop as we climbed higher. The hike was not difficult.

Finally we approached Harris Saddle, the highest elevation (1255m) of the Routeburn Track at midday. Hale swept through as I hurried into the shelter. I tucked in my lunch before continuing on. A few other hikers coming from the opposite direction also made a brief stop here. Unfortunately, my flimsy rain coat tore. There is no alternative rain top. Moments later, sleet dropped from the dark sky. The side trip to Conical Hill was inaccessible today due to avalanches. The views beyond the shelter was obscured by heavy mist and clouds. Fortunately, the orange track markers, provided guide and direction. These are invaluable during poor weather and visibility.

For hereon, we entered the Mount Aspiring NP. After a short walk over sandstone rocks, the dark hued glass-like glacial Harris Lake appeared. Although cloudy, raining and dark, the expansive views were amazing. Snow peaked mountains were almost silhouetted in the background. It was in black and white. Just past the shelter, in an tarn, was a rare blue duck (Whio). The narrow track skirted above and around the lake. With a series of wooden steps, I descended through a lump of ice. Continuous rain had made the track slippery in places. There are great views of Harris Lake and the drainage outlet. A river is formed and flowed downhill. In the distant, a greenish valley. Avalanche warning appear sporadically over this stretch.

On this rugged landscape of tussock flats and boulders , the beginning of Routeburn River cascaded down and meandered towards the rain mist covered valley below. The river splits into fast flowing streams. Various coloured stones including greenstones are strewn along the track. This area is rich in “pounamu” (jade like greenstone). Drenched in rain, the bush is green. As I approach the flats, a loud consistent roar can be heard. Aided by iron railing, I walked gingerly over sandstone rocks. There, the torrent Routeburn Falls tumbled into a deep canyon at three separated sections. Due to heavy downpours, aided by numerous ad-hoc streams, the river had swelled.

Below, a cluster of corrugated iron roof tops buildings. These included a upmarket accommodation and the humble DOC Routeburn Falls Huts. A helicopter landing pad is clearly marked. Drenched and cold, I was relieved to arrive. It was around 1230pm. A quick change, organising my bunk bed, I looked forward to a hot meal. Three Kea birds played on a nearby tree. From the balcony of the hut, the lemon green flats and black slopes of the Humboldt Mountain were barely visible. Waterfalls seemed to appear and disappear on the mountain slope with the ebb and flow of the rain. This hut is an enviable location.

A helicopter ferried passengers to the luxury lodge. It caused a flurry of excitement. Time to settle into hut life. We met fellow kiwis Mellisa and Marisa. along with Richard and formed a small dinner table group. All from different walks of life with a common interest in Hiking. Richard offered an emergency rain cover ( a bright yellow plastic bag). Perhaps, with bad weather forecast, I may have use for it.

Day 4 (Nov 9) – Routeburn Falls Hut to Routeburn Shelter (8.8km)

Left at 8am. Severe storm warning arrived at night. Gale force winds packed with rain, thunder and lightning. It was cold but once inside sleeping bag, warm. After 2 days of little or disturbed sleep, managed to get sound sleep. Next morning weather was uncertain. What time shall we depart? Play by ear.

Morning was cold but surprisingly the heavy early morning storm seemed to have passed. However, those heading towards Harris Saddle were warned of later bad weather – continued heavy rain and plunging temperature. Fortunately, we were heading towards Routeburn Shelter. A Kea just perched itself on a wire just above the ranger’s hut. We left at 8am and hoped to pass the imminent storm. Sky was laden with thick dark clouds. The nearby snow covered mountains were visible. Sound of the falls nearby seemed louder than when arrived. The Routeburn River must have been swollen with the big rainfall. The track was well laid with compacted gravel and the terrain level and descending. We entered the mainly Mountain Beech forest. Fiordland is living up yo its reputation – wet and unpredictable. Streams criss-crossed the track. In places, the track became mini-streams. We walked close to the river valley as the track meandered in and out of the beech forest. It began to rain. Out came the (torn) raincoat. The torrent Routeburn River entered a grassy flat valley and meandered calmly surrounded by the Humboldt Mountains. Numerous waterfalls of various magnitude fell over the mountain sides. The typical Fiordland forest emerged – moss covered forest floor, ground ferns, lichen hanging off tree trunks and branches. Birdsong echoed somewhere in the forest.

Later along the track, the river merged and with contribution from the numerous streams, it swelled and cut thunderously through narrow chasms and gorges. Under one bridge, I felt its volatile power as it cascaded over buried rocks. This morning’s heavy downpour certainly aided to the river strength. We forged through some flooded section on the track. Some via suspension bridges and one make-shift tree trunk bridge. We have now entered the mainly Red Beech Forest. On a nature’s walk trail, tree saplings sprouted out from rotting tree trunks. Fungus mycelium quietly eating away decaying leaves and other plant materials and converting them into organic matter and eventually nutrients to the living plants. The light rain continued. The storm held for now. We crossed a swing bridge and was relieved, from the weather, when we arrived at the Routeburn Shelter around 11am.

We were being picked up by pre-arranged transport (Track and Info) back to Queenstown. Some hikers were just beginning their track. Around 12pm, It poured. I am glad we were not out on the track. Overall, the track is not too difficult but the weather and bandaged fractured thumb was challenging. The Routeburn Track is worthy of a hike in this unique UNESCO Heritage Fiordland.

Suggested Food :-
Food takes a big part of your pack weight. For a three day hike, estimate about 3kg. Think light but sometimes comfort food
Breakfast – Coffee, Oats/Cereals, Roti (tortilla), Porridge
Lunch – Croissant, Cheese, Snack Bars, Nuts, Dried fruits, Dried Meat (jerky), dried fruits and nuts, chocolates
Dinner – Udom Noodles with Miso and boiled egg, Ready to eat meals including dehydrated (western and Indian), pasta with tuna (can)
Suggested hiking gear : –
My overall pack weight for this track was 10kg. However, my camera and filled water bottle is 4kg! I am comfortable with 14 kg.
Polypropylene thermal top and pant
Wind and Rain proof jackets and over-pants
Socks – three pairs (thermal and cotton)
Lightweight Back Pack – 50L – 60L (2kg or less)
Rubbish Bag – pack in, pack out
Cooking Utensils (stove and gas provided)
Inner liners for back pack – to keep dry
Clothing – one change for night use
Gloves – optional
Fleece/Jersey (woolen and lightweight)
Hat and sunglasses
Walking stick – if needed
Sleeping Bag – down with three seasons
Water Bottle – 1.5L/Bladder bag
Torch/headlamp
Toiletries – Toilet Paper
First Aid and personal medication- including Blister pads, plaster, pain killers, etc
Quick Dry Light weight Towel
Shoes/jandals(hut use)
Insect repellent – Deet
Sunscreen
Lightweight Swimming gear

Hiking the Kepler Track

Table of Contents

Track Information
Day 1 – Te Anau – Control Gates – Luxmore Hut
Day 2 – Luxmore Hut – Iris Burn Hut
Day 3 – Iris Burn Hut – Moturau Hut
Day 4 – Moturau Hut – Rainbow Reach

Track Information

Kepler Trek is in New Zealand’s south western corner of South Island – the Fiordlands. It is a 2 – 4 days hike. The 60km Kepler trek can be walked in either direction as it is a loop. The starting point is at the Control Gates near Te Anau. We decided to hike up to Luxmore Hut (in the anti-clockwise direction). This would tackle the hardest climb earlier and would give us a ‘gentle downhill’ trek for the following days. Plus, the views on day 2 in the morning at Luxmore Summit and beyond would provide the best views, weather permitting. In the opposite direction, one would arrive here late in the afternoon and high possibility of ranges drenched in mist and clouds.

the trek map

It is a stunning part of New Zealand and this trek has one of the most wonderful scenery created by glacial ice and water, weather permitting. It encompasses mountain ranges; high lakes or tarns; alpine tussock grasses; boggy and endemic wildlife including Kiwi and Takahe; boardwalks and wooden walkways; waterfalls and rivers; glacial cut valleys; large fresh water lakes and much more. However, in these parts, the weather is unpredictable, and all four seasons can appear in one day. Mountain paths can be obscured by dense clouds and mist and strong cold prevailing winds are common. This can be complicated with snowfall even in summer! A good selection of wind and water proof clothing is a must. Water proofing your pack and broken-in hiking shoes are essential. All rubbish must be packed and brought out back to Te Anau. The mountain huts have no facilities to dispose these.

All booking for the huts or camping sites must be booked through  Department of Conservation (DOC). Their websites give detailed information on all requirements. Cooking gas is provided but you must bring all utensils and food. Starting and finishing points is scenic Te Anau. Local transport to and fro the starting points can be organised online or in Te Anau. We used Track Net. Transport from Queenstown is easily organised by the same people. Storage facility is available at the Holiday Park near the DOC office for a small fee (Track Net office is located here as well). It is best to collect all your booking documents at the DOC office early before the trek pick-up.

When we returned, it was bliss when we soaked ourselves in a spa pool at our hotel. Time to reminisce on our experience in a stunning part of New Zealand – the Fiordlands.

Day 1 (01/04/19) – Te Anau – Control Gates to Luxmore Hut (13.8km)

walking over a boggy area

Two friends, my wife and I went on this trek. We obtained our booking tickets from DOC office around 0800. We had organized transport to pick us up from Te Anau to the starting point of the trek at the Control Gates. Left Te Anau at 8.30am and departed from the gates around 9am. It started to drizzle and the sky cloudy. Once past the Te Anau Lake overflow control gates, we entered the native Beech forest. The trek followed the shores of the Lake Te Anau. Under the canopy of the Beech forest, the drizzle was kept a bay. However, it was muggy and the forest floor wet. However, the trek was well laid. It was quiet, and the walk was accompanied with sounds of bird songs. Fantails came bravely close to inspect. Soon they lost interest and disappeared into the wooded forest. Sunlight struggled to penetrate through the canopy. Occasionally, when visibility improved, I could see Te Anau Township across the lake. The forest floor was covered in dense moss and a variety of ferns.

In open areas, I realized that the drizzle this morning had turned into light rain. We reached Brod Bay. To save a 5.6 km walk (about 1.5 hr), there is a water taxi service from Te Anau to Brod Bay. Beyond here, the trek began to ascend. A Kea bird hopped along the trek. It was not intimidated and came close to us. Kea is the only alpine parrot and native to NZ.  As we climbed through the forest, unexpectedly, the trek passed on a narrow ledge along limestone formations. Under one of these limestone bluffs, we stopped for lunch. There were uninterrupted views of the valley below, although through hazy weather. Later, we climbed higher along the trek assisted with a series of wooden steps. Lichen and old man’s beard appeared on tree trunks and branches. It created an eerie forest-scape. We emerged out of the forest and passed the tree line. I was taken by surprise but was ecstatic to see the golden tussock grass field. I felt uplifted as the sun shined amidst the light rain. Strong cold wind began to blow in this open field. Wind speed up to 80km per hour. Temperature plummeted to about 5 degrees C, I thought. As I ascended, Te Anau basin in the valley came into view. Another delightful surprise, a beautiful rainbow had formed. Lee Cheng and I felt like kids running around and admiring the beauty before us. The weight of the pack seemed to have dissipated. As we progressed, bog fields began to appear. The path turned into wooden board walks to get us across without getting our feet wet. After one final turn, we could see Luxmore Hut (1085m) perched on the hill. As we approached the hut, it began to snow lightly intermittently. Temperature further plummeted to below zero.

alpine tussock grass

I enjoyed the views of the South Fiord of Te Anau Lake and beyond it the snow-covered Murchison Mountains in the north. On the east – the Snowdon and Earl Mountains. Within minutes of arriving in the hut, it began to snow heavily. Some, including myself rushed out to feel it on our skins. It was probably the ‘icing’ on a ‘mixed’ weather today. Half an hour later, I was out of the cold wind but not the views of the wonderful golden tussock grass field. The dining room was a hive of activity with hikers having a hot drink, some getting into their dinner and like us, just wanted to rest a while. The warmth from the fire place aided to our well-being. We have had rain, sun, snow and icy wind. We had walked 13.8 km in 6 hours, as estimated by the DOC. This only day 1.

Luxmore Hut

 


 

Day 2 (02/04/19) – Luxmore Hut – Iris Burn Hut (14.6km)

I got out of the bunk bed around 0730. I did not bother getting my boots on. With a woolen socks and slippers, I ventured outside. It was freezing. However, the low clouds were bright and the sun still below the horizon. I walked away from the hut and climbed a series of wooden steps to get some elevation. The South Fiord of Te Anau Lake was gleaming like a sheet of glass with glowing clouds reflected off it. A crescent moon and a satellite glowed in the dark sky.  The Murchison Mountain was just a silhouette. Around 0815, the sun broke above the eastern mountains and the lit up the tussock grasses to a golden hue. The peaks of the faint lightly snow-covered Murchison Mountains glowed with a pinkish hue. The panoramic view was very uplifting indeed. Kea birds call could be heard when a couple flew past the hut.

sunrise at hut

After breakfast, we packed up. We decided to check out the nearby Luxmore Cave. I walked up the wooden steps and noticed that the water was still frozen. At the top of the mountain, the expansive views of greenish Te Anau Basin emerged with the Snowdon and Earl Mountains in the background. In the nearby valley, small water bodies, tarns, gleamed in the morning light.  It was wet inside the cave and only spent a few minutes. The walk here was the highlight.

Back at the hut, a helicopter had just delivered a few passengers and quickly returned to Te Anau. This is an expensive way to get here and save walking in the rain, snow and wind for six hours. Where is the fun in it? Our next stop is Iris Burn Hut, an estimated six hours away. The wind had died down and the weather promised to be good. I find that the wind and cold can be managed but the rain can be depressing. We left around 1000 and the walk was uphill but not steep as the day 1. The low clouds started to move upwards as the warmed up. The South Fiord and Murchison Mountains was still visible amidst the moving clouds. We came across a tarn surrounded by golden tussock grasses.

The trek now was cut on the slopes of mountains and ridges. Avalanche signage advice on the eminent dangers during the winter and spring (between May to October) seasons. I could see the trek snaking along the slopes on a golden carpet. However, the trek itself was well laid with crushed gravel. Orange markers indicate the trek paths. The winds started to pick up. Around 1130, we reached the base of Luxmore summit. We dropped our packs and climbed up a steep mountain with loose rocks and gravel. At the rocky summit (1472m), there were fantastic 360 degrees views of the lakes, glacial gauged valleys, snow topped mountain ranges including Jackson Peaks, Kepler Mountains and Murchison Mountains.  We seem to be floating surrounded by dense hanging clouds. Pocket of tarns reflected dimly on this partially clouded day. The wind here was cold and had a little bite, but manageable. Kea birds hopped around the base of the mountain fluttering their colorful wings as they flew.

The tops of the mountains were now covered with short golden tussock grasses and flowering alpine plants hugging onto the windblown slopes. Evergreen trees grew abundantly on the lower slopes just above a no name lake. Winds up to 20 km per hour began to blow. Today’s trek is quite exposed. This can be a dangerous area when strong winds and rainfall combined with snowfall. Particularly walking along steep slopes and high ridges. It can become extremely cold and poor visibility. We are lucky today. The views of the lake and surrounding mountains was fantastic. We reached Forest Burn Shelter around 1245. This is an emergency shelter and perhaps a good place for lunch. It was crowded and a little noisy for our liking. We continued and found a great spot on a rock overlooking a blue lake surrounded by evergreens and snowy peaks. Time, 1315, for some lunch.

 

 

 

 

 

From here-on, the trek was on narrow ridges with steep drops on both sides. The immediate landscape was mainly shorter tussock grasses complimented with small hardy flowering shrubs. The mountain looked like a beige and sometimes golden carpet, depending on the light. We walked with the ebb and flow of the mountain ranges.  From here-on, the trek now cut across narrow mountain ridges. I can understand why walking on the ridges with strong winds and poor visibility can be dangerous. We are completely exposed to the elements. Fortunately, today the winds were ‘gentle’. It was cloudy but no rain. The temperature however was still low. Information given by the ranges on weather conditions must be heeded. Turning back may be the only option sometimes. Again, the importance of proper gear.

At every turn, there were panoramic views of the both Jackson Peaks and Murchison Mountains. We are actually trans versing Jackson Peaks. On the south west, the snowy peaks of Kepler Mountains rose majestically. We arrived at Hanging Valley Shelter around 1515. In case of emergencies, this shelter is in valuable. Fifteen minutes later, we walked along several tarns (alpine lakes).  Finally, I could get glimpses of Lake Manapouri in the distant valleys. We descended one ridge assisted with a series of wooden steps. This led us to a lookout point, around 1600. It was still cold but with a gentle breeze.

The tree line was just below this point. On the open slopes, long beige grasses swayed in the breeze while hardy green shrubs clung onto the rocky slopes. We had now left the mountain slopes and ridges and entered the forested areas. We were greeted by beech trees draped with old man’s beard and lime green lichens.  Green moss dominated the forest floor. However, my knees took a beating from the zig zag steep descent. I had to slow down. Fortunately, there were interesting spots to take my mind of the demanding trek. The trek followed a fast-flowing stream. With increased humidity, tree trunks and branches were covered in moss.  I felt like walking through a primordial forest. My aches forgotten for a moment taken over by imagination. Perhaps, the now extinct Moa bird, might just run past the stream. Perhaps, I am just plain tired!

Iris Burn River

There were tracks of fallen trees damaged from storm or landslides. It looked like a strong force. Only sounds of the water flowing and gently rustling of the leaves was heard. Suddenly, I heard flap of wings high above. They were from a couple of Wood Pigeon.  The feathers were colorful and was perched on a beech tree branch. I finally arrived at Iris Burn Hut located on a grassy filed around 1800. I was more relieved than delighted. No more walking for the day. Fortunately, the sun was still shining through a clearing in front of the hut. I had walked 8 hours on this leg (estimated as 6 hours). I was exhausted and normally would be happy to explore the area. A small path led towards Iris Burn River and another towards a waterfall with prospects of seeing the iconic Kiwi bird. Not today. Kea birds are notorious for investigating anything left outdoor. So, the ranger advised us to tie up our boots and hang them on hooks provided. The dining room was warm, although the fire place was not lit. A hot cup of coffee and boots off, I rested my weary legs. What’s for dinner?

Iris Burn hut

 

 

Day 3 (03/04/19) – Iris Burn Hut – Moturau Hut (16.2km)

It was a “warmer” night compared to the freezing temperatures at Luxmore Hut. My boots hung on hooks remained undisturbed by the naughty Kea birds. We left the hut around 0830. The air was still and cold. The morning sun was just touching the top of the nearby mountains. Immediately we entered the mixed forest. it was slightly dark under the tree canopies. A few birds were busy forging on the moist forest floor. In an open grassland, the sun lit up the nearby mountain peaks. Lichen dominated the rocks scattered around on the narrow valley floor. Frost covered the grasses surfaces. Together with the lichen, long grasses with flowing inflorescence added some color to the otherwise green landscape. Tall beech trees dominated the mountain slopes while a dense cold fog hung just above the ground. A tomtit bird surveyed the area from a shrub, common in this area. Interestingly, numerous white silk nest of an unknown resident was bound onto these shrubs. I reckon it was the work of spiders.

We re-entered the forest. Moss grew abundantly onto tree trunks, branches and the ground. The trek continued along the Iris Burn River. Some of the scenery were amazing, the combination of structural beech trees, some in autumn colors, and the Iris Burn River in the foreground. The rocks on the river covered in green moss. It looked like a painting. Along the trek, I found a variety of fungus – red, orange, purple and beige. Some on tree branches and mostly on the moist and spongy sphagnum moss that seem to dominate the forest floor. Sweet birdsong accompanied us most of the way. Sunlight penetrated through the dense canopy creating shafts of light. This created an interesting and dramatic effect in the forest. I was just happy to get some light on my skin to warm up in the still cold and moisture laden air.

 

We reached a shelter around 1145 along the river. This was our lunch stop. A signage indicated the there is another 3 hours to Moturau Hut. Not to despair as my legs were still strong. As we progressed, the mossy forest floor gave way to ground ferns. A mixed forest began appearing. Broad leaf’s and shrubs with red and orange fruits appeared sporadically. Our hunt for diminutive fungus continued. Through a board walk, we emerged out of the forest onto the shores of Lake Manapouri. Half an hour later, we arrived at Moturau Hut around 1530. The sun shined brightly onto the lake and the hut.

I later ventured onto the shore and into the cold water. It was an opportunity to wash up after going two days without a shower. Within minutes, I was out and sunning myself. It was bliss. Time for a cup of coffee and put my feet up. Lee Cheng was yearning for some hot and spicy noodles. A fellow hiker was just cooking some up. She approached him and was just happy to share as he was trying to finish up his food stocks. Happy to help mate! In trying times like this, little experiences are blissful. I returned to the shores of Lake Manapouri to catch the last rays of the day. Later, we settled down for dinner and a talk by the local ranger. He gave us a passionate talk about the incidents, accidents and people whom contributed to the well-being of Lake Manapouri. Thanks to them, we can appreciate its beauty today. Still no screeching calls of the elusive Kiwi bird.

sunset on the shores of Lake Manapouri

 


 

Day 4 (04/04/19) – Moturau Hut – Rainbow Reach (6km)

Sleeping in huts are usually uncomfortable for me. Being a light sleeper, every movements, snoring, conversations in close proximity and opening and shutting of door keep me awake. All the huts in this trek is no exception. Yes, perhaps it helps to invest in a set of ear plugs. However, today, most of the hikers including us got up early. The reason, to catch the 1000 bus at Rainbow Reach that would transport us back to Te Anau. This is one option on the final leg of this trek. The full trek would take us all the way to the Control Gates and thereon to Te Anau ( an additional 9.5 km, about 4 hours walk). This extra 9.5 km is mentioned as ‘uneventful’ as it hugs the Waiau River and the scenery is monotonous. Personally, we thought after walking 52.6 km, it was enough for the weary legs!

Day 4

We left early at 0730 and the hut was a hive of activity. I think nearly all hiker had similar plans. It was still dark and had to turn our head torches. We immediately entered the wooded forest. Only the trek was lighted as we walked past silhouettes of trees. Half an hour later, we arrived at Shallow Bay on the shores of Lake Manapouri. There was a 180 degree views of mountains and islands including Kepler Mountains, Jackson Peaks, Mt Luxmore, Iris Burn and lots more.  Paradise ducks swam peacefully in the cold water. The sky was laden with thick dense swirling clouds. We took in the cold beauty of this bay. It really is a sight to behold. Suddenly, streak of filtered sunlight burst through and hit the peaks of the cold mountains. The natural beauty now was further enhanced. We were just mesmerized by the natural beauty before us today. The lake, however, remained calm. There were no sand flies here like the beach at Motorau Hut. Insect repellent is definite essential on this trek especially on the lake’s shoreline.

Wetlands

There was another 1.15 hours to Rainbow Reach. It was 0835. The trek soon exited the forest into a wetland – Amoeboid Mire ( an interesting and new word for me). It is a bog dominated with sphagnum moss and a variety of shrubs. A board walk took us towards the large tarn (pool of water) in the middle of a mire (or marsh). Part of the Lord of the Rings was short here – the Dead Marshes!

The barren summit of Mt Luxmore is quite visible from here. Back on the main trek, is a large and a sapling of a Rimu tree. This is certainly a mixed forest including Podocarps, Beech and broadleaf. It varied from the forests at the beginning of the trek at the Control Gates. Here, with the assistance of a elder trekker, he identified Miro, Beech, Lancelot, and Totara trees. The forest is further complimented with lichens, moss and ground ferns.  A solo female runner zipped past us with just water bag strapped to her back. These are the hardy runners training for the Kepler Challenge – a tough marathon that starts and finishes  at the Control Gates ( 60.1 km race). I saw a couple on day 2, near the summit of Mt Luxmore. Hardy souls! This year’s challenge is on December 7 and the race completed just under 5 hours!! Amazing, a testament of human endurance.

bridge over Waiau River, near the end -Rainbow Reach

We crossed a dry stream via a wire suspension bridge. soon after, the trek followed the terraces of the fast flowing Waiau River. We had finally reached the swing-bridge at Rainbow Reach. Time was 0950.  The transport shuttles were already waiting for the last few trekkers to arrive. We lingered on for a while, unloaded our packs off our weary bodies  and we were off back to Te Anau promptly at 1000.

Back at Te Anau, the weather turned from cloudy to light rain. To our delight, our accommodation had a spa which we indulged after dinner. Great for the tired legs and time to reminisce on the 52.6 km  trek we had completed. Te Anau is a great place to unwind. Kepler Trek is an iconic trek in the Fiordlands for its unique environment, varied landscape, wildlife and flora, and its unpredictable weather. It is indeed a great privilege to witness the magic of New Zealand for those whom venture.

Te Anau Lake view

 

Hiking the Abel Tasman Coastal Track

Table of Contents

Day 1 – Marahu to Anchorage
Day 2 – Anchorage Bay to Bark Bay
Day 3 – Bark Bay to Awaroa
Day 4 – Awaroa to Whariwharangi Bay
Day 5 – Whariwharangi Bay to Totaranui via Separation Point

Day 1, Nov 23, 2018 – Marahu to Anchorage (12.4km)

Departed Nelson at 7am with the temperature around 7°C. This weeks’ weather in the South Island is unusual, meaning some bad weather is round the corner and may affect our track. We were prepared for it with appropriate gear. Arrived at Marahu by shuttle bus from Nelson around 8am. Once all the paper work was sorted at DOC office, we handed over our packs to be transported by water taxi. We were off around 8.30 am on our coastal track which started immediately opposite the office. It began as a cool day with strong shine just edging over the lush green mountains.

Day 1- Marahu to Anchorage
Day 1- Marahu to Anchorage

The track is well defined and started as wooden planks over a marsh. Today’s hike would take us about 4 hrs covering 12.4 km. A few kayaks on the water off Tinline Bay. Took a detour towards Tinline Nature Walk. Native bush with small but fast flowing streams. Arrived at secluded and a little stony Apple Tree Bay around 11 am.  The sun shined brightly. Across the water are smaller Fisherman and Adele islands. It was a beautiful day. Walking amongst the native bush, mainly beech forest and kanuka tress, was exhilarating. Silver and black tree ferns provided variety in the bush. The track meandered inland mainly under the canopy of trees. It offered shade. The gradient was gentle, suitable to most average hikers.  Detoured towards Pitt Head. Fantastic view of emerald green and turquoise water of bays, beaches and coves. Water taxis and boats shuffled around transporting people, kayaks and luggage to various spots along a wonderful coast. Something unusual was, there is no wind at all. On the water, not even a ripple! Avid kayakker’s paddled gently on the blue – green waters. As we approached Anchorage, the tall tree canopy gave way to shrubs as we climbed uphill. Here, it offered 360 degrees view of water and mountains. Finally, we arrived at beautiful Anchorage Bay around 2pm.

Day 1- Marahu to Anchorage

An inviting crescent golden sand beach lay before us. The beach was crowded with trampers and mostly day trippers via water taxis. On the water, boats and kayaker were busy. We picked up our pack from the beach. Our hut was cozy and with 24 bunk beds. From here, headed to Cleopatra Pool. The light on the water along the way was amazing. It was unbelievably clear. The refreshing pool had a natural slide (perhaps for slimier and smaller bodies).  The water was cold. The return walk was 1.5 hrs.

Day 1- Marahu to Anchorage


At dinner time, I was quite excited to cook with my newly purchased pots and stove. All the huts on this track only provide shelter, a bed and mostly unpurified water. No showers nor power either. There was a camaraderie amongst the hikers. Most were foreigners. Later in the cloudy evening, I strolled on a empty beach only to the sound of water gently lapping on the shore. Still no breeze.

Day 2, Nov 24, 2018 –  Anchorage Bay to Bark Bay (8.7km)

After a quick breakfast, we left calm Anchorage Bay around 0630. The sun was just peeking through thick clouds. Oyster catchers and cormorants were the only residents on the beach. The reason for the early departure is to walk across Torrent Bay Inlet at low tide. This would save us an hour’s hike on the high tide track (11.7km). Therefore, when planning to hike in the park, knowledge on tide time is critical especially on Day 4, across Awaroa Bay Inlet. There is no high tide track.

Day 2 – Anchorage to Bark Bay
Day 2 – Anchorage to Bark Bay

There is an open expanse of sand and mud at Torrent Bay Inlet. A stream of water flowed out to sea that must be negotiated. Probably from Cleopatra’s Pool and Torrent River. At places, it was just below my knee. We waded through the inlet in about 20 minutes. That led us through a quiet Torrent Village. They were perhaps holiday homes. It was a substantial village. From here-on the track meandered inland passing through several streams. The lush forest kept hiking cool.

Day 2 – Anchorage to Bark Bay

Around 9am, we crossed a wonderfully clear Falls River via a suspension bridge. Sunken logs clearly visible under water with old man’s beard (lichen), hung off trees on the river banks. Towards the later part of the track, it drizzled lightly. It became darker under the trees, shrubs and tree ferns canopy. Having left early this morning meant we arrived early at our hut at Bark Bay, around 1115. It was high tide. Collected out pack from the beach near the camp sites. It was slightly wet from the late afternoon drizzle. Bark Bay hut had 34 bunks.  I took a quick cold shower, courtesy from a hose. Time for some lunch and rest. The day stayed gloomy and the sky grey. The resident DOC staff, Phill, was a humorous guy with lots of information and wise cracks. We managed to get a ‘private room’.

Day 2 – Anchorage to Bark Bay


It became routine to start dinner early. Lights through solar power lit the dining room intermittently. I had packed some miso with noodles and rice with ready to eat Indian meals. As per day 1, there were lots of meal sharing. Some of us had packed too much food. I strolled out to the bay, at low tide, walked across soft sandy beach. Some hiker had collected mussels off the rocky coast for dinner! Still, there was no wind! The surrounding forest was still as it was well sheltered. Early to bed but no need to catch the low tide the next day. Both low tide and high tide tracks took about the same time to walk. Sleep in huts is never easy as hikers sleep in close proximity. Ear plug might be a solution.

Day 3, Nov 25, 2018 –  Bark Bay to Awaroa (13.5 km)

Sleep was partial in the hut. Breakfast was chapati with condensed milk and coffee, carbohydrates for the morning walk. From the hut, I could barely make out the orange signage indicating the low tide track. All along the track, there are signage and markers (triangular or round), especially along the coastal track. The track is well maintained. We left around 0730. Deposited our packs on the beach for collection by water taxi to our next stop, Awaroa. We took the high tide track, which led inland.  The day was cloudy but no rain or wind. The air was muggy and cool under the coastal forest canopy. A sea of Manuka trees and tree ferns hindered views of the sea.

Day 3 – Bark Bay to Awaroa
Day 3 – Bark Bay to Awaroa

Crossed the Waterfall Creek via another suspension bridge. Water swiftly flowed over boulders towards the sea. Along the track, you would see yellow wasp traps and other traps set up by DOC. We eventually descended towards Tonga Quarry. Little remains of the granite quarry reminded us of past settlers’ life. Across the water, Tonga Island. Now, seals had taken refuge here. After another bush walk, views of idyllic Onetahuti Beach emerged. Rocky outcrops, emerald green water and golden sand beach made it an inviting proposition. Kayaks laid on the beach. A great place for lunch.

Day 3 – Bark Bay to Awaroa

We continued crossing a Maori bridge and an all tide crossing boardwalk. This diversion meant, no more waiting for the tidal crossing on Onetahuti Beach. From the beach, it is uphill walk into the Tonga Saddle. We reached a signage, Awaroa Lodge and Awaroa Hut. We head towards Awaroa Lodge as our packs are deposited at Awaroa Beach, next to the lodge. This is private land, a non-DOC track. If the timing for a low tide crossing is possible, take this track. Perhaps have some tea and lunch at the Lodge while waiting for the tide to drop. We arrived around 1200, collected our packs but made a ‘big’ decision. Although we had bookings at Awaroa Hut, we decided to stay at the lodge for the night. Hot shower and a fancy meal. A little indulgence to sample all of Able Tasman Park. There is a pizza outlet as well. Stunning Awaroa Beach was recently passed on from private to public ownership through crowd funding. Water taxis collected and dropped off passengers, day trippers and lodge customers. A big day tomorrow, to cross the Awaroa Inlet. There is no high tide option!

Day 3 – Bark Bay to Awaroa

Nearby, there is a small grassy airstrip to bring the well-to-do customer to the lodge. Planes have been flying in and out throughout the day. Finally, the ‘unusual’ weather that hit South Island descended on us. At dinner time, it poured heavily, and it continued through the night. We carefully packed all our packs as from here-on, there is no public water taxi service.  At least, a comfortably bed tonight.

Day 4, Nov 26, 2018 – Awaroa to Whariwharangi Bay (16.9 km)

We woke up to the sound of rain. Today is critical that we cross the Awaroa Inlet at low tide. There is no other option. Bags water proofed, rain gear on (including a poncho) and with a spirit of adventure, we headed out towards Awaroa Hut. We left around 0630. Low tide crossing can be made with two hours on either side of the lowest level. Need to make allowances for the main crossing, that would take about 30 minutes. . First, we walked on the grassy airstrip. We could all be easily sported with our bright rain coats. The first crossing is a river crossing. Then onto the beach towards the hut. We stopped at the hut to make breakfast and a sense of ‘comradeship’ developed as we met other fellow hikers on the same route. In a short time friendship is bonded. Everyone was preparing for the low tide crossing. We packed and headed out around 0745. High tide would come in around 0830. Bare footed, we walked across fast flowing streams from ankle to knee depth. Beware of crustaceans and soft mud. Low cloud hung over nearby mountains. There was a breeze.

Day 4 – Awaroa to Whiriwharangi

Once across, we scrambled in the, fortunately, light rain to get our boots on. Tree canopies provided shelter from the rain until Waiharakeke Bay. We were exposed to the elements. The sea was a little rough. I had packed too much, and it began to weigh on me. Eventually, we arrive at Totaranui around 1100. This seems to be a hub of activities. Camping grounds, road transport to Takaka and Nelson is available plus water taxi service.  Tomorrow, we will return to Totaranui to catch a water taxi back to Marahu. There is also a museum about Able Tasman National Park.  It was a little reprieve from the continued rain. In a designated hut, we prepared lunch. However, watch out the mischievous Weka birds that has affinity to anything packaged. Food basically. Please do not feed the Weka as there is plentiful in the surrounding area.

We took the high tide track pass historic Ngarata Homestead and re-entered the forest. There is an alternate route via the Gibbs Track. Soon we were descending again towards the coast at Anapai Beach.  The rain ceased around 1300. It was a relief. It was a long track on the beach and hike inland again to dense forest. There were great views of Anapai Beach.  We then crossed several hills and passed a grassy field towards an orange triangular track marker to Mutton Cove. This is a camping site. The sea was still rough. From this point, we head inland and direct route to Whiriwharangi Hut.

Day 4 – Awaroa to Whiriwharangi

The climb was uphill. There is a great viewpoint looking down at the bays and rugged coastline. From her-on is downhill, which pleased me. We arrived at this 1896 Whiriwharangi Bay Hut around 1645. The hut has 20 bunk beds. There was a sense of ‘having arrived’ at the hut. There was laughter and warmth from the fireplace. Now we can truly appreciate the walk, the landscape and the eco-system with time on our hands. We removed all the wet gear and footwear to dry out. Time to unwind with a nice hot cup of condensed milk coffee. Later, a proper but cold shower. From here, hikers may depart to Wanui (and onward road transport) or like us back to Totaranui. It has been a long day. Our final meal prepared on my no-so new pots and stove.

Day 4 – Awaroa to Whiriwharangi

 

Day 5, 27 Nov, 2018 – Whariwharangi Bay to Totaranui via Separation Point (10.5 km)

Today is our last day of hiking. Returning to Totaranui to catch a water taxi back to Marahau and onward by shuttle to Nelson. It did rain last night but looks promisingly good this morning. I strolled the compound around 0600. A single Tui bird fed on nectar of a flax plant.

We left around 0830 and wandered around isolated Whariwharangi Bay. A gradual climb brought us to a junction. One path leads directly to Totaranui (later with another option, that is,via Gibbs Hill).  This is a better option if wanting to walk via Gibbs Hill and not the other way (ie Totaranui to Whiriwharangi via Gibbs Hill). The accent is difficult especially in wet weather. The second path is a detour via Separation Point. Today, we decided to head to Separation Point.

Day 5 – Whiriwharangi to Totaranui

[caption id="attachment_9864" align="alignleft" width="300"] Day 5 – Whiriwharangi to Totaranui

We came across many kill traps set up by DOC to get rid of introduced pest like rodents. Flowering Lupine can be found in small clusters. It was a gradual walk and from the hills, we had a fantastic view of Mutton Cove. On a narrow path we edged towards Separation Point around 1000. The water was absolutely clear. At the bottom of the rocky beach, fur laid sunning on the rocks while some swam happily in the water. On a steep path, I descended to the edge of this rocky outcrop. Lots of flax, prickly plants and gorse bushes along the path. Besides seal, gannets also make this isolated place home, when in season. Beyond this point is the Tasman Sea.

We retraced our walk steep uphill climb and back inland. Soon we were back on the sandy coast, Mutton Cove. We had to negotiate some rocky outcrops to proceed. A giant male seal choose to rest on the rocks. Carefully, with one eye on the seal and the other on the shifting rock, we managed to continue out track along the coast. Soon we found the familiar Anapai Beach.

Day 5 – Whiriwharangi to Totaranui

Finally, we arrived at Totaranui around 1330. We rested at the museum and waited for our water taxi pick-up. Plenty of sand-flies. We boarded at 1500. It was a fantastic and smooth ride. We stopped over at Tonga and Adele Islands. A small colony of fur seal had taken refuge here. The whole boat was loaded onto a tractor-trailer and hauled back to Marahu. Arrived at around 1630. After a long day, we returned to the comforts of a modern apartment in Neslon.

The Able Tasman National Park is managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC). There is plentiful of information and booking opportunities on-line. Huts must be booked in advance to avoid disappointments during peak seasons. This track is open all year round (no snow in the coastal region, yet!) Water taxis are at your convenience which enable you to get into the park at various destinations and time spent. Insect repellent is advised to keep sand flies in check. Travel light with all-weather gear, food and cooking utensils (including stove). Beware of the tidal timings as it may be crucial for onward travel (especially when no high tide alternative track is not available). Daily information is updated in all the huts by the rangers. Talk to them as they are local with wealth of information. Enjoy the spectacular tidal change, lagoons, fast flowing streams, isolated cove, native forest, emerald-green and turquoise water and beautiful golden sand beaches. Throw in the birds and wild life, Able Tasman Coastal Track is simply amazing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Able Tasman Coastal Track

5 day hike on the Able Tasman Coastal Track in November 2018. Stared at Marahu and finished at Totaranui. Then returned to Marahu by water taxi. Beautiful lagoons, lush native forest, emerald green and turquoise water, tidal inlets, wild life, creeks and rivers and lots more.

Banks Peninsula Trek, Akaroa

A group of us made this 29km  in Akaroa Banks Peninsula 3-day trek , off Christchurch, in April 2018. This trek is on private property and permits only 12 persons a day. Porter service is available. It consists mainly farmland, spectacular cliffs and native forest (with a diverse flora) with the trek meandering mainly along the rugged coastline of the Pacific. It had all the seasons plus fierce winds and rain. Small seal colonies nest on the craggy coast. Bird life is abundant. Even caught sight of a Wood Pigeon. The elements were a challenge but rewarded with ever-changing and fantastic views. Life in the hut is basic but comfortable. Some basic food is available, on an honesty basis. Cooking and resting our weary legs in front of the fireplace was soothing. With good company, it was a wonderful trek taking in remote and isolated southern coast of NZ.