Tag Archives: New Zealand

New Plymouth photos

These are photos of our July 2020 New Plymouth journey. This is my first travel to Taranaki. My image of this city is farmland, dairy cows and Mt Taranaki. I managed to see this image after descending from our Puoakai Crossing hike in glorious sunset light.

Please read my Things to do in New Plymouth

Things to do in New Plymouth, New Zealand

Things to do in New Plymouth

We spent five days exploring New Plymouth, on the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand, and its surroundings. Here are some of the highlights :

(1)    Sugar Loaf Islands
(2)    Back Beach
(3)    Mt Taranaki
(4)    White Cliffs
(5)  Tongaporutu
(6)  Coastal Walkway
(7)    Pukekura Park
(8)    Fitz Roy and Bell Block beaches
(9)    Paritutu Rock
(10) New Plymouth City
(11) Hiking the Pouakai Crossing Track.

See my  New Plymouth photos

(1) Sugar Loaf Islands

Beach-Sugar Loaf Islands

Off the coast near Taranaki Port, lies is a collection of islands – remnants of an ancient volcanic crater. In the past, these islands were used for mining, fishing and hunting. These eroded, now, uninhabited sea stacks and five islands (Mataora, Motuotamatea, Pararaki, Motumahanga and Moturoa) form the Sugar Loaf Islands (Ngā Motu). The rest of the coastline is exposed to the wild sea. Below the water – reefs, cliffs and canyons attract a variety of marine creatures. On the protected islands, is the domain of birds and mammals. The “sugar” is the bird guano that used to be collected from these islands.

There is a wonderful view point just past Paritutu Rock on the coastal road towards Oakura. A wooden step can be used to descend onto the beach (Back Beach). Just be aware of the tide. Today’s wet, windy and cloudy weather was challenging.

For information, please refer to DoC – Sugar Loaf Islands

(2) Back Beach

Beach-Sugar Loaf Islands

After I abandoned my walk along the Coastal Walkway, I drove to the port and to Paritutu Rock. The sky was dark and the rain continued. I abandoned the idea of climbing. The port was busy with incoming truck mostly loaded with pine logs. We continued out drive southbound to a lookout, at Paritutu Centennial Park, of the Sugar Loaf Islands. I noticed some people walking on the black sand beach below. The waves were still pounding onto its shores but the tide was receding. I continued to drive further south and eventually found a car park, close to a beach. This is Back Beach.

I was quite excited to walk on this beach. The roar of the waves was furious but a narrow patch of beach was exposed. The sand was still soaked in sea water. The wet and cold wind made walking uncomfortable. We weaved past rocky outcrops and avoided our feet from getting wet. Although, dark a gloomy, the sight of the Sugar Loaf Islands was inspiring. I could almost walk across. Paritutu Rock , like a sentinel overlook these scattered rock islands. With the poor weather, I decided to return later. Hopefully, the weather would improve.

Beach-Sugar Loaf Islands

I returned later around 1530. The beach was flat, wide and the sea calmer. several local people walked their dogs here. It stretched for a 2 – 3 kilometres. I loved the open space knowing that this space is only temporary before the tide come in. A great spot for jogging, I thought. There was a beauty about today’s dark landscape. With the ebb and flow of the tides, the sand shifted constantly. Wonderful glossy sheen sculptured patterns were created and never repeated. Occasionally, when the sun managed to shine through, the trapped sea water reflected like a glass. In the distant, over the water, a funnel of rain poured. All the islands were just silhouettes on the horizon. More sea stacks were exposed. Suddenly, the sun broke through. It lit up Paritutu Rock. The outlook was transformed. The colours of the volcanic black sand beach and Sugar Loaf Islands changed with the shifting storm clouds. I stayed for the impending sunset under a bleak weather. It fizzled out. I left as the tide was beginning to come in at 1700.

(3) Mt Taranaki
This was my first visit to New Plymouth. The major draw card was near perfect conical and symmetrical – Mt Taranaki (similar to Mt Fuji). My mental picture of Taranaki region is dairy cows on a pasture with snowy peak of Mt Taranaki looming in the background. I had flown over Mt Taranaki several times and was mystified as the base is dark green disk shaped. As though someone had drawn a circle to demarcate Taranaki’s boundaries. Beyond that boundary of forest tress lies the lighter green pastures of dairy farms.

Taranaki

When we arrived at Stratford, it rained and visibility was poor. This continued all the way to New Plymouth. I could sense the base of the mountain though. On a clear day, at 2518 meters, Mt Taranaki is visible from almost anywhere in the region. In Māori, ‘tara’ means mountain peak, and ‘naki’ is thought to come from ngaki, meaning shining, in reference to the snowy/icy upper slopes. A dormant free standing volcanic mountain with lush temperate rain forest of Kamahi and Totara at its lower base. With frequent rainfall, the forest tress are covered with liverwort, lichens and moss. Sometimes referred as ‘Goblin Forest’. Gradually transformed into alpine vegetation on its upper slopes. Beyond that, it is the bare.

Taranaki is not always seen as I had experienced. One day out of five! The reason is perhaps in legends – Taranaki rested here after fleeing from the central plateau. When the clouds covers the mountain, Taranaki is hiding his tears. Broken-hearted after losing – Pihanga, his lover.

I want to climb its slopes to the peak but certainly not in winter. Taranaki can be climbed by anyone. Hence lies the problem. Not everyone can summit this iconic mountain. I climbed Kilimanjaro 8 years ago and know its dangers. Poor physical, mental and attire – all contribute to bad decisions. For now, having hiked the wonderful Pouakai Crossing, on a clear sunny day, with my family, was comforting. I did manage to get ‘that iconic image of Taranaki’ that was in my mind, after I completed the Pouakai Crossing. There are several tracks in Egmont National Park.

For more information, please see DoC – North Egmont Walks , DoC – East Egmont Walks and DoC – Mt Taranaki Summit Track

(4) White Cliffs

White Cliffs

On our return from Tongaporatu to New Plymouth, we detoured towards a small village of Waiiti (reached from the main road via Pukearuhe Road). At the end of this road is the Pukearuhe boat ramp. This is the beginning of the White Cliffs Walkway. It was late evening, around 1700, when we arrived here. Beyond this ramp are private farmlands. The White Cliffs Walkway continued through the farmlands and beach walk , around 6.5km (return). Be aware of the tide as there is no exit along the beach. Today, it was closed due to lambing season.

Fortunately, the tide was still out and the sun just above the horizon. From the black sand beach, the soft white, brown and creamy cliffs towered above. Towards the north, a small water fall cascaded from above the cliff where the hardy vegetation steadfastly held on. Moss colonised the wet surface walls below. The constant pounding of Tasman Sea eroded the soft walls. In places, it looked like someone had cut the cliff wall with a knife. It is all temporary and a matter of time before the landscape is changed forever.

White Cliffs


We stood at the river mouth amongst wet shifting sand and rounded rocks. The white wall extended south. The cloudy sky created some dramatic coastal views at sunset. Within 30 minutes, dusk engulfed this wild coastline against a surreal but captivating horizon. The surrounding landscape became gloomy and dark.

Refer to DoC – White Cliffs Walkway

(5) Tongaporutu

Tongaporatu

We arrived at Tongaporatu at 1400. I love planning and organising my travel. However, on this occasion, I callously failed to obtain one critical information – the tide timetable. We went past neat arranged wooden baches along the Tongaporatu River. Walked down into the shallow river over rounded rocks and black sand with puddles of silt. I could hear the ocean nearby. At the river mouth, water flowed out fast and was impossible to get across.  The glittering and velvety black sand was inviting. Fortunately, the tide was just going out. As a guide, two hours before and two hours after the low tide is the safest option to walk in this beach. Beware, if the weather is stormy, take caution as the waves can reach the cliffs. There is nowhere to go.

Tongaporatu

Soft limestone coastal cliffs, layered with hues of brown, beige, orange and cream, held their ground but losing everyday from the continuous lashing of waves of the Tasman Sea. Cliff walls have been stripped and battered to create dramatic sculptures with each ebb and flow of the tides. The sea was calm but the sky was dark and rain was imminent. Towards the south, the cliffs with prominent sculptured caves, archways, stacks and islets that resembled pinnacles, separated from the parent cliffs. Far beyond that, Mt Taranaki, apart from its wide base, remained obscured. The receding sea glowed and reflected the cliffs and cloudy sky. It was an incredible. It was addictive. It was captivating. It was picturesque. I was lost – what to see and where to go.

Tongaporatu

Over time, with natures creations – the locals began naming these eroded stacks – famously the Elephant Rock and Three Sisters. Due to the constant natural erosion, the elephant’s trunk and one of the sisters had disappeared into the sea. However, this phenomenon had also created newer forms of arches, caves and perhaps another pinnacle. The views constantly changed as I walked around. I even saw four pinnacles at one point! Therefore, the allure of this dynamic and spectacular coastline will never cease.

Further north along the coastal road is a small village of Mokau. At the right time, whitebait fritters are dished out in the two cafes’ here.

(6) Coastal Walkway

Coastal Walkway

At 0730, it promised to be a dry day in contrast to the weatherman. One of the delightful things to do in New Plymouth is walking along the 13km paved Coastal Walkway, from Port Taranaki to Bell Block Beach. It was close to my accommodation. The rising sun was obscured by dense black clouds casting a dark shadow on Fitz Roy Beach in the east. Tasman Sea pounded onto its black sand beach. In the west, I had clear views of the port, Paritutu Rock and two Sugar Loaf Islands.

Coastal Walkway


The sun reflected strongly from a nearby glass clad building. Unexpectedly, a rainbow developed above the water as the visibility of the islands gradually deteriorated. Extraordinarily, another rainbow developed. It was stunning. The situation was very fluid. Pleasantly, a 180° rainbow evolved. The islands had disappeared. Then , the inevitable happened. The havens opened up and it rained. The weatherman got it right. I had only walked 0.5 km. It was 0800.

One evening, on the south, sunset views of Paritutu Rock and Sugar Loaf islands is rewarding.

(7) Pukekura Park

Pukekura Park

This 52 ha. delightful and premier botanical garden, established in 1876, is in the middle of New Plymouth. It rained this morning and the gloomy cloudy day continued. It was quite refreshing walking amongst lush vegetation accompanied with birdsong. Many sections with themes and features like fernery, Japanese inspired gardens, tea house, bridges and lakes is inspiring.  it is a great place to wander at leisure. A place of learning as well as relaxing. A people’s park indeed.

(8) Fitz Roy and Bell Block beaches

Fitz Roy Beach

At low tide, walking along this black sand beaches is uplifting. As the sea water breaks just meters away, the sound is soothing. Drift wood, rounded rocks of different shapes and sizes, and people are fascinating to look at.

(9)  Paritutu Rock

Beach-Sugar Loaf Islands


Paritutu Rock, overlooking the busy Taranaki port  on the mainland, act a sentinel over the Sugar loaf islands. I arrived here in rain and the track uphill was soaked. I decided not to climb it today. The climb is uphill and steep. Can be tricky in wet and windy weather. howvever, it promised a fantastic vies of the sea, land and Mt Taranaki. If the weather gods are kind.

(10) New Plymouth City

City

Located on the west coast of north island, it is a compact city. Surrounded by farmlands and the omnipresent Mt Taranaki. It is not a “tourist” town. I asked the locals where the people are? There are hardly any traffic, both people and vehicles. The residents seem to like its underdog status compared to the Tongariro Crossing (National Park) and Queenstown. There are no high rises along the coast. Yet, the coastline is a magnet for walkers, surfers and “to get away”. Personally, this town is overlooked by many as “it out of the way of the tourist trail”. The are street art, wonder and quaint cafes and eateries. A great place to retire too, I thought. Then, there is the interesting Len Lye building, amongst others. In mid-March, this sleepy town becomes alive with WOMAD (music) festival. If you are planning to to come here, why not take The Forgotten World Highway.

Taranaki region is gaining popularity through publicity by a major travel guide. The key question, however – is New Plymouth ready to cope with influx of visitors? Are they ready or want to change the look and  feel of the city? For now, I like it the way it is right now.

The Forgotten World Highway

One of New Zealand’s most scenic drives – the 155km long Forgotten World Highway (state highway 43), from Taumarunui to Stratford. It has also been labelled as one of the most dangerous roads.The road took 50 years to complete and was opened in 1945.

This scenic route winds over mountain saddles, spectacular gorges with lush native vegetation and refreshing rivers; a rock-cut tunnel; undulating hills and mountains with mainly sheep farming and historic settlements. The road was used by pioneer farmers and traders. Unexpectedly, intermittent distant views of the the snowy peaks of Taranaki, Ruapehu, Ngāuruhoe and Tongariro float above the green landscape. To accompany this lonely road is a rail track, now unused, that weaved alongside and through the mountains.

See my ……..  Forgotten World Highway photos

 

Tamaranui

We decided to take this route for our family road-trip from Auckland to New Plymouth. Taumaranui is a compact town with the main road separating the town and the railway tracks. We stocked up on food and importantly, as warned by several signage, to fill up the fuel tank. Heed the warning as there are no fuel stations for the next 150 km. This certainly indicated the highway’s remoteness.

Maori myth and legend on the Whanganui River –
Four brothers – Tongariro, Ruapehu, Taranaki and Ngauruhoe adored a lovely maiden – Pihanga. Eventually she choose Tongariro. However, Taranaki had an affair with her. A fierce battle ensued. In defeat, Taranaki fled to the west, gouging a deep scar. A clear stream from Tongariro flowed and filled the scar to heal – becoming the Whanganui River.
Whanganui River

We departed at midday with a dark overcast.  A highway information road sign indicated that the road to Stratford is open. It began alongside the fast flowing Wanganui River. The road twisted and turned along sheep farms and the river. A few farmers tended to their stock with dogs to assist. It was too early in the season for lavenders as we passed Lauren’s lavender field. At 1330, we arrived at Tangarakau Gorge. The next 16km is a windy and unsealed road. However, there is no difficulty with safe driving. This part of the drive is especially scenic – high cliff walls with dripping water, lush green tree ferns and evergreen broad leafs (podocarp forest) and a winding road.   Just past the refreshing Tangarakau River bridge is the rest stop. Not only for the travellers but also for Joshua Morgan – a pioneering surveyor in this road’s construction whom died here. His grave is resting amongst the bush, a short walk from the bridge.

Tangarakau Bridge

We detoured off the Highway into Moki Road towards one of new Zealand’s highest waterfalls – the Mount Damper Falls. The road wound through farmlands until we reached the end. The road continued further towards new Plymouth. The initial walk is over private farmlands and eventually through bush. The final walk is a series of wooden steps and two viewing platforms. The views were stunning. At 74m, it is quite spectacular against a barren gray wall. We retraced our 15km drive back towards the Forgotten Highway. Along this route, a farmer had rounded up his sheep and cramped together in the yard ready to enter the shed.

Moki Tunnel

The road continued its ebb (on the crest of the mountains) and flow  (in the valleys) with the undulating hills. The highway intersects with the Whanganui National Park. The old railway track appeared on the landscape. It too, like the road, wound itself around the contours of the mountains and sometimes through them. Sheep grazed on steep conical hills. The landscape sometimes seem unearthly. We passed through a 180-metre-long, single lane Moki tunnel. Also known as ‘Hobbit’s Hole’. It was cut by hand. On Tahora Saddle, there were fantastic views across the farmlands, hills and valleys including the glistening but partially obscured central plateau snow covered mountains – Mt Ruapehu and Mt. Tongariro. I loved the trees with some colourful autumn leaves still attached to the tress that lined the winding road.

We entered the self-declared Republic of Whangamomona, one of the North Island’s remotest townships. First settled in 1895, it still retained and looked like a frontier town. The centre of this historic town is the iconic Whangamomona Hotel. A must stop place to refuel the body. A wonderful place to stay as well. We stopped for scones and coffee. An adventure company, for a unique experience, operated from here to take tourists with modified golf carts on the old railway tracks to Stratford.

Light was fading fast. It rained intermittently too. We continued our wonderful drive over Whangamomona and Pohokura Saddles and passed through several small isolated collection of homesteads. The were very few vehicles on the road today. perhaps everyday. Winter may not be the best time to travel in these parts too. Several places offered camping sites and accommodations along the road. At Stratmore, there is a detour to see the Bridge to Somewhere. We did not. Our final uphill climb to overcome is the Strathmore Saddle. On a good day, unlike today, fantastic views of the snowy peaks of Ruapehu and the neighbouring mountains is visible from here.

Stratford

It was already twilight when we arrived at Stratford, named after Shakespeare’s birthplace, is a scenic town. With wet weather and light drizzle, there were no views of Mt Taranaki today. In the centre of the main street, a unique looking New Zealand’s only glockenspiel clock tower which performs scenes from Romeo and Juliet at certain times daily. Another iconic building is King’s Theatre. It has a unique cinematic history –  the first theatre in the Southern Hemisphere to play talking movies with sound. Furthermore, Stratford is ideally located as the gateway into the Egmont National Park. From here we headed to New Plymouth. We had taken about 5 hours to travel on the rugged, scenic and very nostalgic highway. This wonderful drive is a passage through a bygone era. A living museum piece indeed.

Several activities can be organised by operators including canoeing on the Whanganui River,  Cycling, Hiking and Rail Cart adventures.

 

 

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

Kepler Trek Fiordlands

Recently, I had just completed a 60km hike in one of the most beautiful landscapes – The Kepler Trek, Fiordlands, South Island, New Zealand.  It has one of the most diverse environment with rain-forest, alpine tussock grasses, high mountain lakes, mossy forest floor, beech forest, limestone bluffs, waterfalls, icy cold winds sometimes combined with snow, cozy huts, wildlife with opportunity see the iconic and endemic Kiwi and Takahe birds, huge fresh water lakes, mountain ranges and much more. All this in a 4- day trek. Beware, the fiordland is unpredictable – all four seasons in one day plus icy cold winds without request.

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.