On the 1st of March 2016 eleven of us embarked on walking the Hump Ridge Track. The Hump Ridge Track is located in the south east of Fiordland National Park, in the South Island of NZ. The track is about 56.5km in distance and is based in the Waitutu Forest which is park of the Fiordland National Park.
About 1800 walkers complete the track each year. The track was established in November 2001, with the initial cost for the project at $3,950,000. The track crosses Māori land and much privately owned land. The Tuatapere Hump Track Trust owns two lodges and over 20 km of board walk, although the Department of Conservation maintains the track along the coast and the Port Craig School Hut which is used for accommodation by those not staying in the Lodges.
We all met in Queenstown the day before and enjoyed a lovely lunch at Jack’s Point Golf Course and Restaurant just around the shores of Lake Wakatipu from Queenstown. Some of us had just finished a four day cycle trip in the Central Otago area while the rest of the group had flown into Queenstown specifically to do the Hump Ridge.
We had hired two Jucy rentals and drove in convoy to Tuatapere which is the closest town to the track. Tuatapere is about two and a half hours south of Queenstown. Tuatapere is a small rural town in Southland and is only 8km from the southern coast of NZ. The Waiau River flows through the town before reaching Te Waewae Bay, where it has its outflow into Foveaux Strait. The town has a population of about 600 and it’s main industries are forestry and farming.
We were booked into the Waiau Hotel for the night before starting the walk. It was basic but comfortable. We enjoyed a nice pub meal – blue cod – one of the perks of visiting the Deep South is the abundance of blue cod : ). An early night was in order as we wanted to make an early srart the next day. We all got our gear and food organised that night – this was the first multi day, self catering walk that some of us had done so we were all a bit apprehensive as to whether we had packed enough supplies of both food and clothing.
We awoke to a fairly cool and overcast day. The breakfast at the Waiau Hotel was great so we were off to a good start. We had to check in at the Hump Ridge Office and drop our packs off that were getting helicoptered up to the first hut. Our ‘pack’ consisted of a black rubbish bag with our food for the next two nights and days and our clothing and toiletries.
We then drove for twenty five minutes to the start of the track, parked our cars at the Rarakau car park and set off. We had a map and had been given instructions by the Hump Ridge staff.
The first part of the walk is through some bush and down a number of steps to the coast – note these are the same steps we will be coming back up on day three. The track is a loop and you actually re trace your steps for the first ten kilometres on day three. Everyone was in high spirits so the cool, cloudy weather didn’t put too much of a dampner on things. At Flat Creek you start going inland and it is very sheltered in the bush. The track was gradually ascending but you didn’t really notice it. We stopped at Water Bridge for lunch and to refill our water supplies from the stream using a string and pot system.
The next three kilometres after lunch started to ascend more steeply. The group got quite spread out but no one was ever on their own. It had also got a bit wetter and cooler. You had to climb over tree roots and pull yourself up – they had one kilometre markers for the last six kilometres and it seemed to take forever between markers. The deal was that when you reached a kilometre marker you yelled out to give the group’s behind you some motivation.
I had paired up with Danny on this section and we made good progress – we were a bit concerned about what those behind us were making of the terrain : 0. One of these being Steve. Steve had said to me not long after we entered the inland section of the walk “so is this what tramping is all about?”, I said “yes”, his response was ‘hhhmmm’. This was not boding well given we had to finish this day and back it for two more days!
Danny and I got to Stag Point and we had taken a couple of layers of clothing off climbing up to that point but we soon put them back on again – it was freezing. You can see the Lodge from Stag Point – it was a welcome sight. We discussed waiting for the others but decided we would get too cold so we carried on. We had heard that the last two kilometres were a killer and took quite a while so we powered on. We reached the one kilometre marker remarkably quickly and before we knew it we were at Okaka Lodge. I think a more accurate reflection of day one is that the first fifteen kilometres are fairly sedate with the next three and a half kilometres being the killers before the last two kilometres ease nicely into the Lodge.
Okaka Lodge sits at 900 metres above sea level. It was freezing – we couldn’t wait to have a hot shower. Some of the others had arrived before us so were in the shower queue already. You have a four minute time limit so the strategy is to get undressed, lather up and then turn the shower on so you can enjoy the full four minutes. Pete adopted this strategy only to find he was in the shower that didn’t work! Katrina, the Lodge Manager had forgotten to mention that we were down to one shower. This standing around naked certainly didn’t help Pete’s chest infection. By the time it was our turn we were well versed in how it all worked. I am sure the limit was longer than four minutes because I ended up turning the shower off before my time ran out. One of Steve’s bug bears at home is how long I take in the shower so maybe I am not too bad after all.
The rest of the group came in within an hour of us getting in and they were all in remarkably high spirits – I thought they may not have been happy with that climbing section but they all handled it very well. After our showers it was time to have a red wine by the fire and meet some of the others doing the Hump Ridge. There were a couple of Germans, Andrea, an Australian that we ended up doing quite a bit of walking with, an American and some fellow Kiwis. Everyone was very friendly and keen to share stories.
We had decided to send some steak, coleslaw and fresh buns up in the packs that came up by helicopter. We had a little issue with not having any oil to cook the steak with but luckily Robyn had an oversupply of butter along with a lot of other things 🙂 The original plan was to cook on the BBQ but the Lodge BBQ wasn’t in a good state and it was freezing outside. After a bit of umming and arrghing by the boys Kaz and I took control and cooked the steaks in the frypan inside. Never mind that we smoked out the kitchen! Dinner was good!
I had already decided that I was sleeping in my clothes – it was too cold to get changed. The Lodge provided hot water bottles which were a godsend. The beds were extremely comfortable too.
Katrina the Lodge Manager gave us a briefing for the next day as well as a forecast update. The forecast was looking good and she said if you want to see the sunrise and have a good view over the area then you should climb the loop track before sunrise which was about 7.15am.
Kaz, Sheree and I were the only ones to get up at the crack of dawn and walk up to the summit to see the sunrise. It was still freezing but the skies were clear – we were in for a nice day once that sun came up. It was absolutely magical up there – the scenery is amazing. It was well worth the trip.
After a breakfast of hot porridge and brown sugar we packed up and hit the track. The gist of today was a walk along the ridge line before starting our descent back to sea level through the enchanted forest and then along the old railway line. There was a clear blue sky and the vistas were spectacular – we were very fortunate with the weather because today was the day that you got to see the most. After the first ten kilometres on day one you were in the bush with no views so it didn’t matter that it was overcast.
The walk along the ridge line was fairly sedate. We stopped at Luncheon Rock for morning tea – the views over Fiordland and out to Stewart Island were great. The descent proved a bit more challenging as you negotiated trees and tree roots. It seemed to take forever to get to our lunch stop at the Edwin Burn Viaduct.
The Edwin Butn Viaduct is 50 metres long and 22 metres high. There are three large viaducts on this track. Between 1916 and 1928 these viaducts were part of the most ambitious milling project NZ had ever known. These viaducts were part of a 14km tramway that ran from the mill settlement at Port Craig (our accommodation location for the night) almost to the Wairaurahiri River. During the 1920’s Port Craig was the site of the largest and most modern sawmill in NZ. The Marlborough Timber Company employed over 200 men and produced up to 1,800 cubic metres of timber a month. The viaducts were constructed out of Australian hardwood to carry the tramlines over the ravines. By the time milling ceased in 1929, about 14 square kilometres had been logged.
Out of the three viaducts, the Edwin Burn Viaduct is the only one to stand on Maori land. The rights to construct on this land were granted by the then South Island Landless Natives Act of 1906. Today’s partnership between the Maori Trustee and the other stakeholders of this historic site requires respect from all users to safeguard the privilege of access.
The largest viaduct is the Percy Burn Viaduct which is 125 metres long and 36 metres high. It is thought to be one of the biggest wooden viaducts in the Southern Hemisphere. Unfortunately we had to climb down into the ravine and walk underneath it rather than crossing it. After coming back up onto the track we had about seven kilometres to go.
The Port Craig Mill closed in 1930. In 1937, when all hope of revitalising the timber milling enterprise had faded, most plant and equipment was removed including the tramline rails and points. The wooden sleepers, however, were left intact and remain a feature of the track.
These wooden sleepers along with the ‘dogs’ (pins keeping the sleepers in place) were set to haunt us for the next seven kilometres. The track was reasonably straight but inclined gradually We were getting tired and just wanted to be at the Lodge. I was walking with Robyn at the back but when I got to the four kilometre mark I just had to power on – I walked the last four kilometres in fifty two minutes avoiding the ‘dogs’ as best I could. I was very happy to reach the Lodge – day two had definitely been more physically demanding than day one.
Port Craig Lodge sits just above Mussel Beach. It was a nice setting and Sue the Lodge Manager was very friendly. Both showers were working, although because the temperature was remarkably warmer down here a hot shower wasn’t such an issue. Tonight we had the Kaweka boil in a bag meals for dinner which went down a treat. In chatting with Sue we learnt that the Hump Ridge Track is one of the harder tracks to do in NZ due to the distance you have to walk each day.
Most sources put the track between 55 and 63 km but several GPS tracked devices have measured it at 56.5 km (as of 2014). The exact length of the track is unknown because of several factors such as the method of measurement and path taken. At several points there is the option to walk via the beach, the track or a four-wheel drive track which can alter the distance. The distance may change because of the complex path up and down the mountain through trees and over roots which will vary depending on the walker. Mapping the distance on a map also does not give its true length as there are many changes in elevation. There are several side routes such as the loop track above Okaka Lodge and the beach at Port Craig which will add to the distance travelled. There is also an additional 300 metres from the car park to the start of the track.
On waking in the night and going to the toilet all I knew was that my calf muscles felt like they were going to explode. Given everyone else was asleep I couldn’t compare notes so did think that perhaps I had aggravated the calf tear I had done in October last year. As I hobbled to breakfast the next morning I was pleased to see that everyone else’s calf muscles felt the same.
After another breakfast on hot porridge and brown sugar we started our last day on the Hump Ridge. The track undulates gently through the bush although you can see glimpses of the coastline. We then came out at Blowholes Beach before going back into the bush. We then arrived back at Flat Creek, the junction where we had turned off towards Okaka Lodge on day one.
The walk along the beach was nice – we had good views out to Stewart Island. The weather was really pleasant but we were getting to the point where we just wanted to be finished. The climb back up the steps was a bit painful. We came across a guy heading down to the beach who said it wasn’t far to go to the end of the track. Steve suddenly had a surge of energy and took off at a jog. Robyn and I continued to walk. It actually turned out to be a little way to the end – longer than Steve could sustain a jog anyway. Apparently he slowed to a walk again before jogging the 300 metres to the carpark.
It was then into our cars for the trip back to Queenstown. We had to make a stop in Tuatapere to drop Robyn off who was staying with her son Graham, who happens to be one of two local policeman in town. Andrea, our new Australian friend had decided to get a ride back to Queenstown with us. We stopped in Mossburn for an icecream. The sight of eleven stiff and sore people getting out of two cars and endeavouring to cross the road got a smile from one of the locals – well actually it was more than a smile, she was cracking up. We were seriously sore and our walking style left a lot to be desired. Sheree thought she would end her days being run over by a car – there was a car approaching in the distance and she thought if she couldn’t get out of it’s way in time then so be it.
Back at our accomodation in Queenstown, Steve and I ended up with a loft bedroom – going up and coming down those stairs in the night was not fun!
All in all it had been a fabulous trip with a great group of people. We enjoyed the experience of staying in the Lodges and meeting other people on the same journey. We were also pretty proud of our efforts given it is one of the harder walks you can do. The scenery was spectacular and it was so good to see that part of the country in all it’s glory. Thumbs up to the Tuatapere Hump Ridge Track Trust and the Department of Conservation for all your efforts maintaining a wonderful piece of our country which allows people to get an insight into the wilderness, history and wildlife.