This is not a guidebook but a diary and personal travel essay.
There are no representations or warranties, express or implied, about the completeness, accuracy, reliability, suitability or availability with respect to the information, products, services, or related graphics contained in this book for any purpose. In order to protect the privacy of certain individuals, names and identifying details might have been changed.
There might be no reason to keep writing my stories and spending so much time on it since very few gave me feedback, perhaps because very few knows about this website. I found motivation to keep writing thanks to Douglas Stewart. Indeed, I was in a second hand bookshop in Richmond when I randomly found The Fire On The Snow. Stewart explained how he wrote his play and gave some advises: “I wrote it under blind compulsion and never had the slightest notion of whether it was any good or not; only the fear that it was all rubbish, and the necessity to finish the manuscript. You can’t be sure of the value of your own work; the only thing to do is to keep on and finish it and then ask the opinion of someone whose literary judgment you can rely on. The catch is, of course, that what you have written may be rubbish after all; but then it may not.”
Anyway, here you have my story for free. Do not hesitate to contact me for any question, remark, or feedback.
I would like to warmly thank those who picked me up, who welcomed me in their house, who gave me so much.
Special thanks to Florent who helped me writing this book which inspired him to compose and sing a creative melody:
On my previous voyage, I told you my motivation in the preface. I’ve decided to go back to New Zealand for some reasons you will discover – this time – throughout my short stories. So let’s start on day one, the day I’ve landed at the Auckland Airport with nothing more than my heavy backpack.
I headed north to the CBD to get some food and gas but I missed the junction and found myself hitchhiking south. Within a few minutes waiting on the side of a busy road, Mike pulled over and offered me to stay in his place. Yeah, just like that! So I went to Drury, further south of Manukau, and played the cowboy – literally – with Daniel, Mike’s son. Fresh air, green landscape, friendly people, bird songs, indeed I missed New Zealand.
I spent days with Mike’s family and friends. I met Mark, a Māori with a strong mana. He was more afraid about my intentions of traveling the country alone than I was. So he advised me how to calm down a Māori: “if you see anyone ready to fight through his eyes and face… because you look like a British… just smile, say “how is doing” and handshake him (hariru). Never fight a Māori, ever! Respect them instead.” Anyway, Mark gave me some fighting techniques in case I get into trouble. Then talks became less physical and more intellectual. “If Māoris have no future, they don’t care, they do drugs, they fight, they get drunk.” also:
Contrary to Pakeha (foreigners) mana is more than money. – Mike
Mike is generous even toward unknown visitors and he trusted me enough to ask me to drive his car to the burger place. “Are you sure? Because I’ve never driven on the left side! – That’ll do.” I spent three days with Mike and finally headed north to Cape Rienga.
On my way, I met a Māori who picked me up. “One time, we [Māoris] will kill a British. They steal our land, they keep green landscape for cows instead of houses – that doesn’t help people with no home and there is shit everywhere. That is not Aotearoa anymore! Half of the British are good but the other half are bad. You are okay because you’re French.” Fortunately, we had handshake and I smiled despite listening to an extreme point of view. I wasn’t feeling unsafe though because he said that “we care for each other.”
In the meantime, my diet kept changing – from meat and fried fast food to cereal and rice – that was hard for my stomach and I was feeling sick. The fast changing weather and temperature didn’t help – indeed, spring in New Zealand is a bit wet. Anyway, I was on top of the island in two days and hiked the first 12.5 km to the Twilight Campground near the Ninety Mile Beach.
I met a girl in the campground. Sarah had the ambition of walking Te Araroa, which is thru-hiking the north and the south island in 2,998 km... in 3 months! That time, I wasn’t the crazy one and that made me feel better. We walked together for three days, about 89 km to Ahipara, where the beach ends. The walk along the Ninety Mile Beach was pretty boring, all flat. Hopefully, not 90 miles long but 63. We pushed each other’s motivation to keep walking and denied free lifts from drivers on the beach. The first steps of the walk, around the lighthouse was actually the best, with diverse landscape: beach, bush, and red ground after Te Werahi Stream.
I finished my intended modest walk (101 km) but Sarah was mentally exhausted and her numerous blisters looked painful. The lack of preparation and resiliency may have broken her. Much worst happened to me later on.
Most locals from Paihia and Russell don’t know Waikare Inlet. Access is through a gravel road, only trampers and farmers go there. Once arrived at the border of the forest, I could follow an easy track, but I did not know where I was on my printed map. I crossed a river dozen of times, followed orange triangle and “electric cable” markers until the last one. Then what? Without navigation skills and tools and despite looking hours for the next step, my only way was to walk back to the well marked section before dark, otherwise I would consider myself lost in the wild. I understood during that rainy day the challenge of walking out of the bitten track, even a famous one – part of Te Araroa. Back to town, I told about what happened and I was ashamed. You’re never proud of being lost or walking back, are you?
As for the previous tramps, I’ve decided to do the green section of Te Araroa. Part of the long pathway goes through mainlands and towns, especially on the well developed North Island. So I’ve selected some wilderness sections beforehand. The one displayed above is near Helena Bay, 24 km-short in two days, it was marked and I had good weather. However, I didn’t know that yellow or blue markers are for the Department of Conservation (DOC) only. Also, I missed a critical turning of the track halfway through. I was actually more focused on the good looking Fly Agaric mushrooms than the plastic markers. I tried to know where I was heading and it did not make any sense according to my map and compass. I mean less sense than usual. So I said to myself “it’s not logical captain”, walked back to the last marker and found the actual turning.
I was walking along the road looking for a good spot to pitch my tent when a car pulled over to offer me a ride. The Māori family actually offered me a bed, home made and fresh meals in exchange of helping gardening in a Marae – which is a Māori community and village – in Mangere. That would have been a great experience if only the heavy rain had stopped. Next day was Monday and Hine, Ana, Aubrey and Jason were working, so no time for gardening together.
Mangere is an Auckland Suburb with more fast food than anywhere else in the city. The purpose of this Marae is to help people growing veggies with low to no cost for a healthy diet. Hine – the mother – is just amazing, asking nothing in return but good company because “she received the same during her travel” around the world. That’s an other proof that “we care for each others” which is the aroha maoritanga/concept (love) and hei whakamakana (warmth and welcome toward manuhiri/visitors.) Also, the wheel turns! By the way I was surprised that it is common for a Māori to have a kid at 19-year young. Though being surprised was part of my daily travel life.
Hard to get a lift on remote roads like the one north of Waikaremoana. So a lady offered me to stay at her place in Ruatahuna, but I had finally been picked up later on by three hunters: one driving, one ready to shoot anything worthing a $2 bullet, and one dealing with the playlist. They offered me an ice cream and dropped me off at the visitor centre of the park. I intended to do the Great Walk but the lady devoted for tourists asked me to book the expensive huts, forbad me to camp outside DOC facilities and warned me that part of the circuit is currently closed. So I bought my very first Topo50 map and headed to the opposite direction: lake Waikareiti.
The walk to Sandy Bay Hut from the Aniwaniwa waterfall was awesome with a few lakes and grass flats with nice lookout and weather. I found trouts in the Ngawhakarara stream (yeah, I knew where I was!) The stream was less than 30 cm deep, so I got a wood stick and smashed one fish, put out of the water and smashed it again with a piece of rock to kill it. Once in the hut, I cooked the trout with a vegetable stock cube in boiled water and added some curry. Great dinner after a great walk!
Tramping gives me time to think. Here I was thinking about the strong tie of Māoris to their lands. Contrary to the western culture, there is no identity card in the Māori culture. Tattoos on faces are not used anymore to tell us about ancestors. However, nature is part of each Māori who would say: “this is my mountain, this is my river.” Connection to nature is strong for any Māori living in the backcountry. Not just for the daily life in a Marae – fishing, hunting, farming – but also for their soul. Most Māoris do not have much money to travel but I don’t think they would if they could since “there is no place like home.” Considering myself, I would rather say: “there is no place like the one you feel good.”
I’ve no home anymore but nature.
I spent three days tramping in the park, 43 km.
I became a surveyor on my way to New Plymouth. I helped a professional to keep standing a highly accurate GPS (± 20 mm) in Taumaranui. Then we got muffins and Wild Bean coffees at the BP station. I got an other coffee and a nice meal in Birdie, New Plymouth. To be honest, I do not miss the French food at all since the Kiwi gastronomy is great. I have to confess that I do enjoy fine food before and after every single tramp.
As you may guess, I don’t have much navigation skills but motivation to learn and challenge myself has never been so strong. Therefore I got an expensive GPS, so that I can see where I’m going, manage my tracks, save good spots and I won’t get lost anymore. Hurrah!
After some bush-shopping in hunting and fishing stores, I hitched toward Mount Egmont / Taranaki for the Pouakai Circuit. I met David on my way to the national park who offered me to stay in his place. Again I was surprised how much Kiwis (Māoris as well as Pakehas) are open minded and open to visitors. Again I said to myself “I don’t deserve so much kindness!” Kim, David’s wife, is a portrait photographer. If only my web gallery were ready at the time, that would be a great support for telling my stories. I guess I was a guest because of my stories that locals like to listen. I do like to discover and live a different lifestyle as well, especially opposite to mine. Here was a nice house and garden gathering a business man and a photographer with four kids, dogs, one cat, a few babies, two cars, one goat that can jump over the fence, etc.
I was off the next morning, back to wilderness. The track was super scenic but muddy, easy to follow without navigation skills but it was the opportunity to try my brand-new GPS. I met two tourists at the end of the circuit, they have been to Base One near Mt Everest, Scandinavia, South America, Africa… That’s the most healthy retired couple I’ve ever met, enjoying life more than most youngers!
The section of Te Araroa between Palmy and Waikanae is 137 km long. I have to confess that I lost track a few times but my GPS helped me to find my way. Just knowing on which side of the track I was was super useful. However, my motivation was as bad as the weather and I decided to have a break half way through – 75 km – in Levin. If I could heard bird songs, if I could heard a Tui, and if I could make myself a cup of coffee or tea, then I would be happy! But I couldn’t. Four days in the Tararua Range challenged my resiliency, just one more time. Much worst happened later on.
I was in Levin, looking for a book about edible plants when a lady in the bookshop realised that my tent is my shelter and the bush is my home. “Well, you can stay in my place!” So I went to her place the evening. That’s a typical NZ house, at least a century old with hundreds of books, some paintings, a warm fireplace and Dylan her cat. Sue always keeps a positive mood and smile that we all love. I guess she would do the 137 km tramp from Palmy to Waikanae with a weather-proof smile, if only she enjoyed tramping as much as cooking.
Roger, Sue's friend and furniture maker, joined us for coffee. Later on the conversation, Sue said “do you have a wwoofing job for Clement?” Indeed, I told her I like wwoofing when I’m not tramping. Roger, thinking, replied “yeah, I could find stuff to do for a couple of days.” I was ready next morning at 8am and spent my day wiping the ground and some furniture, loaning, vacuuming, an walking in the park with Ben, Roger’s dog, that was my break out of sawdust.
Roger lives with his fiance Stephanie in a very nice house, kind of castle with a garden and many exotic trees. We could never run out of jobs to do in the workshop or the house – splitting firewood, gardening, removing spider’s webs. The couple of days became a couple of weeks. Despite hard working all day, we had a break on Sunday and sometimes Saturday afternoon. We went to Waikarere beach, I learned the basic of fishing with a rode and caught a Kahawai! We walked together in the Tararua Range from times to times. I discovered an other Kiwi lifestyle, had very good meals and a comfy bed. Wwoofing for Roger actually recharged myself, and I often asked for more to do, so that I’m never bored. When he asked me “would you like a wwoofing job? But you can take a rest if you want…” I never said no (except picking up eggs under chickens that I considered disrespectful.) I need to feel and be useful. That’s real work! When I was electronics engineer, I only used my brain, but when it comes to making furniture, I used my brain, my hands, my body. But I have to confess that I was more Roger’s third and fourth hand than his second brain.
Day tramp with Roger, toward Diggers Hut never reached due to high stream level:
Roger offered me a hat for my birthday because I “really need one and the head needs to be warmed up when feeling cold.” Then I kept my Possum hat for all my tramps. Now it’s not just my super warm hat made in New Zealand, it also reminds me of my friends and tramping adventures, it became one of my very few things I have a sentimental feeling – in addition to my Māori kit from Wairoa and my magnet from Sumatra.
After wwoofing for more than three weeks, I’ve decided to go back to the bush and finish my intended tramp to Waikanae.
The next section of the Tararua Range was a way steeper and I grasped tussock to climb some sections, something actually not impressive but surprising at first time. That time, I had good weather and stunning 360-degree lookouts where I could see Mt Tongariro far away. The view of my path through the mountain range made me feel satisfied. One afternoon, I was between low and high clouds at 1242 m-high (Nichols) and enjoyed a great sunset, when only peaks shew their faces. The fog entered the valley as a ghost and darkness forced me to close my eyes and dream.
Once back at the bottom of the valley, I thought I had made the hardest part but I was wrong. The track was hard to follow and I fell about 4 m on a scree slope (S 40°51.703’ E 175°15.940’), luckily with no injury. I realised that leaving the track and following the Waitatapia stream bed was a better idea. Finally, the very last section was easy through exotic pines. I met a lady and her daughter walking a half day track. She considered me brave and offered me a lift to town. I texted “Everything OK.” to Roger, and “Let’s meet up!” to Sue. We went to an abstract art exhibition in Welly, Fishermans Restaurant along the coast, and back to her place before the next tramp further north.
Hitching on a remote road is a test of patience. At 3pm, a guy said “you see this house? Go there if it’s late and you can’t get a ride! – Thanks you very much but I should be fine…” I finally came to his place near Taihape, and discovered an other lifestyle, again! I was back to the road next morning and arrived the afternoon in the Kaweka forest.
The route on the ridge was the most scenic I have ever made in the North Island, with a 360-degree lookout at 1720 m high. I used a cable way for the first time and it was quite an entertainment! Then, in the Manson area, the ground was flat, with red sand and rocks as light and fragile as sponges. Mist might alter my eyes but the vegetation looked completely different to the typical New Zealand bush, small bulbs of red, green and gray seeds reminded me the Tongariro Circuit. Huts of this forest park are my favourite ones: pretty, bright orange, tiny but bigger than a bivvy.
To sum up, I walked 6 days and 6 nights in the Kaweka, 95 km long so 15.9 km per day. Then I hadn’t wait long to be picked up by a log truck driver. We went to Wairoa, the last town before Te Urewera National Park.
The good thing about Wairoa is that freedom camping is allowed on specific places… where junkies are. The bad thing is that after trying all coffee places in town, I could not find a decent one.
I came back to do the 2-day Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk now open. But it was boring and flat with a track so clean that nothing made my way memorable. My tramp on the eastern side was much better. However, the shape of the lake is curious and interesting with many zigzags.
Taupo has quite a few good shops, especially local food places. But the best are the parks nearby, such as the Puerora Forest Park. I met Ben driving a dairy milk truck. He gave me a lift to the park. We didn’t stop talking and I missed the junction. I didn’t expect to visit the Waihora Lagoon but it was actually magical.
I camped a few minutes walk from the lagoon. I woke up just before the sunrise and I was feeling like in a freezer. I opened my tent and discovered grass, leaves, trees, everything covered of crystals. The sun rays went through trees and ghost appeared, dancing in the air. Smoke were rising toward the blue sky. When the freezing wind reached my hand, I closed my tent and dipped loaf in my coffee.
The track to the Waihaha Hut was diverse in vegetation and birds life – some ducks, Wood pigeons, Tui, Tomtit, herons, a Robin, a Yellowhead, a fantail, a falcon, and a few I could barely identify. I had a tea break in the bush, surrounded by Rimu trees, Tawhai, Mataī, Tawa, Fern tree, Kāmahi, Lancewood, Kauri, and a few I could barely identify.
As usual, hitching was my way of going from one tramp to another. From the 4 Brothers Scenic Reserve, I walked through the fucked Karamu Walkway. Shit everywhere, too many cows in this country, and not enough forests! The walk ended in Pirongia. I would not advise anyone to go there unless you’re – like me – a National and Forest Park bagger!
I’ve contacted Hine to meet up and wwoof this time in Mangere. I removed seeds and watered the organic garden. There we had an incredibly great tea! Most of the Māori community was there for a Christmas party. All kind of food from everyone were gathered in unbelievable quality and quantity.
We all got a gift – including me! It was not just a Christmas tree with labels on gifts like I used to have all my life, but an innovative way, more sociable and funny. That’s how it works: everyone choose a random number from a hat. Number one choose and open a gift. Number two choose a gift, and choose either to open and keep it or to exchange with an already opened gift. If exchanged, the one who got his gift taken has to either open the gift or exchange with an other opened gift. Number three proceeds like number two, etc.
Last but not least, people sang English and Māori songs together. I hate singing but that was a good time though.
The Māori belief about creation is beautiful and close to nature: basically, everything – trees, women, men – come from the earth, originally from the same seed. “Look far away to realise that trees are actually your cousins!” That’s why we should care for each other and care for the environment. We didn’t know each other but he talked to me as if I were his son, and that touched my heart. Māori identity, culture and history is taught orally and he shared his knowledge to me – the new generation – so we remember. So you remember!
I started the tramp from the bridge of the pretty Pelorus River. I went through Captains Hut, Middy Hut, Roebuck Hut, Browning Hut, Hacked Hut and finished along the Aniseed Valley Road near Richmond. I’ve spotted common birds and hips of goats.
The St James Walkway goes through the impressive valleys, between massive hills, but the 3-day track is quite flat. That was good for my fitness before my crazy tramps down south.
If I wasn’t lucky, I would be dead in the middle of nowhere. I made some mistakes on this tramp, especially around Lochnagar in Mt Aspiring National Park, but I found the most stunning view in the meantime.
As usual before any tramp, I’ve visited the DOC site to find out the latest alerts, track conditions, weather forecast, and get topo50 maps. That time, I met a serious tramper curious about my intentions. I said “I plan to do the Rees and Dart circuit. – Well, I would advise you to go to Cascade Saddle, which is more scenic. How many days do you have? – Unlimited! – Then go to Lochnagar and back to Dart via Snowy Creek, that’s a nice circuit! – Well, there is no track! – It’s doable… Enjoy your tramp!” What first meant to be a nice walk on a well-marked track became the first and longest multi-day bushwalk I’ve ever made.
I left Queenstown with the feeling of engaging myself into something too risky. I was as calm as a mountain lake, feeling super worried, but not hesitating in the least what became my real challenge.
I was lucky being still alive, but worst happened later on.
My motivation broke down within a few hours whereas tramping the Hollyford Track. I had a heavy backpack loaded with a week of food. My feet hurt like never before, surprising after five months okay with my hiking boots – Lochnagar wasn’t that simple! I did not considered my adventure like holiday. I had neither job, nor home. I was a lone traveler. The feeling of transition is always a stressful period. I remembered Lake Kiriopukae and pushed myself beyond all that. The best representation of my mind in the bush would be a Mobiüs swingbridge with primitive thoughts on one side – physical state – and high humankind motivations on the other side – ambition, dreams, wisdom. I fought trees by hands, bushwalking along Lake Alabaster and Lake Wilmot. It was a navigation game to the Spyke crossing, and a kid game to Big Bay. I made the mistake not to use my gaiters on the beach and my bloody feet were painful due to scratching sand in my boots. I enjoyed the terrain diversity though – rocky beach, sand, forest, lakes and sea. I finished the circuit in 6.5 days and 7 nights.
The Greenstone / Caples Track was a rest, an easy track for families and grandmas. I made a detour to Lake Rere – perfect reflection early morning, broken symmetry later on, broken by innocent ducks. Whereas I found many Fantails and Tomtits on the Pyke / Hollyford Route, Riflemen and Robins dominated the Beech forest of the Caples and Greenstone valleys. I finished the tramp in two days instead of four as expected.
After a few random tramping, hitching and wwoofing experiences, I found a job as software engineer and settled down in Cambridge. I knew I would go back to the bush for winter holidays but I wasn’t sure where about. I first thought going south but Roger said I would freeze. I didn’t want to, so I chose to stay in the North Island and go where I haven’t been much: between the Bay of Plenty and Poverty Bay. Roger advised me to buy a PLB, so did I. I’ve spent a few evenings planing my new challenge and got more gear: gaiters, backpack, warm clothes.
I was ready and prepared. I let Roger know my intentions (by sending an e-mail with this and that document), hitchhiked to Torere and walked into the wild. I tramped on a well formed track for the first kilometres. I found a bivvy a day and a half later (at BE42 038817) not on my paper maps, neither my GPS. The next step was much harder with a hill to climb, and a bush-walk to reach a stream on the other side. The night before was rainy but the stream was almost nothing at its head, but harder and harder to cross, confluence after confluence. I could not find a single human footprint, not even a track or a marker – contrary to what was on my maps. I climbed another hill, this time with crampons and ice-axe on muddy scree. A return was impossible that way and I continued without thinking much.
I found an other hidden place down hill: Rurupori Hut (BE42 076826) built in 1985. Next morning, I crossed a cold river and bush-walked to the next hut. That one was on my maps but I couldn’t find it as easily. I spent an hour overnight to find it and finally fell into a double mattress for a deserved night. When I woke up, I said to myself: “one river crossing, and I would find the expected track. Let’s go!”
I first zigzagged a stream and found myself in front of the Motu River – 60 m-wide at this section. The first two crossing attempts were unsuccessful. I managed to go back to the river side each time. My third attempt was more engaged. The river was hip deep with a strong flow. I lost balance at two third. Washed away, I twisted around myself and tried to keep my head out of the water. Fortunately, I was floating because my backpack was lighter than water – in term of volumetric mass. I was so scared to drown that I wouldn’t mind breaking my arms and legs which stroked rocks enough to slow me down, and I pushed myself on the river side.
I screamed painfully when I raised myself up. I could not see my legs behind my three layers – legging, trouser and long gaiters – it just hurt and I could not walk up hill. I could not walk back either. It was my second point of non-return and I wasn’t thinking much. The terrain was steeper than the interpretation of my map and I dropped myself further down the river, between the flooded Motu river and a bluff. I was more stupid than stupidity. I spent an hour to find an exit with bleeding legs. I felt emotionally in the worst case of my life – the worst was not the inability to walk back but to be stuck. Many river crossings and bush-bashing were expected for the next days, before finding any exit road. The hardest was yet to be achieved and widespread rain were expected to strengthen. It was a bit late but I finally took my time to think. I was completely wet and I definitively knew the next step would be riskier.
Finally, I took my PLB, rolled the antenna out, pushed the red button, wrote a large SOS with rocks, warmed myself up with my cooker, and waited with my eyes fixed on the flashing beacon.
I heard a loud noise less than an hour later, looked at the sky, saw an angel, and waved with my two arms. The paramedic joined me and I hugged him. He smiled and lent me a St John jersey in return. While flying over the Motu river, the pilot said that “there is usually almost no water and it is crystal clear, but the previous two weeks were rainy and the mountain is still gorged of water.” My mood became better during that 25 min flight – up to 3,000 feet and 160 kph – but I kept a kind of weak voice for a while. You wouldn’t talk like a warrior if you realise you’re nothing compared to the power of the elements, would you?
The pilot asked me where I would stay for the night. “I’ve no place to stay – You can stay home! Do you want a sandwich with bacon?” Also, I thought I lost my savings until he said that everything is free of charge and paid by the ACC. He also told me that I did everything all right in a way to be found and rescued, that I was just at a bad time in winter, where the river level was surprisingly high. We went to his place, watched a documentary about the Search & Rescue team of Air Zermatt, enjoyed the fire place and a great kiwi dinner with the pilot’s wife. I discovered the Tamarillo (aka tree tomato), dried my stuff, had a hot shower and a night in a heated king bed. On the morning, I had the best English breakfast ever and sandwiches for lunch with some delicious caramel and Anzac slices. Then I had a nice coastal walk far from any river.
I got picked up in Nuhaka by a Black Power gang member. I spent a night in Wairoa and took a picture of my bloody red bumps as a reminder. Getting those bumps in a couple of seconds while twisting in a flooded river was quite intense. Months later, I can barely see my bumps but I still have a lump in my throat every time I think about what happened, so that was type III in the fun scale. I still don't know what to think about it, it just happened.
Thank you Roger, I would also recommend trampers to carry a PLB. I have and I would advise to get the Ocean Signal Rescue Me PLB1 because it is the most lightweight available in the market, highly accurate, and the subscription is free (the use of the Cospas-Sarsat satellite system is free to the beacon owner, contrary to the Iridium satellite system used by Garmin or the GlobalStar satellite system used by SPOT).
I didn’t find the right job for me and I have decided to go back to France for a better career as Electronics Engineer. I always give to myself the opportunity to travel before a new job.
But why again?
So I planned a three months tramping adventure, most of the time in remote wilderness with scarce recharges in town. I focused myself on the South Island and Stewart Island / Rakiura. Thanks to my last bad experience, I have chosen my itineraries based on multiple sources – online reviews, blog articles with pictures, magazines, websites, LINZ maps, DOC, guide books, i-Site – and actual conditions – average precipitations, temperature, sunny days, avalanche risk over the year – so that I select and order my tramps better. It was more than a Sunday school picnic, the march I planned. I wrote an 18-page document (attached below) gathering all the information I would need for the next three months – nothing more and nothing less. I sealed the document with plastic covers. Retrospectively speaking, I would write more information about alternative routes and additional tramping ideas around.
I packed all my tramping gear and flew to Queenstown with an ATR72 and hitchhiked to Bluff for the Ferry after a short walk on the Millenium / Foveaux Walkway and a break in the Lighthouse Gallery & Cafe, 30 Gore St. That place is more than a nice coffee shop, it’s a great show room of pictures and art crafts. Arrived in Stewart Island / Rakiura, I had a coffee with a girl I met in the ferry and started alone my tramp toward Bungaree Hut.
I made a detour along the coast and spotted a couple of kākāriki but I didn’t make it to the hut, it got dark and I lost track. I bushwalked an hour overnight up to the beach and pitched my tent. I spent no more than five minutes next morning to find the track. Finally arrived in the hut, I realised I forgot my trekking pole and I walked back. However, it was high tide and I could not access my camping spot anymore. I lost my brand new pole at the first day! Fortunately, I hadn’t been flooded yet. Finally in the hut, I met Anton. I didn't know him before but we stayed together all the way. Thus the personal goal became a team work and “I” became “we”.
We climbed Hurunui, 2 km elevation up and down from Christmas Village Hut. The 360°-view on top was stunning. We could see the massive mountains of Fiordland and the nothingness of the far south with a blue sky all day. While a Fantail flying around you means bad luck in the Māori culture, those birds actually do that to catch the insects you move. Despite being my favourite bird, Anton and I were more amazed by the Brown Kiwis we spotted later on. Those flightless birds are shy and could only be found in remote wilderness requiring a few days walk, patience, and luckiness.
I caught a Spotted Wrase (aka Spotty) from the Freds Camp Hut’s wharf. It’s a small fish with not enough meat for two, and hard to catch. I boiled it and added some tikka masala. Anton baked fresh bread with his oil and flour we found in the hut. It was great having fresh food after days with dehydrated stuff.
We had good weather most of the time. Some sections of the southern part were seriously muddy and others were so swampy that we could not go straight, zigzagging like insects.
The Rakiura circuit was my longest tramp ever, 14 days and nights. Anton was a young friendly tramper super motivated and motivating. Fitter than me, he was super fast going up hill and I was faster going down. We pushed each other everyday. I guess we were stronger together.
I flied back to Invercargill and realised that a scenic flight does not make much sense. Whereas an overview of the landscape can be seen, most details are missed: no birds, no insects, no animals, no leaves. Warm rocks, trees, moss cannot be touched. Birds songs, wild animal calls, leaves through the wind, breaking ice cannot be heard. Crushed leaves cannot be smelt. Manuka tea cannot be tasted. A scenic flight is all about enjoying the view in the less eco-friendly way.
Notice that I write both the British and the Māori name (f.i. Stewart Island / Rakiura, Egmont / Taranaki) in respect to Māori. Indeed “as part of the Rangitane Tu Mai Ra (Wairarapa Tamaki nui-a-Rua) Treaty of Waitangi Settlement, a number of popular tramping destinations have had their original Māori names restored.” Source: FMC bulletin 210, Nov. 2017.
I met a kayaker in Freshwater Hut (Stewart Island / Rakiura) who advised me to go to Orepuki Beach Cafe on my way to Tuatapere (aka Tui). I enjoyed the best meal I had in a restaurant. It was a Farm to Table Feast, based on a fresh salad, homemade bread, local lamb. Then I had a nice Flat White with a berry tart to pump my mood up before the Hump ridge. Next day, I had a Flat White in Last Light Lodge in Tui. I could not find any Topo50 maps in town and hitched to Lake Hauroko, I had my GPS anyway. I met Greg Wilson on my way to the lake, he is the writer of Fiordland Unexplored.
From the lake front, I walked to the lookout (located north-west of the parking lot) and Teal Bay Hut. Then I went steeply up to the Hump ridge, rewarded by a stunning panorama of the lake and beyond. Some boulders along the ridge reminded me Castle Hill (Arthur’s Pass) and Devil’s Marble (Australian Outback). The view was great on my way to the Okaka Lodge. I could see the sea, the lakes – Hauroko and Poteriteri –, the mountains – Comeron, Princess, Kaherekoau –, and Stewart Island / Rakiura at last! Even if walking on ridges make navigation easier, I did well to look at the satellite view and the Topo50 map together to optimize my route beforehand. The other side of the coin when it comes to walk on a ridge is the several ups and downs and the exposure to the elements. Fortunately, I had great weather and enough wind to keep sandflies away. The squally weather next day was rough but the Great Walk-grade track was super easy compared to the last days.
Huts of the North Island look nicer, prettier, charmer, but Port Craig School Hut is an exception. The old-fashioned NZ architecture is lovely and the red and white painting made the hut quite unique. It has a mini museum above the fireplace, maps, Antics and magazines on the table, board and card games, a furnished kitchen, etc.
The widespread rain continued until the end of the track which went through a wonderful beech forest, a rocky beach and a gravel road. I could now see snow on the ridge. I was lucky not to be there anymore!
I surprised myself being so talkative with the lady who picked me up. That is actually understandable after five days without seeing a human being. She dropped me off at the Orepuki Beach Cafe.
Waiting in the cafe for a better weather, the lady at the counter said that she likes such stormy weather, “it makes me feel happy to have a warm place, there is no place like home!” An other lady said it’s “not a good time for tramping, hey! – Well, I’ll stay in my tent in Gumstone Beach. – Oh! You’re welcome to stay in my place, I have a spare bed.”
Her place is just two minutes drive from the cafe – in the middle of nowhere – a typical backcountry NZ house. Penny lives with her husband Brian and hosted a wwoofer helping gardening. I could finally dry my clothes thanks to the fireplace. I spent a while moving frames straight whereas Penny cooked tea. Dinner conversation were focused on tramping, UFO and the difference of lifestyle between countries. After a dreamy night, I woke up at 8am, got Marmite on toasts and coffee, said goodbye, and headed a bit worried to Lake Monowai. Snowy tops are good looking but not friendly for trampers without crampons and ice-axe. Anyway, it wasn’t a big deal since the Rodger Inlet tops are just a day walk to the carpark, no much engagement.
Some sections from the carpark to Rodger Inlet Hut are muddy or swampy, and others are tricky to navigate through due to fallen trees and detours, but markers were helpful.
I set the alarm at 6am and started walking before 8am after a big breaky, extra milk, extra muesli, extra chocolate, large coffee, all that in front of the Rodger Inlet Hut with the raising fog making quite a mystic scenery. The walk up to the bush line was clean and well marked for a route-grade track. I lost track twice but found my way out pretty fast, nothing wrong, just shortcuts! Then I walked up to the Rodger Inlet top – 1,316 m – and continued NWN along the ridge up to the saddle pt 1170. I had a blue sky and a stunning view on both side of the lake Monowai and surrounding tops. Snow wasn’t that deep, visible above 930 m and about 20 cm at 1,300 m. I watched all my steps, too scared to fell the ridge or drown myself in the peaceful icy tarn. My first plan was to stay on the ridge up to 100 m SES of pt 1453 but it looked too snowy so I headed to Rough Point by following a stream. Then started the roughest section: steep bush bashing. A 10 m waterfall forced me to leave the stream and fight trees instead. One of them torn my rain-proof backpack cover. Steepness and dense vegetation made navigation tricky. It was end afternoon when I could finally find a two square metre flat area to pitch my tent, I wasn’t sure I could reach the next hut 2 km far before sunset. It was a great decision since I spent the whole morning to make it.
Arrived in the warm Monowai Hut, three fishermen welcomed me with a large piece of steak, butter on bread and fried shellfish with onion, all freshly cooked with the fireplace. I skipped breakfast and I was hungry, I was wet by the poor rain but I warmed myself up pretty fast and my super smiley face made the fishermen happy. They were going to a fishing competition and one of them shook my hand twice, the first time because I carry a PLB, and the second because I successfully walked from Rodger Inlet Hut through the ridge. They left the hut early afternoon, running out of beer. I’ve chosen to stay there since Clark Hut – the next hut – is a basic A-frame hut and weather hadn’t decided to improve. So I spent time cleaning the hut and writing notes.
I set the alarm at 5:30am and had a big breaky. Darkness and candle light made me feel lonely and remote, not a bad feeling sometimes. It rained all night and day so the track was swampy and muddy most of the 9h walk to Green Lake Hut. The track was easy to follow but crossing the outstream of Island Lake was tricky and risky. The view was covered by mist and I could not see beyond the small island, mysterious by itself. Ruru, Kākā and other birds I’ve never seen might have had a fancy party and karaoke, who knows?! Then I walked along Green Lake, a common name for a NZ lake but my feeling was special. It’s a mirroring and quiet lake, mist floating through the valley, a couple of scaulp ducks turning around and breaking the symmetry, crystal clear water, white mountain at the horizon and orange clouds at sunset. What a beauty! The loop ended the next day, back to the Monowai carpark through a nice beech forest.
The first day of the Milford Track started with a boat trip to Glade Wharf. It goes through a very narrow valley along the lake Te Anau, very steep bluff and many cliff toward the beginning of the track. Just a few steps and I found myself in the very mossy forest. I stayed overnight in the first hut. I’ve been woken up by the bell of a bellbird, and a fantail knocked a window of the 40-bunk hut. I was surrounded by a Tawhai / beech forest with patches of mataī, kākuka, rangiora, horoeka, kāmahi. The sunny day raised many birds and songs – weka, tomtit, wood pigeon, paradise duck, robin, and last but not least: a lonely blue duck / whio on lake Mintaro. I’ve never seen so many waterfalls in a single day. It made an exceptional scenery with massive cliff on both side of the valley with snowy tops. I found a couple of kākā on my way to the Mackinnon Pass. I had perfect weather conditions and a coffee on the pass – about 1,160 m. I could hear and see numerous avalanches far enough to stay safe. After the pass is a cool 580 m-high waterfall – the Sutherland Falls. For my last day, I’ve started tramping before sunrise, early enough to catch the water taxi. The choral of birds were amazing with many, many singers under the stars. Patches of drizzle made me feel even happier, reminding me how great was the last two days. Unbridged streams were easy to cross and not a bit of snow on the walkway, surprising for that period of the year when the Hump Ridge and the Roger Inlet tops were snowy. I’ve spotted a group of Tui and small rimu trees near the wharf, Sandfly Point. The Milford Track was a rest before the challenging tramps further north.
I’ve spent a few days hitching the West Coast to the north of the island. I met all kind of friendly guys. I had a nice dinner in front of Lake Hawea with a Dutch family, visited a marae with a Māori north of Hotikita, listened to Christian and Yuletide songs for two hours with a hat seller, and I was welcomed by two locals to stay in a wooden house.
Before telling you what happened during this tramp, I have to explain why I planned to go tramping around the Dragons Teeth instead of doing the high route through the teeth. For a simple reason that I know my abilities and tramp planning requires modesty. Also, the infamous high route has less than two successful attempts a year, and numerous accounts of epics and failures. Also, the common low route is more used but bush-bashing isn’t my cup of tea. So I chose my own combination of tracks, routes, and ridges, cautiously but challenging and wise enough.
So I was back to the bush, in my tent. The sound of the rain from the inside of my tent does not have the same effect on my mood than if I were in a hut with the roaring fireplace. It’s uncomfortable. Any position hurts my back on my 5 mm-thin mattress, space and motion are limited, humidity and temperature are critical, sociability and talks are nil.
The track to Boulder Lake isn’t obvious and a farmer helped me to find my way. Weather was shit, from patchy to heavy rain, then snow and the worst I have ever had: a snowstorm right after Cow Saddle. The problem wasn’t snow by itself – only 3-4 cm-deep – but the risk of slippery (a fair drop if loosing footing), difficulty to follow the route, cold and wet clothes, gale and low visibility. Reaching the hut became a doubtful challenge. Arrived at Boulder Lake, I thought it would be a kid game to go up to its head but a few river crossings and walks in the flooded track made it hard up to the last step.
Next morning was a dream: blue sky, placid lake around slightly snowy mountain ranges, a nice waterfall with crystal clear water, and a historic hut. I started walking when sunshine reached the hut with socks and shoes almost dried thanks to the fireplace… until I crossed the Arena Creek, the swampy flat with thick and large tussock. The route to the Adelaide Tarn was pretty easy to follow, being 100% careful in a way that I looked for all cairns, flattened vegetation, unnatural things like a straight line on snow or a raised rock, a human footprint, a kind of path following the same elevation line. Some sections along the ridge were quite steep and bluffs made me think “I should rather watch my footing or I’m dead.” The tarn had waterfalls and is located next to the impressive Douglas range with its wind-shaped Dragons Teeth and Anatoki Peak. I would say that the Pinnacles in the Coromandel Peninsula are the baby of the Dragons Teeth, same shape at another degree of magnitude. The hut is located at the head of the mini lake – the tarn. It's a 9 m² hut with 4 bunks, a table, stuff to read in a shelf, two seats, four decomposing walls and a toilet next door, not a beauty and located 1,100 m-high with no fireplace, but a window with a great view!
Next day was sunny and I got UV-filtered water from the foot of the mini lake. The tramp to the Anatoki Forks was a bit harder, especially the Yuletide Peak section. You may think that I’m easily scared perhaps for good reasons but I don’t mind when I pass. I passed that scary section with bluff on both side of the ridge, a narrow steep route to negotiate carefully with good balance, footing and some basic climbing skills. The Yuletide Peak is like Yuletide songs: harsh and hard to understand. I definitively prefer the peak. Clouds grew bigger and darker with more wind, so I walked faster to cross the Anatoki river before the expected rain. By walking faster, I slipped twice in the forest and lost the well-marked track before the river. The crossing was okay with two long and strong wood sticks, flow were high but not that bad. I arrived in the Anatoki Forks Hut mid-afternoon, so I split towhai and manuka wood for the fire, during the drizzle. That hut was luxury, with water inside, hot shower, extra food and ustencils, large mattresses. Notice that having a shower is routine for the casual dude. But for a bushman as I was, it’s an event happening every three weeks, sometimes more often, sometimes less.
The walk to Waingaro Forks Hut was pleasant, warm and sunny, not much elevation but changing environment and vegetation. Drowned trees were in Lake Stanley. Indeed, There “is a slip on the north face of Mt Snowden, which tumbled down during the 1929 Murchison Earthquake and blocked the Stanley River to form Lake Stanley” (FMC Bulletin, Rebecca Hayter.)
I met the first human of my tramp, a Blue Duck / Whio conservator and a real bush woman in mini short. I asked myself if there was any reason for bush-bashing with a short, that hurts and make pretty fit legs less attractive, perhaps for a purpose.
An other warm, sunny and pleasant day in the Kahurangi National Park and I finished this tramp. I was picked up by a Māori on my way back to town. He explained to me that all words have a meaning. It is in the Māori culture to know the meaning of the words of their language, and it’s meaningful because a language is not just a communication tool but it encloses culture and history. Kahu means bird, rangi means sky, kahurangi means blue. We passed Motueka, motu means island, eka means weka (the bird). He dropped me off in Richmond, and I have no idea of the meaning of richmond! I’ve found new hiking boots in town and headed back to the bush. While walking along the road to find a good hitching spot, a lady offered me a lift, just like that, easy as. Surprisingly, she offered me to stay in her place while I was just looking for a camping spot. Lisa lives with Dave, they have a dog, three cats, one chicken and five sheep, no kids. Their house is pretty old-style – inside and outside – well maintained with a lovely garden between native forests. Lisa and I were talking like girls about everything. We had a nice vegetarian dinner – lasagna, salad, ginger beer – after a kawakawa tea which tastes gingery. Lisa and I went to the Wakefield Bakery next morning. I surprised myself again being so talkative. Lisa is a doctor, and vegetarian. Many people talk about the side effect of not eating meat, that “it is natural to eat meat.” But Lisa broke all the biased reasons to continue eating meat. She is not vegetarian for her body but the environment. We cannot keep going that way, the humankind eating so much meat.
I do love meat but I was convinced to become vegetarian too.
You could say that I should rather reduce the amount of meat I eat, but the less I eat the better. For example, if a fraction of the population, let’s say 1 billion eats only 200g of meat a week, then more than ten thousand tons of meat would be consumed every year. Imagine the blood bath, the square kilometres of cows, sheep, chicken and seeds requiring to feed them, the amount of water wasted, etc. What if that population became vegetarian? I do care. I don’t wait for a systemic change to act. Since the end of this travel I do not eat meat anymore and I feel as good. Thank you Lisa.
I hitched to the beginning of the Matiri adventure and hiked to John Reid Hut – 7.6 km long, 1 km elevation. I’ve been woken up next early morning by the Blue Duck / Whio conservator, Jason, catching Kākā this time with Cory and Ajax – a famous Kea catcher dog who has its nation-wide published book Ajax the Kea Dog: A working dog's life in the high country entitled to his name. I tried to sleep two more hours until 6:30am, had breakfast and headed to the ridge through thick fog as clear as mud. Such weather makes navigation tricky, my GPS was very useful and made it easy! To be honest, a compass used for bearing would do it. Anyway, there were no cairns along the ridge rather broken, out of the beaten track, out of any route. I made a navigation mistake at some point. I found myself in front of the edge of steep bluffs several times, sidling south instead of the other side. Therefore tramping on steep scree up and down instead of following the contour elevation through tussock. The sky cleared later on the morning and a path was visible, even more on the west of Gibbs Route, passed pt 1566. I finally found a small cairn passed pt 1507 at BQ23 596156, an other one and finally some markers bellow the bushline down to Kiwi Saddle where I had cheese, butter and Vegemite on bread – in the shade, out of the wind, between tawhai trees and wren birds. I stopped in Kiwi Saddle Hut at 2pm, recharged my GPS and camera, sun dried my socks, shoes and sleeping bag, read, wrote, relaxed, admired trees and clouds, ate, slept. The hut is surrounded by Tawhai / Silver Beech, Tawhai Rauriki / Black Beech, Tawhai Rauriki / Mountain Beech, Kāpuka / Broadleaf, and those trees I don’t know the name, steeling my hat and scratching legs. The cloud formation and colours above Mt Luna were impressive, it’s probably very windy on top even though I was looking forward to reaching it the next day.
The walk from Kiwi to Wangapeka Saddle was kind of easy, some steep sections with bluff on both side, again, more than 1 km elevation, again, but I got used to it. I climbed Mt Luna and camped in the unofficial Wangapeka Saddle Campsite, where I found a dozen of wren.
Alarm set at 4am to start a long tramping day at first light at 6, I reached the bushline at 7. The next step along Nugget Knob was steep with bluff on both side and a view of the snowy Mt Luna and Mt Kendall made my heart pounding. Nugget Knob as well as Yuletide Peak were both harder than Cascade Saddle. It was like a via ferrata without ferrata, nor harness. Several ups and downs, walking, climbing, bush-bashing for nine hours. My only break consisted of a balanced diet: 72% Dark Gana and 28% White Chocolate Whittaker, thus 50%. I arrived at the last top of the ridge mid-afternoon from where I could feel on top of the world thanks to a 360°-panoramic view. I could see Lake Jeanette which reminded me that I ran out of water for a kilometre or so. Hurricane Hut was an hour far and 640 m downhill, in front of a big cliff, at the head of the Matiri river.
The overgrown track to McConchies Hut was confusing with markers leading to nowhere, or no markers at all. I read the whole 10-year old Intentions Book to plan the next part of my tramp. Many trampers recommended many different ways to go down from Larrikin Creek Hut, all of them confessed the “hard, long and scary” bush-bashing. Very few attempted the ascent, so I changed my plan. McConchies Hut has been visited by 364 trampers for the last 10 years, among them are 328 Kiwis, and 1 French. “It has been built in 1958. The first hut in New Zealand built with materials flown in by helicopter” (source: Shelter From The Storm, The Story of New Zealand's Backcountry Huts.)
In order to improve my map reading skills, I haven’t used my GPS for the third day, except to test myself by double checking my location.
The last day was easy peasy in cruise mode: the clean and flat track let my legs lead both my body and mind for 8h30 including an hour break.
I’ve to admit I do not feel like a real man everyday. I could actually feel like an anonymous looser at some points. That feeling could last for days and being a lone traveler does not help. Shower, patchy gale, a broken tent peg and a headache don’t help either. I stayed two nights in Lake Christabel Hut because of all that shit happening at once. At least I was sheltered from the storm. I spent a morning cutting firewood, cleaning the hut and the shed, gathering rubbishes. While I was reluctant using huts the first time I’ve visited the country, I realised how important they are in the Kiwi culture and finally enjoyed those tiny houses like a local. Huts are “refuges from an urbanised commercial world.” (FMC)
Most trampers write “tramping” as activity in intentions books, some write “crosswords” or “cryptic games”, this time I wrote “meditation.” I asked to myself my meaning of tramping, what motivate me to go tramping. Real motivation driven on a daily base actually leads to happiness. If lost, sporadic pleasure prevails, which finally tends to dismantle dreams and long-term goals. Motivation is like the sun, too much or not enough is bad, it must fit both your mind and body in order to appreciate a wise balance. Wilderness is not just my playground. Tramping is not just walking in nature, it’s a profession de foie, a pilgrimage in my own soul thanks to a natural environment.
I could see a fresh white cover on the Christabel tops at 7am. The streams calmed down, birds here and there in the beech forest, no rain, no sun, low clouds, quiet. I realised on the top that only one side of the mountain range was melting and my mood was not that great so I walked down to Rough Creek. I was amazed by the different kind of moss. Moss can make ground as soft as a hut mattress. I followed a multi-colour carpet of Towhai Rauni / Red Beech all the way down to Lewis Pass Highway and hitched to Greymouth.
I hitched to Engineers Camp with an overnight stay in Blacks Point because hitchhiking along the Lewis Pass take a long time. I was disappointed to see the “no public access” sign on the bridge over the Boyle River. I had lunch under a bus shelter due to patchy rain. I got a manuka pole and doubtfully crossed the river. Indeed, it’s an intimidating wide river but actually easy to cross. I considered the rainy days as a psychological test that didn’t bothered me since my mood was finally recharged. The walk to Doubtful Hut was cool bananas.
My tramp through the Doubtful valley resumed with a fine sky, almost blue with some low and high clouds. I spotted a Kāreārea there, black and white feathers, long tail, mostly white on its belly, quiet. I crossed a few creeks and headed to Lake Man Biv – 1,503 m. I had cheese and Vegemite wraps with a cup of brewed coffee. It was midday when I ventured myself to the lake. A lake is source of life, but Lake Man was icy, nothing moving but ice melting and splitting. My first plan was to walk back to the hut, but the surrounding mountains with Mt Lakeman as the highest top – 1,782 m – motivated me to do more. It was actually the hardest part of the day, steep, no path, no advises from the Intentions Book. In other words, I was literally exploring. One side of the mountain was snowy and the other side was bluffy – hard tramping, easy climbing, heart pounding.
During the night, I was woken up a few times by a scattered rain knocking the roof that was less than half a metre far from my ears. At first light, the mountain was covered of snow. I could see the vapors of my breathing. I was cold and reluctant going outside the hut. I’ve waited an hour or so for the weather to improve. Indeed, snowfall diminished and pushed myself uphill. Tramping on snow without crampons is slow going, I slipped a few times. Indeed, only two inches of snow on tussock is very slippery. The environment was so different that I could barely recognize where I had been through. The route above the bushline was hidden but poles helped me navigating. Half of the track below the bushline was marked and easy to follow, steep though. The other half along the creek to the river, bush-bashing through tawhai was okay, not as dense as manuka, but I preferred following the stream bed, crossing it countless times. Finally, patches of blue sky appeared, gooses, paradise ducks, tomtits, fantails, robins, kakaruais flew in the wide and flat Hope Valley. Once the river crossed, tramping to Hope Kiwi Lodge was a kid game and scenic. The track alternates between the grassy flat and the old beech forest. I had a hard, snowy and freezing tramp the morning, and a pleasant walkway the afternoon, warm and sunny. No clouds overnight, so many stars.
I cruised to Hurunui Hut in six hours and surprised myself by not eating any snack for four tramping days. I only had cheese and Vegemite wraps for lunch. I actually eat less in a good mood. That’s perhaps why I was feeling tired early afternoon despite good track and weather conditions.
Next day was under widespread rain. Flooded side streams to the Hurunui river was okay to cross, as well as a waterfall to climb and a slip to negotiate. Wind was strong and I imagined how red would became a red beech tree if it fell on me. The funny part was the 3-wire bridge. I always feel like performing a circus tour with a yellow painted elephant on my back. I stopped in the tiny orange Lake Man Biv. Rain continued, heavy clouds and lightnings were at the party.
Starting a day with dry socks is luxury. Luxury was a dream. It wasn’t that bad though, vegetation was amazingly diverse through the Harper Pass. I could see red cabbage trees and kahikatea / white pine on the pass – 962 m – and many other species in Locke Stream (No.4) Hut where I stopped for the day, waiting for the flooded stream to recede.
Next day was a performance in my honest opinion. I woke up at 5:30am, had breakfast, cleaned the hut and left the place at 7am. I got my shoes wet again after the Taramakau River crossing. Weather at the moment was fine so I’ve decided – after a 2-day long hesitation – to go to the Minchin Pass via Townsend Creek, it’s a gorgy stream “impassable after heavy rain.” Fresh snow was not good for a sidle from Townsend Hut – that was plan A of my itinerary. The creek was hard to climb and negotiate. There were no poles, no markers except a 200 m-long section. Some cairns in the middle of the stream advised me to stay in the water – and boulder-hopping despite the high current – instead of the forest where dense vegetation made bush-bashing very slow going. Almost on top of the pass, bush-bashing was easier with sub-alpine vegetation and poles guiding me to Minchin Biv. I went down to the lake with less river crossing but more bush-bashing. Whereas fighting vegetation with my whole body, I hurt my face with a branch. I could feel it and see blood but I didn’t mind. My purpose was to succeed and I could always say I’ve fought a Māori. To be honest, it wasn’t bad though, even if I can still see the impact on my skin, months later. I was actually disappointed since I found myself on the wrong side of the river and I’ve torn the rain cover of my backpack, again. Once the river crossed, I finally found a well marked and clean track avoiding a gorge. The top of that section has a lookout with a view of the valley and a yellow dot: the Minchin Biv roof. Vegetation changed between the Harper and the Poulter Valleys. I found male towhai rauriki / Mountain Beech trees with tiny red flowers I’ve never seen before. I skipped Poulter hut and stopped at Trust / Poulter Hut. There I met a bunch of trampers. A girl said that my face “got hurt nicely.” I fell asleep no longer after 9:30pm.
The last day of the tramp was longer in distance but much easier. The Poulter Valley was very wide with grassy flats and some flourishing trees. The Binser Saddle Track was clean. I hitched from Goldney Saddle – BV21 977368 – on the Arthur’s Pass highway, back to Greymouth. Crossing valleys made a rich tramp with doubtful moments, unpredictable weather, and I had just enough food.
The Otira Bridge broke down the next day due to flood. The highway closed but I was already in Greymouth, lucky as!
I spent the first and last dollars in accommodation. I saved enough money to be able to forget it. Traveling without spending money has never been my goal. But why should I spend money for a comfy bed when I could stay in my tent for free? My laziness pushed me to do so, one night in one year of accumulated travel.
I spent time in Greymouth looking for backcountry recipes, food, a frying pan and a water bottle used to carry eggs. I felt slightly society-lagged and could not sleep in the dorm room. So I organised my food in the middle of the night, packing stuff in resealable bags. Then I had a brilliant idea: giving to myself a new challenge consisting of going tramping with only basic, raw ingredients and simple mixes, no energy balls, no bread, no fancy granola, no caramelised or roasted nuts. I would bake my own bread instead, and cook my porridge.
I was faster than expected so I planned other tramps before the Dusky Track. I found a good looking hut in a postcard and that was enough motivation to go there – Kirwan’s Hut. I met a fisherman in the backpacker who forgot his life jacket. Weather was terrible, heavy rain and gale, so David drove back to his home and gave me a lift to Reefton. Here I met Enett, David’s friend, who asked my plan: go to Blacks Point, pitch my tent and start the Kirwan’s Circuit the next day. She felt sad for me and offered me to stay at her place. So I had a king meal and a queen bed. I fixed her TV in exchange.
I started tramping in the Victoria Conservation Park through the Murray Creek Track, all streams were flooded. One creek was trickier. I tried further up and down, but impassable to cross safely with a strong pole. I pitched my tent on high ground and waited until next morning. I baked bread for lunch, topped with Cheddar cheese and Marmite. It’s filling and tasty for a camp meal but cooking isn’t easy in a small tent. I had pasta with pine nuts, walnuts and pesto sauce for tea, cooked with rain water from my tent fly.
The stream next morning was much friendlier, easy to cross without pole. I found a large frying pan in Montgomerie Hut and practiced. I baked two tasty pizzas in three hours. The base was made of plain flour, baking powder and canola oil. All covered of melted cheese, eggs, olive dukkah mix and Marmite. I have to admit it is gas, water and time consuming. I baked camp scones later on, filled with sultanas, chopped dates and cacao powder. It was surprisingly fast to bake – 1 min 30 sec – with no mess and only based on dry ingredients plus water from the river. I ate so much that I got sick, leaking nose, headache, feeling weak, low hearing.
I walked to Kirwan’s Hut and ran out of flour. End of story.
I got food for a week, hitched to Mt Robert carpark and tramped to Angelus Hut with a barely idea of my intentions. I spent three hours making mixes in the hut – 5x3 savoury scones, 3x3 super sweet scones, 8 porridges. I made up my mind with tea from manuka leaves I found on my way. My plan was to go to Upper Travers Hut through Cascade Track. Sunset Saddle wasn’t safe at the moment because of the snow.
I found many waterfalls on the steep section above the bushline and I had a nice treat in Pancake Flat. My pancake was tasty with Marmite and melting Blue cheese on top. The cooking challenge continued. I wrote “cooking & reading” in the intentions book of Upper Travers Hut. I do have to diversify my activities to avoid boreness, otherwise each day’s march would be a matter of mere routine like going to work at the office. Meanwhile, I found the largest buttercup flowers around the hut and the most disturbing alert. That was about a missing tramper last seen in the hut a year ago. His backpack was found later on Travers Saddle. Tramping – even for a weekend trip – without carrying a backpack with safety gear, nor PLB, nor 1st aid kit, without letting someone knows your intentions is like walking to death, or having sex with someone you don’t know, without condom. That reminded me The Fire On The Snow by Douglas Stewart: “They admit and accept the tragedy. They admit to themselves they knew he was walking to death when he slipped from the tent with his last few trivial words, and they admit, hardening their mouths, they could have stopped him.”
The six hours tramp to West Sabine Hut was pleasant and scenic, especially around the Travers Saddle with a view of Mt Travers, the Rainbow Pass and the Franklin Ridge. One section of the track in the beech forest was a crevasse thankfully bridged. I had a break in Scones Confluence – BS24 759487.
Tramping to Angelus Hut through Mt Cedric Route was technically easier than Cascade Route, but physically harder. It’s worth it with a great mystic view over lake Rotoroa through patchy fog. Low visibility on top made the next pole hard to see, a few sections were covered of snow and rain and wind didn’t help. With raincoat on, hood up, head down, the walk was rough but nice though.
I walked the next day on Speargrass Track and got a pizza in town for lunch. I’ve nice treats in town as well as in bush.
I met a bunch of Kiwis on my way to Tui: a guy who seeded exotic plants on grassy hills, a fisherman who preferred to have a coffee with me rather than going to uni, two hunters, three young fellows who had been to a 21st birthday party, etc.
I’ve decided to be more rigorous and generous on food for the rugged Dusky Track. I did my porridge and scone mixes with a bit more of everything so that I would not complain to myself. Expecting flooded area, I had extra days of food. My snacks consisted of scroggin mix because it rains 300 days a year in the Tamatea / Dusky Sound area, therefore cooking for lunch might be tricky.
“Dusky Sound was named by Captain James Cook on his 1st voyage to New Zealand in 1770. He did not enter the fiord because it was getting dark and named it Dusky Bay. The Māori name for the fiord is Tamatea after the legendary explorer who traveled the full length of the North and South Island in his waka (canoe), the Takitimu.” source: DOC.
The Dusky Track adventure started with a scenic boat trip on Lake Hauroko. A few islands dash the deepest lake of New Zealand surrounded by bluffy high mountain ranges and waterfalls. I got wet socks even before the first step on the track, the lack of wharf forced me to jump into swamp. Then I had been warmly welcome by a bunch of sandflies. The outside and inside of Hauroko Burn Hut was covered of those aggressively biting insects. I donated a book and spare food. Food for 11 days was enough, more would break my back. Then I hurried up along the well marked track in the dense forest. Tree falls, roots, mud, and rough terrain… as expected. I was a hundred metres far from Halfway Hut when I had to cross a 1 m-deep, 3 m-wide stream with a fairly high current due to the last heavy rainy days. I could not walk through it. I found a couple of fallen trees a hundred metres downstream and unsafely played the clown. I walked on one tree, handled a branch in contact with the other tree, and my other arm balancing my body.
I headed next day toward Lake Roe. I found Lake Laffy once above the bushline – from dense vegetation to clear overview. I had a short coffee break in the hut and walked around Lake Roe where I discovered several tarns and waterfalls.
I’ve decided to start tramping early morning because sandflies are still sleeping. I walked up hill from Lake Roe Hut and saw the spooky misty valley, a ghost was flying through and disappeared. Hills split shade and sunshine with a clear boundary. I could see Tamatea / Dusky Sound and Cooper Island from the Pleasant Range. That was a remarkable section of the track through more idyllic lakes. Then was a steep and steady climb downhill to Loch Maree Hut, standing along the slow flowing Seaforth River pouring out of the sound and the sea, I could see a waterfall and a drowned forest, Loch Maree, and the Kilcoy Mountains. It was sunny and the hut was pretty toasty.
The 5 hours tramp to Supper Cove Hut was straightforward. I spotted Kiwi footprints on the muddy track, a pretty bright coloured waterfall and some small caves blowing fresh air in the kind of tropical environment – warm and humid. The remote Supper Cove Hut is in front of the Duncans Seat with the Sound in-between. The Seat is a super steep bluff with trees growing on it. Shape of the intricated mountains of Fiordland redefines verticality, from geometry to mystic illusion. The Sound is a good spot for fishing in the channel – Spotty, Sea Perch, Blue Cod, Hapuka, Tarakihi, Red Cod, Red Gurnard, Blue Moki, Sand Flounder, Rig, etc. – or discover sea life – dolphins, fur seals, crested penguins, little blue penguins, visiting whales, red and black corals, seapens, etc. Resolution Island is less than 18 km far from here.
The coming low tide rose some black rocks covered of green moss and highlighted an alternative route back to Loch Maree Hut. I made some cairns on my way back because a recent slip cut the track. I had an other night in the hut. Then I walked to the next one. On my way I saw the Rebecca Falls between twin peaks as a king on his oversized chair, I passed Gair Loch and a bunch of ducks, and I lost track, following footprints of someone who might have lost track too. I found my way back by tramping down hill, then toward the Seaforth River I could hear, and spotted the 3-wire bridge and some markers, at last, leading to the hut. I was wondering who would follow my footprints… To be honest, the track is well marked according to the backcountry standard which means that some sections may be blink-and-you-miss-it!
The track continued with many more surprises. I saw the Dingwall Mountains with different point of views. It seems to be a massive bluff from one spot, literally vertical on another spot, and then it was like inverted, as if the tops moved forward like trees on a lake side. I actually had the same feeling in the Milford Track. Those fiords are like magnets: attractive and repulsive. The walk up to Centre Pass redefined steepness, again, through a steady root-way – similar to the iron-way but more natural, more the bush way, rough. As if the pass was not enough, I had decided to go off-track to reach Mt Memphis, part of the path was on snow. From the mount I could see all peaks around as well as lake Earnshaw and the Spey Valley.
I have been greeted every morning by a perfectly still valley and a blue sky. However, it was rainy most end afternoons, sometimes just a drizzle highlighting all shade of vivid green, sometimes a storm made me feel happy to stay in hut. Weather was surprisingly great most of the time (I had not used my raincoat at all), mud was only feet deep, most streams were bridged, sandflies weren’t worst than anywhere in Fiordland. The Dusky Track seems to be a rite of passage for many Kiwi trampers, fairly remote in wilderness. It made it worthwhile for me, privately, personally, to pass the rite. It was rather a mental challenge. I haven’t met a single human being along the track. A forest in Fiordland may look rather uniform and boring with just tall (up to 25 m) beech / tawhai trees but underneath those trees are all kind of vegetation and many birds with its diversity of songs, those peaceful creatures have a unique way of flying and living.
I had a short break in Wanaka, visited the DOC office and got food for five days.
Thanks to good conditions, I’ve decided to cross the wide Makarora River first because river crossing is very weather dependent. I knew it would be “challenging” but not that much. I’ve spent hours late afternoon negotiating the river, looking for the best way to cross it safely. But I could not. I’ve retreated at ¾ of the river, flow was too strong on the last quarter. Therefore, I pitched my tent on high ground. In the meantime, I discovered that I could hear like a fish, with my ear on a wood stick stuck in the bottom of the river. The effect has much more dynamism than listening to the sea with a shell.
I said to myself “it isn’t a fail because each attempt was safe – knowing my limits and how to cross safely – and I will try again tomorrow morning if weather permits.” Next morning, I tried again and again and – whereas hesitating to retreat – I finally succeeded. I found a good way, with water up to my penis – at a point you really feel how cold is the water. I blame snow melt. I marked my way with an arrow made of rocks and a pole in case I had to come back this way.
Next part to Siberia Hut was easy – similar to the Hope Valley between the Lewis and the Arthur’s Pass: alternating between grassy flat and forest. Then I found a chain of high waterfalls from the snowy tops to the river at the bottom of the valley.
I woke up at 4am by a noisy party of trampers (packing their packs in the sleeping room.) They were scared of the rather pessimistic DOC weather forecast: “rain and gale late afternoon.” I could see them heading to the pass while I was making my porridge at 5:30am. Actually, the world is for early birds, and weather was great all day. I was heading to Lake Crucible at 7am. The first kilometre were about following the valley on grassy flat. Then reasonably steeply up in the beech forest after an easy-grade river crossing. Then zig-zagging from the forest to flat tussock above the bushline – with a pretty stream to cross. Finally, the route goes up to the lake front surrounded by snowy mountains. The lake was obviously not warm enough for a swim, it was all covered of ice. Two avalanche triggered within a few minutes. I’m always impressed by avalanches, the noise it makes when cracking is chilling.
I walked down through the same route and up to the pass. The climb is moderate but I was smelling something fishy when – almost at the top – I realised that I couldn’t skip snow. I had to walk on it for about a hundred metres. That wasn’t that steep but challenging without ice-axe and crampons. Going down was much easier since oriented on the sunny side of the mountain. I pitched my tent at the bottom of Mt Awful instead of going to the hut because of the stunning view and good weather conditions.
To sum up, the two doubtful sections of the Gillespie circuit were the Makarora River and the snow walk on the pass. The first was the most challenging river crossing ever (in a technical point of view) and the second was just unsafe without basic mountaineering gear. I had not only finished the circuit but successfully completed the whole 3-month spring adventure!
For my last days before my flight back to France, I had the unsurprising idea to find a day walk tramp near the Queenstown airport. So I went to Sam Summers Hut which is a lovely depression-era mining hut built in 1930. It’s such a great hut with a biscuit box on the table, full of notes and even party pictures. It’s a great escape from the busy touristic Queenstown.
I walked to Lake Dispute and around Moke Lake, left all my spare food, matches, water bottle in the hut and flew back to France.
New Zealand is not as green as you may think. According to New Zealand Geographic: “New Zealand is the world’s greatest pesticide sprayers, and the 13th most enthusiastic fertiliser. We have more endangered species (proportionally) than anyone. We boast the fastest known extermination in the world of an order of large animals (nine species of moa). Ninety per cent of our wetlands are gone. Half our rivers are no longer safe to swim in (largely on account of intensified dairying). Māori were accomplished slash-and-burn merchants, reducing Aotearoa’s forest cover from 85 per cent to 56. The destruction wrought by European settlers halved this again in 100 years. Our forest cover is now 28-32 per cent. Japon is 70% forested. Finland is 69% forested. Italy has 35% forest cover. Moreover, the Overshoot day of New Zealand is earlier than France.”
Toitū te whenua
Contrary to what foreigners think, New Zealand is not just about nature! It's a rich culture and friendly people. Look at the Fred Dagg interviews and the funny movies What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilder People, read the Barry Crump stories, learn about the Māori culture by meeting locals and read Myths and Legends of Aotearoa Retold by Annie Rae Te Ake Ake.
Tramping was more a challenge of life than just holidays! What I do in my life as electronics engineer is no more than business critical, I work about 9h a day, 5 days a week, and I stay in a warm place. But when it comes to go tramping, I am very weather dependent, I move all day and every single day, errors are life critical. While tramping, I realised that tough time don’t last in a good mood, I would find a shelter, a town, or just good weather conditions. That's why I encourage people to go tramping, it's a path to happiness! Anyone can encourage others to discover nature. For example, one couple from Welly named Kemi and Niko had built 7 easy-access miniature huts in their area. The artists encourage participation through logbook in huts as well as events. Feedback proves interest on such artcraft. Indeed, it pushes people to visit new places. In addition, each hut has a historic highlight: memorial, mining industry, deer-culling era, etc. Read more: All Material Salvaged.
Traveling is more than experiencing the unknown, but educational and sometimes life changing. For me it has been through wilderness, the Māori culture, the Kiwi lifestyle and work experience. My way of traveling and tramping strengthened my “sense of place” in society. I actually learn more about society far away from civilization, sheltered in wilderness. Travels change the relation to your home land. Once back home, that relation could go upside down because your eyes and mind are wide open.
Travelling is by far the best life investment.
Travelling helped me to think about long term stuff. I always have a better lifestyle and open mind after each travel gap. By open mind I mean thinking out of the box and open to others. For example, I redefined my meaning of freedom. Indeed, I though freedom were the ability to express anything to anyone but I was wrong, since I also learnt respect. Finally, I really feel free when I’ve a pee on a mountain top at sunset time!
“We have a dream. Someday we’ll have a little house and a couple of acres. A place to call home.” – Of Mice And Men by John Steinbeck. I had to go to the other side of the world to realise that happiness is actually not that far.
Happiness is rather a matter of mindset.
What's next then? Well, I don't know. All I can say is that an everyday routine is temporary, the necessary gestation of the next adventure. In other words, only the dreamer is living. I'm a living dreamer.
Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed! Before to read more stories...
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