South Westland to Queenstown blog | January/February 2019

You come across new tracks in various ways.

The Haast Paringa Cattle Trail was mentioned in the film about the life of Sheila Natusch, “Some Kind of Sheila”. For her honeymoon she had biked down the West Coast with her new husband on single speed bikes long before the Haast Road was completed in 1965. Actually that trip had been featured in a Federated Mountain Club magazine article while the film was being made.

And on my trip down the West Coast on my way to the South Coast Track and Stewart Island/Rakiura I had zipped past the two entrances to the Haast-Paringa Cattle Track in my car on my way south to Stewart Island/Rakiura.

I contemplated the logistics.

Hint: get dropped off at the northern point because the southern exit is way better for hitching, being near a T intersection and a house, rather than in a random spot on a 100 km/h road.

And then moving immediately on to the South Westland coast, from Jackson Bay to the Hollyford Track, that had been on my mind ever since I scooted around the Hollyford/Pyke a few years ago. I heard an 86-year-old bloke had walked it, and a couple with a few horses, so maybe it wasn’t the horror show I’d been contemplating.

Well, this summer I was going to find out.

The main issue was that I’d been lulled into a very benign idea of the weather in the week or so I’d been back in Nelson, where it was about as fine a summer as I’d appreciate there.

Yeah, that may not continue, and I’ll be needing to be in my tent a bit.

So there is that.

Just as long as those tropical cyclones like the two that truncated my tramping and caused so much damage last summer stay away, well, until I can be in a position to head to the better weather to the east if required.

It turned out that despite a big 20 days coming down the coast that I only had a solitary night in civilisation in Te Anau. Long enough to scoff some fresh food and sort out another nine days worth.

Maybe I should have sat out some rain for another two nights, but I scurried on back to The Divide and tramped half the Greenstone and half the Caples Tracks before hitching over to the Rees-Dart Track for a quick circuit before making it to Queenstown.

By that stage, 29 days on the trot, 48 in all for the summer, it seemed sensible to head back to my own bed.

My body was telling my brain it was time for a break.

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Here are the four maps from the trip. I hitchhiked/bused the short distances between the sections. Scroll on for each day’s blog.

Haast Paringa Cattle Trail | Days 1 to 5

Cascade to the Hollyford | Days 5 to 20

Greenstone/Steele Creek/Caples Tracks | Days 21 to 24

Rees Dart Track | Days 24 to 29

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Day -1 | Nelson to Fox Glacier

In the Buller Gorge on my way to Fox Glacier the weather wasn't looking too great.

I knew today was going to be wet, and for periods in the Buller Gorge it sure was.

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Day 1 | Horseshoe Flat Hut, Moeraki River

What was that, he asked. Rifle barrel pointed at my head. | Moeraki River valley, South Westland

Every now and again he turned around for a chat, and the rifle that was attached to the top of his pack was now pointed directly at my head.

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Day 2 | Blue River Hut, after a visit to Middle Head Hut

Magical forest around Horseshoe Bend Hut. On the shady side of the valley. | Moeraki River, South Westland

For once I was out in the hills without my pack as I made my way up to Middle Head Hut for a look.

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Day 3 | Maori Saddle Hut, and out of the weather

Too easy. But it has its moments later on. | Haast Paringa Cattle Trail

Eventually rain set in and that helped to hasten movement, particularly as I became wetter, actually soaked. With the rain came a major temperature drop of about 8° C.

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Day 4 | Coppermine Creek Hut. Did you say mosquitoes?

The drop is not shown. But you can sense the uneasiness this causes. | Chasm Creek, Haast Paringa Cattle Trail

Chasm Creek stopped my flow of steps. From a distance it looks fairly perilous, with a 15 m vertical drop into stream that had to be negotiated on a wet, sloping, and potentially greasy rock face.

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Day 5 | Limestone Creek campsite. Wow, that went well

View from my throne on a calmer section of my ride. | Cascade River, South Westland

“Hang on,” he shouted. We then charged across a very bumpy, thumpy countryside.

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Day 6 | Callery Creek camping. Just a day of boulder hopping

Sandrock Bluff proved an obstacle to the 1973 road builders, but while overgrown, that track gets you over it. | Cascade River to Gorge River, South Westland

Unlike other coastal walks where I have jumped over bedrock, or large flat rocks, in this case, for the rest of the afternoon it was mostly head or cannonball-sized and shaped glacier wall moraine residue. On a slope.

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Day 7 | Callery Creek campsite, night 2. Did I mention sandflies?

Not much room in my tent. Sandflies not shown. | Callery Creek campsite, South Westland

I can cope with the day in a tent, although I’m currently mixing it out with the sandflies. Trying not to breathe them in.

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Day 8 | Gorge River Hut, night 1. Yay!! A hut!!

The Pinnacles are dramatic rock formations from some angles. | near Gorge River, South Westland

The comforts of a DOC hut are great after a few nights in a tent, and best of all, mostly sandfly proof.

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Day 9 | Gorge River Hut, night 2. A rest day

The river is bigger, stronger flowing, and a different colour after heavy rain. | Gorge River gorge, South Westland

Great to sit on a bench with my elbows on the table most of the day. Listening to the rain pelt in, and a huge wind.

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Day 10 | Gorge River, Night 3. Hanging around

The airstrip at Gorge River. Has been eaten away by storms in the middle. Almost looks tropical. It wasn't. | Gorge River, South Westland

Lots of book reading today. Ain’t that what you are supposed to do on a standard beachside holiday?

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Day 11 | Gorge River Hut, Night 4. Onto a good thing

Gorge River after the flooding. Getting back to non-flood level. | Gorge River, South Westland

I joke with people that mussels were the real reason I returned to live in New Zealand, but I never say that it’s not a joke.

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Day 12 | Gorge River Hut, Night 5. Can't sit around forever

I'll be leaving tomorrow. Maybe the weather will pick up. | Gorge River, South Westland

Watching ocean created rollers cruise up the river, or the river in flood a few days ago was the raw power of nature in action.

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Day 13 | Ryans Creek campsite, so not too far

Typical boulder hopping on the way from the Hope River to Big Bay. | near Ryans Creek, South Westland

The story of my summer. Mostly gloom and wet feet.

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Day 14 | Big Bay Hut, Night 1. Lots of rock hopping

A corpulent Fiordland crested penguin coming in to moult. Awarua Point, South Westland

The rock was mostly grippy and solid for my feet, except where it wasn’t.

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Day 15 | Big Bay Hut, night 2. Hanging out

Back to full gloom. Getting down to Big Bay Beach. | Big Bay, South Westland

Time feels like it passes slowly out here.

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Day 16 | Martins Bay Hut. Oh, people!!

That looks like lunch. Fresh mussels, just have to carry them to the hut. | Big Bay, South Westland

Still plenty of food in my pack, just becoming over-familiar after more than two weeks.

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Day 17 | Hokuri Hut. Don't let the threat of rain stop you

Rain forecast. But looks good. Oh, it arrived in the afternoon. | Hollyford River, Fiordland

Why was I hurrying on again?

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Day 18 | McKerrow Island Hut, and some solitude at last

One of a few three-wire bridges on the Demon Trail. | Hollyford track, Fiordland National Park

The water level was well over my shorts, but they needed washing, as did my undies. The bottom of my shirt was also rinsed, almost to nipple height.

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Day 19 | Hidden Falls Hut, with civilisation not so far

That's McKerrow Island where you cross to the hut. The river is down substantially in the morning. | Hollyford Track, Fiordland National Park

You might think that with the removal of 18 days’ food from my pack weight that my pack is feeling lighter.

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Day 20 | Te Anau campsite. And a choice of food!!

The substantial Hollyford River, with the steep Darran Range behind. | Hollyford track, Fiordland National Park

20 days? That’s ridiculous!!

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Day 21 | McKeller Hut, waiting for the storm

Getting down towards Lake McKellar. At the turnoff to McKellar Saddle and Caples Track. | Greenstone Track, Mt Aspiring National Park

Our jovial spirits were somewhat curtailed as this apparently was the most appropriate time to empty the septic tank. We were all severely gassed as I laced up my boots.

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Day 22 | Steele Creek Hut, back on my lonesome!!

The top part of the Greenstone Track is way better than the farmlands further down. | Greenstone Track, Mt Aspiring National Park

After three nights with plenty of others since McKerrow Island Hut it was time for a break from humanity.

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Day 23 | Caples River valley camping, just me, oh, and the sandflies

Looking down from near the Steele Creek saddle into the Caples River valley. Magnificant. | above the Caples Track, Mt Aspiring National Park

It was a major surprise to see the times from whence I come shown as 8 to 10 hours, although I figured out that I’d taken nine hours if you include all my stops.

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Day 24 | 25 Mile Creek camping. I am allowed to camp here, huh?

Start of the Rees Track at the Rees River. |  Rees-Dart Track, Mt Aspiring National Park

No expectations. No disappointments. Then anything good that happens is a bonus.

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Day 25 | Shelter Rock Hut, camping in the rain, again

A detour up to Kea Basin and Earnslaw Hut gives a great view of the Rees River valley. |  Rees-Dart Track, Mt Aspiring National Park

Still making a Moderate Effort. (Yeah, I’m not likely to ever traipse around here again, so I’d better make the most of it. One of my basic travel philosophies.)

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Day 26 | Dart Hut campsite, Night 1, among the trees

Sidling down Snowy Creek near Dart Hut. Hesse and Marshall Glaciers ahead. | Rees-Dart Track, Mt Aspiring National Park

Huge house-sized chunks of gneiss in the rocky gorge, with the track 50 m above most of the way. It’s clear that shrubbery has a short half life due to spring avalanches.

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Day 27 | Dart Hut campsite, Night 2, with a day at Cascade Saddle

The Hesse and Marshall Glaciers on the way up to the Cascade Saddle. | daytrip from the Rees-Dart Track, Mt Aspiring National Park

When tramping, a week can seem an extraordinarily long time, each day filled with new sights, experiences and people.

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Day 28 | Daley Flat Hut, inside because I prefer that tent dry

The Dart River valley. | Rees-Dart Track, Mt Aspiring National Park

I thought it prudent to up the pace mid-afternoon, but soon just upended myself, and had a serious face plant encounter with a rock. My glasses scraped down my nose, cheek and my forehead was lacerated.

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Day 29 | Queenstown, where they create a new campsite for me

Climbing around the new lake at Sandy Bluff. It's quite a way down. |  Rees-Dart Track, Mt Aspiring National Park

It might have seemed a great idea that I slipped a mattress on the living room floor last night, but that really needed to be revised at 4 05 am when the four Korean trampers emerged from their bedroom with their head torches on to cook a breakfast.

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Day 30 Queenstown. The Wrap Up

Down being a tourist at Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown

Yeah, this has been quite the expedition.