South Coast Track blog | July/August 2021

Choices for mid-winter tramps in southern parts of New Zealand are limited when you take into account flooded rivers, avalanches, and general cold. Long days tramping in the snow, well, not for me.

I had considered the Heaphy Track or Leslie-Karamea, but the Heaphy was closed for a few months after slips did their thing. The West Coast was out: too much rain in the offing.

I was looking for something that was not overly demanding, but a step up from my Abel Tasman circuit a month ago. This was going to lead on to the more demanding North West Circuit in Rakiura. Just ease me into it.

The South Coast is relatively bombproof. The rivers and main creeks are bridged one way or another. Some rivers are huge, like the Wairaurahiri River that comes out of the significant Lake Hauroko catchment, and the Waitutu River from Lake Poteriteri.

The first day and a half is supposedly approaching Great Walk standard. Humm. A Great Walk, but under 100 mm of water.

Beyond Wairaurahiri Hut conditions underfoot deteriorate severely, after the track seems to have been smashed by the 2018 Godzone race, where track runners from 100 teams of four made their way in a direct fashion down the track with limited care on the consequences.

On the plus side, there are good huts, generally, although idiosyncratic Westies might not fit that category.

It’s the flattest track in New Zealand, with the possible exception of the Copland Valley, or Abel Tasman.

Not likely to be too much companionship considering the time of year.

10 days of food aboard.

Boots, overtrou, and gaiters compulsory.

Yeah, a good time should be had.

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Day 1 | Port Craig Schoolhouse Hut

High tide covers the beach track. Port Craig Schoolhouse Hut near the distant point.  | South Coast Track, Fiordland National Park

Perfection in tramping is all very well, but to be honest, I’m loving being back on this great track, and I do like this old schoolhouse, with its three-tiered bunks.

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Day 2 | Wairaurahiri Hut

Swingbridge early on the way to Wairaurahiri Hut.  | South Coast Track, Fiordland National Park

Eventually, I moved off, somewhat sore from my long day yesterday, but the track is flat and along the old railway line.

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Day 3 | Waitutu Hut, night 1

The single three-wire bridge on the way to Waitutu Hut.  | South Coast Track, Fiordland National Park

The thing to do when confronted with endless bog is to realise that it will eventually finish, and being focused and forwarned helped.

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Day 4 | Waitutu Hut, night 2

Down at the beach near Waitutu Hut.  | South Coast Track, Fiordland National Park

Day 4 was a rest day. No predawn breakfast, or packing up hurriedly.

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Day 5 | Waitutu Hut, night 3

The Waitutu River is up, and the rain comes down.  | South Coast Track, Fiordland National Park

I watched the tree ferns turn from dull grey to green as the early morning light improved, and then the rain really came down.

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Day 6 | Waitutu Hut, night 4

Not much happening on a wet day at Waitutu Hut.  | South Coast Track, Fiordland National Park

Miniature ponds had developed over the trimmed lawn. As the day progressed these became one major lake.

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Day 7 | Slaughterburn Hut

Tunnel track up to Slaughterburn Hut with plenty of yellow markers.  | South Coast Track, Fiordland National Park

It turned out that this has to be my favourite day tramping in Southland.

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Day 8 | Waitutu Hut, night 5

Silver beech tree trunks adjacent to the Waitutu River.  | South Coast Track, Fiordland National Park

That detour has given me a better appreciation of Fiordland. Vast areas of relatively flat low land forest are trackless in the vicinity.

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Day 9 | Waitutu Hut, night 6

Swingbridge over a typical very black tea, no sugar, river.  | South Coast Track, Fiordland National Park

I thought there might be a possibility of walking back by the beach. Unfortunately, I wasn’t sure which way the tide was heading. If the tide was seriously coming in there was certainly no way I could climb the crumbly bouldery 20 m high cliff.

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Day 10 | Wairaurahiri Hut, again

A non-mud bath section.  | South Coast Track, Fiordland National Park

The thing about this day’s walk as you know that when you finish this particular day, it will be very much easier walking for the final two days.

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Day 11 | Port Craig Schoolhouse Hut, again

Percy Burn Viaduct and Hut.  | South Coast Track, Fiordland National Park

Pigs were a real problem in the area, but DOC wouldn’t agree to a pig shooting competition because the exact owners of the small portion of the land that was in a trust were unknown.

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Day 12 | Tuatapere, and civilisation

The Hump Ridge section of the track has gravel and boardwalks.  | South Coast Track, Fiordland National Park

After a few days trudging in a row, the longest stretch wasn’t exactly what is desired. But in life, sometimes you just need to crack out what’s required.