This is the continuation of my trip to the Stewart Island that was aborted because of equipment failures. After my return to Christchurch, I bought a BOB bicycle trailer and a new pair of shoes - something called an Adidas Banshee, a strange sandal with a closed toe. Hopefully these will alleviate the equipment failure of the last trip that saw me quit at Geraldine. The continuation starts at Lake Tekapo by bus from Christchurch.
By the time I reached the Southern Link's pickup point near Cathedral Square, I had managed to bend the brackets that attached the BOB to the bike so they would not go back on ... I put the trailer in the bus in its distressed state, slightly fearful. The bus ride to Lake Tekapo left the dribble of Christchurch and arrived in beautiful sunshine at Lake Tekapo - now it was time to fix the trailer. After close examination, I discovered that the brackets had to be perfectly straight and one was slightly curved. Tekapo has very few services but it does have a garage. I left my stuff by the visitor centre and rode down, holding the trailer on with a single bracket. I was able to use a large vise that they had and now it works. How did it happen? I am not entirely certain, except that there was incredible strain on the connector as I moved the bike from the recommended 90° flop park position to upright. I have discovered a new technique to make the transition so hopefully I will be able to park and continue without further destruction.
It was a beautiful day so I took Air Safari's, Grand Traverse of Mt. Cook and the Glaciers. It was a 55min flight in a 6 seater Cessna and was simply spectacular. The weather on the other side of the mountains and the divide was quite cloudy, so we only had a glimpse of the Franz Joseph Glacier and did not even try to get to the Fox Glacier.
This left us more time to explore the mountains and glaciers in Mt. Cook National Park.
Lake Tekapo was the start of the Eco-Challenge of 2001 that will be aired in April 2002. The lake is beautiful, but the mountains behind it are rather formidable. The Grand Traverse starts by flying up the east coast of the lake.
The most photographed building in Lake Tekapo is the 1935, historic, Church of the Good Shepherd. It is made of local stone, and has a magnificent view out over the alter, as the reflection in its back window shows.
I camped at Pedallers' Paradise a hostel run by Nigel Rushton the author of two bicycle guide books of the same name. Nigel makes a marginal living by selling his books, which he produces and markets himself. His sales were cut in half by Lonely Planet's New Zealand Bicycling book and his marginal living has become even more marginal. Although his book looks amateurish, it is probably the best book for cycle touring in New Zealand. It's main advantage is its comprehensiveness, which allow you to create your own route through the country without the gaps and circles which are central to all the other books. It also details important services at intermediate places so that you are not compelled to kill yourself doing a particular day's ride. The service description is one of existence rather than detailed directions as to their location or quality, but it is really quite adequate. I wish him luck and success.
Although the forecast was for junk weather, it is beautiful and quiet. I was very late leaving, and I left with a mission for Nigel - the delivery of some of his books to the Lake Pukaki Visitor Centre. One penalty for leaving so late was the beginning of a north-westerly. This one started benignly enough, but was up to blow you off the canal road strength about an hour later as the road turned towards it. It was dead flat, with white caps in the canal, and I was reduced to my granny (0.64) gear just to make any headway. Occasionally it would gust a little more and push me on to the shoulder. This shoulder was not on the canal side of the road so I didn't emulate my plunge into the Grand Union Canal in the Cotswolds. Pedallers' Paradise warns against the canal road just under these circumstances and I took the middle exit onto SH8, and continued south with a delightful tailwind. The bicycle sailing on the canal road was bad, but I shudder to think how bad it would have been with the high-loaded bike before my new trailer.
The next 15km were with the tailwind, almost flat - it was an easy 30km an hour. However, I was not through with the wind quite yet. SH8 turned and my tailwind became a head-on crosswind like the canal. However, here it was not quite as bad, because there was some protection. The penalty for the protection were the hills. Finally I made it over the last ridge, and saw Lake Pukaki. This is another of the blue, glacial lakes, and in many ways much prettier than Lake Tekapo
I arrived at the Lake Pukaki Visitor Centre just before 4:00pm - with the wind slow-down I had been worried that I might be so late they had closed - and delivered the books. They were very impressed with the Pedallers' Paradise bicycle courier service. They had placed the order this morning.
It was still very windy when I left, with 1m breakers on Lake Pukaki, but now I turned south, and got my tailwind back. However, south of Twizel, the north-westerly changed to a slightly southern westerly, and became a cross-headwind. Progress was very slow, and I really didn't have the spirit or energy to get the next 20km to Omarama. I passed up two Holiday Parks that were 4km off the road - into the wind, and also the Glenbrook Station farm stay, home stay, and cottages that was an indeterminate way down a gravel road with the wind. About 100m beyond the Glenbrook Station, I turned around and went back. After about 1km of gravel, I found Pinky and her dog Tuffy at the end of the road. There was no place to pitch my tent, her bunkhouse was full of rowers, but she had an up-market cottage that she was willing to give me for $20. It was a delight - a fully equipped 2 bedroom cottage, with TV - I watched the BBC news for the first time in about a week.
The menacing storm to the west, that was threatening me just before I stopped, did come through later with some light showers, but I was quite dry.
Today was about 75km and 1051m of hill climbing.
The storm has passed, but it left a new sprinkling of snow on the hills.
I rode the 23km to Omarama in about one and a half hours with against a very gentle breeze. In front of me was a 600m steep climb to Lindis Pass with no services for at least 80km, and I had run out of my fuel supply, bananas. I had pretty well made up my mind to take a bus to Queenstown when I arrived in Omarama but the fact that there were no edible bananas in town confirmed my decision. The Intercity bus from Christchurch arrived at 1:00pm. My bike went easily into the back luggage compartment. In the North Island they shoved it, minus its front wheel into compartments under the bus. The South Island has the older, and for me, better busses.
I arrived in Queenstown at 3:00pm, and rode up the hill to the Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park. Queenstown is all hills. It was a beautiful afternoon so I immediately went up to the top of Ben Lomond on the Gondola. The view is magnificent and the setting of Queenstown remarkable.
Queenstown is climbing the hills and soon some may have their trees replaced by plastic and concrete.
There is no question it is a beautiful place and everyone? wants to live here.
Gibbston Valley Winery has been winning awards for its wines, the most impressive was for the best Pinot Noir at this year's London Wine Challenge. They beat 10,000 entrants from all over the world. Nobody had any of their wine left but the winery was only about 26km upwind of Queenstown.
They have cave tours of the only wine caves in New Zealand but I opted instead for a long conversation with Ross McKay, Gibbston's General Manager. They have two Pinot Noirs. The one that won was their 2000 Pinot Noir Reserve. It is made in a more robust style than their ordinary Pinot Noir which is in the classic Burgundy style of France. The ordinary Pinot was there for sampling, but it was clear that it was not yet ready to drink. Ross said that he would wait 3 or 4 more years to drink it. This had me quite confused. ``How could a wine that was not ready to drink win a wine contest?''. Apparently to be a wine contest judge, you must be able to tell if a wine will become good or great in maybe 4 to 6 years.
Unfortunately, Ross said the winery only had six bottles left, and these were being reserved for their library. I had to settle for their ordinary 2000 Pinot Noir which must be put to rest for 3 to 5 years.
This was the second time that I had tasted a Pinot Noir that was not ready to be drunk. Apparently the reason for flogging such young wines is to get back some of your bottle tax that you must pay, immediately upon bottling, to the New Zealand government.
I stayed for an elegant lunch of a barbecued chicken island, topped with very crispy bacon, on an unidentifiable, for me, vegetable base. It, along with the 2000 Chardonnay Reserve, was quite delicious.
There was a new, much stronger headwind, as I left to go back. On my way I passed the Historic Kawarau Suspension Bridge where bungy jumping was invented. There was nothing happening in the morning,
but in the afternoon they were in full swing.
I took the quieter back route to Queenstown via Arrowtown. For the most part Arrowtown is a normal, quiet, New Zealand village, but it is trying to redefine itself by restoring its historic main street from its gold mining origins.
From Arrowtown, I had semi-continual head winds with rain increasing as I approached Queenstown. When I arrived back at camp, I discovered that Martin, the Swiss bicyclist that I first met in Geraldine, had decided not to leave after all. He had broken camp early in the morning and left all his gear in the vestibule of my tent to explore Queenstown on an empty bike. I think the rain, and strong south-westerlies started about noon.
Currently, the Remarkables are not remarkable.
It has not stopped raining since I arrived yesterday and the Remarkables are still invisible. I think it is time to take the bus to Te Anau. Martin felt the same way and we, with our bikes, were on the 10:00am Atomic Shuttles bus to Te Anau. The first 50km of the trip, with the Remarkables on one side and Lake Wakatipu on the other was to be the highlight of the ride south. It was still quite pretty, even with the low clouds obscuring the Remarkables on one side and cresting the hilly cliffs on the other. However, the strong southerly head winds and light rain confirmed that it was not a riding day.
It gradually cleared as we passed through the hilly farmland of the Southland. When we arrived in Te Anau, it was brilliant sunshine with Lake Te Anau on our right as we rode to the Te Anau Holiday Camp
and in front of us as we set up our tents.
The rest of the afternoon was spent lazing and organising. I made a reservation for tomorrow for the overnight cruise of Doubtful Sound and then discovered that there was one spot available tomorrow for the Milford Track. I couldn't use it, but I told Martin and he went back after he set up his tent. While he was deciding whether to spend the $200 to go another man walked in and said ``I understand you have an opening tomorrow on the Milford Track.''. Martin was first and took it.
I misread my reservation and missed my bus to Manapouri for the cruise to Doubtful Sound. However, the kind people at the Te Anau Holiday Park noticed I was waiting after the bus had left, phoned for them to hold the boat for me, and drove me down - the boat across Lake Manapouri left 3min late and we were on our way.
It was a glorious sunny day, and remained that way for the entire time, except, of course after sunset. After our bus ride from the end of Lake Manapouri over Wilmot Pass, we arrived at Doubtful Sound.
We started out into a very strong south-westerly to go up the sound. The cliffs rose 1000m (3000') plus on either side.
At the entrance there is a seal colony, with the males actively engaging each other for territory.
Doubtful Sound was originally called Doubtful Harbour by Cook because he was not at all certain that his ships could get back out. There is a long reef protecting the entrance, and today there were strong winds blowing straight in. It is not clear to me whether it was the problems of winds or maneuverability, or both, that concerned Cook. For the only 3 week old Fiordland Navigator sailing back in, with power assisted sails, was a piece of cake.
In the open sea, with a favourable wind, the sails will increase the ships speed by a couple of knots. Here, we seemed to be going about the same speed as the wind so the sails were not catching much air.
Our anchorage for the night was completely out of the wind in First Arm. Since this was a cruise, there were activities, the only real one being kayaking. I was the last in line and they ran out of kayaks just as they got to me. Today was the first time that the ship was full. I was assured that I would be able to go out when the first person came back with a kayak. I got out a little sooner than that because Rachel, a member of the School of Management crew at Yale, managed to capsize her kayak and came in early. However, the sun was setting behind the cliffs so it rapidly became quite difficult to take pictures.
However, it was still quite delightful. Françoise, a typhoon from Tahiti,
so enjoyed the kayaking that she bullied (charmed?) the crew into letting her go out again in the morning. I lent her support during her negotiations. Two had expanded to twenty-four when we were allowed to go at 6:15am the next morning.
It was a delightful paddle and float in the still early morning. I just drifted so I could listen to the birds while the others pushed on to the end of the bay.
The early morning was delightfully calm as we made our way back to Deep Cove.
On our way we met two pods of bottlenose dolphins. The first one played in our bow wave, breaching often, but not for my camera.
The second pod saw us, submerged about 100m in front of us and came back up about 100m behind - they were all business.
It was a thoroughly delightful excursion.
At 12:30pm, I left on the bus for the overnight cruise of Milford Sound. It was quite overcast, but not raining until we got to the Divide. Up to that point the road was interesting, but not really exciting. The most impressive part of it was Lake Gunn and the Eglinton Valley.
After the Divide, the road changed from merely interesting to spectacular. It first dropped to Hollyford Valley.
While we were admiring the valley, we were visited by a curious Kea, the New Zealand mountain parrot.
Keas have been known to rip boots apart, and slash tents when they get irritated, but this one was merely content to munch on my finger without doing any real damage.
At this point the Hollyford River turns 90° to form the Hollyford Valley but the road continues up towards the Homer Tunnel, following it up towards its source in the mountains. On the way it passes some waterfalls that feed it.
The road continues climbing towards the Homer Tunnel becoming more impressive all the way.
However, not all the impressive sights were large.
On the Milford Sound side of the tunnel, the drop down to the sound was equally impressive.
Just after we arrived at the terminal, the three German bicyclists that we saw by the entrance to the Homer Tunnel arrived. They had started in Te Anau this morning and had reservations on the overnight Milford Mariner. It was precisely the thing that I did not have the courage, or in my stupidity, to attempt. There was no way I could make that road in one day, and I am not certain I could have done it in two. Any reservation that I could have made would have been in great jeopardy.
We boarded the Milford Wanderer at 4:45pm and set sail towards the mouth of the sound. We had brilliant sunshine for the afternoon, evening, and the following morning. Milford gets 7m of rain a year and it rains 2 days out of 3. This last week, with the strong south-easterlies has been quite unusual, almost bizarre, weather. There has been no rain since the Milford Track was evacuated 5 days ago - two almost unheard of occurrences. We sailed past up the fiord, past Mitre Peak towards the mouth at the Tasman Sea.
Without rain, some waterfalls were not really up to their normal glory.
We sailed to the Tasman Sea entrance, stopping first to look at two small sunbathing seals.
We sailed back to our anchorage at Harrison Cove.
Mt. Tutoko, right behind Harrison Cove, with its covering of snow, is one of the prettiest sights in Milford. We saw it both in the sunset and early sunrise.
Mitre Peak is probably the most photographed mountain in New Zealand, but it does not look like a Bishop's mitre from all directions.
We awoke to a sunny, windy, cold, and beautiful day. After a short, additional cruise around the sound, we headed for the Milford Sound terminal.
The ride back was uneventfully beautiful as we climbed up the 1500m to the Homer Tunnel and then back down through the Hollyford Valley, across the Divide, and back to Te Anau.
Martin was back from 4 days on the sunny and dry Milford Track. The river that had flooded to force the evacuation was totally innocuous.
The day started out calm enough, with storms threatening continuously in the south. However, in a couple of hours, the gentle south-easterly became a full-scale bird-stopping gale. Jericho Hill, a 250m steep climb, was my only real hill of he day.
It was protected from the wind, and even forced a swirl to my back. I had hoped that there had been a change to the normal north-westerly but it was not to be. It was even stronger at the top. It was a steep descent from here for a couple of km, but soon reverted to rolling, unprotected hills with long flats. Even the flats felt uphill in this breeze. It was no fun, and I knew it would be calm in the morning. This south-easterly seems to be filling the void left by the missing, and prevailing, north-westerly.
Blackmount, a town of two or three houses has a brand new school and community pool. It just happens to be in the riding of Bill English, the new leader of the opposition National party. Their toilets and drinking water had signs 3km in advance as being available to the public. This looked like a place to camp, but the only really obvious choice had a very explicit No Camping symbol.
As I was sitting contemplating my dilemma, four farm families, with their kids, came for an afternoon at the pool. For $60/year, any family can get a pool key. I asked Richard Lee, as he came in with his family, if he knew any where I could camp. He offered a spot on his farm, about 5km over rolling hills, and he and Trudy, drove me home, after the swim-fest was over. Their family had moved in only 3 weeks ago, and had a second house that was in the process of being cleaned up. I stayed there, with sheep and lambs, happily grazing in my front and back yards.
The morning was brilliantly sunny, and no wind. I set off amidst the sheep for a supposedly flat ride towards Clifden and Tuatapere.
It was indeed flat, with just the occasional fall and rise around a river, all the way to Clifden. On the way, the Fiordland mountains respectfully stayed off to the side.
Clifden is notable for its Historic Swing Bridge which was allowed a slow stroll across the Waiau River.
It continued mostly flat until Tuatapere. This town has recently built the new Humpridge Track whose opening I had seen featured on television. I was dissuaded from taking it after I found out the first day started was a 9 hour trek to the first hut and the trailhead was 36km down a dirt road. Just after noon, I started out towards Invercargill. Some gentle hills started to appear, but the real distress was the wind also started to come up.
I knew I was not going to get to Invercargill today so I stopped at the DOC campground at Monkey Island. Monkey Island is large beach, with a strange island right on shore. The real surprise was that the entire beach was moderately crowded, with kids boogy-boarding in the small surf, barbecues, and a young girl and her brother trying to horse whisper her unsaddled horse for a first time on the beach. She had a second saddled horse that was evidently comfortable on the beach but the first one was really recalcitrant. Her brother was not really helping either, standing the wrong way and trying to pull it onto the beach. Finally, with the example of the other one, and few well chosen pats, they got it down the 2' (60cm) embankment. They came back about an hour later with the girl riding bareback.
When I remarked to some people that this was the first beach in New Zealand that I had seen with people, they said ``You should see it around Christmas. The entire road up there (about 300m long) is full of busses!'' I am glad I missed it.
It rained most of the night, but there was a brief lull as I was taking down my drenched tent. The beach now, was quite deserted.
It continued light drizzle for most of the morning but cleared sufficiently just after noon so I could take off my rain pants. The rest of the ride to Invercargill was uneventful into a light, but quite noticeable, headwind.
After some missed turns, I found the Southern Comfort Backpackers. It is indeed as delightful as Lonely Planet suggests: paneled and colourful walls, living rooms with old fireplaces becoming bedrooms, and a kitchen that looks out onto a flowered garden. They are also sufficiently important to Stewart Island Air that they discover about 6:00pm the empty seats on tomorrow's flights, and are able to reservations for these standby seats. The standby fare to Stewart Island is just slightly more than the return fare on the ferry from Bluff. In addition, they will store, without charge, your excess stuff while you are there.
The shuttle picked me up at 7:15am and I left on a full plane (6+2 seats) for Stewart Island at 8:00am.
We flew in over Oban, Stewart Island's only town.
I joined a large school group at Stewart Island Backpackers, and then wandered around town, past the beach? on Halfmoon Bay looking for the water taxi to Ulva Island.
After some difficulty, I discovered that the dock for the water taxis was up and over a hill on Golden Bay. After about a 10min wait, I was on my way.
Ulva Island is a predator-free bird sanctuary. It was a glorious day so I was determined to spend most of it there. We arrived at Post Office Cove about 9:30am and I arranged to be picked up 5 hours later. My fellow passengers were only going to stay for 3 hours.
The mail used to be delivered to Ulva, but as soon as the population grew, that service was transferred to Oban. It is somewhat distressing to learn that this house, on an island bird preserve, is now owned by a hunter. It was also quite distressing, that the hunter's generator managed to mask out the welcome chorus of birds until I was quite deep into the forest and over a few ridges.
The island is covered almost entirely by forest, with well manicured trails.
However, the real joy of Ulva is the birdlife. My first stop was Sydney Cove. There I met a pair of Oystercatchers that gave me the broken-wing treatment, each about 3m away on opposite sides. It was clear I was near their nest but I didn't see anything at all. Then it was time for me to be harassed. I was standing quietly on the beach when a huge seal started swimming towards me. It slowly came up onto the beach and started bellowing. Then, feeling that I was sufficiently intimidated, it turned, lumbered out, and swam away.
It was at Boulder Beach that Ulva began to live up to its reputation.
There, and just a few minutes before on the trail, I saw my first Wekas.
These are flightless birds, about the size of chickens. On the beach I was given a demonstration of the pecking order. One of the birds was clearly dominant, and when another decided to come up to say hello to me, it would pick a fight. In one case, a subordinate bird was sitting about a metre behind me when it came along. That bird went into a head-down, tail-up, feathers-back complete submissive pose. I have never seen anything like it. The submission seemed to work - there was no fight.
From Boulder Beach I continued slowly, listening to the bird chorus, seeing the occasional Tui and red-headed parakeet to West End Beach where I was again greeted by couple of Wekas. These were a little bit more aggressive, even following me up the hill to the bench where I sat down to absorb my surroundings.
From there I slowly walked back to Post Office Cove, but even while practicing the fine art of walking slow that I learned as a caddy, I still arrived about 1/2 hour before my water taxi was supposed to come.
Rather than wait at the dock, I decided to take the 5min climb to Flagstaff Point. It was there that I met Gabrielle, and my plans for exploring Stewart Island were destroyed.
Gabrielle, who is a Swiss German from Ruti near Zurich, has had a love affair with New Zealand since her first trip in 1985. Tramping here rejuvenates her body and spirit and now she wanted to tramp 5 days of the 10 day North West Circuit track but was worried about tackling it alone. In addition, the water taxi to the Yankee River Hut, the beginning of her proposed trek, and returning from Freshwater Landing really needed two people to make it economic. I intended to walk the 3 day Rakiura track and then try and see the Kiwis at Mason Bay. Gabrielle had already done, the mostly boardwalk, Rakiura track and noted that the last hut on her proposed trek was at Mason Bay. I was hooked. Gallantly, and perhaps stupidly, I agreed to go with her. While we were talking, my water taxi came and went - the adventure had begun.
We slowly walked down the hill to await our respective water taxis. Hers was scheduled to come at 4:00pm and I had no idea if mine would ever come again.
This time I waited, and my water taxi came a few minutes before Gabrielle's. We agreed to meet at the DOC office in Oban to get the hut permits and arrange for the water taxi. I was going to wait for her at the dock in Golden Bay but for some reason, her taxi did not seem to be coming. Apparently they had seen some special orchids and couldn't leave until completely absorbing their essence.
I started walking over the hill, stopping to admire the Foxgloves that are quite plentiful on the island.
Foxglove is one of the sources for Digitalis, the heart attack medicine. Far be it from me to suggest that this might be an omen of the rigours ahead.
We did meet later at the DOC office where we got 5 nights of hut permits, for $5/night and I phoned to arrange for the $100 each, water taxi rides. We went to Oban's only grocery store to organise our 5 days of food to augment what each of us already had in our packs. I bought some fruit English Muffins, 500gms of butter, and about 2.5kg of bananas. Gabrielle was going to come back tomorrow morning to get enough for suppers. I already had some instant soups, freeze-dried beans, freeze-dried peas and corn, some single-serving pastas, and single servings of rice and ramen noodles, and about a kilo of trail mix. Early in the trip Gabrielle complained that we had brought too much food and that we would have to give some of it away. We didn't give any away, and barely had enough. When we left Freshwater Landing we had only one soup packet, and the noodles between us. The lesson - take at least two more days of food than you think you will ever need. Magnus, a Swede that we met at the Hellfire Pass Hut takes twice as many days as he intends to be out.
After shopping, we agreed to meet the following day for lunch at the Kai Kart.
I left my pack in storage and wandered around Oban looking for an email terminal that worked. Stewart Island is truly a small town. Several times I passed, parked in different places, the same Datsun, with its engine running. I finally saw the girl that owned it and asked her if she always did that. Her reply was ``I am not going to be long.''
Up the hill, towards Golden Bay is Observation Rock. I had not yet been there and Gabrielle felt that it would be a worthwhile tramp while she went shopping.
I continued down the other side and we met just before noon at the Kai Kart. While I was waiting for Gabrielle, Eva, who was on the plane with me from Invercargill returned after doing the 3 day Rakiura Track in a day and a half. Since the backpacker office was closed at noon, she joined us for lunch. The Kai Kart is one of the bargains in Oban. All three of us had their Blue Cod Dinner - it was excellent. Gabrielle's only complaint was that there was no beer.
After lunch I retrieved my pack and we walked down to the pier. There we discovered that we could not go to Yankee River because the rough seas made the landing impossible. Instead we could be taken to Christmas Village the previous hut. We weren't about to abort at this stage so off we went. The sea was indeed rough and nearly did in Gabrielle when she decided to sit in the copilot's seat. We were let off at some rocks down the shore from the hut and had to bush-whack our way up and down to the boulders that was euphemistically called a beach. We were told there was a trail up the hill to the track but it was far from evident.
Finding the hut was easy, but finding the trail out was not. We did not have the advantage of walking in. We examined our topo map and I decided that the trail was not behind the hut, but down the beach by the river. My guess was confirmed when I saw someone coming in.
It was now 3:30pm, last light was about 10:00pm. The Track Guide said it was 6 hours to Yankee River, so off we went. Later we would understand what 6 hours really meant.
It was a beautiful day, and continued that way until it became a beautiful night. We started up a long, relatively gentle 150m climb. My leg climbing muscles have atrophied with disuse so I had to stop for a banana break. Although initially skeptical, Gabrielle became a banana break convert and was quite dismayed when we finished them the following day.
The first climb was easy. It was the undulations that we were warned about that were the killers. These were very sharp 10m to 15m up and downs through sometimes muddy streams. It was still, though, a beautiful way to die. Our halfway point was Lucky Beach which we managed at about 4 hours rather than the prescribed 3 hours. This meant that it was almost impossible to reach Yankee River before dark. As a test, the guide said ``the track climbs steeply through dense areas of fern. Care is needed to locate the track where it enters the heavy forest.'' We located the track, and continued, with Gabrielle despairing that we would ever get to the hut and urging me to go faster. One unfortunate problem is that at no time did we really know how far we were from the hut after we left Lucky Beach. It would have been nice to know we were 1 hour or something like that as we slogged through the dark. As it became darker, we brought out my headlamp and Gabrielle's flashlight, and slogged through the mud rather than trying to go around. After a couple of hours in the dark, we saw the sign pointing to the hut. The last 200m of mud into the hut seemed to take forever, but we knew we were there. It was almost midnight.
There were 4 people in the hut and the two girls came out to greet us with the question ``Are you in training?''. It was a tough beginning, but we were now on schedule.
The American Pie team left before us saying that they were going to skip the next hut so we never saw them again. We left at about 8:00am determined not to repeat last night's disaster.
The mud on the trail leading into the hut did not seem so bad in the morning when we could see it. The track climbed sharply up once we had crossed the swing bridge. Although we were rewarded with vistas, not everything beautiful was far away.
After a few hours, we reached Smoky Beach, the halfway point, according to the topo of our day. It was late morning when we had our first view of what was the first of series of magnificent westcoast beaches. Gabrielle loves beaches and she was enthralled.
We stopped for a water/refueling break to admire and to feel a reward for yesterday's trauma. As we rested, we were serenaded by Tuis. Although we were there, it was still a long way down, and we moved slowly, enjoying the moment.
The beach, from this end is guarded by dunes, and at times it was difficult to find the track. There were times, though, when we knew we were at the right place.
We finally made it through the dunes to the river that marked the far end of the beach.
We had soup and tea for lunch, and indulged in another of Gabrielle's passions, a swim in the river. It was cold, invigorating, and quite refreshing. After our lunch and swim, we crossed the swing bridge and walked up the other side of the river having our last view of the beach.
This may have been the halfway distance point of the day, but it was not halftime. The track started up, the first of seven major ridges, two of which I could see from the beach, each of which was probably about 100m climb. None of these ridges showed up on the topo map so it was not until we had finished that we knew how many there were. I must admit that I didn't keep track but there was an entry in the Long Harry Hut logbook that said there were seven. 45° slopes seemed to be normal, with some steeper. And there was mud - both up and down. The mud going down was much more difficult, and dangerous, than going up. However, relative to what we would find later, it was comparatively dry. It was, continuously, and distressingly beautiful. Unfortunately, our bright sunshine was slowly replaced by overcast drizzle by the time we reached the Long Harry Hut at about 6:00pm.
The Long Harry Hut is tiny, with only six bunks, and unfortunately, a stove that was out for repair. The American Pie Team had indeed skipped this hut, but left an entry in the logbook as they passed, so we were alone. Long Harry is not always empty. One log entry said that there were 13 people in the hut and listed their main activity as stumbling.
Long Harry Beach has a nesting colony of the world's rarest penguins, the Hoiho or Yellow-eyed Penguin. The penguins are supposed to come back to the nest in the evening after a day of fishing. After some effort, we found the track down about 50m to the beach. There were lots of tracks, indicating that many had already returned. We hid ourselves, amongst hordes of sand flies, at the end of the beach. From there we could see several penguins playing in the water but none seemed to be ready to come in. Finally one came in, waddled across the sand, and then hopped up the side of the cliff towards its nest, somewhere further up. After two more came ashore, we decided to hop back up the cliff and have some supper.
A log entry said that they had seen a rat so it would be prudent to hang your food, which we did, on a hook in the middle of the roof. After we had been asleep for several hours, we were both awakened by a loud arrrgh. Gabrielle asked, ``Is it a rat?''. I got up and looked outside and discovered it was in fact a Kiwi, about 3m in front of the hut. It had the good grace to go in front of the hut, and then come back when Gabrielle came out to look. Neither of us were really familiar with Kiwi calls, especially so close and we were both delighted. Now we don't have any trouble.
It was still quite wet when we left, and I opted for my rain pants instead of my more comfortable shorts. The track was relatively easy until we dropped down to an unnamed boulder beach. The track up and down here was quite precipitous.
The boulders were quite large and required care in navigation. There were many times when a steadying hand was required. The track was its normal up and down through muddy stream beds until we reached the trail to the East Ruggedy Lookout
The lookout was worth the slog - it was indeed 50mud. The Rugged Islands, East Ruggedy Beach and the valley leading to the hut were laid out in front of us.
We couldn't resist the temptation to be tourists either.
On our way out, we were rewarded with a rainbow for our work.
As we got lower, the ruggedness of the beach became more evident.
The East Ruggedy Hut was about a 1km inland from the beach, and as seemed to be the case everyday we were out, the hut was always ten minutes beyond our adrenaline reserves. The walk, though, was not without its rewards.
We arrived to another empty hut, but it did not remain that way. Uli and Stephane, who arrived just as we were leaving Christmas Village Hut had skipped the Long Harry Hut and had caught up to us. It was here that I realised that there was not enough gas to last the trek. I had brought one untouched canister but had not anticipated Gabrielle's love of tea, soup, nor the cost of frying English Muffins in butter for breakfast. Stephane and Uli believed that they had more than enough fuel for the rest of their trek so they allowed us to cook our dinner on their stove. Our meagre fuel reserves lasted through lunch the following day but ran out totally at Hellfire Pass Hut, our next hut.
Today we saw our first, and only daytime Kiwi. We started out with an overcast morning and after about 15min, Gabrielle, who was always the fearless leader, motioned back to me - there was a Kiwi standing in the just off to the left of the track. It moved slowly into the middle of the track, taking no real notice of us, and then continued off into the woods.
Today was our day of mud, but first the track dropped down to West Ruggedy Beach.
Stephane and Uli caught us here and we walked along the beach for a while, until they pulled in front of us, not to be seen again until the next hut. At the end of the beach, on our way up the ridge, was one of the eyesores that unfortunately blight this part of the island.
The object of the hunt is red-tailed and Virginia white-tailed deer. The camp was not a total waste though - Gabrielle picked up her first Paua (Black Abalone) shell. Our second one was picked up off the trail, very far inland, about an hour later. The track went its normal muddy up and down until it dropped again at Waituna Bay.
From there it was back up a high ridge, and then along it with our customary up - this slope was over 45°, and rather typical.
But today was really a day of mud. Some did not look really too messy but we were able to avoid them.
Some was relatively deep, but easy to negotiate.
The really tough stuff occupied us to such an extent that I didn't get any pictures - survival was the essence. One unfortunate step ended me up over the top of my Gore-Tex socks, and there were several occasions where my shoe slipped and I ended up on my already muddy bum. One section was especially bad, with about 200m of tree to tree foot-deep mud. It left us both wishing for a boardwalk.
After the mud, a stream was nice to reduce the weight of my shoes, and wash my socks. Unfortunately, there was usually a muddy slope to climb on the other side.
As usual, the Hellfire Pass Hut seemed to be beyond us. There was, though, some encouragement.
When we arrived at Hellfire Pass Hut, we still could see down and across Ruggedy Flat, 150m below. By the morning, it was gone under the cloud. Magnus was the new man at the hut. He had just come up from Mason Bay having first completed the Southern Circuit. Our experience with mud today was positively benign. Magnus told of wading and swimming through chest-high liquid mud. This is not my idea of fun tramp. Tonight it was Magnus that helped us out with supper. Uli was now worried about running out of fuel himself, and now my canister was completely empty.
Nobody cooked in the morning so Gabrielle had to do without tea. It was low cloud so our vistas along the ridge were reduced to waves of cloud passing below us. After some time, we dropped down to Little Hellfire Beach.
From there it was straight up and over a 250m ridge and down to Mason Bay. On our way up, Gabrielle met a friend.
Ropes were provided for one muddy section on the way down. When I first saw it, I thought ``Oh oh'' and then Gabrielle pointed out the rope. Getting to the top of it required a little bit of skill and nerve. As usual we still had a lot of mud and steepness drops after we first saw the bay.
After we got to the rocks and beach, there was approximately another 7km to go to the hut, the last 1km being inland by the Duck Creek. Before we arrived, Gabrielle insisted on a picture of Mason Head with me marring the foreground.
Just as we were about to go up the creek, we met a group of three hunters, wearing tights, and leather skirts. I would have taken a picture but I was afraid of insulting them. Gabrielle was curious about how they get their deer out and we learned that they were really in it for the sport. They landed a plane on the beach at low tide and flew it out. After we had walked 15min or so, we thought we must be by the hut, but then we saw a sign saying 5min to Mason Bay Hut. We then knew we had another 10min.
The Mason Bay Hut was positively crowded compared to our previous nights.
Eric was a birdwatcher from the Netherlands who comes back again and again to Stewart Island, Ian was from Montana, and currently studying at Massey University in Palmerston North, and Andrew and Anna are from some lost part of the North Island. Uli and Stephane were also there. Again we were able to cook supper, and make tea. I arranged with Andrew to use his stove in the morning so there was morning tea.
After dinner, Eric led us on a Kiwi spotting expedition but we came up empty handed. Ian had seen one on his way down from Freshwater Landing and this one was so cooperative that it stuck around for photos.
After breakfast, with the last of our cookies, muesli bars, butter, and tea, we started off on the easy trek across Ruggedy Flat to Freshwater Landing. This section is very heavily boardwalk, with good reason.
I probed the bog by one section and my walking stick went in over a metre. I did not hit bottom. Our destination is somewhere just this side of Thomson Ridge.
There were no more Kiwis, but we did see some white-tailed deer, and a very curious Stewart Island Robin that first stopped on the trail about 20m in front, and then hopped from branch to branch until it was less than a metre from us. It had three bands and apparently is part of a conservation study run by the DOC. Shortly up the trail, we saw some black and white Tomtits. Then we met a DOC ranger, who was out feeding the robins. The robins are an endangered species and he was trying to map out their nests to see how many young they have and how many survive. When we told him of our experience, his comment was that the robin probably thought it was him with some food - so much for our attractive personality.
We arrived at the Freshwater Landing Hut at about 12;30pm in plenty of time for our 3:30pm pickup. Inside were two DOC workers having lunch, there to do hut and bridge maintenance. They had a large stove with a huge LPG canister so were quite happy to let us cook all that we had left for lunch. They asked where we were going and commented ``You're not going to climb that wee hill?'' Indeed we were not.
Our water taxi arrived at 3:00pm but we very quickly got ready started the long ride down Freshwater River. It was very quiet and calm, a marked contrast from our bumpy ride to Christmas Village.
The boat was taken back to its nighttime moorings in Golden Bay and we were driven to the DOC office in Oban.
After signing in, returning the Locator Beacon, and finding a room at Michael's Backpackers, we went out to have an elegant dinner at the Church Hill Restaurant to celebrate our success and survival.
It was a unique experience.
It poured rain most of the night and continued during the day. I was absolutely delighted that we did not climb that ``wee hill'' and were still out in it. At 7:30am, I put our names on the standby list for Invercargill. There was a possibility that there might be room on the 1:30pm flight and there seemed to several seats available at 4:00pm. The seats in this direction were really standby.
Unfortunately the Kai Kart was closed today so we went straight to the terminal without any lunch. When we arrived, we were told that we could leave immediately. The lousy weather had cancelled the sightseeing flights so more were being added for Invercargill.
This meant that we were able to check in to the backpackers early and were safely in Invercargill.
Gabrielle walked me down to the station, and saw me off, in an almost empty train. It was an appropriately uneventful trip, arriving on time in Christchurch at 5:15pm. After some grocery shopping to fill my empty kitchen, I was back at my flat.
It was an amazing trip.
This is a link to a Google Earth Map of the ride.