A valley like no other

The Hollyford track was exactly the experience I had sought: A quiet 10 days in the beautiful South Island bush.

Big valley, big river, big lakes, and glaciated mountains towering above it all. Then opening up towards the coast with flat lowland forest, grassy flats, and sand dunes. At the end the endless ocean, under a big empty sky. Seals, lots of seals. And a lonely Fjordland crested penguin.

I set off in beautiful weather. I finished in beautiful weather. Inbetween, I wore my raincoat for a whopping two hours. For 10 days of tramping in one of the wettest parts of the country, that’s practically unheard of.

It was dry, but not too dry for the waterfalls still being very pretty:

024 Wasserfall (300x400)

Getting up early one morning, I was rewarded with the peaks glowing in the early morning sun

028 Berge in der Morgensonne von Demon Trail Hut aus (400x300)

That day, I tackled the Demon trail. It’s got the name for a reason, as it is a devilish section of track that is rough, slippery, up and down most of the time, few flat and smooth sections, and even fewer views. To break up the routine, a walkwire across a creek here and there provided some entertainment:

030 Walkwire (400x300)

The evening at Lake McKerrow was nice, and donning latest Fjordland backcountry fashion I could actually enjoy it:

032 Ich am See bei Hokuri Hut (400x300)

Sandflies, sandflies, more sandflies…

Once off the Demon Trail, the walk out to Martin’s Bay was pure delight:

034 Der Weg nach Martins Bay (400x300)

Equally delightful is Martin’s Bay itself. The Hollyford River reaches the sea here, creating an amazing landscape of ocean, dunes, lowland forests, and a backdrop of mountains:

037 Hollyford River Muendung am Morgen (400x300)

Impressive enough during the day, absolutely stunning in the evening light:

035 Abendstimmung in Martins Bay (400x300)

Further out at Long Reef, the seal colony impresses with lots of cute pups. I sat there for a long time watching them, and a lone Fjordland crested penguin.

I jetboated back most of the way to save myself the Demon Trail. The jetboat ride was an experience in itself, with a veil of mist softening the contours of the landscape and giving it an eerie atmosphere:

043 Pyke River von der Bruecke aus (400x300)

One of the highlights of my walk was McKerrow Island. Imagine a peaceful clear lake in the sun, framed by mountains under a deep blue sky. Framed by a sandy beach, picturesque driftwood, and rare yellow dune sedge:

048 Pingao auf McKerrow Island (400x300)

The old-style hut was a pleasure to stay in:

049 McKerrow Island Huette (400x300)

Further on, Lake Alabaster impresses with a view up the Pyke valley:

052 Blick ueber Lake Alabaster ins Pyke Tal (400x300)

There was more sun and blue sky on the following day, with Mount Tutoko rising into the sky in all its glory:

053 Mt Tutoko (400x300)

Then my last night on the track, in Hidden Falls Hut. Another highlight, with grassy river flats, mountain views, and blue sky:

056 Berge bei Hidden Falls Hut (400x300)

My verdict: Highly recommendable. Just don’t forget your sandfly protective gear.

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Above the clouds

The Kepler Track was one of the most amazing tramping experiences in my life. Located in Fjordland at the bottom of the South Island, it’s one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, and for a reason.

The track takes you from Lake Te Anau up above the bushline, then across the open tops, and then back to the lake through the bush clad Iris Burn Valley.

It actually didn’t start off that well, as on the day when I went over the tops, it was all in clouds. Visibility: crap. View: 360 degrees of white. There’s a reason why Maori named the country Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud.

The only highlight was a young Kea gorging on some wild white berries. And very interested in testing his beak on my tramping gear, just like one would expect from this inquisitive species:

001 Kea (400x300)

Towards late afternoon, the cloud lifted, revealing valleys and grassy flats:

005 Iris Burn Tal beim Bach bei der Huette (400x300)

Over night, the clouds came back, but with a hint of blue in some places. So instead of the easy way out through the valley, I decided to give the tops another go and headed back up again hoping for the clouds to burn off. Some tramping decisions save your life – this one made my day.

When I finally reached the bush line, something magical happened: The cloud thinned to a veil of mist. And I stepped into a magic wonderland of steep mountain tops rising out of a white sea of cloud and into the clear blue sky:

007 Ueber den Wolken (400x300)010 Weg ueber den Wolken 2 (400x300)

Later, the cloud gradually disappeared, opening up views into the valleys:

012 Aussicht beim Hanging Valley Shelter (400x300)

… and the lake:

016 Blick auf einen Arm von Lake Te Anau (400x300)

Awesome. Absolutely amazing. Truly unforgettable.

I camped by the lake that night, in my bivvy bag on a bed of soft dry moss. After a bath in the cool clear lake:

018 Brod Bay (400x300)

This really was IT – life as beautiful as it can be.

Mouse City

In the end we decided on a walk at Lake Manapouri, where we went in again the following day (by water taxi which was fun). It was easy tramping through beech forest up to a fantastic viewpoint with views of the Lake and the surrounding mountains.

Manapouri 02 view of the lake

There were no sandflies, and we ended up sitting there and enjoying the place for a couple of hours. A couple of hours of more walking brought us to Hope Arm Hut, a mouse infested place right at the Lake.

Absolutely beautiful, and thanks to the breeze no sandflies for a while, which I used to go for a swim. Once the breeze had died and the sandflies were back, I spent an hour or so wandering up and down the beach and flat area right beside the lake, which was really nice.

Manapouri 07 Hope arm

That night, Sandra woke up because of mouse noises. She pointed her headlamp at our food bags which we had hung up, and saw a mouse looking out of a hole in one of the bags.

It was raining on the next and last day of tramping. Rather than backtracking to shorten the walk out by half an hour, I insisted on completing the loop via Back Valley hut. There’s a three-wire-bridge on the way which I hadn’t told Megan and Sandra about, and I thought it would add to their backcountry experience. It was really worth it, not just because of the bridge, but also because the river was quite nice.

It was quite a muddy walk though, but we managed not to get mud in at the top of our boots so it wasn’t too bad.

We then drove back to Dunedin, with a lunch break at the famous Bracken Hall cafe in Mossburn again. I do not normally like meat pies, but theirs are good. It’s actually the second place in NZ only that has pies that I like (with the other place being a cafe in Makarora).

After a shower and having packed our bags, we went out for dinner. It was quite a nice evening, and we found a restaurant that suited us all and sat outside on the square (Octagon actually). Quite bizarre again, a girl I know from tribal bellydance in Wellington ended up on the table next to ours. NZ is so small that even I run into people I know in the most unlikely situations.

New Year

The weather turned out to be as crappy as expected. It was actually not too bad on the 31st, and we had a nice walk up to the hut. The views once out of the bush were great, with the lake in the foreground and snow-topped mountains in the back.

Kepler 06 Lake Te Anau

We dropped our gear at the hut, had an extended lunch break and then climbed up Mt Luxmore. The summit was in the cloud and it was very cold and windy up there, so we went back to the hut pretty quickly again. The hut was full that night, but we occupied a bench right in front of the stove with a couple of other people and therefore had our own little space in a way.

Quite bizarre, but there were two people at the hut from the IT department at work. What a small world.

We all went to bed early for a couple of hours (I couldn’t sleep at all), and then got up again just before midnight to celebrate the new year. We walked up the track for about ten minutes in the hope of getting a view of the fireworks in Te Anau. There was a hill in the way, but a few fireworks went up high enough and were greeted with cheers by us and others out on the track. It was an absolutely beautiful night, quite clear and with almost a full moon.

The next day, I was absolutely knackered due to a lack of sleep. We hung around the hut until the weather forecast came in, and then decided to quit the tramp and walk back instead because of 100kmh winds. We were quite disappointed at first and spent hours thinking about what else we could do now, with a crappy weather forecast for the next few days which ruled out anything above the bush line.

Sandra and I at the hut:

Kepler 07 Sandra & Uli at Hut

On the way back we stopped for a quick celebration of the European New Year at noon, this time with water though instead of whiskey.

That night, I had a room to myself (the garage actually since the dorms had been full), which I only shared with a BMW motorcycle and a sea kayak. It was fantastic – no one snoring, just the rain drumming on the roof and the wind howling around the house. I slept in the next morning, with no one waking me up or rustling with bags. Yay!

About lakes

It was a tramping holiday in the mountains, but telling by the number of pictures I’ve taken of lakes, lakes seem to be what I’m really into.

I’ve seen a lot here in NZ by now, but there’s still a lot to discover. We chose a route down South I’ve never driven before and it turned out to be a really nice one. Lindis Pass is not much of an alpine thing, but very beautiful in its own way.

Lindis PassRouteburn & Greenstone Tracks

The first tramp we did was the Routeburn, and then the Greenstone which links up to the Routeburn and makes it a loop. On the first day the weather was fantastic, and since the forecast was not good for the following day, we just dropped our stuff at the hut and went further up.

Berge auf dem Weg zum Lake Harris

The scenerie was spectacular, and we had a good look at Lake Harris.

Lake Harris

As forecasted, the following day the mountains were in cloud. It was really cold at the saddle, but still not too clouded to climb Conical Hill. Unfortunately, we were in the mist all the way down to the next hut. The hut was in a really nice place right next to Lake McKenzie.

Lake Mc Kenzie bei der Huette

The following day, it cleared up again. That day, we turned off into the Greenstone Track, which forms a loop with the Routeburn. The Greenstone track follows runs at the bottom of the – surprise surprise – Greenstone Valley, with beautiful river flats.

Greenstone Valley

The transport back to town (Glenorchy) was by water taxi across Lake Wakatipu. Sounds dull, but turned out to be a real adrenaline thing, since the waves were quite high which made it a bit of a wild bumpy ride.

Lake WakatipuMotatapu Track

A day off, then back into the hills, this time on the Motatapu track (also known as the Shania Twain track since it runs across her property). Quite a change of scenerie, with steep farmed hills and narrow creek valleys. Hot, dusty, and rough, and we didn’t even do the really hard bits.

Motatapu Track

Out again, Pete with a cold and me with really bad blisters thanks to my new tramping boots. This forced us to have a few rest days in civilisation (= Wanaka) with lots of sleep and reading books.

Upper Wilkin

When our respective ailments had vanished, we set out into the Upper Wilkin valley. Setting out in this case meant jumping into a tiny Cessna and flying up to Jumboland airstrip (named after a horse called Jumbo). Then a flat one hour walk to Top Forks Hut, one of the nicest huts I’ve ever been at.

Top Forks Hut

The following day was nice and sunny and perfect for a walk up to a couple of lakes. Lake Diana is a quiet brownish lake, surrounded by scrub, and mountains of course.

Berge am Lake Diana

From there, it’s just 20 more minutes to Lake Lucidus, a milky glacial lake with walls of moraines around it, and glaciated mountains looming over it.

Lake Lucidus

Another two hours further up is Lake Castalia. Surrounded by walls of rock, and of clear turquois blue water, it’s absolutely stunning.

Lake Castalia

The next day was absolutely fabulous. Sunny, not a cloud in the sky, warm, and NO SANDFLIES!!!! It was that cold during the night, that they had all died, which made it a day in paradise. We had slept in, and due to the absence of these blood suckers, could spend a deliciously lazy day at the hut, reading a book, but mainly watching for ice falls off Mt Pollux.

Mt Pollux von der Huette aus

Our last day turned out to be cold and miserable. We went up to the Waterfall Basin, a beautiful alpine valley, which was worth doing even in not-so-great weather. But the wood burner in the hut was very much appreciated this evening.

We walked out to Kerin Forks Hut on the following day, and took a jetboat back to Makarora a day later.

Rob Roy Glacier

Our final tramp of the holiday was up to Rob Roy Glacier. Just a daywalk, but absolutely fantastic. It’s a very easy walk, but you get very close to the glacier. We even went further than the official viewpoint by following unmarked tracks, and were rewarded by peace & quiet and an excellent view of the glacier.

Rob Roy Glacier

There was one more tramp we had wanted to do, but then had to abandon the idea when we had arrived at the carpark, due to bad weather moving in. Instead, we went to Cardrona and spent a couple of hours in the pub (or rather in the garden at the back since the bad weather had not yet made it there).

Our final day (my final day I should say, because Pete had one more week off) was spent on the tourist trail in Arrowtown and Queenstown.

Unfortunately the weather was still lousy on the next morning and my flight along the alps to Christchurch was completely in cloud. Wanaka airport was an interesting experience though, because it’s so tiny.