The southern Fiordland region with Lake Hauruko, the Hump Ridge and the Waitutu Forest, is one of Michael’s personal top 10 New Zealand experiences. This pristine area is off the main tourism track – still undiscovered. It was only after a discussion with locals, that Michael heard about Wairaurahiri Jets providing special tours in this part of NZ. This is his account of that trip:
“With friends I travelled 1.5 hours from Te Anau early in the morning to reach the Lake Hauroko car-park at 9.45am. Here we were greeted by Wairaurahiri Jet owner, Johan, who would be taking us on this mini expedition. The Wairaurahiri Jet company offers a range of tours in the area which can be combined with the Hump Ridge track, helicopter rides and other transport and guiding services.
Our trip starts with a leisurely ride of about 10 kilometres on a twin-engine powered jet boat across Lake Hauroko. What a beautiful morning! Serenely calm, crisp-clear skies and a sense of adventure crackling in the air. Our party of 7 travellers is the ideal number for a very personal experience today. Johan stops in the middle of the lake and explains about the local history; the Maori Princess who is buried on an island within Lake Hauroko. The scientific research has been done and the burial site left intact, leaving the princess at peace.
There are few boats in this huge area but we still have to sign into the DOC log book at Teal Bay before heading through the Wairaurahiri River, to meet the ocean about 30 kilometres away. The action begins to ramp up after the first few bends, as the river narrows and the water becomes shallower. I can almost touch the branches of huge beech trees with my hands (at 50 miles per hour, definitely not advisable).
For Johan and his wife Joyce, conservation is a passion. After 30 minutes or so Johan stops the boat and shows us the traps they’ve set to catch rats, stoats and weasels. These pests are ruthless predators of our New Zealand endemic bird life. They were introduced by accident and purpose 200 years ago and since then, have caused havoc among New Zealand birdlife.
This bush is truly amazing! Lush, green, almost juicy… (Pam thinks it’s so funny to hear it described that way). We hear and see many birds and believe me, that’s a good sign! Johan introduces us to the various trees found in the area as well as the local Robin population, who love dropping in to say “gidday”.
After about 2.5 hours we reach the ocean. What a sight!
The Waitutu Forest is build up over the millions of year into 13 terraces with different vegetation and geology. Scientists can read the past millions of year by looking at these terraces and interpret major events, such as volcanic eruptions, comets flying into the earth or ice ages. All this fresh air makes us ravenous! Johan instructs to go for a 30 minute walk and we return to find him standing in a chef’s apron!
No stale old white buns here folks, I’m talking the food of kings – venison steaks, salads, freshly baked bread and vegetables, all wonderfully presented. I highly recommend this ‘restaurant’!
After lunch we headed for a walk on the Waitutu Track – only for 15 minutes – to cross over the local “swing bridge”. Some of us are a little concerned, but those bridges are fun and essential in a wilderness area where there is often no other way to cross a river.
Johan arrives back with jetboat, this time wearing his other hat as a driver-guide. We head back up the Wairaurahiri River with stops on the way. The last few minutes are spent gliding over the water of the river. This tour has been a standout experience, in one of the most beautiful, purest and unexplored parts of New Zealand. It’s honestly, one of the best tours I have ever taken in my whole life! Come and see yourself.”
What a great bunch of guys we’re sharing this tour with! Not only are they all on time when the Trips & Tramps van arrives for pick-up, but they’re very friendly and with only 8 people on board, the conversation flows. The van is modern and spacious for a comfortable ride. Sorry folks, I meant to show my front side, not my backside.
Ok, not everything always goes a traveller’s way and sometimes it rains. But here’s the thing, on a grey day, the Milford Sound takes on a moody beauty. Misty grey skies contrast starkly with the colours on land and rain produces a lot of waterfalls. Love these cheerful umbrellas.
It’s a lovely 2-hour ride from Te Anau and the mist descends the further in we go. There are a couple of stops on the way for scenic shots and the ever important toilet breaks. And of course this weather heralds the arrival of those thieving rogues, the Keas, who seduce with their personalities, then set about destroying every windscreen wiper in sight.
To know them, is to love them – just never trust ‘em. Yes, I’m talking to you mate!
On these tours, timing is crucial and Stephen’s pleased that we’re the first to arrive at the Mariner vessel for a 2-hour 30min cruise of Milford Sound to the Tasman Sea. Ok, this part of the tour is mass tourism but you’ll soon forget that you’re sharing this large vessel – the sheer scale of the scenery is a great distraction.
You can easily secure yourself a strategic spot for photos and pop into the large dining area to eat lunch and warm up any time you want. But you probably won’t be indoors for long when sights like this come around the corner:
And who could resist standing in awe at the sight of this glorious cascade of water:
Back on land, we headed off in the van to The Chasm walk, a lush area of punga ferns…
…and sculptured rock forms over which tonnes of liquefied crystal roared by.
In the land down under, you can get taste of all 4 seasons in one day. Some people we met on the tracks were prepared with proper tramping shoes and wet-weather gear, and others…not so much.
We also stopped at the Homer Tunnel and the Key Summit track, the latter of which only a few brave souls walked as it was getting really cold. Well folks, I thought this tour was a great introduction to the Milford Sound. You don’t have to do any driving and you’ll get to see a part of New Zealand that has remained largely unchanged since the days of Captain Cook.
Until now, I have only stayed in Te Anau during winter (Michael has stayed in all four seasons). Yay, what a difference in February when the sun turns on the charm. We’re based at the gorgeous Koa Toa Cottage which is located a block from the main road and it’s so quiet!
Today we decided to explore the Fiordland National Park. In February everything’s pretty busy so we decided to drive 15kms off the main highway between Te Anau and Milford Sound into the Hollyford Valley. After passing the start of Lake Marian and Gunn’s camp, we arrived at the end of the Hollyford Road where the track begins. We only met 3 people on the way – not bad in peak season!
It doesn’t take long to come across the beautiful features that make this walk so appealing and yes, we still have pure water in this country…
…drinkable pure water that nature has thoughtfully refrigerated for Michael’s pleasure.
Speaking of Michael (and he does deserve a mention), this is a bloke whose heart finds it’s home in the Fiordland region. He’s walked every track down here, including the Milford but still prefers the Hollyford Track. People think that because the Hollyford Track is not mentioned as much as the Milford, it must be inferior. Wrong! You can loose yourself here (not to be confused with actually getting lost).
And you can have fun making the swing bridge shake for your wife – always appreciated.
For me, the most stunning feature is the bush and the many variety of ferns. This Featherfern has such an exquisite softness and it’s so beautiful to look at!
The Hollyford Track is usually chosen as a three-day tramp guided or unguided tramp where you’ll stay overnight in huts. You’ll love the birdlife such as the gorgeous little tom-tits and Kereru (native wood pigeon) along the way.
Walking the Hollyford Track is the perfect mind-cleanser.
Only 40 min from Invercargill and off-the-beaten-track, is a beautiful little village called Riverton, the Paua capital of New Zealand and more.The Cultural Heritage Te Hikoi Museum, is just one of many reasons to stay here for a while. Riverton does have it’s very own Peter Jackson, Mr Dave Ussher, a man with endless skill for re-creating a visual story – the faces of the mannequins are so real!
The Te Hikoi Southern Journey is told by film in the Sailing Ship Theatre where actors relive a vital part of Southland history. From there, visitors walk through exhibits replicating the film’s journey. There’s a continuous video of elderly folk (many of them now deceased) telling their story – like the sixteen year old with toothache who bike 16 km to the dentist to have her teeth pulled and just made it home in time to milk the cows! The Riverton locals never retire. Ex-farmer and mother-of-six, Catherine Hill, now edits the Riverton’s local paper.
The true essence of Riverton lies in it’s people – the locals, who in the 3 days we’ve been here, have been so incredibly helpful and friendly. Just in the space of one morning, we’ve met the Manager of the Te Hikoi Southern Journey, Carole Power, the town nurse who just happened to be passing by and Benita Dudfield, of Paua Shoppe…
… and I had no idea how versatile Paua can be. Here, beautiful and original Paua jewellery is made on the premises at very affordable prices.
Riverton is fantastic trout country but I love the fact that is great for biking. Michael swept aside the bedroom curtains this morning to reveal a beautiful blue-skied day… and a grumpy wife woken from a sound sleep. But it didn’t take me long to see that it was not the day for sleeping in. Folks, I just gotta say, biking a short distance from the town and coming across these scenic sights just swept me away from a world of worry.
Biking onwards and upwards around the coastline, we came across a walking track from where we walked down to this:
The birdlife around here is plentiful and in such an underpopulated area, they fly quite close to you. I’ve just spotted a group of shags sunning themselves on a these rocks in the background and like me, enjoying the dramatic surf.
Magical moments are made of these…sea swallows, with angel wings and such elegant fliers.
Riverton is a little ‘ripper’ of a place to stay and although we’re glad it’s not attracting the ‘selfie-stick brigade, we’d like to see more FIT travellers stopping for a while along this beautiful route to experience a piece of authentic heartland. I’ve become used to being away from the crowds and that’s such a sweet thing.
Travelling the Southern Scenic Route from Dunedin, includes driving through an area known as The Catlins, a slice of beautiful country you could describe as New Zealand, unplugged! This area represents THE rural heartland of New Zealand – stunning Bush, the most photographed waterfall in the country, and a rugged coastline:
After leaving Balclutha, the scenery changes and you’re treated to an untamed world where the locals value their personal freedoms. On this driftwood beach, a man and his horse were silhouetted against the sun. He waved at me as I took this photo.
Next stop was at kaka Point from where we travelled on gravel road towards Nugget point – a necessary pilgrimage for most visitors to The Catlins. We enjoyed the beautiful views from the Florence Hill Lookout from where Nugget Point can be seen in the far distance.
Nugget point is 23km from Kaka Point. To view the lighthouse at Nugget Point you stop at the large public carpark, park your vehicle and then walk 900m to the Lighthouse. Some of the walk is steep in places but we could see many people of different shapes, sizes and it’s so worth it, believe me!
Perhaps the highlight of this scenic spot is not the actual lighthouse, but what you see on the way up to it.
I’m a little over fur seals at the moment but international visitors are fascinated by them and they can be found along this coastline. In the meantime lunch beckons. We leave Nugget Point for the little township of Owaka, where once again we’re reminded of how much people love to collect stuff…stuff like teapots!
You can’t miss the Owaka Teapot Collection as you drive into the town and the Owaka Museum is definitely worth a visit and a donation. The latte we had in Owaka came with a weird mountain of froth on the top but it tasted good. Never judge a book by it’s cover! Re-energised, we headed off to the Purakaunui Falls, a photo of which you’ve probably seen on every book or promotion about New Zealand. Masses of pure water tumbles over 3 tiers of solid rock and it’s a beautiful sight. But first there’s a 10 min forest walk leading to it:
Why is it that people feel a compulsion to climb and conquer everything they see? Yet again, we see visitors, including New Zealanders, showing disrespect for a beautiful environment. A father encouraging his adult son to scramble up the waterfall and with each footstep scraping away 20 years growth of lichen and moss that makes this waterfall so beautiful. And he’s risking his life doing it. Shouldn’t we occasionally show some restraint and be content to quietly view nature’s handiwork?
Onwards to Cathedral Caves and because it’s located on privately-owned Maori land, there is an entrance fee of $5.00. Some Kiwis resent having to pay this fee but I guess someone has to pay for the upkeep of the road leading into the carpark. First there’s a 20 min walk through a natural podocarp and Kamahi forest that leads onto a very photogenic beach…
…where at the far end, is located the Cathedral Caves..
Inside, the caves do actually resemble a massive cathedral interior where the acoustics could be perfect for an Italian aria…and aren’t we all surprised when Michael puts this theory to the test.
There are limited accommodation options in The Catlins but just around the corner from the Cathedral Caves, we discovered a place that would suit a variety of travellers. The Whistling Frog Café and Resort may have an eccentric name but the owners have put a lot of thought into creating something unique with a lovely community feeling.
From cabins where space it limited, to fully self-contained modern cottages, plus an excellent restaurant on-site with live music.
Plenty of surprises to be found in The Catlins.