While in Fiordland, don’t miss out on the beautiful fringe country, where the fertile sheep paddocks of Southland butt up against the remote country of Fiordland National Park. The region’s towns are linked by the underrated, pastoral charms of the Southern Scenic Route (w southernscenicroute.co.nz), a series of small roads where sheep are the primary traffic hazard. From Te Anau it runs via Manapouri to SH99, following the valley of the Waiau River to the cave-pocked limestone country around Clifden. A minor road cuts west to Lake Hauroko, access point for the Dusky Track, while the Southern Scenic Route continues south through the small service town of Tuatapere (the base for hiking the Hump Ridge and South Coast tracks), to estuary-side Riverton and on to Invercargill.
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RIVERTON (Aparima), 12km east of Colac Bay, is one of the country’s oldest settlements. Frequented by whalers as early as the 1790s, the town was formally established in 1836 by another whaler, John Howell – who is also credited with kick-starting New Zealand’s now formidable sheep-farming industry. Strung along a spit between the sea and the Jacob’s River Estuary (actually the mouth of the Aparima and Pourakino rivers), where fishing boats still harbour, Riverton has a blissfully relaxed feel.
Beyond Riverton, SH99 heads into the hinterland of Invercargill, 40km away.
The Hump Ridge and South Coast Tracks
The Hump Ridge and South Coast Tracks
Tuatapere is the base for two excellent and markedly different hiking experiences: the traditional South Coast Track and the Hump Ridge Track, with its engaging combination of coastal walking, historic remains, subalpine country and relatively sophisticated huts. Both are covered on DOC’s Southern Fiordland Tracks leaflet.
Both tracks share historically interesting kilometres of coastal walking, following a portion of the 1896 track cut 100km along the south coast to gold-mining settlements around the southernmost fiord of Preservation Inlet. This paved the way for woodcutters, who arrived en masse in the 1920s. Logs were transported to the mills on tramways, which crossed the burns and gullies on viaducts – four of the finest have been faithfully restored, including the 125m bridge over Percy Burn that stands 35m high in the middle. The remains of the former mill village of Port Craig – wharf, rusting machinery, crumbling fireplaces – are equally fascinating.
The trailhead for both tracks is the Rarakau car park, 20km west of Tuatapere, accessible by bus organized through the Hump Ridge Track office; there’s secure parking here. Jetboat operators will pick up and drop off at the Wairaurahiri rivermouth, allowing you to walk sections of the tracks combined with a ride on the Wairaurahiri River.
The South Coast Track
The South Coast Track slices through the largest area of lowland rainforest in New Zealand. Although it is easy going it takes the best part of four days to reach Big River and you’ll just have to turn around and walk back unless you prearrange a jetboat out up the Wairaurahiri River. A popular alternative is to make a three-day excursion, staying at DOC’s Port Craig School Hut, and exploring the environs. Three more huts spaced four to seven hours’ walk apart provide accommodation, and camping is free.
The Hump Ridge Track
The privately managed 53km Hump Ridge Track (book in advance t 0800 486 774, w humpridgetrack.co.nz or at the office in Tuatapere) is done in three days with nights spent at two comfortable 32-bunk lodges equipped with lights, gas cookers, cooking pots and eating utensils, eight-bunk rooms, a beer and wine licence (you can’t bring your own), flush toilets, porridge cooked by the lodge manager and hot showers. There’s even helicopter bag transfer, that’s especially good for the first leg, saving you the biggest ascent when the bag is heaviest.
The tramp is occasionally muddy in places and when off the boardwalks it feels like a real “trampers’” track. It requires a good level of fitness and it isn’t for beginners or under 10s. Everyone walks the track in the same direction, starting at Rarakau.