Planning trips around the weather has never been as problematic as it was this Summer, and as the calendar flipped over to January, my son and I found ourselves in one of the dampest places on earth – Fiordland. Our fingers had wrinkled up with water in Milford, and on New Years Eve we’d dutifully stood in the rain by a bonfire at midnight in Te Anau, and despite being able to kill time from the dry comfort of our van, I was kind of over – I mean really over – the rain. What I really wanted was an overnight hike in Fiordland, but with only one day not painted red in precipitation on the radar, I had to come up with a new plan.
On the other side of the Waiau River mouth on Lake Manapouri, there is a nice little figure eight hike that is home to two huts. My information told me the closest loop – Circle Track – was 3hours, and the second – which sidled passed the huts – was 6hours, plus a half hour link that joined them. With a 9 hour hike out of the question for my son, I hatched a plan. If we kayaked across the bay from Frazer Beach in Manipouri, we could bypass the first loop and just do just the second.
Putting our kayaks in at the southern most end of Frasers Beach, we pointed our bows at The Monument Hill – a conveniently obvious landmark for our purpose. I’m fairly handy with a map, but I still couldn’t be exactly sure where we needed to land so as not to over shoot the track. But as luck would have it, as we neared the beach at our set direction, I spotted a pink buoy swinging from the bough of a beech tree. That had to be a marker of some kind. So we grounded our boats and tied them off. Sure enough the buoy was marking the end of the beachside section of the track. Exactly where we wanted to be.
Within 20 minutes of landing our kayaks we made it to the signpost for the link route that connects the two loops tracks. We decided to do our loop in an anti-clockwise direction and set off toward Hope Arm Hut.
The beginning section of our hike was typical of Fiordland and reminded me of the third leg of the Kepler; mountain beech ceilings above endless carpets of crown ferns, and lounge suite sized mossy mounds. About halfway to Hope Arm we crossed a suspension bridge above the soil rich Garnock Burn and entered a brief swampy patch with it’s telltale friend, Bog and Celery Pine. Soon enough it dried up underfoot and we popped out onto the golden beach at Hope Arm.
The beach was so littered with fallen mountain beech leaves that it was springy and soft, and my son marvelled at the irony of a beach made of beech, so he celebrated with backflips off the natural trampoline. Stuffed with lunch, we then went to find the hut which was hidden at the southern most end of the beach. It is a sturdy 12 bunk hut, and we found it housing a group of day visitors who had come in by boat.
From Hope Arm Hut the track headed inland into the swampy interior flats. Quietly, we got sucked into the stillness that hung over the bush, which was permanently on the breathless side of the wind. It spoke a forlorn story of being left out, and forgotten, by the colourful stories told by the breeze. Two hours later we crossed the aptly named Stinking Creek on a wire walk, to pop out into a clearing, in which the tiny Back Valley Hut squatted in a corner. This was a Hut that had seen better days. However, despite its quirky and rustic dilapidation, the hut book reported plenty of activity for both rats and hikers, with the clearing being used for large parties of explorers at times.
From the hut, a side trip to Lake Rakatu is possible, but with time against us, we carried on to continue our loop. Under the gaze of spindly legged Manukas and lichen bearded beech, we squelching our why through large tracts of mud as we skirted the edge of a swamp. Sandflies and larvae mucked in the wallows. I could not help but marvel at how different the two sides of this loop track were – a Lord of the Rings analogy would put Orcs on this side, and magical Tree Elves on the other.
Pleased to finally leave the swamp, we climbed atop a low lying ridge, making our way back into Elven territory, and the mossy green wonderland from the beginning of our hike – completing the circuit in 7 hours as promised by the adding of track signs.
With evening and hungry sandflies upon us, we hastily removed boots and slipped our kayaks back in the mirror glass of Lake Manapouri. Letting our arms do the last of the work, we enjoyed the slow and mellow paddle back to our waiting van. It was a beautifully still evening and the perfect end to a day. Grey clouds hung low. Promises of rain were made.
Grade: Moderate tramping track
Time: 6-7 hours return
Accomodation: Hope Arm Hut (12 bunks) Back Valley Hut (4 bunks)
MapTopo50: Manapouri CD07 and Lake Monowai CE07