Today I started the Dusky track. An 84km, 6-10 day walk that is claimed to be the best tracked walk in NZ. I was anticipating more sandflies than I’d ever seen before (disclaimer: I’ve been to Scotland), waist deep mud and getting holed up in huts due to flooding.
I was picked up at 0730 with blue skies about (surprisingly), driven down to one end of Lake Hauroko with seven other Dusky trampers (queue onset of rain) and boated across (~45 mins) to the northern end of the lake (rainbow, waterfalls, rain, sun, mountain peaks, smiles all ’round). BYO boat!
The captain was good for a conversation and soon we were being surrounded by sandflies at the Hauroko Burn Hut and bidding him goodbye. I was unsure what it would be like with a cluster of eight all heading off together and probably no other souls within many days’ walking from us, but it wasn’t an issue at all. In fact, I ate my lunch and then started out tottering alone for a good while. I tried to think how it came that I originally thought to do the Dusky track but I couldn’t quite remember the reason.
Right from the start the forest was a thing of beauty, which my camera couldn’t quite capture. The trees were green and the trunks mossy. And they changed. Sometimes tall and thin, other times large and gnarly. The track was more a running stream with stunning little cascades every now and then. Yes, my feet were soaked from the outset, but it didn’t matter.
At some point after the first walk wire I started walking with Josh. He’s an American who has been in NZ the past 10 years and the other solo tramper on the trip. He’s become a botanist in his spare time and was exclaiming left, right and centre about everything around us. I learnt a thing or two from him but most of it went over my head. He was very good company and we covered a diverse range of topics as we tramped along. Turns out we have the same side trip plans, which will make everything a whole lot safer to boot. Every now and then i’d hear him exclaim loudly behind me and i’d stop to check he was ok only to realise he was praising some rare tree or other. I smiled at his self-confidence – to be himself and not care that others could hear him. I do that on my own but hardly ever when others are around.
There was a section where I came close to breaking a leg as I slipped between two tight tree roots down to my right mid-thigh and my too heavy pack tilted pulling me into the muddy pool I had been trying to avoid. I could feel the pressure on my leg bone build but managed to get myself righted just in time. Phew!
Have I mentioned the mud yet?!? There was a lot of it. And it quickly became apparent that there are many, many different types of mud and i was failing at judging which steps would land me in ankle, shin, knee or even thigh deep mud. I’m determined to work it out over the next days. To get me started I’ve started a mud rating from 0-10. 0=no mud. 10=so sticky that you can’t get out even with help (let’s hope I don’t end up in any of that!). 9=stuck but someone can pull you out. 8=stuck but you can get yourself out with a lot of effort. I’m still working on the finesse of the rest of the scale. I definitely encountered an 8 and potentially an 8.5 (or is that strictly an 8?) – I was alone with both legs up to my thighs in very sticky mud and it took a bit to get out. It was still fun though in that crazy l’m now covered in mud kinda way.
The rain eased off for a wee while but then it settled back in. The last section was starting to feel like a slog and my pace dropped off so I lost Josh’s company as I tried to carefully negotiate the tree roots on some steeper downhill parts (I was starting to feel the ten days of food in my pack). I was happy to get to the hut – 9km in ~5.5 hrs! As I came into the clearing I exclaimed at the peaks I could see by the hut. Oh I was looking forward to tomorrow :)
The Halfway Hut was nice and cosy and over some span of time all the troupes arrived, we tried to dry gear, ate dinner and happily chatted away. Everyone was super nice. There were 2 Austrian blokes, a Dutch couple, a Kiwi couple, Josh and I. Josh introduced us to a new card game (shit heads) and at about 10pm I turned in for a lovely sleep.
Day 2 – Halfway Hut to Lake Roe Hut
I had a great night’s sleep and quite a lazy morning at the hut. It was still raining and I wasn’t in a hurry since it was only five hours to the next hut. I left Halfway Hut well after the other trampers; only Josh remained. I didn’t do it on purpose but I think I was keen to walk on my own for a bit. The forest was once again pretty damn beautiful! So much green!
I managed to find myself a good walking stick, since I’d stupidly left the one I had made efforts to find in Te Anau at the campground (not surprising given I’d only managed four hours sleep). I was really enjoying today’s amble and I was just smiling so much. There were hardly any muddy patches to boot (well, compared to yesterday that is!)
At one point I heard a loud crack behind me and turned to see a MASSIVE tree fall about 150-200m from me. My heart rate shot up – this was a blunt reminder that anything can happen on a tramp. I had my PLB in the roof of my pack but not my whistle … I’ll need to rectify that. I went back to check the area to make sure Josh wasn’t caught under it since it looked like the tree had fallen near the track. Luckily he wasn’t there, nor was the tree over the track.
I pushed on lost in my own thoughts, singing to myself and still smiling happily at the sights around me. I stopped where there were views of some peaks for morning tea and sat down on the river for lunch.
There were two 3 wire walk wires to negotiate today. Not long after the second one i was exclaiming at being up above the tree line and in the tussock. Hello peaks :) I went around lake Laffy and soon was at Lake Roe Hut after first checking out the views from Lake Bright.
I didn’t dally for long. I dropped my pack, pulled off the lid (it turns into a bag) and grabbed my topo. Josh came with me up to Lake Roe and then we explored a few of the peaks on the western side. The views were amazing! He commented that it was nice to share the views with someone since he often walks alone, and I had to agree with him.
I got the map out and started checking out my approach to Tamatea Peak for tomorrow. Sadly there was a snow cornice that would make the summit impossible, but maybe the Southern peak would work?? Josh had the same side trip plans for tomorrow so we agreed to head up together.
Back at the hut there were two DOC surveyors who’d been flown in for some days to monitor rock wren. Their dinner was torture to see … fresh everything! But they were very nice and we all played cards and then turned in for the night.
Day 3 – The Merrie Range
Another good night’s sleep. I got up earlier this morning and after a leisurely breakfast chatting I started preparing a day pack. Josh surprised me by saying he would push on to Loch Maree instead of doing a side trip today. So, after bidding goodbye to five of the troupes, I set out for Tamatea Peak on my own.
My plan was to ascend as much as I could safely and then, time permitting, I’d head down and then up the 1407 knoll on the other side of Deep Snowy lake and possibly ascend the Merrie Range from there. I knew from my research where to start. The clouds were coming and going but I was confident the bulk of the clouds would part to give me some views. I meandered up, ever up.
I stopped for lunch on the non-windy side of the spur in a flat section. Then, since I had nowhere I had to be, there was nothing I had to do and I knew the forecast, I laid down, watched the clouds billow past and had a nap as the keas called above me. Bliss. 1.5 hrs later I continued up the spur and stood on top of the peak just to the south of Tamatea Peak (1595m).
There was definitely no way around the snow cornice, but to my exclaimed delight I took in the sight of the basin to the east.
Peaks for as far as I could see, lakes (one frozen) and snow drifts. It was gorgeous.
I decided to see how close to the frozen lake that I could get before the snow or bluffs stopped me. I got quite a ways but then had to turn back since it was no longer safe. First I sat for awhile to take in the atmosphere and ate half a cookietime (yum) before I returned to the hut to have dinner with the Kiwis. They had a mountain radio, which provided an updated forecast at 1930 hrs.
What a nice day off :)
Day 4 – Lake Roe Hut to Loch Maree Hut
With the mist having lifted enough such that I might get some views, I set out from the hut. Most of today’s tramp kept me up above the tree line and along the Pleasant Range. It certainly was pleasant with green hills and lakes all around.
The clouds were coming and going and I was delighted to get views across to Dusky Sound for lunch part 1. Mt Solitary remained in its own personal cloud as I started the descent to Loch Maree Hut, which was only 2km away but 900m below.
Back in the tree line I was thankful that there were hardly any muddy patches – possibly helped by the fact that it hadn’t rained much in the past days.
The never ending tree roots gave great down climbing opportunities and one section had chains. Not long after lunch part 2 I arrived to stunning views and perfectly blue skies at Loch Maree. Maybe I should have stayed up high for longer ?!
I gave half a thought to continuing on to the next hut since I had only one more day of good weather before the change comes through, however there were 7 trampers (the addition of a German duo) intending to stay at Kintail Hut tonight (according to the hut log book), which sounded too crowded to me.
Instead I went for a glorious but chilly (refreshing!) swim in the Seaforth River and then lazed by the riverbank for the afternoon; sleeping and waiting for my rinsed out clothes and hair to dry. There was just enough wind to keep the sandflies away :) A flock of the rare whios (blue ducks) were flying about to my delight.
I got back to the hut at 6pm. I hadn’t seen Fran or Adam yet (the Kiwi couple). I figured it would be nice to wait for them before starting my xmas dinner, but my stomach won out in the end.
I enjoyed the closest thing to a Fondue Chinoise (Swiss xmas dinner) I could pull off in a hut while perched at a table with absolutely gorgeous views down to Loch Maree. This was certainly my favourite hut so far.
Tonight’s treat was dessert – a dehydrated Backcountry apple pie. Yummy. I chatted away to Fran & Adam and then turned in for the night.
Day 5 – Loch Maree Hut to Kintail Hut
There were some pretty sections today and the river was nice – sometimes gentle and barely flowing and other times roaring down the boulders.
I’d almost forgotten about the squelching sound of mud after two days up on the ranges but was certainly reminded of it on a few occasions.
On the whole the mud wasn’t too bad and the way was fairly easy going but I was totally over this valley walking business!!
Somewhere along the track I came across someone’s bag of rubbish that clearly hadn’t been tied securely enough to their pack and now I had to walk out. It was also festering inside … eeew.
I’d planned to do a double day but then decided against it as this plan had put me into a rushed mindset that then had me thinking about my job and studies, which I didn’t like. This plan was further doused when I came across a couple who said that the following hut was sandfly ravished. After being eaten to bits by sandflies at Loch Maree Hut last night and kept awake most of the night by a rodent running amok (and eating through my dry bag and into my sweets!!) I was certainly not in a hurry to reach Upper Spey Hut. Instead I made an extra effort to take in my surroundings a little more.
My favourite parts of today were the views of the surrounding peaks and almost 40 ducks swimming across Gair Loch. A fantail also put on quite a display for me. I decided I was just too cold for a swim even though the water was beautiful and clear.
When I got to the hut I turned in for a nap (holidays sure are bliss!) and had another enjoyable evening with the kiwi couple. I hoped I wasn’t crashing their personal time together too too much. Bonus was another weather update via their rather cool mountain radio.
Day 6 – Kintail Hut Day
Right on schedule the heavens opened during the night. We woke to the river 1.5m higher than the day before and the path looking more like a swollen creek.
There were sooo many waterfalls spilling down from the mountains surrounding our hut, which was very impressive to see. It was an easy decision to hang in the hut for the day. I did some writing and then went back to bed for a snooze. At about 11:30 I got up to feed my stomach breakfast.
The kiwis enjoyed a delicious serve of 2 minute noodles for brunch. I then played some cards, drank lots of tea, ate a lot and chatted with the Kiwis who spent the day writing their wedding vows, drawing pictures and then writing complementary stories as well as reading the hut logbook from cover to cover. Fran & Adam then produced marshmallows (!) so we made a little fire after dinner and toasted them until our sugar stomachs were full. I was taught another card game (Last Card).
We certainly did a very good job of filling our hut day :) The river was pretty much back down to the level of yesterday as we climbed into bed at the late hour of 9:30pm. The weather prognosis for the next few days looked good.
Day 7 – Kintail Hut to Upper Spey Hut via Mt Memphis
We knew the weather would be cloudy in the morning so none of us were in much of a hurry to get started. The three wire bridge outside the hut turned out to be a doosy since the tension clearly isn’t tight enough anymore. I felt like I was going to tip into the river at any moment! Then the undulating, mud & tree root fest was on again. I was impressed when we had our first sighting of the Kintail Stream. It was like it had two riverbeds – the second very green from moss (and obviously less water flow).
Up, and up. I was enjoying the view down to Tripod Hill and Gair Loch.
There were a noticeable number of tree falls, some a little tricky to work one’s way around and then find the track again.
Happily I was soon up above the tree line once more. Sadly there was still bog (!) but soon I left that behind as well as I set off to do a side trip up to Mt Memphis.
Not far into this the mist set in but it was still easy enough for me to find my way (just keep heading uphill).
I stayed up top for quite awhile in the hope I’d get some views, which I did :) though they were “bitsy” views – this would be even cooler on a blue sky day.
With map in hand, I descended back to my pack and then to Upper Spey Hut over the next few hours. I was SO excited to find boardwalk shortly before reaching the hut.
It was our last night so we all had a snack gorge. Adam found a bag of salt and vinegar shapes, which he shared (yum, just so yum). And I pigged out and had both remaining hot chocolate sachets :)
There was a lot of bird activity about – wekas, fantails and we heard kiwis as we were falling asleep!!
Day 8 – Upper Spey Hut to West Arm Hut via Mt Memphis
We woke up to blue skies. Straight away my brain suggested going back up to Mt Memphis to see all the mountains.
This would mean another night out because I couldn’t do that and make the 5pm boat. I had enough food so headed up after saying goodbye to Fran and Adam. We’d spent 7 nights together and they’d been great company.
It wasn’t a huge amount quicker only having a daypack as I recovered ground from yesterday. Who knew mud, tree roots, fallen trees, etc could take so long to negotiate.
It was all worth it. The views on top were “wow – bloody, bloody wow!” I explored the whole top of the plateau this time before ascending to the summit.
I had a second lunch back down at Upper Spey Hut, grabbed the rest of my belongings and started today’s actual walk at the early hour of 3:30pm. Goodness I love boardwalk!
About half an hour in, I came across a Yugoslav coming the other way. He fired a lot of questions at me about the condition of the track. He wanted to know if all the other legs were better than “this”. Hahaha! *Dusky Novice* He should have asked all these questions before getting on the track :P I told him today was probably the best day of valley walking out of all of them – there was hardly any mud :P Still he fired questions at me and also told me that he’d brought shoes for speed and not for mud. I think he wanted me to approve his decision?! I looked down and noticed that his running shoes were still clean – he’d clearly been bush bashing to avoid the mud. When he then asked me about the history of the Dusky track and of track building in NZ in general I said goodbye and carried on my way. LOL.
This leg of the trip was relatively good; although The Dusky (adopting the tone of the Kiwi couple) threw in some sterling boggy areas for good measure. I was pretty stoked to see the last walk wire – not long to the hut now.
I’m not sure if it was the vegetation or the time of day but there was a lot of bird activity and calling, which was great. Also, with the sun getting lower the forest took on a new, gorgeous look.
Finally I hit the junction. It was now only a 30min walk along a very well graded gravel road to West Arm Hut. 1000m+ ascent, 1500m+ descent, climbed over a ridiculous number of large, fallen trees – a decent day indeed. I was done. Should have saved a hot chocolate sachet ;)
Day 9 – West Arm Hut to Lake Manapouri
It was an arduous 15 min ramble to the ferry this morning. Now to go find my Israeli friend who’s gonna hug and feed me to death :D
First a shower and a visit to the washing machine are in order … I stink!