Hump Ridge Track

One of the best walking tracks in New Zealand, though most people haven’t heard of it, the Hump Ridge Track is the equal of the famous Great Walks.

Picture the ideal New Zealand tramping (hiking) track. It’d have amazing views, scenic bush, snow capped mountains, tarns (mini alpine lakes), interesting rock formations, huge sandy beaches and historic sights. That’s pretty much the Hump Ridge Track in a sentence. Run by a charitable trust (benefiting the local community in Tutatapere) rather than DOC, it is far less well known than it should be. The upside is that it is far quieter than any of the Great Walks, despite being up to (and exceeding in many ways) their standard.

The Hump Ridge Track is a 58km, three day loop tackled in a clockwise direction to get the major climb done on the first day. It runs along the south coast of the South Island, with the majority of the track in Fjordland National Park (also home to the Routeburn, Milford and Kepler Tracks further north).

After picking up my hut pass and maps from the Tuatapere Information Centre I drove to Rarakau Car Park, stopping briefly for the first of many photo opportunities.dsc08771 dsc08782 dsc08783 dsc08786

The first half hour was a pretty dull piece of track, but took me to the epic Bluecliffs Beach, which was deserted other than a few whitebait fisherman who live there. Walked 7km along the beach to the end before heading back into the bush.dsc08802 dsc08809 dsc08817dsc08825dsc08826dsc08831dsc08834dsc08840

Had a couple of dodgy moments then though. First my camera started playing up, not zooming or responding to pressing the buttons, which it had done for the first time last weekend. So I’d brought my old camera with me, only to find that it did this!dsc09157

Which thankfully I managed to fix with a reset at the lodge in the evening, but did make me a little apprehensive for the rest of the day about my camera packing up (thankfully it didn’t). About five minutes later a misplaced foot resulted in this!dsc08858

Thankfully things improved when I got to Fjordland National Park after Track Burn river, with some lovely forest, plus the longest stretch of boardwalk I’ve ever come across. Literally walked for half an hour before it stopped. Apparently 12km of the total track is boardwalk, great for avoiding mud and damaging the terrain, but a little easy / dull to walk along.dsc08864 dsc08874 dsc08876 dsc08880 dsc08881

After three and half hours I finally reached the Water Bridge Shelter for some much needed lunch. Water was collected direct from the river via a bucket off the bridge!dsc08895 dsc08890 dsc08893dsc08894

A rest was wise as the next section is the toughest of the track, on a par with the ascents on the Kepler and Routeburn, but after 15km of walking already that day, going up more than 600m in 7.5km is a reasonable push. The forest was pretty gorgeous though.dsc08902 dsc08907

It was all worth it after 5.5km when I reached Stag Point, with epic views, including a hazy Stewart Island in the distance.dsc08926 dsc08933dsc08935

Escaping the forest onto more boardwalk provided more expansive views.dsc08949 dsc08959 dsc08979

After 19km and nearly six hours walking I arrived at Okaka Lodge, soon discovering why they had replaced the word hut with lodge on the signs.dsc08987

It was the flashiest place I’ve ever stayed while tramping, with a gas fire, fully equipped kitchen, lights, mobile reception, sofas, inclusive porridge in the morning, and a fully stocked bar!dsc09001 dsc09114

For those willing to pay more options include hot showers for $10, private rooms at the lodges, and for your bag to be helicoptered between lodges, truly glamping! I had a bunkroom designed for eight to myself anyway, as there were only five of us on the track the weekend before Christmas.dsc09153

The best part though was the fully boardwalked loop track up above the hut which provided even more spectacular views, tarns (those mini alpine lakes), and probably the most unusual rock formations I’ve seen in New Zealand. I went up twice the day I arrived…dsc09028 dsc09036 dsc09048 dsc09053 dsc09057 dsc09086

But glad I went up for a third time in the morning of day two, for some dramatic shots as the sunshine gave way to dark clouds.dsc09167 dsc09170 dsc09181 dsc09188 dsc09193

Setting off from Okaka Lodge after large quantities of porridge the track then followed the ridge line, descending reasonably steeply down toward the coast, with a noticeable difference in the foliage and some more epic views.dsc09232 dsc09211 dsc09213 dsc09225 dsc09247 dsc09252 dsc09254

The historic part of the track then starts, as you join the old tramline along which they transported logs to the ill fated Port Craig mill. This area was the home of the most ambitious milling project in New Zealand history, which only lasted twelve years, until 1928. There are a number of impressive viaducts remaining though, starting with the impressive Edwin Burn viaduct, a pleasure to walk across, high above the river bed below.dsc09260-edwin-burn-viaduct dsc09263

The tramline is pretty cool to walk along, but after a couple of hours it does get a little repetitive, being basically straight, flat and quite muddy.dsc09276 dsc09280 dsc09320 dsc09330 dsc09334

The Percy Burn viaduct is possibly the largest surviving wooden viaduct in the world, 125m long and 35m high. You can’t walk over it but it’s still a hugely impressive sight in the middle of basically nowhere.dsc09286 dsc09291 dsc09306 dsc09310

There’s one more viaduct on the track, Sand Hill viaduct, which is merely 59m high and 17m high.dsc09312 dsc09316

Reaching Port Craig you’re greeted by the super cute DOC hut, an old school, dating from the days of it being a bustling little town servicing the mill.dsc09335 dsc09339

Next door is the Port Craig Lodge, up to the standards of Okaka Lodge, but the best views are from the helipad.dsc09354 dsc09355 dsc09357 dsc09359 dsc09362

Port Craig itself is a fascinating place, one of the most interesting historic sites I’ve visited in New Zealand (and I’ve visited most of them by now). With an informative leaflet and signage I had a great hour exploring what remains of the mill and town.dsc09466 dsc09450 dsc09421The best part was down on Mussel Beach, where the saw mill was located, now home to the remains of the wharf, a couple of carriages used to haul rocks to build the breakwater, and the remains of an old crane. It’s also a lovely spot, and home to the rare Hector Dolphins, which as the world’s smallest (about 1.6m long) are not very easy to spot!dsc09430 dsc09405 dsc09389 dsc09385dsc09408

I got going early on day three, seeing the sun come up.dsc09509 dsc09511

The first couple of hours weren’t particularly memorable but Blowholes Beach certainly was, with breaking waves, epic skies and a huge rainbow.dsc09529 dsc09534 dsc09543 dsc09546 dsc09551 dsc09564

There was more average bush, that I’d already walked along on day one, before returning to Bluecliffs Beach, which looked even more stunning than on the first day.dsc09579 dsc09581

In terms of difficulty the track itself is technically not challenging, but you will need to be fit enough for three consecutive 17-19km days. One way to lighten your pack is to buy food at the lodges, with the dehydrated meals pretty much the same price as you’d find them in the shops.

As the track is usually walked in one direction the only other people you’re likely to come across going the other way are on the little used South Coast Track which the Hump Ridge Track shares for half it’s length. In three days walking the weekend before Christmas I only came across three people on the track.

Tuatapere is the closest town to the track, 25 minutes drive away, and a pleasant place to spend a night. It’s an hour west of Invercargill and two and a half hours south of Queenstown (the route I took, flying down from Auckland), and home to some rather nice heritage buildings and a giant sausage!dsc08728 dsc08734 dsc08736 dsc08745 dsc08763

Author: jontycrane

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