Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Stewart Island (March/April 2011)
Monday 14 March (1st Week)
The 1st week of the trip this year was spent doing a volunteer project at Port Pegasus. This got me into the southern part of Stewart Island without having to walk there. I had done a stint as a “vollie” last year in the Murchison Mountains, and enjoyed it that much that I was very happy to apply for this trip.
We departed Bluff on the DOC boat “Southern Winds” and arrived at North Pegasus in pouring rain and blustery wind. Brown foaming water was just raging out of Pegasus Creek and over Belltopper Falls. The whole bay must have been filled with fresh water that day.
We spent 2 days working on the old tin mine tramline track, digging out mud and cutting back the undergrowth. Thursday was our rest day where we were taken on a tour of the old historic sites, then 2 more days working and suddenly the trip was all but over. We were looked after really well, great accommodation, great food and great company. Thanks DOC for providing these opportunities. I left a food stash hanging in a tree on the tramline track.
A 4pm on Saturday afternoon, the guys dropped me off halfway up Cooks Arm, together with a large bag of sausages to help me on my way. So now I’m back on my own again. I walked for 2 hours before setting up camp about 1 ½ km NE of Magog. In the main, the scrub here is only knee deep or less so the going is relatively easy.
Sunday 20 March (Day 1)
Departed camp site at 10:00, and walked west to the head of the swampy area north of Magog. From a rocky outcrop here, I could get views down into Easy Harbour. Across the gulley from this point I saw a large? White animal making its way through the scrub. I assume it must have been a cat but could it have been an albino whitetail? From here I backtracked before progressing up through the scrub to a spot where I set up camp near the base of Magog. Along the way, I caught a glimpse of a whitetail deer sneaking through the scrub. And to my surprise, I managed to get a weak signal on my Telecom CDMA phone atop Magog, so I was able to text my wife Pam that all was OK. The weather been mostly fine with the odd passing scud.
Monday 21 March (Day 2)
I had already decided not to try to get to the southernmost point of Stewart Island, so today was going to do a circumnavigation of the granite peaks of the Pegasus area. Departed camp at 08:30, and the first stop was on top of Gog. Here the cell phone signal was better than Magog, so I got to talk to Pam this morning. The day is sunny and clear with a slight SE wind. From here I did a clockwise loop to pt236, Bald Cone, pt. 200 and back to the camp at Magog at 18:15. The area is mostly easily traversed as the scrub is low, but there are some thicker bits on the sheltered southern faces of Magog in particular. It’s a harsh environment for a plant down here. You’re trying to grow on bare rock, or in a swamp, all the time being battered by westerly gales and freezing temperatures. (And being walked on by trampers)
Tuesday 22 March (Day 3)
Departed Magog camp at 10:00, with a cool SE wind blowing, heading toward Cooks Arm. About ½ way there I pick up a well-worn track and follow it to the head of Cooks Arm. I’m there in an hour and want to get as far as possible along Cooks Arm with the tide out. The wind has dropped and the sun is shining. I arrive at the real shipbuilder’s site at 12:15. The last part of the walk involved some crutch deep wading and some bush travel. I hadn’t timed the tide exactly right. I stop for 15 mins only before following a due north compass bearing to return to North Pegasus. I arrive at Basin Creek shortly before 18:00. It’s a shady damp place but I’m tired so I stop here for the night. Since leaving Cooks Arm, I have covered about 5kms in 5 ½ hours. I’m happy with that. 50% easy going 50% challenging!
Wednesday 23 March (Day 4)
Departed camp at 09:00. Arrived at Belltopper Falls at 12:00. My navigation brought me out on the coast 200m south of the falls. I lunch for ½ an hour at the falls before heading off to pick up my food stash. I arrive at the Surveyor’s track at 13:50. The last ½ km was very scrubby and slow going. However, now I’m on a track, it is only 20 mins before I arrive at my food stash. Now I have a problem. With not having spent many days further south, with getting a big bag of sausages at the start, and now 2 more weeks of food in the stash, what am I going to do with all this food? I just manage to squeeze it all in by putting what doesn’t fit into the pack, into a bum bag carried on the front. My pack is another 10kg heavier and taller than my head. This created problem for me further up the tramline tracks as I have to climb over and crawl under the overgrowth. I choose to walk up the tramline track as it is an easy gradient all the way to the old dam site. In hindsight I should have used the Surveyor’s track instead. When the ‘Vollies” finally clear the whole tramline track, it will be a brilliant route. But it is going to require some heavy cutting before it gets to that stage! I met a couple of hunters as I was heading up the tramline track. They were based at the North Pegasus hunters hut and told me that the weather forecast was good for the rest of the week. Just the news I want to hear for my traverse of the Tin Range. I finally reach the dam site at 18:15 and set up camp there in a nice sunny spot adjacent to the dam. I’m going to stay here 2 nights in an effort to reduce the food weight in my pack. I watch a lovely sunset at 20:00.
Thursday 24 March (Day 5)
A rest day. A cool breeze to start with, but it warmed as the day progressed to become a beautiful sunny day. Last night was rather cool, so tonight I will go to bed with more layers on. I took a hike up to the site of the old tin mine near trig D. The mine was flooded so I didn’t go in for a look. I will try to make it to Rakeahua Hut tomorrow while I have this good weather.
Friday 25 March (Day 6)
It was indeed another cool night, with a light frost on the ground, but a calm sunny day followed. Departed camp at 0810 and summited Mt Allen at 1150. Note that there is a good route to the tops a few hundred metres below the dam site. The going is relatively easy with minimal scrub. There is mostly a well-worn track to follow. I lunch for half an hour before heading off towards Blakies Hill. Blakies Hill is a Dotterel breeding area and is an area devoid of scrub, consisting of low tussock grasses, hebes and lots of kiwi holes. From here, marker poles show the route across the tableland toward Rakeahua. Eventually I reach the scrub belt and an overgrown and in places boggy track. It’s still easily follow able, though frustrating at times and blood is drawn. I make it to the swing bridge across Rakeahua Stream by 18:30 and arrive at Rakeahua Hut at 19:00 as light rain starts. Good views were had from the Tin Range, especially down into Doughboy. The hut is full, so I camp outside for the night.
Saturday 26 March (Day 7)
Rest day again as it is raining. I move into the hut for a move comfortable bed. The Graf brothers (and Dad) are here hunting the Rakeahua block. Interesting discussion ensued over the pros and cons of 1080. These guys are absolutely passionate about their concern over the harm 1080 does to the native fauna. Is there a better cost effective way to control introduced pests in NZ?
Sunday 27 March (Day 8)
Departed hut in rain for Mt Rakeahua, arriving in just over 2 hours to a cold wind and misty rain. No views to be had today! I sheltered behind the radio hut while I had a quick snack, and then headed off into the scrub on a compass bearing toward Mason Bay. The scrub seemed to go on and on, but eventually I made it to open bush and easy travel. At one stage in the scrub I found myself cast upside down with my foot caught and unable to move without taking my pack off. I kept getting drawn into a steep creek, and would have to keep sidling across the scrub to stay out of it. I managed to see a kiwi and whitetail in the open bush section. I broke out of the bush at 16:00 and arrived at Mason Bay hut at 17:30, wet and dirty. However, the hut was nice and warm as there were several parties in residence. They were good company for the evening and one of them, (Duncan) had done a stint with Pip (one of the girls on this year’s trip) as a Vollie on the tramline track a couple of years earlier.
Monday 28 March (Day 9)
I head north along Mason Bay beach in a strong SW wind and squalls of light rain. I lunched just north of Little Hell Fire beach in the shelter of the bush. Hunters are in residence at LHF. I arrive at Big Hellfire Hut to find 2 people there. One of them was Mark Mellsop from the Permolat Group. All up today a relatively easy 6 ½ hrs.
Tuesday 29 March (Day 10)
Left the hut at gentleman’s hours (1000), the wind is still blowing but the sun has come out. The first part of the track is a little boggy, but I soon get through that, after which the track down to Waituna is great. It’s only taken 1 ½ hrs. As there are no hunters here, I decide to camp here for the night. I went looking for a fishing/paua spot but found nothing suitable due to the good swell rolling in with the SW wind. There is a lot of deer sign around the south end of the beach where I am camped. At 1930, I spot a deer, and shortly after that a second one. One of them comes to within 40m of where I am sitting. After 20 minutes I’m getting cold so I retreat back to the shelter of my tent.
Wednesday 30 March (Day 11)
Departed Waituna at 0945, and arrived at West Ruggedy Beach at 1230. I set up camp at a vacant hunters camping spot about 250m from the beach. It is sheltered here amongst the Manuka trees. However the wind has died away and it is sunny and warm. Went for a walk to an elevated spot at the south end of the beach, where I was able to text Pam that all was well. Then I dropped down to a fishing spot where I was able to catch a trumpeter and a wrasse. They like the limpets that I was using as bait, though they don’t stay on the hook for long. I now have fresh fish for 2 nights. Tonight’s share was noodles, peas and fish spiced with pepper and curry powder. I finished off the day with a stroll along the beach and back just before dark.
Thursday March 31 (Day 12)
Departed WRB at 0930 in sunny but windy conditions, and arrived at East Ruggedy Hut at 1045. The hut is set in a lovely open bush setting with low tree ferns. There is a large pot here, so I boil up water to wash myself, shave and wash some clothes. Before long it starts to rain, so I light the fire to dry the clothes. Several trampers arrive and appreciate the fire. A French guy and I went for a walk in the wet and windy conditions to try to catch some more fish. We didn’t have any luck though, but it was an enjoyable 2 hour outing. Using some aluminium foil left by a previous hunting party, I pouched the remaining trumpeter on the fire box, and again had it with noodles and peas.
Friday April 1 (Day 13)
By the time I left the hut at 0930, the day was looking brighter, and it turned out to be sunny, but still with the incessant wind. I lunched at the eastern end of Rocky Beach at 1200. In the next section toward Long Harry, I saw 2 kiwis on the track. From the site of the old Long Harry Hut, you look across the bay to the site of the new hut, which doesn’t look too far away. However, it seems to take ages to get there as you climb up and through several gullies before dropping back down to the new hut. I arrive there at 1345. Went and caught more wrasse for tea. I share the hut with an English and Czech couple.
Saturday April 2 (Day 14)
Departed Long Harry at 0915, and arrived at Yankee Hut at 1215. I’m back in familiar country again as I have hunted at Yankee a couple of times before. I really enjoyed the leisurely days just gone in the NW part of the island. It’s a lovely part of Stewart Island with the back drop of the Ruggedy Mountains, and nice beaches. Went and caught a fish off the rocks before losing my handline. Went back later at low tide, skinny dipped to retrieve it, then proceeded to catch several more wrasse for tea. There is a party of 4 hunters at Yankee Hut.
Sunday April 3 (Day 15)
The hunters provided me with a couple of slices of toast for breakfast. Awesome! (I really hang out for toast when I’m tramping) And they sent me on my way with a paua, which I will have for tea. Left Yankee Hut at 1000 and arrived at Christmas Village hut at 1500. The last 1 ½ hrs. seemed very monotonous. It was interesting to note the change in the bush after Lucky Beach. The podocarps now stand tall and straight. No doubt this has to do with the warmer and more sheltered location on the NE side of the island, protected from the prevailing SW winds. I collected some firewood off the beach and got the fire going. The hut is warm and cosy, and there is light rain outside. No one else is in the hut tonight. The last job for the day is to put my watch back 1 hr. at the end of daylight saving.
Monday April 4 (Day 16)
Day trip to Mt Anglem and return. It was raining just prior to getting up at 0730. Whilst having breakfast, the weather cleared with much blue sky. Departed hut at 0840, and arrived atop Mt Anglem at 1120 in sun but with a freezing SW wind. However, on the way up, I struck hail, sleet, rain and sun! I didn’t stick around up there as my hands were freezing, and I was pleased to get down to the shelter of the bush again. There is definitely a taste of winter in the air. Back at the hut, I collected more firewood and spent the afternoon in front of the fire. Another night with no other company with the exception of whitetail deer! At 1615, I spooked a deer out by the back door. I put out some broadleaf to see how much got eaten during the night. At 1845, I spied 2 deer grazing just in front of the hut. They slowly worked their way around 3 sides of the hut. At one stage, I’m looking out the window with a deer not more than 1m below me.
Tuesday April 5 (Day 17)
Up at 0630, no sight of deer outside. After a visit to the loo, I stopped to look at the broadleaf browse. It had almost been stripped. I went back inside to fire up the stove, glanced around to see a deer browsing the broadleaf. I sneaked over to the door and very slowly eased it open; the deer was only 3m away when I took a photo of it. Unfortunately I could only see its eyes when I reviewed it because most of the light had bounced back off the veranda post just off to the side. With a lot of enhancement, I managed to get a blurry image. I left the hut at 0810 and arrived at Murray Beach at 1040. On the way I called into the old Christmas Village Hut for old time’s sake and managed to perk a couple of cans of food and 3 packets of noodles. I ate one of the cans of baked beans at Murray Beach as an early lunch. I left the western end of Murray beach at 1200 and arrived at the Bungaree Hut at 1330. There was a big group of friendly hunters at Bungaree. They had boats, rods, divers and rifles. Within a couple of hours, I was treated to cups of tea, fresh cod and oysters. Later I had real mashed potato with my tea, whisky and more oysters! Thanks guys.
Wednesday April 6 (Day 18)
It’s a cold wet day so I’m staying put. Who wouldn’t! I went and caught more wrasse for tea. A deer appeared briefly on the beach mid-afternoon. Later I went for a stroll and could see where the animal had been bedded down. The rest of the immediate area was definitely not animal friendly. 6 trampers turned up in the afternoon so all up tonight we had 17 at the hut. Amongst the trampers were Frank and Honora, also Permolat members. I had my fish and noodles for tea, but that was then followed by paua patties, awesome homemade soup and a can of beer. Was I full after that!
Thursday April 7 (Day 19)
Although the hunting party had offered me a ride back to Bluff with them, I decided to carry on as I had thought of finishing this trip with a day walk around the Rakiura circuit. So I left Bungaree at 0815. First stop was Little Bungaree, then on to Port William. I was going to camp at Maori Beach but these sites have to be pre booked, so I carried on to Oban, arriving there at 1415. The DOC office told me that the Rakiura track was very muddy in places due to it being recut. Also the weather forecast for tomorrow was for more cold wet conditions. I was over mud by now, so went down to the ferry terminal and booked a ride back to Bluff that afternoon. The shuttle bus dropped me off at my brother’s place in Invercargill about 1700. The weather in Invercargill over the next 2 days was no better! I have now completed my goal of walking the length of the South Island, and most of Stewart Island. What am I to do next?