When I originally decided to walk the hump ridge track, the reason was so I could go places where there were no roads, see some of the beautiful untouched Fiordland, get into the great outdoors, that sort of thing. I didn’t really give it any more thought than that, until I began to look more closely into what I had agreed to.
The Hump Ridge Track is reported to be one of the most difficult walks of the famous tramping routes in Southern New Zealand due to the 1000m ascent and descent in the 62km track which is done over three days. The famous Milford track is a shorter 54km, is flatter and is done over 4 days.
With that in mind, it probably wasn’t the best one to start off with!
Anyway, we booked it a while ago. With the booking comes a suggested kit list. Packed to minimum but essential, carrying our own food and drinks, including water purifier, we were ready to go. They manage the route well: you have to book in advance, then the lodge managers have a list of people they are expecting, so that every tramper is accounted for. If you don’t arrive by 7pm, they set off for up to an hour down the track to search for you. When you finish the track you have to call back into the booking office in Tuatapere so they know you completed it safely. All very reassuring.
We hired gaiters, collected our maps and off we went.
Day 1: 21km, 1000m ascent: Rarakau car park to Okaka Lodge – 9 hours.
After leaving the car in the car park at the start of the track, we set off just behind a group that I will nickname the ‘fit family’. We soon discovered that we were walking at around the same speed on the flat. As we were not keen to permanently share our walk all day, we let them past. They told us they were meant to do the Milford Track, but it had been closed due to bad weather, so this track had been suggested. Mum and Dad had HUGE packs, and the children smaller ones, probably both no older than early teens. Incredible. There is no way that I would have considered this ‘fun’ at that age!
The track follows the DOC maintained coastal path for 3 hours or so, then the ‘Hump Ridge track’ part begins, as does the ascent! On the coastal path part, we cross some swing bridges and pass some hunting lodges before entering into the area where there are no roads!! At the last of these, and Arnie Schwarzenegger moment occurred that did make me smile, and kind of set the scene for the whole surreal moment.
We passed this house and were just about to go back onto the coastal track, when a guy in gum boots, baggy pants and singlet strutted down the adjacent 4×4 track, rifle in hand. ‘Hi, he smiled, How’s it going?’ before carrying right on past like it was perfectly normal. Well, it probably was for him!
The well maintained cinder path continued for another wee while, closely adjacent to the coast but just in the bush, across a 3km long beach before we came to the junction in the path.
In two more days I will come to really welcome coming back to this sign! So, off up the ‘hill’ we went. We knew there was a lunch shelter and billy half way, and that is where we intended to each lunch: a pie, chocolate and an energy drink. Until then, we would sip water from the water bladder in our backpacks, and slowly eat sweets (lollies) for energy.
The track is a well maintained, well marked one that steadily goes up. And up, and up. It passes through bushland, with quite a lot of board walk for the difficult to traverse sections. At first I found the board walk boring, plus I couldn’t use the walking poles on there, due to the gaps in the boards. But, I would later learn that board walk was a light relief from difficult to traverse steep slippery slopes! I have to admit, I found this terrain a lot more challenging than I expected. Mark claims I ground down to a granny paced crawl, as if I had a peg leg! I do now regret not starting the day out with some of the stronger pain killers that I got from the doctor. I was just about spent and in agony when we reached the lunch shelter. There was no real change in the terrain, it was still rain forest, and still going up. And up. And up.
Doubts set in
At this point Mark was really quite concerned for me. I was finding it really really tough. The weather wasn’t helping, it had been lightly but steadily raining since we set out. When I sat down at the shelter, he told me that the hut managers can pull you off the track if they don’t think you’re fit, and you have to pay to be helicoptered out. He stated that he didn’t think I would make it through, and thought I would need to be lifted out if I managed to get to the top. He said there was no way I could complete day 2 and 3, I hadn’t even got to the properly steep part yet. In a heart beat I declared ‘Yes I can do it!’. With some doubt, we went off to use the billy to get water. I sat in the shelter and cried and cried. I asked myself why was I upset? Because it was harder than even I had imagined, because I was despairing at how much more difficult things become for me and this knee as time passes, because even my rock, and knight in shining armour was doubting that I would manage it.
I pulled myself together by the time he returned. I WOULD do it. you wait and see. It might be ugly but I WILL make it. Lunch plus pain killer, then it was time. We had been walking around 3;5 hours at this stage.
Off we set again.
Now, at this stage, I have to seriously say that this is the most I have ever doubted myself ever in my life. I can also hand on heart say that I do NOT think I would have made it to the top without his help.
From there, the track got steeper and steeper. And it simply continued to go up and up. There was no end to the track, and the rain forest. And we were now in terrain where board walk would be impossible. God how I was wishing there was some up here too. Boring would be good right now.
I was having to stop every half hour or so. As the terrain got steeper and steeper, I felt myself get weaker and weaker. Eventually, through concern, Mark took my pack, and carried both, one on his back, one on his front. He could see how hard this was for me, but could also see how determined I was. It was at this point that I totally understood how athletes can push themselves to the point of collapse. I could easily do this too. I would get to the top of this ‘hill’ or whatever it is, if it killed me. For 4 hours the terrain continued to go up, and get steeper, and the rain continued to come down. It began to feel like climbing, and I became concerned for poor Mark, who was still carrying both packs.
When we reached Stag Point, we got a glimpse of the hut, further up the hill. Good grief, I can’t tell you how happy this made me feel. Perhaps I was going to make it after all! But, it was a shame that by this point, the clouds were starting to set in up here, and the view below was becoming more and more obscured. Shame, because I bet its stunning on a nice day. So, with renewed hope, off we set again, and I carried the pack again for a while.
A little while later, a young girl we later learn is called Libby, appeared from behind. ‘phew’ she said, in a broad Virginian accent. ‘I set off late, 3:30pm, I ran the first half, but I think it is catching up on me now’ she sighed, as she scampered on by with a gargantuan ruck sack! Oh, to be her age right now!
By the time we reached the final junction, the tors and tarns loop, and the track to the cabin, I was just about spent, and struggling to walk. I put on a strut, to make it look like I was fine, and strolled down to the hut, to be greeted with a beautiful warm smile from the hut manager Maramar. How are you feeling, she asked, knackered I expect! I better show you your room!
And a lovely room it was too, cracking view right back down to that 3km long beach, but very quickly the fog set in, and so did the heavy rain. Shame really, it made the tors and tarns loop pointless for the whole time we were up there. I’m told it is a stunning loop with cracking views. Oh well, perhaps another time.
The lodge was lovely and toasty warm. Libby and the fit family were already here, and making their tea. I was so sore and tired, I simply sat with my feet on a stool by the fire till they stopped hurting!! After essential hot shower and tea (boil in the bag camping meals, actually really tasty) I had essential speights and chocolate as my refuelling! All the trampers were really friendly, and up here there were also two sisters who had been helicoptered in, and were walking down the way we came up, setting off tomorrow.
Day 2: 21km, 1000m descent: Okaka to Port Craig – 8 hours
Early to bed, early to rise, (brr the bed was cold, even with a ‘hottie’!) and Maramar made us all porridge for breakfast, a freebee included in the price. Proper porridge, with brown sugar! Yum Yum!!
This morning it was pouring down, but we couldn’t really afford to wait much longer than 9. It was really REALLY foggy now, and seemed to be set in for the morning, well that was the forecast anyway. So, we set off at 9am anyway. The fit family and Libby decided to wait it out a little longer, and the sisters set off down nice and early. most of their route would be sheltered in rain forest so they wouldn’t be too bad.
The route today took us along the ridge for quite a while, lots of board walk from the top to the Lunch hut on the descent path. But, due to the weather, sadly, we couldn’t see a thing. Surprisingly, my legs felt OK. I had taken a pain killer with breakfast this time, and I felt good. But, because of the constant torrential rain, now most of the path was ankle deep in mud and quite a lot of it had become a river as the flood water was finding its way down the hill. It made it difficult and meant we had to focus a lot. On this part of the track, we heard (and spotted) a Kaka. A real special moment, for sure.
We made it to the lunch hut in good time, and were on schedule. But also wet. Very wet! So, we didn’t sit long, and off we went again. From here the path descended into the rain forest, but I am pretty sure there would still be some stunning views to be had between the trees, had there not been so much low cloud. There was less board walk now (which I was now coming to realise was a blessing, not a curse) and the steep downwards track, doubling as a river today, was very tricky in parts. As the steep sections seemed to abate and we reached the first board walk section in a while, Libby came scampering past, saying hello as she disappeared. Oh, how I wish I had her energy! I was surprised that the fit family had not caught us up yet.
When we met the bottom of the track, which adjoins back to the DOC maintained coastal track, the terrain became much flatter, which was welcome relief for my very tired muscles. we joined an old abandoned 1920’s logging train track, which went on for miles, and miles and miles. It was quite pretty at first and reminded me of Longwood, another tramp we have walked. But, when all the days and day’s worth of rain was now finding its way off the hillside onto the path you were now treading, it becomes very tiresome! All the rivers were in flood, the path was flooded, majorly in some parts. This went on for miles, and miles, and miles. 3 hours of it to be precise. It was broken up by some impressive viaducts, one of which boasts to be the highest man made wooden structure in the world.
I couldn’t have been more happy, however, when I saw the school hut that marked the fact that I had reached Port Craig! The fit family caught up with us around 45 mins before Port Craig.
This hut was similar in its layout and function to the one in Okaka, however the rooms were set round a central green like a small village. There would be no walking on there though, it was waterlogged, as was I!
Port Craig used to be a thriving logging village, originally built up in the 1920’s. The sleepers are all that’s left of the railway, and the school building is the only one left of the entire village. From here its a 7 hour walk to the nearest road. Wow, how remote it was, but that was normal back then. People walked everywhere. This wee place had some sense of humour, as is seen in the ‘airport’ and signpost. It did have beach access too, but we arrived too late, due to all our flood diversions, and were too tired to go look.
More tea, more beer, more chocolate and another early night for us! My legs are real tired now!!
Day 3: 20km, Port Craig to Rarakau car park- 7.5 hours
We were last to set off today, but who cares!! Today was hopefully going to be reasonably flat and the forecast was to be dry and sunny. Too late now, my feet had to go back into wet boots!!
The first few hours of the track took us up and over a couple of headlands, rather more undulating than we expected, and much of the track from here to the car park had sustained damage due to the recent floods. That made it all the more difficult, with bits washed away, and lots of ankle deep mud, still.
But, our effort were rewarded as we descended onto some absolutely stunning coastline. On this part of the track we saw people, which we hadn’t really encountered, apart from Libby and the fit family. I assume they were all day walkers, well I hope so, judging by their equipment!
We had lunch at blowholes beach, and actually spotted some dolphins. These ones here are blue nosed dolphins, which are some of the rarest in the world, so we felt very very lucky.
When we got back to flat creek, which marked the junction in the track that we passed on day 1, it really did feel like we were almost home! This whole day’s tramp was simply stunning, remote rain forest, secluded beaches, absolutely worth all the effort. Its just a shame that the sun didn’t shine on us on day’s one and two!
With a last push yomp, after the 185 steps back up off the beach :-0 and I was so excited to see the car!!
The toughest, most challenging, yet thoroughly rewarding experience ever.
What really makes me scoff, Mark wants to now enter ‘Stump the Hump’ which is, in effect, this whole 3 day tramp, but it must be completed within 24 hours! Crazy person!!