The Humpridge Track has astounding views, although we only knew this from the postcards they sold in the huts. We saw no views from the moment we began our mountain ascent to the following day when we came back down. We did our biggest single-day ascent in our NZ trip, to reach Okaka Hut, just the other side of the mountain top. We did this without seeing the mountain either ahead, below or beside us. This hike was in clouds. It was a muddy ascent, which we had expected, and some 10 kilometres of boardwalk saved us some of the worst of the mud.
This is a private track, despite being in Fiordland National Park, crossing private land and Maori lands. The huts are a step up from the DOC huts – dining rooms, gas heated lounge/dining areas, all utensils and cooking equipment supplied, and breakfast provided too – all for the standard $45 DOC hut fee (the peak season hut fee on Great Walks.) There were drinks and snacks for sale, and, what is this, hot showers. There is more upselling here, heli-packing – your pack transported between huts by heli. Even a heli-exit if need be.
Near the hut there was a small loop walk around the sandstone tors and tarns which I had been particularly looking forward to, but to which the clouds yielded nothing. Perhaps of equal to the views – I wouldn’t know – is Port Craig. Here, down from the mountain and on the coast, was a former logging tramway and town. Four large timber viaducts span rivers, one of them, Percy Burn Viaduct, is purportedly the largest surviving timber trestle bridge in the world.
The tramway network had been built in the 1920s to a high standard, much higher than normal. Advanced technological machinery was brought in from the US, all part of an ambitious plan to log the area. The railway network, with it’s cuttings, square sleepers, low grades and bridges would serve as a foundation for the railway that would be built when the land had been cleared, and would service the new farming land. Spur tracks were built, with radial haul tracks, to clear the forest in the most efficient method.
The viaducts, in use for a mere five years, had a life expectancy of 50 to 70 years. The Percy Burn Viaduct, the highest in the world, bankrupted the contractor who built it. Built from Australian timber, it slowly decayed. By 1990 it’s state was so poor, and it’s collapse so imminent, complex engineering drawings were made of it, so it could live on in some form. The local community rallied together to raise the money to restore it and the other viaducts. The same community met rallied again years later to build the Humpridge Track, utilising the viaducts they had saved.
The mill’s capacity was high. Milled timber accumulated on the beach, the rough seas and boat loading mechanisms unable to keep up. This, even though the tree density was never as high as initially estimated.
By 1928 the mill enterprise collapsed in the face of the Great Depression. On the Friday night workers were told the mill was closing, and this being a company town, they were all to leave on a boat set to arrive at 9am Monday morning (there was no road access to the town). The company was wound up, sold for merely 10% of it’s value. The purchasing company, still in existence today, operated the mill for just 11 months before mothballing the mill and town. By 1939, the town and mill had been dismantled and shipped off for scrap. All that remains today are the ruins of the mill and wharf, and the school building. The school building came quite late in the town’s history, as is government’s tardiness. The company had built the first school, on the beach, and then surrounded it with a stockpile of timber. So much timber, that only the roof is visible in photos. So from there the government stepped in. The school today is a DOC hut for hikers. The Humpridge Track has a village like set-up of buildings, all new.
When we had nearly reached the hut, we passed a woman walking slowing. Testimony as to why every walker should carry a map, she had become separated from her walking partner and she had retraced her previous day’s steps. Her companion had walked the correct way, but soon realised she was nowhere to be seen. Retracing his steps. He found her back at the hut, the very hut they had spent the previous night. It seems she had set out first as he, being the faster walker, had swam at the beach.
I too, immediately upon setting my pack down beside my chosen bed, walked down past the mills ruins to Mussel Beach and the former wharf of Port Craig. I stood looking out to sea for a while, before going to a swim. I ran into the water, but retreated a little due to the intense cold. Moments later, still knee deep in water, fins appeared close to me. Being a South Australian, we act as if fins mean a shark first, think later. Yes, they were dolphins. I was a little freaked out, they swam around me in an arc. I think if someone else was with me, I would have actually swam, and I think the two dolphins would have swam right up to me.
I later discovered that these two dolphins are two of the three Hectors Dolphins that live in this small bay. Indeed, I saw the mother and calf. These Hectors Dolphins are endangered. Endemic to New Zealand, they are some of the smallest and rarest. Maori named them Tutumairekurai, which means ‘special ocean dweller’. They are the only dolphins with a rounded dorsel fin. They are also in the North Island of New Zealand, but are a separate sub species and are physically and genetically different.
The walk out on the third day was quite flat, but still good. I saw a tree I was quite excited to see, the Toothed Lancewood. I have an Icebreaker t-shirt, one of two I wore in NZ, which has a design on the front representing the leaves of the tree. I shall quote from the inside of my t-shirt:
The Toothed Lancewood (Pseudopanax Ferox) is a small endemic tree to New Zealand, it is sometimes referred to as Fierce Lancewood due to it’s sawtooth juvenile leaves.
The above map data does not come from my GPS unit, I accidentally deleted all files from my GPS unit losing this map. This is someone else's file.