The Waitutu area of Southland offers some challenging tramping through dense tracts of lowland podocarp forests and along wild stretches of rugged coastline, with only the Southern Ocean beyond.
The route plunges abruptly into majestic stands of, predominantly, podocarp trees, consisting mainly of rimu as well as miro, totara, rata and beech, and after 2.5 km crosses Flat Creek via a long swingbridge.
The track continues mostly along the beach, with two short sections over headlands, for a further 2 km to reach Breakneck Creek. The tides need to be low and the seas not too rough for a safe trip along this beautiful coastal section. This coastal route offers some great rock-hopping along the wave-cut platform, interspersed with delightful stretches of white sand and plenty of clear rockpools to fossick among if time allows. The seas off the south coast of New Zealand teem with wildlife; look out for Hector’s dolphins playing in the surf, fur seals basking on the rocks and occasional Fiordland crested penguins.
Along the track down to the coast are plenty of old, rusting relics from the area’s logging heydays. The South Coast Track utilises an old tramway through the forest, and the sleepers, evenly spaced along embankments and cuttings on the track, have survived to the present day and can be regarded as either help or hindrance, depending on the length of your stride. Further along the track, four massive viaducts span deep little side ravines.
A pre-arranged pick-up by jetboat from here can whisk you up the Wairaurahiri River into Lake Hauroko, a journey of about one-and-a-half hours. The full South Coast Track continues on an increasingly rough trail for another 26 kilometres beyond the Wairaurahiri River as far as Big River; beyond here is a true wilderness experience best left to the purists.