An anthology of mountaineering writing.
A track that pays tribute to optimism and folly on the West Coast.
Some of the most incredible experiences in Queensland sit on straight line between Cairns and Cape York, the northern-most tip of the Australian continent. For travellers who have wearied of Surfer’s Paradise, a treat awaits.
You know you’re in for an adventure when the map says Zebedee, Wandjina and Bungle Bungle.
One of the most important historic buildings in the New Zealand mountains.
In the heart of the Waikato there’s a multimillion-dollar industry based on a gnat. Glowworms are big business, attracting well over half a million people a year to Waitomo and prompting some to shift from working the land above ground to commercialising the creatures below it. But keeping the caves and their thousands of tiny performance artists in good health requires round-the-clock care.
When it rains, it’s very quiet on Tiritiri Matangi, except for the white-noise pattering on the canopy. When the shower passes over, there’s a pause in the forest, like a singer taking a breath before her first note, and then it begins: the fluting of korimako, the buzz of a stitchbird, the propeller-like whirr of a kereru flapping heavily through the canopy. Ahead of me, there’s an unfamiliar chuckling, and a heavy grey shadow on a branch. I’ve walked hundreds of kilometres through New Zealand’s national parks and visited some of the country’s remotest spots, but I’ve never seen a kōkako. There are two right here—a minute’s walk from the wharf, an hour’s ferry ride from the middle of Auckland city—gently murmuring at each other, hopping from tree to tree. The black mask over their eyes makes them look like old-fashioned bank robbers, or guests at a masquerade ball. I grew up on one side of the Waitematā, and now I live on the other. I’ve spent almost my entire life in Auckland, but this is my first visit to Tiritiri. The island is, according to TripAdvisor, Auckland’s number one tourist attraction. I’m delighted that it hasn’t been developed by a tourism company, but rather by an army of weekend warriors who have spent the last couple of decades planting hundreds of thousands of trees, transforming the island from empty farmland to a well-stocked bird sanctuary. Volunteers still do most of the work. The weekend I visit, a group is rebuilding a washed-out trail, and another dozen are tour guides, explaining the ecology and history of the island to small groups of visitors. The tour fee goes towards the island’s upkeep. Our volunteer guide, Trish, has a demonstration photo book, so that she can show us kororā when the nesting boxes turn out to be empty, kohekohe flowers when the tree turns out not to be in bloom, and a little bag of pohutukawa seeds so that we can see how tiny they are. When my friend asks her about the difference between mānuka and kānuka, she’s thrilled, and whips out a botanical illustration. Some tourists, she says, book their Tiritiri tour before their flights to New Zealand, and it’s the first thing they do—an early-morning arrival at the airport and they’re on the island by 10.15am. Tiritiri is the first impression we make. Nowadays we’re used to hearing about the environment in a state of perpetual decline, but Tiritiri is an example of the opposite: we came, we saw, we conquered, we regretted, we restored. In some places, we’re getting closer to the end of the trajectory than the start. There are so many Archey’s frogs—an IUCN Red List species—in a six-kilometre-square area of Whareorino that researchers have to be careful not to stand on them during monitoring. When urban streams are ‘daylighted’ in Auckland—opened to the air, rather than funnelled through concrete pipes—eels return as the streams’ health improves. And in those places where restoration and recovery are not within the Department of Conservation’s budget—as Tiritiri wasn’t—they remain within our capability to improve, as Tiritiri was. Someone had to stick the first spade in the ground at Tiri, plant the first plant, release the first bird.
Howletts Hut lies in a sheltered hollow on Daphne Ridge, an offshoot of the main Ruāhine Range. An appealing hut with an orange roof and blue walls, it has fine views of Black Ridge as well as an expansive vista of the Hawke’s Bay hinterland. In summer, it’s a place of golden tussocks, khaki beech fringes and rugged mountains streaked with grey scree slopes. From the hut, an hour’s tramp along Daphne Ridge leads through a stunted patch of mountain beech, over scree and tussock slopes, and up to a knoll beneath Tiraha, from where there is a stunning view of the Sawtooth Ridge. From this angle, the ridge certainly earns its name, with a broken spine that drops sharply to very steep, eroding gullies. During winter, after a southerly has dumped snow and an overnight freeze has cemented it in place, the ridge resembles the Southern Alps more than the Ruāhines. The hut takes its name from Hawke’s Bay schoolteacher and botanist William Howlett. Originally from England, Howlett came to New Zealand in 1875 as a remittance man (often a later-born son, not in line for any land or significant inheritance, who was paid by the family to go the colonies). He was an eccentric character. His strong interest in alpine plants drew him into the range from Mākāretu, where he taught at the local school. Naturally enough, the weather severely compromised his ability to explore the area, so in 1893–94 he and a companion built a hut on what he called Daphne Spur, named after the native daphne (Pimelea buxifolia) that grows there. In 1902, he even brought his young wife up the ridge to spend their honeymoon at the hut. Howlett’s construction lasted until about 1930. In 1938, a replacement hut was built, but by the 1970s, it had seen better days. The Heretaunga Tramping Club embarked on a major rebuild, and has maintained it ever since, with continual improvements. The hut has a distinctive design, with a steep gabled roof, and is cosy—especially on a winter’s night with the pot-belly stove glowing. Getting to Howletts is possible on several routes, all of them quite strenuous. The most direct route goes up the Tukituki River to the base of Daphne Spur, where a very steep grunt leads up to the hut (allow 6–8 hours). The Tukituki is impossible when flooded, but fortunately there’s an overland route that avoids all fords. This begins from Kashmir Rd, climbs onto the main Ruāhine Range past Longview Hut, then traverses the tops over Otumore and Taumatataua to reach Daphne Ridge. It’s a good summer route (allow 7–9 hours), but is exposed and can be slow-going in the snows of winter. A third option is to approach via Rosvalls Track, Black Ridge and the Sawtooth. Most parties attempting this route stay at Tarn Bivouac on the way in (allow 9–12 hours). Whatever way you reach Howletts Hut, you’ve earned a good rest in a fine spot.
Josh James reinvents adventure and manhood on the West Coast, with the world watching.
Go behind the scenes to find out how a team of 18,000 workers in northern China cut and shape nearly 400,000 cubic meters of ice and snow into one of the biggest winter festivals in the world… in less than a month.
Of all the Great Walks, the Kepler is the only one that was deemed ‘a classic’ from the moment it was conceived. Opened in 1988, it came about when the Department of Conservation joined several infrequently used routes on the Kepler Mountains to make a well-constructed track, with the aim of easing the number of walkers crowding onto the Milford and Routeburn tracks. That it failed in this intention and instead offered another high-standard multi-day track to walk in this wonderful part of New Zealand was entirely predictable. But its popularity seems to prove that a track doesn’t have to be an ancient Māori greenstone trail or a place of colonial history, or even feel the decades-old reverberations of explorers, hunters, trampers and their ilk to have poignancy in a world overwhelmed by humans. The well-conceived Kepler Track cuts a daring line across some spectacular Fiordland tops and links many disparate natural features—caverns of limestone, meadows of alpine plants, forests of lowland beech and two lakes of monumental size. Furthermore, it neatly returns to its start at Te Anau like a giant ouroboros (the serpent of creation that swallowed its own tail), having led you across a wild edge of Fiordland. It takes between three and four days to walk its 60 kilometres, and can be done clockwise or anticlockwise. From Te Anau to Brod Bay, the Kepler starts out gently enough through a forest of red beech and mountain beech on the edge of Lake Te Anau, the largest lake in the South Island. Whether you wander in silence or converse with a companion, these first kilometres help to clear the mind of the recent hectic past and other unnecessary thoughts. The harder work begins with the climb up the east-facing hill from Brod Bay to the bushline through an entrancing forest covered in lichens. From Luxmore Hut, the next day’s tramping is spent almost entirely above the bushline, winding around easily travelled mountain faces and ridges. The track zigzags a few times, then climbs gradually before commencing a long sidle under the northern faces of Mt Luxmore. The rocks around Mt Luxmore sparkle with crystals and mica, their grainy, gritty texture splashed in strong dark reds and blue–greys. Indeed the Kepler Track, of all the walks described in this book, has the most interest for those with a geological bent. Here it’s possible to point to the ground and roll your tongue knowingly around such expressive words as gabbro, dunite, pegmatite, diorite and gneiss. This second day, no matter what the weather, will etch long-lasting images into your memory. When glancing down to place your feet you will see rocks and alpine tussocks, flowering herbs and mountain grasshoppers; when you look out you will see huge Fiordland vistas, and may even experience an almost vertiginous feeling of spaciousness. By making an early start the following day you can walk all the way to Rainbow Reach carpark (allow seven to eight hours), or to the Te Anau outlet in 10–11 hours. But most prefer the five- or six-hour stroll down the Iris Burn to spend a third night at Moturau Hut on the shores of Lake Manapōuri. Beyond Moturau Hut, a boardwalk stretches out above a superb kettle bog, a soggy mire where tiny purple bladderworts, deep blue swamp orchids and diminutive sundews waver amongst rustling wires of rush and green sphagnum moss. After several swamps are traversed, the trail reaches the Waiau River where, at the Rainbow Reach bridge, you can catch (in summer) a shuttle bus to Te Anau. Otherwise the track continues for a further three hours of forest and riverside walk to complete the circle back at the Lake Te Anau outlet.
Fiordland is severe country with an uncompromising climate, which makes the Milford Track all the more remarkable for the relative ease with which it conveys people into the heart of this rugged wilderness. Not that walking the Milford Track is an effortless undertaking—it’s more that the Milford’s well-constructed path belies Fiordland’s severity as it comfortably steers trampers along two immense glaciated valleys and over a high pass within a spectacular landscape of mountains, snowfields and deep-green forests. In effect, walkers of the Milford are granted all the rewards of tramping in this exceptional mountain area, yet spared the struggles necessary to tramp in most other Fiordland valleys. What many aren’t spared walking the Milford is wet weather. It rains frequently (on average 7–10 metres a year) and torrentially, rapidly transforming the landscape as waterfalls formed in an instant career down previously blank rock faces, gentle watercourses become seething torrents, and water flows across the valleys—taking everything in its path like the mythical Assyrian army. Water is thus a dominant motif on the Milford, although not one that should deter you because the experience of a Fiordland storm—seen from the safety of a bridge—can be just as exhilarating as the stupendous vistas of a fine day. Beyond the immediate and awe-inspiring effects of a Fiordland inundation, water also works in more subtle ways, sustaining the luxuriant coatings of moss and epiphytes in its forests, and filling the pools, cascades and waterfalls that have added so much character to the Clinton and Arthur valleys. Gigantic Ice Age glaciers of frozen water carved the walls of these two valleys, and even today frozen snow released in mammoth winter avalanches continues to alter the landscape and vegetation. That water forms a major theme on the Milford Track is dramatically confirmed by the 580-metre Sutherland Falls, among New Zealand’s highest waterfalls (its status as the highest waterfall was only recently eclipsed by discovery of a higher one, also in Fiordland) and also by the fact that—uniquely for this country—reaching the track requires passage across two large bodies of water—Lake Te Anau and Milford Sound.
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