Eyes Above The Waves

Robert O'Callahan. Christian. Repatriate Kiwi. Hacker.

Tuesday 25 January 2022

Hump Ridge Track

We have established a tradition of a group tramping trip in the South Island every year. Usually it's in December, but this time we couldn't leave Auckland as planned, so we postponed it by a month — to last week. This year we decided to do Hump Ridge; I've heard from people who loved it, it is scheduled to become an official Great Walk, and I haven't been to the very bottom end of the South Island before.

The group keeps growing and this year we had seventeen people altogether. The core has been friends I've known through ACPC but as the group has grown it has become quite diverse — a wide range of backgrounds, ethnicities, and ages, and this year for the first time more women than men — lots of fun. At this size it's a challenge to organise but I love the people and relish the tramping (especially introducing new people to tramping) and this year I enjoyed it all as much as ever.

We convened in Queenstown on Sunday the 16th, most of us flying down in the morning although some arrived earlier. As traditional we met at The World Bar in Queenstown and had lunch together. We rented a few big cars and drove down to Tuatapere to stay at Tui Base Camp overnight to get an early start on the track on Monday morning. The table tennis table there was an opportunity for certain people to show off their (considerable) skills.

The first day on the Hump Ridge Track is pretty tough. There's a long flat stretch around the coast followed by a hard climb to the Okaka Lodge high up on the hill — 20km distance altogether. We started before 9am and straggled into the lodge between 5pm and 5:30pm. Some of the group definitely found it tough going — we didn't take the soft option of having our packs helicoptered up! However, it's a very nice walk, covering a variety of terrain — beach, coastal forest, rocks and hill forest, all unspoilt and beautiful. Those who trained beforehand definitely enjoyed it more, but I think everyone felt it was worthwhile.

The Hump Ridge lodges offer well-equipped kitchens, which made it much easier for us to cook for the whole group than at DoC huts. Also, we were blessed to have many skilled and well-organised cooks in our group so mealtimes were relatively low-stress. We had pasta with a creamy tomato and tuna sauce on Monday night, bacon and eggs for breakfast, and lodge-supplied sausages and mash (cooked by us) on Tuesday night.

After dinner, most of the group walked further up the hill along the "summit track" to view the sunset. It turned out to be shockingly beautiful up there in the evening! Apart from views over the mountains and lakes of Fiordland to the west, Te Waewae Bay to the east, and Stewart Island/Rakiura to the south, the track winds around a stunning array of tors and tarns. As a bonus, just as the sun set over the ocean, the moon rose over the hills of Southland in the other direction. In my opinion this was the highlight of the whole tramp, making me burst with joy and thanksgiving to God. The lodge staff had been pretty low-key about the summit track and I think they undersold it; if I'd known, I would have put more pressure on the group members who opted not to go.

The second day was relatively anticlimatic, walking along Hump Ridge itself down to the coast and then along the coast to Port Craig lodge. There are good views over the ocean, but it's still a long day (another 20km) and taxing if you're not used to downhills. At the end of the day some of us went for a swim at the sandy beach near the lodge — the sandflies were daunting, but we spotted dolphins nearby. (Or so I'm told; I didn't have my glasses on and couldn't see a thing!)

Normally we play some games in the evenings but on this trip we didn't, perhaps because people were just tired. Nevertheless we had a lovely evening relaxing in each others' company — for those who didn't go straight to bed.

The last day was another 20km but still relatively easy since it's dead flat along the coast. My feet got quite sore, perhaps because there's so much hard boardwalk, but at the track section along the beach I took off my boots and walked in the sand and surf, which cured them wonderfully. We finished the track more or less on schedule around 3pm.

Overall I think the trip went well. I need to take a bit more care with new people who haven't tramped before (but I'm glad to have them!). The weather was very good; rain was forecast for Wednesday but didn't fall until we left the track. There were no major logistical issues as far as I know, Hump Ridge is certainly worth the trip, everyone got on well and most people seemed to enjoy the company, for all of which I thank God. I hope people are keen to come back together for more!

Having said all that, the story didn't end there! As is our tradition, a subset of us followed this walk with a harder tramp, this year the Motatapu Track. But that's another story, that I will write up soon!