South Island Travel

Three Years Down There

May 2005. I have spent the three previous years in Invercargill. New Zealand's southern most town has a widely regarded reputation - as the high water mark of provincial drearines, with bad weather. My expectations may have been low when I arrived, but they have been more than ratified. Nay, but seriously, I kicked off a career in web design, paid off my student debt, rented a whole house to myself for a hundred a week and nearly bought a house in Bluff for under 50 grand - I aint got no quarrel with them Invercargillites. With celebrity mayor, free eduction and good fish'n'chips Invervegas is not as dire as those northern urbanites would have you believe.

Google Map

For me the main bonus of being at the arse end of NZ was the proximity to the most celebrated landscapes in the N-Zone - Fiordland, Queenstown, Milford Sound, and central Otago were all within the reach of a day trip. During those three years I'd seen bits and pieces on weekends - I'd explored the Humpridge and completed the Kepler track, been down the Borland road to Lake Manapouri, explored the magical road to Milford Sound, and been up and down things around Queenstown. Now, after three years of being so close to the natural good stuff, I was moving north to Wellington. Before I left the south I wanted to have a good look around.

At the end of April I quit my web design job, I have the whole winter ahead of me pencilled in for South Island exploration and tramping. There is a list of tracks I want to do over the coming months - the Heaphy on the top of West Coast, The Routeburn and Hollyford in Fiordland, Rees Dart at the top of Lake Wakatipu, and New Zealnd's third isle - Stewart Island. The North West Cicuit of Stewart Island would be a 8 -10 ten day marathon on a notoriously muddy track, I anticipate it with equal measure of dread and awe.

Among the reasons for choosing winter to head into the mountains is the profound lack of people. The tracks I want to do positively teem with folk in the summer, and the logjam in the huts is not a wilderness or pleasant experience in my books. Other reasons include the effect the snow, ice, and low-angle lighting have on the landscape, less insects, not being uncomfortably warm, and it's cheaper (a season back country pass as opposed to individual hut tariffs). Truth is NZ is termed a temperate climate and once you get over the psychological 'it's going to be cold and wet and grey' the reality of winter tramping is uniformly a pleasant one. So long as you can get a fire going in the night and dodge the truly horrible weather it is no problemo. And I like weather anyway.

I am not without anxieties. It will be the first time I'll be completely on my own for extended periods in remote spots. I'll be going over alpine passes here and there which can turn nasty on a dime in winter. And there is a steady trickle of outdoors-y folk who come to grim ends in our outdoors. But I have chosen well equiped mostly low lying tracks and I will hardly cross an un-bridged river or stream. I have all the gears. I am cautious. I am looking forward to some awesome experiences in awesome environments. Read on to see how I go there and back again.

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