Milford Sound and the Hollyford Track: Bush Men, Brush, and Bullish Seals.

Fiordlands National park is home to the famous Milford Sound. The drive through the park it worth your time alone as the road coming in serpentine through lush forest, snow-capped mountains and endless cliff faces gushing huge waterfalls as if the rocks themselves were sobbing. All this can be seen simply from the road but for a trip that requires a bit more work head toward the Hollyford Track located at the northern part of the park. We set about our 6 day 140k loop trek in good weather but forgetting a few essential items… most notably a pot to cook all of our delicious ramen in. The first stretch of the hike is easy and straight forward as it takes you through neutral terrain dipping through forests giving you a chance to spot hidden waterfalls and many of NZ’s bountiful bird species. Our first day ended at the DOC managed Alabaster hut which was beyond fancy. It was there that we realized we had forgotten our pot and decided to go for a swim in lake Alabaster to hopefully get some creative juices flowing to try to remedy our cooking problem. We swam till we could no longer take the horrible sand fly menace (10 minutes) and returned to the hut with an idea. use our empty tin cans on the burner hobo style to cook the food. While it was not the most efficient way to do things it was certainly effective. Upon chowing down on dinner we flipped through the hut sign in book and saw lists of comments about a fabled bush man. “Go with the Bush Man” “Fishing with Bruce the Bush Man, go if you can”. Not sure what to make of the comments we hit the hay in hopes of another day with equally good weather. We awoke the next day to stomping outside the hut. An older German man looked up at me and said “The Bush Man is here”. In walked Bruce, the most Kiwi looking Bush Man I have ever seen. Gummie boots, short so short he looked naked with his coat on and a big scraggly beard almost as big as his smile and sense of humor.

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For our loop hike we opted to start with the Big Bay loop track from Alabaster. Signs at Alabaster said that the track was overgrown and suitable to experienced hikers only. We figured this was nothing but overly cautious smoke and mirrors and went for it anyway. We mentioned to Bruce that we were headed up the Big Bay track and he offered us a ride in his rubber boat which we gladly accepted. The trip even included a brief stop at his hut. It was a slow boat ride as we were at capacity with our bags but the slowness was no problem as the trip across the crystal clear water and multiple waterfalls was a joy to experience.

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Bruce was a hard-core character. He spent the winters out in the Fiordlands as a possum trapper and regaled us with trapper tales. At the entrance of his hut he comically displayed a sign saying “no junk mail” and something about “Sax Country”. Now Bruce told us the tales of Sax. In my mind he was like a non environmentalist Ed Abbey of the Fiordlands. We hear stories of incredible helicopter hunting trips that ended with 100s of invasive deer being killed.  While I did not fully understand the significance of this Sax charactor it was clear that he embodied a kind of wild west attitude to the trapping out in the Fiordlands. eternally grateful and after some more chit-chat we parted ways and started walking towards our next hut. Despite having a good chunk of the days walking knocked out by Bruce’s boat ride we moved very slowly. The track was indeed overgrown and we spent a lot of time engaged in some serious route finding as hiking through the bush allowed for little to know visibility. Just before sundown we arrived at our hut for the night and goofed around on the old mining trolley cart used to cross the river. It was rust but a whole lot of fun.

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We started the next day early as we had been told we would have to traverse the black marsh. However, keeping with out boat luck from the previous day some kind jet boaters gave us a ride past the Marsh. This was a god send because despite leave early and having a boat ride past the hardest part it to us the entire day to reach the Ocean and the Big Bay hut. The views were beautiful and crossing the river was good fun but I can see how the trail could be especially hazardous if conditions were rainy. In fact knowing what I know now I would not attempt to take the track if it had recently rained as the river level and swamp sections could lead to some seriously sketchy situations. We reached Big Bay just in time to enjoy the sunset and a heaping bowl of hot ramen.

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Ecstatic that we had finally left the bush we enjoyed a slow morning as the hike from Big Bay to Martins bay was along the beach for the whole day so route finding would be simple. At first we were happy to have left the bush but as we continued along the beach the path became more and more rocky and even included some reasonable sea cliff scrambling due to the tide. It hurt our ankles but it was good fun seeing the crash of the waves and yellow eyed penguins hopping ashore. The beauty quickly turned to fear as we stumbled into a seal colony but made it out safe and sound with a bit of beach side boulder navigation.  The following three days of hiking were beautiful but less than interesting in terms of adventure. Simple trail, lakes, waterfalls, and gorgeous peaks. The standard NZ affair. Attached are a few photos.

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My First Crags in New Zealand

After much brooding and handwringing I finally made it happen, I found my way to New Zealand. Though long, the flight was pleasant especially landing in the city of Christ Church on such a gorgeous blue bird day. I met up with my buddy who had been working out of Queenstown as part of a working holiday. It had been two years since I had seen Christian but I could sense that the Honda Odyssey with two surfboards on the roof was his, or the sense was brought on by the delirium of the ridiculously intense sunlight of NZ because of the hole in the ozone layer (bring sun screen folks!).

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              Christian getting the wing up in Christchurch

After exchanging pleasantries and an introduction to his girlfriend Marie we headed first to a rugby game (I had no idea what was going on the whole game). After finishing a few errands about town we headed up to Mt Somers to do some climbing and stay in a back country hut. One of the many beauties of New Zealand is its backcountry hut system. Gone are the days of fumbling with a tent in the backcountry with the plentiful amount of huts spread across the country. In order to incentivize hunting to reduce invasive specie populations like deer and Tahr the NZ department of conservation has built backcountry huts that await hunters, hikers & climbers with beds, fireplaces and the usual deck of cards for a game of shit head. All for a nominal fee or flash of a 6-12 month hut pass.

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Mt Somers is home to a hut located next to the Pinnicals climbing area. After a 4 hours hike to the hut lugging all our gear and food we arrived sweaty but rewarded with stellar views of waterfalls and Jurrasic park esc foliage. Armed with a bit of beta from Climb NZ (MTN Project for NZ) we took a stab at the crag just 10 minutes away. We happened on the 3 pitch Rocky Road (5.10c).

Depending on the site you trust pitch 2 can be rappelled with a 70m rope where as mtn project says it needs two ropes to wrap down if you need to bail. We trusted the Climb NZ beta but it felt awfully high at the top of pitch two and I am glad we made it up the whole climb so we did not have to solve the mystery of how long of a rope was actually needed to bail. The climb it self was great! Super balancy and run out making each venture to the next bolt a moment of intense focus as a fall would lead to a considerable ride for an intermediate sport climber. The grippy plentiful feet go all the way to the top where we were greeted with a horrible old bolt belay for pitch 2 and rusty rap chains atop pitch 3 that utilized a piece of metal that I had seen to hold together a childs swing set. Sufficient to say I was not excited about the wrap off the back on the sketchy chain but it all worked well enough. The next day we spent doing a few of the shorter routes which were fun but not exceptional. More than anything the location and the trad climbing is the star of this crag, with an additional sense of adventure coming from the hut experience.

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View of Mt Cook on the way to Dunedin

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Weather rolled in so we decided to continue our journey south towards the beautiful city of Dunedin. Dunedin is probably the coziest of the “big” cities on the south island. A university town located right on the water gives the town a sense of quaintness while still maintaining a busy downtown area. Just outside of Dunedin is a little crag called Long Beach. While not a paradise in numbers it surly is paradise in terms of pleasantness. Short basalt cliffs line the mostly empty beach that will lead to a good pump and some inspiring one move wonder climbs. The style and frequency of climbs feels a lot like Black Rocks in St. George, Utah. After climbing a few pitches we took a break and wandered over to the penguin cave next door to spy a couple of the cute critters hiding out in a hole beside the cave. And just like that the day was over. Walking the beautiful beach back to the car during sunset is a joy seldom experienced in my climbing career and was so good we went back the next day for more climbing action.

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Long Beach Climbing

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While both of these crags were a good deal of fun they are both small crags. In future posts ill talk about some of the bigger locations like Wanaka, Castle Hill, and Milford. Till then enjoy a few photos!

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Hut life in South Temple

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