Warren Wheeler from the Palmerston North Tramping and Mountaineering Club sent us this report by his tramping companion, Esther Pothuis;

“Esther returned to [her home in] The Netherlands on Xmas Eve 2017 after coming out for 2 months to tick off some unfinished business, particularly tramping in the South Island.  She had already done many trips with PNTMC during the 6 months of 2016 that she was in Palmerston North on internship with Fonterra. She did manage to get to Abel Tasman but lacked the time to visit the remainder of the South Island.  As I am having a ‘GAP year’ it was easy for me to agree to join her”

So off they went on their ‘Mega-trip’….  


28 October-12 December 2017

South Island Mega Trip, report by Esther Pothuis

  • Participants: Warren Wheeler & Esther Pothuis.
  • Mission: Tramping.
  • Huts visited: 29. Clinton, Mintaro, Dumpling, Lake Mackenzie, Routeburn Flats, Greenstone, McKellar, Luxmore, Aspiring, Stafford, Blue River (Blowfly), Welcome Flat, Cedar Flat, Grassy Flat, Harman, Edwards, Hawdon, Anti Crow, Carrington, Boyle Flat, Anne, Ada Pass, Mt Fyffe, Doubtful, Coldwater, Hopeless, Coldwater, Cecil Kings, and Kings Hut.
  • Hostels: 10 nights.
  • Fly camp: 1 night.
  • Sleeping at friends’: 5 nights.
  • Number of steps: 1,300,000.
  • Weather: mostly fine.
  • Sandflies: not too bad.
  • Breakfast: porridge & tea.
  • Lunch: crackers & cheese & salami.
  • Dinner: spuds + peas + salami + cheese, or couscous + peas + sweet chilli chicken + Thai red curry, optional fresh veges.
  • Snacks: scroggin & muesli bars.
  • Chocolate: not enough.

The world famous Milford Track was the first of our South Island Mega Trip. With its plenty of birds, waterfalls, plants, valleys, Mount Cook buttercups, and nice path it was a true fine walk.

Clinton Valley, Milford Track

The birds were kind of annoying. It was impossible to get a decent night’s sleep because they just could not contain their happiness when the stupid sun came through. If it wasn’t the little singing birds annoying us it were kea trying to break into the hut. They dug into the wood, scratched at the door, and jumped on the roof in the middle of the night. They did that so that we would be too tired to stop them from raiding our packs at MacKinnon Pass. A kea opened a zipper on my pack and took two peanuts before I noticed. If it wasn’t the singing birds or Kea bothering us it was Wekas attempting to steal stuff. They almost took one of my stinky socks.

If it wasn’t the singing birds, Kea, or Wekas, there were other birds doing things. Robins came to check whether we dug up insects for them. Bellbirds sang constantly. Fantails wagged their tails when we passed by. Paradise ducks and Patake were called Blue Ducks by tourists. Tomtits ignored us. A Whio lazily looked at us from a rock as we walked past it, not feeling the need to do anything useful, like swimming, or saving its species, or whatever. Moreporks called out their name at night. Wood pigeons were fat. We were happy to leave this bird infested walking area.

End of four fine days on the Milford Track

 Other tracks were not too bad. We were better prepared against bird attacks, we’d gotten used to their songs, or there were fewer, so they didn’t bother us too much. We enjoyed great views, sun, clouds, rain, and time with lovely people at the Routeburn Track. On the Greenstone Track we got more rain, and a bit of snow.

Going up to Luxmore Hut was nice. Even nicer was the cold night at the hut with howling wind and lots of snowfall. The next day we woke up to be blinded by the whiteness of all the snow surrounding us. It was gorgeous.

Enjoying the fresh snow on Luxmore

As a result the rest of the Kepler Track was closed because of avalanche danger. Together with three adventurers we set off to see how far up Mt Luxmore we could get. It was a scramble up through more than knee deep snow. After mucking around in the snow for a couple of hours we headed back for a cup of tea.

After our two and a half Great Walk experiences we rented a car to drive up the south coast. Warren managed to wreck the car within half an hour so we had to drive back to the rental office and explain the rear bumper had fallen off. Luckily they decided it wasn’t really his fault so we got a newer car. At Aspiring Hut we saw the peak of Mt Aspiring in the distance, at the Rob Roy Track we looked at the glacier and listened to the sound of avalanches falling down. The touristy Hooker Track to see Mt Cook was incredibly busy, but that’s no wonder considering how beautiful the area is.

Enjoying Hooker Lake and view of Mount Cook

Five aggressive mallard ducklings attacked us while we were enjoying lunch at Lake Wanaka. They took my breadcrumbs.  At Smoothwater Bay we enjoyed a swim in the sea before heading off to one of my now favourite huts, cute little Stafford Hut, via the beautiful river track. The next day we saw no penguins at Monro Beach before we walked into the historic Blowfly Hut, built in 1905, via the Paringa Cattle Track. We enjoyed the luxury of a stinky bath at the hot pools at Welcome Flat and the company of the many people at the hut.

Heading up to Welcome Flat

The short walk through the valley to Fox Glacier was nicer than the view of the sad bits of dirty ice itself. It was cloudy at Franz Josef Glacier, but we did see bits of it. The hot pool at Cedar Flat was lovely, the hut was dark and quiet as we arrived late, but we nevertheless enjoyed dinner and strawberries, a muffin, golden kiwifruit, and chocolate before going to bed.

We braved and survived the track past the Styx River to Grassy Flat Hut, and the day after we wandered up to Harman Hut and up to Browning Pass (which we never reached). But we did enjoy views of a nice waterfall before descending back down. The track from Edwards to Hawdon Hut was one of the highlights of our trip, with a beautiful climb up past many flowering plants, good company of a French girl, lovely tarns and grassy areas, then descending by the creek and through forest. Anti Crow and Carrington Hut were really nice, but actually the walk up to Waimakariri Falls Hut was the most stunning bit of this trip. What a cute hut at a gorgeous spot.

At Punakaiki we had a look at the world famous pancake rocks. They do not really look like pancakes much, but they are weird rocks alright. The sea was too quiet to enjoy blows at the blowholes. The Porari River walk seemed really tropical with many tree ferns and nice weather. On the way we saw a little baby Weka that was black and fluffy. Its parent would make a low “clook clook” noise upon finding a worm or an insect, which it would then feed to the hungry chick. Other Wekas in the area would also be talking to the little family. How cute.

On the first day of the St James Walkway we enjoyed rain, the first in weeks. On the way we met some SOBOs doing the Te Araroa Trail, they seemed normal happy trampers. On the way to Anne Hut and Ada Pass Hut we enjoyed the sound of thunder, but managed to reach the hut before rain struck. After hitching a ride back to the car we set off to Kaikoura.

Somewhere around this time we unknowingly took our millionth step of this trip.

In Kaikoura I enjoyed the company of Tulp (tulip in Dutch) the cat at the hostel, before heading off to an Albatross Encounter boat tour; so cool! It was great trip at sea on a perfect morning in the sun. Albatrosses are so big and graceful, I’m so happy to having seen them. We saw 2 Wandering Albatrosses, and 1 Royal Albatross. Seeing them fly is just incredible, they are so big. Giant petrel are the funniest birds, protecting nothing in particular by fighting whenever, and spreading their wings to prevent others from getting to food. We saw so many sea birds, it was just great! In addition to the many birds we got to see dolphins swimming and jumping right next to the boat. Also we saw a bunch of lazy fur seals chilling out on rocks near the beach, some swimming seals, and some younger pups hopping around.

Albatross Encounter at Kaikoura

 After that we continued our tramping mission. We went up to Mt Fyffe Hut via the valley track, then up the gentle Spaniard Spur route, a lovely track. The next day we got up early to watch the sunrise at the top of Mt Fyffe.

We drove via the reopened coastal highway back to Doubtful Valley (Lewis Pass). It was doubtful whether there would be mattresses available for us at Doubtful Biv (2 bunks). There weren’t. I slept on a mat in the hut, together with a mum and daughter, while Warren and a child and dad camped outside.

At Nelson Lakes National Park we enjoyed sandflies at Coldwater Hut, a relaxing night at the almost 50 year old Hopeless Hut and a nice walk up to a waterfall. Then another night at Coldwater Hut (because Warren had forgotten his toothbrush and Lake Rotoiti is the best place to take a swim with eels). For our last overnight track we took the Wangapeka track to the dark and old historic Cecil Kings Hut. The next day we walked to Stone Hut, where I finished three sudokus, and back. I decided I wanted to spend the night at the newer Kings Hut, which is 300m away from the old hut. At both huts the morning songs of birds were just incredible. It was so loud it was almost annoying. You just had to lay awake and enjoy their songs at 5.15 am for half an hour before being able to continue sleeping. On the track we saw more than 10 Wekas….

The last few days we were guests at Mieke and Hans’ house in Nelson. We checked out the Brook Sanctuary with it’s big fence, and walked up the Cable Bay Walkway to get nice views of Nelson, the Boulder Bank, and the sea. The next day we spent time at Rabbit Island, swum to Mapua to have an icecream and then back to have lunch and a swim at the beach. The current was quite strong, but that was fun. On our last tramp we walked up to Mount Dun (pun intended) and back.

Our mega trip was fine. I did not kill Warren and he did not kill me; we killed sandflies.

Robin checking for insects in our footsteps