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Destinations

5 reasons to hike the Tuatapere Hump Ridge Track

Explore the wonders of this majestic trail at the bottom of the South Island

By Sebastian van der Zwan
We often tell him to take a hike. And this time, Sebastian van der Zwan did just that, joining a 62 kilometre, three-day guided tramp along the Tuatapere Hump Ridge Track. At the very bottom of the South Island, the trail starts an hour's drive west of Invercargill.
1. Sensational Scenery
My adventure begins with a whir as a helicopter whizzes our small group across Southland’s stunning Te Waewae Bay, providing views of wild beaches, pristine forest and snow-capped mountains. Just a few minutes in and already I’m overloaded with natural beauty, but the splendour doesn’t end when we land. Our informative and entertaining guide Dallas leads the way through a lush bush of beech, rimu and lancewood, coated in luxuriant moss and fungi, and populated by robins, tomtits and korimako. This looks like Hobbit country and that feeling only escalates as the track climbs, with the trees becoming more twisted and stunted, draped in Gandalf-esque beards of lichen.
A bridge too far! This fragile structure is a relic from the old mining days.
2. Southern hospitality
Almost 1000 metres above sea level is our first night’s accommodation, Okaka Lodge, perched high on the ridge, with an epic vista over Foveaux Strait and Stewart Island. Resident chef Marama welcomes us with tea and cake by the fire, then revived and refreshed, we skip up to a nearby lookout to feast our eyes on more breathtaking panoramic views, with giant boulders and ice-cold lakes strewn among the clouds. Back at the luxurious lodge, Marama has whipped up a three-course meal of prawns, steak and chocolate mousse to make up for the many kilojoules we burned over the day.
3. Downhill and dolphins
Day two is a scenic tramp along the Hump Ridge, which then plunges steeply downhill into dense forest. We spy kereru and tui among the trees, while our guide empties dozens of stoat traps. The descent is hard on my knees, but the pain is forgotten as we join an historic logging trail, crossing picturesque streams along antique bridges. Back at sea level, at Port Craig Lodge, we enjoy local beers before a gourmet dinner of manuka-smoked salmon and pavlova. But it’s a swim at the beach that’s the post-hike highlight – my splashing attracts the interest of an endangered Hector’s dolphin, which circles my shivering body in the ice-cold water. Very cool!
The climb up to Stag Point above Foveaux Strait is so worth it – Seb’s on top of the world!
4. Beach and bush
After a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs, our final day sees us tracing the coast, through the thick forest of Fiordland National Park and along beautiful beaches. We see more dolphins and eat oddly sweet mussels out of rock pools while swatting at sandflies. When we finally reach the end of the track, I’m relieved to put my backpack down, but even more elated at the achievement.
5. Rad road trip
However, the journey isn’t over. After the hike, I hop in a rental car and take the Southern Scenic Route back to Invercargill, tiki-touring the riviera through cute little coves like Gemstone Beach, Cosy Nook and Colac Bay. My final stop is Riverton, where I treat myself to some “Southland sushi”, the region’s famous cheese rolls. It’s a delicious end to an energetic, invigorating long weekend at the beautiful bottom of the South Island.
The sand beneath your toes is one thing, but Te Waewae Bay from a chopper totally rocks.

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