West to Westies
The South Coast Track
about to leave the old school house at Port Craig.
about to leave the old school house at Port Craig.
A longish walk that is not too hard.
It takes four days to reach Westies hut at the end of all marked trails but if you want an interesting week off it is well worth the walk.
Beginning at Rarakau, twenty minutes from Tuatapere on the Papatotara coast road, head along the well signposted South Coast track. Day one is a seven-hour trek along beaches and reasonably well-maintained forest track to historic Port Craig. The beautiful beaches along the route and the old village and mill site of Port Craig are the main attractions. Make sure you spend time exploring around Port Craig itself and look for Hectors dolphins down by the old wharf. Accommodation at Port Craig is either in the historic and quite charming old schoolhouse, now a DOC hut, or if you pre-book at HumpRidge Track you can stay in luxury at the private lodge of the Hump Ridge Track with hot showers, bar facilities and comfy beds. A vast amount of historical information is available on the many panels erected around the site.
From Port Craig, you head west along the old bush railway used to transport logs out of the forest to the mill. As you approach the Sandhill Viaduct (the first of four) you line up due west and the track holds this course with only the occasional deviation for the next two and a half days. On this days walk you will cross all four of the massive timber viaducts erected in the 1920’s as part of the impressive enterprise that was the Port Craig Milling Company. The Percy Burn viaduct is the largest remaining timber viaduct in the world. It has recently been restored so hopefully it will be there for a few more generations to marvel at.
About three kilometers from Port Craig you pass through a small cutting that is unremarkable except for this is where one of the Craig brothers blew himself up while blasting the rock by being careless with an open box of detonators and a lit match. He survived the explosion but the three days of carrying and rowing across the bay to Riverton for treatment was too much. The other brother drowned at the mouth of the Wairaurahiri where your days walk ends.
Again, you have two choices of accommodation. The DOC Wairaurahiri Hut on the east bank of the river, a basic hut in a pleasant little clearing right on the river or ten minutes further on the Waitutu Lodge. Waitutu Lodge is owned and run by Waitutu inc the owners of Waitutu Forest in which you have and will be walking for most of the trip.
With welcoming resident hosts Waitutu lodge offers comfortable homely accommodation with six bedrooms and hot showers. It also offers an insight into the history of this area and how what we enjoy today became a reality. It is truly an inspiring story of courage, tenacity and political intrigue. Bookings can be made through Waitutu.
Leaving the Wairuarahiri river behind you head ever westward along the line of the old telegraph line to puyseguer point lighthouse. This single strand of wire was the lighthouse’s only link with the outside world other than the fishing boats that called at its remote and storm-tossed outcrop. Today little remains of the telegraph line except the obvious cutting through the bush and the occasional insulator on a tree or odd length of wire trailing through the undergrowth. The surface underfoot is now often muddy and difficult going with a fair bit of concentration required to maintain your footing, yet you are passing through one of the most important forests in the world. Waitutu forest is one of the least altered podocarp forests in the world. Supporting unique and rare ecosystems that have long passed elsewhere on the planet. Take the time to look up and admire the great rimu, rata, kamahi, matai and kahikatea.
Often you will pass through patches of almost pure stands of one type or another and you should stop and enjoy the specialness of it. Six to seven hours of walking will bring you to the long suspension bridge over the beautiful Waitutu river and five minutes upstream stands the sunny warm little Waitutu hut. A standard DOC Hut Waitutu hut is well situated next to the river and only a few minutes walk to the lovely beach at the river mouth. Good surfing can be had here if you thought to bring your board or more likely if you flew in via Heli My Way for a couple of days of remote wilderness surf.
The track conditions improve after the first twenty minutes as you leave Waitutu hut for yet more westerly trekking along the now familiar telegraph line.
The Grant Burn is crossed on a suspension bridge after about an hour and a half to two hours and twenty meters or so past the bridge is a faint trail that leads to the nearby coast. It is worth the detour as the beach at the Grant burn is truly beautiful. You may find the small DOC hut used by researchers and it provides a welcome shelter from inclement weather if not in use by DOC staff. The next bay west of here is known as the knife and steel harbour where Les Chandler of Clifden once had a hut and a winch for pulling his boat up the beach.
There are two rivers which come together here at the Grant burn and the second is crossed by an interesting combination of ropes and logs.
The Aan burn is reached another hour or so on and is crossed by yet another suspension bridge. If you head toward the coast about 80m before the bridge on the eastern bank you can find an old punga hut in the last stages of collapse. Another pleasant beach and stroll along the coast can be had if the tide is out. You will have to climb the cliffs at some point to regain the track if you chose to travel via beach for a while. This is not too difficult if you choose the right spot.
Continue west until you come to the turn-off to Westies. Those of you who use a GPS will find this difficult as the GPS coordinates for Westies are incorrect. However, if you just use your eyes and your legs the turnoff is well marked and Westies is easily found down a steep trail to the beach.
Westies hut is a privately maintained “shack” built inside a large surf cave on one side of Prices Harbour. Sleeping a maximum of Six Westies has character in abundance and epitomises the Fiordland wilderness experience. It is everything you would expect at this remote wilderness location. Originally built in part from wreckage from a shipwreck Westies has had several rebuilds over its life. It is not luxurious but does boast a hot shower and running water and a great little potbelly stove. Please support the efforts of the caretaker in preserving this remarkable piece of history by making a donation in the prescribed manner.
It is worth staying at Westies for two nights as there is lots to explore in the area. The beaches and the harbor are amazing and an hour further west the trail ends at the Big River, the outlet to lake Hakapoua. Seafood is plentiful and easy to gather here and deer are never too far away.
Return to civilisation the same way or arrange for a Heli pickup at Westies or Waitutu Hut. A jet boat can be organised to take you from Waitutu lodge to lake Hauroko or if you have plenty of time you can walk back via lake Poteriteri and Hauroko (route description located Waitutu to Hauroko, Harry's Track). When booking boats or helicopters be sure to clearly differentiate between Waitutu Lodge at the Wairuarahiri river and Waitutu Hut at the Waitutu river. They are a long way apart if you or your gear end up at the wrong one.