Sheep Track to Waps Biv
A four-day adventure tracing the route of the sheepherders who grazed sheep on the princess range in 1889. Camp high under the Beatrice peaks near the site of Waps Biv the camp of the legendary Wapiti Jack Templeton of Tuatapere. This is part marked route and part off track self-navigation that requires good fitness and good map and compass skills.
Take the Papatotatara coast road from Tuatapere and if you have a four-wheel drive or a car you don’t mind taking a bit rough drive all the way to the Waikaou river mouth. Or park at Rarakau and take the South Coast track. If driving, the road is privately maintained by Rarakau and your payment of the access fee is appreciated. It is 20 km of rough gravel road to the beach but if dry can be done in a normal car. If you have a 4wd you can save yourself many kms more by continuing south along the beach and into the bush at the far end.
Whether you walk or drive the turnoff to Teal bay is signposted a short distance after leaving the beach. You can continue up the first part of the old sheep track in your vehicle if you have a reasonably serious 4wd and the attitude to go with it, but for most of us, we will walk.
The track proper begins well up the old forestry road and is marked by a large orange triangle. The track is well marked but overgrown and rough and requires a little attention in places as it climbs right to the summit of the Hump. The site of the Deer Stalkers Associations Hump Hut is passed along the way but all that remains today is a few burnt piles.
Once the ridgeline is reached steel marker poles act as a guide across the expansive tops of the hump with great views in all directions. If it's clagged in, as it often can be, then these poles can be difficult to find even though they are only a few meters apart in places. At over a thousand meters above sea level these tops can be very exposed and you should be prepared for extreme weather at any time of the year.
The descent to Lake Hauroko is steep to start with then undulates through tall fern to the lake shore. You could choose to camp on the shore or walk a further 30 minutes to Teal Bay Hut.
From Teal bay (or your campsite) head down to the walkwire over the Wairaurahiri and then you have a choice to make. The route to the tops lies up the obvious broad ridge leading to the south peak of Beatrice peak. It can be difficult to locate the beginning of this ridge but the options are: travel north along the lake shore to the site of the old NZDA hut that was the predecessor to the current Teal bay hut. This stood at the little bay a few hundred meters north of the walkwire at the low spot between two small hills. Take a compass bearing directly to the Rataburn stream and the base of the ridge.
Or stick to the Poteriteri track until it crosses the Rata Burn then travel up the river until you see the ridge terminus.
Or you can do what I did and stay on the poteriteri track for another few minutes until you reach the top of the terraces then take a compass bearing onto the ridgeline that will bring you onto it above the bluffs marked on the map. I don’t recommend this option as the map does not show the numerous false ridges and swamps you have to cross before you find the right ridge.
By whatever method you gain the ridge, once there it is a broad fern covered flat ridge that needs good compass skills to maintain the right direction. Follow the ridge all the way to the bush line. As you pass through the low scrubby section it is still possible to see where the Scottish shepherds cut the track to get their sheep up onto the tops. Fortunately, the trees gain height again and the going becomes easier as you get higher. As you cross the final saddle traverse to the right instead of sticking to the ridge. Follow a defined deer trail that avoids the worst of the fringe scrub and brings you out on a steep gut that leads straight up onto the ridgeline and onto the open tops.
Once out in the open, it is easy to see why Archie Cameron thought it worth his while to cut a track and move sheep onto these wonderful grassy tops. Cameron took up the lease of the Clifden run which comprised most of the land visible from the summit of the Hump. The land free of heavy bush would most likely have been restricted to river flats and tussocky hilltops so the temptation of this vast area made the trip along the beach and over the hump seem worthwhile. Unfortunately, Fiordland weather had the last word and after just a couple of summers grazing he lost around 500 sheep to a snowfall in February and sheep were never grazed here again. John Hay surveyed this area in 1883 went on to push for this land to be reserved and eventually his dream was realised with the park we have today.
Climb until you reach the round shoulder of the ridge. Instead of continuing onto the defined ridgeline above sidle around the hillside without gaining or losing too much altitude. If you do this you will stay below the rocks and above the scrub and a few minutes sidling will bring you into a beautiful alpine basin which has at its head the most idillyic and stunningly beautiful lake Elly. Named after the model Elly Wilson this lake is not much more than a Tarn but its location makes it one of the most beautiful places imaginable.
It would be possible to camp here but there is little dry ground and a much better option exists near the site of Waps biv in the basin that lake Elly drains into. Head north following the outlet stream but do not actually follow the stream over the edge. There is a small gully just to the right of the stream that although very steep has vegetation to hold onto and is not as wet as the waterfall. This is a very steep descent and great care needs to be taken as a fall would have serious consequences.
Follow the stream until you see a large white rock on the edge of the bush. About 70 meters past this rock enter the trees and you will find a perfect clearing for a campsite. If you are in the right place you will find a little stone fireplace.
Waps Biv was in the clearing not far from the white rock out in the open. The biv was the work of Wapiti Jack Templeton a legend from Tuatapere who spent a lot of time in this area. Unfortunately, his biv was removed by DOC some years ago but the wee campsite in the trees does just fine.
Exit the valley by following the south branch of the Rata Burn. There is a very good deer trail that is easy to follow along with the banks of the stream, crossing occasionally. The river gets gorgy as it descends but I’m fairly sure that it can be followed all the way down. I stayed on the deer trail on the true right of the stream and it leads me way above the gorge until the spur ran out and I had to find a way down. It was possible but the last few meters is a steep knife edge into the river. From this point, the river can be followed with ease until it joins with the main flow of the Rata burn. Continue on down river either until you come to the place you crossed to ascend the ridge or you come to the walkwire across the Rataburn. Stay another night at Teal bay and return over the Hump or take the Boundary track to the Hauroko jetty and the Lilburn valley. You will need to have arranged transport to take this option.