It’s a trap! (Fabien Nogue)
The most used sentence during the time on the Dusky track. Why? You will realise it at the end of this post 😉
The Dusky Track is one of the most challenging multi day hiking trails in New Zealand. Going through the Fiordland west of Manapouri, you have to face many rainy/cold days, cross rivers by food or over 21 three wired bridges and carry extra food in case you get stuck. But at the end, you will have an unforgettable experience and you can call yourself as an “advanced tramper” (Doc website)
I met my two hiking buddies during my time in New Zealand. Matt, a Canadian guy who almost knows every track in the south island, started talking about the best pie in NZL the first day on and Fabien, a French i knew since the first day in NZL and spent a lot of time with in Queenstown. Talking about trails, Matt told me he wants to do the dusky mid March and that I could join him. Since I haven’t planed any long hikes so far I was really looking forward to join him.
Couples weeks later when I hang out with Fabien, he told me more about his plans in March and that he thinks about hiking the Dusky Track. I let him talk more about the track and told him after a while that I’m planning it as well with another friend haha.
So here we are, a trio of a Canadian, French and half French/Austrian heading out for a challenging and unforgettable experience in the fiord land.
To access the trail, we booked a boat to bring us to the other side of Lake Hauroko (100km south of Manapouri). With us, another french traveller who has been also on many hikes in NZL. The forecast of the weather was that it supposed to drizzle for two days, sunny for 2-3 days and a lot of rain at the end of the week. Luckily, the first day wasn’t to bad and we stayed dry the, except of our feet. Trying to avoid every little mud hole and pools we arrived after 6h, feeling surprised since we usually beat the suggested DoC hiking time. Sadly, we also had to realise the tracks offers everything from us and our gear and Matt broke one of hiking poles.
The huts, a wooden cabin with bunk beds (including mattresses), tables/benches and a fire place. Slowly but finally successful, we managed to get a fire going and enjoyed our first night in front of the fire.
The next we put on our socks and shoes which weren’t dry, a feeling which is not really nice but its going to get worse. Day two was as the one before, cloudy and some drizzle but nothing serious. After a hard climb (at least for me) we arrived at Lake Roe Hut around 2pm and decided to stay here overnight. The next sections supposed to be the most scenic one and we knew we are going to have a clear the next days. Thomas was walking ahead of us, skipped the hut went to the next one. Staying gave us also more time to find some dead fire wood and Matt and I were chopping a old tree trunk for half an hour. We also had time to explore the area and hiked up to Lake Roa and the summits around.
As we got back we tried again to start a fire but this time we had less luck. The air got to cold and we had not enough dry wood to make a stable fire and we went into our warm sleeping bags.
The next morning a our breakfast and cup of tea/coffee was the only thing what was warm since we had temperatures around 0°C last night. We waited as long as possible to put on our wet socks and shoes. Fab and I went directly for a quick run to warm our feet up and Matt tried to used plastic bags to avoid getting his 2nd pair of socks (which were dry) wet.
As soon the sun came around the mountains, we knew it was worth the wait for better weather. It seems like the shafts of sunlight wash away all cold feelings and I just love the warm feeling of the sun on my skin. The “Pleasant Range” (what a perfect name for it) showed its best face and those hours along the range was one of my favourite part of the track.
Walking along the turns and passing some frozen parts, we also realised how cold the last night was. Our goal for this day was getting to Loch Maree Hut which is at 60m above sea level , drop some food and head to Supper Cove, which is at the Dusky Sound and a side track but the steep and challenging decent changed our plans. The way to describe it was the moment as Fab asked if everyone has fun after 2h climbing down a creek, holding on branches and roots. I just looked at him with a look in my face that no words were needed.
As we arrived at the hut, we decided to stay overnight and rest our knees as well. We knew we are still going to have one or two nice days and hopefully before the rain comes since the are is prone to flooding.
Leaving weight of 4 days of food in the hut, we headed out to supper cove at the Dusky sound. We had again a beautiful sunny day and less muddy parts along the track which increased our speed. We also ran into Thomas and said hi and goodbye for the last time. From the Hut book we got the tide times at the cove and since we arrive there at low tide, we could manage to walk through the water to the hut. It was actually a little bit deeper as aspected and we had to carry our backpacks over our head but managed to get there and saved an hour walking through the forrest/mud.
Directed by the smell of food, we arrived at the hut which we were going share with a group of fisherman who got stranded since the engine of their boat broke. They were fully equipped with big stoves and pots, lots of food and fish they caught and of course beer. As everybody had enough, they offered us their left overs and we were very pleased to help them :). Later the day we tried to catch our own fish to have a special meal for dinner but we had no luck and were stuck with our regular meals. Fab having rice, me Couscous with veggie+tuna and Matt who was more into having some variety had either pasta or Quinoa.
The fisherman had it of course easier to catch some seafood and had a nice dinner of battered scallops, blue cod and more. But again, realising what meal we have, they shared some of their food with us. After everybody was filled, we washed our dishes and one of the guys asked us if we don’t want our crayfish? (During the day they also caught a crayfish and boiled while having dinner).
We asked what he means and he explained us that they had enough the past days and they just prepared it for us. And thats what hiker call “Trail Magic”, unexpected helpful gesture of people you randomly meet on your trail (sharing food with you, give you a ride, finding food left for you and other on trail).
Since we got the latest updated of the forecast, which was not pleasant, we left Supper Cove in the morning back to Loch Maree and hopped to go further to the next hut before the rain comes in. Since it was high tide, we had to take the longer route but beat the suggested time by an hour which was unfortunately not fast enough. It started to rain as we got to Loch Maree Hut and we decided it will be to dangerous walking along the river which started to rise.
There we were, sitting in the hut checking our food supplies, not knowing how long its going to rain and how high and risky the trail is along the river. Luckily, we were going to share the hut with some more people. The same day, a Czech-german girl Petra joined our shared hut community and we got two more flatmates the day after, a kiwi and a Czech guy arrived at the hut at 8.30pm, completely drained since he had to climb up to the walk wire (picture below).
Day 2, Matt is almost finished with his book, Fab is running out of coffee and I went through my PCT-gear list the 4th time, the tiniest thing could get somebody going crazy. Since Matt won’t stop talking about the Pie in Te Anau, we made a little “Create your Pie” competition. The winner of the “Dusky Pie Award” was of course from our kiwi mate, a Pulled pork chilli Bean pie. My bavarian versions “Brezel dough, white sausage with sweet mustard” made the second place.
Third day at Loch Maree started and we knew we have to give it a try since we rationed our food so far so it will last for the next two overnights if we stay in every hut. The Kiwi went out first and we started with Petra a bit later. The Czech guy decided to head to Supper Cove where we have been before. After 30min we walked into our kiwi fellow who was not going further since the trail was to flooded. He went back with Petra and Matt and I were close to join them as Fab suggested we could try walking through the thick bushes/trees until the track is clear again. We knew it would take to much time if most of the track is flooded but we gave it a try. We got back on the trail which was now mostly higher then the river level. Couple hours later we reach a side stream which flooded the track again and after 30min we managed again to cross a shallower section and went back on track. Getting closer to the hut, we knew we have to get there since the way back was to long. Luckily, there was no flooded area anymore but two more big and strong streams to cross. I tried to cross the knee high stream and found myself almost falling into water but managed to cross the river. I was relieved but also proud of myself to know where my limits are.
After 6,5h of crossing deep calm and lower but strong river, fighting through bushes, pushing branches aside and having always in mind there might be a crossing, to dangerous and not worth to risk and to turn around, we made it to the second last hut of the dusky track. After a short time of celebration we discussed about whats left of the track and decided to head out early morning to skip the next hut and make it to the west arm to catch the ferry at 4 or 5pm. Fab, who was our designated fire starter after day 3 did again a great job.
Our last day on the dusky track and we had only the light of our headlamps who shown us the way. Right in the beginning there was another 3-wired-bridge to cross and I must say, seeing only a wire you walk on, the light at the end from one of my fellows and hearing a massive river below you, gives me goosebumps. We lost the track a couples times but made our way up to the last high point of the track, Centre Pass at 1051m. I’m not sure about the others but I took some time to recap everything we have been through.
The downhill was much easier then the first one and we have beaten the doc time as we reached the hut. After a short break, we headed out for our last section. We talked about our favourite and worst parts, how we would describe the track with one word and talked which pie we gonna eat. Thats also when Matt dropped the bomb, that the shop closes at 6pm. We were also not sure what time the ferry goes so we increased our speed to reach the lake as soon as possible. The day before made us not carrying about wet and muddy feet/legs and we almost ran through the pools and sometimes got trapped (“It’s a trap”) in thigh deep mud. I started also to think how the trail ends and just half an hour later we were standing on the street to the lake.
We took some minutes to enjoy the moment but knew we had still to walk fast to get back soon enough for the pies. As we walked along the street a bus with american tourist stopped and offered us a lift. As we stepped into the bus the driver announced that we just finished the track and the whole bus started to applaud.
As we waited for the ferry, we still were kind of flashed finishing the track and then it happened again. A couple came over and donated her package of cookies and bag of fruits since we might need the food more than them. Trail Magic 🙂
Its been already more then two weeks and writing down all my memories makes me feeling being back there with my two buddies. I big thank you to both of them, to Matt who told me about this track in first place and Fab who I spent an awesome time together in Queenstown. Since Matt is back home in Canada, Fab hiking around NZL and I’m heading to the states, we go separated ways but never forget those amazing 9days/8nights and I hope to meet some day again for another trip!
And the pies??? Let’s say, we accomplished our last and final goal for the trip.