Humps, Bumps and Trumps
Adventures of the Hump Ridge track, featuring 6 lucky European women and 2 Kiwi blokes.
It was a mission to get out of Dunedin, as always. The fact that we had all been severely inebriated the night before was neither here nor there. I had packed that morning, ready for an 8am departure. It wasn’t until well past 9 that we finally got on the road, Clara had tried her best to avoid the trip altogether by sleeping in.
Dan’s stellar navigation skills somehow managed to land us in Nightcaps, it was about 2pm by the time we managed to crawl out of that hole. There was a lot of faffing before we finally put boot to track. Dan and co were left in the dust as we motored across the landscape. The track descended steeply down from the clifftops to a collection of ‘cribs’ nestled beside the Waikoau River. There were some Southlanders (some might say bogans) racing around on quad bikes down the four-wheel drive track that formed the highstreet of the little collection of shacks. We made the great sacrifice of waiting for the slowpokes forced to defend ourselves from the full ferocity that the sandfly population could throw at us. No sooner had they caught up and we got back underway towards Port Craig did Dan and Sierra whip their kits off for a photo. Minorly peeved, yet unsurprised, we made an executive decision to leave them to their fate, wombling off down the beach.
The sky was filled with dark rolling clouds, we were painfully aware of the failing daylight. After 3km on the beach we opted to follow the track rather than brave the coastal coastal track with the high tide and impending darkness. Given the state of our rumbling tummies a halt was called just after 6, for a good snack and breath, as a substitute for dinner. After ‘dinner’ we traveled in convoy, following the feet of the person in front through the twilight.The call was made to pull out headtorches after we had been stumbling through the darkness for half an hour. Morale was low and legs were weary. Lina, being prepared for any and every eventuation (she was in the army you know) pulled out a speaker off her utility belt. Soon we were trucking along to such appropriate tramping songs as ‘ I’m Gonna Be (500 miles)’ and ‘These boots were made for walking’. This lifted the spirits of the group and we were putting in a quick pace. We made a sweepstake of what time we would reach the hut, I put in an optimistic 7:30pm arrival, whilst the others went for times as late as 9pm. The track wove up and down, in and out of coastal bays. Lina triumphantly (and a little smugly) exclaimed that there was only 6 minutes until my time was up. It was at that very moment that we emerged into the clearing that held Port Craig School House Hut. I yelled in ecstasy, the joy of my victory overwhelming me. We cautiously approached the door and entered the dark interior of the hut. Inside we found a couple that had been enjoying a nice quiet evening with the hut to themselves. Guess we ruined that!
The issue became that Dan and Sierra, those stragglers that we had left behind at the cribs, were the ones who actually knew what was for dinner / how to cook it. What ensued was a drawn out 2 hours of trying to avoid thinking about food. Should we just cook whatever we have? How many teas does it take to kill you? Who should we eat first? After many rounds of Presidents and arseholes (to which I rose from scum to president I might add), three tired bodies stumbled into the clearing. To Lina and I it was a relief, we had been reluctantly debating mounting a search party. Dan was not in a very good mood so we left him to brood in the 7kg ‘orgy’ tent that he had so faithfully carried all this way. Somewhat predictably the weight of his pack was subject for complaint. We did cut him some slack however, dinner that night was a pretty tasty curry. Just as we were all ready to fall asleep on our feet, Sierra mooted making mulled wine with the 3L of red wine that I had tried in vain to leave at the car against Dan’s wishes. If only to lighten his load I begrudgingly obliged to at least attempt making the mulled wine. Having no experience in this, it tasted a bit shit, but a man can only try.
Many strange noises were heard that night, it is still unconfirmed if they emanated from the tent outside or the top bunk that housed the ‘sleeping’ couple. We were keen to get out of the hut in good time so when awoke there was a great buzz around the hut as breakfasts were sorted. Clara had neglected to pack any, so I shared mine with her. She had the balls to criticize the viscosity of the porridge I had made for her. Just can’t please some people. It became painfully obvious after breakfast that Dan and Sierra might be awhile longer in tent before they were ready. Dan is not a man that can be easily persuaded to do something when he doesn’t want to. Given that , we all trooped down to the ‘port’ to give the tenters some time.
The hut we had slept in was actually a school house from the days when the area was occupied by loggers. That venture had failed by the late 1920’s and the rest of the village was dismantled other than the hut. The wharf is rumoured to have been destroyed by the army during the second world war to stop it being used as a possible landing point by the Japanese. We enjoyed having a little explore down by the ruins and a good clamber over the rocks. By the time we went back to the hut the others were at least closer to being ready. It was 10:30am by the time we finally moved off down the track, which followed the old bush tram line that was used to haul timber to the port. Walking along it consisted of hopping from sleeper to sleeper, to avoid a squelchy embarrassment in the mud that inhabited the space in-between. The track was punctuated by impressive wooden viaducts and it was by the largest of these that we stopped for lunch. A robin decided to accompany us for this and we all had a merry time. Sadly this viaduct was a little wobbly, so instead we were forced to go down to the river and then back up the otherside.
At the next viaduct we waited again for Dan and Sierra to catch up. It was a good thirty minutes before they did, which gave us time to discuss war films with the real life German, Amelie. Band of Brothers (although not exactly a movie) won out that conversation. When the stragglers did catch up, I didn’t ask where they had been because frankly, I really didn’t want to know. From here the track diverted off the South Coast track and up the namesake Hump Ridge towards Okaka Lodge. Clara moved at a rate of knots across the landscape and I struggled to keep up. Fortunately as the gradient steepened she slowed, until we had to stop every five minutes for an ‘oxygen break’. I was forced to crack the whip to keep Clara motivated. Many (MANY) steps later we stumbled across a napping Anna, who had neglected to wait at the viaduct. It took all my powers of persuasion to convince Clara that we were near Luncheon rock, which was a cool rock and totally more worthy of our break. Fast-foward many more steps and Clara was about to cry. Being the eternal meanie that I am, I forced her to keep pushing onward and upward.
And there, towering magnificently over the trees stood a rock that although looked nothing like luncheon, was perfection to Clara. Standing on top of the rock (which actually was the correct one) we were treated with a stunning 360 degree panorama of Southland. To the north stood the Takitimu’s, flanked by the mountains of Fiordland. To the south stretched out views of the Southern coast, and out to sea we were given a glimmering view of Stewart Island.
As we lazed on the rock in the sun, the sound of music could be faintly heard coming from the trees. We yelled salutations and the rest of our party, minus stragglers, replied in elation. The thought of moving from the rock was sheer blasphemy, we lay soaking up both vitamin d and the sheer beauty of the place. I did my duty as the appointed Instagram husband for the girls and many, many photos later we begrudgingly moved off, conscious of the setting sun. Our original plan was to camp somewhere along the ridge past Okaka lodge. However given the lateness of the hour and the weariness of feet we decided to aim for the lodge and see what happened. The track from the rock was a highway made up of almost entirely board walk, not exactly what one might call difficult terrain.
I used the time plodding wisely, torturing Clara and the others with my interpretation of introducing myself in Swedish. “Jag heter Sam, vad heter du? Jag hete….”. We regrouped at the off track to Okaka lodge to make sure we didn’t lose anyone. Anna was a little paranoid of getting lost and would often start walking back the way she had come if we were too slow. The 30 minute track time from the sign was in fact a 10 minute stroll, we were happy to collapse at the lodge. It became obvious once we had past the threshold of the door that we were not going to be camping that night. Instead we made ourselves cosy and hunkered down waiting for you know who. Lina, being the total lad that she is, walked back up to the turn off to leave a note to make sure they came to the lodge. The last thing we wanted was to lose them, and dinner, on the ridge.
Luckily that eventuality was avoided, they stumbled up to the hut only an hour or so after we had arrived. From there we all trooped off to the kitchen to help with dinner or just be a general nuisance. Dinner ended up being fantastic, although somewhat light of tofu as I had discovered the container during dinner prep. The night was capped off with some mulled wine before our tired bodies all collapsed into our beds.
There was no convincing Dan to get up early, even though no one really wanted to walk or drive in the dark again. Instead we initiated Operation bastards, which consisted of doing our best ‘those really annoying, loud and inconsiderate people in the hut’ impersonation. By the time I had had my porridge, which Clara made this time to ensure the viscosity was correct (plus adding apple and chocolate!), the operation was showing results. To my surprise we actually got out of the lodge in decent time, soon enough we were plummeting down hill in the direction of the South Coast track through misty rain.
This side of the walk was a bit more rugged (or normal?) and a lot steeper. We actually managed to hold a good formation though, with no one straggling at the back (other than me). With Dan ‘the walking podcast’ for company, time passed quickly and before we knew it we were down on the flats. As we had lunch at the junction with the coast track, a man with a very friendly dog who was very keen on our sandwiches (the dog not the man) passed us and we had a friendly track conversation. From this point the walk seemed impossibly unfamiliar given we had walked it just a couple of days earlier. The weather was truly shit by the time we reached the beach, rain was flying at us horizontally as we stumbled down the coast. We regrouped at the cribs before a final push to the carpark. After an impossibly long 2 kilometres we broke out onto the road. Our feet rejoiced, although our noses didn’t, as the boots came off. Certainly an enjoyable adventure.