top of page

Fine Days in Fiordland

(I wasn’t organised enough to get the story of this Nov. 2000 trip into last year’s Antics. But I do want to set it down as record of some cool country that not many people go into. The first couple of days I accompanied Judy’s Dusky trip group and you can read about that in Antics 2000. They were a bit more organised than me. Well, in some ways!)

From the top of Tarnatea Peak Judy’s party appeared as tiny figures picking their way down the scree slopes toward, Lake Roe. I gave them a yell then turned northward to gaze into the maze of snowy peaks and ranges that I was going to have to find my way through. It didn’t look as promising as the map suggested. What I planned was a traverse of the range, between the northern part of the Dusky Track and the Grebe, eventually coming out at Percy Saddle. I descended to the pass to find Vegard had left some lollies by my gear. Cheers mate!

Florence to Florence

Camping that night down by the big lake at the head or the Florence. I had some difficulty the following morning getting up onto the flattish plateau on its east side. After exhausting my nerves trying to surmount a small bluff I gave up and circled back clown toward the stream that feeds the second bath-like lake. Rounding scree and snow I reached the base of a couloir that looked promising. The snow was easy to kick into at first, then several kicks were needed. I’d brought an ice axe, but not crampons. thinking the snow down here would be either gone or soft by now. Fool! After a while I had to start cutting steps and I began to realize why climbers carry such skimpy packs. Finally, after a 300 m climb, I broke out on easier slopes. The sky was blue and hot sunshine shone down from it as I crossed small snow basins and rock to get to a gut leading down into the head of the north branch of the Florence. Slithered down that and across some extensive avo debris in the bottom or a picturesque little basin. A hot day by now and I had a delicious bath in the creek. Sidled out or the basin around steep tussock slopes then dropped down to the main valley. finding a reasonable path through the scrub. Puffed my way up the other side to camp on a tussock mound above the inevitable tarn.

After scraping the frost off my tent I packed and headed for the pass, just at hand which led over into the Emerald Stream catchment. Ascended a rock rib to a funny kind of flat area but above this the rock turned into bluffs, and I had to take to the hard snow in the couloir. A few rocks protruded and I jumped from rock to rock as much as I could but the inevitable slow tiring of step cutting was also needed to get me to the top. From the pass on the sunny side, sort snow led down into a gully, which led me to a boulder-field above a clear blue-green lake. Traversing that on the east side, I climbed a knob above the lake to get my first view of Lake Saint Patrick which was peeping around a corner below me. It looked pretty nice down there with a pyramid peak imposing above the lake and rocks creeping up to the margins or a tarn-studded flat. This was a place I had long wanted to visit, and I enjoyed the view as I lunched on the knob. Dropping past a nice quartzy waterfall brought me lo a tussock-scrub scarp which I descended to reach the flats, walked around the corner of some mounds and voila! Lake Saint Patrick was spread before me. beautifully framed by snow-clad mountains. Stunned by the beauty. I wandered along, taking many photos. Mt Watson sat at the head of the valley, reflected in the tarns that dotted the flat. Not a cloud in the sky nor a breath or wind, nothing stirred in that place except me as I crossed the lake outlet and traversed the eastern edge of the lake. Something of a trail here suggested the deer or chamois also used this route. Their judgement was confirmed by a view of the thick scrub cloaking the other side or the lake from shore to bluff. At the head of the lake is a gravel spit, dotted with tussocks. The inlet stream flowed ripple-silent, crystal clear over its bed of coloured cobbles, which were perfectly visible beneath the stately reflection of Mt Watson. Staggered, staggered by the beauty, and no companion to share it. I stagger into the tussock and trudge up the broad flats, gradually gaining height above the lake. Up mounds and rock jumbles, occasional scrub to the base of a cascade which I climb above for a well-earned orange, gazing back at the lake. I had almost camped down there, but wanted to break the cycle of mornings spent kicking steps into the hard snow on the south sides or passes.


I climbed and traversed, meeting the route to the pass beside Mt Watson halfway up. Working my way toward a gully on very soft snow my left leg suddenly plunged right in to my waist, while my right leg stayed high and dry. Result: one twisted right knee. Hauling myself out. I hobbled to the creek and filled my water bottle, in case there wasn't any on top. Climbing an exposed rib of scree for most or the way. I then plugged through the soft snow to the top of the pass. I'd decided to camp up here, a long day with 2 passes climbed. There was water too - a snowed-in tarn but flowing from the outlet.

There's a great view from here, over the Spey to Koinga Peak and the imposing Black- Giants. I enjoyed the last of the day's sunshine but my knee was quite sore and it started to seize up as I sat around camp. Had a brief yarn to Judy's party on the mountain radio. They tell me later they were cracking up because I sounded like Donald Duck! I forgot to ask the new Dr Ormandy for a diagnosis.

Knee was quite sore during the night and I wondered how it would go the next day. I hurt whenever I moved it to a new angle, but not when it was still. I deduced some damage to the moving parts, whatever they might be. Still, I wasn't too worried as the only other two twisted knees I'd heard about on tramping trips came right with a bit or time.

Watson Ward Wall Weary

I made the porridge reasonably early then tested the knee out by walking packless to the top or Mt Watson, getting up there for a fantastic early-morning view from the top. Straight across another branch of the cloud-filled Emerald Stream rose the impressive Wall Mountains. Northward the spur running out from Mt Watson rose above the cloud filled Spey Valley, with mountain range, spreading across behind, while to the southwest three jutting peaks broke the skyline, only one or them (Mt Ward) named. I was keen to climb it even if it was a bit out or my way. Ought to be a great view from up there. My knee felt better for the exercise so I descended to my gear, deciding to have an attempt on Mt Ward, although it was conditional on getting access to the main ridge from the spur on the west side of my pass. Two bands of bluffs looked as if they might provide some difficulty. Emboldened by my pack free state (I'd hidden it under a rock in favour of my raincoat [for the pockets], swanni, water bottle and muesli bars) I took the first bluff head on, surmounting it via a bit of a chimney and Frazer mate, you'd have been proud of me! Ahead lay the second bluff, not really that bluffy and with care I ascended the slabs and knobs and before I knew it, I was at the top. My pleasure shortly turned to pain as 30 m further on was a sheer-sided notch in the ridge, not at all apparent from the map. No way, not for me anyway. Sadly. I made my way back to my gear. finding a couloir to avoid a descent of the chimney. What to do now? I settled on having an easy day, perhaps walking down to the divide at the head of Emerald Stream and camping there to launch my assault on the Wall Mts the next day.

I cruised down the northern spur of Mt Watson without difficulty but found that it terminated in a horrid little overhanging buttress that I could not downclimb. Nor was it possible to outflank on the west side. so I had to backtrack until I found a gully on the eastern side or the ridge. In hot sunshine l plodded up to my lunch spot, overlooking a snowed-in tarn and a small blue lake at the head of Emerald Stream. The view of the Wall Mountain, was as cool as the map had led me to believe. To the south glaciation had simply shaved off the mountainsides leaving immense 600m bluffs that were presided over by two prominent grey rock peaks which appeared to loom out over the valley. The central section of the range was taller and even the upper slopes striped with snow, while sharp­tipped Mt Grey punctuated the northern extremity of the range. I had decided to camp on the hill above the tarn, as it would have excellent views. Then tomorrow I would head north along the Wall Mountains. There was a problem though. My route north would start low and gradually climb and traverse to the northern part of the central section of the range. Yet l wanted to climb the highest point as well, which was further southward - but not with a heavy pack on. The solution became obvious. Climb to the highest point, packless, this afternoon, return to camp on the hilltop and traverse northward tomorrow.

So I set off with my ice axe and a plastic bag containing water. map. muesli bar and the inevitable orange. Descended to the lake at the head of the Emerald, then climbed up and over a rather cool rocky blocky prominence, unfortunately having to descend even further at the far end before a steep climb through spiky tussock brought me to the base or a rock rib that stretched up to the ridge. I climbed this to avoid the snow and traversed a short distance to the high point. Great view, again on a perfectly clear day. Directly below on the eastern side a large green lake nestled in yet another tributary of Emerald Stream and I could see past it to the Hunter Mountains, Titiroa and the Livingstone Range, a complete jumble of Fiordland peaks and ranges in all other directions. Woo hoo!

Back to my lunch spot, picked up my pack and tiredly plodded past a snail shaped patch of snow to the top of my hilltop. So much for an easy day with a dodgy knee eh? It certainly was a lovely place to camp, except for the bloody sandflies that surprised me this far above bush line.

Fun and Games with Keas

My knee was again a bit stiff as I descended past the snowed-in lake to the saddle. then dropped down tussocky ledges to the basin at the head of Shott Stream. A kea came over to investigate, then flew away. I sidled upward across a rock jumble where rock wren, bobbed on the boulders then, outflanking a bluff, climbed above it. Already it was very warm and I welcomed the shade the range above me provided. Kept sidling upward and across. crossing snow patches. High on the west slope of the range a flock or 7 screeching keas suddenly descended on me. so I stopped to enjoy the entertainment. They were mostly young birds. Always emboldened by the company of their fellows they hopped ever closer and before long one of the young rascals was sitting on my leg tugging at my bootlaces. I find it quite remarkable that a wild animal can pluck up the courage to do this. The keas followed me as I headed up to the top of the ridge, then dropped down to the saddle with the north branch of Emerald Stream. The keas abruptly flew off as another bird called, while I sidled around a knob on the ridge then plodded to the top of the 1502m peak, my predetermined lunch spot. I could now see down the Percy Burn to the Borland road, as well as down Emerald Stream to the big green lake. Ahead lay Mt Grey and I set off for it after lunch. The ridge rose and fell in small knobs and points a, I traversed along it. At the base of Mt Grey tremendous eroded gullies twisted down the western side into Shott Stream. I plugged through deep soft snow on the east side or Mt Grey to reach the north ridge, dumped my pack, and clambered to the top.

Following the mandatory summit orange. I headed north down the ridge to where I was confronted by a bluff, but I had anticipated this from the map and dropped down a scree gully to get to easy terrace, leading around to the broad tussocky basin that holds Lake Percy. Set up camp on a knoll above the lake. It was only 5 pm but I got the mountain radio aerial strung out, regretting having done so when two kea, arrived, circling my camp to identify the choicest bauble, before settling on the aerial and becoming intent on destroying it. Luckily many small stones were present and I employed these to scare the kea into flying away ... a short distance ... for a few minutes ... and then start hopping back through the tussock, or silently gliding to a closer knoll ... What is it about kea that make them so incorrigibly persistent, what is the internal drive that impels them toward a campsite time and time again? The sandflies were becoming a nuisance, yet I couldn't use the shelter of my tent or the kea, would destroy the aerial.

It was with great relief that I got the sked over, reeled the aerial in and climbed into my tent. The kea, immediately invaded the spot where my gear had been strewn about, and were somewhat disappointed to find nothing interesting to chew. So they turned their attention to my tent, taking great delight in the aluminium tent peg, and stretching their heads beneath the vestibule wall to tink their beaks on my fuel bottle. When they started grabbing the nyIon, enough was enough! Repeatedly I shooed them away and threw small stones never hitting them. But again and again they kept coming back and it was REALLY HACKING ME OFF BECAUSE I WANT TO GET TO SLEEP YOU FUCKING BASTARD KEAS! But still I heard the gentle thud thud rustle of a kea hopping closer. Enraged, I leapt up, unzipped the door and yelling something like "AM I GOING TO HAVE TO KILL ONE OF YEZ TO GET THE BLOODY MESSAGE ACROSS!" hurled a rock at the kea silhouette about 5m in front or the tent. The whack of the rock connecting with the kea's head was audible, and it flew backward, and landed in a tussock, wings raised, head slowly moving up and down. "Serves you fucking well right!" I said zipping the tent up and laying my head down to sleep. But five minutes later conscience pricked and I went out to check how the kea was. It was still sitting in its tussock, somewhat dazed. Remembering my first aid. I quickly assessed that its airway, breathing and circulation were fine, and began a secondary survey. The kea flinched when I touched its head, but everything else seemed fine. "Right. How about we make a deal. I'II show you what the inside of a tent looks like, then you fuck-. off. OK?" "Rightio" nodded the kea. It didn't struggle as I gave it a guided tour of the tent and I was pleased to see it keep its side of the bargain and hop away into the tussock afterward. I was very glad I hadn't killed the kea. and looked forward to the prospect or a peaceful sleep for the remainder or the night.

Awoken at 3.30 am by a screeching outside my tent. I guessed it was the partner of the kea I had hit with the rock. For most of the rest of the night it called ror its mate, sometimes loudly, sometimes soft. Unbelievably it periodically approached the tent for a nibble, and I had to scare it away with more stones! By daybreak we had reached some sort of truce, and the kea was content to stand in front of the tent door and gaze inside with its smug-smirkful quizical-comical wise-regardful stare. When, after one of the crappiest nights sleep l've ever had, I final got up for breakfast, two keas were flying past, though one was careful to keep its distance! The moral? NEVER STONE A KEA.

Ups and Downs

After my sleep-in I packed my stuff, crossed the lake outlet, and chugged up the steep hill north or the lake. From the top I gazed down at West Arm of Lake Manapouri. V-shaped boat wakes. Lakes Virginia and Lois gleaming in the forest, the road cutting down from Percy Saddle, The ridge dropped away in a rather nasty eroding rock scree-sIope, which I had to negotiate with care to reach a saddle from where there was no possibility of proceeding further along the ridge because of an impeding buttress. The alternative was a steep couloir leading down into the head of Percy Stream, it proved accessible but a scant scree cover over a hard surface tested my ankle. Lower down in the basin a kea came to inspect my pack as I rested, while a chamois snorted from where it grazed some choice alpine megaherbs nearby. Traversing across to another broad couloir, I climbed to the top where there were fantastic explosions of granite on one side. Climbed over a granitey hill and descended to a neck opposite my previous night's campsite. Yeah, the ridge does a bit of a U-turn. As I lunched I gazed west-ward to the country I had been traversing across in the past few days, what a lot of ups and downs! Eastward the view was less scenic, with the valley framing a vista of stark white erosion along the Percy Saddle road. Very messy, and its not as if it was built yesterday. More ups and downs ensued as I traversed the ridge in the direction of Percy Saddle, enjoying a rest in the sun on the 1405m peak while the obligatory kea came over to check out my ice axe. Descending snowbanks to the saddle on the other side. I was resigned to traversing across the steep slope of the next hill, when a tremendous couloir opened at my feet. I had spotted this earlier on the map and wondered if it might provide a route down. With care it proved feasible, despite the incredibly slippery tussocks in the lower part. In the basin below lay a lake and I made my way around it and camped near the outlet. observing galaxiid fish in the stream. Well I could rest easy now. I'd passed over all the major obstacles and what a beaut run of weather. Six consecutive fine clays' Who sez Fiordland always has crap weather!

Sorry Judy!

Rain set in over night but I cared not. It was about midday by the time I got away the following morning. Down to the road and up to Percy Saddle, as I dropped down the track on the Percy Burn side I straightened up a few of the track markers and built a few cairn, to help guide Judy's party, who I expected would be using the route the following day on their way over from West Arm. As I walked the 20 km to where we'd left the vehicles at the start of the trip the rain eased and it became quite warm. I'd have been keen on a good rest but the sandflies kept me honest, just as Charlie Douglas noted over a century ago. I borrowed Judy's car to drive up the hill to the Grebe Lookout. where my brother was going to meet me the following day and made camp. I made my last radio sked, asking FK Base if I could talk to Judy's party. I wanted to know if they would like me to leave a car back down the road to shorten their walk out. But Judy's crew didn't come on air. Overnight I tried to figure out what would be the best thing to do. Leave the car at the lookout or take it back down to where I'd picked it up? Or drive it right back down to the Grebe bridge? I couldn't see how Judy's party would NOT come over Percy Saddle, as organizing travel back to the Borland road from Manapouri would be a hassle. I wished I'd been able to talk to them on the sked though, and I had this nagging feeling. I ignored it and nobly settled on option 3. getting up early so that I would have the time to drive the car back to the Grebe bridge and walk the 15 km back to meet my brother at midday. The walk was much nicer without my pad .. I left my boots at Vegard's car on the way past, and arranged some stones on the bonnet to thank him for returning them home. After meeting my brother we were going to head off on a road trip and there was no need for smelly boots.

So, imagine what Judy et al thought when they arrived at Vegard's car via Manapouri and Borland Saddle. to find a pair of boots, a missing car. and a sign saying "Ta! ". All I can say is, I meant well!

Digitized from Antics 2001.

bottom of page