Tuatapere – Port Craig – Wairaurahiri River and the Waitutu Forest.
Kiwi Wilderness Walks Guide Chrissy Hamill goes for a wander on the Waitutu Track...
The Waitutu Forest is New Zealands largest piece of unmodified lowland forest, once famously labelled by Dr David Bellamy, as “probably the most important forest in the world.” It lies in the southeastern boundary of Fiordland on New Zealand’s wild and rugged southern coastline.
I’d originally been offered a free jetboat into the Wairaurahiri with a family, but they, having small children took one look at the weather forecast and decided to postpone the trip! Not wanting to waste the weekend i decided to explore the track by myself on foot, from the other direction…
I set off driving from Queenstown rather late with some scribbled instructions for a shortcut route on the back of a cereal packet and stark assurances that I wouldn’t get lost. From Mossburn I left the highway and meandered down country roads through endless farmland and sheep for a couple of hours, barely seeing another car. I mostly didn’t get lost at all, apart from a brief and somewhat embarrassing incident when I drove around in a complete circle without realising it. Sometime after Tuatapere, the farmland disappeared suddenly dropping off into the rugged Southern coastline. As promised, the weather was dubious – the ocean was ferociously and rather estatically wild, and the wind was blowing so hard my little mazda hatchback wobbled in the horizontal rain. But I reached the carpark at Rarakau and set off down to the beach with all my gear, and as always, it was gorgeous as ever, despite the sky clearly not being in a very good mood. I followed the track, through old forest along the cliffs and down to bluecliffs beach. It was rather later than I’d planned to start, so I made camp that night just across the Waikoao river, at a friends old crib.
The next morning I woke at dawn to pouring rain and set off for Port Craig. Half an hour later the sun came out, and then it rained, and then hailed and then the sun came out again. The weather repeated this cycle for much of the afternoon to some annoyance, but it did make for some extrordinarily beautiful cloud formations. The walk to Port Craig is reasonably flat, following a both forest and beach tracks and it’s a very beautiful area. The coastline along some sections is littered with enormous pieces of driftwood – old ancient trees – which look eerily like bone remnants from a mass whale stranding..
When I finally made it to Port Craig, I arrrived to a roaring fire in a cosy hut and some chocolate cake, from Marky, the current hut warden – magic! Port Craig is the site of an old village, once the site of NZ’s biggest timber mill and home to around 200 people including a school and it’s own blacksmith. It’s rather hard to believe now- there is little sign of the village that used to exist apart from the odd hunk of vast, rusting machinry, or boiler, the wharf, and of course the old schoolhouse which has been converted into rustic accommodation for trampers.
The next day, from Port Craig to Wairaurahiri follows the old tramline through regenerating bush… It crosses several massive viaducts, built solely for the log tramway in the 1920s. They look bizarrely out of place now, on this tiny trail in the middle of nowhere. Once you cross the Wairaurahiri river ( on a very exciting swing bridge) you enter the Waitutu forest. It’s lush, old-growth New Zealand rainforest and it has a totally different feel to the area around the old tramline, full of birdlife and drippig fiordland moss. The gorgeous Waitutu Lodge is nestled in a corner of the forest where I stopped for some much needed kai and rest
The next day I headed back out home. The weather had decided to clear up for a change, and it was a stunner of a day – not a cloud in the sky!
Can’t wait to go back again, but I think this time I’ll definitely try and get the jetboat in one way!