The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 12 (March 1, 1937)
South Westland and Beyond—
South Westland and Beyond—
(continued from p. 15)
Our boat returned down the lake to offer assistance in taking Gunn's party back. And that evening at our camp on Lake McKerrow, we cheered when we saw the relief plane following the route of the Hollyford Valley and Lake McKerrow on its way to Big Bay; for we knew that Dave Gunn had got through safely and in quicker time than the most optimistic could have believed possible, and that the relief ‘plane's arrival would coincide with low water at Big Bay. This was most important as, with the tide in, the beach would be unsuitable for landing. The weather conditions during the day caused some anxiety, but they fortunately became better and were ideal when the ‘plane passed north. From then on, and many times the following day,’ planes were passing back and forth, and we knew that whatever could be done for the sufferers had been done.
To anyone who knows the country, that twenty hours of almost continuous travel by Mr. Dave Gunn from Big Bay to the Eglinton-Milford Road, and particularly the ride from the head of Lake McKerrow to the Marion Camp, will stand as a notable feat of human endurance. And the journey itself, in the cause of relief for the sufferers from the Big Bay air disaster where one was killed and four others seriously injured, deserves to be recorded in the annals of this country as an individual effort of outstanding merit.
The backward state of communications in this part of New Zealand is seen in the fact that there is no telephone in all the stretch of country between Okuru in South Westland and the Eglinton-Milford Road on the borders of Southland.
On New Year's Day we left the camp at the head of Lake McKerrow at 10 o'clock and walked through the fine bush and river country to the junction of the Pyke and Hollyford Rivers and then up the Pyke to the base of Lake Alabaster, where a boat and a suspension chair facilitate the crossing at the outlet into the Pyke River. The scenery here is such that one would like to spend soul-satisfying weeks in the territory. There is the unbroken surface of the crystal lake, which well deserves its name, and the clear, view of many mountains soaring above the snow line, heavily forested, with waterfalls and streams, and then the bold and hungry Pyke River heading out to the Hollyford. Tutoku Peak, 9,042 ft., is the most notable of all the scattered giants, but many nearer mountains, less high, yet possibly more impressive, give to this sheltered lake a queenly setting of beauty beyond the range of dreams.
At 5.30 we met Dave Gunn returning from his ride, heard all the news, and congratulated him on his accomplishment. At 6 o'clock we reached Hidden Falls, the last of Dave Gunn's wilderness homes. “Old Malcolm” McKenzie was there with a good rich meat stew ready on the fire—the first meal we found ready for us since leaving Okuru on the 24th December. “Old Malcolm,” in his unhurried way, told us tales of the old days in these parts; for he has been up and down and through the wilds of this outpost territory all his life.
There is a good grassy clearing at Hidden Falls, the scenery, with Mt. Madeline (8,380 ft.) providing an impressive highlight towards the west, is bold and richly varied; whilst the Hidden Falls (from which the locality derives its name) thunder in the distance, and when reached through a wild tangle of undergrowth, awe by their majesty, and weave a magic spell with their rainbow spray, flung from the profusion of roaring waters, their sightly cliffs and woodland charm.
Successful fishing and wandering about in the clear sunny warmth of this meadowland locality held us until the afternoon when, shortly before one o'clock, we started off, this time with pack horse to carry some of the gear, and proceeding with light loads we reached Dead Man's Hut at 3.30 p.m. The Hut is sometimes known at Half-way Hut, and thinking from the information given previously that this meant half-way page 50 between Hidden Falls and Sunny Creek Camp (our destination for the night) we spent a pleasant hour there, drinking and eating and making backchat to the kakas which were willing to out-talk us, and gathered round impertinently to jeer at our imitations. But it took us from 4.30 to 9.20 to go from Dead Man's to the Sunny Creek camp. There are some steep bluffs to negotiate and with heavy clouds, some mist and night drawing on, the latter part of the journey through dense bush over an ill-defined track was made difficult, for it was very dark, and progress had to be made chiefly “by guess and by God.”
Safely arrived at the empty Public Works Survey camp there, we lit the fire and dined in style in the cook's quarters, and then laid out our sleeping bags in the adjacent tents for an insect-free night of slumber.
The next morning (Sunday, 3rd January) we used some time in shaving and tidying ourselves up prior to stepping out into civilization again. We left the camp at 10 o'clock, climbed the track to Mt. Howden and reached the Howden Lake at noon. After a pleasant hour there with Guide T. Cameron and the party he had camping at that centre, for the last time we took up our swags—now completely emptied of all foodstuffs—and dropped over and down to the Eglinton Divide where we arrived at 2 o'clock. A stroll a few miles along the road towards the Cascade Creek camp put us in touch with the Railway bus which regularly travels that route, and we were soon bowling along to Te Anau Hotel where we certainly enjoyed a full course dinner.
Nothing further need be said of the journey, for from Te Anau back to Wellington was just a matter of using good modern transport—Railway bus and train and the steamer express. Actually in 16 days of travel we covered a total of 1,472 miles, including 350 by steamer, 90 by air, 170 by rail car, 34 by horse, 342 by train, 388 by motor, 15 by rowing boat, and 83 on foot.
The journey from the Fox Glacier to the Eglinton Divide has many unusual features, and it is because of them, and the interest that others may have in making at least some portion of the through journey, that the foregoing details of times and accommodation notes have been given.
This was no tramping club trip, made by record-breaking young enthusiastic athletes, but a journey by two men in the placid fifties—reasonably fit and ready to take the rough with the smooth on what proved to be a trip of outstanding scenic interest, and one that was, from all points of view, most valuable and enlightening regarding an almost unknown section of New Zealand's hinterland.
With the opening of the roads to Milford Sound and through the Haast Pass, it is destined to become a notable tourist, scenic and fishing resort, when the road from the Eglinton Valley to the head of Lake McKerrow (at present under survey and construction) is completed.