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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 9 (December 1, 1934)

Fiordland Round Trip — A New Scenic Route

page 41

Fiordland Round Trip
A New Scenic Route.

Sunset splendour on Doubtful Sound, South Island, New Zealand.

Sunset splendour on Doubtful Sound, South Island, New Zealand.

Every New Zealander, and many thousands of overseas tourists, know all there is to know of the beauty of the Milford Track, hitherto acclaimed as the Most Beautiful Walk in the World. In the following article, Miss Morton describes in detail a new route as yet little known, a Fiordland Round Trip, which takes in the beauty of Lake Manapouri, and some of the finest and wildest mountain, forest, and fiordland scenery in New Zealand. Special interest attaches to the trip by reason of the fact that a visit to Lake Manapouri is included in the Duke of Gloucester's itinerary.

In order to popularise this and other trips to the Southern Lakes and Sounds, special concession rates have recently been arranged by the Railway Department for the benefit of long distance travellers from Auckland, who will now be able to make the through trip to Lakes Te Anau or Manapouri for £11 10s. return first class and £9 5s. second class, bringing this remarkable holiday tour within financial reach of Nature lovers in all parts of the Dominion. Keen interest in the formation and improvement of the track has been taken by the Hon. Adam Hamilton, Minister of Tourist Resorts, who considers that Guide Murrell has rendered his country a national service in opening up a new tourist route of such unique and exceptional beauty.

Thirty years ago a party of pioneer Southland settlers, Messrs. Fowler, Baird and Wilton, set out to find a way over the great unexplored range of mountains that lies between Lake Manapouri and the West Coast Sounds. They succeeded, and built a cairn on the edge of the precipitous rock wall that divides the dark forests of the Freeman Valley, at the head of Manapouri, from those of the Valley of the Camelot, stretching in serried waves of woodland loveliness to one of the arms of Bradshaw Sound. Then for long years, no footfall, no sound of human voice was heard in that wild and desolate region; the silence of the centuries closed once again upon the dark aisles of the great forests, broken only by the song of the bush birds and the ripple of the river.

Two years ago, another Southland pathfinder, this time one of the present generation, Leslie A. Murrell, of Manapouri, thought out a bold and splendid scheme, a new Round Trip of one hundred and ten miles, embracing forest, lake, mountain, and fiord, which would link up the well-known Wilmot Pass-Doubtful Sound route with a new track through the magnificent beech forests of the Freeman Valley at the head of the North Arm of Manapouri, over Fowler Pass, and through the Camelot Valley to the Gaer Arm of Bradshaw Sound. It was the greatest scenic route ever planned and carried out almost single-handed by a New Zealander, for by the initiative and zeal of this one man, aided by two or three volunteer helpers, the project was actually put into effect six months later, the first official party being taken over the track by Guide Murrell in March of last year. Only those who know something of the dense Southland forests, the turbulent rivers, the precipitous grades and impregnable mountain walls, can realise the stupendous nature of the task that confronted Murrell and his lads when they first entered the wild, unexplored region of the Freeman Valley. Undaunted, they faced and overcame all difficulties, crossed the rivers on frail strands of wire until cages could be built, and finally emerged from the forest at a point where the leader, with his unerring bushman's instinct, had surmised they would find the cairn erected by the first exploring party on Fowler Pass, the party actually coming out within a hundred yards of the exact spot. To get down from the Pass into the Camelot Valley presented a problem familiar to all who know this rugged Fiordland country, where the ground rises more or less gradually from lake level on the eastern side to the great mountain chain, whose rock-walls drop with dramatic, almost terrifying suddenness, two or three thousand feet or more into the forest valleys on the western side. Murrell searched until he found a way down from the Pass, a surprisingly easy way, considering the nature of the country, a curious rift between two towering walls, that was promptly named the Chimney. True, a huge boulder had wedged itself right across the narrow passage half-way down, yet here again luck held, for there was a manhole left though which one could scramble. The rocky stairway led down through an alpine garden of amazing beauty, and gradually dropped to the lovely forests of the Camelot and to the waters of the Sounds, about twenty miles distant.

That, briefly, is the story of the finding of this magnificent Round Trip,
Fiordland's pioneer guide, Leslie Murrell.

Fiordland's pioneer guide, Leslie Murrell.

page 42 which ranks now with the older and better known Milford Track, yielding it nothing in grandeur of forest, lake, and mountain scenery.

Since blazing the trail two years ago, Guide Murrell has worked unceasingly to bring the track into such condition as will make it easy travelling for all, and during the coming summer anyone used to tramping will be able to undertake the trip without the slightest misgivings as to its difficulties. The slender wires on which the early crossings were made across the Freeman and Camelot Rivers now support stout “cradles” pulled by wires operated on a pulley, and the novel crossings merely add to the enjoyment of the day's adventuring.

The Manapouri-Deep Cove section of the round trip, an eleven-mile route over Wilmot Pass, is well known. This track, originally cut by the Government nearly forty years ago, was allowed to fall into disuse, and practically no trace of it remained when Murrell, upon his return from active service at the close of the War, obtained permission to reopen it. The new trip, covering about thirty additional miles of walking and fifty of launching, is far more spectacular from the scenic viewpoint, and also more interesting and diverse in the character of the country traversed. A brief description of the new route itself, and the various points of interest, will serve to bring before readers the grandeur of the trip. A twenty mile launch run up Manapouri to the North Arm brings the tramper to the foot of the lovely Freeman Valley, the first section of the trip, seven and a half miles, lying through beech forests and fern glades, following the course of the Freeman River, flowing deep and pellucid between moss-grown banks. The Freeman Camp, a cluster of tents well equipped with food and bedding, is on the bank of the river, and just beyond is a good swimming pool. The track rises sharply on the second day, winding up over a thousand feet through forest and rocky gorge, beneath tremendous cliff faces, to Lake Minerva, and over 2,000 feet above sea level, where the second camp is set snugly in a beech glade near the silver-sanded shores of the lake. On every side rise vast circling ramparts of granite, bare and glistening in the sun, their stupendous crags and peaks, of strange, fantastic shape, from four to five thousand feet high, reflected in the unrippled waters of the lake. This is unquestionably the greatest scenic feature of the land portion of the trip, its magnificence rivalling that of the world-famed McKinnon Pass on the Milford Track. To the awe-inspiring and overwhelming grandeur of this rugged mountain panorama is added the charm of the bird and plant life of forest and mountain. Among the birds seen on this portion of the track are the ubiquitous weka, prowling in friendliest manner round the tents, bell birds, rock wrens, keas, bush pigeons, grey warblers, riflemen or bush wrens, and often through the silent night comes the weird cry of the kiwi. Sunset at Minerva Camp
Trampers beneath towering beech trees of the Freeman Valley, South Island, New Zealand.

Trampers beneath towering beech trees of the Freeman Valley, South Island, New Zealand.

is one of the great experiences of this wonderful trip, when the stark mountain walls burn with coppery red fire against a sky of gentian blue, and the sandy shores of the lake are a frame of silver set round the mirror of the waters.

From Minerva, the track ascends sharply through an upland valley beneath page 43 the completely encircling mountains, to the Fowler Pass, at an altitude of 3,200 feet, and the panorama of mountain, forest, lake and river, is one of the great memories of the trip. In serried ranks, clothed with dense virgin forest, untracked, unexplored, they sweep like the waves of a vast green sea for a hundred miles northward to Milford and beyond. Two beautiful little mountain lakes lie like jewels in the heart of the forest, and the South Fiord of Te Anau thrusts an arm of silver deep into the green valley below. The Fowler cairn is a picturesque landmark which no tramper should miss; the keas know it well, and from its apex one scolded our party to his—or her—content.

Down through the Chimney—an interesting bit, this!—and then for a rough and rocky mile the track leads round the shores of Lake Turaki and past the base of terrific mountain bluffs, across shingle slopes and through an alpine garden starred with gentians, celmesias, eidelweiss, senecio, ourisias, and other frail and lovely children of the wild seen only on the mountain heights. A little farther on comes the beauty of groves of gay lyalli, a large and handsome variety of the lacebark, and
Drifting down the silver reaches of the Camelot, South Island, N. Z.

Drifting down the silver reaches of the Camelot, South Island, N. Z.

beautiful as a Japanese cherry orchard in spring.

Down through the bush runs the track, mile after mile, opening out at last on the shore of a great circular pool beneath beech trees whose tops seem to touch the stars in the quiet evening sky. This is the site of the Bedevere Camp, the most picturesque of all three on the new track. Another four miles of woodland beauty, through glades of fern, taller and of more infinite variety than those of the Freeman forests, and a new thrill awaits the tramper, a boat trip of several miles down the exquisite Camelot, a quiet drifting down silver reaches that brings him to the launch moored at the head of Gear Arm, the last section of the journey being a run of twenty-nine miles down Bradshaw Sound to Deep Cove and its comfortable hut.

Two days are allowed for sightseeing at Deep Cove, where a launch cruise down the waters of Doubtful Sound, and the splendour of Hall's Arm and the other inlets, form a fitting climax to a trip of unique and amazing beauty.

The cost of the Round Trip, which occupies ten days, is £10, which includes guiding fees, launch hire, and all extras, bringing this remarkable holiday tour within financial reach of Nature-lovers in all parts of the Dominion.

“Rum life a tobacconist's,” confided a Wanganui whiff merchant to a reporter, “got to please everybody and sometimes it's a tough contract. Yesterday a chap bursts in with: ‘Give us a pound of toasted Cavendish. Hurry up! Got a train to catch.’ Well, d'ye see I'd had a run on toasted Cavendish, and hadn't a shred left (expecting another consignment to-day). But I didn't want to lose his custom so I says ‘sorry I'm clean out of toasted Cavendish, but I've something similar which perhaps you'd like better.'” “There's nothing similar to toasted Cavendish, and nothing I'd like better,” he snaps—and bolts out. Whatcher think of that?” “Very annoying of course,” replied the pressman, “but I think the bloke was dead right. I smoke toasted Cavendish myself, and there is nothing like it. There are other toasted brands, aren't there?” “Four,” replied the tobacconist, “Cut Plug No. 10 (Bullshead), Navy Cut No. 3 (Bulldog), Riverhead Gold, and Desert Gold—all practically free from nicotine (because they're toasted, d'ye see), all perfectly harmless, and all best sellers!”

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