Tin Range, Stewart Island blog | December 2014 - January 2015

If you are heading south to Invercargill with a tent it kinda makes sense to pop over to Stewart Island and make use of the tracks while the days are long. Actually in summer the nights are particularly short, less than seven hours darkness.

I’d spotted the start of the Tin Range route to Port Pegasus while on the Southern Circuit in the past. There is a sign that states the track has not been maintained since 2004, but it’s more the extreme than that, almost all DOC markers have been removed, you now have to follow the old foot trail through the forest, searching the ground, guess which direction it’s taking.

Then when you get into the manuka and leatherwood scrub, all grown back mightily in the intervening years, you need to adopt a swimming motion to drag, wrestle, haul, grunt, mutter and generally exhaust yourself making your way through the twigery, the pack with a full couple of weeks of food aboard a considerable impediment to progress, all time time thinking, I hope this is the actual track.

Once up on the broad, flattish tops there’s 15 odd km of open travel, short silvery twigs shoved into the spongy herbiage and upended rocks indicating, vaguely, the direction to point yourself.

I’m not one to scurry on through on a route like this, at least initially, so I took five days making my way slowly down to the north shore of Port Pegasus, then just the two on return. 

Why 16 days in total?

Well, you have to get to and from the start of the route, that’s a minor adventure in itself.

Here’s the story . . .

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Day 1 | North Arm campground, Rakiura Track

What better way to start a 16 day tramp than with a selfie. | Kaipipi Road, Stewart Island

I note that at 46° 30’ south we are marginally closer to the South Pole than the Equator. Despite being officially summer it feels like it.

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Day 2 | Tolson River hunter’s campsite, Southern Circuit

Looks straight forward but my advice is not to use the direct route. | Freshwater Plain, Stewart Island

Highlight of the day: a flyover by four kakariki, parakeets, species not discerned and, I guess later, a closeup with a white tailed deer, for once not just the blink, somewhat thrilling.

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Day 3 | Rakeahua Hut, Southern Circuit

Very few tramp around from Freshwater to Freds Camp but it can be beaut. | Southern Circuit, Stewart Island

With this three day drought, strong winds and warm weather, much of the way was surprisingly solid, except where it wasn’t. It was just the final section along the tidal Rakeahua River where it, or more correctly I, was tested, plunging a few times into some horrid dank slime. I must have been tired.

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Day 4 | Saddle between Table Hill and Blakies Hill, Tin Range Route

The alpine plants are well wind trimmed even at 700m altitude. | Table Hill, Tin Range route, Stewart Island

Well, what a day for exercise. I can’t think of any other in recent times that was quite so strenuous. There were extensive periods when this was just an enormous wrestle through the shrubbery with that heavily laden pack.

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Day 5 | Twin Pools Crossing campsite, Tin Range Route

You really feel inspired standing out here on your lonesome. | Tin Range route, Stewart Island

Moment of the day was over an hour long, just trying to work out which of the two options I should take, the vague markers, either the stone on end or a short twig poked in the sponge underfoot, had just came to a conclusion.

I made a stab finally, not the direction I had anticipated the trip going but after a kilometre along the open ridgetop various vague clues indicated I was on the right path until I came across confirmation, a recent footprint.

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Day 6 | night 1 at Tramline campsite, Tin Range Route

The lake under Mt Allen with Lees Knob beyond. | Tin Range route, Stewart Island

It’s almost as if I’ve been in training my whole life for today.

It was awesome, as in the archaic sense, filling you will awe, not in the current, diluted meaning, yeah, pretty good.

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Day 7 | night 2 at Tramline campsite, Tin Range Route

The stone old sluicing dam wall, way out in the middle of not much. | Tin Range route, Stewart Island

Down here, just below the 47°S mark, there’s another issue to contend with. It’s somewhat hard to adjust to getting sufficient sleep when there’s only about six hours of true darkness, about 11pm to 5am, you really need a blindfold to help nod off when your body is insisting it has had sufficient for the day, rather than what your mind is assuming, ie, it’s still light, big boys don’t go to bed when the sun is still shining.

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Day 8 | Diprose Bay, Tin Range Route

Looking over to where the old fish factory once stood. Just a retaining wall remains. | North Arm, Port Pegasus, Tin Range route, Stewart Island

Another old chimney stack in the forest over here, it’s hard to imagine how it must have been to live so isolated down here on the futile quest for riches in an almost non-existent tin frenzy.

I wonder what trace I will leave on the world 100 years from now. Clear answer: nothing.

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Day 9 | Twin Pools Crossing campsite, Tin Range Route

When you finally burst of of the more than head high scrubbery the view is just awesome. | Tin Range route, Stewart Island

The lack of decent markers is what makes this track so gnarly, oh, I guess the weather can be bad as well, like two days ago, and, of course, the old bush bashing scenario. Quite the Trifecta.

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Day 10 | Camping at Rakeahua Hut, Southern Circuit

Coming down of Table Hill the view is a real eyeful. | Tin Range route, Stewart Island

Returning over the same territory seems much easier, it must help that you have a reasonable memory of where the route lies. You still need to discern where to wander on any particular section but the general direction is not so unknown.

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Day 11 | Camping at Doughboy Hut, Southern Circuit

Tramping in the Upper Rakeahua valley, beyond the bogs, is often sublime. | Southern Circuit, Stewart Island

Six bodies in occupation at Rakeahua Hut and despite having not shared their companionship much last night I joined them to scoff my brekkie, away from the persistencies of the local insect life.

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Day 12 | Camping at Doughboy Hut, Southern Circuit

Major washing machine action at Doughboy Bay. | Southern Circuit, Stewart Island

I’m sticking around Doughboy for a big three nights, this is tramping Paradise. Plenty to occupy yourself here: scoot down the sandy beach, tick, a rocky headland wander around, tick, but the lunchtime high tide does limit activities due to a creek crossing requirement to access both directions.

Instead I sit in the hut, drinking coffee, having a chat, actually not such a bad option.

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Day 13 | Camping at Doughboy Hut, Southern Circuit

Doughboy Bay  in the gloom from Doughboy Hill. | Southern Circuit, Stewart Island

Dunno, after so many trips on my lonesome it is a joy to be involved in a standard DOC hut conversation, all intensity, depth and revelations of other’s lives and motivations and plans and futures. Sharing a hut is a great leveller out here, the southernmost DOC hut in New Zealand, getting here means considerable energy and planning is required, the general interest level of the residents is high.

We might generally be the quiet achiever types, but we have plenty of zip.

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Day 14 | Camping at Mason Bay near Kilbride, Southern Circuit

Marvelous view from Adams Hill looking north to Mason Bay. | Southern Circuit, Stewart Island

I became quite somewhat emotional outside the hut when preparing to depart, realising this really is the zenith of my two year tramping career, I won’t be doing too many of these two week excursions in the future, I’m going to have to create a more normal life once I return to civilisation, job, etc, and also recognising from now on most places will be more populated.

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Day 15 | Freshwater Hut, North-west Circuit

Early morning on the Mason Bay beach. | Southern Circuit, Stewart Island

A bloke, Owen, is just leaving, barefoot, with a swimming mask attached to his pack, he’s been using it to gather paua and kina which is his staple diet currently, a few fish caught. I enthuse him about the Tin Range, he just done the Jackson Bay to Hollyford route, three nights at Big Bay, venison and massive crays a staple around there and now the North-west Circuit heading onto the Southern. He hands me his impressive business card, written on the back of a brachyglottis leaf in biro, he wants information on the Tin Range, I’m needing Jackson Bay advice.

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Day 16 | Back at Oban

Yay. Civilisation, ie, downtown Oban. |  Stewart Island

The last day of the splendid little Stewart Island adventure, for once my mind has a fixation on the destination, ie, civilisation and fresh food, not necessarily in that order.

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Epilogue | Thoughts back in Invercargill

Can't really believe I've made it to the end of the Earth on the Tin Range. | Near Hill 637, Port Pegasus, Stewart Island

Best tramp ever?

Of course. Then again, I guess there’s been a few of those.