Hiking The Hump Ridge Track - New Zealand

The Hump Ridge Track is a less well known beautiful 3 day hike in Fiordland National Park in the very south of New Zealand. Truth be told this hike wasn't our first choice, we had tried to book one of the 'Great Walks of NZ' but they were all full, so we took a punt on this track. We didn't regret it. It's regarded as slightly tougher than most of the Great Walks so we didn't really know what to expect, and it was a challenge, but not so hard that it wouldn't be doable for most people who enjoy a long walk. 

We hiked the trail in December, don't let the thought of summer meaning hot fool you though, we experienced temperatures at low as 1.5oc at 3pm on our first day! The following couple of days were a mixture of beautiful sunshine and bouts of rain - this is Fiordland after all. 

The facts:

Nearest town: Tuatapere, South Island of New Zealand

Getting there: You can drive from Queenstown in 2.5 hours or Te Anau in 1.5 hours.

Distance: 66km

Duration: 3 days of 22km, 23km and 21km. Each day was 5-6 hours of hiking.

Difficulty: Moderate - Hard

Lodging: Very good quality. You can bunk up in the dorms or splash out on a private room. All sell food (freeze dried but reasonably tasty as well as other snacks) and alcohol, meaning you don't have to carry everything with you.

Luxury: The first day is definitely the most difficult with almost 1000m elevation, if you don't want to haul your pack you can heli porter it up to the lodge!

Cost: NZ$175 for the bunkhouse option including a breakfast of porridge each morning. You can upgrade to a private room for an extra $100 NZ per room. Hot showers are also avaliable for NZ$20 per person and this includes one shower at each lodge. (You can't walk this track for free as it is a charitable organisation managed by the Tuatapere community and they do an amazing job). maintaining it, check out all that board walk!)

 

Preparation
 

It's worth doing a bit of training uphill before taking on the Hump Ridge as the day one climb is pretty steep. We decided to do some steep walks every weekend for four weeks before arriving (and had a two day rest before the trail) and it really paid off. We managed to do day one pretty quickly and this was down to getting used to climbing up steep gradients.

Our key advice for the Hump Ridge is to be prepared for all weather. We took this on in the height of summer and had 25C and sunny on the beach, 1.5C at the summit, all in the same day! We had wind, sun, rain, heat and cold most days. Thermals, jumpers, woolly hats and rain macs were invaluable on day one, but sun cream and shorts were needed during day three day as well.

You can buy food at each lodge, but it's dehydrated packets. These are good, but if you fancy something a bit fresher you'll have to bring your own. This includes three lunches as you won't be able to buy these at the lodges.

Walking poles are pretty handy on this walk as there are sections which are very muddy and some steep downhill gradients. The vast majority of the trail is well formed though and the staggering 17km of boardwalk make the trail a lot easier. 

 

Day 1: Rarakau to Okaka Lodge

22km,  29,494 steps

Apple Watch Says:

It's best to start day one early and give yourself plenty of time as you take on the biggest climb of the track - 913m total elevation gain. Most people seemed to start somewhere between 7 and 9am.

The opening stretch of The Hump Ridge Track

You begin by meandering through the forest on a mercifully flat track with a taste of the beautiful landscape you'll see throughout the hike. It's a great way to start, passing by streams, ferns and with occasional glances through the foliage to the ocean.

Soon you make it to the stairs that lead down to the beach. There's a high tide path on sections you can use, but otherwise you'll likely find yourself walking along the sand, for us that meant straight into a hefty headwind. It might look serene but this was probably our least favourite part of the walk, battling the wind and being blasted by sand for several kilometres! The people we saw running it - we salute you!

Once off the beach you'll head into Fiordland National Park for some stunning boardwalks that go through fern forests and gentle inclines to Water Bridge for lunch. Walking through the giant ferns and moss covered trees definitely feels like you have strayed on to the set of Lord of the Rings. It's breathtakingly beautiful and also a very easy section of track so you can really revel in it.

After around 15km you come to Water Bridge which has a small shelter that most people tend to stop in for lunch. This is also the place to replenish your water bottle and it's definitely the most fun we have ever had doing so!

You drop the bucket attached to string down in to the gushing water and grab your fill. The water is really cold and tastes so good! Stock up because the easy part is over and here begins the climb!

The final climb up to Okaka lodge is around 600m and it is fairly relentless. The first few kilometres felt pretty easy and I had wondered what all the fuss was about but it's the last couple that get you. You've already walked 19km and you start to feel it. Clearly most people feel the same way because the markers begin counting down the last couple of kilometres one by one to give you a bit of motivation.  It's best to give yourself time for the final 7km section of the day as there are few flat sections. The scenery is incredible though, it really is a magicall forest, one of the most spectacular we have ever walked in. 

After a few hours of uphill climb you'll reach the ridge boardwalk. To say it was blowing a gale when we reached it was an understatement, at points I was holding on to the boardwalk for fear of being blown away. An eight year old girl we met crawled this section, and loved it, in true Kiwi fashion. Unfortunately the thick cloud, fog and wind meant we didn't get any of the fabulous views from the ridge that we had seen in photos but to be honest it was just as memorable for the poor conditions. 

After just under 6 and a half hours walking we reached the lodge and in 1.5oc temperatures it was definitely a welcome sight. Even in the wintery conditions, it's hard to think of a better place to have a lodge than where Okaka is placed. You can see all the way to the coast and there's no one but your fellow walkers around for miles.

The gorgeous cabin we'd stayed in the night before had given us home baked raspberry and coconut cake and we were glad we'd saved it for a post hike treat. You can warm up by the fire and take a hot shower too so it really is luxury hiking! If we'd had good weather conditions we would have done the additional short loop track above the lodge for sunset but we attempted it and nearly blew away! Maybe another time.

The lodge is really well equipped. We chose to have a private room, but all people have access to full kitchen facilities and the toasty warm lounge with fireplace. This was a perfect refuge when (remember it was summer) the outside was 1C! Make sure you're quick in the shower though you only have 3 minutes : ) 

The lodge common room is a great place to socialise. There are plenty of books and games so we enjoyed quite a few games of cards before eventually retiring pretty exhausted to bed. The bathrooms are outdoors and this was probably the most freezing teeth clean of my life, I cannot imagine what it would be like in Winter!

 

Day 2: Okaka Lodge to Port Craig Lodge

22.78km, 31,573 steps

Apple Watch Says:

Waking up in Okaka Lodge to some slightly sore legs, we started the day to be welcomed by the lodge managers' porridge with brown sugar. The ideal brekkie for a cold morning before a full day's hike which though primarily down hill is still a long day. 

We ventured into the cold with our backpacks on and headed to the ridge. The winds hadn't let up, so we were grateful to make it across the boardwalk to the sheltered trail in the forest.

The track then opened up onto another part of the ridge and showed us the very changeable weather New Zealand is famous for. We experienced short downpours from passing clouds that were followed by glorious sunshine, bathing the whole ridge in beautiful light. On a clear day, the ridge would be a magnificent place to hike with panoramic views of the beautiful heather and trees as far as the eye can see.

We seemed to arrive at Luncheon Rock at about 10am, so decided to keep going and pick our own spot for lunch. After passing several amazing lookouts, we reached the forest once more. The track has strategically placed several stretches of boardwalk which made climbing down the mountain much easier in the slightly damp and muddy conditions. Once more we passed through the layers of forest from the mossy areas to the huge ferns, stopping at the foot of the ridge for lunch.

From here you start walking along the old tram line which is cut through the forest, presenting a refreshingly flat (but long) section. The difficulty here was the several stretches of mud that slow you down, and the old railway sleepers themselves. The recent rain had made it worse, meaning we had to tip toe round the edges of the path to ensure we weren't up to our necks in mud. This was where bringing walking poles really came in handy, preventing getting stuck in the oozing muddy parts. 

This section does have it's views with some incredible wooden viaducts that cross pretty deep valleys. Whilst you couldn't walk across all of them (Percy Burn viaduct is actually the longest in the world but was closed for maintenance), you still managed to get some amazing views from the path.

Eventually we made it to Port Craig, a small hamlet (well settlement of 3 buildings) by the sea. Here the weather was more stable and warmer than Okaka and you can hear the waves from the beach nearby. Watch out for sandflies here, they seemed to love this area and a few even made it into the hut. We heard it was a great place to see the rare hector dolphins but unfortunately we were not so lucky, hopefully you will be though!

There was a great vibe at this lodge with everyone sitting and chatting or playing cards over a glass of wine. Still can't believe you can buy wine on the track! It still ends up being an early night though with everyone wanting to make an early start for the final leg of the track the next day.

 

Day 3: Port Craig to Rarakau

21.22km, 27,571 steps

Apple Watch Says:

Waking up on day three I realised that the descent had taken a bigger toll on my legs than the uphill climb! Having the backpack on whilst climbing down must have been a lot harder work for my legs than I expected (possibly due to the cumulative fatigue of day one as well). You can feel it particularly in the knees!

Starting at 8am we made our way towards the finishing point of the track. You start on an undulating path in the forest which seems to go on for a long time (I think there were something like 17 small hills) until you reach the beaches. The track notes are slightly deceptive as we found the several small climbs added up to 500m of elevation when we had originally thought the track to be fairly flat.

The forest is spectacular as you cross small streams and are  surrounded by yet more spectacular ferns. Soon you reach blowhole beach for some open views of the wild Southern Ocean. Once you've crossed the beach you soon start climbing back into the forest before arriving back in familiar territory at Flat Creek. The final 10km is the same as the first 10 on day one which is a bit of a shame, not because it isn't pretty but it's never quite the same to retrace your steps. 

It was on the beach where we walked a while with a New Zealand family that really impressed us. They had a tradition of choosing a different multi-day hike each Christmas and everyone goes along including the young children. Needless to say the kids were way ahead of the adults on each day and it was so great to see a family enjoying the great outdoors together instead of all staring at phones or iPads!


The End

Making it back to Rarakau car park was a real sense of achievement. Granted, this isn't climbing Everest, but it was one of the first challenging multi-day hikes we'd done. Heading back to Tuatapere, we were glad we'd chosen to spend an extra night in the village rather than driving on to Queenstown. We had dinner at the local pub, the Last Light Lodge, which tasted amazing after three days of rehydrated food!

We stayed at a cute little cabin called Wicked Wee Dump on the Hump, which we'd highly recommend. It had lovely views, a cute little kitchen and more importantly an outdoor bath. That was us sold! The owners, Janice and Trevor, were lovely too, say hi to them for us if you go!

 

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Have you done one of the many multi-day hikes in New Zealand? Which would you recommend? If you have any questions about the Humpridge track we're happy to help! Let us know in the comments.


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