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Tramping the Telegraph – a trip to Puysegur Point

coast.jpgPuysegur Point at last! Thunder rolls, lightning strikes the ocean and waterfalls fly upward in the wind. Titi wheel out to sea as Tasman rollers pound the point. A dramatic arrival at one of New Zealand’s most remote spots. Matt and I carried on to the welcome shelter of the old landing shed at Otago Retreat, to enjoy the taste of fresh rainwater after days of Fiordland tea.

We had arrived at Puysegur following the 1908 telegraph line route along the coast from Big River. Expecting days of diabolical, tight coastal scrub I was surprised by the ease of travel. The telegraph line adds interest, popping up in unexpected places with lengths of steel wire, trees cut off as poles, and porcelain insulators. Old gold mines, wild beaches, sea caves and fantastic coastal forest made for a great trip. Map and compass were in constant use, to navigate the wild expanse of plateau on our return via the inland route from Kisbee Bay to Hill E.

Day 3 – Westy’s Cave to Andrew’s Cave
After two-day’s walk along the South Coast track we arrived at Westy’s Cave, a character hut tucked into a sea cave. With wild seas and few visitors, Westy’s is a great place to hide out. An hour on, Big River is a spectacular spot, the junction of lake and coast. Rounded boulder and orange pingao frame a view to Green Islets, our day’s journey away.

Big River provides the main obstacle to Puysegur. The 50m wide, deep crossing is affected by the tide and could easily flood and block an exit. On our return trip we found the lake had dropped by 50cm. Wading along the shore among beds of freshwater mussels is fun. The biggest climb of the trip is the 300m scramble up and over to Cavendish River. The swampy flats, tangled bush lawyer and swampy guts remind us that yes, we are still in Fiordland!

The most difficult section of the trip was the descent of Andrew Burn to the sea. Foolishly ignoring deer trails, we sidle the steep sides of the gorge until eventually emerging on the coast.

Day 4 – Around the Coast to Gates Harbour
After a night in a sea-cave, we wandered around the coast to Green Islets. A fur seal colony provides comedy in the posturing of the beach master bull. Crossing the peninsula to the west, the force of the wind hits and a truly wild coast appears. Orange pingao dunes are covered in rare Euphorbia glauca. Cooks Turban, catseye and massive paua shells lie among the kelp, polished to mother-of-pearl.

A compass bearing carries us west, through orange Halocarpus scrub to a crossing of Kiwi Burn at the mouth. More beach, gravel and boulder to Long Reef, then easy travel (and a brief swim in the sea for Matt) to a pleasant camp at the head of Gates Harbour.

Day 5 – Wilson River, Macnamara Creek, Sealers Creek to Puysegur Point
Open coastal forest became flatter and easier, cut in by steep sided creeks. Kaka and kakariki cackle and big rata impress, though the undergrowth is sadly depleted by deer. Despite the carnage we bless the deer as we walk, following trails around obstacles. Rain floods the bush creeks, but the bigger crossings are fine at the river mouth. A karearea calls our arrival at Sealers Creek, the river cutting between three impressive islets. From here a track leads to Puysegur.

Day 6 – Te Oneroa shelter
Our rest day, a return to the lighthouse in fine sunny weather revealed an impressive vista of Coal Island and Preservation Inlet. 3 hours walk took us to the Te Oneroa A-frame, swarms of sandflies and a big feed of mussels.

Day 7 – Plateau between The Knob and Lake Kiwi
Popping in to visit the caretaker at Kisbee Lodge, the only people for miles around, we found a pretty flash setup. Carrying on up the wooden-railed bush tramway, munching our bag of crayfish legs, we soon passed The Knob.

A wide manuka covered plateau, dissected with squiggling creeks, offers fantastic views of the ocean, Solander Island and Bald Peaks. It was a strange feeling to be on the flat, in Fiordland! Travel and navigation are easy, with some tree climbing to obtain bearings. In bad weather this stretch would be miserable.

Day 8 – Hill E and return to Cavendish River
Ignoring the route described in Moirs Guide, we bypassed Lake Kiwi and soon returned to Hill E and the swamps of the Cavendish.

Day 9-11 Hitch-hike a Jetboat ride up Wairaurahiri River to Lake Hauroko
Matt had met a team of adventurers from South Coast Jet at Waitutu Hut. Hearing about our trip they kindly offered a ride out on their jetboats. The trip along the coast in 2m swell was white knuckle stuff, fantastic! Blasting up the Wairaurahiri into the mighty Lake Hauroko was excellent. Thanks to Vaughn, Steve, Vaughn, Stuart, Nick and the boys for the trip and kaimoana!


Comment from Matt
Time: February 12, 2009, 5:37 pm

Hey oh – I’ve bought a two man canoe that just needs a canvas cover so maybe this summer we can explore te anau by canoe and foot

Comment from Bruce Stevenson
Time: July 20, 2014, 5:02 pm

Hi Tristan, thanks for this taste of the South Coast and the route in to Puysegeur.


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