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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 5 (August 1, 1939)


(Govt. Publicity photo.) A glimpse of Lake Manapouri, South Island.

(Govt. Publicity photo.)
A glimpse of Lake Manapouri, South Island.

Three days of steady rain in the birch forest on the shores of Lake Manapouri. Curling mists over that “lake of a hundred isles,” and on the third morning a blanket of snow on the Takitimo Range, that lifts its hump back from the Otago Plains.

The fourth day sunshine broke over the lake, asparkle for the twenty-two mile launch trip to West Arm. But up there mist again was crowding the peaks, and long before the track leaves the Spey River to wind up the Dash-wood to Wilmot Pass, rain was concealing all but the near loveliness. So over the 2,225 feet of the Pass and down to the hut at Deep Cove, the head of Doubtful Sound—eleven miles of beauty.

A snowfall on the peaks above—Fowler and Wilmot behind us, sentinels of the Pass—the third dawn; and again sunshine for the twenty-eight mile trip down the Sound to Secretary Island, then north and east to the Camelot River at the head of Gaer Arm.

Two miles up the river, forest all the way, in the dinghy. Rain again. Through magnificent timber country, following up the banks of the Camelot, five miles to Bedevere Hut. A promise of snow in the cold air, in the foam-pale waterfall that faced the hut.

All through the next morning we climbed, steeply, over root and rock steps. We waded into the mountain torrent below, hoping that it would not prove as cold as it looked.

It did! But let it be said that this is the only unbridged stream on the whole of the 110-mile round trip—except in persistent storm, when back waters may flood the track.

After that, upward again, the flowers of the high country in profusion, sickly-sweet scent of the lace-bark in the rain-laden air. And so to the very head-waters of the Camelot, with snow peaks towering over us. A short, ladder-like climb, to a wide plateau level, where the birch trees were scattered over native grass. Sheer cliff walled in the hidden meadow-land, through which the crystal stream from Lake Teraki chuckled. Our imagination was captured by thoughts of the Lost Tribe: here surely was a possible stronghold—elsewhere in the mighty Kepler Range, that stretches from Manapouri to the south fiord of Lake Te Anau, would be such plateaux, these uncrossed by the summer tracks of the white man.

(Govt. Publicity photo.) Picturesque Doubtful Sound, South Island.

(Govt. Publicity photo.)
Picturesque Doubtful Sound, South Island.

Then to the task of the Fowler. The Fowler Chimney slopes a little from the perpendicular, and in fair weather is easy climbing. In bad weather, too, for the hardened tramper or the mountaineer, it is easy climbing. For those who make the distinction between walking and tramping, and belong to the former class, snow in the Chimney is an experience not to be forgotten.

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From the white above an icy cascade tumbles into our faces; packed in every foothold is treacherous snow, not long fallen, so that it slides downward with the weight of a step. A wind that we in the cities do not know whips from the peaks, numbing hands and feet in very little time. Soon we are watching our hands to see if we are actually gripping the ledges by which we must pull ourselves upward. Beside me, as I wait for our guide to find the footholds, melted snow in the cascade is freezing on to the rock edges.

We can no longer look ahead to the summit of the climb; the immediate step fully occupies our attention. Slowly, slowly the rock cleft stretches out to the plateau, now some hundred feet below. Snow gradually envelops the sheer sides of the Chimney; even the kiwi whose track we saw in the snow on Lake Teraki shores does not seem to have followed this only practicable crossing of the divide.

Once at the top of that 3,200-foot climb, we are in snow to a depth of four to six feet. The stone cairns that mark the way down to Lake Minerva are no guide: we can but stagger down the Chimney, this slope being fortunately not half as steep as the western side.

Sometimes one would sink through two feet to packed snow, and laboriously extricate one submerged foot after the other. Rarely did the jagged rocks pierce the softness; and the stream beneath could be vaguely avoided by the coloration, though sometimes one splashed noisily through into an icy pool.

Here were wapiti tracks, giant-like with the spread of the snow, as were our own footmarks. For a while we were very grateful to that cream-coloured beast, for surely he knew, as we did not, the safest and easiest way. His queer little detours, and right-angle turns, always had reason behind them, as we found if we took a shortcut.

In the valley of Lake Minerva the bitter wind was not felt. The roof that peeped from the edge of the birch forest on the lake shore drew us onward, grazed hands and knees almost forgotten in our eagerness to reach the hut.

While the weka screeched through the darkness, and the kiwi screamed, we drew close round the blazing log-fire, talked of things remote from snowclad Fowler Pass, from a lake locked in these sheer peaks that no man knows.

On the morrow, round the western shores of Lake Minerva, to the outlet that is the Freeman River. Then through age-old forest all the way, eight miles to the Freeman Hut, and on to North Arm Hut, Lake Manapouri. White of lace-bark where the kaka calls, bush-canary and wren hopping on the fuchsia boughs; everywhere the scarlet flame of mistletoe, lending a soft red to the distant green of birch and rimu and totara.

(Photo., Thelma R. Kent.) Cascade Hut, a mountaineering base near the Dart Valley, South Island, New Zealand.

(Photo., Thelma R. Kent.)
Cascade Hut, a mountaineering base near the Dart Valley, South Island, New Zealand.

Sixteen miles back, in the heart of the Kepler Range, the Fowler Pass is blanketed in snow, no longer violated by human presence; watching over the secret of its fastness with the moose and wapiti; and the kiwi climbing by the blue lake of Teraki, somewhere to the white-glowing needles above.