From Here to the Other Down Under

Mount Aspiring National Park, Fiordland, and Steward Island

Aug 10, 2001
Outside Magazine

Mount Aspiring National Park
Southwest of Mount Cook is Mount Aspiring, a pyramidal masterpiece of 9,952 feet lording it over the national park of the same name. Problem is, you can't see the peak unless you get up high. On a four-day guided hike you'll trek through meadows and rainforest to Shovel Flat in preparation for the next day's steep, four- to five-hour "gorilla grunt" ascent to barebones French Ridge Hut at 4,805 feet, where there are gorgeous views of the surrounding glaciers and the Gloomy Gorge. Day Three takes you up the Quarterdeck, an icy ramp where you'll use crampons and an ice ax and be roped up. The three-hour climb to the summit of Mount French (7,678 feet) is dwarfed by the spectacle of Aspiring, but is a solid achievement in its own right. Mountain Recreation (3-443-7330) charges $630 for the trip, including all equipment, transportation, and meals. For more information contact the Mount Aspiring National Park visitor center (3-443-1233) in Wanaka.

Chances are, if you're a keen hiker, that you've heard of New Zealand's much-vaunted Milford Track. Gorgeous as it is, it's but a morsel of what you can do in Fiordland National Park. New Zealand's largest, the park stretches from Martins Bay on the west coast (Tasman Sea) to the South Island's far southwest corner. In the fjords—steep-sided U-shaped valleys that rise up out of the water for nearly a mile—thick bush clings to every crevice. The terrain is so wild that 300 miles of trails still don't give you access to much of the park—which is why it's best to explore it by sea kayak.
The two-day trip into Doubtful Sound is a good place to start. It begins in Te Anau with a drive to Lake Manapouri, a 20-mile boat trip across the lake, and then a 13-mile trek in a four-wheel-drive vehicle over Wilmot Pass to Deep Cove. The paddle down Doubtful Sound passes Rolla Island, where you might spot the Fiordland crested penguin, detours up deathly silent Hall Arm, and continues down the sound to Elizabeth Island, home to fur seals, bottlenose dolphins, and little blue penguins. From there, put your sails up and, wind willing, get blown back to Deep Cove. Fiordland Wilderness Experiences (3-249-7700) will set it all up for $163 per person. They also rent kayaks and gear to those wishing to do their own trips. If you only have one day, consider paddling Milford Sound with Rosco's Milford Sound Sea Kayaks. Try the Sunriser Wildlife and Waterfall Trip ($51 per person; 3-249-8840), a six-hour trip running every morning. For more information, call the Fiordland National Park visitors center (03-249-7921).

Stewart Island
The first thing that strikes you when you arrive on Stewart Island, off the south coast of the South Island, is the number of inhabitants wearing white gumboots. Sure, it gets muddy on this 40- by 25-mile island, which is why the 20-mile, circular Rakiura Track (one of New Zealand's "Great Walks") has been extensively boardwalked. The three-day walk starts from Oban, the island's main settlement, on the east coast. First you head north on undulating terrain past secluded beaches to Port William Hut, then west through thick bush to North Arm Hut on Paterson Inlet. You can walk or sea kayak the last leg on Paterson Inlet back to Oban. Accommodation is in comfortable huts ($6 per night) where wood-burning stoves, billies (cooking pots), and foam-rubber mattresses are provided—you have to carry in all other necessaries. To rent a sea kayak, call 3-219-1080; to reserve huts, call the Department of Conservation visitor information center in Oban (3-219-1130). Southern Air (3-218-9129) flies from Invercargill to Stewart Island for $90 round-trip. For more information, call the New Zealand Tourist Board in Los Angeles (310-395-7480) or New York (212-832-8482).

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