3,000 km on foot across New Zealand

Into the Southland

Southland New Zealand

We began in the Northland nearly five months ago and soon – almost predictably – we will finish in the Southland. If the South Island had seemed a tad empty, then the Southland is positively desolate. I liked it immensely.

The Southland has the second lowest population density in New Zealand after the West Coast. On our right was one of the most photographed places in all of New Zealand: the Fiordlands. Milford Sound. Doubtless Sound. Our trail, however lead through long and lonely valleys; dark and misty forests; wide and rolling farms; and the last of many mountains.


Two days after arriving in Queenstown, I called up taxi service after trail shuttle after tour bus to hear the same woeful tale: we’re all full up or we’re not going out there today. You see, there is a giant lake between Queenstown and the next trailhead. It looked like we’d be spending another day in Queenstown, waiting for a shuttle to the Mavora Lakes trailhead. Dad hurried back to the i-site to see if there were any rooms left in town and I stared purposefully (albeit not helpfully) at Lake Wakatipu.

Eighty kilometers long and deeper than sea level, the third largest lake in New Zealand is smack dab in the middle of Te Araroa. It’s labeled a hazard zone and trampers must find one way or another around or across it. I voted for hiring one of the shark shaped submarines to leap and dive across the lake. But I was overruled.

From my vantage point on the wharf, I looked out over Lake Wakatipu at The Remarkables climbing into the clouds. Great rocky mountains with fairy tale spires, The Remarkables are just what they sound like. It’s like sitting in a postcard.

Dad found me with some incredible news. Stephanie, the young American woman working at the i-site, hadn’t been able to find any rooms in Queenstown for under $300.

She paused, “You don’t really want to stay in Queenstown another night do you? You just want to get to the Mavora Lakes trail head?”

He confirmed.

“Alright, I’ll drive you tomorrow morning.”

Stephanie’s two brothers are currently on the TA, so she was very kindly paying the trail magic forward on their behalf. The next morning, Stephanie pulled up in front of the YHA with none other than Peter and Reino in the car. The Dutch couple had apparently experienced the same trouble getting a trail shuttle as we had. We tossed our packs into the Subaru and set off for the last leg of our journey.


Pretty waterfall on the Mavora Lakes Greenstone Trail.


Don’t eat these. You get high and then you die.

The Mavora Lakes are also known as Amon Hen.

The Mavora Lakes are also known as Amon Hen.

There are two Mavora lakes, situated pleasantly beneath low, green mountains. The TA winds through beech forest and empty tussock valleys before reaching the North lake. Rain snapped and sprinkled on my hood and pack cover. Bright orange Fly agaric mushrooms popped a bit of color into the otherwise green and grey tableau.

We would soon need to resupply. The notes indicated we could either hitch left or right for groceries once we reached SH 94. A German couple in a trundling Britz campervan picked us up and took us left into Mossburn. The FourSquare was just up the street from where they dropped us.

Mossburn is a railway town, or at least it was. It was once the terminus for the Mossburn Branch railway and saw a boom during the construction of the Manapouri Power Station in the mid-20th century. But when the power station was completed, the railway eventually shutdown in 1982. Though on a major thoroughfare between Te Anau and Queenstown, it has the unmistakable flavor of a place abandoned by time. Shuttered windows and empty parking lots. Neon ‘open’ signs permanently unplugged.

It even lost its grocery store. The FourSquare was dusty and dark and had no doubt been closed for years. Mossburn was not a resupply location. We stood on the rainy roadside attempting to hitch to Te Anau, but dusk was on its way and we opted to bunker down for the night at the Mossburn Railway Hotel.

Two days later after a successful resupply in Te Anau, the Tracknet shuttle left us at the junction of SH 94 and the Takitimu Track.

Tattiana and Arnaud, two young French trampers, caught up with us shortly before we reached the Aparima Hut. We had just finished dinner when the rain came. It didn’t leave again for another three days. Sloshing through moss and soggy undergrowth, it truly felt like summer had abandoned us for good. The sound of cows mooing in the distance echoed through the trees like brontosaurus songs. It was the only noise we heard, apart from intermittent chirps, in the dark forests.

Tattiana and Arnaud doing their chores.

Tattiana and Arnaud doing their chores.


Rain turned to wet snow on the Telford Tops and back to rain when we finally descended into the Mt. Linton Station near Ohai. David from Taylor’s Lodge took us into the old coal-mining town for dinner and rest. David and his wife Monica are part of the growing support system on the TA and couldn’t have been more appreciated in this long stretch of empty trail.

With our flight home quickly approaching, Dad and I decided to skip the Woodlaw and Island Bush tracks, roughly one day on the trail, and head directly into the Longwood. Monica had friends who lived on the dirt road up to the track and phoned ahead.

Before leaving for New Zealand, we had been told how overwhelming hospitable kiwis could be. And every word of it was an understatement. I have never experienced such unconditional kindness as I have here. Take Chris and Murray, Monica’s friends, for example. Shortly after Monica dropped us off, Dad and I helped Chris and her son tag sheep. Later, Dad and Murray went for a drive around his deer farm. We shared a delicious dinner with wine and went to warm, dry beds. If anything, Te Araroa has taught me true kindness and generosity.

Murray Gill and Blue dropped us off at the Longwood Forest trailhead.

Murray Gill and Blue dropped us off at the Longwood Forest trailhead.

The next morning, Murray drove us up a rutted 4×4 track to the trailhead. In two days we would reach Riverton – our second to last stop before Bluff.

One Response to “Into the Southland”

  1. Pamela mccullough

    I read your stories with such awe. I cannot thank you enough for sharing. I would think you are filled with a mixture of emotions: excitement about finishing your challenge, gratitude, and perhaps even sadness as you know this epic adventure will be a life long memory. How fortunate you are to have shared it with your father. God bless! Pamela


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