Dateline: Deep Cove
When I was hanging out in Te Anau before and right after my Milford Sound trip, I met John, a very friendly and helpful bartender at the Fiordland Theater. While drinking local craft beer and using their rather fast wifi, we talked a lot about Doubtful Sound.
He had told me about Deep Cove Hostel, an educational facility not far from the shore of Doubtful Sound. Eighth graders, from all over the southern island come here each year with their teachers to hike and experience the beauty of this remote place.
John told me that the hostel would allow individuals to stay if they had the space and had given me the email and only way to contact someone there (it is very remote and there are no phones). I was in luck and booked a room before I left on this trip.
While I was doing this on the laptop, John disappeared for awhile. He came back with a very detailed hand drawn map of some day hikes to do in the Deep Cove area. This was actually the clincher to my booking the cruise, because going all that way, I wanted a chance to experience the untamed rainforest up close and personal.
So here I am, alone in the middle of Fiordland and I tramp up the road and find the hostel. Deep Cove has a permanent population of one and I meet him, Billy, in gumboots and carrying three dead possums by the tail that he has just gotten out of his traps. (Que Deliverance Soundtrack).
Actually, possums are overrunning NZ. There are no indigenous mammals in NZ or any snakes for that matter. Possums, rats and deer came with the English (they wanted something to hunt) and they have overrun many areas threatening fragile habitats. Billy informs me that in addition to his salary for caretaking Deep Cove Hostel, he earns about $1,000 a week trapping possums.
He shows me my room. It is clean, has a bed and a drying heater, did I mention this place gets seven meters of rain a year? It never stopped raining so being able to dry out your extra set of duds is important.
O.K. Boots on, water, snacks, first aid, et cetera packed and off I go I will tramp the Hanging Valley Track which starts behind the hostel. Eventually, I should come to an amazing waterfall. Within 10 meters I am deep and alone in dense rainforest.
Tracks (‘trails’) are usually well defined in New Zealand. Where they go straight up mountain forests and over tree roots like this one, there are florescent triangles. When you get to one, you theoretically ‘should’ be able to see the next one.
Can you see the track marker in the next photo?
For two hours I climb, often at 45 or more degrees over tree roots. It is raining, but I have rain gear. I go slow, out of necessity, being conscious of where I place each step.
I couple times I lose the track but catch myself and return to it. Most always I hear the roar of water close by. I couple of times I catch a glimps of a raging river just a few meters away through a break in the trees. Finally I come alongside a small falls.
I climb some more to a plateau where I take a break for several minutes. Then I continue for another 40 minutes and finally come to Huntley Falls.
Running in stages down an entire mountain it is amazing. I grab a rock, get out my sandwich and have a late lunch in solitude. Soon, a group of 30 students and three teachers arrive. They are extremely well behaved and want to know where I am from. We chat awhile and then I head back. Downhill is just as slow going as I really have to watch where I place my feet and ankles.
A few hours later I arrive at the hostel. Socks are wet and I am a bit chilled, but there are hot showers!!!! Afterward, thoughts turn to dinner. I had brought some easy prep foods with me like pasta and granola for the morning.
Turns out they have a very nice kitchen and when I go in there are a group of six north islanders on holiday kicking back with beers. They have just returned from diving for crayfish (lobster) in the sound.
We introduce ourselves. I am offered a beer and told there is a lobster for me if I want it. We have a great dinner together. Afterward, we hang out. They show me their hunting rifles and we talk about the internet before retiring. These are the things that make long-term travel so special for me. The kindnesses given and taken amongst strangers and the friendships made.
The next morning, I tramp back to the boat dock just as the Navigator is arriving and get on the coach for the return to ‘civilization.’