02-Mar-2007 -- Continued from 46°S 170°E
Currently, there are three land-based confluence points in New Zealand that have resisted successfully any reach of confluence-hunters. Without investigating deeper for possible reasons we planned to visit these three points within our three-weeks-vacation on the archipelago. Afterwards, I can say that I totally misunderstood the degree of difficulty that our venture would create. Probably I belong to the group of typical European that is spoiled with a dense network of roads and tracks.
Certainly I was aware that this confluence is not an easy cake and requires some preparation. Actually I investigated more effort in this visit than on any other confluence before. A couple weeks before we departed from Zurich (Switzerland), I contacted the DOC (Department of Conservation) via email, explaining where we wanted to go. And here is the good news: In contrast to Joe Miller who was the first to attempt this CP stating that there were regulatory hurdles, Ann Pullen from the DOC on Stewart Island responded that the visit of this CP “does not need special permission. She wrote: “…so just call in to see us on your arrival and we will give you as much advice as possible, as the area is not an easy area to tramp”.
Ann‘s “just call in our office” meant for us to take a train from Zurich to Munich, and then fly to London, Bangkok, Sydney, Auckland and finally hop to Dunedin, from where we drove down to Invercargill by a rental car, followed by a shuttle bus to Bluff (the southernmost town of the South Island) and finally take the speed ferry to the village Oban on Stewart Island. After a 5 minutes walk from the ferry port we could finally drop in Ann’s office.
Unfortunately, Ann was not in her office that day, but all her co-workers at the DOC visitor centre already knew about our mission and gave us advice how to get into the area. We rented a locator beacon (a device that allows to locate someone lost in remote areas) and took a water taxi (picture #6) from Oban to Big Glory Bay. This pleasant one-hour trip brought us into an uninhabited bay about 20km south of the only village on the Island. At the very end of the bay we stepped ashore while saying good by to our water-taxi driver. He promised to come two days later and pick us up at the same location and then took off back into civilization.
At that point, we had already covered 99.99% of the total distance from Zurich to the CP within 3 days. Ahead of us lay just 6 more kilometers hike as the crows fly and plenty of time!
The jungle is amazing, primary forest at its best, with fern trees as tall as 8m and uncountable species of moss covering the ground, the trees and every other open spot. The GPS device had some problems seeing satellites, but a more serious problem was that the GPS battery suddenly showed low energy status after just an one hour hike! We were shocked, how on earth could that be possible? Either it had not been properly charged or the continuous search for satellites had taken all the energy. We still carried two extra sets of batteries, but they were absolutely necessary for our way back! In order to save energy, we turned the GPS off and continued our hike through the forest. Being busy with finding the best way through the dense vegetation, swamps, rivers, steep grades and thickets we didn’t turn on the GPS for the next hour.
Suddenly another shocking thing appeared in front of our eyes between the tree trunks: the sea! We had made a loop! Switching on the GPS confirmed that our current position was just 200m from where we had started 2 hours ago! Our trip was obviously not going as smooth as it could be and for the first time doubts came up if we actually could make it in time. In order to keep our nerves we sat down and started cooking our lunch. The only open spot we could find was placing our cooker directly at the waterside. Soon after we had spread out our stuff, the sandflies had noticed us and gave us a hard time. These nasty sandflies and the difficulty to cook with our limited facilities distracted us from a gradually approaching additional problem: suddenly a little tiny wave of seawater reached our cooker and further water would wet our stuff that was spread out all over the place. The high tide was coming! We gapped our belongings and headed inland - which had to be done quickly due to the water rising fast. Water had surrounded us already and we had to go several times back and forth until we were save again on a slightly elevated location.
With our stomachs filled with couscous and broccoli we calmed down and felt confident again to start a second approach. This time we had set the GPS into battery-saver-mode so that we could dare to let it switched on while hiking. We had the feeling that we progressed quickly through the forest, but the beeline distance would only decrease 1km in the first hour and another 0.5km in the second hour. Plenty of streams had to be crossed and some of them required some investigation before a save crossing point could be found. Another reason for delays consisted in sections with dense vertical tree trunks. Sometimes they allowed to scrape through by ourselves, but the backpack wouldn’t make it through which resulted in getting stuck between trees.
The first 2.5 km were an Autobahn compared to what would follow next. The terrain became steep and the scrubs extremely dense. We identified dead-ends and steep slopes that required finding a way around. In this kind of territory we advanced only 300m/hour towards the confluence.
Finally, almost half way with a distance of 3km beeline being left, dusk came up and we had to prepare for the night. Finding two leveled square meters to place our tent was impossible due to the abundant slopes and vegetation. Finally we prepared a spot on a tiny terrace in a mountainside. Filling this spot up with moss allowed for setting up the tent (picture #2). In order to find water, we had to climb further down to a small stream. Although only 30m beeline distance from the tent, fetching water took 10 minutes. But believe it or not, on the way back from the stream I couldn’t find the tent anymore! This is a scary experience that rises self-doubt. Only by letting Elionora shout loudly I could get back ’home’.
In the night it started to rain and it kept going in the morning. Observing our situation and realistically speaking, it was all over - we had missed our chance to visit this confluence. With 3km to go, we had only covered one forth of the total distance (including the return trip). But we had only 30 hours left until we would be picked up again - an absolute deadline. We decided to return back at this point - a wise decision since it took us all day to reach Big Glory Bay again. While trying to find a better route through the shrubs, we actually got even on a more difficult section. The wet soil and the rise of streams gave us an additional challenge.
In the late afternoon we reached our former landing point. Being soaked with water, exhausted and hungry it was time for a gratification. We found giant blue mussels at the rocks during low-tide (picture #4 and #5) for our dinner.
Being back to the visitor centre in Oban, Ann Pullen was in office. When we told her our story, she regret not to have seen us before, because she had made already a plan how this confluence could be better approached. I will copy her advice for future confluence visitors in the next section.
One more thing has to be mentioned: on the 1:95,000 map of Stewart Island (Parkmap 336-10) the confluence can be interpolated using the grid makers on the edges of the map. But doing so results in a deviation of ca. 5km further to the south. Probably another grid (other than WGS84) is used here. This fact had confused us a lot, because following the map we would have had to head south-west from Big Glory Bay instead of heading west.
CP visit details:
- Time at the return point: 10:00 a.m.
- Distance to a track: ca. 10km
- Distance to a road: ca. 25km
- Topography: hilly, dense jungle.
- Minimal distance according to GPS: 3 km
- Vegetation: Fern trees, moss and trees in all sizes
- Weather: overcast turning into rain, 15° C
- Description of the CP: The only intersection on Stewart Island, quite a unique location on this planet as it is the southernmost land-based confluence in this part of the world.
- Given Name: The Stewart Island Confluence
According to Ann:, "Having looked at the area you intend to go to, the easiest way to get there would be to get to Rakeahua Hut, continue on the track as if to go to Doughboy, but turn off at the track entrance to Table hill, continue along the track, and turn along the tops to somewhere in the 511 area [now I know that 511 refers to the height of the hill that is marked on the map], then drop down to the point where you want, it would be far easier then going the direct route as marked on the map on the website [Joe‘s Helicopter approach]. One of our workers does work in the area of "511" and I am sure when you were here they would help you with the best direction to go in. The area is all Rakiura National Park, so does not need special permission, so just call in to see us on your arrival and we will give you as much advise as possible, as the area is not an easy area to tramp.“
Story continues at 46°S 167°E