Nature and conservation
Geology - glacial lakes and sandstone ridges
The Hump Ridge consists of sandstones, mudstones and conglomerates of Tertiary age. These sedimentary rocks have been weathered at the southern end to produce a striking series of rock towers standing above tussock, herbfield and alpine tarns.
West of the Hump Ridge are three lakes of glacial origin, Hauroko, Poteriteri and Hakapoua. Lakes Hauroko and Poteriteri are drained by the clear, swiftly flowing Wairaurahiri and Waitutu Rivers, which flow through the Waitutu Forest to Foveaux Strait.
Waitutu Forest, now part of Fiordland National Park, covers a series of recent alluvial terraces, ancient marine terraces, high terraces, plateaus and low morainic ridges associated with Pleistocene glaciations.
Waitutu - a forest sweeping to the sea
Dense, hardy podocarp forests cover these landscapes all the way to the sea.
The podocarp species (named after the ‘footed’ seeds) are mainly rimu with lesser amounts of miro, Hall's tōtara and rātā.
On the easier terraces, silver beech and kamahi join in.
Higher up, the terraces are poorly drained, so stunted bog forest reigns with its common yellow-silver pine.
On hill country silver and mountain beech dominate, with scattered podocarps at lower altitudes.
Birds and other wildlife in the forest and sea
Mornings at Port Craig Hut start with a chorus of bellbirds and tūī. Fantails, brown creepers, riflemen, grey warblers, moreporks, silver eyes and tomtits are also abundant.
Kākā/bush parrot/, yellow-crowned parakeets and kererū/NZ wood pigeons are often seen or heard.
If you are lucky you might hear the rarer mohua/ yellowheads or New Zealandrobins in the forest.
Around the coast, you can sometimes see Hector's dolphins (look for the ‘mickey mouse’ shaped dorsal fin), New Zealand fur seals, little blue penguins, and if you are very lucky, occasionally Fiordland crested penguins or passing whales. Rock pools exposed on the reef at low tide teem with life.
Red deer, pigs, and possums are present in moderate numbers.
History and culture
Early Māori hunter/gatherers
The Waitutu/South Coast area was visited by early Māori in search of food from the sea, rivers and forests.
Kaika or hunting camps were sited on the banks of the Waiau River, near Tuatapere, and the river crossed by mokihi or rafts.
Tracks led along the terraces and beaches providing access to Sandhill Point, the Wairaurahiri River and beyond. These were probably very close to the South Coast Track of today.
Lake Hauroko is of special significance to Ngāi Tahu Māori, who consider it tapu (sacred), as it is associated with the urupā (burial grounds) of their tupuna (ancestors).
Percy Burn, one of the grand viaducts built for moving timber
The South Coast Track paved the way to gold and timber
Much later, in 1896, the coastal track was formed by government workers to provide access to gold mining settlements at Preservation Inlet, including Cromarty and Te Oneroa.
In 1908 a telephone line was installed along the track linking the Puysegur Point lighthouse with Orepuki. Insulators, wire and old maintenance workers' huts can still be found today.
During the 1920s Port Craig was the site of the largest and most modern sawmill in New Zealand. Relics remain at the site, and you can stay at Port Craig School (now a DOC hut), and take the interesting 20 minute self guided walk.
The Marlborough Timber Company mill employed over 150 men and produced up to 1800 cubic metres of timber a month. Logs were brought to the mill along a high class tramway from the terrace forests to the west, between Port Craig and the Wairaurahiri River. By the time milling ceased in 1932, about 1400 hectares of forest had been logged, the timber being shipped directly from Port Craig.
Four large wooden viaducts were built to carry the tramlines over ravines. The largest, the Percy Burn viaduct, is 125 metres long and 36 metres above the creek bed. It was fully repaired in 1994. The South Coast Track now crosses these viaducts, thanks to the extensive restoration work of the Port Craig Viaducts Trust.
Waitutu Forest, Lake Hauroko and the South Coast areas are in southern Fiordland, Southland. The nearest small town with facilities is Tuatapere.
The nearest larger towns to Tuatapere are:
Te Anau to the north ( 101 km, 1 hour 15 minutes), and
Invercargill to the east (82km, 1 hour 15 minutes).
To get to Lake Hauroko from Tuatapere:
Head north towards Clifden (12km, 10 minutes), and turn west along the Lillburn Valley Road to Lake Hauroko (about 36km to the carpark, 20km of which is unsealed road).
To get to the Hump Ridge and South Coast tracks from Tuatapere:
These tracks start and end at the Rarakau carpark.
Go south on Papatotara Road and drive about 28km following signs to Bluecliffs Beach and the Rarakau carpark. 7km of this road is unsealed.
The carpark is signposted in front of the Rarakau Station homestead, 150 m past the track entrance (cars are left at the owner's risk).
Approved commercial operators are able to provide access to this region by helicopter, float plane and jet-boat.
See Transport services - Fiordland or contact the DOC Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre or the Tuatapere Information Centre for more information.
Know before you go
Get information to prepare for your trip to Fiordland: