George Sound Track:
Starting at Lake Hankinson and ending at George Sound, this track
traverses thick bush, deep mud, mountain passes, streams and lakes, and
lots more. From start to finish, one of the finest tracks
Lake Hankinson Hut
Vern picked me up and we took a boat across Lake Te Anau to Middle Arm
Fiord. A rainbow appeared across the lake and then it started
rain, typical Fiordlands. Once on the western shore of the
we walked fifteen minutes to Lake Hankinson and crossed the lake in a
heavy downpour, though high above the mountains were dusted in snow.
didn’t feel like walking in the rain and relaxed in the hut.
had eleven days, so missing a morning of walking was ok. Once
weather cleared in the afternoon, I started a day walk up the
valley to the meadow. The track followed the Wapiti River for
five minutes to the first three-wire bridge. The track was
moderate, by Fiordland standards, and the weather had turned
gentle. Half an hour later, the track crossed the river once
again on a three-wire bridge, this time high over a series of rapids
filled with rocks the size of small houses; then the wildness started.
forest was so green and the track rugged. It climbed over
that were completely covered in moss. Essentially, there was
track, rather it was a rock field completely awash in
The track reached Lake Thomson and continued north along the
river. Eventually it became more of a conventional forest
still rough, but nothing like the earlier mossy rocks.
path led into a flooded area. There was considerable
floating in the still waters along the shoreline. There was a
line of vegetation two meters above the waterline, in many cases above
the track itself, which indicates how high the lake was flooded
recently. The track descended not only next to the water but
the water. I followed the route into the water but couldn’t
where to go next. So I was standing waist-deep thinking,
From then on, it was still muddy but pretty flat.
Actually there was only one good, old fashioned Fiordlands Mud Wallow
the whole day so it was actually pretty mild. A waterfall
be heard in the distance, getting louder further north.
Eventually the waterfall was close by and I climbed onto a rocky area
and saw a sign for the hut. I had completely missed the
meadow. Then it dawned on me, the flooded section I had waded
through was the meadow. What was supposed to be an idyllic
grassland with a meandering stream had turned into a lake. I
should have known that in a place that gets eight meters of rain a year
that a meadow may or may not be there on a given day but wait a few
days and it will be return. The walk back was
the way up. Saying it was similar, that means it was great.
it would be back to the Thomson Hut. I couldn’t believe how
the pack was, surely the heaviest ever. But, I was prepared
all conditions and had food for two weeks. It was out of the
and over the bridge to the far side of the river. The next
section was a little tricky with a heavy pack but step carefully and
you’ll be ok. It wasn’t that hard until I crossed the river
and entered the rock field. Even after passing this way yesterday, it
was still hard to follow the track.
track is made
rocks, often 2-4 meters across. One had to climb across them
in places, if you weren’t careful, you could fall two meters down in
between them. The rocks were mossy and irregular, so much
was needed in the crossing, but good heavens was it green.
track itself was green with moss, above were trees clad in moss and
leaves, and to the sides, were rock walls covered in lichens and moss
and dripping with water. Everywhere, and that means
it was the color of life. It was a tricky section of trail
the likeliest place to get hurt, especially with a heavy
Fiordlands is a magic place and it’s places like this that make it so
true. It’s a paradise.
So over the rocks and more
over the rocks it was. There were a few places where one had
slip down to the ground and climb up the rocks on the other side and
other places where one had to jump across a gap. Not a fun
to do with a pack on but hey, that’s what is there. I finally
figured out what had caused the track to be like this; the rocks were
the irregular remnants of a long-ago landslide. When the
crash down, sometimes from a 500 meter fall, they shatter into
fragments. Eventually mosses and trees grow in and one day,
someone puts a trail through it.
leaves the slip
and reaches the flooded areas surrounded by a tall, steep valley with
waterfalls coming down from above. Yep, it’s
was in no hurry as it was a relatively short day and the only thing
that could possibly force haste would be the sandflies, but they
weren’t present today. I cross the muddy areas and heard the
waterfall again. There is a new bridge across the chasm and I
walk out on it. The river is really roaring, there must be a
of water in the valleys above. When I mentioned earlier about
lack of sandflies, that wasn’t true around the hut, so before long, it
was into the hut.
George Sound Hut
skies were overcast
in the morning but it was off to the sound. The narrow trail
over the river and then across the wet forest floor. Soon it
started to climb and before long the trail was accompanied by the sound
of falling water from the Rugged Burn (stream) that the track would
follow for several hours. Some parts of the climb were
and others required hanging onto rocks and trees. Eventually
climb ended and the track roughly followed the burn. That
“roughly” means ‘approximately” but also ‘ruggedly’ :-). The
was so peaceful. The clear waters gently rippled through the
forest and were accompanied by the sound of water droplets falling into
the stream from the trees above.
The track was wet for sure so I
carefully picked my way through the forest, but there was surprisingly
little of the deep, deep mudpits. It was easier today than
yesterday as the track, so far, wasn’t quite as rough, but it was also
easier as half the food was left at the Thomson Hut. What
happen if I got stuck down at the sound because of weather?
the words “one hungry puppy” come to mind.
The trail continued
to meander and then started to climb again and then leveled out once
again and the songbirds shared their music. Remember what was
said about the mud not being so bad? Well, things changed and
turned into a slop hole with mid-thigh deep mud, which meant that
Deadwood Lagoon was getting near. Indeed, before long, the
crossed through thick brush and came to an opening with the
lagoon. It was a nice panoramic view of the valley and it was
flooded high with a waterfall cascading at its headwaters.
pretty dirty from the mud, I waded into the water to wash off and get a
drink. I wasn’t quite sure where, but up yonder was Henry
that led to the valley on the other side of the mountains.
track started a one-hour climb. At first it was muddy and
moderate and one could see where the name Deadwood Lagoon came from;
the trail was strewn with bleached wood which looked like bones of
long-gone animals. Before long, the track was in a steep
the valley wall. It started to level out as the trees grew
thinner and Henry Saddle arrived.
It was pleasant on
pass. The weather was warm, the winds gentle, and the skies
clear. I looked back down on the lagoon and then at the
valley ahead and thought, “That’s where I’m going!” There is
big slip on the north side of the valley. It slipped during a
period of very bad weather eight years ago. I was the first
person to see it a few days after it came down. At that time,
was a bright gash of bare rock in the mountainside. The first
thing that struck me upon gazing down the valley was how the slip was
starting to turn green as Nature reclaims lost lands. I spent an hour
before reluctantly heading steeply down into the valley. As
as it was up there, it was still a long way to the sea.
after the pass, the descent was pretty tricky, on exposed and steep
rocks then I followed the south side of the valley into the bush with
another steep descent, this time in trees and
frequently had to hang onto trees to descend in this section, that’s
for sure. The track leveled out and came upon a
path not only crossed it several times, but was in the stream for some
sections. The water was so inviting that I walked out into
middle and watched the sun reflect off the water onto the undersides of
eventually left the stream and started
another descent, which required frequent bracing against trees to keep
from losing control downhill, however the track started to veer off to
the north side of the valley. Eventually the descent stops
passes through a bizarre section of dead trees along a
was the first place since Deadwood Lagoon where it was truly
muddy. The strange area gave way to an irregular section of
rocks covered in lichens with lots of brush growing in
It was the slip seen from Henry Saddle. The last time I
encountered this section, it was very different. At that
the rock was bare and unsettled beneath the feet, now it had a coating
of life on it, a patina if you will, as nature changes the land.
a nice, large waterfall was just down track from the slip. At
this point, the track roughly followed Katherine Creek down to the
sound and before too long, Lake Katherine was reached. Some
stuff there as the track sidled under the near vertical valley walls
that surrounded the lake on both sides. The path had a number
ups and down before reaching a three-wire bridge across the
river. That part of the forest wasn’t the most spectacular of
track, but it was still lush and green and so, so nice.
that “average” in Fiordlands is “spectacular” most other
It was getting late in the day, but George Sound was near. A
minutes after another three-wire, I reached the still waters of the
fiord and walked out into them. It was exciting to stand on
shores on George Sound and look out over it. I looked forward
this for many years and it was sweet feeling to be back
The sun was setting to the west, the water was like a mirror, and Mr.
Moose was looking out over a place so nice that it almost hurts.
had been no sandflies at all for the entire day, but that had just
changed, so I skedaddled into the hut. The only downside for
day was that there were people who had come in by boat and were staying
at the hut. The negative of their presence was somewhat
by their offer of freshly caught blue cod and crayfish with
butter. Oh yeah!
George Sound was once again smooth as glass. I walked along,
actually on, the steep, north wall of the fiord on my way to Lake
Alice. There were a few slips where I had to hang onto downed
timber and in another place a large vertical crack in the rock couldn’t
be crossed, so I had to climb steeply to the top of the crack and
clamber down the other side before resuming the path.
I reached the lake which was about 100 meters above the
There were two outlets to the lake. One was a wide, but dry,
waterfall. The other was a wide waterfall that was gushing
water. I suspect that if enough rain comes, both of them flow
I spent several hours by the lake, lying
on the rocks above the falls. The sun was out, the skies were
blue and there wasn’t a single sandfly to be seen. Wait,
take that back. There was a pond near the top of the dry
waterfall. It was so still that the mists rising from water
the sun warmed it were clearly visible. It was so
mild and quiet, the only thing moving was a few sandflies.
were getting picked off one by one by dragonflies. One
flew thirty cm. in front of my face and just hovered. Neither
us moved for many seconds. Eventually it ascertained that it
wasn’t looking at a big sandfly and went back over the still waters for
lunch. I sat at the top of the falls and watched the eddy
currents as the water curled around starting its descent to the ocean.
I went down the edge of the sound and lay on the smooth rocks in the
brightly shining sun. It was so peaceful and
It could only be described as a perfect day…sitting on tan rocks, with
sky blue above, ocean blue at my feet, and green all around on the
fiord walls. You can’t get a more comfortable day than this
one. No, you just can’t do that.
to the waters edge and looked over the sound one last time before
leaving, thinking, “I can’t leave”, so I didn’t leave and
on the smooth water’s edge looking over a beautiful scene, but
eventually the time came. It was hard, but forced myself to
and headed back from where I came and at least it was a pleasant day
for tramping. It was 215 meters up to Lake
wasn’t a single ripple on the entire lake. The lake was
surrounded by high walls on both sides. The map labeled them,
“Echo Cliffs.” I let out a holler and yep, they
tramp had started early and there was no need to hurry, so I spent a
long time sitting there. The sandflies were in mobs at the
but not a single one was to be found at Lake Katherine or anywhere else
for the entire day.
track continued to climb and
weave through the forest. The birds were singing and the
were fanning their tails as they so pleasingly seem to do. Oh
yeah, the forest was nice, as it always is. I crossed the
that was under the good-sized falls, stopping half-way to drink right
from the stream. Oh that water is good. I crossed
taking my time to notice how the moss had regrown over the
When I had first seen the rocks eight years ago, they were bare and
jagged. Some of the sharp edges had worn down and the moss
lichens were 2-3 cm. thick. It was still very definitely a
but over the years, nature will reclaim the area and eventually, one
would have no idea what once had transpired here.
The trail went
through the muddy area of dead trees and started the steep climb up the
side of the valley and eventually to the other side of the valley and
the streams. Walking through the area, it’s hard to tell how
streams there are; 3, 5, 10, maybe only 1, who knows. You
keep crossing them. The waters in them are so, so
It’s almost as if there is no water at all. The sun
high in the sky and reflected off the streams, shimmering on the
underside of the forest canopy like the other day. Just
of this makes me want to go back so much more than I can say.
From there the track started its steep climb up the valley wall, with
the requisite hanging onto trees for safety and then onto the
treacherous, exposed rocks to climb to the saddle.
was a warm summer day, with blue skies above and a gentle breeze
blowing across the Henry Saddle. Even though I spent a lot of
time sitting and gazing at the valleys below the other day, I did it
again…it was so much fun. I have no idea how long I spent up
there, probably a couple of hours, looking on the west side of the
saddle, then the east. I climbed up the south side of the
high enough that I could just get a glimpse of George Sound.
was good to see the ocean once again, even if it was from far
away. If there is one place where you hate to use a watch,
is it, but I had to set the alarm to force myself to leave and still
have enough time to safely get back to the hut.
the descent to Deadwood Lagoon. It’s a little tricky on the
descent but it’s ok, nothing I haven’t done a lot of the last days,
down through the boneyard, with a break to eat at Deadwood
Lagoon. And after that, oh yeah, the deep, deep
mud. It was
so nice to walk along the track, surrounded by green in every
direction; front, back, side-to-side, above and below, with the sounds
of Rugged Burn rippling alongside. Green was all
hung in mosses from the tree branches, ferns grew underfoot, and
overgrew the track in many spots. The sun had gone behind the mountains
as I walked through the dark, deep, thick forest. It had a
different character than it did when the sun was bright and high in the
sky. It gave the track a relaxing feel. It’s hard
exactly what that means, but it seems to capture its silent, peaceful
Finally, the trail went down steeply to the valley
floor and across the valley bottom. The atmosphere became
and more infused with evening shade and eventually I crossed the bridge
near the water fall and reached the hut. I don’t know what
can say other than there is no finer day of tramping than this one.
spent two pleasant days at the hut. The first day I slept
and lounged around doing very little. It’s wasn’t very nice
outside, but not because of the weather. Sandflies were so
one couldn’t venture out without being mobbed by them. I did
the track behind the hut up the hill. It was a steep, but
relaxing climb. I was in no hurry and once above the valley
floor, the sandflies disappeared. I frequently sat and
to the birds and often listened to nothing at all. I watched
inch-worm descending on its single web-like thread. It came
upon my knee and tickled me as it crawled across my skin.
it started going into my gaiters, I gently placed it on a log next to
me and watched it go on its way.
The second day I started off to
a side track off the main trail and possibly back to the saddle but it
started to rain and I wasn’t into a rainy tramp on this particular
day. One thing I found on the track is how clear my mind
was. I had been working on an art project for a long time or
should I say, attempting to work on a project. I found that
ideas for the project seemed to flow in a way they hadn’t the entire
trip. It seems the solitude allows the noggin’ to
It rained most of the day and all of the night.
Outside in the showers, it was impossible to tell the sky from the
tall, bush-covered mountains as everything was enveloped in a cave-like
total darkness. It’s a nice feeling to be in such a dark area
knowing that the space is so wide open. That night I fell
to the relaxing sound of raindrops falling on the roof.
took my time leaving. The falls were roaring, everything was
wet, and puddles were everywhere. It was back to
think of as Fiordlands: water everywhere. Where the trail
the edge of the flooded meadow, it was still over waist-deep.
was hoping to see the meadow but instead I saw a lake, it’s ok either
way. It was almost an easy walk compared to the last time
here as my pack was so much lighter. I wouldn’t call it
on air, but pretty close.
The tops of the mountains were
in the clouds. It was alternating between the gentlest of
and sun. Later, it was striking to be in the shadows of the
clouds in the mist while the entire other side of the valley bathed in
brilliant sunshine. By the end of today’s modest tramp, the
entire sky was blue and the day was warm. The track, as
was so stunning in its greenery. This forest never ceases to
amaze. You can be walking along and the forest is nice and
fifty meters later something changes to give it a different
character. The greenery is thicker and the shade
can only be described as the most beautiful place on our planet.
track continued through the rough landslide sections, gorgeous as ever
and then crossed the river to the gentler sections then crossed the
river again to the easy-going parts and reached the hut a few minutes
later. It was sad to arrive at the hut. Even though
the another day and a half, it was the end of the track. I
take another walk the next day, but essentially this was the end point.
night I made a fire and stayed up until 3 or 4 a.m. It wasn’t
issue of sleeplessness rather I lay in my sleeping bag, mesmerized by
the flames and listening to the calls of kiwi. It was
more than anything. The following day was a nice one and I
wandered up the valley again, taking my time, frequently sitting among
the trees. I also headed to Lake Hankinson and sat upon its
shores. There are tall mountains that plunge steeply down to
waters. The glacial-dug lakes in Fiordlands are often long
narrow, but can be hundreds of meters deep, this lake is no
exception. One thing that I did is drink plenty of
The waters of Fiordlands are so good and clean that I will drink them
not out of necessity, but out of pleasure.
late for my last night in Fiordlands. Once again, the kiwi
all night long and I could hear the sound of the river
was really going to miss this place. The tall mountains,
skies, clean water, hopelessly green forests and so much
The morning was pleasantly overcast. Around midday, I threw
everything in my pack and went down to the shores of Lake
Hankinson. I sat on the shore and thought.
thinking of the views of forever from the top of the mountains, other
times the focus was how the water lapped at the shore.
Vern came across the lake and soon it would be back to “civilization.”
Whatever that meant.
I knew that it would be some time before I
would be able to return to this area of Fiordlands but I couldn’t let
that get me down. It had been a great tramp.
you've like reading about this track, there are other Epic Tracks
including another George Sound tramp, that have been covered.
some good stuff