A couple of weeks ago we took the van down to Fiordland.
In the south west part of the South Island, it’s one of the country’s most spectacular national parks and a place we’ve been to many times.
On this trip, rather than heading to areas we’ve visited already, such as Te Anau and Milford Sound, we made our way to Manapouri.
Manapouri is New Zealand’s second deepest lake and its shores are home to a charming little village by the same name.
It’s a sleepy sort of place. Very little seems to have changed here in a long time. When we asked our campsite owner about recent growth in the area, he pointed out the one house that had been built in the village since he arrived from California in the early 1970s.
Coming from Wanaka, a millionaires holiday retreat that is expanding at a rate almost unparalleled in New Zealand, it was refreshing to be somewhere that moved at a pace more in tune with the glaciers that have carved out so much of this land. Manapouri feels like a historical exhibit, a model showing what places like Wanaka and Queenstown were just 10-20 years ago.
We’d actually been to Manapouri previously, when we took the boat across the lake to begin our cruise on Doubtful Sound.
On that journey the weather was awful and we saw and enjoyed very little of Manapouri.
This time however the sun was shining, the lake was calm and we were set for good weather for the weekend’s hikes.
First up was the Mount Burns Tarns Track off the Borland Road. Access is via a beautiful and seemingly little known drive down a gravel road that ends up at a power station.
The Borland Road also connects hikers to many routes in the area that offer a different vision of Fiordland beauty. Gone are the dark, sheer cliffs and waterfalls, replaced by lush green slopes, beech trees and tussock.
It’s only a short 45 minute return, but the track skirts the site of the biggest landslide on the planet.
The Green Lake Landslide occurred about 13,000 years ago, when part of the Hunter Mountains slipped into the Grebe River Valley. The slip covered 45km2, in which 27 cubic kilometres of earth filled the valley to a depth of 800 metres.
Reaching the tarns after just 20 minutes, the views across the valley were great reward for what was very little effort.
However we did curse our lack of preparation as once we had soaked in the view, the temptation to scale Mount Burns was strong. It would only have taken a few hours. Had we brought our lunch and more water we would have done it. We’ll have to return later in the summer to bag that one.
The next day we took the 3.5 hour round trip along the Manapouri Circle Track.
A steep climb up thick beech forest, the path doesn’t break the bush line, but you are treated to a stunning view of the lake at the top of the hill – although as is often the case in New Zealand much of the flora has become overgrown and made the view harder to enjoy.
However, said trees are barely clinging on to the cliff edges. They look just about ready to cascade down the hillside in an arboreal avalanche, so future walkers may get the chance to enjoy uninterrupted vistas of Lake Manapouri.
With its tranquil setting, a quaint village and hidden golden sandy beaches, it’s surely a matter of time before the developers and real estate prospectors move in, just as they have done in Central Otago.
Such growth is great for the country’s economy and will provide opportunities for more people to enjoy beautiful places, but it’s usually the rich who benefit from palatial holiday homes and weekends messing about in boats when places like this are developed, while locals and low income workers are pushed out to cheaper locations.
Hopefully some little secrets, like Manapouri, can remain.