Deep in Sandfly Country (Part One) – Tutoko Valley

“On a Mish” #296 Deep in Sandfly Country (Part One). Tutoko Valley. Fiordland National Park. 18.4.2015. Aotearoa is a place of great beauty and many birds. We are lucky to have a giant backyard to play in and within it are no dangerous animals like bears, snakes or anything else with teeth or venom or both. While that sounds almost too good to be true, do be warned that the most pristine places do have creatures living in them, and with their welcoming kiss these tiny critters could be classed as the friendliest New Zealand natives around…

The Maori tell tales of mythology about the devil creating Te Namu to prevent humans looking at this land’s lovely locations for too long. As guardians of the most special spots their job is to prevent people from hanging around in paradise for any longer than a few seconds. I can say that from my time in Fiordland and other near perfect parts of the paradise that is Aotearoa, the Sandfly does it’s job very well.

Captain Cook kindly called them “the most mischievous little devils”, as I’m sure the swear words he would have been spouting and shouting wouldn’t have made it on to the pages detailing his exploration of Aotearoa in the 1800’s. Nowadays we humans have repellents and knowledge of these tiny terrorizers, back then he showed up to one of the most stunning places he had ever visited and almost immediately Captain Cook and his crew were chewed to bloody bits. But just like how the great British Explorer would take on the unknown waves of the unexplored southern reaches of Planet Earth, the draw of the wild yonder is so strong that you will go through nearly anything to bathe in it’s beauty.

My time working as a guide on the Routeburn Track had planted the seed of love that would grow into my obsession with Ata Whenua Fiordland. If working on the Routeburn was the seed, then my time working on the Milford Track was the water that would help my tree of love grow into a huge Rimu, always stretching out wanting to see more of the land that lays around it.

Along with many other things, a huge benefit to working on the Milford Track was getting to drive on the Milford Road. At the business end of the road (Milford) are the biggest mountains in Fiordland, and people come from all over the globe to be blown away by Piopiotahi Milford Sound not expecting the drive to the remote location to be just as epic.

If you are one of the lucky few, it is on the journey in or out (or both) that you might catch a glimpse of Mt Tutoko, Fiordland’s tallest mountain. Named after a very important Rangatira (Maori Chief), the mountain is both rugged and delicately elegant at the same time. At it’s base is the dense unforgiving forest of Fiordland. Above the forest is the solid Darran Mountain rock which on only the tallest peaks gives way to constantly rain-cleaned snow and ice of the glacial clad lofty tops. From valley to sky the great peak and the many others that surround it are all a grand presence that grabs the eyes like a fish when first hooked.

Surprisingly I had had many adventures in the Darran Mountains before I would head up the valley named after the tallest peak of them all. The valley starts with a very unassuming DoC Sign on the side of the Milford Road. Usually the odd tourist will cross the road bridge over the Tutoko River and after catching a quick view of the mountain they then begin to trek up the track expecting a view. Little do they know that along with tackling the mud of a classic Fiordland Track, the mountain is hidden until you get about halfway up the massive valley. To see Tutoko you need to put in some effort. And I can say from experience that the effort needed to be rewarded with the very worthwhile sights that will be burned into the awesomeness area of your brain.

Oh yea, you might also have to put up with a Sandfly or two…

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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