The Castles in the Sky (Part One) – Okaka Lodge / Tors & Tarns Loop-Track

“On a Mish” #406 The Castles in the Sky. Okaka Lodge / Tors & Tarns Loop-Track. Fiordland National Park. 27.11.2013. Perched on what seems like the end of the earth is a group of buildings known as Okaka Lodge. The castle in the sky is the reward for hard work put in by hikers, trampers and trekkers on day one of the Humpridge Track. The views and feeling of accomplishment are hard to match thanks to the epic location, but before they can be enjoyed you must walk a half marathon and climb nearly 1000 metres of elevation…

Before 2001 it was only keen hunters that clambered there way up past Stag Point on to the Hump Ridge, and then down into the basin where Okaka Lodge is located today. Back then a few of these outdoor enthusiasts saw a future community project which would help a timber town struggling to survive. Tuatapere was once the centre of milling activity in Aotearoa, but a combination of the depression in the 1920-1930’s and halt in the felling of native trees saw the town’s population disappear to places elsewhere. The Humpridge Track was about to change the little village on the southeast edge of Fiordland National Park.

My connection with Tuatapere began at the very end of the 2010-2011 hiking season. My parents and I went for a walk with nearly every type of weather (except warmth), and the feeling of achievement after covering over 60km of tough terrain stuck with me. A couple of years later I would have the incredible opportunity to be the Lodge Manager who would work at both Okaka Lodge and Port Craig Lodge. Getting a taste of both environments was an amazing way to earn a living, and the experience would eventually lead to the opportunity to be the Humpridge Track Manager.

Sunsetting on the Tors of the Summit Track

If ask which was my favourite of the two lodges, I’d have to pick Okaka. I have always had a love for being up high in the sky and when it comes to accommodation down south there is nothing higher than the castles in the sky. I’d love opening the curtains in the Lodge Managers Hut to see what the day was doing. I’d also loved being part of people’s sense of achievement when they finally got themselves to the lodge. Some were a little more worse off than others!

The hike up the hill to the lodge is no joke and rushing person is a foolish person. I’ve seen a few show up with very little left in the tank, and this can be an issue as you have only finished a third of the mission. Many more steps remain so enjoying the change from seaside to subalpine is an impressive distraction and one only available on a handful of tracks in Aotearoa.

Okaka and the Hump Ridge’s proximity to the ocean (Foveaux Strait) makes it a target for any weather heading from the south. Snow in summer isn’t uncommon and fog closing in around the lodge is something that happens on many occasions. The record (from when I was working there) was 13 days in a row with less than ten metres of visibility. This might sound like a very disappointing situation, but the mighty sandstone castles look just as impressive (if not more impressive) when they appear out of the mist on the Tors & Tarns loop track…

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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