151 Days on the Road
6am, even before the keas start pecking our campervan roof and the bellbirds start warbling, we have hit the Milford Road. We’re leaving the stunning mountainous landscape and the rainforest of the Milford Sound Lodge and heading onto more Southland adventures.
The three-hour drive (what were we thinking?!?) along the Milford Road with the sun blasting its first rays of light on the high mountaintops before passing through Te Anau and various farm towns, we reach the small Southland town of Athol. We are meeting Tom and his WWOOFer, Harry, to do a hike on the Welcome Rock Trails.
The Nevis Road
But the driving mission is not over yet! No! We are now following Tom and Harry to the beginning of the Nevis Road, just outside of Garston. The Nevis Road is a single gravel road with more twists and turns uphill than our camper can handle. It’s then all into Tom’s car for the final push to the Welcome Rock Trails.
As we have discovered time and time again, the journey is always an adventure in itself. As we steadily climb the Slate Range, we get a better vantage point of the lush green pastoral land backed by mountains that get more dramatic in the distance. Sheep and lambs lazily get off the road as we approach, while we also have a few gates to open and close until we get too alpine for the sheep to bother with.
The Welcome Rock Trails
Mountain bikers get prepared in the car next to us as we park up at the Ski Hut, whereas we put a backpack on our back and use our two legs to tackle the choice of a day loop or a multi-day excursion on the 27km of trail ahead of us. Like always on our 365 days doing 365 activities, we take the day-loop option.
And we’re off! Welcome Rock is the first dot on the map and our first destination. Tom tells us how it took him two years to hand pick the trails over this land that was once used during the Central Otago gold mining era but has since been left to the elements, farmers and Tom’s pickax.
In this sub-alpine land, we hike along tussock-filled mountain tops exposed to a light wind hitting us. The track winds so one moment you are looking uphill at the yellow and dry-looking tussock, then the next moment you are facing the phenomenal views of green grassy flatland covered in the white dots of sheep and all the way to the snowy Eyre Mountains. It’s a landscape we haven’t yet hiked on this gap year so far, so we are taking in every moment of it!
Welcome to Welcome Rock
Now and then, we’ll come to a rocky outcrop. We’re just expecting an orc to be hiding behind it! In fact, despite the Welcome Rock Trails being relatively new on the hiking and mountain biking scene of Southland, the landscape has certainly seen its fair share of filmmakers and photographers as their backdrop to advertisements and whatever else. We have to agree, even moron tourists like us find it impossible to take a bad photo up here.
One rock that stands out is, weirdly enough, Welcome Rock itself! The huge black rocky outcrop marks the highest point of the trail at 1,130m.
Getting the best vantage point from Welcome Rock!
Searching for the whisky
As we approach it, Tom tells us how whisky used to be hidden up here by the workers, traders and wanderers up on the mountain long ago. He challenges us to find it today!
We keep an eye out but are immediately distracted by the awesome panoramic views from the end of the rock. It definitely is a “I’m on top of the world” moment. What’s more, the highest part of the rock is easy to climb on top of.
As we get down from taking too many photos on top of the rock, we spot something hidden underneath… The whisky! Ok, so it isn’t the whisky of yonder years (thank God) but it is a Welcome Rock-branded whisky along with a shot glass. The shot of whisky warms us up for the next leg of our hike.
A bath with a view
We have to take a quick stop at the Slate Hut which has its very own outside bath! Man, how awesome would it be to watch the sun go down while sitting in a nice warm bath on top of your very own mountain? Well, that’s not what’s happening now, so Robin gets in the tub anyway and pretends…
fresh water from the creek
Our journey then takes us downhill to a sheltered side of the mountain until we hear the sound of running water. Nice one! We needed to fill our water bottles up.
We come to the base of a small waterfall to fill up our water bottles. The stream is actually a water race cut into the hillside to bring water from the mountain to where gold was mined and our next dot on the map is a hut that was historically built for the water race builder to live in.
We can’t help but nosey around the inside of the delightfully rustic Mud Hut, still keeping its old-timey feel with animal skulls on display and antique pots and pans.
Tying up our Welcome Rock Loop
It’s an uphill climb to loop back to the Welcome Rock then follow the trail back to the Ski Hut, but it’s filled with good conversation which always compliments a great hike!
We’ve had an awesome day out here on the Welcome Rock Trails hiking a completely new environment to us. But in true backpacker style, we are saying: “See ya later” to our new friends as quickly as we met them, before heading to Lumsden.
A good feed at the Lumsden Hotel
Lumsden is a good central hub and our overnight stop before we continue the Southland road trip tomorrow. We stay at the Lumsden Hotel with its affordable accommodation, and good crew of WWOOFers and a pub atmosphere, especially with the All Blacks Vs Australia game on. We treat ourselves to some homemade pizza and a mammoth chicken burger and fries, which tastes all the more epic after such a big day!
As always, its back on the road tomorrow for a trip down into Clifton Caves! Join us then!
Panoramic tussock landscape!
It would be a shame not to… So check out these articles:
- Southland – Guide for Backpackers
- Guide to Milford Sound and the Milford Road
- Mountain Biking in Southland
Until tomorrow, give our Facebook page a like for New Zealand work and travel tips. We also post pictures on Instagram when we have coverage. Plus, find us on HerePin for geo-specific recommendations.
See you tomorrow!