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The edge of so much more

Blink and you’ll miss Tuatapere, but author Greg Wilson’s eyes are wide open to this southern gem

The name Tuatapere doesn’t yet get the blood pumping like Fiordland’s unofficial heart, Te Anau, but first time author Greg Wilson is ready for that to change.

According to Wilson, this small south coast settlement is an untouched treasure awaiting those wanting an authentic wilderness experience. And in Fiordland Unexplored – his debut guide book – he stakes his case for the remote region, providing history and advice “only a local would know”.

Tired of farming, and having spent much of his life gradually drifting south from Taranaki, Wilson settled in Tuatapere four years ago with his partner Tammy, an artist. Seeking a change of lifestyle and mortgage-free living, the couple got to work restoring an old masonic lodge into an art gallery and backpackers.

But while Te Anau has become synonymous with Fiordland, Tuatapere fails to bleep on the radar of many travellers. The gateway to the popular Hump Ridge Track and bisected by SH99, Wilson says visitors often fail to realise the town is on the edge of so much more. “She’s an amazing part of the country, but she’s being kept pretty quiet, really,” he says.

While Fiordland Unexplored began as a hobby project, Wilson soon realised it might help put Tuatapere on the tourist map and encourage visitors to spend more than a day there.

“I wrote the book not intending to make any money, and I don’t think it ever will, but hopefully I’ll get something back when people come down and stay in Tuatapere, instead of just tripping over it,” Wilson says.

Wilson says many who plan a one night stay get sucked into tarrying a week, once they realise the extent of their doorstep. “It’s just a matter of getting them to stop,” he says.

To the east lies Longwood Forest Conservation Area and to the west is the sprawling Fiordland National Park. The Waiau River, winding its way from Lake Manapouri, provides salmon and trout fishing.

The sea-to-summit landscape is similar to the Taranaki region where Wilson grew up. As a teenager, he would hit town with the lads on a Friday night, summit Mt Taranaki before sunrise, and from its peak, scope out the day’s best swells for a surf before sundown.

To ensure his book was up to date, he walked the more than 20 tracks detailed in its pages. “If I hadn’t walked it, I wouldn’t write about it,” he says.

The book includes short excursions, day walks and multi-day tramps along with snippets of local history, wildlife tips, options for transport and accommodation, and the best bites for hungry hikers.

Greg Wilson’s top treks in Southern Fiordland

1. Hump Ridge-Wairaurahiri circuit
Three days. From Lake Hauroko, walk over the Hump Ridge to Okaka Lodge for the first night. Then turn off at the Edwin Burn and follow the tramline to Waitutu Hut. Spend the morning exploring Waitutu Forest and return to Lake Hauroko via the Wairaurahiri jet. No roughing it required.

2. Sheep Track, Princess
Mountains. Four days. Beaches, bush, lakes, rivers, alpine and history. Medium to challenging with off-track navigation required. Exposed to snow at any time of the year.

3. Old Coast Road
Spend two hours or all day walking the long empty expanses of Te Waewae Bay, known as Blue Cliffs Beach. Expect Hector’s dolphins and spectacular scenery.

4. South Coast Track
Four-nine days. Best appreciated by walking the whole way but a jetboat to or from Waitutu Hut will add an extra dimension to the trip. Walking is easy but distance and remoteness make this a trip for the soul-searcher.

5. Green Lake circuit with deviation to the Borland tops
Two days. This trip is doable for an adventurous family and gives access to stunning alpine tops.

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