Lake Daniell

We headed due south after leaving the Golden Coast; our destination was Lake Daniell and it was to be our first backpacking, or tramping as they call it here, excursion of our trip. We spent a night camping at the base of the mountain in a valley filled with golden grasses and surrounded by plunging mountain silhouettes.


A fault line runs through the valley, and researchers had constructed a cement wall across it to monitor the rate at which land moves across the fault. There was some recorded movement, but there hadn't been any activity (in this area of the South Island) since about the 1960s. 

Also filling the valley were dynasties of the world's most vicious sand flies. With Orc-like tenacity and Trump-like xenophobia, these buggers swarmed campers by the thousands. They bit our feet and hands and necks; we put on socks and gloves and cinched hoods; then they just came for our faces and our eyes. I wound up with a mouthful, sought refuge in our car, only to have them flood the vehicle when I opened the door—we left for our hike the next day, parking the car in the sun hoping to roast them to death. After zipping ourselves in our tent that night, we had to engage in 15 minutes of sand fly slaughter to have any hope of peace. Part of the fun of camping, yes?

The real fun of camping—the jaw-dropping beauty of the trail. Early on in the eight kilometer hike to the campsite, we crossed a bridge, under which ran the most crystalline water I have ever seen. It was completely translucent, save for the sparkling shimmer of its ripples. (And check out that super small pack I have for an overnighter—Dominic was a mountain man before I ever took him out on the high seas, and prepared us for backpacking like a weight-watching demon).

The trail was full of birch trees and resplendent with mosses. Parts of the track felt like cross-country skiing trails, silent trees perched in rolling hills of snow, except this snow was emerald moss, reclaiming felled timber for the floor of the forest.


It was a gorgeous day, sunny but with plenty of shade on the trail, and a luxuriously easy hike with well maintained paths and minimal elevation gain. The beauty of Lake Daniell was hard to beat—quaint pier, grassy campsite, and ample woods to explore.

There's another highlight I'll share, if you'll excuse a little potty talk: Lake Daniell has the most pristine outhouse on Earth. Euphemistically termed 'long-drops' here in NZ, the outhouses we had seen up to this point had, well, varied in quality and cleanliness. But these bad boys were a totally new design, instead of just a hole offering a long drop (requiring pumping out, which for backpacking sites often requires a helicopter), these had a conveyer belt beneath the toilet. Fluids were diverted into a septic system that mixed with the hut's grey water (each backpacking site offers a hut as well as campsites for backpackers), and the solid waste was conveyed into a composting tank. Within the tank, worms decreased the volume of the waste by five times, meaning that the outhouse only needed to be serviced every 15-20 years. Pretty awesome, and pretty odor free. 


We know these details because our co-campers for the night (we were in a tent, they occupied the hut) were a small school of children and their parents who had hiked up as part a field study to measure and improve the campsite's carbon footprint. The kiddos were happy share details with us—the whole thing making my environmentally-friendly-curriculum-developing heart swoon.

Beautiful place, beautiful people, beautiful times, and I haven't even gotten yet to the birds, stay tuned.