Packrafting New Zealand – Fiordland backcountry mission

This trip to Big Bay has been on our minds for over 2 years now.

Pristine rivers, glacier capped mountains and remote surf beaches – the very best of Fiordland, in the South of New Zealands South Island.


Less than 50kms from famous Milford Sound, two rivers, the Hollyford and Pyke, offer the ideal setup for a packrafting loop.


You can raft the Hollyford from the roadend to the sea, continue on the ocean from Martins Bay to Big Bay; then hike inland to the Pyke and raft down on the Pyke to where it joins the Hollyford, not far away from the road end.

To make things more interesting, we not only wanted to packraft and hike this loop, but also surf and kitesurf Big Bay and of course take little Maya along.

To hike the whole loop are 144km and at the very least 10 days.

Plus potentially a few more days with bad weather. A packraft speeds things up, but on the other hand a 16 month old toddler doesn’t.


We had to prepare carefully and the logistics of packing were challenging.

Clothes – lots of non cotton layers and rain gear for the 3 of us.

Packrafting gear including life jackets, helmets, dry pants for Seon and a wetsuit for me.

Safety equipment – PLB, first aid kit, survival gear.

Our tent, sleeping bags and mats, down snowsuit for Maya to sleep in.

Cooking stove, gas, pot and sporks.

Nappies for Maya -we feared that our usual cloth nappies wouldn’t dry in wet Fiordland weather, so we brought some bio degradable nappies that are compostable. Great choice!

Hygiene articles – probably the smallest and lightest department. A toothbrush, toothpaste, natural 2B sandfly spray and Dr.Bronners soap had to do.


And food. LOTS of food.

We counted on 14 days plus 2 spare days, so we had to take 16 days worth of food for 3 hungry people. Doing the maths, if we only were to eat a portion of rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner, it would be 12kg of rice!!!

We briefly considered backcountry rations but I have never been a big fan of them (although there are options now with less artificial flavours and additives in them).

We figured out that a combination of quick cooking staple foods (rice, polenta and quinoa) + high calorie snacks (cheese, chocolate, nuts, peanut butter) + butter, salt, garlic and coconut fat for flavour, would work best for us. Plus a few luxury items such as coffee, honey, drinking chocolate, some of our tomatoes and apples we had dehydrated, and a couple of fresh apples and veggies for the first few days.

IMG_0283Seon also fished some very tasty trout which turned our camping meals into a gourmet feast.


Luckily helicopters fly to Martins Bay lodge on a regular basis and we managed to get a box of food dropped off. Made the first part of our trip a LOT more pleasant.

The initial idea of carrying a surfboard and a kite with us soon was out of question. Seon tried and gave up after 200m. Even without those extra toys, we were each carrying half our bodyweight, Seon with a backpack of 35kg, me with Mayas 10kg and a 15kg backbag.


Again we relied on local help.

We got in touch with Warrick Mitchell Awarua Guides who offers remote wilderness trips in Big Bay and we hoped to borrow a surfboard and get local surf knowledge from him.


Turns out we got so much more than that.

Warrick not only lives a truly inspiring life, but is also extremely enthusiastic about sharing the beauty of this corner of the world to likeminded people in search of an authentic wilderness experience.

Sunset at Big Bay
Sunset at Big Bay

When we arrived at Big Bay, he was in the middle of a trip with surfers from Auckland and we could observe what an excellent host and guide he is, creating the trip of their life time for his guests, using his local knowledge and the tools and toys he has available.

Living the dream ourselves, it is awesome to meet people who do the same and inspire others.

Observing Maya in the wild was another inspiration on this trip.

Mornings and evenings and on every break as soon as we set her free, she explored her surroundings with all her senses.

Look, hear, feel, taste, smell.



Who could possibly want to wear shoes if you can go barefoot?




Determined as usual to find the dirtiest spot around and stick hands, feet and mouth in it.



The input from nature stimulated her in so many more ways than is possible in an urban area.

I allowed myself the luxury of carrying a book with me – “Last Child in the Woods” from Richard Louv.

He writes about saving our children from Nature-Deficit-Disorder and how essential direct exposure to nature is for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional health of children and adults.


Maya astonished us in so many ways.

With her sense of balance on wobbly rocks.

Her respect of fire, fast flowing rivers and crashing ocean waves.

Pointing out and saying “bird” after hearing a bird singing outside of the tent at dawn.

Running through the bush with total comfort and confidence.

Devouring trout as if there was no tomorrow.

Sleeping in the tent so much better than at home.



After returning to beds, a roof over the head, running (& warm!) water, electricity, internet and phone, we found that we were also sleeping worse at home.

During a couple of days, I tried to figure out why?

Is it just less exercise or do modern commodities also compromise our quality of life, and we only notice it after we detoxed from the overflow of screen time, communications and informations for a while? Or is it related with the free flowing energy out in nature, cold river swims instead of bath tubs and a more peaceful and solitary rhythm?


We probably won’t find out, all I know is that time in nature does us good, and immensely so.

Others have come to the same conclusion, and this is one of our favorite videos about it.

Time to plan the next mission!

Some more photos from our trip…


7 thoughts on “Packrafting New Zealand – Fiordland backcountry mission

    1. Thanks Mark! Lots of planning indeed, especially for food. Most of the other camping and safety equipment wasn’t too bad since we take the same stuff even on a 2 day trip. We just had to make triple sure to not forget anything!


  1. Kia ora Seon, Michaela and Maya,
    Great to meet you all, first time we crossed paths was at McKerrow Island, then Martins Bay Lodge where you picked up your food supplies and then again on the last section of the Pyke River,
    It was such a thrill and pleasure to meet, observe and share your Journey with our guests
    Oh and I finally caught a fish, a beautiful salmon👍😃

    Thanks for inspiring us all

    Mark 🤙😃

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kia ora Mark!
      It was a pleasure meeting you too, congratulations to the salmon, Seon will get fish jealousy 🙂 Keep enjoying Fiordland, hopefully our paths cross again someday somewhere!


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