That’s Adam on the right and Leigh on the left. We are two adventure loving finance professionals from Sydney temporarily throwing in our day jobs as we undertake an epic Thru-hike of New Zealand’s Te Araroa trail.
Living in Erskineville in Sydney’s Inner West, we are both Chartered Accountants who, for the past 10 years have been working in finance (don’t tune out just yet). Weekend warriors yearning to embark on a grand adventure we have taken a leap of faith, are selling our belongings, leaving paid employment and setting off to hike over 3,000 km down the length of New Zealand. Starting from Cape Reinga at the top of the North Island the Te Araroa spans the length of the entire country before finishing in Bluff at the bottom of the South Island.
You can learn more about us and what inspired us to take on the TA by reading our story.
We are writing this blog to document our journey and share our adventure with you. Taking around 6 months to complete you can expect regular trail updates on the highs and the lows of hiking the TA as a couple.
Track our journey by subscribing to email updates, follow us on instagram or find our current location using our interactive map.
Neither of us have blogged before so bear with us as we embark on a journey together. We look forward to sharing this experience with you.
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter ~ Izaak Walto
Saturday 23 February – Monday 4 March
Queenstown to Te Anau
Day: 130 – 139
Km’s: 97km (+ some off-trail km’s)
Cumulative km’s: 2,763km / 3,000km
As we get closer to the end of the Te Araroa trail, we have been making an effort to slow down and incorporate a few side trips, including some of New Zealand’s Great Walks.
In this blog, we take an alternate path out of Queenstown, hiking the famous Routeburn Track before rejoining the official trail at Greenstone Hut, adding an extra two days to our journey south.
From there, we walked along the shores of the stunning Mavora Lakes, battled some challenging weather, and ended the week checking out the stunning Milford Sound while resting for a few days in Te Anau as Leigh waited for a physio appointment to sort out some foot pain.
Day 130 – Saturday 23 February, 6km (off-trail)
Queenstown to Routeburn Flats
We ended our stay in Queenstown with a short breakfast catch up with two friends from Sydney who happened to be in Queenstown for a wedding. It was great to see Tsae and Jason and hear what they have been up to since we last saw them. What a great way to end our time in Queenstown – the breakfast food at Bespoke Kitchen was super tasty too!
With breakfast in the bag, we headed down to the chemist, which was also a post office, to send our bounce box of excess gear to its final destination, Invercargill. After lugging that stupidly heavy box around each time we reach a major town for the past 4 months, I’m really looking forward to the moment I can burn that box to the ground. It’s going to be a profoundly satisfying moment when it arrives.
We’d pre-organised a shuttle to drop us out at the start of the Routeburn Track, but it wasn’t due to pick us up until after lunchtime, so we still had a few hours to kill. We did what any rational person would do, we headed to Patagonia Chocolates for one final serving of ice cream and a hot chocolate.
While we’d been told that it was possible to walk the Routeburn Track in a single day, we decided to take it a bit easier. Arriving at the start of the trail by late afternoon, we booked a campsite at Routeburn Flats, which was about 6kms or so into the hike.
Once the shuttle dropped us at the start of the trail, Leigh headed off to the car park to check out the destructive gang of keas that were attacking the parked cars. With the trail being so popular, there were plenty of cars for them to choose between.
After a quick snack and review of the trail map and distances, we started walking. Being late in the afternoon, we were going against the flow of people, as a lot of day walkers headed back to their cars.
The first section of the trail was a nice forest track, winding its way past a few rivers – the walking was easy but there wasn’t much in the way of views yet. Pleasant, but no wow factor that I had expected for a Great Walk. It was strange walking on a trail without having to get your feet wet for once though! I was pretty keen to get to the campsite before the weather turned as we were expecting rain to set in by the evening.
Eventually the people thinned out after a while and we reached Routeburn Flats. After checking in with the Hut warden, we stared through the large glass windows of the $130 per person per night hut, wondering what it looked like inside compared to the huts we have stayed in so far on the Te Araroa trail. Following the track past the hut for about 5 minutes, we arrived at the Routeburn Flats campground, which was the first real glimpse into what lay ahead for us tomorrow, with great views of the mountains around us.
Our timing couldn’t have been better as the rain started almost immediately after pitching the tent. With limited shelter around, we scurried inside and stayed there for the rest of the night.
Day 131 – Sunday 24 February, 28km (off-trail)
Routeburn Flats to McKellar Hut
With a biggish day ahead of us on the Routeburn Track, we had planned to get away early but the rain put a stop to that. Waking up to the sound of rain on the tent, we decided to have a slower morning, opting instead to wait for the rain to lighten up before facing the day.
Once we did manage to get up, the rain had passed and we could see a fresh dusting of snow on the mountain tops around us. The weather forecast was for potential snow down to 1,700m overnight, so it didn’t exactly come as a surprise, but it was a pleasant sight first thing in the morning nonetheless.
The track had us climbing all morning, from Routeburn Flats up to Routeburn Falls. The gradient was steady, but there were a few bottlenecks along the way, which slowed our progress as hikers came from the other direction. At one point, we were stuck waiting at a narrow bridge for what seemed like 20 or 30 people to cross one by one from the other direction.
Once we eventually reached Routeburn Falls, we were only expecting to see one DOC hut there but were astounded to see at least 3 or 4 multi-storey buildings. It seemed like we had stumbled into a resort village rather than a DOC hut location. As we hiked past the buildings we realised that some of the buildings were actually huts owned by private companies that do guided walks on the Routeburn Track. Suddenly the big glass windows, fancy lounges and acoustic guitars we could see from outside all made sense.
By the time we had reached Routeburn Falls, the scenery had already started to get better, but it turned out that it would become a lot more stunning as we approached Harris Saddle, the highest point on the track.
On the way to Harris Saddle, the track led us through a magnificent valley, with beautiful mountains surrounding us. The wind was icy cold on account of the overnight dusting of snow, but the weather was definitely on our side as we took in the amazing views. As we approached the saddle, we climbed up past a stunning tarn.
Once we popped over the saddle, more snow-capped mountains came into view and it finally became clear why this was such a popular walk. It is a pretty epic part of New Zealand.
We braved the cold and stopped near the saddle for lunch before heading off towards Lake Mackenzie.
As we siddled the mountain from the saddle, we had to stop and pinch ourselves regularly for the views that we had from the track. The contrast of the vibrantly coloured vegetation on the edge of the track with the snow capped mountains in the distance was really stunning.
We floated along the track until we reached the descent into Lake Mackenzie. The first steep section of trail in some time, careful attention had to be paid to where you were putting your feet as we descended. Making the most of the sunshine, we took a break on the grass foreshore of Lake Mackenzie and dried our soggy tent out while we had a quick break.
The walk from Lake Mackenzie to the next hut at Lake Howden was a busy one, as we regularly passed people heading in the opposite direction to us. As the track was quite narrow in parts, this often required a bit of coordination to work out who was going to let who go through first.
The highlight of the walk to Lake Howden was without doubt Earland Falls – the wind blowing the water spray through the air at the base of the falls to create a perfect miniature rainbow.
We had originally planned to camp at Greenstone Saddle, which was a free campsite on the adjoining Greenstone-Caples Track rather than the Routeburn Track, however, we got got confused when we passed the Lake Howden campground. We figured the Greenstone Saddle campground must be further along the track but after another 15 minutes of walking it seemed that the campground had been renamed from Greenstone Saddle to Howden Hut. Apparently, this was an initial step by DOC towards making the campsite a fee charging site in the near future.
We didn’t like the idea of backtracking, particularly as it was getting late in the day, so we decided to continue on to the next closest hut covered by our backcountry Hut passes, McKellar Hut. McKellar Hut turned out to be one of the nicest huts we’ve stayed in so far. It even had a flushing toilet, which was a real luxury in our books!
We reached the hut just in time to run into Martina and Dylan, who we had met way back in the Richmond Ranges. They had finished the TA a week or so beforehand and were now travelling around New Zealand doing a few hikes that they missed on the way down.
It was great to be in a hut again with separate sleeping quarters to the kitchen/dining area. Apparently it is common for people to walk the Greenstone-Caples Track then Routeburn, which is why the huts in this area are of a bit higher standard than your average backcountry hut. In any case, we were glad to only be sharing the 20 something bed hut with half a dozen other people.
Day 132 – Monday 25 February, 15km
McKellar Hut to Greenstone Hut
Another cold morning today. As we would be taking the quicker Greenstone Track instead of the slower Caples Track, we were in no rush to leave McKellar Hut.
We spent a bit of time chatting to the other guys who stayed in the hut last night. They were also all having a shorter day so were equally in no rush to leave the hut and the warmth of the fireplace.
Eventually we left the hut and ventured out in to the cold. The mountains still blocking the sun from providing any warmth on the trail.
Despite the cold, the Greenstone Track was a nice walk and well maintained for the most part. A beautiful mossy forest trail to begin with, the track soon reached an open farm valley, just in time to see a helicopter fly ovehead enroute to clean out the septic tank at McKellar Hut.
We pretty much stayed in the valley for the rest of the day. Other than the odd muddy section of trail due to cattle, the rest of the day went quickly as we stuck to a well graded forest trail. After the highs of the Routeburn Track, this was a fairly uneventful day.
We arrived at the spacious Greenstone Hut by early afternoon. Having heard some horror stories a few weeks ago about 50 people spending the night at the 20 bed hut, we were expecting it to be busy but we were glad when no more than half a dozen people turned up by the time the sun went down.
Day 133 – Tuesday 26 February, 21km
Greenstone Hut to Boundary Hut
With the end of the Te Araroa trail getting near and some shorter days planned this week, we’ve felt less pressure to get up early in the mornings now. It was another late start today.
The track should have been easy walking through the valley, but we didn’t expect the track to be as soggy as it ended up being. It was frustratingly difficult trying to keep your feet dry.
Luckily the picturesque valley made the wet feet and extra effort worthwhile.
We stopped briefly at Taipo Hut for lunch, which was a nice smaller hut but the sandflies were pretty bad outside. We met two German TA hikers inside and discussed the merits of hiking with an umbrella over lunch.
It was more of the same walking after lunch. With so much focus on where your feet were to avoid the soggy muck, you had to constantly remind yourself to look behind you and take the valley views in.
The wind started to pick up as we approached Boundary Hut but the forecasted rain held off. Some heavy rain is forecast overnight and tomorrow morning, so it could be a long wet day tomorrow.
Day 134 – Wednesday 27 February, 32km
Boundary Hut to Kiwi Burn Hut
The rain came through in a big way in the early hours of this morning. When we woke up around first light, the wind was bouncing off our small little hut and the rain bucketed down.
We decided to wait for a while to see if it would calm down a bit. About an hour later things had slowed down to the point where we felt ok about getting out on the trail.
By the time we packed up and left the hut it was still raining, but at least we could see where we were going through the rain which wouldn’t have been the case an hour earlier.
Throwing on our rain jackets and rain pants, we set out into the rain along a waterlogged 4wd track towards Carey’s Hut.
The rain and wind moved through the valley in waves – one minute the weather was good and the rain jackets came off, the next minute the weather was bad again and on went the rain jackets.
We reached the lakeside Carey’s Hut slightly ahead of schedule and dropped in for lunch. While we were there, the weather seemed to do a complete 180 – the rain disappeared and blue sky appeared. Thinking that this was a, promising sign, we set off towards Kiwi Burn Hut on the other side of Mavora Lakes.
As we got further away from the hut, the clouds suddenly got darker to the point where it looked like a storm was brewing. At one point it started to rain again, only it seemed like the rain was bouncing off the ground. On closer inspection, it turned out that it was in fact the smallest hail either of us had even seen.
The walking for the rest of the day wasn’t overly fun. It was so cold my hands were stinging and the driving rain didn’t help things. It was a relief to reach a swing bridge which got us across to the other side of the lake and under the protection of some trees.
The trail for the remainder of the day was in the forest. Mostly easy walking but the heavy rain from earlier in the day had turned the track into a river in parts. Even the waterproof socks I was wearing didn’t seem to help in keeping my feet dry.
We were glad to finally reach Kiwi Burn Hut. It was a nice surprise to have a fire already going inside the hut thanks to two Canadian hikers. The hut itself was nice but was one of the older styled huts that we have come across. The bunks in particular looked like they came straight out of the mid 1900s.
Day 135 – Thursday 28 February, 29km (+9km off-trail)
Kiwi Burn Hut to Te Anau
It was another freezing morning today. We were so glad to be inside the hut rather than in a tent. We woke to the smell of smoke as on of the other hikers started the fire again.
The worst part of the morning was without doubt putting on our wet socks and shoes again.
With a big day ahead of us, we tried to leave early-ish this morning. The cold air stung the hands again, so we made the call to avoid the river crossing and instead doubled back to the nearest bridge, keeping our feet as dry as possible.
The only problem with doubling back to the bridge was that our day would be closer than 40km instead of 30km.
Once we reached the gravel road, the sun started to come out and we started to defrost.
The walking was pretty uneventful from that point onwards. Just gravel road walking with no real mountains around us to look at. It was great for listening to audiobooks and podcasts.
With about 10km to go, Leigh started to get some pain in the top of her foot, so she switched to my crocs to alleviate her pain a little.
To top off the day, we finished with a 2.5km walk along the highway shoulder. We’d already organised a shuttle to pick us up but we were 45 minutes early, so had to sit around waiting on the side of the road for the bus.
Eventually the bus turned up and we took the shuttle into Te Anau. We had planned to walk the Kepler Track tomorrow but with Leigh’s foot not being 100% we may need to change up our plans.
Day 136 to 139 – Friday 1 March to Monday 4 March, 0km
Te Anau (rest days)
After discovering that there were only two physios in town, Leigh took the first available appointment on Monday morning to get her foot checked out. This meant we would have at least three days up our sleeve in Te Anau to rest in the interim.
We had originally planned to do a Milford Sound tour once we finished the Te Araroa trail, but with some extra time now to play with we decided to bring those plans forward. Thankfully, most tours involve only a bus ride and cruise, neither of which involve much walking.
After spending so much time on the trail, it was a tad strange to be on the normal tourist path – getting on and off the bus as directed by the driver in order to take photos of spots that have been chosen in advance for us to look at. Still, the drive out to Milford Sound was nice all the same, particularly once we reached the impressive Homer Tunnel.
We had perfect weather for our Milford Sound cruise, and really enjoyed playing tourist for the day. At times, it felt as though we were in an ad with the way the light bounced off the mountains.
We spent the rest of our downtime chilling out at the hostel, hanging out with friends of the four legged variety, and eating ice cream.
Sunday 17 February – Friday 22 February
Wanaka to Queenstown
Day: 124 – 129
Cumulative km’s: 2,666km / 3,000km
After a few days sight seeing around beautiful Wanaka we tramp our way to Queenstown on the Motatapu Track. This section was our last mountain range on the TA. We hope you enjoy the photos.
Day 124 – Sunday 17th Februay, 25km
Wanaka to Fern Burn Hut
It was tough to leave beautiful Wanaka, the comfy backpackers and the seemingly endless supply of delicious food.
We started the morning with one last egg breakfast before heading out into a cold morning. Our hostel was situated on the trail, we stepped out of our door and onto the trail. We walked through the main street of town, one last opportunity for coffee before Queenstown. It wasn’t really a question of whether or not to stop.
After the caffeine hit we walked along the edge of Lake Wanaka, passing the famous #thatwanakatree. I am still a little baffled as to why the tree has such a cult following, it sure was beautiful but the impact that social media can have on a single tree is astonishing. After snapping a couple of obligatory tree photos we continued on.
It was the perfect day for easing ourselves back onto the trail, cruisy lakeside walking followed by a short stretch of road before we would climb our way to Fern Burn Hut.
The further we moved from the centre of town the more beautiful Lake Wanaka became. I was glad we had a short day ahead of us so we could move slowly and enjoy the views.
There were plenty of people out for their Sunday morning jog or bike ride and what appeared to be plenty of people out for a warm down session after yesterday’s ‘Challenge Wanaka’ triathlon.
We had a morning tea break overlooking the lake, watching the morning light sparkle on the water. It was incredibly beautiful, it looked like thousands of twinkling fairy lights. In the distance, across the lake were snow topped mountains. It doesn’t get much better than that.
It was lunch time when we reached Glendhu Bay, we stopped in the shade of the trees looking out over the lake. We ate lunch watching a young girl learn to water ski. It was perfect lunch time entertainment.
First day hiking lunches are always the best, my wraps were filled with avocado, cheese and salad. When you know you have a long stretch ahead of you, eating nothing but peanut butter and dehydrated food for days you relish the opportunity for salad.
After lunch we had a few kms of gravel road walking ahead of us to reach the Motatapu Track.
Off the road and onto the Motatapu track it was a short but beautiful of section of trail to Fern Burn Hut. Leaving the trail head car park we walked through private farm land, crossing through what looked like a deer paddock with 6 foot high fences and some serious gates at either end.
Into the conservation area the track climbed through the valley following a crystal clear stream which seemed to grow as we climbed. The forest was mostly made up of beech trees, offering beautiful shade to walk under.
We had passed a number of trail runners on the track and a solo cyclist. The cyclist had riden past us before deciding the track probably wasn’t the best for cycling, he chained up his bike and decided to walk the rest of the way up. He walked with us a good portion of the way, chatting to Adam as we climbed. Eventually I stopped for a rest and he continued on.
The track climbed and dipped through the valley a number of times before the hut came into view. There would be one more dip and rise, just for good measure, before we made it to the hut.
When we arrived our new acquaintance was at the hut and we chatted to him for a while before two more fellow TA hikers, our friends TAFM came in. We farewelled our biking friend and spent the evening chatting to TAFM.
At about 8pm when we were all gearing down for bed, a couple of pack rafters came into sight moving up the trail, we had a chat to them about their TA journey which sounded like an incredible adventure. Chatting to the pack rafters we felt inspired, there are so many adventures to be had in this world and so little time!
Day 125-Monday 18th February, 16km
Fern Burn Hut to Roses Hut
We had an accidental sleep in this morning. The two lovely pack rafters who came in late last night held what sounded like a symphony of snoring on the bunks underneath us last night. They were so incredibly lovely, great guys, but were so incredibly loud.
I had wanted to get away early because the walking times on the TA notes for todays section were considerably shorter than the times listed on the DOC signs in the hut. Just incase the TA times were wrong I wanted to leave a buffer. It wasn’t to be, we didn’t get away until 8.30am which is a late start in hiker hours.
Out on trail the track climbed steeply from the hut, dipping and climbing the whole way to Highland Creek Hut. As we looked back down over when we had come from it was hard to believe we had climbed so far in such a short amount of time. The trails always look more difficult than they really are when you are standing at the bottom looking up.
The trail was narrow and a little overgrown in parts but when we could take our eyes off our feet, pausing for a breather, the views were more than worth the hard work of the climb. Behind us we had views back over lake Wanaka. Priceless vistas.
After reaching Jack Halls Saddle it was downhill all the way to highland creek hut.
When Highland Creek Hut came into view it felt like deja vu. The hut was nearly identical to Fern Burn Hut and was positioned in the same spot in a VERY similar looking valley. It took me a few moments to process the fact that we had not walked in a big loop back to the same hut but were standing in front of a new hut.
We ended up reaching Highland Creek hut in 3 hours, much shorter timing than what the TA notes and DOC had suggested. It was only 11.30am but there was rain threatening so we decided to have an early lunch in the hut. Just as we were finishing our lunch and packing up to leave our friends who we hutted with the previous evening, TAFM came in. We got chatting with them and after I had asked them some questions about their snazzy looking coffee filter, they offered to make us a coffee. In addition to the lack of sleep I was pretty sure I was having caffeine withdrawals so I couldn’t say no. It was delicious and made my afternoon.
Just as we were finishing our coffees, the packrafters came walking in offering around chocolate! Could it get any better?!? It was SO tempting to stay but we are on a schedule with accomodation booked in Queenstown and Te Anau so we continued on.
It was 1.30 before we left the hut, a long lunch break but we felt comfortable with the timings after the first section that morning.
Looking out from Highland Creek Hut we could see the trail heading steeply up the spur of the mountain in front of us. Out onto the trail we headed down into the valley before quickly heading up the steep trail. We had two big climbs and two big descents to get to Roses Hut.
We crossed a fence, from the conservation area back into private farmland and had beautiful views over the valley below us.
The trail descended steeply and we found ourselves in a pretty beech forest. We topped up our water and had a quick break before continuing to the final steep climb.
It was a bit frustrating climbing so far up again after just having descended the same distance but our legs are used to the climbing by now so it went quickly.
Reaching the high point of the trail we traversed along the ridgeline, taking in terrific views of the mountains all around us, covered in beautiful golden tussock. As we walked the clouds and rain started to close in and the wind picked up. We had been lucky to avoid the rain all day so we were waiting for it to catch up with us.
As the ridgeline started to drop down a little the hut came into view. We could see sheep, little white dots in the distance, grazing in the farmland surrounding the hut. It felt like it was taking an eternity to walk to the hut after having seen it from so far off. I was certain the rains would beat us there. As made our way down to the valley floor rain started to spit down on us but we ended up making it to the hut just before the heavier rain struck.
There was a solo north bound man in the hut, we exhanged trail info over dinner before retiring to an early nights sleep.
Day 126-Tuesday 19th February, 23km
Roses Hut to Arrowtown
It was still dark in the hut when my alarm went off at 7am. The first of the morning light was being blocked by the mountains. It was also raining which made it difficult to find the energy to get out of bed. By the time we left the hut at 8.45 the rain had slowed.
Despite the break in the weather we still wore our rain pants, keeping our legs dry from the tussock which was soaked by the rain over night.
As soon as we left the hut the trail had us climbing up to Roses saddle, 1270m above sea level. It was a long slow climb to the top. Thick cloud had settled over the valley so it wasn’t far into the ascent when we had climbed into the cloud. It obscured our views but I think it made the climb quicker and possibly a little easier. We couldn’t see how far we had come and how far we had to go or how high we were, all we could do was climb.
We popped up over the final hill and there was the sign marking Roses Saddle. The climb felt quicker than I expected. It was a complete white out at the top of the saddle. We couldn’t see anything and the wind was starting to pick up so we didn’t hang around for long before starting our descent.
As we crossed the saddle the wind picked up. It was cold and damp in the cloud and the wind was strong and icey. As we moved along the ridge the cloud started to break a little and we could see more of our surrounds. It was mystical walking through the clouds, seeing them swirl around us.
On our way down to the river we ran into Pheobe and Nettie, two other TA hikers. They had flipped this section (walking north instead of south) to walk with some old friends of theirs. We had a good chat with them. They gave us a heads up on the Patagonia ice cream shop in town so we decided we should head into town tonight rather than camp on the outskirts so we could have an afternoon ice cream.
We farewelled the group and continued down to the river. From the valley floor we took the river route into Macetown. The TA track is officially on a high flood route but the river route (in good conditions) is much more pleasant so we opted to follow the river.
We wound our way in and out of the crystal clear river down to historic Macetown.
Macetown is a historical old gold mining ‘town’, little more than ruins and a few restored dwellings it is being restored by DOC. I find these old towns fascinating so we wandered through taking a bit of a history lesson as we walked.
All brushed up on NZ gold mining history we decided to take the all weather route into Arrowtown. Whilst it is a few km longer in length than the high route we had been told it was a quicker and more pleasant option. We had been advised by numerous hikers that the high route views weren’t worth the effort. With the ice cream shop calling (with a 6pm closing time) we skipped big hill track and took the all weather 4WD track into Arrowtown.
The trail passed back and forth over the river a few times which was a reprieve from the now scortching afternoon sun. We saw a few more interesting historical points along our walk but other than that it was a pretty long hot boring walk into Arrowtown.
I was super excited when we popped straight out of the river and into the main street of town. The best part was, the trail basically entered town right on the doorstep of the ice cream shop. With 30 minutes to spare we had sweet cold indulgence in our hands. Phoebe and Netty hadn’t lied. It was the most delicious ice cream I have eaten since arriving in NZ. I will go far as to say it comes a pretty close second to my all time favorite ice cream, Serendipity (although i’ll probably have to try a couple more scoops to be able to verify that). Not only was the flavor incredible but the scoops were super generous too. I was in heaven. The best part, they also have a store in Queenstown!
We made the most of being in town and spent the night at the holiday park. Showers and laundry were much appreciated. Even though it was only a short section the stench levels were getting high. After 4 months on this journey I am growing less able to handle the smell of myself.
Day 127 – Wednesday 20th February,28km
Arrowtown to Queenstown
It rained throughout the night so we woke to a wet tent this morning. The upside was, we were in town and had a cafe breakfast to look forward to! We had been told that Arrowtown Provisions did excellent baked goods and coffee so we arrived right on opening for a delicious breaky before tackling our long walk into Queenstown. I was hoping for a croissant but they didn’t sell them so I had a savory scone instead. The scone hit the spot and the coffee pepped me up, I was full of energy for the day ahead. Adam was a little less excited for the almost 30km of road walking, clearly his chai latte didn’t have quite the same mood altering properties.
After breaky we wandered our way out of Arrowtown. It is a cute old town with an abundance of history, cafes and gift shops. The type of cute little tourist town you could spend a day wandering around, eating lots.
On the outskirts of Arrowtown there was a considerable amount of property development underway, housing estates springing up before our eyes. Unbeknown to us it was a taster of what was to come that afternoon on our way into Queenstown.
From Arrowtown the trail took us through a fancy looking estate, a golf course surrounded by large cookie cutter houses on teeny tiny blocks of land. It was visually beautiful with manicured lawns, ponds with families of ducks and symmetrical gardens.
From Arrowtown we hit Lake Hayes, a picturesque lake where locals were out enjoying the sunshine, walking and paddling. The mountains of Queenstown the perfect backdrop to the beautiful blue water.
The trail then took us along the Twin Rivers Trail where we spent the afternoon walking to Frankton along the Kawarau and shot over rivers.
We crossed the historic old shotover bridge, it was like a walk through history imagining the big horse drays crossing it from one side if the river to the other.
We entered Frankton through what seemed like the worst possible end of town, walking past the sewage treatment plant we marveled at the incredible vast open vats of human waste. It was mostly an industrial area and to be honest not very pleasant to walk through.
In Frankton we stopped at the pack’n’save to resupply. We had been warned by a north bound hiker that the supermarkets in Queenstown weren’t very good so we filled our packs with the 6 days of food supplies we will need to get us from Queenstown to Te Anau.
With heavy packs it was hard to find the motivation to keep walking again but it was under 10km along the lake to Queenstown.
We were a little shocked by how busy and loud it was walking into the big city. Aircraft buzzing over head, busy roads and plenty of people out enjoying the lake.
We walked by the terraced houses built into the cliffs around the lake, it was a stark contrast to the areas we had recently been hiking through.
When we reached the city centre we headed straight to none other than the Patagonia Ice Cream store for a refreshing afternoon treat. The lakefront was packed with people, mostly tourists enjoying the afternoon sun. It reminded us a little of circular quay back home.
After our ice cream we walked up the hill to our backpackers where we settled in for the night, looking forward to the next couple of days rest and exploration in Queenstown.
Day 128 – Thursday 21st February
We had a lazy morning at the backpackers, catching up on blog posts, emails and generally eating lots. It wasn’t until 3pm when we left the hostel. When you get used to walking every day it is difficult so sit still, I needed to get outside even if it was only for a short time. Adam didn’t feel the need so much but said he would come with me anyway so together we set out to walk the Queenstown Hill. Even the wak to the trail head was steep. It felt like a near vertical climb heading up the street to the start of the track. I was surprised the hand brakes of the cars parked on the side of the road were managing to hold them.
Most of the climbing of the walk was under a pine forest, we zig zagged our way up along numerous switch backs. It reminded me of the conical hill walk in Hanmer Springs. Once we popped out above the trees at the first lookout we had views from Frankston right over Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu.
We checked out the basket of dreams, a beautiful sculpture work sitting on the hillside looking out over the water.
On we continued the final couple of hundred meters to the top lookout. It was a great time of the afternoon to be on the hill, watching the light change the colour of the city around us.
It had been a few hours since our last meal so we headed down hill towards town, hopeful to try the famous Fergburger. Often there is a cue up to an hour for these burgers but we had been told by locals to simply place a phone order for pick up rather than wait in line. Once we were at road level we decided on this approach and tried calling for a good 10 minutes before we gave up. We decided to try our luck, walk into town and check out the line. The line was huge so we wandered around town, opting for Buddha bowls at Rehab instead. It was a flip from one end of the food triangle to the other but we evened out any positive health benefits by following our healthy meals with ice cream sundaes from Patagonia. Adam, a patagonia special containing strawberries and meringue and I a coffee sundae with coffee and dulche de leche. It was the most gaint, decadent afogato I had ever had the pleasure of indulging in.
Day 129 – Friday 22nd February
Today we would be tackling Ben Lomond, Queenstown and arguably according to some lists, one of New Zealand’s best day walks. The start of the hike was not far from our hostel. It felt quite strange to have such a spectacular mountain so close to the heart of the city.
When the alarm went off to get up we considered a sleep in, it would have meant we could get the 9am gondola part way up the mountain, saving us 1hr of walking but we forced ourselves up and in the end it was lucky we did. Ben Lomond would turn out to be a very popular day walk, and most of the people walking it had the same fantastic idea of getting the 9am gondola part way up the mountain. Getting up and walking just that little but earlier meant that we avoided the masses on the way up and were able to enjoy the views with a few minutes of solitude.
Our walk up to skyview level (the top of the gondola) was underneath a canopy of trees, first pine and then beech. Occasionally we had views out over the water. It was a steady climb, every so often we would come across the handywork of a talented arborist. There were mushrooms, chairs and all sorts of artworks carved into tree stumps along the way up.
The views opened up when we reached the gondola. We had a short break and continued our climb up. The trail took us over a little bridge at the luge course which I ear marked in my brain for a little fun later in the day. From here we skirted around the side of the mountain and climbed steadily to the saddle. It was slow going but the gradient was gentle which made it easy to plod along onwards and upwards.
From the saddle we had another short break to regain our breath before the steep climbing began, the push to the top. The track curved around the back of the mountain which meant we took in spectacular views over the ranges behind us as we climbed. It was magnificent.
We could see down to two farm houses which appeard to be in the middle of nowhere. It amazed me that on one side of the peak was an expansive mountain range and grazing land which looked so far removed from the bustling tourist hub on the other with newly constructed properties crammed into the terraced hillside.
There was a little bit of scrambling to reach the peak but once we made it up there we were wowed by the views. We were both most impressed by the mountain views but the lake and city side was also incredible. It was well worth the climb.
We hadn’t been long at the top when groups of people began to make their way up behind us. It was a good time for us to start heading down. As we made our way down we passed hundreds of people shuffling their way up the mountain, most of them looking very unhappy, some looked to be in pain and I guessed, regretting their decision to hike the mountain. We even passed a fully guided group.
Back down at gondola level we walked back over the luge track and decided it looked like good fun. We bought tickets for 2 runs each. The luge was was a blast. For our first run of the day we had to be on the slow run so we decided to opt for 2 runs so we could also have a crack at the fast run. On the fast run I burned past Adam and almost took out a family with young children but everyone made it in alive. I loved it, I could have spent all afternoon going down the luge over and over again.
We contemplated getting a ride in the gondola on the way down but decided it probably wasn’t worth the price tag given the views we just had. It was under an hour to walk down so we decided to use our feet.
It was mid afternoon by the time we got to the bottom. We decided it was probably a good neutral time to try to get some burgers from Fergburger and headed over. There was still a huge line out the door. We decided to simply commit and lined up. We had a 15min wait in line and another 5min wait for our food so it wasn’t too bad in the end. We took our feast to the park to enjoy it lake side. After all of the fuss and hype we were both a little let down with the burgers. They were big but the fillings weren’t anything special. Both vego options were deep fried, my deep fried tofu burger left me feeling pretty greasy and not all that great in the tummy, as did the onion rings which weren’t cooked properly and were super greasy. We both declared we wouldn’t line up for it again.
We deviate from the TA to spend a couple of days on the famous Routeburn Track before making our way through to Te Anau.
Friday 8 February – Saturday 16 February
Twizel to Wanaka
Day: 115 – 123
Cumulative km’s: 2,574km / 3,000km
This section of the trail had a bit of everything – seeing us follow some more flat and hot lakeside tracks, before heading back into the mountains with three steep climbs across consecutive days, with a spectacular pay off in the form of an epic ridgeline descent into Lake Hawea with a rainbow thrown in for good measure.
We also had a largely successful crossing of the official widest unbridged river on the TA, and ended the week chilling out in Wanaka. What more could a hiker ask for? 😁
Day 115 – Friday 8 February, 30km
Twizel to Lake Ohau
We wanted to get away early today to avoid the hottest part of the day but the lure of a sleep-in was too hard to resist… again. With 30km to walk today, it was always going to be a long day. The only question was how long.
Luckily for us, the trail was pretty flat, which meant we could move at a decent pace.
Following a highway for the first few kms, we reached another salmon farm before joining a dusty farm road which would take us most of the way through to Lake Ohau. After our recent highs on the trail, this day was a bit of a nothing day. It was hot on the exposed road and not much fun.
A few pine trees provided some much needed shade at one point for a brief moment but they were behind us before we knew it and we were back in the full sun.
Eventually the trail took us to the upper banks of a tempting-looking river, but we were too high above it to be able to get down to the water to cool off.
Eating lunch in the scorching sun, we didn’t hang around too long before continuing towards the Lake Ohau campsite. Once we reached the shores of the lake, we felt the temperature drop immediately as the lakeside breeze brought some much needed relief. The flat gravel cycle track surrounding the lake made for some easy walking too, which helped motivate us for the last 10km to the campsite.
We broke up this stretch of walking to take a quick dip in the lake. Not wanting to get my feet or legs wet, I had to think outside the box to cool off my upper half. Leigh, on the other hand, was happy to walk into the lake fully clothed.
Our final few kms of the day were on a road shoulder but there wasn’t too much traffic around, so it was pretty cruisy all things considered.
There was still a bit of wind around once we reached the DOC campsite, but we were happy to find some huge pine trees that we were able to use to effectively shelter our tent from both the wind and the sun.
Day 116 – Saturday 9 February, 28km
Lake Ohau to Ahuriri River
For the first time in a few days we managed to get up early and leave our campsite as the sun was rising. Despite being on the road shoulder again at times, I really enjoyed the morning walking, as we were regularly granted views of the sun rising over Lake Ohau.
It was also a great reminder to live in the moment rather than in your head, worrying about what may or may not happen. To just enjoy each moment for what it is. I made a concerted effort to let go of any concerns I had been holding onto in relation to crossing the Ahuriri River later in the day, finding a suitable campsite somewhere near the river and the potential for our plans to be thrown out of whack if the river turned out to be too dangerous to cross today.
After a few km of lakeside tracks, we joined the Sawyer Creek track on DOC land. Wide, well-graded track and lots of shade were all a bonus.
After accidentally missing the turnoff for the Freehold Creek Track, I doubled back for about 5 minutes to find the actual track. This would be the start of our climb today. The climb ended up being much more friendly than expected based on the elevation profile.
The track climbed through a shady beech forest with plenty of water available in mountain streams along the way. By mid morning we had emerged from the tree line with a few hundred more metres to climb to the top of the saddle. I celebrated the occasion by stopping to drink from a set of glass cups that someone had thoughtfully (and curiously) left on the trail.
The views from the top of the saddle made the climbing worth the effort.
Once over the saddle, the terrain started to flatten out, particularly as we got closer to the Ahuriri River. We chatted briefly with over a dozen northbound TA hikers that we crossed paths with on our way to the river.
As much as we tried, we couldn’t avoid the mud as we got closer to the end of the track. Stinky mud-soaked socks for the next few days again. Joy!
The valley really opened up before the river and the wind gusted across, buffeting us around the trail. The river valley looked unreal in the afternoon sun. Despite my initial concern, the Ahuriri River not as wide or deep as I had expected. The crossing would still be fun nonetheless.
Grateful for the clear water crossing, we judged the depth to be no deeper than mid-thigh and the river looked to be less powerful than our recent crossing of the Deception River near Arthur’s Pass. Leigh slipped over at one point during the crossing and got pretty wet, but we both made it across in one piece.
The wind was still strong and we didn’t feel like walking much further for the day, so we set about trying to find a sheltered spot somewhere near the river. We were joined shortly after by a Czech couple also walking the TA who had the same idea.
We went to sleep to the sound of minor rock falls on the steep scree edges of the river plain that we would need to climb tomorrow morning.
Day 117 – Sunday 10 February, 24km
Ahuriri River to Top Timaru Hut
In a rare occurance, we were up early for the second time in as many days. Conspicuously absent last night, the sandflies were out for blood this morning. We packed up and hit the trail as quickly as possible.
It was a tough climb straight up a loose scree slope to kick off the day. The trail then took us across converted farmland, where we both ran into a lost sheep that seemed to confuse us for a farmer from a distance, walking straight towards us before changing its path when it realised it did not in fact know us.
After passing some massive deer in a pen, we followed an old farm road for what felt like an eternity as it climbed for most of the morning.
The road surface eventually changed to scree and we reached Martha’s Saddle for lunch to take in the views. The wind was particularly strong at the saddle and cold. We were joined shortly after for a chat over lunch by our Czech friends from yesterday.
There were some epic switchbacks in the trail down from the saddle to Top Timaru Hut, our home for the night. The hut was one of the more modern ones and a step up after the old mustering huts of the past week or two.
I managed to get stung by a bumblebee when I grabbed a frayed piece of blue rope to close the toilet door. The bumblebee was hiding somewhere inside the frayed rope end and stung me right on the end of my finger. Upon telling Leigh of my predicament, her only concern was “that poor bee is going to die now”.
We thought we may have the hut to ourselves but were joined later by the famous Rapsey family from New Zealand, who have the two youngest children to ever walk the Te Araroa trail in its entirety (aged 6 and 9).
As we went to bed in the hut, we had the pleasure of listening in to a bed time story that mum was reading to the kids.
Day 118 – Monday 11 February, 24km
Top Timaru Hut to Pakituhi Hut
When we were originally planning this section, we had only intended to go through to Stodys Hut, but after hearing from other hikers that it was a bit of a dump, the lure of pushing through to the more modern Pakituhi Hut was strong. This change in plans would also mean that we would go past TA highlight, Breast Hill, today rather than a day later.
We were up and away early, before the sun rise, doing our best to pack up our stuff in the dark while the NZ family slept in the remaining bunks of Top Timaru Hut.
The morning walking had us travelling parallel to the river through the forest, but mostly a lot of frustrating up and down in the process, with some slippery track to boot. The track had also been damaged in parts by rockfalls, which made for some challenging walking.
At one point I managed to slip off the track and slid for 10m down the hill on my side. As luck would have it, I slid foot first into a tree which stopped my progress quicker than would otherwise have been possible.
Finally we reached the junction to Stodys Hut. We had heard from other hikers that this would be a steep climb but it still managed to take me by surprise. Thankfully the trees shielded us from the heat of the sun, but the steepness of the track meant that we still got a good sweat on. I was struggling to remember the last time we climbed a track this steep as I cursed the track all the way to the top.
We stopped off at the slightly depressing Stodys Hut at the top of the climb for some lunch and ran into our new Czech friends again. We would see them again later in the day at Pakituhi Hut.
Off we headed post-lunch towards Breast Hill, which overlooks Lake Hawea. While this section of trail also involved some climbing, it was along a 4wd track, so the walking was much more gentle on the legs.
About halfway there we could see the weather starting to close in around us. Suddenly it became a race to get to Breast Hill before the rain set in for the afternoon. I got a bit caught up in the moment, not wanting to miss out on the spectacular views from the summit that I had heard about and raced ahead to beat the rain.
In the end we had a few sprinkles of rain as we reached the summit but everywhere else around us seemed to be copping it with heavy rain. It couldn’t have worked out more perfectly. The views from the Breast Hill summit were absolutely amazing! The jagged rocks adding to the epic-ness of the scene.
After taking a few photos to mark the occasion, we raced down the hill towards the comfort of Pakituhi Hut. It did not disappoint. There’s nothing better than having a spacious 12 bed hut almost all to yourselves. Just four hikers staying at the hut tonight.
Day 119 – Tuesday 12 February, 11km
Pakituhi Hut to Lake Hawea
With the overnight rain, it wasn’t exactly a surprise to wake to heavy mist surrounding the hut. The trail didn’t look overly enticing in the morning mist, so we delayed leaving the hut for as long as possible, preferring the warmth of the hut.
Eventually, the mist started to lift a little and we decided to start the short but steep walk down to Lake Hawea.
We were blown away by the views on the descent. Walking along razor edge ridgeline, low clouds danced around the track and even a rainbow turned up to the party. It was so quiet and still up there that I could even hear Leigh yelling at me from a few hundred metres away to hurry up and stop taking so many photos 😂
I could have spent hours on that ridgeline, but we had heard along the hiker grapevine that the general store in Lake Hawea served big ice cream portions, so we had important business to attend to.
We dropped down off the ridge, following the many switchbacks which made what would have been a knee-crushingly steep descent down to the lake an enjoyable stroll down the hill.
On reaching the lakefront, we took the pleasant lakeside cycle track through to the main part of town (using the word ‘town’ loosely, as it consisted largely of a general store/restaurant and a pub).
We had a late lunch at the unexpectedly well-stocked general store and did a bit of planning for the upcoming sections of the trail before getting down to the business of our ice cream orders. Needless to say, the grapevine was on the money and the scoop sizes were as generous as we have come across so far in our travels.
We had planned to head to the nearby holiday park to spend the night, however, on passing the Lake Hawea Hotel we decided to check their accommodation options. It turned out they did a camping and dinner deal which was great as it meant we didn’t need to walk any further.
We pitched the tent in a weird grassy car park, which was being used as an unofficial campground for hikers but also for more permanent residents living and working in New Zealand by the looks of it. We then spent the rest of the evening in the pub, first making the most of the cheap dinner deal before hanging out in the hotel’s lounge area, feeling slightly underdressed compared to the other holidaymakers having dinner at the pub.
We left the warmth of the pub just in time to catch the sun setting over Lake Hawea from our tent site.
Day 120 – Wednesday 13 February, 24km
Lake Hawea to Wanaka
We awoke at 4am this morning to the smell of smoke. I got up to check the source, just in case there was a flaming inferno somewhere within the campground. It ended up coming from the chimney of a nearby house, but as there was no imminent danger, I jumped back into the tent.
Once we were finally up and moving later in the morning, we started walking along the gravel track towards Albert Town. Following the Hawea River, the track was much nicer than expected. We stopped briefly to admire a whitewater park on the river – a standing wave that had been constructed for use by paddlers and surfers.
It wasn’t too much longer before we were in Albert Town. Leigh wanted to check out Pembroke Patisserie, so we headed there for morning tea. They had such a great selection we struggled to pick what we would order. Mixing savoury with sweet, everything we tried was mind-blowingly good.
Continuing our planning from yesterday, we made a few more bookings for the upcoming weeks, locking in some dates to do the Routeburn Track and Kepler Track, two of New Zealand’s Great Walks. It is a weird feeling starting to book things more than 1 or 2 days in advance as we have become so used to things turning out fine when we don’t organise anything in advance.
We eventually forced ourselves to leave the patisserie and rejoined the track alongside the Clutha River, which we would follow all the way through to Wanaka. As we got closer to Wanaka, we saw more and more people on track – mostly less than comfortable looking cyclists who appeared to have hired a bike for the first time in a while.
Having learned our lesson from Tekapo, we were glad to have pre-organised our accommodation in Wanaka. It turned out that our arrival in Wanaka coincided with an annual triathlon event with 1,500 competitors, so it would have been impossible to find a bed anywhere if we had waited.
Arriving around lunchtime, we checked into our neat backpacker hostel with lake views from the communal loungeroom and spent the rest of the afternoon making plans for a few rest days in the lovely town of Wanaka.
Day 121 to 123 – Thursday 14 February to Saturday 16 February, 0km
Wanaka (rest day)
After a solid two weeks on the trail without a proper rest day, we decided to take a few days off in Wanaka to see the town, finish off our planning and do a side trail around Wanaka. Also, eating town-food was a high priority.
Not only did we plan the end of our hike (arriving at Bluff on 13 March before heading across to Stewart Island for a few days to hopefully spot the famous kiwi in the wild), but we also had the rare treat of getting out to see a movie. We got to see a rock climbing movie Free Solo, which I had been hanging out to see for months (on account of my Alex Honnold man-crush), so it was great to finally be able to see it. The home made ice cream and freshly baked cookies during intermission at the cinemas were something that all cinemas need to introduce!
Wanting to avoid the out of control swarms of people on Roy’s Peak Track (look it up – it’s insta famous), we hired a car (shock horror) and headed out to do the Rob Roy Glacier Track instead. We were both happy with the decision as the glacier was stunning and something different to anything we have seen so far on the trail. We made better time than expected (must be the trail legs), so we even had time to stop off at an alternate Lake Wanaka lookout on the way home.
Other than that, we were able to sample some great food from local delis, cafes and even some food trucks, which had us ready to jump into the next section of the trail.
Tomorrow we will start the walk towards Queenstown along the Motatapu track, which is notorious for its beautiful scenery and punishing climbs.