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
Wednesday 23 January – Thursday 31 January
Christchurch to Harper River Camping Area
Day: 99 – 107
Cumulative Km’s: 2,207km / 3,000km
In this post we have a week off in Christchurch, taking in the sights, replacing worn out gear and catching up with old friends.
Heading back out on trail we get straight back to business tackling the Deception River on the Goat Pass route.
Days 99 to 103 – Wednesday 23rd to Sunday 27th January
We enjoyed a leisurely week off in Christchurch, enjoying the city’s street art, replacing extremely worn out shoes and shirts and cruising around on the very convenient lime electric scooters.
Our time in Christchurch was lucky enough to coincide with our good friends, Lance and Claud’s visit. They were on a short holiday with Claud’s mum and flew into Christchurch. We spent a day with them, visiting the botanic gardens and art gallery and eating. We had a blast.
We also caught up with an old family friend, Robbie who lives just south of the city. It was lovely to meet his family and catch up over lunch. I think the last time I had seen him I was probably in school myself.
We had a bit of planning to do so we spent a great deal of time at the library there. It had only recently opened and became a bit of a haven with free wifi and an incredible cafe on the bottom floor.
We had lots of eating to catch up on and there was no shortage of great cafes and food options.
We did some sightseeing in town, visiting Quake City, the memorial and the cathedral. With reminders of the devastation the earth quakes caused ever present around the city.
It was a refreshing week off trail, allowing us to rest, reset and head back out on trail renewed.
Day 104 – Monday 28th January
Christchurch to Arthur’s Pass
There was one more cafe that I wanted to try in Christchurch before we headed bush so we packed our bags, dropped the bounce box off at the post office, jumped on some scooters and headed out to Hello Monday. It didn’t disappoint. I had a delicious bircher while Adam enjoyed a tasty shakshuka.
I had ordered a couple of Lifeproof phone cases during the week and whilst the postage was speedy it turned out the courier company would not deliver Post Resante (this is a service the NZ post offers where they hold your parcels for you to collect). This meant we had to get a cab out to the airport to the Fedex office to pick them up directly. Luckily we were able to change our shuttle to Arthur’s Pass to an airport pickup.
We had half an hour to kill before heading to Fedex (they were only open for pickups from 2pm) so we headed back to the library to play some oversized Connect 4. I had set down my pack and placed my sun glasses safely on top so they wouldn’t be scratched. While we were playing my bag fell over, on top of my glasses, snapping the arm. This makes the tally TA:2, Sunnies:0. There was a gift shop close by so I ducked in to have a look. As my luck would have it, they stocked the exact same pair of glasses as I had just broken. It was too good to be true.
Eye wear in hand we jumped in a taxi, picked up our package and jumped on the shuttle back to Arthur’s Pass.
We arrived back in Arthur’s Pass late afternoon, enough daylight to do a short walk so we headed out to the Devil’s Punchbowl. It was a short walk through beech forest up to a spectacular long drop waterfall.
It was a good little warm up before we head back out on trail tomorrow.
Day 105 – Tuesday 29th January, 14km
Arthur’s Pass to Goat Pass Hut
After 8 days off trail I was worried about today being physically difficult, a shock to the system after having such a long break but by the end of the day our legs were back into the rhythm of things and the worry turned out to be completely unnecessary.
When we arrived back in Arthur’s Pass yesterday we learnt that it had rained there for the entire week we were in Christchurch. As a result the river was still flooded when we called into the local DOC office. It had barely rained yesterday and with a dry forecast for the next 2 days we decided to give the Deception River track a try, the first river crossing was only a few km’s in so we could easily turned back if the river was still too high.
We were up and out on the road, looking for a hitch by 8.30am. It was a weekday and the traffic was quiet. There weren’t many cars on the road but we were determined. It was 22km of road back to the trailhead so there was no way we were walking it. After an hour of waiting I was keen to have a break and head into the general store for a cheese scone. Adam wanted to push on so we compromised. I went into the store and got us pastries while he waited on the road side. Despite the cheese scone boosting my morale it was still a brutally long 2 hour wait for a ride. In that time we were joined by a guy training for the Coast to Coast. The Coast to Coast is a ridiculous 200km+ run, paddle & bike from Greymouth to Christchurch (yup kiwis are both very fit and very crazy). The section of trail we would be hiking today forms part of the Coast to Coast route. It would take us 1.5 days to walk it with packs on. A fit coast to coast competitor will run it in 3 hours!
During our we were also briefly joined by an inquisitive Kea. Kea are the worlds only alpine parrot, they are native to New Zealand and are incredibly smart. They know how to get food off tourists, intentionally picking their unsuspecting targets. As we stood by the road waiting for a lift a Kea flew down to check out our packs. They are destructive with powerful beaks so not wanting my pack torn open I tried to chase the bird away. It wasn’t at all scared by me and turned on me, I was the one being chased away. In the end it took both Adam and I chasing this bird to get it away from our packs.
After our exciting morning the 3 of us were eventually picked up by a lovely woman who had stopped in town after shuttling her parents across to Christchurch for medical treatment. She had a long drive home and was keen for some company so she very generously gave all 3 of us a lift down to the trailhead. We had a lovely drive getting to know our new companions.
After being dropped off at the Morrison Foot Bridge we got our things in order and headed over the river. We were happy with how the river looked, it was slightly cloudy but nowhere near as high or angry as the last time we had seen it.
The Deception Valley Track is less of a track and more of a route up the river through the valley. It involves numerous river crossings, rock hopping and scrambling. It is a lot of fun and is absolutely beautiful, I am so glad we were able to wait out the rain and had the chance to walk it.
We spent all day in and out of the river, crossing from one bank to another as we made our way up the valley. It was forecast to be over 30 degrees on account of the heatwave NZ is currently experiencing but the icy mountain water helped cool us down from the toes up.
Walking in the river bed can be tough going, you have to constantly watch your step and the rock hoping means you move slower than normal but there is something special about walking up a river in the back country. The river is clear and its water doesn’t need filtering so you don’t need to carry water, we simply stopped to drink from the river as we hiked.
Both Adam and I needed to replace our shoes in Christchurch. My previous shoes were boots with considerable ankle support. I was hoping to get something a little lighter but still with ankle support. Unfortunately I couldn’t find anything with ankle support to fit my feet so I ended up with a pair of very light trail runners. To make the change even more dramatic the best fit for my fat feet ended up being a pair of Altras which have zero drop. It is pretty much the most dramatic change in foot wear one could have on a thru hike. My heals and arches weren’t too happy about the sudden change so they felt strained about half way through the day. We had plenty of breaks throughout the day so it was manageable. I am hoping that my feet adapt quickly and it isn’t too much strain on them. On the upside the new shoes went very well through the apparently 30 plus river crossings we had throughout the day though. They drain well and are SO much lighter which means less strain on legs and hips.
About 5 hours into our walk we made it to Upper Deception Hut. Arriving after 5.30pm, we startled the one person who was spending the night there, Rick, a Kiwi. Given the time he likely thought no one else was coming through that evening. When we approached the hut he was having a bath in the stream out front. One thing I didn’t expect on this trail was so much nudity but at this stage of the game am unfazed by it. Rick was also seemingly unfazed and offered to make us a tea before we continued on our hike. It was very kind of him but we were worried about getting into Goat Pass Hut late and pushed on.
It was a 2 hour climb from Deception Hut to Goat Pass Hut, where we would be spending the night. We had a little bouldering and climbing to do but as the river narrowed we were largely walking up a waterfall to the hut. It was cold on the toes but beautiful and fun!
It felt good to be out on the trail again. Despite being nervous about having so much time off in hindsight it was definitely needed. I came back to the trail feeling refreshed and better able to take in the experience and absorb the beauty we are seeing. I was feeling tired in the week before we had our break and without knowing it at the time, it was starting to impact on my enjoyment of the trail.
Day 106 – Wednesday 30th January, 20km
Goat Pass Hut to Lagoon Saddle A Frame
Over breakfast Adam told me that he believes a duck he spotted on our walk up the river yesterday was in fact the rare Whio or Blue Duck. It was sheltering under a large boulder when Adam spotted it. I completely missed it and had to back track to see it. The Whio is so rare that DOC ask that sightings are reported to them. Adam is going to do this when we next find reception. I am eager to hear their response. Adam was very excited. He may be turning into a twitter or tweeter or whatever bird spotters are called.
Goat Pass Hut has incredible views out over the mountains. As we left the hut this morning we climbed over Goat Pass and into the valley. It was a beautiful morning with stunning views and great long stretches of boardwalk beneath our feet. Bliss!
The trail eventually dropped back down into the tree line and we spent a few hours walking through lush green forests. Although we were no longer walking in the river bed there was still plenty of water along the trail. We crossed numerous streams and waterfalls which fed into the larger river.
The trail descend gradually for most of the morning but there were a few places in the trail where we had to scramble down steep drops. At one of these super steep sections a group of runners training for the Coast to Coast came through. I was half way down the climb when they appeared at the top. Adam had a quick chat to them before they ran down the steep slope in an incredible display of agility. I stood at the bottom, mouth agape, watching them in awe.
After some time in the forest the trail took us once again, back into the riverbed for more ankle twisting, rock hopping. We had almost reached the road, the end of this section of track so stopped for lunch break. The next section involved 8km of road walking so we thought a riverside lunch break would be nicer than a roadside lunch break.
After lunch we reached the road and conveniently, a turning bay. The sun had finally burnt through the morning cloud and it was scorching so we decided to try for a hitch to the next trail head rather than walk along the hot tar seal.
It was mid afternoon so I was worried we may have missed peak hour for people driving through Arthur’s Pass but after about 15 minutes we struck it lucky! A lovely guy living near Methven had been surfing over near Christchurch and was on his way home so he stopped to give us a ride. It was a short car ride but we had a good chat. We were extremely thankful for the ride as it saved us 2 hours road walking on baking hot road.
The junction to the trailhead was at Arthur’s Pass Wilderness Lodge. We walked up their long, thankfully shaded drive way and began our climb up to Lagoon Saddle.
About 10 minutes into our climb we passed Bealey Hut. I had a tight shoulders and a terrible headache so it was tempting to stay put rather than walk another 3 hours up a big hill in the heat of the day but we had a deadline to make. In 2 days time we will be getting a shuttle around the Rakaia River and without phone reception along the trail, had organised the pick up time before leaving Arthur’s Pass. So we filled up water, signed the intentions book and pressed on.
Under the shade of beech and pine the temperature dropped a little. Although we sweated our way up the hill I think it was cooler on the track than it would have been sitting in Bealey Hut.
After over an hour of climbing under the beautiful canopy we popped out of the tree line. We had views of the river and valley below us. As we walked we climbed higher through golden grasses, our view getting more spectacular the higher we climbed. At one point I could even see down to the train line with a cargo train moving steadily along the tracks towards Christchurch.
We crossed over a few small streams along our walk to the shelter where we would be spending the night. Stopping for a drink was a welcome break under the strong sun. As we were taking in the views a dragonfly landed on Adam’s pack. The dragonflies in NZ are huge, with wingspans 8 or 10 cm across they are incredible. The little hitchhiker stayed put for about 15 minutes, not seeming too bothered by the bouncing around of Adam’s pack as he walked.
It was a long days walking and I was exhausted by the time we reached the shelter. No matter how much water I drank throughout the day my headache didn’t seem to shift so it was early dinner and early bed tonight.
Day 107 – Thursday 31st January, 28km
Lagoon Saddle A Frame to Harper River Camping Area
We were woken just after 5am this morning by 2 inquisitive Kea. We had left our shoes and hiking poles outside the shelter overnight. At hearing the first shriek of the Kea I was out of bed and out the door in a flash to rescue our shoes from imminent destruction.
I got back into bed and snoozed for another hour. We slept on and off to the sound of the kea above us, screeching overhead, landing on the roof, messing with our hiking poles which were still out on the deck. At 6am we finally got up and by 7am we were on the trail. The Kea were still hanging about when we left. Sadly I think they were after food. I really hope other hikers haven’t been feeding them but I’m not so sure.
It was forecast to be a 36 degree day so we wanted to get up and moving earlyish to avoid some of the heat. The trail was shaded for a good portion of the morning, undulating along the ridge line in a beech wood forest. It was a beautiful start to the morning.
We walked upon a section of track where a slip of scree had fallen over the trail. We sidled across it, not too happy about being back on scree again but it was short lived. After this point the trail took us down into the valley where we spent the remainder of the morning walking along the banks of the Harper River.
We had spectacular views of the mountains ahead of us as we crossed back and forth over the river. We eventually left the river and re-entered the forest, climbing our way up to West Harper Hut.
West Harper Hut was more a look at history than a hut you would want to sleep in. It was built in 1957 and looked to be in original condition with canvas bunks, a dirt floor and a roof which appeared to be disintegrating from the inside out. Never the less it would provide great shelter in need. We had a morning tea break around the fire pit. It was a little more pleasant outside the hut than inside the hut.
After our break we continued on through the forest. We had a few stream crossings ahead of us. They were only small, no technical fording skills needed. Perhaps it was because they were easy crossings that I had let my guard down and on one such crossing slipped on a large rock while I was making my way across the river. One foot stayed put in the river bed, the other foot slipped on a large rock and struggling to keep my balance, I fell backwards. I had fallen downstream with a leg on either side of this large rock, my feet above my butt. I was awkwardly pinned down by the rushing water and the weight of my pack. I hadn’t hurt myself and was in no real danger but you don’t realise how much your pack weighs you down until you fall over with it on and can’t get up. I flailed for a minute or two before Adam came walking up the trail behind me. He tried to pull me up but I was too badly stuck and he ended up needing to take my pack from me so I could roll sideways and get my balance.
Everything from my waist down had a good rinse in the stream. It proved an effective way to cool off on such a hot day. After a good laugh we continued on and I was dry within 20 minutes.
It wasn’t far until our next rest stop of the day, Hamilton Hut. It was a pleasant walk there, again in and out of beautiful beech forest and beside the river. We crossed a couple of suspension bridges en route and the morning went by quickly. Before we knew it we were at the turn off to the hut.
We had considered taking a long lunch break at the hut, to walk in the cooler afternoon rather than the heat of the day but we had arrived a little earlier than expected. It was only 11am. We decided for a quick but early lunch in the shade at the junction and continued on. The sun wasn’t too bad at that point and we had a pleasant breeze making its way up the valley.
The track notes indicated we had a 5 or 6 hour walk ahead of us to the Harper River Campsite. We continued on in the shade of the trees for only a short distance until we were ejected in the mid day heat of the valley.
The views were magnificent, as we walked along the river the Pinnacles came into view, it felt like a reward for long hours walking in the hot sun.
We followed an old FWD track along the bank, crossing back and forth over the river. The many river crossings meant for lots of opportunities to re-hydrate and cool off in cool water.
We eventually left the river for a proper trail along side a farm. It was a welcome relief to be able to walk on flat trail at a decent pace once again. Leaving the river did however mean we left the cooling river water. It was in sight for most of the afternoon, tempting, teasing. Eventually the trail wound near to the stream once again. At the first opportunity I jumped in fully clothed. The difference in temperature took my breath away but it did the job in keeping me cool. It only took about 20 minutes for my clothes to become bone dry again.
The afternoon felt like it was dragging on. With my phone low on battery I had to turn off my audio book to save battery. It made the remaining few kms into camp feel like a marathon. The incredible views spurred us on however and we made it into camp a little sun damaged but in one piece.
Harper River Camping Area is land owned by the local power company. They maintain the campsite for anyone to use freely. It is the only option for camping before the next town 22km away so it is a space much appreciated by hikers.
In our next installment we navigate our way around the Rakaia and Rangitata Rivers, ‘hazard zones’ as they would be dealt with by the TA.
Thursday 17 January – Tuesday 22 January
Hanmer Springs to Arthur’s Pass (and then to Christchurch)
Day: 93 – 98
Cumulative km’s: 2,140km / 3,000km
So… I’m writing this blog from Christchurch, which is actually nowhere near the official trail. As the trail passes largely through the centre of the South Island, we had pencilled Christchurch in a while back as a possible side trip if we ever felt like a break from walking. As this will most likely be our last stop in a major town for the rest of our time in New Zealand, it was an opportunity too good to pass up.
After almost 100 days on the trail, we felt the time was right to take our first significant break from walking while we replace a few pieces of broken gear and give our feet, knees and ankles a proper rest over a number of consecutive days. Luckily the weather has been less than ideal lately on the trail (as you will read below), so we’re hoping that by the time we rejoin the trail in Arthur’s Pass the dodgy weather will have passed.
Our blog below describes how we came to be in Christchurch after starting the week in Hanmer Springs. While the walk from Boyle River through to Arthur’s Pass was a bit same same in parts and not our favourite part of the trail to date, it ended with a bang as we got our first taste of how quickly the weather can change in New Zealand.
Day 93 – Thursday 17 January, 18km
Hanmer Springs to Hope Halfway Hut
Our mini break in Hanmer Springs had come to an end 😢 After a relaxing day yesterday where we enjoyed the thermal pools, it was back to reality and time to hit the trail again.
Before we got on the road though, we ensured that we made the most of the free wifi a our accommodation for some last minute backing up of photos. When you have a lot of photos, this is not a quick process!
With our bags packed for the next week or so on the trail through to Arthur’s Pass, we headed to a cafe on the main street of Hanmer Springs so that Leigh could finish reviewing and posting photos for the latest blog post. It always takes longer than you think it’s going to take though. Before we knew it, lunchtime was around the corner and we still needed to secure a hitch back out to Boyle River some 50km away before we could even start walking.
Sometimes hitching can be hard, but other times it is ridiculously easy. Today was one of the easier days. Waiting for a ride in the shade of a large tree on the main road of Hanmer Springs, it was no more than 15 minutes before a campervan drove past us, then did a u-turn 100m down the road and started driving back towards where we were standing. The American driver rolled the window down and offered us a seat in the back of the van. There was a catch though, it did not come with seatbelts. He and his wife were on their honeymoon and were driving up towards Nelson, which meant they would be going past Boyle River on their way. Success! After some minor rearranging of luggage and seats, we jumped in the back of the van and were on our way, sans seatbelt.
We reached Boyle River about half an hour later. The sidewards facing bench seat in the van didn’t do either Leigh or myself an favours in terms of managing feelings of motion sickness though, so we were glad to get our feet on solid ground once again.
I still had to collect my food parcel from Boyle River Outdoor Education Centre which we had sent ahead while in Wellington. Conveniently, the lady who manages the food parcels wasn’t around when I went to collect it, which meant we wouldn’t be going anywhere just yet. I ran into a few other frustrated hikers who were also waiting to collect their food parcels. They were told she would be back in about an hour. Bugger, it’s going to be a late start today!
By the time she finally arrived back at the centre it was getting on so I quickly dumped the contents of my food parcel into the top of my pack and strapped the dismantled cardboard box to the outside of my pack (they would only take our rubbish at the outdoor centre if we paid for the privilege). We eventually started walking after 2pm, so had to revise our plans for the day. Instead of getting to Hope Kiwi Lodge, we would now only have enough time to make it to the smaller 6 bunk Hope Halfway Hut.
Walking through a grassy field to begin with, the track soon crossed the highway before meandering across some mostly shallow rivers. In contrast to the rivers we had crossed last week in Nelson Lakes National Park though, there was a funky looking algae/sludge growing in a few on the rivers, which wasn’t the nicest stuff to walk through. Leigh definitely was not a fan.
With the rivers behind us, we climbed up a few small hills for one last look down into the valley before disappearing into beech forest.
The rest of our afternoon was spent in the forest, until we reached the clearing that the hut sat within. We were hoping that we might have the hut to ourselves tonight as it was not a full day’s walking from the road in either direction but, to our surprise, there were already 5 people in the hut and 2 others camping outside. Being close to a river, there were sandflies aplenty so we opted for the tent instead of cramming into the small hut.
When we unpacked the tent, it still looked a bit damp from the last time we used it (which would have been close to two weeks ago now), so it was probably fortuitous for the longevity of the tent that we had an opportunity to dry it out now.
Day 94 – Friday 18 January, 25km
Hope Halfway Hut to Hurunui Hut
As has become a morning ritual when tenting on the South Island, the sandflies were waiting eagerly for us to get up in the morning.
We weren’t up particularly early, so were initially surprised that no one from the hut had left yet. We would later learn that they were actually nursing hangovers after a night on the whiskey, which made a lot more sense.
Hope Kiwi Lodge was only two hours ahead of us, which seemed like it would be a great spot for morning tea.
After walking along the river for a while, we were back into the forest again, where the track was largely the same as the forest walking the day before. At least there were a few muddy sections along the way to keep you focused on where you were putting your feet.
It wasn’t too long before the track dropped down into the valley and along a grassy plain, which made for faster progress towards our morning tea spot.
At one point we heard a loud “crack” reverberate around the valley. My brain recognised the sound as thunder, but it wasn’t overly cloudy so it didn’t make any sense. It wasn’t until I heard the next “crack” shortly after that I realised it was actually the sound of gunfire from a hunter somewhere in the area. They weren’t anywhere near us, but the echo of the sound through the valley was slightly unsettling, particularly as we couldn’t pinpoint the exact direction of the original sound.
We continued along the track, crossing yet another swing bridge before reaching Hope Kiwi Lodge. This hut had a pretty unique layout and we agreed was more house than hut. That probably been one if the surprises with the hut system here, every hut is designed differently so it’s almost impossible to fi d two identical huts. We took refuge inside from the swarming sandflies outside, enjoying our morning tea in peace before heading off towards Hurunui Hut.
The track from Hope Kiwi Lodge was an interesting one. It looked as though someone had driven a ride-on lawnmower through the grassy field. Possibly after too many whiskeys by the look of it. However the track was made, it certainly was effectively, as there was no getting lost in this part of the trail.
Just as we were getting used to the grassy plains, the track took us back into the forest. By this stage, my right shoe was showing some serious wear. It’s probably closer to a sandal than a shoe at this point. I’m really conflicted as they fit my feet better than any other shoe I’ve tried to date but I only bought them in Wellington which means they started falling apart after 4 weeks on the trail. Will need to consider my options in Christchurch.
With the front of my foot rolling out of my shoe with every step, I didn’t particularly enjoy the uneven forest walking today.
The weight of my pack probably didn’t help the situation as I was carrying an exorbitant amount of extra food from our last two sections of trail, which I didn’t eat at the time but will eat at some point in the future. I had something like 10 dinners in my pack while we’d only planned to be on the trail for 5 or 6 days at most. I justified carrying the extra weight to myself as a self-imposed punishment for overestimating my food consumption on the earlier sections.
A huge lake appeared out of nowhere and we were out of the forest. Hip hip hooray! It was great to look at some different scenery for the first time in a few hours. We followed the trail through an adjacent paddock before passing through a more open forest with a heap of storm damage in the form of downed trees. Luckily the track had been re-routed around the biggest obstacles so it didn’t slow our progress too much.
One final paddock crossing (complete with numerous gross boggy ditches to navigate), a swing bridge and a short climb later and we were at Hurunui Hut and drying off our wet feet.
The hut was was a decent size but already busy when we arrived, so we opted to tent again to get our own space. The sandflies were still thick in the air here. People tell us it will get a bit better through some parts of the South Island, so we are really looking forward to that!
Day 95 – Saturday 19 January, 24km
Hurunui Hut to Locke Stream Hut
I was surprised not to wake up to the sound of rain on the tent this morning. The forecast when we left Hanmer Springs was for two good days of weather before rain on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, and it had been pretty much spot on so far.
What we weren’t aware of was the severe weather warning for the weekend that had been released after we left Hanmer Springs and lost our mobile phone reception.
As with yesterday, the constant threat of sandfly attack motivated us to pack up as quickly as possible once we were up and moving.
The walking today wasn’t overly inspiring, particularly after the highs of the last few weeks. Much of the terrain was identical to the past few days, with forest trails and muddy trails making up the majority of the morning.
Leigh took a side trip to a natural hot spring but I completely missed the turn off in my rush to get to Hurunui No 3 Hut for morning tea before the rain hit.
We could see rain in the mountains all around us, but the valley we were walking in stayed dry for the morning at least. We knew this was unlikely to last.
After lunch time was a different story. Once the rain started, it didn’t stop again for the rest of the day. Curse you all knowing weather forecast person!
Heading into this section, we were particularly cognisant of the risk that we could be trapped by rising rivers in heavy rain, as the trail notes had warned that certain rivers could become impassable. Knowing the forecast wasn’t great, we had planned for that exact scenario and were carrying a few days extra food with us for this section of the trail.
We ran into a lovely kiwi guy at the rustic Cameron’s Hut who seemed to know the area quite well and was confident that we wouldn’t have any issues with rivers today as the rain wasn’t too heavy yet. According to him, the rivers in between us and Locke Stream Hut where we were headed later today would need at least 6 hours of heavy rain to become impassable. We thanked him for his advice and let him and the sandflies settle into his depressing home for the night.
We headed off into the long grass which was now dripping with rain at this point. By the time you took half a dozen steps through this sort of grass your legs and shoes would be completely soaked through. You’re basically as wet as you would be if you had walked into a knee deep river. Water squelches out of your socks with every step. The holes in both of our shoes didn’t help us in this regard.
As we started the climb up to Harper’s Pass, the rain seemed to get heavier and the track definitely got more overgrown. Instead of waist high grass, we were now battling overgrown bushes and grass up to our heads in places. The track was clearly one that does not receive a lot of love these days.
We were told that the views from the top of Harper’s Pass were stunning, but there would be no views for us today. We’ve been incredibly lucky with the weather on all of our mountain sections to date, but our luck today had deserted us. The only thing we could see from the top of the pass was the inside of a rain cloud. With nothing to look at, we continued down the other side of the pass towards Locke Stream Hut.
It was a fairly steep descent down to the river trail on the other side of Harpers Pass, so we took our time on the wet scree even though it was counterintuitive to us wanting to get to the hut as quickly as possible to get out of the rain and into some dry clothes.
Despite having the contend with some washed out sections of trail which had been damaged by the river at another time, the trail was unexpectedly quick to Locke Stream Hut.
Upon arrival, we were welcomed by two other hikers who were already inside, Christian from Germany who we had met for the first time at Hurunui Hut the day before and John, a seasoned thru-hiker from Australia that we met back on the Queen Charlotte Track but had not seen since leaving Havelock on New Years Eve.
We quickly located our dry clothes from within our packs and hung all of our wet clothes and rain gear to dry (although we weren’t overly hopeful that this would be possible with the forecasted rain). Leigh’s bag was soaked through but her clothes managed to stay dry luckiky.
We were especially grateful to be in a hut tonight. The thought of having to pitch the tent in the pouring rain while wearing soaking wet clothes did not sound like much fun.
John mentioned that people had commented about there being rats in this hut, so we’ll need to be a bit more careful with our food tonight. Most likely hanging it up somewhere as a mild deterrent.
We spent the rest of the night chatting to John and Christian, picking John’s brain about the conditions for tomorrow (as he had lived nearby in Christchurch for 12 years and was pretty familiar with all the trails in the Arthur’s Pass area) and, in particular, the likelihood of the rivers blocking our progress.
As we went to bed, the sound of the river pumping 20m from the front of the hut was ever present. We didn’t have high hopes for being able to get to Arthur’s Pass tomorrow.
Day 96 – Sunday 20 January, 22km
Locke Stream Hut to Arthur’s Pass
Based on the forecasts and John’s advice, we had decided to do Goat Pass as a day trip. This would mean that we would get off the trail today and hitch into Arthur’s Pass before looping back the following day to do Deception River and Goat Pass with lighter daypacks.
It was gloomy outside but the rain had unexpectedly stopped falling. The river out the front of the hut also seemed to have calmed so all signs were pointing in the right direction.
I had mentally prepared myself for the fact that we might not be able to leave the hut today, so the improvement in the weather caught me by surprise. Everyone except John was up by 8am but no one was in a rush to leave as I think everyone was waiting to get John’s final thoughts on whether we were likely to be caught out by the rivers today. The downside of leaving first was that you might have to turn around and walk all the back to the hut if you reached a point where the river was impassable.
All it took was one look at the river once John was up and he confirmed that we would be able to cross the rivers today. With our minds now at ease, we finished packing and were on our way, hoping to make it as far as possible before the weather turned again. A quick check of our food bags confirmed that we had not received any visitors of the rodent variety overnight.
Once on the trail, our feet were wet immediately as we waded through ankle deep puddles along the track. Our first river crossing came not long after and they kept on coming for the rest of the day, with the difficulty increasing with each crossing as more water entered the river as we moved further downstream.
To start with, the river crossings of the Taramakau were relatively straightforward – fast moving water but only shin height and clear enough to see through the water to where you were putting your feet.
Things got interesting though once we reached the Otehake River though. The river was moving as fast as the Taramakau but the water was thick with rock flour (basically silt which was washed off rocks upstream by the rising water levels yesterday). This meant there was no real way to judge the depth of the river other than by getting in it.
We spent some time watching the river in an attempt to pick the best possible place to cross. We eventually decided on a spot further upstream where the channel was wider and the water moved slightly slower. As it turned out, the water was only around knee height, which is a manageable height for crossing, but you could still feel the force of the river pushing against you.
After crossing three separate channels of the Otehake, we thought the rest of the day would be fairly straightforward. It wasn’t until we reached a section of the track that had been washed away by the river with no clear alternative that things got tricky.
The river to the right was murky, deep and fast flowing and didn’t look safe to enter. There was the possibility of a long bush bash over a hill but the prospect of making our own track up a hill was not overly appealing. We opted instead to hug the cliff face, walking in ankle deep water to see what was around the corner before making a decision. As it turned out, there was a slightly better bush bashed track just above the water level of the river. We made our way along the track as quickly as possible, not wanting to hang around in there in case the river decided reclaim any more of the narrow track.
With that excitement behind us, we continued along more of a vehicle track than a trail towards our exit point, which made for easy but wet walking with all the puddles. Our last challenge for the day would be crossing the Otira River.
The Otira was basically the bigger sister of the Otehake which we had crossed early in the day. It was just as murky and just as powerful, only twice the width.
Our first reaction was that we wouldn’t be able to cross it and would have to double back to take a different track which didn’t involve a river crossing. We took our time though to observe the flowing water and pick out some spots that looked like they might be a bit shallower. Ultimately it was a 50/50 gamble though.
We decided to attempt the crossing after much contemplation. If the water was too strong or got up to waist height, we would turn around. We tip-toed our way into the river, feeling our way through the murky water with our feet and using a hiking pole each for extra stability. The hiking poles bounced around in the water like pogo sticks as the force of the rushing water pushed against them. The water got as high as mid thigh height before it started to shallow up again. In hindsight it was right at the edge of what we would be comfortable crossing, so we were glad that no more rain had fallen up to that point as we would not have been able to cross otherwise.
With rain clouds gathering above us, we hightailed it out of the river and across a paddock to the main road. Arthur’s Pass was still 20km or so away and we were really hoping we could hitch rather than walk.
No more than 15 minutes had gone by when a station wagon pulled up. The shirtless driver turned out to be a rock climber from Israel who was on his way to do some climbing at Castle Hill. After rearranging his mattress at the back of the car and putting the seat back in place, we jumped in just as the rain started to fall.
Despite the rain, the mountains we drove by on the way into Arthur’s Pass were stunning and I had to wonder why the TA didn’t take any of them in. Still, we hear Goat Pass is nice, so I’ll reserve judgement though until we’ve done that part of the trail.
Dropping us in town as his fuel indicator light blared away, we managed to book the last two available beds in the YHA in town. It’s been amazing how often things have just worked out for us on this trip!
We braved the rain to head across to the Wobbly Kea for pizza and beer before turning in for the night.
Day 97 – Monday 21 January, 0km
Arthur’s Pass (rest day)
Waking to dodgy weather outside from the comfort of the YHA, we checked the latest weather forecast to see whether there was any chance of us either hiking to Goat Pass on a day trip or doing an unrelated day walk from Arthur’s Pass. It didn’t look promising.
We decided to head across to the DOC office in Arthur’s Pass to confirm our suspicions about the weather. Not long after we walked in we heard someone behind the counter talking to someone on the phone about the Goat Pass trail. Apparently the river that the trail runs through would definitely be in flood, as would many of the other tracks in the area after the rain yesterday afternoon and evening. There was also a gale force wind warning in place which would prevent us from doing any other day walks around Arthur’s Pass. Best case scenario was that the weather might clear in 4 or 5 days.
With that information at hand, we decided to bring forward our plans to head into Christchurch to wait out the incoming bad weather. The plan is to return to Arthur’s Pass once things improve.
With our itinerary sorted for the next few days, we headed across to one of the only other buildings in town, the general store & cafe, for an overpriced and underwhelming breakfast. Just as we finished eating, our fellow thru-hiker John walked in and joined us for a debrief on how we went with the river crossings the day before.
While we were chatting away, a Kea landed on the table outside and the tourists swarmed around with their cameras to take photos of the rare bird. The whole thing was pretty ridiculous considering that people feeding the birds are the main reason why you’re now more likely to find one hanging out at the cafe rather than in the mountains these days.
We spent the rest of the day backing up photos and planning for our time in Christchurch.
Day 98 – Tuesday 22 January, 0km
Arthur’s Pass to Christchurch (travel day)
Nothing much to report today. We left the arctic conditions of Arthur’s Pass behind for sunny Christchurch. Temperature differential… About 25 degrees.
This will be our home for the best part of the next week, until we return to Arthur’s Pass.
Thursday 10 January – Wednesday 16 January
St Arnaud to Hanmer Springs
Day: 86 – 92
Cumulative Km’s: 2,051km / 3,000km
After a short break in St Arnaud we set back out into the wilderness with rested legs and full bellies. Entering the Nelson Lakes National Park, we tackled two of the highest passes on the trail, Travers Saddle at 1,787m and the infamously steep Waiau Pass at 1,870m. In two consecutive days we would climb and descend over 1,000m each day. The tramping was tough and the line between hiking and mountaineering became somewhat blurred at times but the scenery was magical. It was one of our favorite sections of trail to date and we can’t wait to share it with you.
Day 86 – Thursday 10 January, 30km
St Arnaud to Upper Travers Hut
Last night ended up being a late one, catching up on Instagram posts before we were once again into the wilderness and away from the wifi. It meant I really didn’t want to get up when the alarm went off at 5am. It was super tempting to sleep in and have a lazy morning at the lodge breakfast buffet but we had a trail to walk so we got up and walking is what we did.
Conveniently, the trail started around the corner from the Alpine lodge where we were staying. It was a pretty trail running along a stream, delivering us at Kerr Bay on the banks of Lake Rotoiti. The low hanging clouds and fog on the lake gave it a mystical feel. We stopped briefly at the jetty to take in the beauty. I only realised, when I got up that the jetty was covered in duck poop. Being the first day into a week long stretch I would be carrying that duck poop with me for a while. The insta worthy photo was more than worth it though.
The legs are always stiff to get moving after a full rest day. Despite the nearly flat gradient it felt like a sluggish start on the trail this morning.
We took the lakehead track around Rotoiti. It is a pretty beech tree lined trail hugging the lakes edge. We had glimpses of the lake as the foliage opened up every now and again.
It was forecast to rain so I had packed my rain gear on the top of my pack. It was only a couple of hours into the morning before I needed to put it on.
After Adam was stung by a wasp in the Richmond Ranges he has developed what you might call an extreme cautiousness to wasps. They were buzzing over head as we made our way along the trail so he was a little on edge. At one point I found him frozen mid step on the track. I couldn’t work out what was wrong. ‘Wasp’ he said, and waited for it to move before continuing.
Not long before we reached Lakehead Hut we passed the Lakehead jetty. Many black swan were swimming about the jetty. I stopped and had a moment to admire them. Amongst the magnificent swan was one plain duck. I had to give the duck props. It was cruising about the swans, chilled as could be as if it had no concept of feeling out of place. It made me think that most humans could do with a little bit of this ducks attitude to life.
We arrived at Lakehead Hut and I headed straight for the toilet. Unbeknownst to me, the cubicle I selected was occupied and it’s occupant had not locked the door. As I flung open the door we both got a great shock. I closed the door as quickly as I had opened it. It was a little awkward when we walked into the hut for our lunch break and the guy who I’d sprung on the loo was sitting at the table. There were a bunch of people in the hut who had stayed the night prior and due to the rain, hadn’t moved on yet. They weren’t very welcoming when we joined them at the table for lunch. Adam suspected old mate had told his friends about my springing him on the toilet.
After a solid lunch break we hesitantly put our rain gear back on and headed out on the trail. On account of the weather we hadn’t yet decided whether we would be spending the night at John Tait Hut or moving further up the mountain to Upper Travers Hut. We were hoping to make it to Upper Travers so we could tackle the saddle crossing tomorrow on fresh legs but there was a thunderstorm forecast for the afternoon so we decided to play it by ear.
The walk to John Tait Hut was the most enjoyable walking of the day. We walked along the valley floor with high mountains flanking us on either side, low cloud covering their tops.
The valley was thick with long golden grass. It was a stunning setting. The track took us in and out of the tree line, the forest as beautiful as the valley. It looked like the home of elves and fairies, everything dripping in green moss.
We walked along the Travers River for most of the afternoon, I’m not sure whether it was a result of the rain but the river was flowing fast. The sound of the river coupled with the sound of bird song throughout the forest reminded me of one of those therapeutic nature sound CDs you buy from holistic living stores. It was serene.
As with all kiwi trails there was plenty of roots underfoot and whilst distracted by a beautiful little finch I tripped and fell hard on my right knee, directly onto some rocks. I was super hungry at the time which didn’t help concentration levels. I needed a little breather on the forest floor before assessing that everything felt intact and I could get up and continue walking. With a couple of big climbs ahead of us over the next couple of days I hoped I hadn’t done any damage.
We crossed a stream via a bridge before arriving at John Tait Hut. It was beautiful, I felt like I was in an edition of National Geographic, a stunning moss covered waterfall fed into a stream running under the bridge.
We arrived at John Tait Hut at around 4pm. The weather had eased somewhat and it didn’t look like there was a thunderstorm on the horizon so we decided to have an early dinner at the hut before moving on. I was starving and don’t think I could have walked before eating. The same thing happened to me on the last section through the Richmond Ranges. After a few days on town food with a full stomach it takes me a couple of days to get used to eating trail food again without feeling hungry. The calories are there, I am definitely eating enough, it is simply just different food that doesn’t fill the stomach as well as wholefoods do.
On full tummies we started the walk to Upper Travers Hut. I didn’t want to arrive at the hut too late because, as we discovered during the day it is a busy track with many route options so I expected the hut to be near capacity. Ontop of this, high winds had been forecast for the day so there was a chance that a backlog of people who started their hike yesterday would have held over a day.
I felt good after the meal, put my headphones in and we made good timing. The legs were well and truly warmed up afer the walking we had done earlier that day. The trail to Upper Travers Hut again followed the river under a spectacular canopy of beech trees.
We took a short side track down to Upper Travers falls. The climb down to the falls was steep but once we made it down there I was happy we had put in the effort. The falls were pumping, a tremendous amount of water was gushing into a sparkling blue pool at the bottom.
From the falls we started to climb. We had about 500m to climb to the hut but it was gradual and didn’t feel like a hard slog.
It was enjoyable walking by the river. As we grew higher in elevation we began to pop out above the tree line with glimpses of the spectacular mountains surrounding us. It was picturesque. Some of the mountains were still decorated with snow, the final remnants of winter.
The final climb to the hut was the steepest part of the day. It was an incredible scene ahead of us as we climbed up into the valley. The hut sat at the back of the valley, in the foreground was a spectacular golden grass medow with a stream running through this middle. The sream was flanked with apline flowers and the valley was encircled by grand mountains. It was breathtaking. It couldn’t be more beautiful.
It was 7.30pm by the time we made it to the hut. As suspected it was quite busy. It was meant to be a 28 bunk hut and while there may have been 28 mattress in the hut there was not room in the bunks for that many mats. The hut was split into 3 rooms, 2 sleeping areas with 1 combined eating and cooking area. Adam and I managed to each squeeze a space in separate rooms. I was lucky enough to get a matress next to a man with sleep apnea whose snoring could not be drowned out, even with my “snoarbuster” ear plugs. Adam got a space in the room with the majority of the other TA hikers. He had to blow up his air mat and squeeze it inbetween two people, the bunk mattress being too big for the space. I’m not quite certain which of us had it worse.
Day 87 – Friday 11 January, 16km
Upper Travers Hut to Blue Lake Hut
As predicted, Mr Sleep Apnea snored all night. During the night I was hoping he would eventually choke himself out but he was still snoring as loud as ever come first light.
All of the TA hikers (including Adam) were sleeping in the other room but I could hear them moving around at 5am. I gave up sleeping at 5.30am and packed up my gear. I was the first one up in my room and did not feel the least bit guilty of waking up Mr. Sleep Apnea sleeping next to me. He huffed and stirred as I stuffed my sleeping bag back into it’s dry sac.
We were off at 7am for the big climb up to Travers Saddle. It was beautiful hiking through golden grasses to the valley.
The views from the valley were so spectacular it felt like we were hiking through a painting. After taking in the views we started the steep climb to the saddle.
The trail took us over a crystal clear alpine waterfall where we topped up water bottles and refreshed ourselves, drinking straight from the stream with mountains in the background. We had a snack break before continuing on.
We made the final push up to the saddle. The winds picked up the higher we climbed and as we moved closer to the top of the saddle the temperature dropped. We put on our rain jackets to cut the wind and I put my buff over my ears to stop them aching from the chill.
We finally made it to the top of the saddle, the climb up not as challenging as expected. The views were magnificent. It was a good place to be at 8am on a Friday morning. I felt grateful to be out here on the trail, enjoying the experience.
Having made it to the saddle we now had to tackle the descent. It is the most challenging part of climbing any mountain for me.
It was a slow, steep and slightly painful 3km descent to the valley floor. I had several pep talks with my legs and knees along the way. With some encouragement my body and I made it down in one piece.
It was another few kms of pretty riverside walking before we made it to the hut. I was so hungry by the time we got there I thought I was going to feint. I ended up eating half of my spare lunch portion as well as that days lunch portion because I was so hungry. I had a spare day’s lunch after we commited to walking this section in 5 days rather than 6. There would be no turning back on our renewed time frame now.
We had a good break for lunch, chatting to one of our fellow hikers, Yves. With full stomachs we hit the trail with 7km and 3 hours ahead of us to Blue lake Hut.
Immediately after leaving the hut we crossed the river via a long swing bridge.
It was a steady uphill climb to Blue Lake, tiring but pretty walking. We stayed along the river for most of the afternoon, enjoying its roaring sound and the ability to stop for a drink any time we felt like it.
The bird life of trail has been spectacular. Some species are shy, others not so much. At one point on the track a little grey bird bounded up to me expectantly. Im not sure if it was after food or it was simply inquisitive but it surely was sweet.
The higher we climbed the more spectacular our views became until we popped out from the trees with full views of the mountains ahead of us.
We had a little bit of rock scrambling and scree sidling to do before we were once again on a formed track. We had a break by the river on this rocky section. Just as we were about to get up and start walking again a HUGE dragonfly landed on the brim of Adam’s hat. It let me take a quick snap before promptly flying off again.
With all of the rock and scree underfoot it was easy lose your footing. At one point I slid on a small rock perched ontop a larger rock, falling down a small ledge and landing clean on my bum on yet again another rock. It was painful and I’m pretty sure its going to bruise but as Adam said, better the butt than the knee!
We even had the luxury of boardwalk in some sections, it led us over some spectacularly clear swamplands. The clearest and prettiest I have ever seen.
After one final short but steep push the hut came into view. Our home for the night would be Blue Lake Hut. I was worried it was going to be as busy as the previous night but there ended up being only 12 people in the end. I was glad to not have to squish in for a bed or deal with 28 people chatting away all night. Blue lake even had 2 volunteer hut wardens. They briefed us on Blue Lake (more to come on that tomorrow) and checked our hut passes. They were very patient when we all asked them lots of questions about being a hut warden. How they get their food, whether they get choppered in or walk in, how long they are volunteering for…
Tomorrow we have ahead of us another infamous section of the TA, Waiau Pass. Just looking at the elevation profile is enough to scare me with a 45 degree decline on the descent it looks like the profile of a witches hat. A very tall witches hat.
Day 88 – Saturday 12 January, 16km
Blue Lake Hut to Waiau Hut
After thinking I’d escaped him, the sleep apnea clinic patient from Upper Travers Hut, along with a group of about 6 others turned up at around 9pm last night. They were up late cooking and talking, completely inconsiderate to everyone trying to sleep. As luck would have it, the heavy snorer chose the bunk adjacent to mine. I couldn’t believe it. He had followed me here and now I was stuck sleeping right by him again. The only saving grace, there was a thin wall separating our heads this time.
I had to get up in the night to pee. The stars were brilliant and without a cloud in the sky I could see milkyway. It was worth braving the cold for.
Needless to say it was a restless nights sleep. The small group of TA hikers we had been moving along with over the last few days were all up at 5.30am. It wasn’t until 6am when their eating breakfast and moving around woke me that I woke up for the final time. We reluctantly got up, packed and ate breakfast.
First up for the morning was a short side trip to the Blue Lake. It holds the clearest known water in the world with 70 to 80 meters visibility! We were too lazy to walk down to see it last night and I think this was a disservice to ourselves and the lake because it was in shade when we set out eyes on it this morning, the sun still hiding behind the mountains.
As we started our climb and got a view of the lake from above it its colour and clarity became more apparent.
We were about 500m from the hut when a fellow TA hiker, Yves came hurtling through the grass, along the track towards us. He had left something at the hut. We wished him luck and kept moving forward. I mentioned to Adam that it was a hazard of staying in a crowded hut, there is so much stuff everywhere that you are liable to leave something behind. At that moment I began running through a mental checklist of my gear. I had too left something behind! My empty peanut butter jar that I use for cold soaking my morning oats, my silicone coffee mug and my beloved bamboo spoon! I had taken them outside to wash them amd then left them on the sink thinking I would pick them up on my way back from the toilet. I completely forgot to pick them up on my way back from the toilet! If we were further along the trail I probably would have sacrificed them but we were close enough for me to throw off my pack and run back to the hut to pick them up. I didn’t want to make the same mistake twice so I quickly went into the hut to check nothing else had been left behind. Everyone else (all of the non TA hikers) were still as we had left them, in bed.
Back on track the Waiau Pass Route took us through some forest, climbing gently as we trekked. Before we knew it we were out of the tree line on traversing a scree slope.
Our hut wardens from the night prior had told us there were 2 routes to take here. The bottom route would take you down towards the lake and involve some scrambling over a rocky outcrop. The top route, which we were suggested to take, saw us climbing a scree slope. We could see Yves in the distance tackling the rocky outcrop and I was sure he had picked the wrong route so I led us up the scree slope.
The route was good as far as scree is concerned, thick and worn in, just like climbing a big staircase. I turned around to Adam to tell him this thought but he disagreed with me.
We toped out the scree slope and sidled around the mountain where the two routes converged. From here we would work our way into the valley for the most spectacular views of lake constance.
The trail dropped down into the valley and as the views opened up below us I was moved with emotion at how beautiful everything around me was. The golden grass field filled with wildflowers we were standing in, the incredibly blue Lake Constance below us and the grand mountains surrounding the entire valley with their light dusting of snow, the last remaining touches of winter sitting on their peaks.
Last night, whilst chatting to the hut wardens they asked what our favorite part of the TA was. I found it hard to answer at the time but thought about it again whilst walking through that valley and around Lake constance. I had the realization that emotion is my marker.
When natural beauty can move you to tears of pure joy it is a clear sign that it must be a special place. I still can not say that I have one favorite section of trail so far, that would be impossible to answer, like choosing a favorite book. How do you choose only one when they are all so beautifully individual and meaningful to you in different ways? I will say that so far on the trail there have been 3 sections which have brought me to tears – The Tararua Ranges, Walking the Mangetapopo Track before first light and watching the sun rise over Ngauruhoe before walking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and now here, the Waiau Pass Route over Lake Constance.
With a few moments of reflection I regained control of all of the emotion and we descended onto Lake Constance, walking around the perimeter to its head.
From our vantage point back up on the trail we had seen a few people walking around the head of the lake. I had assumed it was the group of TA hikers who we had been moving along with us over the previous few days but when we got closer it was a different group entirely. An American family with their 3 kids. It looked like they had been camping down by the lake and were in the final throws of packing up camp. It was around 10am by the time we got there. We had a chat with the father of the family. They had made the decision not to go any further on the Waiau Pass Route dute to their own capabilities and in the interest of safety. The father was clearly working through this decision, almost justifying it to us through our conversation. He was very adamant that they must connect all of their steps on the South Island and sounded unsure as to how they would do that now, asking if we knew any alternative routes.
I understand why they made the decision not to walk the pass, a safety call. It would be good if more people were honest about their abilities like this guy, it would probably result in fewer search and rescue missions. What did upset me though was his negative comments about the trail, blaming DOC for not having chosen an easier route or having graded the trail better, not made it easier for hikers. I was keen to get started on tackling the pass myself and didn’t care to get into a long winded discussion with the guy so I made comment about DOC being under resourced. What I actually thought was if this path was easy, a boardwalk like gradient easily accessable to the masses then there would be hoardes of tourists moving through here every day. It would be Tongariro reborn. These mountains would loose their magic, Blue Lake and Lake Constance would be spoiled. These mountains are special. They deserve to retain their magic, to only share it with those prepared to push themselves, those prepared to put in the sweat, perserverance and love that those mountains deserve in return.
After escaping a potentially lengthy discussion with American Dad we pushed forward to begin our climb up the pass. It was short lived before a minor disagreement about the location of our final water source before we started the climb. Per the map it looked like we had passed the last available water source before the climb and we were standing in a dry river bed so we made the decision to back track 500m to the last stream. There is nothing I dislike more than backtracking unnecessarily and I had now done it twice in one day. I wasn’t happy because I wanted to keep walking further ahead. I could see water coming off the mountain up ahead and thought there must be water up there. Crankily we went back, got water and restarted our walk. Not more than 100m ahead there was a flowing stream that we needed to cross. I had a short burst of anger before working through it all resolving to stick to my guns and back myself in the future. I also came to the conclusion that if that was the worst decision we had made the trail, one of safety, then we aren’t doing too badly.
My flurry of anger put to bed, we began our climb up the infamous Waiau Pass. It appeared a ridiculous route standing at the valley floor looking up but as we got closer my mood changed from fear to excitement of the challenge as we moved closer to the start of the ascent.
Many people speak of having life changing transformations as a result of thru hiking. I can’t say that has happened to me but the TA has taught me to love the challenge of climbing a high mountain, to not fear it but embrace the panting and sweating and hard work.
We are all capable of so much more than we think we are. The TA has made me realise this of myself. There was a quote hanging in the ladies bathrooms at the St Arnaud Alpine Lodge that was quite fitting, “if we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.” Thomas A. Edison.
The climb up the pass was long and slow but this simply gave us more time to take in the spectacular views over the valley and Lake Constance.
Back in the Richmond Ranges I had met a couple hiking the TA North bound (the opppsite direction to us). They felt Waiau Pass not worth effort required to go over it. Saying all you got were views of bald mountains. They did mention that they ‘weren’t mountain people’ but having walked this section of trail I was flabbergasted as to how they drew this conclusion. I guess you could look at the mountains and say that, they are infact bald but being here, among them there is truly something magical about these ‘bald mountains’. One of the most beautiful views I have seen.
When the climb leveled out we had a little break. I took some time to enjoy the view and write down my thoughts for the mornings so they didn’t slip my mind when I sat down to write in the evening.
We pushed on upwards, a final 500m to climb. Adam was ahead of me, he had dropped out of sight when he went over the top. I went over the top after him but still couldn’t see him. I was confused because I didn’t think he could have walked out of view in that short amount of time. All of a sudden Adam popped up from behind a rock with a snowball! There were small patches of snow still on top of the mountain. A novelty for us Aussies rarely seeing snow.
After mucking around in the snow we began to make our way down. It was the part of the pass I was least looking forward to. To our surprise the way down did not involve any scree. It was so much better than what I was anticipating. As enjoyable as the climb up, we had some down climbing over superbly grippy rock which was much more friendly than the scree coming down Mount Rintoul. It felt like a fun climbing adventure. Unlike Rintoul I didn’t feel fearful of loosing my life.
We held off having lunch until we reached flat ground once again. It was worth the wait. My words can not do the beauty of the place justice. A flat rock along a fresh mountain water stream. It felt like we were in a painting or a heavily photo stopped nat geo image.
The water was icy cold, fresh snow melt straight from the mountains. Submerging our feet felt like an ice bath. We said unheard apologies to hikers downstream who may have been questioning why the water had a slight hint of wet dog and fungal infection.
We didn’t want to leave our blissful lunch spot. I could have spent days camped by the river.
Every time I looked up into the mountains I noticed something new, another waterfall of glacial snow melt, a hanging lake, new colours in the rock as the sun moved across the valley.
We reluctantly moved on from our blissful campsite to take on the second leg of our journey for today.
The trail continued along the river, crossing back and forth dropping down along the valley. We gave up filtering water after entering the mountains of the South Island. The water is so clear it feels like it must be cleaner than tap water, if that is possible.
As we left the valley the river dropped steeply through the most clear and spectacular waterfall I have seen. The water was so clear it looked blue. There was so much beauty in such a small space of time I had to say ‘stop it New Zealand!’
For the rest of the afternoon we walked along the river. It was mostly easy walking with some sidling over scree and rock. It was somewhat a relief after the steep walking of the morning.
As we made our way to the hut we grossed a golden grassed medow. The hut looked so quaint as we moved towards it.
Unfortunately, when we arrived the hut was full. It was a 6 bed hut with 5 people already in it. Already knowing the majority of the people in there Adam and I shared a bunk. Smaller than a single bed it is needles to say that it was a restless nights sleep.
Day 89 – Sunday 13 January, 26km
Waiau Hut to Anne Hut
It was an easy walk to Anne’s Hut, 26km of flat riverbank trail through the valley. The views were spectacular, flanked by mountains in all directions, golden grass and wildflowers underfoot. The valley was so serene that when I stopped for a mid morning wee break I didn’t think to scan around for other people. I checked infront and behind me for other hikers and dropped my pants. It wasn’t until I was startled by the sound of a closing car door that I though to look across the river to my left. On the opposite side of the bank was a group of people car camping out of a 4wd. I was shocked and mortified all at the same time. hoping the distance across the river was great enough for them not to have seen me, I whipped my pants back up, threw my pack on and legged it down the trail to find a more appropriate location.
The day was somewhat of a milestone, we passed the 2,00km mark of our journey. Given the trail is a little less than 3,000km this year due to the Northland forest closures it means we are more than 1/3 of our way through the trail. The last 3 month’s have flown past, with so much beautiful hiking ahead of us on the South Island I can only imagine that we will be in Bluff in no time.
We stopped for lunch in the middle of the valley on the outskirts of a private homestead. It was something out of a movie set with horses roaming in open paddocks and snow capped mountains framing the backdrop. I imagined how fantastic a life out on this ranch would be, coming through those gates amd seeing that incredible scene infront of you.
Our hut for the evening was Anne Hut, with a setting not too dissimilar from the homestead, we crossed the river on a rusty old footbridge to reach it. Located at the end of an expansive paddock it was a welcome sight to walk towards.
We felt fortunate to have this hut available to us, it opened in 2017, large with 20 bunks split in 2 separate sleeping areas and a large kitchen with 2 long bench tables so tonight, everyone would have a seat for dinner.
Day 90 – Monday 14 January, 16km
Anne Hut to Boyle Flat Hut
Today was an unexpectedly short day. We were planning to walk all the way to Boyle River and potentially try to hitch into Hanmer Springs where we were planning on staying a few nights to relax.
After being woken at 5am by our regular band of alarm clocks we started the day walking in rain. It was only a light sprinkle, I didn’t even bother with rain pants. I probably should have put them on though, the wet grass ended up soaking me to my knees. The walking was again easy, like yesterday, fairly flat and ambling along the river.
We had one small climb, up and over Anne Saddle. The route took us back into the forest and through the trees for the climb. It was a few hundred meters but with all the climbing we have been doing over the past few days it felt easy.
We were then directed back out along the river where we made our way to Boyle Flat Hut. Along the way we met 2 DOC workers who were building boardwalks in the area. I was very appreciative of the work they had been doing. We had a good chat, I left them after not too long and Adam I continued to the hut.
When we arrived at Boyle Flat Hut, the group we hutted with last night, along with a slightly sketchy kiwi guy were inside. The others had left an hour or so before us that morning so we expected them to be long gone. They must have been taking their time on account of the rain. There was a fire going which presumably was a remnant of the night prior. We enjoyed the warmth of the fire as the rain started to fall even heavier. On first appearances we thought the ‘something not quite right with that guy’ Kiwi was staying the night again so we didn’t question packing up and moving on after lunch. Just as I had tied my boots and slipped on my gloves, ready to embrace the rain the kiwi guy headed out on the trail, following along after a pretty young french girl. Well in that case we thought, why not stay the night. The hut should be quiet, most people wouldn’t have such a short trail day and stay here and inexplicably, the sketchy kiwi guy had left the fire burning (with the door open). It was a great idea! I stoked the fire, took off my freezing wet socks and was just changing out of my wet pants into my thermals when Adam said, “there are 2 people coming”.
An older German couple made their way inside, boots on trailing grass and dripping water on the floor. People’s lack of respect for huts is really starting to bug me. The ones that make a mess and wear their boots inside are never the ones to sweep, flip up their mats or wipe down the benches. But rest assured they would be the first ones to complain about mouldy mats or pests or filth. After the German couple settled into their third helping of lunch, Mr Sleep Apnea, came bumbling up to the hut, dripping wet. I couldn’t believe it. He put his pack down by a bunk, making himself at home for the night.
Despite the crowd we decided to stay on. It was a beautiful relaxing afternoon sitting on the window seat looking out over the valley whilst the rain filled the water tanks, polishing off our spare snacks. The German couple left after lunch and Mr Sleep Apnea remained unexpectedly quiet throughout the evening so we had a good nights sleep in the end.
Day 91 – Tuesday 15 January, 13km
Boyle Flat Hut to Boyle River
After a relaxing afternoon it was back on trail this morning to continue our journey into Boyle Village. The rain had slowed and eventually halted overnight so we thankfully had a dry walk into Boyle Village.
After breakfast and a morning coffee we crossed the swing bridge to rejoin the trail. We followed the river over mostly flat trail to Boyle Village where we arrived just prior to lunch.
We had both posted ourselves food parcels from Wellington before we decided to have a day off trail in Hanmer Springs so when we arrived at Boyle River Outdoor Education Centre I opted to collect mine. I knew I have a whole block of rum and raisin chocolate waiting in there for me. It was a smart move because we had over an hour wait time ahead of us before we landed a hitch into Hanmer Springs. Needless to say the rum and raisin did not make it into town.
The couple who picked us up were local dairy farmers on their way into Christchurch. They had initially driven past but then doubled back to get us. There was some rearranging to do to fit us into the car. They were ferrying around an industrial sized roll of black contact film which I was not game enough to ask about. When Chris, the driver asked us whether we had any problems hitchhiking in Northland I felt a little worried, he had asked us whether anyone had tried to drive off with our bags in the boot of their car before. Seeing as my pack was currently in the boot of their car I got a little nervous but they were lovely people who went out of their way to driver us directly into Hanmer Springs. They even gave Adam a fresh chicken sandwich!
After a brief visit to the Isite we got some info on the town and booked a hotel on a whim. There was nothing more to do than enjoy a relaxing evening eating burgers at the local pub.
Day 92 – Wednesday 16 January, 0km
A visit to Hanmer Springs wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the thermal pools so today was a day reserved for relaxing.
We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before hit the grocery store to top up on food items. After lunch we easily slipped into the role of tourists, taking the Concial Hill walk for views over the town and surrounding farm land.
We had been clued in that the best time to visit the thermal pools would be in the evening once all of the kids were sufficiently dehydrated and safety home in bed. The complex was much like any large aquatic complex, we passed through large glass doors which led us past large signs warning us not to put our head under water and informing us that we must be wearing appropriate swim wear to enter. As we are travelling light on clothing, ‘appropriate swimwear’ for me consisted of my undies sports bra and for Adam, his hiking shorts. I wasn’t sure what to expect from my thermal pool experience, when we got inside all of the pools were labelled with their temperature and what minerals they contained. We started in the cooler pool at 37 degrees before working our way up to the panic enducing 42 degree sulphur pools. Our favorite pools were the aquatherapy pools which contained various bubbles and jets. It was all very therapeutic, the warm, mineral infused water very incredibly soothing for our overused legs. It was a great way to end our rest day. Tomorrow we plan to hitch back to Boyle Village, picking up the trail where we left it and head towards Arthur’s Pass.
Thursday 3 January – Wednesday 9 January
Richmond Alpine Track – Browning Hut to St Arnaud
Day: 79 – 85
Cumulative km’s: 1,935km / 3,000km
Welcome to our second instalment from the Richmond Ranges!
As Leigh mentioned in the last post, the Richmond Ranges were definitely a step up in difficulty compared to anything we’ve run into on the trail to date. Whether it was the consistently scorching hot weather, the unrelenting steep mountain terrain, the goat tracks parading as an official ‘route’, or having to dodge agitated wasps, the Richmond Ranges was by far the closest we’ve come to real danger on the trail. That may well be a bit dramatic, but it certainly was the most challenging and diverse section of the trail to date. For all its challenges though, it was an absolutely stunning part of the trail that we both enjoyed immensely.
We’ve since heard that this is considered by some to be the most demanding section of the entire Te Araroa trail, so we’re feeling pretty good about the fact that we were able to get through it relatively unscathed. Our shoes weren’t so lucky though and will be carrying a few battle scars into the Waiua Pass section coming up next.
Day 79 – Thursday 3 January, 14km
Browning Hut to Slaty Hut
We made the decision to leave the tent fly open last night as it wasn’t too cold and it seems to help with reducing the number of sandflies stuck inside the rain fly of the tent, waiting eagerly to attack us on our departure from the safety of the inner tent. We promptly regretted that decision by the morning when we awoke to find the rain fly completely drenched in condensation. Must have been the fact that we were camped close to a river. Won’t make that mistake again.
After a poor attempt to dry some of the condensation from the tent, we packed up and were ready to leave by about 8am. We were conscious that the forecast was for high temperatures this week (up to 30 degrees some days) and we wanted to try and avoid walking in the hottest part of the day if possible. All that went out the window once we got chatting to the two ladies who had stayed in the hut opposite our campsite last night.
From travel and adventures to family and jobs, we chatted for a good two hours before finally deciding that we needed to start walking around 10am. They even left us with a parting gift of dried kiwi fruits that their mutual friend makes and gives to them for hiking trips.
We had been given a heads up that the track from Browning Hut to Hackett Hut was mostly downhill and pretty quick, which turned out to be accurate as we reached Hackett Hut in under an hour after a few minor river crossings.
This brought us to the end of the Pelorus River Track and to the start of the Richmond Alpine Track. The trail from Hackett Hut to Starveall Hut would be steep in many parts as would see us climb up through the forest to the top of the tree line.
After smashing down a quick lunch at Hackett Hut while being swarmed by sandflies and curious bumblebees, I headed off to catch up with Leigh who had already started walking towards the hut.
Before climbing though, the track would send us across numerous creek crossings. The beautiful setting almost made you forget about the fact that your feet were soaked through.
By the time I caught up with Leigh, she had stopped for lunch on the trail near a small stream. In need of cooling off from the climb, I took the opportunity to dunk my head in the fresh mountain stream. It was so refreshing!
Post-lunch, we continued our climb towards Starveall Hut. The forest landscape was absolutely stunning. Considering we had over 900m to climb, time went surprisingly quickly, and before we knew it, the trees started to thin out and we could sense the hut getting closer and closer.
Eventually we popped out of the trees and the hut was right in front of us. We enjoyed the first real mountain views of the track as we let the sun dry our socks, shoes and tent. We also took the opportunity to air out our soggy feet from the earlier river crossings. Topping up our water bottles at the hut, we headed onwards to our ultimate destination for the night, Slaty Hut.
Getting our first taste of the scree slopes to follow over the coming days, we left Starveall Hut and followed the trail across some exposed scree. With all the loose and unstable rocks under your feet, you really needed to pay a lot of attention to where you were putting your feet.
As we climbed higher, more mountains came into view and the wind picked up a lot. We were literally surrounded by mountains in all directions, which was amazing! We’d never seen anything like this in our lives.
Pulling ourselves away from the stunning views, we dropped back down into the forest before finally climbing over another hill to reach the protected mountainside where Slaty Hut was located. Only a 6 bed hut and with 5 people already inside, we decided to pitch our tent outside again rather than overcrowd the hut.
In addition to the 5 people in the hut, outside the hut was a dog belonging to a family of three that were staying in the hut. The dog was pretty well behaved except for when it stole one of the other hikers shoes from the front porch of the hut and dropped it somewhere in the long grass surrounding the hut.
As walking off the mountain with one shoe would be less than ideal, we joined a search party to scour the mountainside looking for the missing shoe. About 15 minutes later the missing shoe was located and returned to its rightful owner, much to his relief.
Day 80 – Friday 4 January, 13km
Slaty Hut to Rintoul Hut
This would turn out to be one of our toughest day on the trail yet, but we didn’t know it yet.
Pitching the tent last night, we had broken sleep due to strong wind gusts buffeting the tent around all night. We had thought the hillside would be protected but the wind still found a way to get into the area where we were staying. It was kind of surreal to hear the wind gusts swirling around off in the distance then waiting 5 seconds for it the reach the tent and bounce the outer rain fly around all over the place. Luckily everything held in place and no damage was done.
Not long after sunrise the wind had died off and everyone in the hut had gone their separate ways. We made use of the empty hut to enjoy our breakfast… seated and with a bench top to eat on. Small wins.
With breakfast over, we finished packing up and hit the trail again. Climbing up the hillside, we were rewarded with great views back towards the hut. The amazing views continued for most of the morning as the trail wound its way along the ridgeline above the trees. The clear sky’s made sure we got the best view possible!