Day 76 to 78 – Gateway to the Richmond Ranges
Monday 31 December 2018 – Wednesday 2 January 2019
The Pelorus River Track – Havelock to Browning Hut
Day: 76 – 78
Cumulative Km’s: 1,837km / 3,000km
The Pelorus River Track is the gateway to the Richmond Ranges on the TA. The Pelorus River Track, coupled with the Richmond Alpine Track form the longest and toughest section of the TA, the Richmond Ranges.
After resupplying with an extremely heavy 10 days worth of food in Havelock we set out, into the New Zealand Alps for an epic but challenging adventure.
In this post we cover the first half of our adventure in the Richmond Ranges, The Pelorus River Track. The second half, on the Richmond Alpine Track will be with you in a few days time.
Day 76 – Monday 31 December, 10km walk 10km hitch
Havelock Holiday Park to Pelorus Bridge Campground
We were up at 7am, a sleep in by hiker standards, the hiker and biker who were camped next to us the previous night were long gone.
We went up to the main street of Havelock for coffee and breakfast but the bakery hadn’t yet opened. I got a coffee from a little coffee shop instead and we went back down to the holiday park to catch up on blog writing and upload photos. We had purchased a wifi card and wanted to make the most of it before check out at 10am. We sat in the camp kitchen for the remainder of the morning. Busily tapping away on our phones while plugged into the awkwardly located power outlets.
Just after 10am we left the kitchen as it was closing for cleaning and heded back up to the main street of Havelock to try our luck at the bakery once again. Breakfast rolled into morning tea, a frittata and a date scone later and before I knew it it was 2pm.
It was more than time for us to get back on trail, we were hoping to hitch some of the road section of todays walk (if not all of it). The heat of the last couple of days hadn’t moved and it was road walking for the majority of the 20km to Pelorus Bridge.
We positioned ourselves on the road out of town. Streams of holiday makers poured passed us but they weren’t the type who stop to pick up hikers. After 40 minutes we were ready to give up trying when a guy and his dog in a ute pulled up. I never caught the drivers name but his dogs name was Dolly. Dolly didn’t want to relinquish her front seat position to let me in. She growled when I put my hand on the door so I had to wait for her to be told to move before I got in. She eventually moved into the back seat where she also attempted to block Adams entrance to the ute. She was an elderly lady wearing a bow around her neck so all could be fogiven. The guy who picked us up was super lovely. He manages a holiday park in Canvastown, the next town down the road from Havelock. He dropped us 10km down the highway where he was turning off.
We waited at the turn off where Dolly and her master left us, hoping for another hitch but after 30 minutes of plenty of cars with no success we gave up on hitching and decided to walk. It was getting to late and it was New Years Eve so we didn’t want to risk not getting a lift at all.
We continued down the highway for a couple of kms before we could cross the river via Daltons Bridge and rejoin the trail on Daltons Track. Although Daltons is marked on the map as a track, it is not a track but infact a farm.
We spent the next couple of hours walking 6km of farm paddocks. It alternated between cow pasture and crops. We still aren’t sure what the crops were. Maybe sweedes or turnips. The paddocks were mostly good walking but it was hot as hell in the blaring sun and we were struggling under the weight of our packs, heavy with 10 days food supply. At one point I stepped into a hole which looked like solid ground but turned out to be grass covering a hole in the earth. I went down like a sack of potatoes but was lucky enough not to twist my ankle too badly.
We finally made it to the end of Daltons and were glad to join the Peloris Bridge loop track, a well graded easy walking trail. It felt instantly cooler under the shade of the trees. There was a beautiful canopy overhead in which cicadas sang as we walked. I enjoyed every minute of it.
We crossed a beautiful big swing bridge followed by a vehicle bridge into the campground. Unfortunately the camp cafe was shut for the day but the lovely campground manager opened up so we could buy a cold drink. I missed his name but he is a great guy who goes out of his way to help hikers, he even charged our phones for us.
The camp recently opened up a new section of camping for TA hikers and bikers. Situated on the river we had a swim which doubled as a bath and set up camp for the night. Hiker bliss! I was a little bummed that we didnt have any drinks with us for New Years but our packs were just too damn heavy to fit it in and they would have been hot by the time we drank them anway. I had carried a whole block of cheese from Havelock which I was planning to eat over the next 4 days but I had to split it with Adam that night because the heat had got to it. Hot beers would have been pretty disappointing after carrying them all the way here.
Day 77 – Tuesday 1 January, 21km walk 6km hitch
Pelorus Bridge Campground to Middy Creek Hut
Other than a few fireworks going off in the early hours of the morning it was a quiet new years. After we had settled in for the night a biker rode in on his Harley. I worried that he might be bringing some mates for a biker gathering but nothing eventuated. We fell asleep after 9pm and welcomed in the new year with our dreams.
We were going to get up at 5am to beat the sun on the long section on road walking we had ahead of us today but it was more like 6.30am when we eventually got up. I had a coffee and awkwardly packed my heavy and full pack. The camp warden came by on his bike to check everything was in order and open up the gates. We headed up to the camp car park to fill up on water and prime our butt cheeks with 3B for the expected sweat fest we had ahead of us on the long roadwalk to reach the start point of the Richmond Ranges. Sweat induced chafe can get real when long distance hiking and is known to have ended an otherwise fit hikers hike so prevention is always better than cure in this instance.
It was 7.30am when we hit the road. Thankfully there was heavy cloud cover and a light spritzing of rain for the first hour or so of our walk. It was a pleasant road walk, a very quiet farm road with pretty valley views.
We had a snack break a couple of hours in, just after the sun started to burn through the clouds. We weren’t long back on the road after our snack break when a car came down the road. It was an elderly couple going on a day walk to Emerald Pools. They offered us a lift. It was only 6km to go until the turn off so I flet a little guilty accepting a lift but it cut and hour and a half off our walk so we decided to take them up on their offer. They were a beautiful local couple who, in their youth had done a lot of tramping and hunting in the area. We said our farewells at the car park, they went off first as Adam had to do a little repacking of his bag.
The first hour of walking to Emerald Pools was a pretty, well formed trail under the canopy. It reminded me of something you would expect to see in Canada. Given we were ahead of time (thanks to the lift) we decided to stop off at the pools and have a swim. It was only 10ish in the morning but we were already sweating heavily in the humidity. The river was beautiful, emerald green like its name suggested you could see right to the bottom. We had been warned that it would be cold but decided it was too pretty not to swim in.
The minute we took off our clothes we were swarmed by sandflies, huge relentless ones. It was encouragement to get in the water as fast as possible. A balancing act between being eaten alive and shocking our poor bodies with the extreme temperature difference. After a few minutes we acclimatised and sat ourselves in the little rapids to enjoy a relaxing natural spa.
We had been told there was also swimming opportunities where we were headed that evening so it wasn’t too hard to get out of the water and back on trail. The lovely couple who had given us a lift earlier took a photo for us and we said our farewells to them as they headed back to the car and we headed into the Richmond Ranges.
The track from here climbed up hill and became quite narrow in parts with steep drop offs down the sides. You had to watch your step to make sure you didn’t slip and fall down the drop below.
The trail then took us across the Pelorus River on an old, slightly nerve wracking swing bridge. The trail then dipped up and down for a little while.
About an hour in, after coming across a delightful little stream, we decided it was time for lunch. I had been hungry all day after trying very hard to stick to my allocated snack rations. It is a balancing act between carrying enough food to keep you staed but not so much that you end up with a ridiculously heavy pack. In saying that I still feel like my pack is ridiculously heavy and I still want to eat all of the food out of it.
Not only does this little piece of New Zealand (the Richmond Ranges) have large aggressive sandflies, it has the biggest bumblebees I have seen in my life. Walking along the trail today we found a huge one digging in the dirt. For what, I’m not sure.
The remainder of the walk to to Captain Creek Hut was beautiful but sweaty. I was glad to be able to have another swim when we got there. We enjoyed a long break by the water, the sandflies here not as aggressive as the ones at Emerald Pools. At Captains we met a woman with her young daughter, probably 2 years old who was spending a couple of days at the hut with her family. It was nice to see people getting out into the wilderness with young children. It was around 3.30pm by this point so there was plenty of light left in the day. We were feeling refreshed by the swim and decided to go through to the next hut which was only 2 hours away, Middy Creek Hut.
We weren’t feeling refreshed for long, soon after setting off we had dried off and were feeling the heat. It was less than a 2 hour walk to Middy Creek but going uphill in the sun with our heavy packs was tough. Lucky the forest was beautiful to look at, a good distraction! I had a stop at a stream to wet down my buff and splash my face. The cold mountain water does an incredibly good job of cooling you off.
We arrived at Middy Creek just after 5pm, it was also busy thanks to the holiday season. A family with 2 young children were occupying the hut. Adam had gone inside to write in the intentions log so I took my shoes off and went in after him. The 2 year old boy child apparently took a disliking to me and ran up to me and hit me. The parents were very chilled about the whole thing. I was appalled that they were so calm about their son hitting a complete stranger for no apparent reason. It happened 3 more times before I gave up and went outside. It goes to say that we decided to tent outside along with another couple who were staying the night.
I was starving by the time we arrived at Middy Creek so I cooked and ate quickly. Adam put up the tent, ate his dinner and headed down to the river to swim and filter water. We walked down the track to the river and before us on the river bank was the father of the family stark naked. I didn’t know what to do. At first all I saw was arse but then he turned around and I copped a view of full frontal penis (Adam apparently missed the ostentatious display of wang). This was the only path down to the river so I had no other option but to shield my eyes with Adam and head further upstream.
Upstream I had a swim doubling as a bath while Adam filtered water. It was getting on and the sun was beginning to lower so he wasn’t too keen on getting back in the water. Mid swim I looked over to where Adam was filtering water and behind him I could now see the mother of the family, also stark naked. Mrs nudist colony wasn’t getting changed or swimming, she was blatantly wandering around on the bank tending to the kids. I finished my swim and very quickly changed into my long johns. The sandflies were out in force by this point and were swarming my body going for any bit of exposed flesh they could find. There was a lot of exposed flesh on that river bank, the sandlies wouldn’t go hungry that night.
After changing I hurried over to where Adam was trying to filter some water. The sandflies were just as bad over near him and they had been joined by a couple of giant bumblebees who were insistent that our filtered river water was much better than normal river water and kept buzzing about our bottles. Apparently bumblebees also like the smell of sweat because they swarmed my dirty hiking clothes. The nature had all got a bit too much at that point. I was keen to get inside the tent and have a thin piece of mesh separating me from the bities.
Day 78 – Wednesday 2 January, 16km
Middy Creek Hut to Browning Hut
Becoming a common theme as the NZ summer sets in, we were once again up early to walk in the coolest part of the day. The alarm went off at 5am but I was snoozing on and off. I had slept with the fly open and was peering outside half awake when I saw a Weka lurking about. If you remember back to last week, a Weka was the bird that stole Adams TP on the Queen Charlotte Track. I was just starting to get nervous that this Weka may head our way and start pilfering our bags when it spotted a tennis ball on the grass outside the hut. Im assuming it belonged to the family staying inside the hut. Before I knew it the Weka had grabbed the ball and ran like lightning.
The Weka set the tone for the remainder of the morning. As soon as we got out of the tent we were accosted by the sandflies that had accumulated under the fly over night. Next came the bumblebees swarming over our water. There was just too much nature all at once for me. As I was filtering my water I swallowed a sandfly and almost lost my breakfast trying to bring the sandfly back up again. My treasured coffee was also ruined by them, by the time I got down to the last few mouthfuls there were a dozen sandfly carcasses floating in it.
I was happy to get going for the morning, once we move the sandflies disappear. Almost immediately after leaving Middy Creek Hut we crossed a slightly sketchy cable bridge which took us across the river.
On the other side of the river it was solid climbing for most of the 2 hours it took us to get to Rocks Hut. The forest was beautiful to walk in with cicadas and bird song. As the sun came out around 9am it started to heat up. On account of the heat and not having a long day ahead of us we had a few breaks along the way to Rocks Hut.
On arrival at Rocks we had a good break, filled our waterbottles and headed back out on the trail. Destination Browing Hut, 11km away. I was surprised to find that we hadn’t completely left the mud on the North Island. There were a few patches of mud on the short descent from Rocks Hut. The trail then climbed steeply uphill. We were sitting down having a break, Adam checking the weather in a brief patch of reception when another couple came down the trail. Amelia and Jean-Christophe. It turns out that Amelia started behind us and had been reading our blog. I was super excited to learn we have a reader who is a non relation (Hi Amelia, if you are reading). We passed each other a couple more times before they passed us while we were having lunch on the hillside. They were hiking further and (a little quicker than us so we may only see their names in the log books from now on).
Enroute to Browning we passed through a section of trail where dozens of trees had fallen down due to strong winds. Large chunks of timber had been cut to clear off the track. It was a bazar section of trail but it gave us good views across to the mountains.
After lunch we continued to the top of the mountain and what we were informed was the mineral belt. It was an arid mountain top with some tussok and Manuka. If it wasn’t for the Manuka I would have felt like I was in the Australian desert with the heat of the sun above and the arid ground underfoot.
It was sign posted as 4.5 hours to Browning Hut. We took a break for almost every hour of hiking so it took us all of that 4.5 hours to get there. There was a steep descent the final 30 minutes with some scrambles down some badly worn track. I could feel us nearing the hut when the trail took us along side a pretty stream. We followed it along until we reached the turn off to the hut, crossing the stream.
A family of a mother with her 2 kids were already at the hut. They had walked in from the junction car park and were spending the night before heading back the next day. Leanne, Petra and Oscar were their names. They were lovely people, great to chat to. The kids were beautiful little people, mature beyond their years and very well behaved. They were later joined by their friend, Yvonne who turned up with her dog, Marley. The dog had its own pack in which she carries her lead and food. It was the cutest thing in the world.
The stream by the hut was no where near as big as the rivers we had swam in the previous 2 days but I made the most of it and had a cold bird bath to freshen up. It’s the freshest I’ve felt 3 days into a hike!
Over the next 6 days we will tramp through the Mount Richmond Forest Park, a step up in the level of tramping we have become accustomed to on the TA. The Richmond Alpine Track is graded ‘route’ which I have deciphered to read ‘goat track’. Stay tuned for Adam’s recount of this adventure which will be in your inbox in a few days time.