Day 93 to 98 – The Great Escape (to Arthur’s Pass)
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.