Day 108 to 110 – Rakaia and Rangitata, the ‘hazard’ zones
Friday 1 February – Sunday 3 February
Harper River Camping Area to Potts River Bridge
Day: 108 – 110
Cumulative km’s: 2,305km / 3,000km
In this post we navigate our way around the Rakaia and Rangitata Rivers. These rivers are both very wide, braided rivers which the TA have declared ‘hazard zones’. In short, they difficult and dangerous to ford, in bad weather they can flood faster than a human can ford them so the safest course of action is to get a ride around the river to the trail head on the opposite bank.
Despite the difficulties of getting around these rivers the few days walking in between them was spectacularly beautiful and well worth the effort of getting to and from.
Day 108 – Friday 1st February, 30km
Harper River Camping Area to Comyms Hut
It was windy at Harper River Camp site last night so we slept without the fly on, waking up to a vibrant orange sunrise. The sky looked like a watercolor painting.
Shortly after 6 we felt the first sprinkles of rain so we packed up quickly to avoid the pending downpour. We had planned a cruisy morning, hoping for a bit more of a sleep in but mother nature had other plans.
Per the official TA trail we had a 22km road walk ahead of us to Lake Coleridge. At Lake Coleridge there is an official break in the trail at the edge of the Rakaia River. The Rakaia River is about 4km wide and braided which makes it super tricky to cross. The river can take 4 hours to cross but can flood in 1 so the sensible course of action is to get a ride around the river to the trail head on the other side. The trail heads are in the middle of nowhere which makes hitchhiking tricky. To avoid mucking around we decided to organise a shuttle around the river. Wayne from Alps2Ocean would pick us up and drive us around the Rakaia, stopping in Methven for a quick resupply of food at the 4 square.
To make our lives easier again we had asked if Wayne would mind picking us up from Harper River so we could avoid road walking in the sun. Because Wayne had a lot of pick ups and drop offs on the go he didn’t specify a place or time but suggested we start walking towards town and he would pick us up somewhere along the road. He had told us he should get to us some time after 11am.
I’m not sure how it happened but my mind was geared up to only walk a couple of km’s before being ferried into civilization where I could raide the supermarket. In reality we walked the best part of 15km before Wayne picked us up.
Our walk started with some excitement, immediately after leaving the camp ground we turned the corner onto the main road to be met by a large flock of sheep which were being moved from their paddock. They ran, panicked as farm dogs barked after them, controlled by the farmers whistle. It was incredible to watch.
The walk, although on gravel road, was picturesque. We walked between large sun scorched mountains and beside pristine alpine lakes. After the threat of heavy rain, by 9.30am all signs of it had disappeared and the sun came back out in force, met with gale force winds which pushed us along the road in big gusts. The scenery was beautiful but the elements were making the walk pretty uncomfortable.
It was almost 12 and there was still no sight of Wayne, I was starting to worry about not being able to get into town when a friendly local bee keeper pulled over to offer us a lift. He had just finished dropping some hives out and was on his way back to Methven. I explained to him our situation and he suggested we could ride with him and if we spotted Wayne he would wave him down. Perfect! We strapped our packs on the back of his ute and climbed in the cab. Just as we were about to take off a minivan comes driving down the road. It was Wayne. I felt bad for the poor bee keeper who had moved around a whole bunch of stuff in his ute to fit us in.
So out of the ute and into Wayne’s minivan we went. Along the way we passed Morrow and Pine Stick, 2 70 year old American hikers who had also stayed at Harper River the night prior. They also decided they had walked enough road for the day and jumped in.
The ride to Methven was about 30 minutes. Along the way we crossed the Rakaia with its icy blue braids. Wayne told us the water flows straight from glacial melt so it is freezing cold. Chatting to Morrow and Pine Stick the ride into Methven flew by, they are both characters!
Arriving in Methven I was surprised at how big it was, 2 pubs a motel and a back packers not to mention takeaways, cafes and of course a supermarket. Everything a hiker could want. We wouldn’t be staying long, just enough time to resupply and jump back on the shuttle to be driven around the other side of the Rakaia. There were 3 other hikers waiting at the cafe as we pulled into town. They arrived into town the night prior and would be joining us on the shuttle around the river.
The road to the trail head was super quiet. I could understand why people had such a hard time getting rides out here as there was nothing much around, the river on one side, farms on the other.
At one point we crossed over a large landslip which Wayne told us came down last November. I was astonished. I can’t imagine the amount of water which would have been needed to bring down such a phenomenal amount of scree and rubble. Wayne told us that the road often washes out in big rain and that often TA walkers will need to walk the gravel sections of it to get to the trail head. Lucky for us there were no such road blocks today.
On our drive we spotted several Harrier Hawks which were feasting on some unlucky hare carcasses on the road. We all chatted as we drove so the drive went fast. Of the 3 other people catching a ride with us was a couple TaFm, we have been following each other on Instagram and had chatted logistics on Instagram so it was very nice to be able to meet them in person. They had started on the trail a week after us so when we took a week off in Christchurch they caught up with us.
By the time we reached the trail head rain was falling once again. We bid Wayne farewell, (we will be seeing him in 2 days time for another river transfer) and layered up in rain gear ready a the downpour that never really came.
We walked through farmland for the first 5 or so kms as we climbed up into DOC conservation lands. I hadn’t actually eaten lunch yet, I had grabbed an avo at the supermarket but hadn’t had a chance to have my wraps yet so we stopped only a km into the trail, it was after 2pm and I was famished. The rain was sprinkling but I came to the conclusion that I was getting sweatier with my rain gear on than I was getting wet from the rain so I opted to ditch the rain gear.
It was a good choice because it was humid after the light rainfall and as we climbed towards Turtons Saddle, the highpoint of the day, the sun broke from behind the clouds.
The views behind us were incredible and they only improved the higher we climbed. We had, at one point, considering skipping this whole section of account of it being expensive and difficult to arrange a ride for but being up so high admiring those views I was already glad we had gone to the effort.
Before the final steep climb to the saddle we crossed a lovely little stream and took the opportunity to fill up on water and cool ourselves off. It was a well needed break from the heat.
At the saddle we crossed over into a valley and could feel a change in temperature almost immediately. It was lucky that by this point the sun had already baked our damp clothes dry. The views over the valley were beautiful, golden grasses, vibrant alpine flowers and crystal clear streams running through the middle of it all.
It didn’t take us long to reach the A Frame shelter. Adam signed the intentions book and we had a quick chat to a couple who would be spending the night there before we set off to Comyns Hut.
The rest of the walk was as beautiful as the first part and to make it even more enjoyable the trail was an old FWD track which made it a pleasure to walk on. It was only 2 hours to Comyns Hut and the time flew by as we enjoyed the scenery.
When we arrived at Comyns Hut there were already 6 people inside, it is an older hut with a cement floor and corrugated walls. On account of the squishness, Adams snoring and my restless sleeping we decided to sleep in the tent, a usually guaranteed good sleep.
Day 109-Saturday 2nd February, 21km
Comyms Hut to Manuka Hut
It seems like a common theme of ours that we plan to get up and walk early but it never seems to happen. I didn’t sleep overly well last night. It was bitterly cold and my thermal pants have seen better days, they are looking a bit threadbare and aren’t doing the best job of keeping me warm.
Our sleep was also unexpectedly interrupted by late comers. 4 guys on mountain bikes got in at 2am after underestimating the time it would take them to ride to the hut. Confusingly it took them longer to ride than it took us to walk so they must have been doing a lot of pushing and not a lot of riding.
As soon as we left the hut and walked over our first hill which took all of 5 minutes, we were into our first stream. The air was still bitterly cold and the sun hadn’t lit up the valley yet so I was dreading getting in. Packing up the tent in the cold was painful, the condensation on the fly and the cold alloy poles froze my hands. I had my light glove inners on but they didn’t do much. Filtering water and washing up that morning only made them worse, they were numb. Hence I was not too keen to go wading through freezing cod streams. But… we had no choice so in we went.
As it turned out we would be walking in the river for a good portion of the morning, crossing back and forth over it and sometimes simply walking straight up it. After an hour or so the sun had started to cross over the valley and was doing its job of warming us up. Even so I walked in my puffy, gloves and buff for a good hour. The walking became fun after the sun warmed us up and the views were spectacular. We couldn’t have asked for much more.
The river walking was slow going. After a few hours we made it to the riverhead and started our climb to Clent Hills Saddle. We walked through tussock, spear grass and spikey plants of all sorts on our way up. ¾ of the way there the vegetation changed due to the beautiful underground creek flowing through the valley. It was feeding the greenest of green grasses, not what we expected to see given the amount of dry tussock and alpine plants we had spent the morning walking through.
At the top of the saddle we were rewarded with 360 degree views and chairs to boot! It was the perfect spot for a lunch break. We enjoyed our wraps with priceless lord of the rings views (or so I am told).
After lunch we started our descent from the saddle. Again we were moving through a lot of tussock and thick grasses. We sidled two unknown mountains over scree but it was fairly good to walk on.
When we finally made it to the bottom of the valley we had to make our way through an incredibly large field of dinosaur sized spear grass. We were thankful for our long pants but they didn’t stop the torturous spines from piercing our skin.
When we finally reached flat farmlands and the junction to double hut we were rewarded with smooth easy walking along an old fwd track. It was bliss! Similar to what we had been walking on the day prior it was an easy hours walk to Manuka hut.
Although the waking was easy it wasn’t boring, the views through the valley were beautiful and we passed 3 lakes on our way. It was only made better by the fact that we could actually look up and take in the views of while we were walking!
Manuka hut is an old musters hut, we found this out courtesy of an evening visitor who was on a day walk to check out the hut. When DOC reclaimed all of the high country grazing lands they also inherited a number of these old huts which they are now having to maintain and manage. It is a little old and dingy but the views are terrific and there is a clear stream running right by. We couldn’t ask for much more. I topped of my day with a bath in the stream as Adam looked on disapprovingly.
Day 110 – Sunday 3rd February, 32km
Manuka Hut to Potts River Bridge
It was an early morning that we actually committed to getting up for this morning. We woke up in the dark, packed in the dark and started walking in the dark. We woke up at 5 and were out the door by 5.40.
We had both been woken by a mid night visitor last night, Adam and I discussed it as we walked. He thought it was a kea. I thought it was a cow or something hooved. Whatever it was, it made the noise of a human as it made its way to the hut, seemingly banging around all 3 sides of the hut. It woke me up twice. One at 11pm and once at 2am. Whatever it was, I was glad it wasn’t a hiker so I didn’t have to move my things off the spare bunk in the middle of the night.
We walked from the hut in the dark, first light starting to break through as we reached the valley. The air was still bitterly cold so I walked in my glove liners and puffy jacket. When we reached Manuka lake it was covered with a mist that had settled during the night. The mist was so dense that we couldn’t see the water, we could only hear the geese and ducks honking their morning hellos as we walked past.
Through the valley we had a small climb ahead of us. We reached the crest of the hill by 6am just as the sun was rising, trying its best to break through the morning cloud. It was the perfect spot for breakfast. We enjoyed a bite to eat watching the light paint vibrant red and orange colours through the low hanging clouds.
After breakfast I thought it might have been time to take off a layer but as we descend in the next valley we were again walking through mist. The air was damp and cold, it didn’t take long for me to put my jacket back on again. The valley looked so mystical, the lower parts looked like a river with the mist flowing through, soft and silky. The tops of the mountains were bathed in pink light, colors thrown from the spectacular sunrise. Our hands and feet were numb and painful from the cold but the beauty around us made it the early morning start worth it.
By 8am the sun was starting to show itself as we walked a final stretch out of the valley and past farmland.
We had an hour of road walking ahead of us before we reached the Clearwater Track, even the road walking was made beautiful by the low cloud. The dry grass of the Canterbury farmlands reminded me a little of country NSW. I heard a bird somewhat like a Currawong, singing in the trees near us as we walked and felt a little pang of love for home.
We reached the turnoff for the Clearwater Track and it was finally time to take off a warm layer and swap it out for a hat and sunscreen. The sun was out and was there to stay.
The Clearwater Track is 22km of relativey flat walking through regenerated farmland. As we walked we had views over an incredible lord of the rings esque mountain range. It was stunning to watch the landscape change as we walked.
Halfway through the day we passed a beautiful lake, it had yellows and greens through it. I’m not sure it would have been good for swimming but it was pretty to look at.
We reached the crest of a hill which looked out over Clearwater Village. Clearwater is a tiny town made up of batches (the kiwi term for holiday home). It looked like an apparition. We had been walking through sun burnt valleys, feeling like we were in the middle of nowhere when all of a sudden this little oasis appeared. We could see people enjoying their Sunday, boating and windsurfing on the lake.
We had a lunch break overlooking the lake with the group of TA hikers we had been walking with over the past 2 days. As we were chatting and munching away 2 locals came past on mountain bikes. They had a caravan in Clearwater. They explained how the land had been gifted to the people by a farmer years ago and that was how the village came to be.
After lunch it was a very hot sun exposed but flat 8 kms to Potts River where we would be meeting Wayne for yet another shuttle around another hazard zone. This time it was around the Rangitata River. Potentially cross-able but we didn’t want to risk it.
Wayne met us with cups of cold L&P, it was much appreciated by us hot sweaty and sugar addicted hikers. Wayne whisked us away in his comfy mini van to the comfort of Geraldine. What used to be primarily a sheep grazing town Geraldine is now a buzzing local holiday town where people come and go on their way out to lake Clearwater. This was good news for us as the main street is now filled with cafes and restaurants.
After settling into the backpackers and getting cleaned up we headed to the local supermarket to resupply. It was a painful experience on empty stomachs so after the task was completed we headed straight to the local pub for dinner.
Some of our favorite walking on the TA to date….we walk the stunning Two Thumbs Track through Mesopotamia and tackle Stag saddle, the highest point on the TA!