Day 115 to 123 – Head towards the rainbow
Friday 8 February – Saturday 16 February
Twizel to Wanaka
Day: 115 – 123
Cumulative km’s: 2,574km / 3,000km
This section of the trail had a bit of everything – seeing us follow some more flat and hot lakeside tracks, before heading back into the mountains with three steep climbs across consecutive days, with a spectacular pay off in the form of an epic ridgeline descent into Lake Hawea with a rainbow thrown in for good measure.
We also had a largely successful crossing of the official widest unbridged river on the TA, and ended the week chilling out in Wanaka. What more could a hiker ask for? 😁
Day 115 – Friday 8 February, 30km
Twizel to Lake Ohau
We wanted to get away early today to avoid the hottest part of the day but the lure of a sleep-in was too hard to resist… again. With 30km to walk today, it was always going to be a long day. The only question was how long.
Luckily for us, the trail was pretty flat, which meant we could move at a decent pace.
Following a highway for the first few kms, we reached another salmon farm before joining a dusty farm road which would take us most of the way through to Lake Ohau. After our recent highs on the trail, this day was a bit of a nothing day. It was hot on the exposed road and not much fun.
A few pine trees provided some much needed shade at one point for a brief moment but they were behind us before we knew it and we were back in the full sun.
Eventually the trail took us to the upper banks of a tempting-looking river, but we were too high above it to be able to get down to the water to cool off.
Eating lunch in the scorching sun, we didn’t hang around too long before continuing towards the Lake Ohau campsite. Once we reached the shores of the lake, we felt the temperature drop immediately as the lakeside breeze brought some much needed relief. The flat gravel cycle track surrounding the lake made for some easy walking too, which helped motivate us for the last 10km to the campsite.
We broke up this stretch of walking to take a quick dip in the lake. Not wanting to get my feet or legs wet, I had to think outside the box to cool off my upper half. Leigh, on the other hand, was happy to walk into the lake fully clothed.
Our final few kms of the day were on a road shoulder but there wasn’t too much traffic around, so it was pretty cruisy all things considered.
There was still a bit of wind around once we reached the DOC campsite, but we were happy to find some huge pine trees that we were able to use to effectively shelter our tent from both the wind and the sun.
Day 116 – Saturday 9 February, 28km
Lake Ohau to Ahuriri River
For the first time in a few days we managed to get up early and leave our campsite as the sun was rising. Despite being on the road shoulder again at times, I really enjoyed the morning walking, as we were regularly granted views of the sun rising over Lake Ohau.
It was also a great reminder to live in the moment rather than in your head, worrying about what may or may not happen. To just enjoy each moment for what it is. I made a concerted effort to let go of any concerns I had been holding onto in relation to crossing the Ahuriri River later in the day, finding a suitable campsite somewhere near the river and the potential for our plans to be thrown out of whack if the river turned out to be too dangerous to cross today.
After a few km of lakeside tracks, we joined the Sawyer Creek track on DOC land. Wide, well-graded track and lots of shade were all a bonus.
After accidentally missing the turnoff for the Freehold Creek Track, I doubled back for about 5 minutes to find the actual track. This would be the start of our climb today. The climb ended up being much more friendly than expected based on the elevation profile.
The track climbed through a shady beech forest with plenty of water available in mountain streams along the way. By mid morning we had emerged from the tree line with a few hundred more metres to climb to the top of the saddle. I celebrated the occasion by stopping to drink from a set of glass cups that someone had thoughtfully (and curiously) left on the trail.
The views from the top of the saddle made the climbing worth the effort.
Once over the saddle, the terrain started to flatten out, particularly as we got closer to the Ahuriri River. We chatted briefly with over a dozen northbound TA hikers that we crossed paths with on our way to the river.
As much as we tried, we couldn’t avoid the mud as we got closer to the end of the track. Stinky mud-soaked socks for the next few days again. Joy!
The valley really opened up before the river and the wind gusted across, buffeting us around the trail. The river valley looked unreal in the afternoon sun. Despite my initial concern, the Ahuriri River not as wide or deep as I had expected. The crossing would still be fun nonetheless.
Grateful for the clear water crossing, we judged the depth to be no deeper than mid-thigh and the river looked to be less powerful than our recent crossing of the Deception River near Arthur’s Pass. Leigh slipped over at one point during the crossing and got pretty wet, but we both made it across in one piece.
The wind was still strong and we didn’t feel like walking much further for the day, so we set about trying to find a sheltered spot somewhere near the river. We were joined shortly after by a Czech couple also walking the TA who had the same idea.
We went to sleep to the sound of minor rock falls on the steep scree edges of the river plain that we would need to climb tomorrow morning.
Day 117 – Sunday 10 February, 24km
Ahuriri River to Top Timaru Hut
In a rare occurance, we were up early for the second time in as many days. Conspicuously absent last night, the sandflies were out for blood this morning. We packed up and hit the trail as quickly as possible.
It was a tough climb straight up a loose scree slope to kick off the day. The trail then took us across converted farmland, where we both ran into a lost sheep that seemed to confuse us for a farmer from a distance, walking straight towards us before changing its path when it realised it did not in fact know us.
After passing some massive deer in a pen, we followed an old farm road for what felt like an eternity as it climbed for most of the morning.
The road surface eventually changed to scree and we reached Martha’s Saddle for lunch to take in the views. The wind was particularly strong at the saddle and cold. We were joined shortly after for a chat over lunch by our Czech friends from yesterday.
There were some epic switchbacks in the trail down from the saddle to Top Timaru Hut, our home for the night. The hut was one of the more modern ones and a step up after the old mustering huts of the past week or two.
I managed to get stung by a bumblebee when I grabbed a frayed piece of blue rope to close the toilet door. The bumblebee was hiding somewhere inside the frayed rope end and stung me right on the end of my finger. Upon telling Leigh of my predicament, her only concern was “that poor bee is going to die now”.
We thought we may have the hut to ourselves but were joined later by the famous Rapsey family from New Zealand, who have the two youngest children to ever walk the Te Araroa trail in its entirety (aged 6 and 9).
As we went to bed in the hut, we had the pleasure of listening in to a bed time story that mum was reading to the kids.
Day 118 – Monday 11 February, 24km
Top Timaru Hut to Pakituhi Hut
When we were originally planning this section, we had only intended to go through to Stodys Hut, but after hearing from other hikers that it was a bit of a dump, the lure of pushing through to the more modern Pakituhi Hut was strong. This change in plans would also mean that we would go past TA highlight, Breast Hill, today rather than a day later.
We were up and away early, before the sun rise, doing our best to pack up our stuff in the dark while the NZ family slept in the remaining bunks of Top Timaru Hut.
The morning walking had us travelling parallel to the river through the forest, but mostly a lot of frustrating up and down in the process, with some slippery track to boot. The track had also been damaged in parts by rockfalls, which made for some challenging walking.
At one point I managed to slip off the track and slid for 10m down the hill on my side. As luck would have it, I slid foot first into a tree which stopped my progress quicker than would otherwise have been possible.
Finally we reached the junction to Stodys Hut. We had heard from other hikers that this would be a steep climb but it still managed to take me by surprise. Thankfully the trees shielded us from the heat of the sun, but the steepness of the track meant that we still got a good sweat on. I was struggling to remember the last time we climbed a track this steep as I cursed the track all the way to the top.
We stopped off at the slightly depressing Stodys Hut at the top of the climb for some lunch and ran into our new Czech friends again. We would see them again later in the day at Pakituhi Hut.
Off we headed post-lunch towards Breast Hill, which overlooks Lake Hawea. While this section of trail also involved some climbing, it was along a 4wd track, so the walking was much more gentle on the legs.
About halfway there we could see the weather starting to close in around us. Suddenly it became a race to get to Breast Hill before the rain set in for the afternoon. I got a bit caught up in the moment, not wanting to miss out on the spectacular views from the summit that I had heard about and raced ahead to beat the rain.
In the end we had a few sprinkles of rain as we reached the summit but everywhere else around us seemed to be copping it with heavy rain. It couldn’t have worked out more perfectly. The views from the Breast Hill summit were absolutely amazing! The jagged rocks adding to the epic-ness of the scene.
After taking a few photos to mark the occasion, we raced down the hill towards the comfort of Pakituhi Hut. It did not disappoint. There’s nothing better than having a spacious 12 bed hut almost all to yourselves. Just four hikers staying at the hut tonight.
Day 119 – Tuesday 12 February, 11km
Pakituhi Hut to Lake Hawea
With the overnight rain, it wasn’t exactly a surprise to wake to heavy mist surrounding the hut. The trail didn’t look overly enticing in the morning mist, so we delayed leaving the hut for as long as possible, preferring the warmth of the hut.
Eventually, the mist started to lift a little and we decided to start the short but steep walk down to Lake Hawea.
We were blown away by the views on the descent. Walking along razor edge ridgeline, low clouds danced around the track and even a rainbow turned up to the party. It was so quiet and still up there that I could even hear Leigh yelling at me from a few hundred metres away to hurry up and stop taking so many photos 😂
I could have spent hours on that ridgeline, but we had heard along the hiker grapevine that the general store in Lake Hawea served big ice cream portions, so we had important business to attend to.
We dropped down off the ridge, following the many switchbacks which made what would have been a knee-crushingly steep descent down to the lake an enjoyable stroll down the hill.
On reaching the lakefront, we took the pleasant lakeside cycle track through to the main part of town (using the word ‘town’ loosely, as it consisted largely of a general store/restaurant and a pub).
We had a late lunch at the unexpectedly well-stocked general store and did a bit of planning for the upcoming sections of the trail before getting down to the business of our ice cream orders. Needless to say, the grapevine was on the money and the scoop sizes were as generous as we have come across so far in our travels.
We had planned to head to the nearby holiday park to spend the night, however, on passing the Lake Hawea Hotel we decided to check their accommodation options. It turned out they did a camping and dinner deal which was great as it meant we didn’t need to walk any further.
We pitched the tent in a weird grassy car park, which was being used as an unofficial campground for hikers but also for more permanent residents living and working in New Zealand by the looks of it. We then spent the rest of the evening in the pub, first making the most of the cheap dinner deal before hanging out in the hotel’s lounge area, feeling slightly underdressed compared to the other holidaymakers having dinner at the pub.
We left the warmth of the pub just in time to catch the sun setting over Lake Hawea from our tent site.
Day 120 – Wednesday 13 February, 24km
Lake Hawea to Wanaka
We awoke at 4am this morning to the smell of smoke. I got up to check the source, just in case there was a flaming inferno somewhere within the campground. It ended up coming from the chimney of a nearby house, but as there was no imminent danger, I jumped back into the tent.
Once we were finally up and moving later in the morning, we started walking along the gravel track towards Albert Town. Following the Hawea River, the track was much nicer than expected. We stopped briefly to admire a whitewater park on the river – a standing wave that had been constructed for use by paddlers and surfers.
It wasn’t too much longer before we were in Albert Town. Leigh wanted to check out Pembroke Patisserie, so we headed there for morning tea. They had such a great selection we struggled to pick what we would order. Mixing savoury with sweet, everything we tried was mind-blowingly good.
Continuing our planning from yesterday, we made a few more bookings for the upcoming weeks, locking in some dates to do the Routeburn Track and Kepler Track, two of New Zealand’s Great Walks. It is a weird feeling starting to book things more than 1 or 2 days in advance as we have become so used to things turning out fine when we don’t organise anything in advance.
We eventually forced ourselves to leave the patisserie and rejoined the track alongside the Clutha River, which we would follow all the way through to Wanaka. As we got closer to Wanaka, we saw more and more people on track – mostly less than comfortable looking cyclists who appeared to have hired a bike for the first time in a while.
Having learned our lesson from Tekapo, we were glad to have pre-organised our accommodation in Wanaka. It turned out that our arrival in Wanaka coincided with an annual triathlon event with 1,500 competitors, so it would have been impossible to find a bed anywhere if we had waited.
Arriving around lunchtime, we checked into our neat backpacker hostel with lake views from the communal loungeroom and spent the rest of the afternoon making plans for a few rest days in the lovely town of Wanaka.
Day 121 to 123 – Thursday 14 February to Saturday 16 February, 0km
Wanaka (rest day)
After a solid two weeks on the trail without a proper rest day, we decided to take a few days off in Wanaka to see the town, finish off our planning and do a side trail around Wanaka. Also, eating town-food was a high priority.
Not only did we plan the end of our hike (arriving at Bluff on 13 March before heading across to Stewart Island for a few days to hopefully spot the famous kiwi in the wild), but we also had the rare treat of getting out to see a movie. We got to see a rock climbing movie Free Solo, which I had been hanging out to see for months (on account of my Alex Honnold man-crush), so it was great to finally be able to see it. The home made ice cream and freshly baked cookies during intermission at the cinemas were something that all cinemas need to introduce!
Wanting to avoid the out of control swarms of people on Roy’s Peak Track (look it up – it’s insta famous), we hired a car (shock horror) and headed out to do the Rob Roy Glacier Track instead. We were both happy with the decision as the glacier was stunning and something different to anything we have seen so far on the trail. We made better time than expected (must be the trail legs), so we even had time to stop off at an alternate Lake Wanaka lookout on the way home.
Other than that, we were able to sample some great food from local delis, cafes and even some food trucks, which had us ready to jump into the next section of the trail.
Tomorrow we will start the walk towards Queenstown along the Motatapu track, which is notorious for its beautiful scenery and punishing climbs.