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!
Heading towards Old Man Junction, we got our first taste of the sheer drops and narrow ledges, with a few exposed sections of track to navigate where one slip or miss step could be seriously bad for your wellbeing. There was also still a bit of wind around at the tops, which made negotiating these sections more difficult than they would otherwise be.
We reached the halfway point of our day by lunchtime. Leigh had wanted to carry extra water for the entire day to save the 2km return journey off-trail down to Old Man Hut. As my pack was already too heavy and I wasn’t keen on adding extra weight, we compromised in that I would make the side trip to the hut to collect water for both of us. The trip would be quick though as I would leave my heavy pack at the top of the ridge with Leigh and take only a day pack with me to carry the water bottles back up the hill.
The descent to Old Man Hut felt like it went on forever. Carrying an empty bag, I was almost running down the hill, dodging kamikaze insects along the way that wanted to fly directly at my face for some reason. It ended up taking me longer to filter 5L of water for Leigh and myself (including time spent swatting away bumblebees) than it did to go either down or up the hill.
With our water sorted we were ready to tackle the hardest part of the day… summiting both Little Rintoul (1643m) and Mount Rintoul (1731m) in succession.
Climbing through the tree line towards Little Rintoul, we reached a rocky slope and started ascending. The terrain reminded us a bit of Tongariro, just without the boardwalks and hundreds of people.
As we climbed towards the summit of Little Rintoul the views just got better and better. We have become mountain goats of sorts… really slow ones, but we keep on climbing steadily until we reach the top.
It wasn’t until we reached the top of Little Rintoul that the fun really started though. Ahead of us was the even higher Mt Rintoul, but we would need to drop down steeply off the back of Little Rintoul before we could even start that climb. This drop also happened to be on an unstable scree slope.
The trail notes warned that this part of the trail would be challenging, but it was next level compared to anything else we had encountered on the trail so far. After moving along the top of Little Rintoul, we dropped almost straight down the steep scree slope, using hiking poles and whatever else we could grab onto to try to control our descent. Leigh was displeased with the condition of the ‘track’ to say the least. I’ve chosen not to repeat the words that were uttered that afternoon.
It certainly wasn’t graceful, but we eventually made it to the bottom after a few minor slips and slides along the way.
We were then climbing up again, this time towards Mt Rintoul. From afar the track looked epicly sketchy but it wasn’t too bad when face to face with it. At least it was a bit more solid underfoot (in most parts) than the Little Rintoul descent.
You know when a mountain goat looks surprised to see you it means you probably have no business being on the mountain. Seeing a family of mountain goats on our way up to the summit of Mt Rintoul, we definitely got that feeling.
Shortly after bidding farewell to the goats, we reached the summit. We took in the magnificent views for a while and caught our breath, knowing that another steep scree slope was waiting for us on our descent of Mt Rintoul.
At first the track along the ridge was fine but once it dropped off the other side, we were essentially sliding down the hill one step at a time rather than walking. You had to really concentrate on where you put your feet and balance to avoid slipping or falling, which was tough to do at the end of a long and demanding day.
The steep scree slope descent eventually transitioned to equally steep forest track. At the end of a 10hr hiking day you imagine the hut around every corner but it was nowhere to be found. Finally we popped out of the forest and the hut appeared, just when I was starting to think that the map must be wrong.
Turns out we were the only people staying at the hut that night, so we were able to spread out a bit in the 6 bed hut and make ourselves at home. We even had unexpectedly great views of the ocean from our kitchen window! What a life!
Day 81 – Saturday 5 January, 16km
Rintoul Hut to Mid Wairoa Hut
We started our day watching a baby and mumma goat grazing on the grass outside of our window.
From the hut, we headed into the forest, with a gradual climb back up to the edge of the tree line. After yesterday’s hill climbs, it was great to have some flat ground to walk on again. It really makes you feel like you are flying.
Our packs also feel lighter today as we have passed the halfway point on this section in terms of food carried. With only 4 days of food in our packs now, we are back down to the sorts of weights that we carried all the way across the North Island when the next supermarket was only a few days away.
Popping up above the tree line, we could for the first time see clearly back to the Mt Rintoul descent we did yesterday and it looks seriously steep from this angle. The wind picked up as we turned the corner after going past another mountain called Purple Top.
It was around this time that the track became little more than a pole in the ground every 100m or so. With so much loose rock, the track becomes a choose your own adventure. Despite the increased likelihood of rolling an ankle on this type of terrain, we both made it through injury free.
We dropped out of the wind and back into the forest on our way to Tarn Hut. The sun was seriously hot whenever the tree cover disappeared along the trail. It was along this section of trail that we had our first encounter with the wasps that we had been reading about in the hut books along the way.
For a few hundred metres along the beech forest section between Rintoul and Tarn Hut, wasps swarmed a particular type of tree. Luckily they seemed disinterested in us, but we moved quickly through anyway just in case and tried our best not too disturb them.
Reaching Tarn Hut shortly after, we stopped for lunch and topped up our water bottles while dodging yet more bumblebees. With full bellies we headed back up to the main ridgeline to continue the trail towards Mid Wairoa Hut.
Ahead of us was more forest walking and a fairly steep descent through the forest into the hut. It doesn’t matter how much walking we do through these forests of the Richmond Ranges, they are still unbelievably beautiful to walk through.
Once we reached the bottom of the steep descent, the hut was on the other side of the river, separated by a decent sized swing bridge. I took the opportunity to have a quick dip in the waters below while waiting for Leigh to reach the hut and before the sun disappeared.
The hut was already full, again, so we pitched the tent outside, again. Seems to be a better option anyway in places like this that are overrun by sandflies as it is easier to keep them out of the tent than it is to keep them out of the hut when people are opening and closing the door all the time.
Day 82 – Sunday 6 January, 17km
Mid Wairoa Hut to Hunters Hut
As per usual, the sandflies were waiting to attack us as soon as we left the safety of the tent this morning. It really is a great motivator for getting packed up and moving as quickly as possible.
The walk to Top Wairoa Hut this morning was beautiful but terrifying. There were wasps all the way along the trail through the beech forest. We saw them hanging out on trees, on rocks, and coming out of hollows in the ground. We were worried about accidentally stepping on one and creating a swarm situation.
We had a number of knee deep river crossings on this section and at one point I was walking with my pant legs rolled up after completing a crossing when I felt a sharp pain in my exposed right calf. I quickly turned around to see a wasp latched on to the back of my leg. I did what any rational person would do in that situation and slapped it off my leg with my hand as quickly and as hard as I could, while hoping that it wouldn’t sting me multiple times. Thankfully I only got the one sting and it wasn’t too painful.
With the trail following the river all morning, we decided to stop for a dip in one of the nice pools that we passed along the way. The water was freezing cold, but a great way to cool off instantly.
Leaving the river behind, we stopped off for lunch at Top Wairoa Hut, before heading into Red Hills country for the next two days.
With its distinctive red earth colour, this was spectacular country. If it wasn’t was the unbearably hot midday sun we could have taken our time to enjoy it a bit more. In a sense of deja vu, we were again climbing on loose rocks with a trail marked only by the odd pole.
Reaching the high point on the day’s trail shortly after, we were able to take in some amazing views but the wind made it clear that we weren’t welcome. We made a hasty retreat down the other side of the trail to get out of the gusty wind.
The descent from that point felt very long and indirect. We also had more scree to contend with, Leigh’s favourite walking surface. By this point, the sun and wind had sapped all of our energy and it was a real struggle to find the movitation to push on to the next hut. Especially once we reached the steep and slippery scree slope descent.
Leigh was keen to pitch the tent on the trail, but as we only had a few kms to go we continued on to Hunters Hut. We had a great night there, chatting with two guys we had met earlier in the day on the trail and a German couple that were section hiking the TA.
We were rewarded for our efforts in getting to the hut with a spectacular sunset bursting through the cloud and a roof over our heads during the rain that would fall later that night.
Day 83 – Monday 7 January, 18km
Hunters Hut to Red Hills Hut
The morning started with more of the same terrain – climbing up hills. Thankfully we had overcast skies for the duration of the climb which gave us a brief reprieve from the scorching heat of the past few days.
After starting on a proper track, we soon reached more loose boulders before heading into another waspy forest. Fun times. The track was also pretty damp in places which made for slow walking as we tried to keep our feet as dry as possible by picking the best path through the boggy track.
This then led to more scree slopes and sidling awkwardly around mountains. We were pretty over scree and half formed trail by this point. The scenery and country that we were walking through was stunningly beautiful but it wasn’t easy walking through it by any means!
Finally we spotted Porters Creek Hut in the distance and headed there for our lunch break. Porters Creek Hut was surprisingly nice and even had a bit of a skylight at the front, which was a first for the huts we have been in so far. I was feeling tired by this point and was keen for a midday nap, but Leigh was having none of it and forced me back on the trail.
It was more of the same after lunch, with a few river crossings thrown in for good measure. The water in these mountain rivers though is so clear that you can’t help but want to jump in for a swim even though you know it’s going to be painfully cold.
As the last climb for the day loomed ahead, we finished swimming in the river and headed for the hut. The afternoon heat made it tougher than it should have been but after taking our time on the climb we eventually spotted a grassy plain in the distance.
It was a nice walk through long grass to reach Red Hills Hut, our last hut on this section of the trail. It was also the newest hut we have stayed at yet, with fly screens and a more modern look.
Tomorrow we would be heading into St Arnaud, our first town in 10 days. We were pretty excited for some non-hiking food and a shower.
Day 84 – Tuesday 8 January, 20km
Red Hills Hut to St Arnaud
Our day started with a great sunrise outside of the window of the hut, and we didn’t even need to get out of bed to see it!
We had a few really fast hikers turn up late last night after we were already in bed. One arrived around 9pm and the other two around 11pm but they ended up camping outside as to not disturb us. Chatting to them this morning, they had only taken about half the time we had taken to complete the Richmond Ranges, which is seriously impressive.
We have started to notice a few people catching up to us recently who have been doing bigger days than us, both in the km’s travelled and time on the trail. Everyone has their own reason for doing the trail and their own goals but it has been interesting meeting people who maybe have different goals than we do, in that they are focused on completing the trail as quickly as possible. Still, it has been impressive to see how fit some of these people are, based on how quickly they are moving through the trail.
The walk today looked fairly straightforward on the map and trail notes. A few small hills to climb a total of about 450m, some ridge top walking and a descent of 600m down to the road. We would then have 8km of roadwalking to St Arnaud.
With the end of the Richmond Ranges in sight, my legs started to feel heavy. Every step was an effort. The climbing wasn’t overly challenging compared to what we had already been through but it felt like really slow going. In reality though, we were still moving at or slightly faster than the times estimated in the trail notes.
Thankfully the were no wasps to contend with in the beech forests today. The landscape was largely similar to that which we have been travelling through over the past few days. It wasnt until we reached a clearing in the forest that we could see down to the main road and the stunning valley that it sat within. We could feel and good meal, shower and comfy bed getting closer.
The track that we were walking on today was a joint use trail for mountain bikers, so we had to be on the look out for anyone riding in front or behind us. Being a Tuesday though, we didn’t see anyone.
We eventually reached the track/gravel road leading downhill and stopped for lunch overlooking the valley.
We arrived at the road not long after lunch and the prospect of an 8km road walk in the hot midday sun didn’t really excite us too much so we walked until we found a safe spot for a car to pull over and then stuck the thumb out. We thought we could be there for a while but it would have been less than 10 minutes before we got a hitch into St Arnaud with an Australia guy and his French friend who he was visiting in New Zealand.
With free wifi at our hotel in St Arnaud, we spent the afternoon catching up on the last 10 days we have been without phone reception since Havelock. Once the restaurant opened, we made a bee-line to get our fix of pizza, dessert and drinks.
With our stomaches full but clothes still stinky, we ended the day with a double load of washing.
The Richomd Ranges have been especially tough on our gear, but especially Leigh’s boots and shirt, both of which are staring to fall apart. We contemplated heading out to Nelson to look for replacements but we couldn’t find anywhere to stay due to a big annual event being held there, so I guess it will need to wait until we get to Christchurch now, once we reach Arthur’s Pass in about two weeks time.
Day 85 – Wednesday 9 January, 0km
Today we spent the day in St Arnaud, relaxing and waiting for a parcel to arrive in the afternoon. We spent the day catching up on weather forecasts, trail notes for the upcoming section to Boyle Village and checking items off our individual to do lists.
We walked as far as across the road to check out the general store and order breakfast from the adjoining cafe.
Looking forward to getting back on the trail after a much needed rest and tackling the infamous Waiau Pass!
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.
Thursday 27 December – Sunday 30 December
Picton to Havelock on The Queen Charlotte Track
Day: 72 – 75
Cumulative Km’s: 1,774km / 3,000km
We kick off the South Island leg of the TA with the famed Queen Charlotte Track. It would seem that our bad run of weather has come to an end and a true New Zealand summer has finally arrived. We enjoyed hot days and blue skies on the Queen Charlotte, a superb introduction to the natural beauty of the South Island.
Day 72 – Thursday 27 December, 18km
Picton to Madsens Camp, Endeavour Inlet, Queen Charlotte Track
Despite our late arrival into Picton yesterday we had an early morning today in order to make it out to Ship Cove, the start of the Queen Charlotte Track. We were booked on the latest Ship Cove boat transfer possible, 9am but this still meant that we needed to be checked in and ready to sail at 8.30am. The saving grace of waking up at 7am was the scone breakfast put on by the hostel. The scones were baked fresh that morning, pulled out of the oven right before my eyes. Cheesy and crisp on top and light and fluffy in the middle. They were simply delicious. Quite possibly the best scones I’ve eaten in New Zealand (and I’ve eaten my fair share of scones since arriving in New Zealand).
Full of scones we walked across town to check in for our boat transfer. We would be sailing with Beachcomber, a company who give a generous discount to TA hikers. We walked past a small market and felt a little regretful that we hadn’t given ourselves time to check out Picton on our way through. After enjoying our playing tourist in Wellington we vowed to take more time off trail when we hit towns in the future.
The boat transfer to ship cove was more than I expected. The Queen Charlotte Sound is absolutely stunning. Blue water flanked by green mountains. It doesn’t get much better. The captain of the boat gave us a bunch of information on history and current goings on in the sound. It was a tour in itself.
After a 2 hour cruise from Picton we were dropped at Ship Cove. We took some time to check out the historic Captain Cook monument. A big, white chunk of concrete. We filled water bottles, used the facilities and were on our way.
The Queen Charlotte Track is well maintained and at a gentle gradient. We took it easy, had many breaks and admired the views. The track dipped up and down from ridgeline to shoreline throughout the day.
DOC gives walkers a 4 day itinerary for hiking the track but the days are short and the timings are generous so we decided to take 3 days on the track instead. Given today was a late start we only went a few extra kms past the suggested camp site for the night. We opted for a private spot, Madsens Camp. I had read good reviews on Guthooks (the app we use to help us with navigation on trail) and they were all spot on!