Monday 29 April 2019
Location: Campo (Mile 0) to Hauser Creek (Mile 15.4)
Distance travelled: 15.4 miles / 25km
I was so nervous heading to bed last night, I didn’t think I would be able to sleep but managed surprisingly well. Towards the early hours of the morning I woke up every couple of hours, taking a panicked look around to make sure all of the other hikers were still there and I hadn’t overslept.
At 4.45am my alarm went off, the day had finally arrived! There is a set morning drill at Scout & Frodo’s, everyone heading out on trail that day must have their bags packed and on the front deck by 5.30am. After that it’s breakfast and by 6am everyone must be ready to be loaded into the cars of waiting volunteer drivers.
I felt so nervous packing my bag, even after having done it hundreds of times before there is something nerve wracking about making your first footsteps on a 2,700 mile walk. The nerves were making me second guess every tiny thing. Do I have a lighter? Enough food? Gas for cooking? Check, check, check.
After making sure I hadn’t left anything out of my pack, I took my bag to the front deck and ventured inside for a spectacular Scout & Frodo breakfast. There was frittata, muffins, fruit, oats and most importantly, coffee. I went light on the coffee because I was feeling wired enough from the nerves and didn’t want to need to pee on the hour or so drive out to the trailhead.
When they gave us the call to start heading to the cars I topped up my water, had one last bathroom break and ventured out into the unknown. Frodo directed me to a car and once it filled up we were off on our way.
Scout & Frodo’s drivers are all volunteers, our driver was a local to the area and a friend of Scout & Frodo’s. It was his first time volunteering. He was an interesting guy who told us stories from his childhood and life in San Diego on the ride out to the trail head. It was a drizzly morning so our views were a little obscured, but we had glimpses out over the mountains as we drove. We could see the terrain that we will be walking through over the next few weeks.
The drive went fast. When we turned off the main highway into Campo I got super excited. We drove onto a gravel road which eventually turned into a dirt road. Before long we could see the border fence in the distance. It was a surreal feeling. To be here, in America on the border with Mexico, ready to take my first steps on the Pacific Crest Trail.
As soon as we were out of the car we thanked Richard, our driver, and headed straight for the border fence. I was with Graham who I’d met at Scout & Frodo’s, we put our hands through a gap in the fence, feeling a little rebellious, like we’d now visited Mexico.
There was no Border Security but two people from the Pacific Crest Trail Association were at the monument. We headed up to the monument and took the obligatory start photos.
The people from the PCTA very kindly took a group starting shot of us all. Afterwards they talked to us about permits, asking for a show of hands as to who was on their correct start date and who wasn’t. They also spoke to us about leave no trace. It was good to see them there speaking to people and encouraging people to do the right thing.
It started drizzling when we arrived at the monument but by the time the PCTA had finished talking to our group it had turned into proper rain.
But never mind the weather, we were off on our way! I felt nervous and overly excited at the same time, taking my first steps on the PCT.
We walked by the first marker, giving it a slap as we passed. There was 4 of us from Scout & Frodo’s walking together.
It felt like merely minutes and we had made it to the mile 1 marker! The trail hugged the road for the first few miles, taking us down past the road we had driven in on.
The vegetation was much more lush than what I was expecting. Because it has been a high snow year there is a lot more water around than what there would normally be this time of year so wildflowers were in bloom.
The rain continued to drizzle. It was nothing like New Zealand rain, more like a light drizzle or mist so I wasn’t too worried about it. I was happier to have the rain than a scorching hot desert sun beating down.
Whilst on the TA, Adam and I heard many US hikers complain that Kiwi trail builders didn’t use enough switchbacks. It didn’t take long to understand why. Even for the slightest of incline the trail zig-zagged back and forth. It was strange to me because I kept seeing people who were infront or behind me re-appear into my line of sight on the switchbacks.
The terrain was fairly flat and easy going and the excitement from the morning made the miles feel like they were flying by.
It was a few miles in, at mile 4.4, when I had my first break to tape my feet. Given how early we woke up I didn’t tape them before we headed out and I could feel hot spots starting to show up on my big toes. I was glad I had packed a full roll of tape for the start of the trip. I think my feet have softened up a little having 6 weeks off since the TA but hopefully they will toughen up in no time.
During the day I passed back and forth with hikers I had met at Scout & Frodo’s. Everyone was super friendly and I could see little groups forming along the trail where people were finding like minded souls they wanted to hike with.
At some point during the morning I had drifted apart from the guys I started hiking with and I was hiking on my own. It was during lunch that I felt my first pang of loneliness. I had passed a big group of hikers who were sitting eating lunch, I wasn’t ready to stop yet so I continued on for another 20 minutes or so. When I finally sat down for lunch, I instantly missed Adam. It was lonely without a lunch partner. Even if we weren’t constantly chatting it was comforting being with him, sitting and eating together. It was still raining at that point and considering we were in the desert, pretty chilly. I didn’t sit for long, only 10 minutes or so and I was off walking again.
One other thing that was a little challenging on my first day was the pee breaks. There isn’t a lot of room to get off the trail and I am hyper-paranoid about poison oak and poodle dog bush that I haven’t wanted to bush bash, so pee breaks have been a little strategic, trying to go when I know no one will be coming up behind me on the trail. So far I think I was successful in not getting sprung. For today anyway.
After lunch the time passed quickly. I walked and chatted with a couple of other people on and off during the day – Sarah a girl from the US and Michael, a French innovator and also an amateur photographer.
The trail was now taking me into more mountain territory with more rewarding views to match. The low could and mist hung in the valley and on the mountain tops. It was very different to any terrain I have seen before but it was beautiful in its own unique way.
I made it down to Hauser Creek at 3pm. It felt way too early in the day to be stopping and I was originally keen to keep moving but I was motivated to stay by the others staying at the camp that night – Graham, Ruben, Jeffrey, Sarah and a few other great people. It was interesting because normally I would hate a full camp site but it was nice being able to chat and share with people and also to ask them local questions like the best way to store my food out here and how to spot poison oak.
It was way to early to eat dinner when I arrived, so I ate a snack and put up the tent. It rain on and off for a while during the afternoon. I filtered water, wrote my journal and chatted on and off throughout the afternoon. I started to feel hungry again at 5pm, so I ate my first dinner of couscous and dehydrated broccoli. I had found some vegan, chicken flavoured stock cubes in the hiker box at Scout & Frodo’s which made my dinner taste delicious!
After dinner I washed up, got my breakfast ready for the morning and after chatting with the rest of the group, discovered that we had all been brushing past poison oak on our way into the camp site as well as back out when we went to fill up water. I couldn’t believe it. I had been so vigilant all day and now, had missed it. I had a big panic about it but everyone else seemed pretty relaxed. I instantly felt like my legs were stinging and on fire but its meant to take 24 to 48 hours to show up.
A few people were surprised when I told them I was scared of the plants here. They thought that being from Australia where there are multiple things that can kill you, I shouldn’t be worried. A very incorrect assumption. I do not want to be stuck for a week in the wilderness with a burning itchy rash all over my body. So now I have to wait 24 to 48 hours to see if anything happens. I pray to god that I’m one of those lucky humans who doesn’t react to it.
Tuesday 30 April 2019
Location: Hauser Creek (Mile 15.4) to Kitchen Creek Falls (Mile 28.6)
Distance travelled: 13.6 miles / 22km
I didn’t sleep overly well last night, I think I was a combination of being nervous about my first day on trail and missing Adam, it was strange being in the 2 person tent without him, not to mention cold! My first night was a whole lot colder than I expected the desert to be.
I woke just before 6am to the sound of others packing up camp. I wasn’t going to get any more sleep so I got up, ate breakfast and packed down my camp. It had rained on and off all night but I was well protected under the trees so only the fly was wet. I wiped down the tent as best I could and packed it away hoping for some afternoon sun to dry it out.
It was a very busy campsite and a few people were already up and out on trail by the time I woke up. Presumably they were keen on a breakfast burrito from the Lake Morena Malt shop, just 5 miles away. The group of 3 guys I had set off from Scout & Frodo’s with were all keen to get a second breakfast after hiking up the hill to Lake Morena, so we made a plan to meet up there. Graham set off first followed by myself and then Jeffery and Ruben.
The climb up to Lake Morena was steep but the switch backs made it a lot easier. I couldn’t help but think if it was a New Zealand trail we would be climbing straight up the face of the hill.
The views back down over the valley were pretty with the boulders contrasting with the green foliage and wildflowers. The views were a little obscured by the low cloud and fog but I was thankful for the cover and was happy the blaring desert heat wasn’t scorching me. I was surprised that even up hill I manage to walk at a steady 4km an hour. I was a little sceptical when a US hiker we had met on the trail in NZ had told us this would be the case but he was right, the inclines for the most part don’t impact your hiking pace because the trail is so well graded.
I reached the top of the hill looking out over Lake Morena and could just make out the lake through the fog.
I was surprised at the size of the town when I made my way down there. It was very all American ranch style looking. There were even cactus growing by the road side and I even spotted a wood pecker pecking at a power pole. It was just how I imagined America to be.
At the Malt Shop there were already a group of hikers inside, including Graham. I joined them and ordered an egg and cheese breakfast sandwich and a malt. There was some confusion on my part with the ordering because I had no idea what a malt actually was. When the lovely lady at the shop asked me to pick a flavour I was even further confused but it turned out that I needed to choose an ice cream flavour and that would become the flavour of the malt. It was ridiculous and delicious all at the same time.
It continued to rain outside so we made good use of our time, charging our phones and chatting for good couple of hours. It wasn’t until lunch time that we all decided to take off.
There was 5 of us who took off hiking together – Graham, Ruben, Jeffrey, myself and a new addition, Ray, who we had picked up at the Malt Shop.
There was a bit of climbing throughout the afternoon up to Boulder Oaks campsite, but the rain remained on and off and the cloud hung around, protecting us from the sun and keeping us cool.
It was an interesting afternoon of walking. We exited the wilderness area and walked roadside through a meadow and under two overpasses.
We entered the wilderness area again just after Boulder Oaks campsite. There was a little discussion as the whether we should just stay there for the night but it was only 3.30pm, so we kept moving. After having spent the majority of the day sitting and eating, I definitely felt the need to keep moving a little longer.
We re-entered the wilderness area after crossing a road. After this we had a steady climb up the side of a mountain. The sun was just statting to pop out, so I put on my sun gloves and popped up my collar.
We ended up camping a few miles after the road at Kitchen Creek campsite, just above Kitchen Creek Falls. It was earlier than I wanted to stop, but a few of the others were keen to camp here. I was also worried about getting to the next campsite and finding all the camp sites had been taken, then being forced to continue walking in the dark and still having to camp with no water, so we decided to stay put.
It was a good decision to stay. We had to squish a little to fit all of our tents in but we made it work and enjoyed dinner together. I was a little lazy and decided to save on water and eat my left over lunch for dinner instead. It worked out well, I will be able to save my dehydrated brocoli for another night.
It’s funny that I have enjoyed having company so much on this trip. Normally I would avoid other people at all costs while tenting, but I have really enjoyed the company of my new group of friends. At dinner, Ray, the newest addition to our group had commented that the first couple of days of the hike were a struggle for him and meeting all of us had been a big morale booster. It was heartwarming and made me feel a little emotional. People really can be amazing.
Saturday 27 April 2019
Location: Sydney to Scout & Frodo’s (near San Diego)
I was feeling incredibly anxious the day before my flight with many last minute thoughts, questions and fears running through my mind. Have I packed everything? Are my gear choices right? I’m arriving on a weekend, will I be able to post my bounce box before I head off on trail? Do I really have what it takes to walk from Mexico to Canada? Will I be able to walk the first 700 or so miles solo? And plainly, what the hell am I doing?!
My alarm went off at 5am on Saturday morning. I had a 9.30am flight but because I get nervous about clearing check-in, bag drop and customs we allowed 3 hours to get through it all. I farewelled my parents just before 6am and Adam drove me to the airport. It was comforting having him to drop me off, he is calming and will tell me what I want to hear before I’m about to board a plane for an insane 5 month walk across a country. ‘You will be fine, you have everything you need, it will go quickly and I’ll see you in no time’. I managed to say goodbye without tears and bravely headed through the customs gate.
After allowing plenty of time to check-in and clear customs my flight was delayed by an hour, enough time for a pre-flight coffee. When the gate finally opened there was a security check at the gate. A security woman looked at my passport and boarding pass and immediately called out ‘interview!’, feeling a little panicked by this a second lady took my passport and asked me a series of questions, was I flying to America for business or travel? How long did I intend to stay? What could I possibly be doing in the country for so long? I received a strange and slightly confused look when I told her I would be walking from Mexico to Canada. After questioning my carry on luggage (apparently it was curiously small) she placed a small yellow sticker on my passport and gave me the OK to board the plane.
I flew into LAX with Virgin, it was a great experience with surprisingly good food, pillow, eye mask and blanket provided. I managed to get a few hours sleep but regardless was feeling pretty average by the time we touched down.My first hurdle upon arrival was clearing US immigration. Because I’m not sure of my exact departure date yet, I haven’t booked a return flight to Australia. This is allowed on a B1/B2 visa but as the immigration officer advised, it is preferable to have a return flight. He asked me a few questions but didn’t grill me too much. It was still early in the morning and he looked tired, either at the start or end of a long shift.
With this hurdle over, I picked up my bag without any problems and headed out of the building to look for the flyaway bus to Union Station. From LAX I would be taking the Amtrak train to San Diego. Whilst waiting for the bus I met a friendly lady who was also headed to San Diego on the train. She let me know I was in the right place.The bus ride down to the station felt like it took about 30 minutes. I find that when I’m travelling somewhere new time often seems to move at a slower pace. We moved passed large sections of industrial and residential areas not getting to see much of downtown LA. On arrival at Union Station I bought a ticket to pay for the bus ride I’d just taken. I was surprised payment relied so much on honesty.
Feeling a little disoriented I bumbled my way through Union Station and found the ticket window. I ran into my new friend Rika from the flyaway bus stop. She stayed with me and helped me buy my ticket. For some reason my travel card wouldn’t process the payment which made me a little worried. After buying a ticket I picked up some lunch from a little food shop, used the bathroom and made my way to the platform. Rika was headed to the food shop to buy something to eat, so we parted ways and intended to meet back up on the platform but I never saw her again.
It wasn’t long to wait before the train pulled into the station. It was busy but I managed to get a seat by a window. As it turned out it was the wrong window, the views were on the opposite side of the train. I slept on and off during the 2.5 hour journey down to San Diego, I had a couple of people come and go from the seat next to me while I slept. I was doing my best to keep my eyes open and stay awake but the jet lag kicked in and before I knew it I was out. When I woke up again there were beautiful views to my right, out over the sea.
I had met and seen so many friendly Americans during my short time in the country. I was so surprised by how polite and well mannered everyone is. I had seen so many people, complete strangers chatting to each other on the train. I couldn’t imagine that happening in Australia, or at least, not in Sydney.
I arrived in San Diego an hour earlier than expected – per the Amtrak timetable I was expecting to arrive at 1.38pm, but when I looked online the 1.38pm Amtrak didn’t exist. I was thankful there was wifi on the train and used skype to call Frodo, one of my hosts for the evening who had arranged for me to be picked up from the station. I was worried that they may think I was on a later train and not come to get me so I was relieved when she said just to stay put and someone would be by to pick me up. She was also able to resolve my other fear of not being able to post my bounce box, I would be able to leave money and they would send it off for me on Monday. I was extremely relieved.
It was a beautiful, blue sky sunny day when I disembarked the train at San Diego. It would be nice to be able to relax for a while in the sun. I headed across the road to a Starbucks and had a cold brew while I waited. The time passed quickly and before I knew it one of Scout and Frodo’s brilliant volunteers was driving up the road towards me with a yellow pom pom flowing from the window.
My pick up driver was none other than Heather Anderson (trail name ‘Anish’), who was, I believe, the first woman to triple crown in a calendar year. That means she hiked the Pacific Crest Trail (4,200km), Appalachian Trail (3,500km) and Continental Divide Trail (4,900km) in one year. A mindblowing achievement. Anish is also the current PCT speed record holder. I was feeling a little insignificant in Heather’s presence as we made our way to the airport to pick up two other arrivals.
At the airport one of the arrivals was Ben, an Aussie from Perth. He was a really nice guy and it was calming hearing an Aussie voice after so many American accents in such a short amount of time.We got to Scout and Frodo’s place around 3pm. Heather gave us a house tour explaining how everything works.
Scout and Frodo have set up an incredible operation of getting hikers started on the PCT. They take in up to 40 hikers every night, feed us breakfast and dinner, accept packages on our behalf, help us send packages further down the trail, do daily runs to a local outdoors store and telephone company and take people to the trail to get them off to a nice and early start. All of this and they refuse to accept any donations or gifts. They are truly wonderful, generous people.
After the tour I set about organising my gear, I found the new gear I had ordered and sent to Scout and Frodos including my replacement pack. The load lifters had broken on my old pack by the end of the TA and gossamer gear kindly offered to replace it. The replacement didn’t include a new hip belt so I had to disassemble and reassemble my pack.
After faffing around with my parcels it was time for the daily run to the AT&T store where all of the hikers from overseas got American sims for our phones. It took the best part of the afternoon and when we got back it wasn’t long before dinner. The dinner Scout and Frodo put on was a delicious burrito bar. Incredibly they cater for all dietary limitations.
It felt like an incredibly long day after such a long flight and so many new experiences. I took a Phenergan to be sure and went to bed to get an early nights sleep.
Sunday 28 April 2019
Location: Scout & Frodo’s (recovery day)
The Phenergan that I took before going to sleep last night must have worked because I woke up at 6am this morning and the whole tent was empty.
The majority of people sharing the tent I was in were headed out to the trail today. It was only myself and one other guy who were staying at Scout & Frodo’s for an extra night before starting the trail and he was inside having breakfast. Not wanting to miss out on warm frittata, I got up and dressed quickly and headed into the kitchen where hot coffee and a breakfast bar awaited me. There was frittata, toast, fruit and oats. It was a delicious way to start the day. After breakfast I had a shower and then helped with the morning chores.
Next on my list was resupplying. There are 3 huge hiker boxes at Scout & Frodo’s containing food left behind by other hikers, so I had a bit of a rat through them before heading to the supermarket. It was impressive how much I found considering we were effectively still at Mile 0! Oats, coconut milk, stock cubes, corn chip snacks and museli bars. I was very happy with my haul.I headed to the supermarket to get my groceries. I went to Sprouts first, a wholefoods type store with healthy choices and organic products. I found most of what I needed but was a little disappointed with the choice of wraps they stocked. I settled for some spinach ones which contained very little spinach and very processed ingredients. These sad wraps made me miss New Zealand and Farrahs brand of delicious flavoured healthy wraps.In the store I ran into Jeffery and Graham who were also staying at Scout & Frodo’s. We were all missing one or two things on our list and headed over to the regular supermarket a 25 minute walk away, Vons. I was looking for freeze dried vegies but for the life of me couldn’t find any, not even any peas. After seeing dehydrated peanut butter in Sprouts you think America would produce dehydrated vegetables! The closest I could find was some bean crisps which were essentially beans baked in oil. They were not great but they were better than nothing.
I withdrew some cash from the ATM at the supermarket and was hit with a shocking $6 fee. I will not be making the mistake of going to that particular bank’s ATMs again. With our shopping done, we all headed back to Scout & Frodo’s. I packed my bag, sorted out the food I was sending forward to Warner Springs as well as my bounce box and packed my food bag for the next 3 days.
After lunch it was a trip to Adventure 16, a local outfitter who for 5 years have been picking up hikers from Scout & Frodo’s and driving them down to their store to buy any last minute gear purchases. It is incredible the amount of support I have been offered already and I haven’t even started hiking the trail yet! At Adventure 16 they had a sign welcoming TA hikers and a world map where we could place a pin on our home town. It looked like half a dozen Sydney-siders had been through this year already. I only had to pick up a pair of sun gloves, so I patted the store dog and chatted to other hikers while I waited.Back at Scout & Frodo’s, I addressed my boxes, bought gas and a lighter and did a full pack of my bag to make sure everything was ready to go for the morning. I felt much more relaxed knowing all of the organising was behind me and I could finally relax. I even sat and had a cup of tea.Before long it was dinner time, an incredible buffet of burgers was put on. It just amazes me what these people do for complete strangers. We even had peanut butter swirl brownies for dessert. They were delicious! Dinner was followed by the nightly after dinner talk, but this time it was even more applicable to me… tomorrow I would be heading out on trail and starting my PCT journey.
I went to bed early feeling nervous but excited about the next morning and the next 5 months.
It hasn’t been that long since our last post, but in real time almost two months have now passed since we reached Bluff on the Te Araroa back in mid-March 2019…
As it turns out, this was more than enough time to jump headfirst into our next adventure 😉
As some of you may have already seen from our most recent Instagram photos, we will be heading to the US to hike the Pacific Crest Trail this season!
After much discussion, we decided that if we were ever going to do the PCT, there wouldn’t be a better time than right now – coming off the back of the TA we already have a good base level fitness, and we have our gear choices and daily hiking routines pretty much locked down.
For those of you that may not have heard of this trail before, the PCT is a super iconic 4,200km wilderness trail, running along the US west coast through California, Oregon and Washington. The trail’s southern terminus is on the Mexico/US border, just south of Campo, California and its northern terminus on the Canadian/US border on the edge of Manning Park in British Columbia.
The PCT is widely regarded as the pinnacle of long distance hiking.
Hiking the PCT has been on Leigh’s bucket list for a number of years now, but it was only really after hiking the TA that Adam started to give serious thought to hiking the PCT.
Leigh will start hiking solo from the US side of the Mexican border at the end of April 2019. Adam will remain at home in Australia for an extra month and a half to manage some work commitments, before joining Leigh at the start of the Sierra Nevada mountains in California for the remaining 3,000km of the trail.
The PCT is a considerably different trail to the TA and will bring with it many new challenges – whether it be the longer distances, the more extreme conditions (including snow and desert), the larger numbers of hikers on the trail, or the animals that we may encounter (rattlesnakes, bears etc).
We are really looking forward to facing these challenges and learning a lot along the way.
We hope you can follow our journey, either via our regular blog updates, or on Instagram (@adamleighandthetrees)!
Monday 11 March – Wednesday 13 March
Colac Bay to Bluff
Day: 146 – 148
Cumulative km’s: 2,996km / 2,996km
It doesn’t feel real that we are only 3 days away from the end of this amazing adventure.
Less than 5 months ago we arrived at Cape Reinga at the top of New Zealand’s North Island, fresh-faced and hopeful, but with no idea what lay ahead or whether we would even make it all the way to Bluff. Back then, it was hard to comprehend that it was even possible to travel the length of a country by foot – yet here we are, only a stone’s throw away from the bottom of New Zealand. Go us!
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves though, we still have a couple of tough days ahead to actually reach the official end of the trail at Stirling Point, Bluff. In particular, we had heard from other hikers that the stretch of road walking from Invercargill to Bluff would be especially demoralising, with the space between hiker and semi trailers travelling at 100km/hr being next to nothing.
Day 146 – Monday 11 March, 12km
Colac Bay to Riverton
Today was supposed to be a short, easy day. So, in typical TA style, it ended up being neither of those things.
With only 12km of mostly beach walking between Colac Bay and Riverton, we had planned to arrive into Riverton by lunchtime and enjoy the afternoon off. The plan was that this would help our feet and legs get ready for the next two days as we would need to walk 30km+ each day.
The day started in spectacular fashion – getting away from Colac Bay just as the sun started to rise, we were greeted by an empty beach and stunning colours as far as the eye could see.
The sand was firm underfoot to begin with and we made good progress (apart from stopping every few steps to take another photo), but it wasn’t long before the sand changed into small pebbles and our frustration rose as our feet sunk into the loose pebbles with every step.
With my shoes now sporting a large hole on the sides of both feet, I pre-emptively ditched my shoes in favour of walking barefoot, hoping to protect my shoes from further punishment as they still had to last another two days to get me to Bluff. It wasn’t long before it became clear that barefoot walking wasn’t a good idea either, with the friction on the bottoms of my feet rising to the point where I had to resort to wearing my crocs.
Despite best efforts, my crocs quickly filled with pebbles as I walked, making for an uncomfortable and unexpected massage on the soles of my feet. This made for slow going as I stopped to empty the pebbles out every few metres. By this stage, Leigh had also given up on her shoes, opting to walk in a stylish combo of socks and zeros instead, as the slope of the beach often had us walking in the water.
It wasn’t until we eventually reached the end of the beach, when Leigh went to put her shoes on that she realised one of her shoes had fallen off her pack somewhere back on the beach. Retracing her steps for 500m or so, the rogue shoe was luckily located and we were able to continue.
We were now only a handful of km’s from Riverton and we thought that it would be a cruisy walk to our accommodation for the night. As we left the beach, the trail climbed over the headland, through private property which appeared to be some kind of deer farm.
Pretty soon it became clear that this section of the trail was not going to be the cakewalk we had anticipated. Markers were few and far between and the myriad of foot tracks leading through the property would lead to a frustrating afternoon. Luckily the beachside scenery was nice!
Some highlights of our struggle on this section included taking a wrong turn and having to climb a locked 6ft high deer fence to get back on the trail, as well as following one part of the track through dense coastal shrub only for the trail to lead directly into a muddy mess when we could have just as easily continued to walk along the nearby sand. Leigh was particularly pleased with this unnecessary mud encounter.
The last part of day was nice though, climbing a well graded rainforest track up to a lookout where we took in the views back to Colac Bay and Longwood Forest as well as towards Riverton.
We finally arrived at Riverton Holiday Park about half an hour later and took the opportunity to dry out our soggy tent fly on account of the early morning start. Tonight we decided to splash out on a retro caravan rather than slumming it in the tent again.
Day 147 – Tuesday 12 March, 33km
Riverton to Invercargill
With a big day ahead of us, we were up before sunrise in an effort to get away as early as possible. Unfortunately, we soon discovered that the holiday park kitchen was closed until 7am, which meant we wouldn’t be going anywhere in the short term as we’d left our breakfast in the camp fridge.
Once the kitchen opened and with our bellies now full, we finally hit the trail and headed for the thriving metropolis of Invercargill. With the morning off to a slower start than expected, we made the most of the later start, taking in the amazing reflections on the water of Riverton harbour.
Peeling ourselves away from the harbour, we crossed a bridge and followed the trail towards the beach. A bit of bush bashing later, we reached Oreti Beach proper and started on the 20km+ section of beach walking that would take us most of the way to Invercargill.
Thankfully, the sand on this section of beach turned out to be a tad firmer than yesterday, which made better for walking. Other than the birds and the odd TA hiker, we had the beach to ourselves.
After starting on 100 Mile Beach in Northland back in October, it was a nice touch to be able to return to the beach for one final stretch on our way to Bluff. It was a gentle reminder of how far we have come on this crazy journey.
It was surprisingly easy to get back into the zone for beach walking. The beach came and went without any real fuss or issue. Leaving the beach, we stopped at a bench in a nearby carpark for some lunch, and were joined by Nick and Abby shortly after, followed by a bunch of other TA hikers.
While the morning’s beach walking was fairly uneventful, the last 9km of trail/road wasn’t overly fun. I would have happily traded it for more beach walking.
As we got closer to Invercargill and the roads got busier, we were grateful for the assortment of gravel footpaths and road shoulders that we were able to use to put some space between us and the cars.
It had been a while since we had a solid chunk of road walking, and I’d forgotten how much it doesn’t agree with my feet. Not long after we hit the concrete footpaths, my feet began to ache and I started to have flashbacks to the North Island.
I hadn’t had a blister in months but bizarrely I could now feel a blister forming under my left foot. I thought back to my decision to walk barefoot on Colac Bay beach, and started to regret it. The scenery of earlier in the morning was nowhere to be seen, as we trudged through suburbia. By the time we finally reached the turnoff of the trail into Invercargill, my feet were wrecked and there were still another 2km to walk through the city to get to our accommodation for the night.
Leigh headed off in search of a supermarket and a healthy dinner, while I hobbled directly to the highly recommended Southern Comfort Backpackers on the other side of town, opting for a Macca’s run later in the evening once my feet had recovered a bit from the punishing re-introduction to roadwalking.
Tommorow, we will reach Bluff – we’re not ready for this adventure to end!
Day 148 – Wednesday 13 March, 33km
Invercargill to Bluff
We awoke to a weather forecast of rain later in the day. Experience tells us that rain + road walking = frustration, but today is our last day on the trail so we’ll just have to suck it up. As much as I would have loved to end the trail on a beautiful sunny day, it wouldn’t be the TA if everything went exactly to plan. Finishing the trail in the rain feels pretty apt in that respect.
We managed to get a few hours of passable weather to start the day off – which allowed us to retrace our steps through Invercargill back to the official trail. Once back on the trail, we followed a cyclepath around the edge of a nearby estuary, stopping from time to time to chat with friendly locals and other TA hikers. One local in particular was a strong advocate for trying some of the famous Bluff oysters once we finished the trail. Apparently they were much better than “those rubbish oysters you get in Sydney”. We didn’t have the heart to tell him that neither of us eat seafood.
The clouds started to gather and it became pretty clear that the weatherman was right – we were definitely going to get a wet tail. We donned our rain gear just as we reached the end of the footpath, the heavens started to open and we ate our lunch in the rain.
This would be our last respite from the road – about 15km of highway walking stood between us and Bluff. We reluctantly headed to the road, and were met with relentless rain and wind, topped off by an endless parade of cars and trucks whizzing by within a metre or two of us.
Before long my foot pain was back and my walking pace started to slow. I couldn’t keep up with Leigh but I knew I would get there eventually and my feet wouldn’t let me go any faster even if I wanted to.
As we got closer to Bluff it was a pleasant surprise to get the odd wave or horn toot from passing motorists, congratulating us on being so close to our goal of reaching Bluff. It gave us the boost that we needed to make the final push.
I was grateful to finally reach the iconic Bluff sign, where we stopped for a few photos and to rest our aching feet. Only 5km to go now until we would reach Stirling Point. By this time, the rain had thankfully stopped for a moment and we were out of the wind. We continued on the footpath through the quirky town of Bluff, towards Stirling Point.
Climbing the last small hill before Stirling Point, we spotted fellow TA hikers Nick and Abby who gave us a cheer as we completed our final few steps.
After sharing our congratulations with Nick and Abby, we headed over to the famous Bluff monument to take a few photos.
It was a strange feeling reaching the Bluff monument. You think it’s going to be this overwhelming moment that is the culmination of everything that you’ve been through since leaving Cape Reinga in Northland, but it was more a feeling of relief for me than anything else. That we had been able to achieve what we had set out to achieve and that we could now take it easy. Still, it will be a weird feeling getting up in the morning tomorrow and not having to walk 20-30km, as this routine has become so normal to us now.
Once we were finished taking photos at the monument, we stopped off at the restaurant opposite the monument to sign the TA guestbook. Upon entering the restaurant we were greeted by more applause by some fellow hikers who had finished earlier in the day. After chatting briefly, we signed the guestbook and stayed for a celebratory drink, delaying the inevitable 2km walk back to our hostel for the night, Bluff Lodge.
Luckily we had the foresight to pre-book our accommodation over a week ago, so we were able to reserve the only king bedroom in the entire place. We spent the evening sitting around the hostel sharing stories and laughs with a bunch of fellow TA hikers. I couldn’t think of a better way to end this amazing adventure.
With our Te Araroa journey now over, we will take some time to travel around other parts of New Zealand as normal tourists before flying home to Australia.
We have been talking a bit between ourselves in the lead up to reaching Bluff about what come next for us. Doing this trail has opened our eyes to a different way of living – really prioritising adventure and new experiences as much as possible. There’s just so many options out there though and not enough time to see it all.
One thing is for sure… we will keep you posted on whatever adventures we decide to chase, whether they be big or small.
Finally, we are planning on pulling together a more comprehensive TA debrief blog at some point that other hikers can use as a resource. The goal will be to share some more detailed thoughts about the TA experience from the perspective of first time long distance hikers, to run through some basic reviews of our TA gear choices and talk about some of the key lessons we took away from the trail.
If you are planning on hiking the TA in the future and you have any questions, feel free to hit us up either here or on Instagram.
That’s all for now – thank you to everyone who has followed our TA journey! It has been a blast and we hope you all were at least midly entertained by our written ramblings. Until next time…
Tuesday 5th March – Sunday 10th March
Te Anau to Colac Bay
Day: 140 to 145
Cumulative Km’s: 2,918 / 3,000km
This post is a little overdue, being written a month after events, from our home base of Sydney. We have been home for 3 weeks now and have been off the TA for almost 5 weeks. A little distracted by the pleasures of travel during the last couple of weeks we spent in New Zealand and catching up with friends and family on our return to Sydney, we thought that our last couple of TA posts were better off being written late than never being written at all.
We last wrote to you from Te Anau where we spent a few days off trail. During the long road walk into Te Anau I had some intense pain flare up across the top of my foot. I hadn’t experienced anything like it on the trail to date and it flared up quickly. A diagnosis from Dr Google had left me fearing the worst, tendinitis. Being so close to the end of our TA journey we didn’t want to risk further injury so reluctantly we adjusted our plans. We were originally meant to be having some time off trail to walk the Kepler Track but planning it safe we decided to stay put in Te Anau, rest and visit a physio.
After a couple of days rest, ice and Voltaren I nervously headed off to my physio appointment. Luckily the pain was caused by a tight tendon running from my calf down to my toes, no inflammation and no tendinitis. After an intense massage treatment I hobbled back to the hostel a little bruised but happy that we had the all clear to head back out on trail the next day.
Over the next week we would make our way through the final forest stretches of the TA including the notoriously muddy Longwood Forest. It felt like a week long recap of the North Island where we enjoyed stretches of forest, farm and beach. So close to the end of the trail it was nice to experience a walk down memory lane, thinking about all we had done and seen and how incredibly far we had come since beginning our TA journey, both literally and figuratively.
Thank you for sticking with us as we prepare for our final push to Bluff!
Day 140 – Tuesday 5th March, 22km
Te Anau (Princhester Road) to Aparima Hut
It was our first day back on trail after our rest in Te Anau. We ate breakfast at the hostel, cleaning out the remaining fresh food from our nearly week long stay. I ate a huge amount of fruit and yogurt and prepared an obscene amount of fresh food for the day ahead, fruit, salad wraps, boiled eggs. When I finally packed my bag it was the heaviest it had been since our 10 day stretch through the Richmond Ranges and this time we were only packing for 7 days.
It seems that the longer we have been on trail the seemingly less worried I am about pack weight. Unable to eat oats for yet another week I packed bread and butter for breakfast and for lunch, bagels, dip, cheese and boiled eggs. All of this food is very exciting and delicious when you are out on trail but it is also very bulky and heavy.
It was 10 am before we checked out of the hostel and made our way to the main road to catch a hitch out of town. It look nearly half an hour to get a ride but in the end a lovely English couple pulled over and gave us a lift. They were in New Zealand on a month long holiday. They were lovely people and we enjoyed exchanging travel stories as we drove. They were on their way to Christchurch with only a week of their holiday left. After 20 minutes or so we reached the Princhester Road turn off and said our goodbyes as we headed back onto the trail.
We had about 5 km of gravel road walking through a farm before hitting forest. Along the farm road we passed the farmers who presumably owned the property. We gave them a wave and said hi, they gave us a thumbs up and a ‘not long now, well done!’ They were very nice people, letting us come through their property and being supportive and friendly to boot.The farmers were right, as of today we only have 9 days left on the trail. After so long on trail it is strange to think about this long journey coming to an end. Throughout our morning I repeatedly thought about what it will feel like to reach Bluff, what it will be like to go home, eat normal food from a refrigerator, shower every day and wear something other than my hiking clothes. The more I thought about it the more I thought that I was ready for a break from trail life for just a little while.After an hour or so of walking along the gravel farm road we arrived at Princhester Hut. It was around midday so we had lunch at the hut before continuing on. I still wasn’t hungry from my huge breakfast but my wraps were heavy and I wanted them out of my bag before we started climbing so I forced myself to eat them.After lunch we headed into the bush, the trail was through a pretty beech forest, as the trail climbed up the hillside it wasn’t far before we hit patches of bog and mud. It felt like the track deteriorated as the day wore on. Our afternoon was spent between walking though sections of forest and bashing our way through sections of tall, thick tussock. It was an incredibly slow going section of trail. Our trail notes had indicated the section would take 5 or 6 hours to walk but in the end it took us about 7 hours.We moved through some beautiful valleys and the weather was perfect for hiking but the ground underfoot was frustrating to walk though. The tussock was chest high, when it’s gets that long you can’t see what you are stepping on and often the ground is rutted and uneven underfoot.At one point I fell knee deep into thick mud and was so badly submerged that I needed Adam to pull me out. It was in these such moments that I thought, ‘nope, I won’t feel sad about finishing. Bring on the dry feet and daily showers!’. But only a few hours later when we had climbed to a really beautiful knoll looking out over the valley I thought, ‘yep I will miss this’.It was a busy day on the trail and by the time we arrived at Aparima hut there were already 8 people already spread between the two huts. We knew there would be 2 more people coming so we decided to tent outside instead. Adam was undergoing a bout of hanger (which wasn’t helped when he accidentally spilled half his dinner on the deck of the hut), so it was a speedy dinner before heading to bed for a well earned and sound night’s rest.
Day 141 – Wednesday 6th March, 21km
Aparima Hut to Telford campsite
Departing Aparima Hut it wasn’t long before we reached the Aparima River, crossing via a swing bridge. As I crossed the bridge I wondered if it would be our final swing bridge of the trail. I will miss the swing bridges, they add a little bit of excitement to our days.After crossing the river we had another stretch of tussock filled bog to walk through before we entered the Takitimu Forest. I had given up trying to keep my legs clean after yesterday but ended up covered in mud up to my knees. I hoped the trail would improve once we entered the forest, as our luck would have it the trail did just that. It became much easier walking through the beech forest. The ground was soft but stable under foot and the forest was pretty, dripping in moss and greenery. It was an absolute pleasure to walk through after the tussock and bog.We crossed a couple of descent sized streams during the morning so I took the opportunity to rinse off my legs and feet the best I could. The forest mud has a distinctive, unpleasant smell about it and once it has been in contact with your wet feet and socks for a couple of days the smell becomes putrid. I will definitely not miss the mud once we have finished the TA.My favorite part of the Takitimu Forest was the large stretches of ferns carpeting the forest floor. It felt like we were walking through a glen where goblins and fairies live. By 12pm Adam and I were both pretty hungry so we found a perch for lunch off the damp forest floor and enjoyed our picnic lunches.It was only another 4 km’s or so to Lower Wairaki Hut. We stopped in and used the facilities but didn’t stay long before continuing on. Ahead of us was a climb to the high point of this section of trail at just over 1,000m.After reaching the peak the trail undulated, we walked up and down another couple of hills before we popped out of the forest for good. Upon exiting the forest we were unexpectedly met with stunning views.We could see over the farmland we would be walk through over the next couple of days and right out to the sea. There was a little bit of haze in the sky from a nearby wildfire but despite this we could make out the mountain tops on Stewart Island. I felt emotional seeing the ocean. It sunk it that we are close to the end of the trail. We started this epic journey at the ocean almost 5 months ago and in just over a week will finish at the ocean, almost 3,000km away.We spent some time admiring the evening light over the mountains surrounding us and the view below us before we slowly made our way down hill.About 1 km from the top, just before the final descent into Telford camp we stopped to enjoy dinner with a view. We had heard that although beautiful, Telford camp was plagued by sandflies so we decided to enjoy an early sandfly free dinner. When we finally made it down to camp all we needed to do was put up the tent and crawl into bed, after a hot chocolate of course.
Day 142 – Thursday 7th March, 27km
Telford campsite to Birchwood Cabin
We woke up tired this morning, after strong winds blew through the camp all night we didn’t sleep well. Our sleep was constantly interrupted by the tent fly flapping and poles straining against the wind. After a few hours of sleeplessly worrying about whether the tent was going to withstand the wind I gave up and put my earplugs in so I could get a couple of hours sleep. I figured that if things went really wrong I’d be woken up but in the meantime there wasn’t much I could do.
In the early hours the winds whipped even more fiercely and we resorted to taking the fly off to reduce the risk of it tearing. Once awake and fussing with the tent we quickly learnt that we weren’t the only ones struggling with wild winds, there were about half a dozen tents at the campsite that night and we could see the headlamps of other worried campers flashing about in the dark. Despite the stress induced by the winds it was a beautiful starry night and taking the fly off allowed us to enjoy it.In our tired state we packed up camp quickly in the morning, doing our best to avoid the hungry sandflies trying to breakfast on our blood. Today we would be walking through Mt Linton station which, according to the TA trip notes is one of New Zealand’s largest working cattle stations.
After climbing over a stile and crossing a large stream we began our climb up a steep 4wd road which we would spend a large portion of our day walking along. For a large cattle farm we didn’t encounter many cattle during the day. We passed two small heards, the latter of which appeared to be unwell, simultaneously coughing and expelling diarrhea. Needless to say we made our way out of that paddock quickly.
Our route through the farm took us through many creek crossings, some more pleasant than others. One murky bog we crossed was knee deep and stunk of something putrid, I was worried about catching something from the dirty water after seeing a decaying goose carcass sitting on the bank.
We were prepared for bad weather today, it was forecast and as the day progressed we could see the rain closing in on us. We preemptively took an early lunch break so we could eat in the dry before the rain hit. It was only 15 minutes after we finished lunch that it started bucking down. We walked for hours through the torrential downpour expecting it to cease or at least slow for a little while but it didn’t, it kept coming and coming. The rain was so heavy that we couldn’t see more than a couple of meters in front of us. The clay soil meant water pooled under our feet. We were soaked through and uncomfortable.
We walked through soaked paddock after soaked paddock until we eventually reached the road. We were thankful that the rain finally started to slow and we could walk the final stretch to Birchwood Station cabin without our rain hoods on.
We were soaked through when we arrived at the hut, we were so happy to have a dry roof over our heads. When we arrived the hut was already full, 15 people spread all over the two room little house but at that point it didn’t matter. We were super lucky that we had sent a text message to the owner ahead of time who had reserved a bunk bed for each of us. The fire was going and it was toasty warm inside. There was even a hot shower and an inside toilet, pure bliss after a long cold day in the rain.
Day 143 – Friday 8th March, 27km
Birchwood Cabin to Merriview Hut
After the misery that was yesterday afternoon, today turned out to be a lovely day of hiking. It felt like a walk through memory lane, little snippets of trail reminding us of the places we walked through on the north Island.
It was a lazy start to the day and we were the last to leave the hut, heading back out on the road just after 9am. I think we are starting later and later the further we progress on the trail.
We had a few km’s of country road walking ahead of us before we ventured back onto private farmland. It was pleasant road walking, at that perfect time of day where the sun had just come up and was starting to melt away the morning frost.
The first stretch of farmland we walked through was half forestry. The first paddock had recently been felled and as we continued our way along the fence line we came to see that they were in the process of felling another big section of eucalyptus. It was incredible to see. One man in a machine, sawing down the trees in seconds and taking less than a minute to completely strip a tree of all its bark, branches and leaves. It was barbaric but fascinating. The man in his tree slaying machine paused to let us pass and we walked by briskly for fear of falling trees and flying wood chips.
Past the decimated fields of trees it was into paddocks of what looked like kohlrabi which we later found out were actually turnips, grown to feed livestock. Who would have thunk it. The trail was a little ambiguous and it was difficult to tell which route going to make for the easiest walking so we jumped the fence between two paddocks a couple of times, from the kholrabi to the sheep and back again. I crossed back into the Kholrabi paddock for the final time after walking upon two dead sheep carcasses laying in the sheep paddock. The smell was intense to say the least.
We had a steep climb ahead of us but had comfort knowing it would be our only steep climb of the day! And on a 4wd track no less, so the going was made a little easier.
It was a pleasant afternoon of walking through pine forest which reminded me a lot of the day we walked from KeriKeri to Pahia on the North Island. One of the roads was even the same name as a forestry road we had walked on that day! We stopped for a pleasant trail side lunch in warm sunshine.
After lunch we entered a forest reserve, it was beautiful, carpeted with ferns, dripping in moss and greenery with plenty of bird song overhead. It was so lovely we had to stop to take it all in. We exited the forest reserve through yet another farm. We had arrived at Scotts Gap and from here had some more road walking through county roads flanked by pretty farm land. We were reminded of the lush green clover pasture we walked through in Northland. We didn’t feel like we were on the South Island.
During our road walk we passed a big flock of very hairy sheep which we figured must have been Merino with all of those luscious locks. After admiring the sheep it was back into pine forest.
We walked through a stretch of forest where cute mushrooms had sprung up from the forest floor. They looked as if they should have smurf living in them, like something imagined into life from a child’s picture book. The trail then lead us to a section of single track through a pretty rainforest before we found ourselves on a diary farm.
It felt like we were experiencing a day in the life of a dairy cow as we exited the paddock, heading for the highway underpass the cows use to move to and from the milking sheds.
With all of the different sections we moved through during the day it felt like a long day hiking. We exited the paddock and joined the highway with sore feet but only 2km to walk until Merriview Hut, our home for the evening. Merriview Hut is a private hut built by local farmers who live beside the trail. They sell fresh eggs and have an honesty box for camping and hut fees. When we arrived Abbey and Nick, another couple we had been hiking the trail with, had hitched into town to resupply and come back again. We were met with an offer of ANZAC biscuits and corn chips. It was amazing!
Merriview Hut only sleeps 4 but has a fantastic outdoor kitchen area where we sat, ate dinner and watched the sheep and chickens in the paddock next door. The chickens were super friendly, one kept coming through the fence to check for crumbs on the deck of the hut. The sheep provided endless entertainment, trying to eat dirty hiker socks and other clothes hung drying on the fence. We quickly figured out the sheep preferred the long grass growing just out of their reach. We were breaking off handfuls for them, feeding it through the fence. It was all fun and games at the start, the sheep were like puppies, pawing at the fence every time we stopped so we would feed them more and more. The fun abruptly came to an end when jealously over the ‘better grass’ caused a battle between the two sheep.
After an entertaining afternoon we fell asleep to the sound of amorous deer in the surrounding paddocks. It was fitting because it is deer roar season (mating season which runs from March through April) and tomorrow we enter the Longwood Forest, prime Red Deer hunting territory.
Day 144 – Saturday 9th March, 28km
Merriview Hut to Martins Hut
We had planned for today to be a big day, we had heard the Longwood forest was tough going, muddy and steep so we got up early to make sure we had enough time to get through it before sun down. Its deer roar season at the moment which means there are a lot of hunters out in Longwood forest (according to the TA notes). The TA advises all hikers wear a high viz vest to make sure hunters don’t mistake you for a dear. Adam got chatting to a local in the outdoor store in Te Anau who advised us that it would be fine to walk without a vest but we should avoid walking at night because our headlamps could be mistaken for the reflective glint of a deers eye 😬.
So, in the dark we woke at 6am, instantly remembering why we no longer get up early. Packing up in the dark and cold is not fun. We were out on the road at 7.30, we had 7km’s of road before we hit the notoriously muddy, Longwood Forest. We walked past 6 foot high deer fences, holding large herds of deer who moved liked huge schools of fish, dashing to get away from us as we walked by the roadside. We continued into forestry lands walking through towering eucalypts. As the morning warmed and the sun began to appear a refreshing eucalyptus smell was released from the trees as we walked.
After an hour or so we had a short break on the forest road, pausing so Adam could change. I did my foot stretches (as advised by the physio) and finger combed my hair, two important morning rituals I had forgotten about in our early departure that morning. Two guys we had been hiking with through this section walked past us. We had a quick friendly chat before they continued on. Then we took off ourselves, up the steady climb of the four wheel drive track.
After nearly 2 hours of road walking we reached the road end. We had a quick snack break before entering the forest. The Longwood forest was definitely muddy as we had been warned but it was also extremely beautiful. It felt like we were walking through an animation or fairytale, everything dripping in green, moss growing on every possible surface, trees, rocks, the ground. Some sections looked like an underwater garden, the moss different shades of green like different types of coral in a tropical ocean garden.
The thick rainforest was broken by open grasslands of tussock. It was through one of these grasslands where I made the mistake of not thoroughly checking the depth of a mud bog before stepping into it. I had tested the depth with my hiking pole for the first couple of steps and assumed I was fine to keep moving forward. I was wrong, so very very wrong. In practicing leave no trace principles it is best to walk through muddy patches of trail, not around them. Walking around them simply turns them into wide stretches of bog rather than narrow but muddy trails. Sometimes however, it is not practical nor safe to do so. This was one of those such instances.
As I took my second step across the mud patch I instantly slipped knee deep into the bog. The mud was thick and heavy and I couldn’t move my leg. I had tried and tried to pull my leg out but it felt horribly straining on my ankle. I was feeling those joins move in a way that I shouldn’t have felt them move so all I could do was call out to Adam to hurry up and help me. Luckily he wasn’t too far behind so I got him to take my pack from me to take some of the weight off my body. It still felt impossible. Adam then had the ingenious idea that I should try putting my free leg down beside the sunken leg, creating space for the sunken leg to move. Who would have thought physics would actually work!! The trouble was, my savior leg was now stuck in the mud. It took a couple more backwards moves like this before I could free myself of the mud completely. I was so relieved to be free. For the rest of the day I made sure I checked the mud properly before wading in.
After being freed from the mud it felt like we moved relatively quickly. We were climbing up to a high point but it didn’t feel like we were climbing at all. The mud distracted us. Before we knew it the forest opened out into a wide open field of alpine flowers and grasses. At the peak of the hill was a picturesque telephone tower! Not wanting to fry our internal organs we briefly enjoyed the views before descending a little way from the tower to stop for lunch. From our lunch spot we had views to the coast. It was a good feeling to see out to the coast and all the way to Bluff.
Day by day Bluff gets closer and closer and I get more and more excited and emotional about our finish. It is similar to the feelings I had leading up to the start of the TA. I would say to Adam, ‘can you believe we are actually going to do this?!’ Now I am saying, ‘can you believe we are actually going to finish this?!’
From the phone tower at Bald Hill we had a few km’s relief from the forest thanks to an access road. The trail eventually took us back into the forest, climbing steeply up towards the Longwood trig point. Once we reached height at 760m we again passed through a large open tussock and grassed area where we walked for a few km’s up to the trig. Unfortunately for us by the time we reached the trig we were completely whited out, walking inside a cloud with no views to speak of. The forecast had told us it was going to rain that afternoon, the threat of another soaking was encouragement to make it to the hut before the rain started.
From the trig we descended through more grass lands before we re-entered the forest. It was more muddy beauty in all its glory but it was short. Only a few km to the hut and it passed quickly.
I was so happy to arrive at Martins hut, astonishingly Adam and I managed to get a bed in the tiny 4 bunk hut. We are normally among the last to arrive into camp and miss out, it was especially nice to have a bed and roof on a rainy night. We immediately headed down to the stream to rinse out the mud. We were filthy up to the knees. It was a downhill bush bash to get to the stream but to be clean and free of the filthy thick mud was worth it.
A very kind local who walked the trail a few years back set up a trail magic at Martins hut for the TA season. Every week he would fill his backpack full of treats and hike hours through the forest to deliver the load to hungry TA walkers coming through the area. Unfortunately for us we arrived at a point in the week where stocks had not been replenished and found 2 sad zucchini which, with the amount of dried vegies I had been carrying around in my pack, we politely declined. Adam was devastated. He was really hanging out for a soft drink and some chips. He even did the incredibly self destructive thing of looking in the rubbish bin to see what he had missed out on eating. He was bummed having missing out on potential Powerade, Coke and chocolate. I raised the point that he never consumed those things when we are in towns anyway but he said that wasn’t the point.
We had a fun night sitting around chatting and eating dinner with our hut companions and fellow hikers. I felt bad for Abby and Nick who arrived shortly after us and had to set their tent up in the rain. Its a shame the old hut wasn’t bigger or didn’t have a porch, the camping options were limited and they were forced to pitch their tent on the trail.
Day 145 – Sunday 10th March, 23km
Martins Hut to Colac Bay Tavern
After a cozy sleep in Martins Hut we had our final stretch of forest walking ahead of us today. It was meant to be the best part of a 30km walk but after finding out about a short cut whilst chatting to our fellow hikers last night we decided to take it, making our day shorter and detouring around a good deal of mud.
From Martins Hut the trail was in better condition than it had been the day before and the forest more spectacular! Somehow it was more beautiful and more green than the previous few days. We were walking through old gold mining territory and the trail followed a historic water race.
To get onto Ports water race track we had to walk a short stretch of well formed four wheel drive track. After yesterdays adventure through the mud the four wheel drive track was pleasant to walk. It was such pleasant walking that we overshot the track turn off. Adam realised half a kilometer down the trail and we back tracked, feeling relieved that we hadn’t walked too far down the hill before realising. When we got back to the turn off Abby and Nick were just arriving at the junction, saying they probably would have missed it too if we hadn’t been walking back up the trail.
On Ports water race track we enjoyed beautiful forest and a decent walking track (compared to yesterday). We walked past historic mining equipment, a glimpse into the past.
We enjoyed lunch in a small clearing by a stream. Just enough space for the two of us to sit and eat. The stream water was a dirty brown colour, I wasn’t overly happy with it but was low on water so I filtered it and drank it anyhow, hoping for the best.
We came across two potential short cut tracks along Ports water race, the first through Martins farm, we hadn’t previously heard of that one and it looked indirect so we opted to continue on and take the second short cut, McKay exit. By this point on the trail we could already see and smell the farm through a sparse corridor of trees separating the trail from the paddock.
From McKays exit it was a quick dash through a paddock, down a driveway and onto the main road. As soon as we exited the forest and entered the paddock we could see the ocean stretching out in front of us and Bluff out to our left on the horizon. It was a good feeling to be back near the ocean, a comforting feeling.
Once we hit the tarmac it was a short couple of km’s walk into town where we had hot showers and burgers awaiting us at Colac Bay Tavern.
Saturday 23 February – Monday 4 March
Queenstown to Te Anau
Day: 130 – 139
Km’s: 97km (+ some off-trail km’s)
Cumulative km’s: 2,763km / 3,000km
As we get closer to the end of the Te Araroa trail, we have been making an effort to slow down and incorporate a few side trips, including some of New Zealand’s Great Walks.
In this blog, we take an alternate path out of Queenstown, hiking the famous Routeburn Track before rejoining the official trail at Greenstone Hut, adding an extra two days to our journey south.
From there, we walked along the shores of the stunning Mavora Lakes, battled some challenging weather, and ended the week checking out the stunning Milford Sound while resting for a few days in Te Anau as Leigh waited for a physio appointment to sort out some foot pain.
Day 130 – Saturday 23 February, 6km (off-trail)
Queenstown to Routeburn Flats
We ended our stay in Queenstown with a short breakfast catch up with two friends from Sydney who happened to be in Queenstown for a wedding. It was great to see Tsae and Jason and hear what they have been up to since we last saw them. What a great way to end our time in Queenstown – the breakfast food at Bespoke Kitchen was super tasty too!
With breakfast in the bag, we headed down to the chemist, which was also a post office, to send our bounce box of excess gear to its final destination, Invercargill. After lugging that stupidly heavy box around each time we reach a major town for the past 4 months, I’m really looking forward to the moment I can burn that box to the ground. It’s going to be a profoundly satisfying moment when it arrives.
We’d pre-organised a shuttle to drop us out at the start of the Routeburn Track, but it wasn’t due to pick us up until after lunchtime, so we still had a few hours to kill. We did what any rational person would do, we headed to Patagonia Chocolates for one final serving of ice cream and a hot chocolate.
While we’d been told that it was possible to walk the Routeburn Track in a single day, we decided to take it a bit easier. Arriving at the start of the trail by late afternoon, we booked a campsite at Routeburn Flats, which was about 6kms or so into the hike.
Once the shuttle dropped us at the start of the trail, Leigh headed off to the car park to check out the destructive gang of keas that were attacking the parked cars. With the trail being so popular, there were plenty of cars for them to choose between.
After a quick snack and review of the trail map and distances, we started walking. Being late in the afternoon, we were going against the flow of people, as a lot of day walkers headed back to their cars.
The first section of the trail was a nice forest track, winding its way past a few rivers – the walking was easy but there wasn’t much in the way of views yet. Pleasant, but no wow factor that I had expected for a Great Walk. It was strange walking on a trail without having to get your feet wet for once though! I was pretty keen to get to the campsite before the weather turned as we were expecting rain to set in by the evening.
Eventually the people thinned out after a while and we reached Routeburn Flats. After checking in with the Hut warden, we stared through the large glass windows of the $130 per person per night hut, wondering what it looked like inside compared to the huts we have stayed in so far on the Te Araroa trail. Following the track past the hut for about 5 minutes, we arrived at the Routeburn Flats campground, which was the first real glimpse into what lay ahead for us tomorrow, with great views of the mountains around us.
Our timing couldn’t have been better as the rain started almost immediately after pitching the tent. With limited shelter around, we scurried inside and stayed there for the rest of the night.
Day 131 – Sunday 24 February, 28km (off-trail)
Routeburn Flats to McKellar Hut
With a biggish day ahead of us on the Routeburn Track, we had planned to get away early but the rain put a stop to that. Waking up to the sound of rain on the tent, we decided to have a slower morning, opting instead to wait for the rain to lighten up before facing the day.
Once we did manage to get up, the rain had passed and we could see a fresh dusting of snow on the mountain tops around us. The weather forecast was for potential snow down to 1,700m overnight, so it didn’t exactly come as a surprise, but it was a pleasant sight first thing in the morning nonetheless.
The track had us climbing all morning, from Routeburn Flats up to Routeburn Falls. The gradient was steady, but there were a few bottlenecks along the way, which slowed our progress as hikers came from the other direction. At one point, we were stuck waiting at a narrow bridge for what seemed like 20 or 30 people to cross one by one from the other direction.
Once we eventually reached Routeburn Falls, we were only expecting to see one DOC hut there but were astounded to see at least 3 or 4 multi-storey buildings. It seemed like we had stumbled into a resort village rather than a DOC hut location. As we hiked past the buildings we realised that some of the buildings were actually huts owned by private companies that do guided walks on the Routeburn Track. Suddenly the big glass windows, fancy lounges and acoustic guitars we could see from outside all made sense.
By the time we had reached Routeburn Falls, the scenery had already started to get better, but it turned out that it would become a lot more stunning as we approached Harris Saddle, the highest point on the track.
On the way to Harris Saddle, the track led us through a magnificent valley, with beautiful mountains surrounding us. The wind was icy cold on account of the overnight dusting of snow, but the weather was definitely on our side as we took in the amazing views. As we approached the saddle, we climbed up past a stunning tarn.
Once we popped over the saddle, more snow-capped mountains came into view and it finally became clear why this was such a popular walk. It is a pretty epic part of New Zealand.
We braved the cold and stopped near the saddle for lunch before heading off towards Lake Mackenzie.
As we siddled the mountain from the saddle, we had to stop and pinch ourselves regularly for the views that we had from the track. The contrast of the vibrantly coloured vegetation on the edge of the track with the snow capped mountains in the distance was really stunning.
We floated along the track until we reached the descent into Lake Mackenzie. The first steep section of trail in some time, careful attention had to be paid to where you were putting your feet as we descended. Making the most of the sunshine, we took a break on the grass foreshore of Lake Mackenzie and dried our soggy tent out while we had a quick break.
The walk from Lake Mackenzie to the next hut at Lake Howden was a busy one, as we regularly passed people heading in the opposite direction to us. As the track was quite narrow in parts, this often required a bit of coordination to work out who was going to let who go through first.
The highlight of the walk to Lake Howden was without doubt Earland Falls – the wind blowing the water spray through the air at the base of the falls to create a perfect miniature rainbow.
We had originally planned to camp at Greenstone Saddle, which was a free campsite on the adjoining Greenstone-Caples Track rather than the Routeburn Track, however, we got got confused when we passed the Lake Howden campground. We figured the Greenstone Saddle campground must be further along the track but after another 15 minutes of walking it seemed that the campground had been renamed from Greenstone Saddle to Howden Hut. Apparently, this was an initial step by DOC towards making the campsite a fee charging site in the near future.
We didn’t like the idea of backtracking, particularly as it was getting late in the day, so we decided to continue on to the next closest hut covered by our backcountry Hut passes, McKellar Hut. McKellar Hut turned out to be one of the nicest huts we’ve stayed in so far. It even had a flushing toilet, which was a real luxury in our books!
We reached the hut just in time to run into Martina and Dylan, who we had met way back in the Richmond Ranges. They had finished the TA a week or so beforehand and were now travelling around New Zealand doing a few hikes that they missed on the way down.
It was great to be in a hut again with separate sleeping quarters to the kitchen/dining area. Apparently it is common for people to walk the Greenstone-Caples Track then Routeburn, which is why the huts in this area are of a bit higher standard than your average backcountry hut. In any case, we were glad to only be sharing the 20 something bed hut with half a dozen other people.
Day 132 – Monday 25 February, 15km
McKellar Hut to Greenstone Hut
Another cold morning today. As we would be taking the quicker Greenstone Track instead of the slower Caples Track, we were in no rush to leave McKellar Hut.
We spent a bit of time chatting to the other guys who stayed in the hut last night. They were also all having a shorter day so were equally in no rush to leave the hut and the warmth of the fireplace.
Eventually we left the hut and ventured out in to the cold. The mountains still blocking the sun from providing any warmth on the trail.
Despite the cold, the Greenstone Track was a nice walk and well maintained for the most part. A beautiful mossy forest trail to begin with, the track soon reached an open farm valley, just in time to see a helicopter fly ovehead enroute to clean out the septic tank at McKellar Hut.
We pretty much stayed in the valley for the rest of the day. Other than the odd muddy section of trail due to cattle, the rest of the day went quickly as we stuck to a well graded forest trail. After the highs of the Routeburn Track, this was a fairly uneventful day.
We arrived at the spacious Greenstone Hut by early afternoon. Having heard some horror stories a few weeks ago about 50 people spending the night at the 20 bed hut, we were expecting it to be busy but we were glad when no more than half a dozen people turned up by the time the sun went down.
Day 133 – Tuesday 26 February, 21km
Greenstone Hut to Boundary Hut
With the end of the Te Araroa trail getting near and some shorter days planned this week, we’ve felt less pressure to get up early in the mornings now. It was another late start today.
The track should have been easy walking through the valley, but we didn’t expect the track to be as soggy as it ended up being. It was frustratingly difficult trying to keep your feet dry.
Luckily the picturesque valley made the wet feet and extra effort worthwhile.
We stopped briefly at Taipo Hut for lunch, which was a nice smaller hut but the sandflies were pretty bad outside. We met two German TA hikers inside and discussed the merits of hiking with an umbrella over lunch.
It was more of the same walking after lunch. With so much focus on where your feet were to avoid the soggy muck, you had to constantly remind yourself to look behind you and take the valley views in.
The wind started to pick up as we approached Boundary Hut but the forecasted rain held off. Some heavy rain is forecast overnight and tomorrow morning, so it could be a long wet day tomorrow.
Day 134 – Wednesday 27 February, 32km
Boundary Hut to Kiwi Burn Hut
The rain came through in a big way in the early hours of this morning. When we woke up around first light, the wind was bouncing off our small little hut and the rain bucketed down.
We decided to wait for a while to see if it would calm down a bit. About an hour later things had slowed down to the point where we felt ok about getting out on the trail.
By the time we packed up and left the hut it was still raining, but at least we could see where we were going through the rain which wouldn’t have been the case an hour earlier.
Throwing on our rain jackets and rain pants, we set out into the rain along a waterlogged 4wd track towards Carey’s Hut.
The rain and wind moved through the valley in waves – one minute the weather was good and the rain jackets came off, the next minute the weather was bad again and on went the rain jackets.
We reached the lakeside Carey’s Hut slightly ahead of schedule and dropped in for lunch. While we were there, the weather seemed to do a complete 180 – the rain disappeared and blue sky appeared. Thinking that this was a, promising sign, we set off towards Kiwi Burn Hut on the other side of Mavora Lakes.
As we got further away from the hut, the clouds suddenly got darker to the point where it looked like a storm was brewing. At one point it started to rain again, only it seemed like the rain was bouncing off the ground. On closer inspection, it turned out that it was in fact the smallest hail either of us had even seen.
The walking for the rest of the day wasn’t overly fun. It was so cold my hands were stinging and the driving rain didn’t help things. It was a relief to reach a swing bridge which got us across to the other side of the lake and under the protection of some trees.
The trail for the remainder of the day was in the forest. Mostly easy walking but the heavy rain from earlier in the day had turned the track into a river in parts. Even the waterproof socks I was wearing didn’t seem to help in keeping my feet dry.
We were glad to finally reach Kiwi Burn Hut. It was a nice surprise to have a fire already going inside the hut thanks to two Canadian hikers. The hut itself was nice but was one of the older styled huts that we have come across. The bunks in particular looked like they came straight out of the mid 1900s.
Day 135 – Thursday 28 February, 29km (+9km off-trail)
Kiwi Burn Hut to Te Anau
It was another freezing morning today. We were so glad to be inside the hut rather than in a tent. We woke to the smell of smoke as on of the other hikers started the fire again.
The worst part of the morning was without doubt putting on our wet socks and shoes again.
With a big day ahead of us, we tried to leave early-ish this morning. The cold air stung the hands again, so we made the call to avoid the river crossing and instead doubled back to the nearest bridge, keeping our feet as dry as possible.
The only problem with doubling back to the bridge was that our day would be closer than 40km instead of 30km.
Once we reached the gravel road, the sun started to come out and we started to defrost.
The walking was pretty uneventful from that point onwards. Just gravel road walking with no real mountains around us to look at. It was great for listening to audiobooks and podcasts.
With about 10km to go, Leigh started to get some pain in the top of her foot, so she switched to my crocs to alleviate her pain a little.
To top off the day, we finished with a 2.5km walk along the highway shoulder. We’d already organised a shuttle to pick us up but we were 45 minutes early, so had to sit around waiting on the side of the road for the bus.
Eventually the bus turned up and we took the shuttle into Te Anau. We had planned to walk the Kepler Track tomorrow but with Leigh’s foot not being 100% we may need to change up our plans.
Day 136 to 139 – Friday 1 March to Monday 4 March, 0km
Te Anau (rest days)
After discovering that there were only two physios in town, Leigh took the first available appointment on Monday morning to get her foot checked out. This meant we would have at least three days up our sleeve in Te Anau to rest in the interim.
We had originally planned to do a Milford Sound tour once we finished the Te Araroa trail, but with some extra time now to play with we decided to bring those plans forward. Thankfully, most tours involve only a bus ride and cruise, neither of which involve much walking.
After spending so much time on the trail, it was a tad strange to be on the normal tourist path – getting on and off the bus as directed by the driver in order to take photos of spots that have been chosen in advance for us to look at. Still, the drive out to Milford Sound was nice all the same, particularly once we reached the impressive Homer Tunnel.
We had perfect weather for our Milford Sound cruise, and really enjoyed playing tourist for the day. At times, it felt as though we were in an ad with the way the light bounced off the mountains.
We spent the rest of our downtime chilling out at the hostel, hanging out with friends of the four legged variety, and eating ice cream.