Sunday 17 February – Friday 22 February
Wanaka to Queenstown
Day: 124 – 129
Cumulative km’s: 2,666km / 3,000km
After a few days sight seeing around beautiful Wanaka we tramp our way to Queenstown on the Motatapu Track. This section was our last mountain range on the TA. We hope you enjoy the photos.
Day 124 – Sunday 17th Februay, 25km
Wanaka to Fern Burn Hut
It was tough to leave beautiful Wanaka, the comfy backpackers and the seemingly endless supply of delicious food.
We started the morning with one last egg breakfast before heading out into a cold morning. Our hostel was situated on the trail, we stepped out of our door and onto the trail. We walked through the main street of town, one last opportunity for coffee before Queenstown. It wasn’t really a question of whether or not to stop.
After the caffeine hit we walked along the edge of Lake Wanaka, passing the famous #thatwanakatree. I am still a little baffled as to why the tree has such a cult following, it sure was beautiful but the impact that social media can have on a single tree is astonishing. After snapping a couple of obligatory tree photos we continued on.
It was the perfect day for easing ourselves back onto the trail, cruisy lakeside walking followed by a short stretch of road before we would climb our way to Fern Burn Hut.
The further we moved from the centre of town the more beautiful Lake Wanaka became. I was glad we had a short day ahead of us so we could move slowly and enjoy the views.
There were plenty of people out for their Sunday morning jog or bike ride and what appeared to be plenty of people out for a warm down session after yesterday’s ‘Challenge Wanaka’ triathlon.
We had a morning tea break overlooking the lake, watching the morning light sparkle on the water. It was incredibly beautiful, it looked like thousands of twinkling fairy lights. In the distance, across the lake were snow topped mountains. It doesn’t get much better than that.
It was lunch time when we reached Glendhu Bay, we stopped in the shade of the trees looking out over the lake. We ate lunch watching a young girl learn to water ski. It was perfect lunch time entertainment.
First day hiking lunches are always the best, my wraps were filled with avocado, cheese and salad. When you know you have a long stretch ahead of you, eating nothing but peanut butter and dehydrated food for days you relish the opportunity for salad.
After lunch we had a few kms of gravel road walking ahead of us to reach the Motatapu Track.
Off the road and onto the Motatapu track it was a short but beautiful of section of trail to Fern Burn Hut. Leaving the trail head car park we walked through private farm land, crossing through what looked like a deer paddock with 6 foot high fences and some serious gates at either end.
Into the conservation area the track climbed through the valley following a crystal clear stream which seemed to grow as we climbed. The forest was mostly made up of beech trees, offering beautiful shade to walk under.
We had passed a number of trail runners on the track and a solo cyclist. The cyclist had riden past us before deciding the track probably wasn’t the best for cycling, he chained up his bike and decided to walk the rest of the way up. He walked with us a good portion of the way, chatting to Adam as we climbed. Eventually I stopped for a rest and he continued on.
The track climbed and dipped through the valley a number of times before the hut came into view. There would be one more dip and rise, just for good measure, before we made it to the hut.
When we arrived our new acquaintance was at the hut and we chatted to him for a while before two more fellow TA hikers, our friends TAFM came in. We farewelled our biking friend and spent the evening chatting to TAFM.
At about 8pm when we were all gearing down for bed, a couple of pack rafters came into sight moving up the trail, we had a chat to them about their TA journey which sounded like an incredible adventure. Chatting to the pack rafters we felt inspired, there are so many adventures to be had in this world and so little time!
Day 125-Monday 18th February, 16km
Fern Burn Hut to Roses Hut
We had an accidental sleep in this morning. The two lovely pack rafters who came in late last night held what sounded like a symphony of snoring on the bunks underneath us last night. They were so incredibly lovely, great guys, but were so incredibly loud.
I had wanted to get away early because the walking times on the TA notes for todays section were considerably shorter than the times listed on the DOC signs in the hut. Just incase the TA times were wrong I wanted to leave a buffer. It wasn’t to be, we didn’t get away until 8.30am which is a late start in hiker hours.
Out on trail the track climbed steeply from the hut, dipping and climbing the whole way to Highland Creek Hut. As we looked back down over when we had come from it was hard to believe we had climbed so far in such a short amount of time. The trails always look more difficult than they really are when you are standing at the bottom looking up.
The trail was narrow and a little overgrown in parts but when we could take our eyes off our feet, pausing for a breather, the views were more than worth the hard work of the climb. Behind us we had views back over lake Wanaka. Priceless vistas.
After reaching Jack Halls Saddle it was downhill all the way to highland creek hut.
When Highland Creek Hut came into view it felt like deja vu. The hut was nearly identical to Fern Burn Hut and was positioned in the same spot in a VERY similar looking valley. It took me a few moments to process the fact that we had not walked in a big loop back to the same hut but were standing in front of a new hut.
We ended up reaching Highland Creek hut in 3 hours, much shorter timing than what the TA notes and DOC had suggested. It was only 11.30am but there was rain threatening so we decided to have an early lunch in the hut. Just as we were finishing our lunch and packing up to leave our friends who we hutted with the previous evening, TAFM came in. We got chatting with them and after I had asked them some questions about their snazzy looking coffee filter, they offered to make us a coffee. In addition to the lack of sleep I was pretty sure I was having caffeine withdrawals so I couldn’t say no. It was delicious and made my afternoon.
Just as we were finishing our coffees, the packrafters came walking in offering around chocolate! Could it get any better?!? It was SO tempting to stay but we are on a schedule with accomodation booked in Queenstown and Te Anau so we continued on.
It was 1.30 before we left the hut, a long lunch break but we felt comfortable with the timings after the first section that morning.
Looking out from Highland Creek Hut we could see the trail heading steeply up the spur of the mountain in front of us. Out onto the trail we headed down into the valley before quickly heading up the steep trail. We had two big climbs and two big descents to get to Roses Hut.
We crossed a fence, from the conservation area back into private farmland and had beautiful views over the valley below us.
The trail descended steeply and we found ourselves in a pretty beech forest. We topped up our water and had a quick break before continuing to the final steep climb.
It was a bit frustrating climbing so far up again after just having descended the same distance but our legs are used to the climbing by now so it went quickly.
Reaching the high point of the trail we traversed along the ridgeline, taking in terrific views of the mountains all around us, covered in beautiful golden tussock. As we walked the clouds and rain started to close in and the wind picked up. We had been lucky to avoid the rain all day so we were waiting for it to catch up with us.
As the ridgeline started to drop down a little the hut came into view. We could see sheep, little white dots in the distance, grazing in the farmland surrounding the hut. It felt like it was taking an eternity to walk to the hut after having seen it from so far off. I was certain the rains would beat us there. As made our way down to the valley floor rain started to spit down on us but we ended up making it to the hut just before the heavier rain struck.
There was a solo north bound man in the hut, we exhanged trail info over dinner before retiring to an early nights sleep.
Day 126-Tuesday 19th February, 23km
Roses Hut to Arrowtown
It was still dark in the hut when my alarm went off at 7am. The first of the morning light was being blocked by the mountains. It was also raining which made it difficult to find the energy to get out of bed. By the time we left the hut at 8.45 the rain had slowed.
Despite the break in the weather we still wore our rain pants, keeping our legs dry from the tussock which was soaked by the rain over night.
As soon as we left the hut the trail had us climbing up to Roses saddle, 1270m above sea level. It was a long slow climb to the top. Thick cloud had settled over the valley so it wasn’t far into the ascent when we had climbed into the cloud. It obscured our views but I think it made the climb quicker and possibly a little easier. We couldn’t see how far we had come and how far we had to go or how high we were, all we could do was climb.
We popped up over the final hill and there was the sign marking Roses Saddle. The climb felt quicker than I expected. It was a complete white out at the top of the saddle. We couldn’t see anything and the wind was starting to pick up so we didn’t hang around for long before starting our descent.
As we crossed the saddle the wind picked up. It was cold and damp in the cloud and the wind was strong and icey. As we moved along the ridge the cloud started to break a little and we could see more of our surrounds. It was mystical walking through the clouds, seeing them swirl around us.
On our way down to the river we ran into Pheobe and Nettie, two other TA hikers. They had flipped this section (walking north instead of south) to walk with some old friends of theirs. We had a good chat with them. They gave us a heads up on the Patagonia ice cream shop in town so we decided we should head into town tonight rather than camp on the outskirts so we could have an afternoon ice cream.
We farewelled the group and continued down to the river. From the valley floor we took the river route into Macetown. The TA track is officially on a high flood route but the river route (in good conditions) is much more pleasant so we opted to follow the river.
We wound our way in and out of the crystal clear river down to historic Macetown.
Macetown is a historical old gold mining ‘town’, little more than ruins and a few restored dwellings it is being restored by DOC. I find these old towns fascinating so we wandered through taking a bit of a history lesson as we walked.
All brushed up on NZ gold mining history we decided to take the all weather route into Arrowtown. Whilst it is a few km longer in length than the high route we had been told it was a quicker and more pleasant option. We had been advised by numerous hikers that the high route views weren’t worth the effort. With the ice cream shop calling (with a 6pm closing time) we skipped big hill track and took the all weather 4WD track into Arrowtown.
The trail passed back and forth over the river a few times which was a reprieve from the now scortching afternoon sun. We saw a few more interesting historical points along our walk but other than that it was a pretty long hot boring walk into Arrowtown.
I was super excited when we popped straight out of the river and into the main street of town. The best part was, the trail basically entered town right on the doorstep of the ice cream shop. With 30 minutes to spare we had sweet cold indulgence in our hands. Phoebe and Netty hadn’t lied. It was the most delicious ice cream I have eaten since arriving in NZ. I will go far as to say it comes a pretty close second to my all time favorite ice cream, Serendipity (although i’ll probably have to try a couple more scoops to be able to verify that). Not only was the flavor incredible but the scoops were super generous too. I was in heaven. The best part, they also have a store in Queenstown!
We made the most of being in town and spent the night at the holiday park. Showers and laundry were much appreciated. Even though it was only a short section the stench levels were getting high. After 4 months on this journey I am growing less able to handle the smell of myself.
Day 127 – Wednesday 20th February,28km
Arrowtown to Queenstown
It rained throughout the night so we woke to a wet tent this morning. The upside was, we were in town and had a cafe breakfast to look forward to! We had been told that Arrowtown Provisions did excellent baked goods and coffee so we arrived right on opening for a delicious breaky before tackling our long walk into Queenstown. I was hoping for a croissant but they didn’t sell them so I had a savory scone instead. The scone hit the spot and the coffee pepped me up, I was full of energy for the day ahead. Adam was a little less excited for the almost 30km of road walking, clearly his chai latte didn’t have quite the same mood altering properties.
After breaky we wandered our way out of Arrowtown. It is a cute old town with an abundance of history, cafes and gift shops. The type of cute little tourist town you could spend a day wandering around, eating lots.
On the outskirts of Arrowtown there was a considerable amount of property development underway, housing estates springing up before our eyes. Unbeknown to us it was a taster of what was to come that afternoon on our way into Queenstown.
From Arrowtown the trail took us through a fancy looking estate, a golf course surrounded by large cookie cutter houses on teeny tiny blocks of land. It was visually beautiful with manicured lawns, ponds with families of ducks and symmetrical gardens.
From Arrowtown we hit Lake Hayes, a picturesque lake where locals were out enjoying the sunshine, walking and paddling. The mountains of Queenstown the perfect backdrop to the beautiful blue water.
The trail then took us along the Twin Rivers Trail where we spent the afternoon walking to Frankton along the Kawarau and shot over rivers.
We crossed the historic old shotover bridge, it was like a walk through history imagining the big horse drays crossing it from one side if the river to the other.
We entered Frankton through what seemed like the worst possible end of town, walking past the sewage treatment plant we marveled at the incredible vast open vats of human waste. It was mostly an industrial area and to be honest not very pleasant to walk through.
In Frankton we stopped at the pack’n’save to resupply. We had been warned by a north bound hiker that the supermarkets in Queenstown weren’t very good so we filled our packs with the 6 days of food supplies we will need to get us from Queenstown to Te Anau.
With heavy packs it was hard to find the motivation to keep walking again but it was under 10km along the lake to Queenstown.
We were a little shocked by how busy and loud it was walking into the big city. Aircraft buzzing over head, busy roads and plenty of people out enjoying the lake.
We walked by the terraced houses built into the cliffs around the lake, it was a stark contrast to the areas we had recently been hiking through.
When we reached the city centre we headed straight to none other than the Patagonia Ice Cream store for a refreshing afternoon treat. The lakefront was packed with people, mostly tourists enjoying the afternoon sun. It reminded us a little of circular quay back home.
After our ice cream we walked up the hill to our backpackers where we settled in for the night, looking forward to the next couple of days rest and exploration in Queenstown.
Day 128 – Thursday 21st February
We had a lazy morning at the backpackers, catching up on blog posts, emails and generally eating lots. It wasn’t until 3pm when we left the hostel. When you get used to walking every day it is difficult so sit still, I needed to get outside even if it was only for a short time. Adam didn’t feel the need so much but said he would come with me anyway so together we set out to walk the Queenstown Hill. Even the wak to the trail head was steep. It felt like a near vertical climb heading up the street to the start of the track. I was surprised the hand brakes of the cars parked on the side of the road were managing to hold them.
Most of the climbing of the walk was under a pine forest, we zig zagged our way up along numerous switch backs. It reminded me of the conical hill walk in Hanmer Springs. Once we popped out above the trees at the first lookout we had views from Frankston right over Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu.
We checked out the basket of dreams, a beautiful sculpture work sitting on the hillside looking out over the water.
On we continued the final couple of hundred meters to the top lookout. It was a great time of the afternoon to be on the hill, watching the light change the colour of the city around us.
It had been a few hours since our last meal so we headed down hill towards town, hopeful to try the famous Fergburger. Often there is a cue up to an hour for these burgers but we had been told by locals to simply place a phone order for pick up rather than wait in line. Once we were at road level we decided on this approach and tried calling for a good 10 minutes before we gave up. We decided to try our luck, walk into town and check out the line. The line was huge so we wandered around town, opting for Buddha bowls at Rehab instead. It was a flip from one end of the food triangle to the other but we evened out any positive health benefits by following our healthy meals with ice cream sundaes from Patagonia. Adam, a patagonia special containing strawberries and meringue and I a coffee sundae with coffee and dulche de leche. It was the most gaint, decadent afogato I had ever had the pleasure of indulging in.
Day 129 – Friday 22nd February
Today we would be tackling Ben Lomond, Queenstown and arguably according to some lists, one of New Zealand’s best day walks. The start of the hike was not far from our hostel. It felt quite strange to have such a spectacular mountain so close to the heart of the city.
When the alarm went off to get up we considered a sleep in, it would have meant we could get the 9am gondola part way up the mountain, saving us 1hr of walking but we forced ourselves up and in the end it was lucky we did. Ben Lomond would turn out to be a very popular day walk, and most of the people walking it had the same fantastic idea of getting the 9am gondola part way up the mountain. Getting up and walking just that little but earlier meant that we avoided the masses on the way up and were able to enjoy the views with a few minutes of solitude.
Our walk up to skyview level (the top of the gondola) was underneath a canopy of trees, first pine and then beech. Occasionally we had views out over the water. It was a steady climb, every so often we would come across the handywork of a talented arborist. There were mushrooms, chairs and all sorts of artworks carved into tree stumps along the way up.
The views opened up when we reached the gondola. We had a short break and continued our climb up. The trail took us over a little bridge at the luge course which I ear marked in my brain for a little fun later in the day. From here we skirted around the side of the mountain and climbed steadily to the saddle. It was slow going but the gradient was gentle which made it easy to plod along onwards and upwards.
From the saddle we had another short break to regain our breath before the steep climbing began, the push to the top. The track curved around the back of the mountain which meant we took in spectacular views over the ranges behind us as we climbed. It was magnificent.
We could see down to two farm houses which appeard to be in the middle of nowhere. It amazed me that on one side of the peak was an expansive mountain range and grazing land which looked so far removed from the bustling tourist hub on the other with newly constructed properties crammed into the terraced hillside.
There was a little bit of scrambling to reach the peak but once we made it up there we were wowed by the views. We were both most impressed by the mountain views but the lake and city side was also incredible. It was well worth the climb.
We hadn’t been long at the top when groups of people began to make their way up behind us. It was a good time for us to start heading down. As we made our way down we passed hundreds of people shuffling their way up the mountain, most of them looking very unhappy, some looked to be in pain and I guessed, regretting their decision to hike the mountain. We even passed a fully guided group.
Back down at gondola level we walked back over the luge track and decided it looked like good fun. We bought tickets for 2 runs each. The luge was was a blast. For our first run of the day we had to be on the slow run so we decided to opt for 2 runs so we could also have a crack at the fast run. On the fast run I burned past Adam and almost took out a family with young children but everyone made it in alive. I loved it, I could have spent all afternoon going down the luge over and over again.
We contemplated getting a ride in the gondola on the way down but decided it probably wasn’t worth the price tag given the views we just had. It was under an hour to walk down so we decided to use our feet.
It was mid afternoon by the time we got to the bottom. We decided it was probably a good neutral time to try to get some burgers from Fergburger and headed over. There was still a huge line out the door. We decided to simply commit and lined up. We had a 15min wait in line and another 5min wait for our food so it wasn’t too bad in the end. We took our feast to the park to enjoy it lake side. After all of the fuss and hype we were both a little let down with the burgers. They were big but the fillings weren’t anything special. Both vego options were deep fried, my deep fried tofu burger left me feeling pretty greasy and not all that great in the tummy, as did the onion rings which weren’t cooked properly and were super greasy. We both declared we wouldn’t line up for it again.
We deviate from the TA to spend a couple of days on the famous Routeburn Track before making our way through to Te Anau.
Friday 8 February – Saturday 16 February
Twizel to Wanaka
Day: 115 – 123
Cumulative km’s: 2,574km / 3,000km
This section of the trail had a bit of everything – seeing us follow some more flat and hot lakeside tracks, before heading back into the mountains with three steep climbs across consecutive days, with a spectacular pay off in the form of an epic ridgeline descent into Lake Hawea with a rainbow thrown in for good measure.
We also had a largely successful crossing of the official widest unbridged river on the TA, and ended the week chilling out in Wanaka. What more could a hiker ask for? 😁
Day 115 – Friday 8 February, 30km
Twizel to Lake Ohau
We wanted to get away early today to avoid the hottest part of the day but the lure of a sleep-in was too hard to resist… again. With 30km to walk today, it was always going to be a long day. The only question was how long.
Luckily for us, the trail was pretty flat, which meant we could move at a decent pace.
Following a highway for the first few kms, we reached another salmon farm before joining a dusty farm road which would take us most of the way through to Lake Ohau. After our recent highs on the trail, this day was a bit of a nothing day. It was hot on the exposed road and not much fun.
A few pine trees provided some much needed shade at one point for a brief moment but they were behind us before we knew it and we were back in the full sun.
Eventually the trail took us to the upper banks of a tempting-looking river, but we were too high above it to be able to get down to the water to cool off.
Eating lunch in the scorching sun, we didn’t hang around too long before continuing towards the Lake Ohau campsite. Once we reached the shores of the lake, we felt the temperature drop immediately as the lakeside breeze brought some much needed relief. The flat gravel cycle track surrounding the lake made for some easy walking too, which helped motivate us for the last 10km to the campsite.
We broke up this stretch of walking to take a quick dip in the lake. Not wanting to get my feet or legs wet, I had to think outside the box to cool off my upper half. Leigh, on the other hand, was happy to walk into the lake fully clothed.
Our final few kms of the day were on a road shoulder but there wasn’t too much traffic around, so it was pretty cruisy all things considered.
There was still a bit of wind around once we reached the DOC campsite, but we were happy to find some huge pine trees that we were able to use to effectively shelter our tent from both the wind and the sun.
Day 116 – Saturday 9 February, 28km
Lake Ohau to Ahuriri River
For the first time in a few days we managed to get up early and leave our campsite as the sun was rising. Despite being on the road shoulder again at times, I really enjoyed the morning walking, as we were regularly granted views of the sun rising over Lake Ohau.
It was also a great reminder to live in the moment rather than in your head, worrying about what may or may not happen. To just enjoy each moment for what it is. I made a concerted effort to let go of any concerns I had been holding onto in relation to crossing the Ahuriri River later in the day, finding a suitable campsite somewhere near the river and the potential for our plans to be thrown out of whack if the river turned out to be too dangerous to cross today.
After a few km of lakeside tracks, we joined the Sawyer Creek track on DOC land. Wide, well-graded track and lots of shade were all a bonus.
After accidentally missing the turnoff for the Freehold Creek Track, I doubled back for about 5 minutes to find the actual track. This would be the start of our climb today. The climb ended up being much more friendly than expected based on the elevation profile.
The track climbed through a shady beech forest with plenty of water available in mountain streams along the way. By mid morning we had emerged from the tree line with a few hundred more metres to climb to the top of the saddle. I celebrated the occasion by stopping to drink from a set of glass cups that someone had thoughtfully (and curiously) left on the trail.
The views from the top of the saddle made the climbing worth the effort.
Once over the saddle, the terrain started to flatten out, particularly as we got closer to the Ahuriri River. We chatted briefly with over a dozen northbound TA hikers that we crossed paths with on our way to the river.
As much as we tried, we couldn’t avoid the mud as we got closer to the end of the track. Stinky mud-soaked socks for the next few days again. Joy!
The valley really opened up before the river and the wind gusted across, buffeting us around the trail. The river valley looked unreal in the afternoon sun. Despite my initial concern, the Ahuriri River not as wide or deep as I had expected. The crossing would still be fun nonetheless.
Grateful for the clear water crossing, we judged the depth to be no deeper than mid-thigh and the river looked to be less powerful than our recent crossing of the Deception River near Arthur’s Pass. Leigh slipped over at one point during the crossing and got pretty wet, but we both made it across in one piece.
The wind was still strong and we didn’t feel like walking much further for the day, so we set about trying to find a sheltered spot somewhere near the river. We were joined shortly after by a Czech couple also walking the TA who had the same idea.
We went to sleep to the sound of minor rock falls on the steep scree edges of the river plain that we would need to climb tomorrow morning.
Day 117 – Sunday 10 February, 24km
Ahuriri River to Top Timaru Hut
In a rare occurance, we were up early for the second time in as many days. Conspicuously absent last night, the sandflies were out for blood this morning. We packed up and hit the trail as quickly as possible.
It was a tough climb straight up a loose scree slope to kick off the day. The trail then took us across converted farmland, where we both ran into a lost sheep that seemed to confuse us for a farmer from a distance, walking straight towards us before changing its path when it realised it did not in fact know us.
After passing some massive deer in a pen, we followed an old farm road for what felt like an eternity as it climbed for most of the morning.
The road surface eventually changed to scree and we reached Martha’s Saddle for lunch to take in the views. The wind was particularly strong at the saddle and cold. We were joined shortly after for a chat over lunch by our Czech friends from yesterday.
There were some epic switchbacks in the trail down from the saddle to Top Timaru Hut, our home for the night. The hut was one of the more modern ones and a step up after the old mustering huts of the past week or two.
I managed to get stung by a bumblebee when I grabbed a frayed piece of blue rope to close the toilet door. The bumblebee was hiding somewhere inside the frayed rope end and stung me right on the end of my finger. Upon telling Leigh of my predicament, her only concern was “that poor bee is going to die now”.
We thought we may have the hut to ourselves but were joined later by the famous Rapsey family from New Zealand, who have the two youngest children to ever walk the Te Araroa trail in its entirety (aged 6 and 9).
As we went to bed in the hut, we had the pleasure of listening in to a bed time story that mum was reading to the kids.
Day 118 – Monday 11 February, 24km
Top Timaru Hut to Pakituhi Hut
When we were originally planning this section, we had only intended to go through to Stodys Hut, but after hearing from other hikers that it was a bit of a dump, the lure of pushing through to the more modern Pakituhi Hut was strong. This change in plans would also mean that we would go past TA highlight, Breast Hill, today rather than a day later.
We were up and away early, before the sun rise, doing our best to pack up our stuff in the dark while the NZ family slept in the remaining bunks of Top Timaru Hut.
The morning walking had us travelling parallel to the river through the forest, but mostly a lot of frustrating up and down in the process, with some slippery track to boot. The track had also been damaged in parts by rockfalls, which made for some challenging walking.
At one point I managed to slip off the track and slid for 10m down the hill on my side. As luck would have it, I slid foot first into a tree which stopped my progress quicker than would otherwise have been possible.
Finally we reached the junction to Stodys Hut. We had heard from other hikers that this would be a steep climb but it still managed to take me by surprise. Thankfully the trees shielded us from the heat of the sun, but the steepness of the track meant that we still got a good sweat on. I was struggling to remember the last time we climbed a track this steep as I cursed the track all the way to the top.
We stopped off at the slightly depressing Stodys Hut at the top of the climb for some lunch and ran into our new Czech friends again. We would see them again later in the day at Pakituhi Hut.
Off we headed post-lunch towards Breast Hill, which overlooks Lake Hawea. While this section of trail also involved some climbing, it was along a 4wd track, so the walking was much more gentle on the legs.
About halfway there we could see the weather starting to close in around us. Suddenly it became a race to get to Breast Hill before the rain set in for the afternoon. I got a bit caught up in the moment, not wanting to miss out on the spectacular views from the summit that I had heard about and raced ahead to beat the rain.
In the end we had a few sprinkles of rain as we reached the summit but everywhere else around us seemed to be copping it with heavy rain. It couldn’t have worked out more perfectly. The views from the Breast Hill summit were absolutely amazing! The jagged rocks adding to the epic-ness of the scene.
After taking a few photos to mark the occasion, we raced down the hill towards the comfort of Pakituhi Hut. It did not disappoint. There’s nothing better than having a spacious 12 bed hut almost all to yourselves. Just four hikers staying at the hut tonight.
Day 119 – Tuesday 12 February, 11km
Pakituhi Hut to Lake Hawea
With the overnight rain, it wasn’t exactly a surprise to wake to heavy mist surrounding the hut. The trail didn’t look overly enticing in the morning mist, so we delayed leaving the hut for as long as possible, preferring the warmth of the hut.
Eventually, the mist started to lift a little and we decided to start the short but steep walk down to Lake Hawea.
We were blown away by the views on the descent. Walking along razor edge ridgeline, low clouds danced around the track and even a rainbow turned up to the party. It was so quiet and still up there that I could even hear Leigh yelling at me from a few hundred metres away to hurry up and stop taking so many photos 😂
I could have spent hours on that ridgeline, but we had heard along the hiker grapevine that the general store in Lake Hawea served big ice cream portions, so we had important business to attend to.
We dropped down off the ridge, following the many switchbacks which made what would have been a knee-crushingly steep descent down to the lake an enjoyable stroll down the hill.
On reaching the lakefront, we took the pleasant lakeside cycle track through to the main part of town (using the word ‘town’ loosely, as it consisted largely of a general store/restaurant and a pub).
We had a late lunch at the unexpectedly well-stocked general store and did a bit of planning for the upcoming sections of the trail before getting down to the business of our ice cream orders. Needless to say, the grapevine was on the money and the scoop sizes were as generous as we have come across so far in our travels.
We had planned to head to the nearby holiday park to spend the night, however, on passing the Lake Hawea Hotel we decided to check their accommodation options. It turned out they did a camping and dinner deal which was great as it meant we didn’t need to walk any further.
We pitched the tent in a weird grassy car park, which was being used as an unofficial campground for hikers but also for more permanent residents living and working in New Zealand by the looks of it. We then spent the rest of the evening in the pub, first making the most of the cheap dinner deal before hanging out in the hotel’s lounge area, feeling slightly underdressed compared to the other holidaymakers having dinner at the pub.
We left the warmth of the pub just in time to catch the sun setting over Lake Hawea from our tent site.
Day 120 – Wednesday 13 February, 24km
Lake Hawea to Wanaka
We awoke at 4am this morning to the smell of smoke. I got up to check the source, just in case there was a flaming inferno somewhere within the campground. It ended up coming from the chimney of a nearby house, but as there was no imminent danger, I jumped back into the tent.
Once we were finally up and moving later in the morning, we started walking along the gravel track towards Albert Town. Following the Hawea River, the track was much nicer than expected. We stopped briefly to admire a whitewater park on the river – a standing wave that had been constructed for use by paddlers and surfers.
It wasn’t too much longer before we were in Albert Town. Leigh wanted to check out Pembroke Patisserie, so we headed there for morning tea. They had such a great selection we struggled to pick what we would order. Mixing savoury with sweet, everything we tried was mind-blowingly good.
Continuing our planning from yesterday, we made a few more bookings for the upcoming weeks, locking in some dates to do the Routeburn Track and Kepler Track, two of New Zealand’s Great Walks. It is a weird feeling starting to book things more than 1 or 2 days in advance as we have become so used to things turning out fine when we don’t organise anything in advance.
We eventually forced ourselves to leave the patisserie and rejoined the track alongside the Clutha River, which we would follow all the way through to Wanaka. As we got closer to Wanaka, we saw more and more people on track – mostly less than comfortable looking cyclists who appeared to have hired a bike for the first time in a while.
Having learned our lesson from Tekapo, we were glad to have pre-organised our accommodation in Wanaka. It turned out that our arrival in Wanaka coincided with an annual triathlon event with 1,500 competitors, so it would have been impossible to find a bed anywhere if we had waited.
Arriving around lunchtime, we checked into our neat backpacker hostel with lake views from the communal loungeroom and spent the rest of the afternoon making plans for a few rest days in the lovely town of Wanaka.
Day 121 to 123 – Thursday 14 February to Saturday 16 February, 0km
Wanaka (rest day)
After a solid two weeks on the trail without a proper rest day, we decided to take a few days off in Wanaka to see the town, finish off our planning and do a side trail around Wanaka. Also, eating town-food was a high priority.
Not only did we plan the end of our hike (arriving at Bluff on 13 March before heading across to Stewart Island for a few days to hopefully spot the famous kiwi in the wild), but we also had the rare treat of getting out to see a movie. We got to see a rock climbing movie Free Solo, which I had been hanging out to see for months (on account of my Alex Honnold man-crush), so it was great to finally be able to see it. The home made ice cream and freshly baked cookies during intermission at the cinemas were something that all cinemas need to introduce!
Wanting to avoid the out of control swarms of people on Roy’s Peak Track (look it up – it’s insta famous), we hired a car (shock horror) and headed out to do the Rob Roy Glacier Track instead. We were both happy with the decision as the glacier was stunning and something different to anything we have seen so far on the trail. We made better time than expected (must be the trail legs), so we even had time to stop off at an alternate Lake Wanaka lookout on the way home.
Other than that, we were able to sample some great food from local delis, cafes and even some food trucks, which had us ready to jump into the next section of the trail.
Tomorrow we will start the walk towards Queenstown along the Motatapu track, which is notorious for its beautiful scenery and punishing climbs.
Monday 4 February – Thursday 7 February
Bush Stream Carpark to Twizel
Day: 111 – 114
Cumulative km’s: 2,433km / 3,000km
After being blown away last week by the spectacular scenery between the Rakaia and Rangitata rivers/TA designated ‘hazard zones’, it was now time to climb to the highest point on the entire Te Araroa trail – Stag Saddle at 1,925m. Despite being the highest point on the trail, we had heard that the climb was a gradual one so it shouldn’t be any tougher than the other climbs that we had already completed to date. We really hoped that this would prove to be right.
Also ahead of us in this section, a 50km+ stretch of trail along canal roads between Lake Tekapo and Twizel with no camping options. Rather than having a long hot day in the sun along the canal roads, we opted to roll the dice (given Leigh’s previous experience on the Timber Trail) and hire some bikes which would allow us to have a fairly leisurely ride through to Twizel by early afternoon.
Day 111 – Monday 4 February, 21km
Bush Stream Carpark to Stone Hut
So today got off to a memorable start… while sitting on the loo in the backpacker hostel in Geraldine contemplating life, I heard the door handle start to turn. I was certain that I’d locked the door when I went in though, so I didn’t think too much of it… that was until the door swung open, much to my surprise, and another hiker went to walk in. I guess the lock didn’t work so well.
Wayne from Alps2Ocean was scheduled to pick us up from the main street of Geraldine around 8am and drop us on the other side of the Rangitata River, so we headed into town early to grab some breakfast from a nearby cafe. We ended up a Central Cafe which was an interesting place, but their food really hit the spot.
We could have stayed in that cafe all day, but once Wayne arrived we reluctantly pulled ourselves out of our seats and jumped into the minibus to start the 1hr+ drive to Bush Stream, which is the official trailhead on the southern side of the Rangitata. En route we chatted weather forecasts and alternate trail routes, you know, all the good stuff.
Wayne’s advice ended up being invaluable. His view was that you really need to do the high route when descending Stag Saddle rather than the low route marked in the trail maps. Having not read the trail notes in detail yet, I wasn’t exactly sure what he was talking about at the time, so I just made a mental note to go back to this nugget when the time was right. He also gave us some great advice for intreprating the regional weather forecast. Based on the regional forecast, we were particularly concerned about reaching Stag Saddle on a rainy day which would mean we’d have no views from the tops. Wayne put those fears to rest but told us to watch out for any high winds that may also come through. In any case, we were prepared to wait any bad weather out if we had to for a day or two in one of the huts on trail.
Before we knew it we had arrived at our destination, Bush Stream carpark. It felt so remote on the way out there, it was amazing to think that some other TA hikers had been able to hitch rides rather than going via shuttle. We were happy in the end to spend the money on the shuttle, as it gave us certainty on our arrival/departure times which allowed us to plan our food resupplies as accurately as possible.
We thanked Wayne for his help and got ready to start walking for the day. We had just enough time to catch up briefly with a fellow hiker and shuttle-mate, who we had last seen on the trail at Boyle River a few weeks back. Since we had last seen him, he had the experience of being reported as a missing person by family/friends after he was not able to check in with them on schedule. It was kind of surreal when we arrived in Arthur’s Pass to see his photo plastered on a missing person poster at the DOC office, when we had seen him only a few days earlier.
We’d heard stories about the Bush Stream having some challenging sections and deep river crossings, but we must have managed to catch it on a good day as it wasn’t too bad. The sun was shining and the river levels were low. We even had time to stop near a deeper pool to do some small rock jumps into the freezing water. In her excitement to do some swimming, Leigh managed to slip on some wet rocks on the edge of the pool and smash her knee on the rocks. Thankfully no damage was done though.
Despite the cold water, the sun was roasting and did a stellar job at drying us off quickly.
Not long after our swim, we reached the end of the Bush Stream track and started our climb up the nearby spur. For some reason, the trail had us climb steeply before descending equally as steeply and crossing the river again in the space of 10-15 minutes. Once across the river, we started the climb proper to Crooked Spur Hut. Not the easiest climb up an exposed spur in the hottest part of the day. Even the stunning views back down over Bush Stream weren’t enough to make the discomfort go away. The midday temps have definitely caught us by surprise on the South Island, frequently hovering around the 30 degree mark.
It was a welcome relief to finally reach Crooked Spur Hut and give our legs a break out of the midday sun. Ahead of us as yet more climbing in the sun along tracks overgrown with tussock. Beautiful, but challenging terrain. The threat of rolling an ankle was ever present. After admiring some of the history of this old mustering hut, we set off towards Stone Hut.
The track eventually turned into scree as we got closer to the top of the first climb, but this actually made the walking slightly easier. Taking in the views from the saddle, we continued down the other side of the scree slope.
As we got the to lower part of the slope the ground got a bit soggy. At one point my foot slipped into a boggy crack that was full of mud, which was a fun experience.
Topping up our bottles in a mountain stream, we continued towards Stone Hut. At that point we were in two minds as to whether we would stay at Stone Hut or keeping going through to Royal Hut.
The shadows started to grow long over the many hills as we got closer to Stone Hut, creating some stunning sights. As we reached the final descent into Stone Hut, we were greeted with yet more amazing scenery of a picturesque mountain stream running through the valley as the sun started to disapppear.
After taking one look at the number of sandflies hanging around the entrance of the old hut, we decided to keep walking for another half hour or so. We wouldn’t make it to Royal Hut in that time but after reviewing the topo map we were pretty confident that we would find a decent camping spot somewhere along the river that we would be walking alongside.
With the potential for some bad weather tomorrow on our Stag Saddle ascent day, we wanted to be able to get to Royal Hut at the base of the climb as early as possible, in case we needed to wait out the weather for a day.
We found a great little spot to pitch the tent just as the sun was going down. The sandflies were still bad but seemingly had not evolved yet to figure out how to follow you under the tent fly or into the inner tent, in comparison to the sandflies encountered in previous sections of the trail.
I ate my dinner pacing up and down the trail near our campsite, swatting sandflies away as I walked. I’m sure I would have looked like a crazy person if anyone had seen me.
Day 112 – Tuesday 5 February, 18km
Stone Hut to Camp Stream Hut
While we expected some bad weather today, we had not expected freezing temperatures overnight. I ended up sleeping with my sleeping bag hood on (which has been a rarity on this trip). We also awoke to shoe laces that were frozen solid.
Leaving early, we seemingly were awake before the sandflies as we didn’t see any this morning.
As has become a trend in our time on trail, whenever we make the effort to get up early to walk, it always seems to pay off. Walking under the rising sun, we got to watch the shadows disappear and the the colour change over the vast landscape in front of us.
Before we knew it, we were at Royal Hut and the weather still seemed good. We scanned the sky for any signs of incoming bad weather but there were none, so we decided to head for Stag Saddle and see what it was like once we got there. Maybe we would be able to get through the saddle before the weather crapped out. Worst case, we could always take the low route once we reached the top.
The track to Stag Saddle had us following a stream to begin with before heading up a rocky hill where the track was not exactly well formed. It involved using route markers every 100m or so to choose your path between the markers. As many TA walkers have already been through these sections this season though, there inevitably were half a dozen different ways to get to each marker. We broke up the climb by stopping to enjoy the views of the valley behind us, which got better and better with every step towards Stag Saddle.
Once we reached Stag Saddle, we were blown away by the view of Lake Tekapo and surrounding mountains. Having seen so many photos of hikers posing exclusively in front of the Stage Saddle sign in the past, I hadn’t expected the views to be so good from the saddle itself. Thankfully, the cloud stayed away and we had 360 degree views to die for.
Hearing the wise words of Wayne from Alps2Ocean ringing in our ears, we now had to decide between the low route and the high route. With the weather better than expected and the winds at a manageable level, we threw caution to the wind and went with the high route. What followed was possibly ten of the most spectacular km’s on the entire trail! This was a clear contender for our best single decision on the trail to date. We stopped for lunch along the way, taking in the amazing views. This was a really special part of the trail.
The ridgeline trail felt like it went on forever as our destination for the night, Camp Stream Hut, got closer on our GPS. With a few kms to go, the wind started to pick up and made a hasty retreat off the ridgeline.
Camp Stream Hut seemed to shrink in size as we got closer to it. Initially, it looked to be a decent size, but once we arrived we discovered that it was tiny, with 5 cramped bunks inside. With the wind picking up outside though, we didn’t like our chances of pitching the tent anywhere nearby, so we bunkered down for the night inside the small hut, chatting with some fellow TA hikers who were also staying in the hut and chilling out while the wind bounced off the walls.
Tomorrow we would be heading to Tekapo to resupply and hopefully get a night in a real bed.
Day 113 – Wednesday 6 February, 34km
Camp Stream Hut to Tekapo
We had originally planned to hitch the road section from the trail end through to Tekapo, after being told that it was an easy hitch. One of our fellow hut mates at Camp Stream Hut had organised a shuttle pick up though and was looking to split the cost, so we mulled this over during the morning.
It was a cold and misty old morning. The mist wasn’t too bad when we were in the valley, but once we climbed up the first hill we were completely engulfed. We did however still manage to spot the outline of a wallaby through the mist. Apparently, they were introduced historically in New Zealand for hunting. Go figure.
Eventually a sliver of blue poked through the cloud as Lake Tekapo started to reveal itself through the low hanging cloud.
Despite the mist, the walking was relatively flat and well defined, which allowed for easy walking today. With the shuttle organised to meet some other hikers at the bottom of the trail around 12pm, we made sure that we were on track to make it in time, just in case we decided to join them. As we got closer to the road, we noticed that there was very little traffic. The shuttle suddenly seemed like a master-stroke.
With the shuttle pulling up literally just as we reached the trail end, it was hard to pass up the offer. So we didn’t.
It turned out that the shuttle had been organised with Annie from Bespoke Bikes. Not only was she able to get us into Tekapo from the trail but we were also able to organise bike hire for the following day. Two birds, one stone.
Unfortunately, not everything came to us this easily though. Our arrival into Tekapo coincided with Chinese New Year and an influx of tourists. After coming from the beautiful scenery and stillness of the past few days in the mountains, it was a complete shock to the senses to land in a buzzing tourist hotspot. We couldn’t move on quickly enough.
We were hoping for a bed somewhere in Tekapo but after a quick scan of Google and a few phone calls it became clear that we would be lucky to find anything. In the end, we ended up camping on a small square of grass at the Holiday Park for way too much money. Despite the beautiful scenery surrounding the park, the fact that it was bumper to bumper with RVs, made it feel like a car park.
As we head further south, it seems like this will become the new normal. Walking in tourist towns without a booking hasn’t been an issue until now, but we’ll need to seriously start thinking about putting together a firm timeline for the last few weeks of the hike so that we can at least have a chance at booking some accommodation in advance. After going almost 4 months without booking anything more than one day in advance though, it is going to be a real challenge to adjust!
After reluctantly pitching our tent at the Holiday Park, we headed out to The Tin Plate for a much needed pizza.
Day 114 – Thursday 7 February, 55km
Tekapo to Twizel
After another chilly night we packed up the tent and waited for Annie from Bespoke Bikes to pick us up from the Holiday Park. In the blink of an eye we were kitted out and ready to ride from Tekapo to Twizel.
We were told that the cycling track was easy to follow but we still managed to make a few minor navigational errors before finally joining the track.
It wasn’t long before we were on the notorious canal roads. Notorious because they are long, flat and normally very windy. Only today, there wasn’t much wind at all, so lucky us.
Riding along the canal road, we felt sorry for the tandem bikers who basically had to dismantle their bike everytime they reached a gate to get it through to the other side.
We couldn’t get over how blue the water in the canals looked as we rode along the gravel roads.
Eventually we reached a commercial salmon farm in the middle of the canal. It was funny to see the scores of opportunistic fisherman set up adjacent to the farm, attempting to catch any wayward salmon that managed to escape from the confines of the farm.
We stopped for lunch at the end of the canal road, where we had our first glimpses of the magnificently coloured Lake Pukaki.
Setting off downhill after lunch, I realised about halfway down that I had forgot to do my helmet up again. Not wanting to challenge Murphy’s Law, I pulled over to do it up before taking on the rest of the hill down to the lake.
Once on the shores of Lake Pukaki, we took our time cycling around the edge of the lake, stopping every few minutes to take photos. At first we couldn’t figure out where Mt Cook was, but as the cloud cleared we finally we able to admire the stunning mountain in the distance. We’re hoping to check it out more closely after we reach Bluff and have some time for some more sightseeing.