After a morning coffee and scone at the Arthur’s Pass café, we hitched a ride back to where we left the trail without Francis, our French Canadian, who we left at the café. He had joined us for two months and sadly his time in New Zealand was at its end and his flight back to Canada was in a couple of days.
The first part of our day took us alongside the highway on riverbed and grassy (thorny!) flats. The trail was very lightly marked so at one point Matt and Jess b-lined towards the car bridge to avoid wet feet crossing the Waimac River.
Brad and I trucked along the riverbed despite having sore feet from all of the days before spent walking on boulders. When we got to the river, it was stronger than we expected so we crossed together and lucky us, got waist deep! I led the way after the river, which I shouldn’t have done. I took us through a lovely swamp of thorns and prickles until we rose to the road where we merged with Jess and Matt at the Bealey Hotel.
When we reached the start of the backcountry track, we had a gradual ascent through forest before reaching tussock and the Cass-Lagoon saddle.
From there we sidled along and down to a river which we followed for quite some time before reaching our hut for the night. There were five other trampers already there but plenty of room in the 20 man hut. I must say it was our most beautiful backcountry hut yet. Just look at this stone fireplace!
We soon found out that our greatest challenge yet lay on a shelf in the hut. A bag of puzzle pieces. A lot of small puzzle pieces. A bag. No box. No picture. Challenge accepted. We worked till nearly midnight by headlamp and a couple of candles that a fellow tramper lit for us. The five other trampers thought we were nuts and snapped some photos of the crazy foreigners and their picture-less puzzle.
You can bet we didn’t leave that hut until our puzzle was complete. Did a quick count width by height and discovered it was 1000+ pieces and we were only missing 3 in the end! It was our proudest accomplishment yet and it only took 6 hours of dedication.
We left the hut at 1:30pm, a record late starting time I think. After a 18.5km day, we wound up at Harper River campsite and set up home for the night.
2:00am: Wind gusts plague our tent and cause Matt and I to constantly awake and readjust our hiking poles for stability.
3:30am: I go pee under a full moon with wind gusting around me, but no rain… yet.
4:00am: Wind almost collapses our tent in on us and Matt gets out to tighten the fly. At the same time, Brad is outside creeping like Gollum adjusting his tents fly.
4:30am: It starts to rain. Matt shines headlamp to the foot of our tent. Puddles of water! It was drenched! Our cookpots that I had wrapped in my (one and only) t-shirt because the wind was making them clang together was absolutely soaked.
“Brad, Jess, we’ll be in the porta-potty, we’re outta here”
4:40am: Wearing garbage bags, I sit on Matt and he sits on his sleeping pad which sits on the seat lid of the toilet. We snuggle our heads close together to keep warm.
5:45am: Daylight creeps up on us slowly and we yell to Brad and Jess (miraculously still sleeping in their tent) that we’ll see them in town, we’re cold!! [we later found out their tent was also drenched inside]
After our exciting morning weather drama, Matt and I walked the 30km into Lake Coleridge in a mixture of sun, rain, rainbows and most of all wind. Luckily it was a tail wind. Matt whipped out his sleeping pad at one point and literally used it as a sail. We flew down that stretch of road. We also ate Matt’s entire Whittakers bar because we knew we’d be in Methven later that day for a resupply and after that night’s “sleep”, we deserved some chocolate! Starting at 6am was surprisingly nice. Time flew by and we laughed all morning about our refuge in the porta potty.
Lake Coleridge Village is located on the Rakaia River, a wide braided river with no straight forward foot crossing. For this reason, the official Te Araroa declares it a hazard zone and urges walkers to hitchhike to the other side. The trail officially stops at one side and begins again on the opposite side of the river.
Two hitchhikes later, one with a beekeeper and one with a helicopter pilot, we arrived in Methven. Methven is approximately the halfway point of the section we were meant to hitchhike. We resupplied there, washed our tent, dried it out, had a wash ourselves and hit the road again in the morning to get to the other side of the Rakaia.
Starting with a hitchhike to our trailhead road, Matt and I began to walk as we waited for cars to pass us. It was 35km down this road to get back on the trail and with the scorching sun, we weren’t keen on walking the off trail kilometres. Three hours later and we were still walking. We practically threw ourselves on the road shoulder to take a break when a car finally passed and rescued us for the remaining 20km. It was worth the extra mileage in the morning though when we passed this couple of best friends.
Once at the trailhead, we eagerly began our walk. The climb up to the saddle was beautiful.
We ended up at Comyns Hut for the night where we met back up with Jess, Brad and two Germans Tim & Tom.
Day Five: Comyns Hut to Manuka Hut
Made it a short 22km day stopping at Manuka Hut at 3pm to avoid camping in gale force winds. The day started with a climb over a 1500m saddle through tussock and then sidling across three large scree slopes and then descending to a relatively flat tussock filled valley.
Manuka Hut was quite the hut. Definitely an oldie and full of serial killer character.
The door didn’t have a lock so given the regular gale winds in the area, previous trampers gave numerous tips on how to stop the wind from blowing the door open.
“Three rocks are required to keep door closed”
“Woke up x amount of times to fight the Yeti trying to enter the hut”
My update is that the Yeti is still at large in the vicinity of Manuka Hut and now FOUR large rocks are required.
It was pretty funny when Matt rose to pee at midnight and Jess and I jumped up also to make moving the pile of rocks worthwhile.
Day Six: Manuka Hut to Rangitata River
Once again, the Te Araroa led us to another wide braided river, the Rangitata River. Urged to not risk a foot crossing, it was to be another go at hitchhiking once we reached the river. This time, a 142 kilometre hitch. We practically had to go to the east coast before there was a bridge to cross over! Brad and Jess left super early to allow plenty of time to hitchhike. Matt and I have learnt to trust that it always works out so we slept in, leaving about 3 hours after the other two.
On the way out, we passed Lake Emily.
We arrived at the Rangitata River around 3pm.
Who picked us up:
A couple from Oregon with an internship on a farm in Ashburton. They drove us 40km to Mt Somer where Matt and I hopped out and grabbed 2 scoop ice cream cones.
A Mom, daughter & friend- Heather, Fiona & Jennifer. They were finishing up their own ice cream cones. The daughter, Fiona made for a very engaging ride. She was so open and enthusiastic about her own country and travelling in general. She made for truly lovely conversation! (And she works at a cheese factory, how cool is that.). Heather drove out of her way to deliver us to Peel Forest where we settled in at the campground for the night.
Matt, a British Kiwi photographer who offered us tea and biscuits once we arrived at the trailhead. We took this last ride with Ioanna, another T.A tramper from Cyprus. 8:15am and back on trail.
This next two day stretch was my favourite and you’ll hear why on the next post!