Bluff

Had the sun been shining all day, it would have been too easy. The sideways rain, gusts of wind, trucks roaring by and the extra weight of a bottle of champagne in each of our bags made for a memorable (as always) day of walking. Except for this was the last day. Not that any of us intended to outright stop walking after we reached Bluff but for the past week it’s felt as if it’s all been slowly coming to a close. Up until about a week before the end, we were always planning for the next day and not much further than that. This close to Bluff and our planning shifted from day by day to… today, tomorrow, BOOM- Bluff.

We’ve all been a bit antsy, anxious in a good and a bad way. After 125 days, we’re all ready to reach the end of our trail. At the same time, we’re all no where near ready to reach the end of our trail.

“125 days?! You guys are nuts” We’d hear this all too often. The truth is, walking when you’ve got all day to do it is surprisingly easy.

Think about it.

We wake up.
We eat.
We walk.
We eat.
We walk.
We eat.
We set up our tent.
We sleep.

There you have it. A day in the life of a T.A tramper. Doesn’t sound horrible does it?

Anyways, like it or not, we were about to reach Bluff and that’s where the maps stop. So, with a bottle of champagne in our backpacks, we set off for 34 kilometres of track and road shoulder from Invercargill to Bluff.

The day started off gloriously sunny but as we walked, we watched the point up ahead slowly get swallowed up by rain clouds and soon enough we were in those rain clouds. Lucky for us, they came with a whole lot of wind! (I think you got that, but in case you didn’t- the “lucky” part was very sarcastic!). Nonetheless, we trucked on along down the highway road shoulder to the entrance of Bluff where we hopped off the road and onto a lovely trail on the seaward side of Bluff for the last 7km.

We could see Stirling Point (the Bluff signpost) from about 2km to the end of our track. We all skipped forward for a minute before quickly settling back down and taking in the last 2km slow and steady.

When we reached that lovely yellow sign, we linked arms and walked…
3…2…1…TOUCH!

Jess latched on to the post for a few minutes. Brad struck a pose. Matt climbed up as far as he could. Matt lifted me up so I could hang like a monkey.  It was quite the photo shoot.

Then, we popped our champagne bottles and celebrated.

 

 

Te Anau to Invercargill

The seven days between these two towns were full of reminiscing and a handful of different landscapes that summed up our entire trip in just a few days. There was farmland, logging roads, paved roads, barren mountain tops, beech forest, tussock and jungle. Yup, all in seven days.

Day One Hundred and Eighteen: 9 km

We woke up in Te Anau to downpour rain.  As has been the case with every other South Island town, staying an extra night wasn’t an option. Absolutely everywhere was booked out. With that, we hit the road, stuck our thumbs out, and waited a horribly wet forty minutes before an angel called Alini picked us up. I don’t think she fully understood what we were doing until we arrived back where we hopped off the trail the day before. She looked at us and asked “somebody is picking you up right?” We retold our story and after a twenty minute side of the road conversation, Alini bid us good luck and farewell and we headed off for an easy (but wet) 2.5 km on the highway and a further 6.5 km on a farm road to reach our hut for the night: Lower Princhester Hut.  It was a full house of 8 on mattresses and 1 (Jess) sleeping on the floor.

Day One Hundred and Nineteen: 16 km

Heading into the hills, we were surprised with a track with so many elements all in one. There was tussock, forest, jungle, beech forest, and so much muck!

The tussocks were marshy more so than we had experienced before. The sloshing noise was not pleasant.

Day One Hundred and Twenty: 21 km

We all woke up to frozen socks and shoelaces. From Aparima Hut, we climbed up to the Telford Tops where we got our first (far away) views of Bluff!

From there we made our way down towards a makeshift campground just before a long private farm section. It was a tent city with 5 tents of SOBO hikers and 2 tents of NOBOs (North bounders).

Day One Hundred and Twenty One: 48 km

Jess and Brad decided to start hiking at 6:30am. Did we join them? Yeah right. Our rule is if the sun is still sleeping then so are we! We left about an hour behind at 7:30am. Our tent fly was crunchy with frost on this cool “summer” morning. When we shook out our tent fly, it looked like it was snowing.

Our walk took us through mostly farmland. Paddocks and paddocks of sheep and cattle.

We saw one herd of cattle being herded down the farm road that we were suppose to be walking on. We clung to the fence while we waited for them to pass.

 

From one farm, it was into another farm but first we passed through this gorgeous grove of eucalyptus trees.

Sheep Adventures of the Day!

Later on in the day, Matt noticed a lamb that wasn’t running away when we passed (unusual for a sheep!). A closer look revealed he was completely tangled in a vine that had spun its way around and around his wool.  Matt’s superhero instincts led him to immediately jump the barbed wire fence, pin the lamb down and enlist my assistance.  Over the barbed wire I went with Matt’s multi tool and we swapped jobs.  I held the lamb down gently while Matt began to untangle the mess of vines and cut the lamb’s wool out of the tangle.  The vines were around its neck and body and I really believe the lamb wouldn’t have gotten out on its own.  It let us work on its tangle for several minutes but the minute it was totally free, it bolted away from us and went on to munch on some grass.  He’s the guy on the right.  His friend on the left seemed much more curious in who us lamb rescuers were.

Despite us yelling “You’re welcome!”, we didn’t get much attention from our friend.  Another lamb rescue, another day, we continued our walk.

Not five minutes later, another bizarre sheep experience.  A sheep that did not run away, was not hurt or stuck and rubbed up onto the wire fence next to us.  We dared to sneak in a few pets figuring this was a sheep that had witnessed our good deed and wanted to reward us by finally letting us snuggle one of them!  He even stomped his foot at us when we stopped petting him.  Of course we started petting him again.

Our day was complete and we continued on our way until sunset before setting up camp in a deer paddock for the night.

Day One Hundred and Twenty Two: 25 km

It rained through the night but by morning it had stopped and the wind picked up enough for us to pack up a dry tent.

Our goal of the day was to try and get a mattress in Martins Hut that night.  It would be our last Hut on the trail and there were only 4 mattresses up for grabs.

The views of Bluff were even better from this section and the track was beautiful.

Actually, it was crazy muddy.  I’m talking knee deep constantly kind of muddy.  However, reflecting on it now, I only really remember enjoying it.  It was a good ending to the Te Araroa considering it’s exactly how it began.

Sure enough, the hut was full but with good company to share a special last hut night with.  It was a rustic historic hut too which made it the perfect Kiwi backcountry experience.

Bonus: (Surprisingly) No mice.

Day One Hundred and Twenty Three: 30km

Nice flat walk out of the forest following alongside an old mining water race for about 23km before exiting out onto the road to Colac Bay.

Three hours to the road, we were talking about DOC signs warning about wasps in the backcountry but we hadn’t had anyone stung the whole tramp.  Blair then told us he had the bad luck of being stung three times at the same moment in the Richmond Ranges.  I was so thankful that wasn’t me!

An hour later:  Stung.  I definitely cried.  I’ve been stung before when I was younger but oh my god.  It was the most pain I’ve been in this whole tramp I think.  My ankle starting swelling up almost immediately (I don’t have much of a tolerance for any bug bite).  Luckily Colac Bay had a bar and a campground.  The burger and beer helped me forget about the pain for at least a little while.

One Hundred and Twenty Four: 44 km

14km of road and paddock walking took us to Riverton which then led us into Oreti Beach.  Fitting that we should also have a beach section in the last couple of days.  Haven’t seen beach since the Queen Charlotte!

Beach walking is pretty straightforward but this day we left in crazy winds and an incoming high tide.  Nevertheless, we battled our way through, hopping up on the dunes and over barbed wire fences when the tide got too high.  Then back to the beach before 8 km of road to Invercargill.

What we lost on this stretch:

Quinn: map case & compass

Jess: hiking poles

Favourite moments

Tent City at Telford Camp- reminiscing with Brad, Jess, Chloé, Robin and Matt about the trip and watching the NOBOs go about. Five days in, they have no idea how crazy their adventure is going to be. Meanwhile, Robin whittled himself a hiking stick to replace his proper one that broke earlier on in the day.

Seeing our first DoC sign with time to Bluff!

How the sand on Oreti Beach made me feel like Godzilla.

Playing Spot It!, a favourite card game of ours that we picked up in Glenorchy. German and French shouting and a crew of very competitive trampers.

Seeing Bluff for the first time atop Telford Tops.

Queenstown to Te Anau

Day One Hundred and Fourteen: 0 km

One final hazard zone, a spot where the Te Araroa trail officially breaks is at Lake Wakatipu, the lake that Queenstown surrounds. This official break meant we would have one last hitchhike off the trail and around the lake to Greenstone. As per usual with hitchhiking, Matt and I broke up with Brad and Jess temporarily to get to the trailhead and meet at one of the huts later that night. Unfortunately for us, I woke up that morning feeling rather sick and after a first hitchhike with two cool Kiwis filming a commercial on the lake, we hopped off in Glenorchy where we called it quits at 11am and spent another zero km day at Mrs Woolys Campground. Around dinner time I started to feel more myself and the camp store had some smoked salmon to indulge in so we added it in to a meal of udon and veg for the night.

Day One Hundred and Fifteen: 22 km

After 3 hitches, we made it to the trailhead of the Greenstone/Mavora Lakes walkway and walked along a gorgeous groomed path to Greenstone Hut.

It was pretty special to find Jess and Brad hanging out when we arrived (2 in the afternoon). Without communication, they knew we would/wanted us to catch up with them and their trust pulled through. We all had lunch and then headed to Taipo hut for the night which we shared with 2 French men and an American.

Day One Hundred and Sixteen: 28 km

Chill as with two lunches in two separate huts and a lot of 4 Wheel Drives ripping past us through the washed out road.

Day One Hundred and Seventeen: 42 km

Why not walk a marathon? From Mavora Lakes camp, we set off for a lovely first 10km along groomed forest track around the lake.

However, after crossing the river, the track soon turned to everything we detested on the T.A. Thorns, spear grass, bristles, marsh.  See the trail?  Hint, you go straight through!

Fortunately it didn’t last too long and we were back on the road for a final 11km to the highway.

Upon reaching the highway at 6pm, Brad jokingly stuck his thumb out to the first truck that passed and he surprisingly pulled over. Imagine our vegetarian’s (Brad and Jess) delight when they saw the dead deer in the back of the pick up. Nonetheless, into Te Anau we went to resupply food for the next stretch!

Queenstown

After arriving in Queenstown on a rainy eerie afternoon (above photo is the first evening around 9pm, the first photo is the night after, nice and not so eerie!), we decided to spend the next day as a zero day in Queenstown.

Guess what we did! You got it, we ate.

FERGBURGER:  Best falafel burger I’ve ever had and Matt can confirm for the more meat inclined that the classic Fernburger is the best burger.

COOKIE BAR:  A Cookie Time bar with $1 coffees in the AM and 2 for 1 cookies in the PM.  Yum.  

PATAGONIA:  Ice cream, obviously.

FAT BADGER:  20inch pizza.  Huuuuuuuuge!

BALLS and BANGLES:  Doughnuts!

Also accomplished in Queenstown:  MOANA, the movie.  We had the theatre to ourselves (& one other lady).  After she left at the credits, Jess Brad and I danced at the front of the theatre to the main song as the credits rolled.

Other interesting occurrences in Queenstown:

Our Netherlands roommate jumping into my top bunk bed in his boxers at 2am.  Drunken sleepwalking?  Yup, this is why I tramp.  Huts beat hostels everyday anyday.

Wanaka to Queenstown

Wanaka to Queenstown took a seemingly short 4 days but in fact it was a crazy ride of climbs and steep descents, two beautiful new huts, bipolar weather and excitement for a zero day to explore one of New Zealand’s most popular destinations.

Aboot” the track for this section

This stretch consisted of the Motatapu Alpine track with shorter cycle trails to follow as we got closer to Queenstown.  In our trail notes it says the track and huts along the Motatapu track were funded by foreign investors.  Rumour has it Miss Shania Twain was the key investor here.  How about that Canadian contribution!  The song lyrics quoted by numerous people in the hut intentions books were pretty entertaining.  The track was opened in 2008.  How exciting to meander through Shania’s backyard.

Day One: 24 km

Wanaka to Fern Burn Hut

To make our way to the Mohatapu Alpine Track, we worked our way around Lake Wanaka, passing the famous “Wanaka Tree”, stopping at Glendhu Bay for lunch, and making our way through beech forest and tussock to Fern Burn Hut at 700m.

Day Two: 16 km

Fern Burn Hut to Roses Hut

No photos for the morning stretch from Fern Burn to Highland Creek Hut.  Why?  Because it was 2 1/2 hours of slipping and sliding along a track that became a mudslide within 2 hours.  The rain picked up right as we started at 8am.  Luckily we were able to wait it out in Highland Creek Hut for two hours and in that time, the sun managed to come out for us.  A few trampers called it a day at Highlnd Creek but when the sun came out, we jumped at the opportunity to hike and set out to embark on the “toughest” section of the track according to our trail notes.

Two big climbs and two just as big descents took us to Roses Hut.  It was incredible how hot the day could become after such a cold rain spell.  The sun completely dried up the mudslide of a trail too, thank goodness.

Day Three: 23 km

Roses Hut to Arrowtown

First thing in the morning we climbed Roses Saddle.  Then it was down a ridge line to the river which we followed until Macetown, an old mining town, now a ghost town.

Once we reached the river, we chose the dry weather route which means we walked right down the river.  It was freeeeezing but, these days, we go through the trouble we must to avoid more hills than we need to climb.  Along the way, we saw multiple people set up camp on the side of the river mining gold in the river.  We chatted with one man who was putting on his wet suit and he said he usually spends January and February here.  He gets his equipment flown in by helicopter.  When we asked how much gold he usually gets he replied, “Usually just enough to pay the helicopter”.

From Macetown, it was one more big climb up to Big Hill Saddle.  At the top we could see Arrowtown and from there it was all downhill to the ice cream shop.

Day Four: 28 km

Arrowtown to Queenstown

Following the Queenstown Cycle Trail, we resupplied for our next stretch in Frankton and then rocked into Queenstown.  It had started to downpour right as we walked into the Patagonia Chocolates shop.  After calling 10+ hostels, we were lucky to find 4 beds in a room at Base Hostel.  Now we’re all showered, have pizza in our bellies and are ready for bed.  Tomorrow we’ll spend the day exploring Queenstown and probably sneaking a few cat naps in throughout the day before we set off for what will be our last big stretch on this incredible trail.

Food Adventures

Patagonia ice cream- the best ice cream in the world

 

 

 

Lake Tekapo to Wanaka

Day One: 43 km  “Start walking again you lazy bums”

After 3 days off in Lake Tekapo, we hit the trail again, this time for a short 54km to Twizel where we would resupply for a 5 day stretch.

We spent the day walking along the Tekapo Canal and then along the shores of Lake Pukati which led us to a freedom camping spot on the lake amongst a forest of pine trees.

Day Two: 11 km “Pools of tears”

In the very early morning, I got a bit of a shove from Matt complaining about his feet being wet.  (It had started raining before we fell asleep.)  “How are you not soaked?”  he asked when I brushed his remark off (I just wanted to keep sleeping!).  Sure enough when we officially woke up at 6am, our tent was soaked.  Matt wrung out his down sleeping bag and I swear it wrung out buckets.  After checking with Brad and Jess, we discovered (along with them) that their tent was literally sitting in two pools of water.  Brad hadn’t packed away some of his clothes during the night and everything was soaked.

It was a long (but flat) 11km into Twizel but once we made it, we checked into a lodge where we sprawled out and relaxed the rainy cold day away.  The owners of the Colonial Hotel were so kind (probably cause we looked like we were about to become hypothermic).  They got us into a unit quickly and threw all of our wet sleeping bags into their commercial dryer for us.

Day Three: 33 km “Hot As”

All day, we had stunning views of the Southern Alps which had been covered with fresh snow. Very un-summer-like but gorgeous nonetheless. Even had views of Mt Cook.

Unlike yesterday, it was scorching hot out.  Luckily we were walking along two lakes so we were able to cool off in the afternoon before making it to the local ski club where we set up camp.

Day Four: 36 km “Bad @$$ River Crossers”

Morning climb to a 1400m saddle then down to the river where we continued until our big challenge of the day: the Ahuriri River.  We had passed three Northbound hikers along the way who were unable to cross because of the recent bad weather and snowmelt.  We were nervous and really hopeful we would be able to cross.  Otherwise it would be a 10km road walk detour.

When we arrived at the river, it looked quite manageable from a distance but as we got closer, it looked like it kept moving faster and faster.  Looked too deep here, too swift there, etc .  We scoped out three different spots and eventually chose one.  With our arms wrapped around each other for mutual support, we took one step and that one step made it all too clear that the river was way too strong. Jess and I were ready to embrace the 10km detour when Brad and Matt found one more spot they thought could work.  It might be a bit deeper but the current was slower.  I’m sure it took less than 45 seconds but that 45 seconds crossing that river, the four of us one wall, seemed much longer.  We triumphed across to the other side.  I felt as if I could sleep happily right then and there, completely satisfied with our days accomplishments.

12 km after the river, we arrived at a musterer’s (shepherd) hut.  It was a good call to push to the hut.  Our tents wouldn’t have enjoyed the wind that nearly picked up the whole hut that night!  The hut literally shook as if it were at sea. If you still can’t imagine that kind of wind, the toilet door had previously been blown off the hinges by said wind and lay a couple feet away from the toilet.

Day Five: 27km “Race for a mattress”

The morning started off with a climb to the highest point on the Breast Hill track, Martha Saddle at 1680m.  The wind on the descent was insane.  Within minutes our hands were frozen and we were waving our arms around trying to stay warm. Before New Zealand I couldn’t really imagine ever being thrown around by the wind.  Not anymore!

After lunch at a hut along the way (a hut whose toilet door had also blown off)…

… the track took us into beech forest, sidling the river and climbing where necessary to avoid gorged sections. It was a great change of scenery to the barren mountains down here.

We also had to cross the river roughly a dozen times which was a fun twist to our day. We crossed most of the sections in pairs. The river was never deeper than our waists but at times the current was quite strong.

A few hours later we arrived at the junction where we would take a left and head straight UP the mountain where our hut for the night lay just on the tree line at about 1080m. We had seen in the previous Hut book that 9 south-bounders had spent the night and intended to go to Stodys Hut (same hut we were aiming for). We assumed we wouldn’t have a mattress and would have to settle for the floor but as we started the ascent, Brad yelled “two French guys went past the junction, now they’re just behind us!”

And I never saw Matt, Jess and Brad again.

But actually, they booked it up the mountain intent on winning the race to the mattresses. I was definitely not scaling the wall of rock in front of me as a race so I let one of the two French men pass me and wished the best for my trio of Canadians rushing up the hill.

At the top (a long ways up!), I learnt Matt won the race with Jess and Brad close behind. There were 3 beds left and they snatched them! Lucky for little old turtle pace me, they like me so they let me squeeze between them.

Day Six: 32 km “Breast Hill”

From Stodys Hut, we summited the spectacular Breast Hill which overlooks Lake Hawea from a super rocky cliff side. The descent was along the ridge line, up and down, before zig zagging steeply down to the road. We walked through Lake Hawea, got a couple scoops of ice cream at the general store, and continued on to our campground for the night.

 

Day Seven: 14 km “Ice cream!”

The day we walked into Wanaka: where we would enter our first real grocery store on the South Island: New World! Until now, we had only hit Four Square’s which are just mini grocery stores, halfway between a dairy and a grocery store.

First things first: Matt was starting to look like a bum in the shirt that lasted him 108 days. Time for a fresh look!

In Wanaka, Jess, Brad and I each had 4 scoops of Patagonia ice cream, the best ice cream in the world I’m convinced. Matt had a more reasonable 2 scoops.

COOL

This giant puffball mushroom!  

Well past the 2500km mark now!

Matt’s beard comb.

This make shift water fountain and mug at a stream on top of a mountain

Fresh fruit and veg on the trail (only on day 1 after a town though.  After that it’s tooo heavy so back to couscous) [Also, what better reason for a bug-eyed sunglasses selfie?]

Where we slept [7 nights]

Pines Freedom Campground
The Colonial Motel, Twizel
Glen Mary Ski Club
Tin Hut
Stodys Hut
Alberttown Campground
Lake Wanaka Holiday Park

What we learnt

The South Island of New Zealand is windy as. Have gloves (or in my case extra socks) ready to throw on at saddles and summits above 1500m.

Who we met

Tómas, a traveller from the Czech Republic, who we chatted with and gave advice on tramps around New Zealand. [At the Alberttown campground]

Polly & Lee, two Southbound T.A hikers. Polly’s from Germany and Lee is from New Zealand. [At Stodys Hut]

Rangitata River to Lake Tekapo

The next two days consisted of the Two Thumb Track, my favourite stretch so far.  We kicked its butt getting in and out in two days but it wasn’t a rushed tramp.  The scenery was gorgeous and both days were spent sunrise to sunset taking in the views.  The first day Matt and I were alone hiking.  We passed a couple of other trampers along the way but the feeling at the top of our first saddle being able to see for miles in every direction with not a soul in sight was unreal and absolutely beautiful.  We could not have asked for better weather and of course as it was just a two day stretch, our packs were light from lack of food.  I did carry a pack of Oreos as a treat though.

Day One: Trailhead to Royal Hut (24 km)

Three sections of 4 hours, 5 hours, 2 hours.  Total DoC time was 11 hours.  Matt and I pumped it out in 8.  We spent most of the morning alone climbing to the first hut where we noted 9 people had been last night!  This had us a bit nervous about bunk space in the hut we planned to go to.  Not too nervous though, we knew trampers were always ready to make room for other trampers.

After the initial climb to the hut, we climbed to a saddle of 1500m.  Not a soul in sight, the views were stunning.

 

After that, it was up and down up and down through tussock to reach Stone Hut, only 2 hours further to get to our destination hut for the night.  Along the way we passed 3 other trampers who had stayed at the first hut the night before.    From Stone Hut to Royal Hut we followed Bush Stream the entire way, passing four other trampers along the way.

When we arrived at the hut, Brad and Jess were so excited!  They had been there for a couple of hours but we were the first to come from the North other than them.  There was one other couple there from Czech Republic who were super friendly and experienced trampers.  They brought along a flask of homemade plum vodka for us to try.  We also had a Backcountry Meal Apple Pie to dig into!

Sunset at Royal Hut was stunning and after an amazing day of hiking, I think I was at one of my happiest moments while on the T.A.

Day Two : Royal Hut to Lake Tekapo Village (48 km)

Day two and we were up at 6:00am ready to tackle Stag Saddle.  Stag Saddle is the highest point on the Te Araroa trail at 1925m.  We had heard it was a relatively easy climb but we were eager to saddle it!  We had also decided we would most likely walk into Lake Tekapo by the evening so we got an early start to get going the 48km.

The moon hung around while the sun kissed our valley in a gorgeous golden light.

Before we knew it, we were on top.  Jumping, dancing, freezing (so windy so cold so high) and snapping photos of our accomplishment.

 

I made a point to make sure I got the highest.

To make our way to the next hut, we chose an unmarked route across scree and large boulders and then up onto a tussock filled ridge with views for miles of Lake Tekapo and the snowy mountain range to our right.

At Camp Stream Hut, we had our first lunch of the day and discovered an exciting surprise on the back of the hut door.  Ooooooooooooo Canada, our home and native land! 🇨🇦

We walked 18 more km along the Richmond Track with constant views over Lake Tekapo.

We then wound up on Lilibank Rd where we walked the last 16km into town.  Road walking we can average up to 6km an hour so it usually passes by quickly.  However, when you ALL run out of water and there are no streams to filter, 16km on road in NZ sun can become a nightmare.  Despite the dehydration we survived so we’re over it now.

Et voilà!  Lake Tekapo Village.  We planned to spend three nights, two days in Lake Tekapo because at the last minute I was able to arrange with my childhood bestie, Olivia, to meet up with us.  She’s been travelling New Zealand for 6 weeks and has constantly been in places we’ve gone about a week ahead of us.  She was able to make it out for a night and it was so great to see her.  It was the first bit of real home I’ve had in nearly eleven months here.

In Lake Tekapo, we’ve indulged in cinnamon buns, brownies, eggs Benedict, fresh veggies and spent two stormy nights in a glamping tent.

Then due to a major miscalculation in the next days walk, we are in Lake Tekapo for a 4th night.  We are never leaving Lake Tekapo.  Some major rest and relaxation happening right now.   But seriously, I need to leave Lake Tekapo.  We need to walk.  Counting down the minutes to tomorrow morning when we hit the trail again.

Its not all too bad though.  The blog is now up to date.

Ok Anna, time to uphold your end of the deal.  😉

 

Bonus photo of Mt Everest climbers Jess and Brad eating Nutella on top of Stag Saddle.

Total kilometres walked so far: 2369 km

Arthur’s Pass to Rangitata River

Day One

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.

Day Two

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.

Day Three

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.

Day Four

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!

 

Boyle Village to Arthur’s Pass

The last few days have been tough. The sun doesn’t seem to want to shine and it’s been cold. For the Montreal Canadians with us, it’s never too cold for Canadians. For this west coast girl, it’s very easy for it to be too cold.  It’s easy to reflect though when you claim you’re miserable. I’ve been thinking about how I’ve changed. How even though I think I’m miserable, I am much more bad ass than I’ve ever been.


How I remember the first time I read I’d have to climb to 700m. Yes I know now that’s nothing but I was new to thinking in metre elevation when we started this. Now, anything under 1200m doesn’t seem too spectacular.


I also remember reading river crossing. How I cringed at knowing my feet would be getting wet. Now I get to the river and think can I keep my feet dry? No? No problem. Where’s safest to cross?


How a flat day of walking use to be the greatest reward after a tough stretch of mountains. Now flat walking is a mentally challenging day, simply covering more distance in a shorter amount of time to get us to the next mountain.

It has also become less of a race. On the North Island, we were always working to catch up to someone and overall to make it to Wellington. Now that we’ve made it to the South Island, each day is a day closer to our goal but also to the end of our walk and I’m realizing now I’m in no rush to get there yet.


I’ve stopped peer pressuring Matt by putting on my shoes and backpack before he’s even finished swallowing his lunch. Now I eat my lunch as slowly as he does because two minutes is not going to make a difference in my completely free of any scheduled activity day.

And that’s it for now. I feel free. I feel strong. I feel relaxed. I feel ready for another stretch of kilometres.

From Boyle Village to Arthur’s Pass…

We crossed a lot of rivers.

We stepped in a lot of cow pies.

We met some Swedish hobby fishermen.

We soaked in some natural hot springs along the Hurunui River on route.

We watched fresh snow dust the mountains as it rained coldly down on us at a lower elevation.

A weka kept nosying around our campsite.

A possum woke us up tapping on our hut window in the middle of the night.

I peed off a hut patio.  One of the boys now.

We bushwhacked through a completely overgrown prickle patch.

We crossed our first emergency 3-wire bridge.

We hiked the Deception Mingha track which is part of the mountain run component of the Coast to Coast race.  The track is literally the river and involves a lot of scrambling up large boulders and tons of river crossings as you get up to an elevation of 1100m.  Lots of runners ran by as they trained for the big event which doesn’t roll around until February.

I wore my sleeping socks on my hands as gloves on our last day of walking.

 

St Arnaud to Boyle Village

Day One: Red Hills Hut to Lakehead Hut

We woke up early at Red Hills Hut to head into St Arnaud so we could make the most of our quick stop in town. First up, we all had food drop boxes being held at the lodge. St Arnaud doesn’t have a supermarket, just a couple of cafés and one dairy, which is why we planned ahead. In Wellington, we buckled down for one of our rest days and did about 30 days worth of food shopping to be divided into 3 food drops, the first being in St Arnaud. This stretch would lead us to the second one in Boyle Village which would then lead us to our third in Arthur’s Pass. We knew roughly what was packed away for us, but it has been a few weeks so we were excited to see a couple of goodies we had snuck in (dried shiitake mushrooms! Lindor chocolate! Coconut cream powder!). After emptying our box into our backpacks, we spent most of the day in The Clinger Café, using wifi and eating real food! I had eggs and toast for breakfast, pumpkin pesto and boccochini on baguette for lunch and veggie pizza for dinner. All the veggies! Yum!

After all that food, it was time to walk, but only for three hours to Lakehead Hut on the opposite side of Lake Rotoiti.  This was at the start of our Waiau Pass Track and seeing as it was close to town, it allowed us to save on accommodation while still spending a decent amount of time straight chilling in a café. On the very relaxed trail to Lakehead Hut, we ducked through the bush to the shore to take a swim (shower). Thank god we didn’t notice the eel swimming along the shore until we were out. At the hut, we decided to pitch our tents. Seeing as it is so accessible (some families even water taxied to the hut), the hut was hot and crowded. To be honest, I was starting to miss the privacy of our tent a little bit too. Sandflies weren’t the most fun but that’s why I love our tent. Its perfect little mesh walls that protect us from the suck of the sandflies.  Look for the million little black specks!

Day 2: Lakehead Hut to Upper Travers Hut

Starting at an elevation of 600m, our morning “climb” to our lunch hut was a breeze at 800m. Afterwards, it was a bit longer to get to nearly 1400m where our home for the night sat, just under the Travers Saddle. We arrived reasonably early in the afternoon so we ate lots, read and relaxed. There were not too many of us there however at 6pm, everyone seemed to show up and the Hut ended up full to the brim with hikers sprawled anywhere they could be. We decided to make it a 7am walking start the next day to avoid the rush up the mountain so off to bed we went.

Day 3: Upper Travers Hut to Upper Waiau Forks informal Campground

Our morning climb from 1400m to 1800m was misty and didn’t allow for many views but it was a quick and painless climb and we were all still half asleep when we reached the Travers Saddle anyways.

So down we went continuing the track to first, West Sabine Hut and then Blue Lake Hut where we initially anticipated spending the night. When we arrived at West Sabine, we were informed by a fellow tramper that people were dropping like flies from a supposed stomach virus so we quickly decided to bypass the hut and push to Blue Lake for lunch.

After crushing DOC [Department of Conservation] estimated times all morning (turning a 6 hour stretch into 3 hours), when we arrived at Blue Lake, we decided we would eat lunch and then push on. For reasons of bad weather rumoured to be coming in, we would climb Waiau Pass and camp on the other side while the weather was still crystal clear blue skies all around.

Waiau Pass is the highest point on this stretch at 1800m so it was important to not have wind and bad weather. In the trail notes, it is described as a steep scree climb and long descent so we curled up on lunch beside Blue Lake, deemed to be the clearest freshwater in the world. If only the wind didn’t ripple the surface for us.

An hour climb took us up to Lake Constance where the trail took us on a test run for Waiau Pass: UP. The views were worth the scree scramble. We sidled around Lake Constance before dropping to the Lakehead where Brad and Matt had a quick chilly wash.

I was front of the pack as we followed our orange pole markers deeper into the valley. All I could see were walls of mountains and everyone behind me was waiting to see where I would lead them. Every time I thought I saw our ascent, another pole would appear further down the valley. Finally, we crossed a river and saw our orange poles heading straight up and over the scree wall on our left.

It’s funny because three months ago if you had showed me this route, I would’ve cried. It was a fantastic route. At the top we were rewarded with the best views, patches of snow and a just as pretty descent on the other side into another sun kissed valley.

We ended our night at an informal but fairly established campground right next to the river where a possum stole one of my shoes. At least that’s what I thought. Turns out it was just me being dumb but that’s a story you’ll only hear in person.

Day Four: Upper Waiau Forks to Anne Hut

A long walk through a valley took us to Anne Hut where we joined onto a popular NZ walking track, the St James Walkway. There were some nice views in the valley but for the most part, the weather was pretty overcast.

After that, we spent New Years in Anne hut. I spent it, probably more accurately, dying in the main room where I slept away from everyone on one of the kitchen benches.  That stomach virus back at West Sabine.. I got it and all I’ll say is I haven’t felt like that since I drank absinthe in grade 12.

Day Five: Anne Hut to Boyle Flats Hut

The next morning, Brad, Jess and Francis took off to collect their next food box at Boyle Village while Matt and I stuck behind. I felt infinitely better but still overall pretty crummy. I spent most of the morning laying in bed while Matt played nurse taking very good care of me. Hydration, hydration, hydration. We knew we had 30km left to our food box and enough food for one more night on the trail. The thought of a 30km day did not sit well with me so we decided to split it up into two days of 15km. We left at 2pm and walked for 4 hours to Boyle Flats Hut where B,J&F had set up a little scavenger hunt for us!  Along the way we climbed Anne Saddle which gave us a good laugh.  For such a low elevation, they really gave it a grand sign.

You can see Boyle Flats Hut in the background- it was located across the river via a swing bridge.

Day Six: Boyle Flats Hut to Boyle Village 

The next day we walked 3 hours into Boyle Village where a fellow tramper offered us a ride into the closest town, Hanmer Springs. We weren’t sure where B,J&F were but we knew we needed proper food and I needed a full days rest.

As fate would have it, we walked down the street for not more than five minutes before hearing Brad yell my name. We spent two nights camped at the Holiday Park. Seeing as it was New Years and NZ’s summer holidays, all indoor accommodation was booked up. We managed to lounge for the most part in the TV room watching movies nonstop so it worked out pretty well. Our first zero day on the South Island much needed.

The next day it was back to Boyle Village to get back on trail.