Return Of The Sandflies

A day that began with us ambling along farm tracks with no apparent concern as to whether or not we were headed in the right direction led us to the thick of a mighty swamp. An example of splendid collective navigation.

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Hamilton Hut had the wonderful Ben and Gary, American fellow TA’ers, who stoked the fire to the extent that sleeping bags weren’t required that night. We also met Ami, who shared with us that doing Te Araroa conditioned her to eat first, think later, having retrieved a lone gummy worm from the pavement and ate it. Yup, TA changes people. Walking out the next day we had – once again – amazing views in all directions from the small saddle we passed over. It was downhill to the road, to the Bealey Hotel for a big meal, shower and bed.

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Just down the road was Arthur’s Pass, our next restock and first kea sighting spot. The high point here was sitting in a bar with three other SOBO TA trampers sharing stories and advice, as we all do. It was novel just hanging with other hikers in a place that sells ice cream and beer, and not just another hut in the hills.

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From here it was up the Mingha River to Goat Pass Hut on the track of the Speights Coast to Coast race. We continued on the race track from the hut down the Deception River the next day. This was one of the best days on the entire track so far. Rocky spires of mountain peaks and ridges, barely visible, just vague outlines above the low eerie clouds. Thick primordial bush with trees akin to Dr Seuss illustrations all around. The water off the steam we are on, so clear with a clean blue hue, only noticeable in the deeper pools. This is old New Zealand. This is the New Zealand that existed before people (ignoring the lack of Moa and presence of deer), and being in the middle of and at the mercy of the place, is special and humbling indeed.

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Right now, we are in Hurunui Hut No 2. Rob is writing up blog content, Sam is typing up blog content into her phone and Caleb is lying on his back snoring. It must be before four in the afternoon. This is what happens when we reach a hut where the only reading material is a Reader’s Digest magazine from 1990. This is the unglamorous reality of our lives at present. Both tonight and tomorrow we share the huts with two guys from Reefton who we established we had two mutual friends with. It’s a small world when you get out into the back country.

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Today is a rest day. To balance the sometimes inordinate distances between huts and campsites it works out that we have short days. Three hours today. It also didn’t hurt that our short walk today coincidently passed a natural hot pool. What a rather most ideal day.

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Last night we shared Hurunui Hut No 3 with, five hunters who taught us a cool variation on the card game we know as bastard, and two DOC staff doing kiwi monitoring. It is the middle of hunting season, we keep passing hunters, more of them now than TA hikers, and we hear the stags roaring from the hills and trees around us almost daily.

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Now, a day later, we find ourselves in the same situation. Caleb is sleeping, Sam typing up blog content – we’re trying to catch up with the blog considerably – and Rob is producing more ready to be typed up. It is maybe three in afternoon. It is our last afternoon before the hitch and hike to Hanmer Springs tomorrow, ending this section, and this blog post.

Forming breaks in Te Araroa in the middle of the South Island are the formidable Rangitata and Rakaia Rivers, the defining points for this section. No bridges and huge, huge detours around them on very isolated country roads, costing a detour to either Methven or Geraldine, or both.

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The ‘idea’ of being back on the track always feels good when leaving a town, but after our three day stint in Tekapo,  the reality of this ‘idea’ was us walking for hours down a deserted gravel road under intensely draining sunlight on a cloudless day, carting 25kgs on our backs. We luckily managed to hitch to the start of our track,  getting us a nice distance into the track to find a spot to camp.

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Camp Stream Hut, built 1892, was the location of our lunch the next day.  There was a retired kiwi dude doing sections of Te Araroa,  we had a good chat.  It seems to be a big kick for any kiwi to see another doing Te Araroa,  a comradery in feeling like a foreigner midst a current of European and North Americans.

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Today we reached the highest point in all of Te Araroa, on the ridge beside Stag Saddle.  Here we crosses paths with Lance, the Walking for Water Quality guy. We had a good chinwag about politics for about 40 minutes on the ridge, overlooking the Main Divide, Mt Cook, and Lake Tekapo.  Being here in the wild country,  this is what our shared political priorities are,  our unique Aotearoa.

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We stayed in Royal Hut, named after an apparent visit by a young Charles and Anne Windsor. Outside 30 young students from an Otago Polytechnic outdoor pursuits programme slept in tents, not allowed to use the little luxuries the hut could offer, though we were pleased to have the hut to ourselves.

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More hills,  more tussock and more spike plant separated us from Crooked Spur Hut.  At one point the clouds settled on us and we completely lost sight,  just in time to cross a scree covered saddle. On the other side we all stopped for a moment when Rob realised there was no sound at all,  there was nothing at all to be heard,  so we stopped in the silence.
On approach to our hut we had our first glimpse down the valley of the Rangitata River,  and tomorrow we would cross it.

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Following down the valley we would cross Camp Stream nine times, back and forth, wet boots in icy water.  Finally coming to the Rangitata for lunch. The day had revealed itself to be blue skies and uber sun in time for our crossing. The water was low in all but a few of the many,  many braids.  The water was a beautiful blue in most of the braids, other than those which were obviously preferred by the cattle that were living on a grassy patch in the middle of the river,  to our bewilderment.

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Caleb found in the trail notes the mention of a lodge somewhere nearby,  this was a very welcome discovery,  although it didn’t mention where (it actually did but he didn’t read the next page), it was enough to motivate our very swift amble up the Potts River where it met the Rangitata,  to meet the nearest road.  A motorist told us he passed a sign for the lodge with a closed sign on it just up the road.  I’m not sure why an apparent closed sign was almost instantly ignored by us all, but it was.  We set off on foot, now very fatigued.  We were shortly offered a ride by Tracey,  a really cool Chinese New Zealander from Auckland who was showing her parents from China around.  They ushered us into the car, insisting that the six of us could fit, so we squeezed.  Eerily calm classical piano music was playing on the stereo as we raced off almost scarily fast down the gravel road.  We saw the sign,  yup, closed,  but let’s drive up and see anyway.  There were people.  Confusion with accents later,  Sam established that they were indeed closed, not for a vetting,  but for a wedding.  We awkwardly got the lodge staff to take a group photo of us, as per the request of Tracey’s father,  returned to the car and were dropped off down at the road again.  We made camp under a big tree that we later discovered was full of possums.

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Making excellent time the next day,  we used this to justify a detour to the village at nearby Lake Clearwater.  There were buildings, there must be a cafe or pub. Having been denied the perks of civilisation the day before I think made us more determined to find something.  Our detour however was without reward.  No shops, only holiday batches and caravans.  Back to the tussock,  the bog, the spike plant and the thorn bushes.

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Hours and hours later we would have reached Manuka Hut, had we not inadvertently veered onto a mountain bike trail that overshot and slowly looped back to the proper track.  By now, getting late and cold, so instead of pushing on we made camp.  We lay on the ground drinking tea, listening to Fleetfoxes and watch the stars populate the sky above us. Soon the entire sky was an immaculate view of the universe.  Satellites,  planets,  interstellar dust,  and stars everywhere.  This was one of the coolest parts of the whole trip. Very cool.

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In the morning Caleb pulled back the door of his tent and it shortly froze in place against the outside of the tent. Frozen. We froze our fingers holding up and shaking off the chunky sheets of ice from the sides of our tents. We layered up and continued. Today was a short day to Double Hut. Not long into our rest there two guys turned up in a ute with the news that shortly 140-160 four-wheel drives would be coming through as a fundraiser for the Lake Heron Conservation Group. Watching these trucks snake across the valley floor from outside the little hut in the middle of back country was truly bizarre. The trucks then came up to our hut and a continuous stream of people inundated the little tin hut. Caleb and Rob inside on their bunks and Sam outside, all became ambassadors and story tellers for both life in DoC huts and the Te Araroa trail to a continuously interested crowd. We in turn soon learned from the great number of our guests desperately looking for it, that in 1951 Ed Hillary stayed in this hut when climbing nearby Mt Taylor and while here had scratched his name into the wall.

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Ross, one of the hosts of the 4×4 tour from the Lake Heron Conservation Group offered to drive us from Methven to the other side of the Rakaia River when we reached there in a few days time, big thanks! Ross was really cool and had great stories of cycle touring and of his own plans to eventually do Te Araroa himself.

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The track the next day reached a point where the notion of a ‘track’ was indistinguishable from the river, we simply walked right down the middle of it for a bit. Actually we spent quite a lot of this day in the river, until finally reaching home for the night, Comyn’s Hut. We shared this tin can hut with four young Americans, the first TA hikers we’d met who were fastidiously walking the whole thing, including all of the road sections. They were however ultra hikers, having done the Pacific Crest Trail and parts of The Appalachian Trail back home. This lot were great fun and really cool people. Leaving the next day I think we realised how much we had been missing hanging out with people our age again.

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Passing A-Frame Hut we reached the road and managed a hitch after some while, with the only vehicle going our direction, or even possibly the only vehicle at all on this entire road, taking us into Methven. We had just the right timing to avoid the only spell of foul weather we’d encountered for ages. By morning the weather had cleared after dumping some snow on the hills and we were back on the road again.
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Somewhere out there in the deep back country is a trail that most New Zealanders have never heard of.  Te Araroa. A trail that sends great swathes of predominantly foreigners, a traveling community of these ragged looking smelly people. A great moving trail of homo sapiens on an annual migration South, through the hills of Kiwiland, ambling across the countryside. We share our adventures across the countryside as we come and go, funelling into the weird places we each find to camp, on the margins and outskirts of towns, we sleep in the trees, campsites, hostels and DOC huts, and this lifestyle, life on the trail, we love it.

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Our walk from Wanaka to Hawea was along well formed and well used cycle trails.

We stopped over for a night in Albert Town before reaching Hawea, where the weather was overwhelmingly hot and demanded of us that we stop and swim in the lake. We were only passing through, our destination was to camp at the bottom of what would be the next days climb, Breast Hill, 950m in 4km. From there, lunch at Pakituhi Hut ended with a split in our party as Caleb and Sam continued up the track another few hundred meters to the summit of Breast Hill with spectacular views, while Rob, with a stuffed and pained knee, took the more direct route along a flatter farm track to Stody’s Hut. Stody’s Hut,  or the hut of no sleep, was a cool old corrugated iron mustarers hut, sleeping six. But already with four occupants upon our arrival.

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Paper scissors rock wasn’t in Sam’s favour and decided she was to tent outside while Caleb and Rob, didn’t sleep, but lay inside. Rob on a top bunk listening to a Frenchman with the most amazingly articulated snoring constantly on repeat,  Caleb however having a more unpleasant experience as he was lying next to the fellow. Eventually his snoring did cease,  the silence short lived as now the guy on the other side of Caleb began snoring. Even worse for Caleb was when partway through the night an Austrian man stood on his face climbing down the ladder.

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Given our somewhat fatigued state we began the next day casually and very slowly ambled our way up and down the rather tedious track having lots of breaks to rest and eat snacks. After several hours we reasoned that we were surely within a few kilometers of the hut. This plesant feeling was short lived when finally we managed to get a GPS reading and discovered we were not yet half way and it was almost four. Suddenly we had no option but to walk much faster. Caleb and Rob, after their calamity the previous night, really struggled to keep going. We did make it though. Top Timaru Hut just before nightfall. Eating our dinner after dark we had, in victory, a Billie Holiday dance party using the strobe of our headlights affixed to the ceiling.
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It was long and hot and not particularly beautiful, albeit not overly hard, just unceasingly continuous terrain that took us over the Martha Saddle. Atop the saddle we had lunch that day, overlooking the valleys on both sides and the impressive scree encrusted slopes of Mt Martha looming always above.

New Zealanders of a certain generation should recall Blam Blam Blam’s Don’t Fight It, Marsha, It’s Bigger Than Us Both, well sitting here on the saddle of Mt Martha, we found our blog post title for the section. Thinking about it now we probably should have taken a photo of Mt Martha.
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The day’s sun was fast fading as the journey out into the nowhere,  no plants, no animals, just following a fenceline seemingly arbitrarily towards a road that bemused Rob at the thought that it could possibly lead anyone anywhere given our sense of great isolation.  Eventually we found and crossed the road, now heading for a row of pine trees where we assumed we would make our camp for the night. As we approached however the distance between us and the trees increased to reveal a huge river valley of some rather substantive distance. We had found the Ahuriri River, and were atop the edge of huge bank overlooking our stark discovery. We ambled around the barren farmland eventually finding a navigable path down to the riverbank where we made camp for the night.
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Crossing the Ahuriri was not too troublesome. After this it was an amble across tussock for hours, then it started raining on us, and then it was hours more of ambling across tussock, siddling ridges, crossing streams back and forth and desperately trying to avoid the spikey plant that lives amidst the tussock. It was during lunch on this day that Caleb stabbed his phone with his waking pole, smashing the screen and rendering the device defunct. Whoops.
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We passed many other TA trampers on the way, all of whom had made camp the night before at an ideal spot in beech forest that was ahead of us. There were spots for tents and a ready made fire pit surrounded by logs to sit on and loaded with an ample supply of firewood. Such luxury.

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Awake the next day, Lake Ohau in sight, we joyfully bounded down from the forested valley into farmland and inadvertently emerged at the home of a nice old couple, who were not concerned at our apparent confusion in direction, instead offering us tea and biscuits, and a ride to the start of the track on the shores of the lake.
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We walked so fast for so long on the lakefront cycleway, seemingly not actually getting any closer to anything.  Then we got a ride to Twizel.

Snow Angels For Breakfast

Leaving Arrowtown after having completed all of the obligatory towny errands the only directions we had were from the staff of the coffee shop that served Caleb that morning.
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Our route to Macetown was the Macetown road, opened in 1884 and by no standards of today a viable road for anything other than four-wheel drives.  The road repeatedly crossed the icy waters of the Arrow River, each ford taking time and a painful toll on our legs and feet. After the first four crossings and a description previously by another Te Araroa hiker we’d met who said there were about fifty crossings, Caleb decided to wet boot, Sam did likewise and Rob opted to barefoot the remainder of the section to Macetown.

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Macetown,  a long since abandoned collection of derelict rubble and a few still standing hand built stone huts, in the middle of seemingly nowhere,  will forever be special for Caleb and Robert as the place where they both saw snow falling for the first time in their lives.  That night as cold winds tore out the valley and the mountains everywhere surrounding were becoming visibly dusted with the thickening white of snow.  Temperatures cold. Here in the middle of nowhere before our eyes the rain that had long since been unceasing began to fall as icy chunks here and there,  and then,  snowflakes.  We joked that by morning we would be able to do snow angels,  but thankfully this wasn’t the case.  Thankfully we didn’t have to walk through snow until much later in the day.  The rain, lightish but ever present didn’t ease until after midday as we ambled across tussock and thick scrub around and around until finally our steep climb over Rose’s Saddle, our snow covered giant. A hard ascent and the novelty of the snow short lived. On the other side we descended quickly to Rose’s Hut, our home for the night.

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The next day led us instantly up a steep 550m ascent over 3km following a ridge along the top only to then steeply meander down the other side and once more up the corresponding side of the valley.  The terrain here was gratuitously challenging, physically and psychologically, the latter especially bad given that for most of the day a gravel road from Rose’s Hut leading straight to Wanaka, our eventual destination, was visible below, following the ease of the valley floor, and what were we doing? Criss-crossing very high mountain ridges all to reach huts that seem to have been placed here only to accommodate further criss-crossing of mountain ridges.  Today was sore and tough.

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There is however a kind of zen experienced in such situations.  The distance babbling of an unseen and faraway stream almost too faint to hear,  your own exhaustive breathing,  boots crunching the mud and rock, walking poles brushing aside tussock and stabbing to rest in the earth,  pack creaking. You’re alone,  the others now beyond sight behind another ridge,  sunlight blaring down,  snowy mountains in every direction,  and realising this,  this is the entirety of everything you are experiencing from outside of yourself at this point in time.  There is nothing else.  The only way out is forward. And clarity becomes the hiker.
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The Highland Creek and Fernburn Huts were amazing spots of luxury set amidst the rugged, picturesque landscape, at times at odds with the quality of the brutally forged tracks which traversed up and down steep ridge after unending steep ridge.
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In time however we finally emerged once more into the familiar terrain of farmland.  A short walk from here took us to Glendhu Bay and then onto Wanaka, and civilisation once more.

 

Our first attempt at leaving Te Anau was bitterly unsuccessful…

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Up early, we walked to the edge of town only to remember we’d left our food in the fridge at the hostel. Rob lost paper scissors rock and had to return to fetch it, only to return to the others, food-in-hand as it started raining with increasing intensity. The water proofs and pack covers came on, which is when Caleb discovered he must have lost his, we couldn’t begin our 6 day possibly entirely wet section without the pack cover, so back to Te Anau town center we went. Outside the outdoors shop he actually found the pack cover hidden with his clothes.

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By now the day was getting on, the weather unceasing, and we faced a 30km walk, but only if we could hitch the 26km back to the trail, else that would be added to the total. Suddenly today didn’t look like a good day.
Within the hour the wet hikers returned to the hostel to stay another night.

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The second attempt saw our optimism at being able to score a ride dwindle as we resigned ourselves to starting the walk back to the track after none of the few cars that did pass seemingly had any interest in offering us a ride.
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Without a ride we’d be sleeping out and adding an additional day, but we didn’t mind, it just felt good to be going somewhere. Eventually we got an offer from a young German tourist who could take one of us and all the packs. We decided Caleb should go. Sam and Rob, with a bottle of water and some apricots, feeling much more optimistic about the prospect of a ride for just the two of them stuck their thumbs out and the very next car pulled over. As Caleb turned to wave goodbye he watched Sam and Rob getting into their own vehicle. They were picked up by a cool guy who had been working in conservation in various capacities for much of his life and was on his way to check on a falcon colony he’d been monitoring then apply for funding for the project in the afternoon.

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The two cars, arriving at the Princhester River bridge on the highway, farewelled their guests and we set off once more. The trail went down through farmland towards the river where we were instructed to follow along this river then the Mavora, however at the end of the farm track we soon found ourselves surrounded by a very deep and continuous bog, moments before we walked right into it. Searching around we found no indication of the track and with the story from another TA hiker we had past previously who also could not find the track and had opted to walk the road, we decided to backtrack and do likewise. Upon reaching the road to the Mavora Lakes a fierce headwind made the progress arduous. With spirits low we decided to hitch if given the opportunity, although all of the traffic that passed us was leaving the lakes.
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We stopped for lunch in a patch of long grass where we noticed a few hundred meters down the road that a car had pulled over with the bonnet up. Finally an opportunity for Caleb to help fix a car, and maybe if he did the kind soul may offer us a ride down the road. After some time Caleb returned with news that the motorist knew what was wrong and was equipped to fix it themselves. Facing back into the headwind we carried on. Over the next half hour young cyclists kept struggling past as part of their school camp, something in itself unremarkable but a point of some interest in an otherwise slow and dreary day. We ended up getting a ride with another German tourist the remaining distance to the turnoff to Kiwiburn Hut.

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Crossing the Mararoa River to meet the track we had our first encounter with didymo, the insidious stuff had formed a complete layer of squishy slime over everything in this entire section of river. Obviously someone hadn’t seen the ‘Say No to Didymo’ bumper stickers. It was horrible to see the destruction of our natural environment and a timely reminder of the real need to protect what is unique to Aotearoa and how fragile some of these ecosystems are. The kiwiburn Hut had a sweet set up inside, two separate sleeping areas and a large room for the kitchen and fireplace. We had just finished our dinner which we had cooked on the little pot belly stove and were enjoying the civility of sitting around a table about to have a game of cards when a family arrived. Five adults and four young children. Lucky kids to get to be out at this spot in the outdoors for a night.

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On our walk to the Mavora Lakes campsite the next day we were joined by some very friendly and curious robins. So friendly that they joined us for lunch, sat on Sams boot and tried to eat her sock before taking on Robs tent.

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On the flat beech forest trail, between playing on swing bridges and admiring the lakes, we once again met our friends from Oreti beach on day two of our trip. This couple definitely deserve a special mention. We briefly spoke first on Oreti beach, then we met again at Colac Bay, then at Te Anau, again at Mavora Lakes and finally we would meet on our way to Boundary Hut. This adventurous couple really inspired us with their commitment to tramping the Te Araroa trail bit by bit over the last three years, undetered by illness or injury. We joined our Te Araroa friends that evening and exchanged stories of our adventures.

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The next morning was freezing. The cloudless sky left us fussing about our tents bearing the cold trying to cook breakfast waiting for the sun to rise. This occupied our thoughts until the moment the sun finally made the crest and we enjoyed the respite from the cold enough that we opted to let our tents dry somewhat, a welcome excuse to do nothing for a bit. Without clouds the sunlight soon intensified turning what may have otherwise been a brief stop in our hike into a very long lunch by the lake side. Walking the gravel track, gradually rising to majestic views looking back down the valley to the Mavora Lakes, and on either side of us great rocky mountain ranges. This area is truly amazing and a real highlight for these Te Araroa trampers.

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The next days were across similarly amazing landscapes. Staying at Boundary Hut then Taipo Hut for each night. The company in each, Americans doing Te Araroa going south the first night then two cool young German guys doing likewise the next. Meeting people in the huts is cool, conversations run rapidly from the need to halt rampant privatization of government services, to the need to change the culture of politics from self-serving wealthy classes, the culture of wanton consumerism to the more mundane but logistically useful advice for the various sections of the trail we will encounter in the coming months.

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This section ended for us at Greenstone Hut, a large hut that also services many trampers from the well walked Routeburn and Cables tracks. It was kind of weird being in a hut as the only Te Araroa trampers for a change, but everyone was well interested in what may have sounded like a crazy adventure.

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Finally arriving in Queenstown, we were instantly overwhelmed and – after six days in the bush – under dressed. The golf and Prime Minister were in town so we fled to nearby Arrowtown.

Inspiration for the title of this post was one of our favorites Charles Mingus albums.

 

Te Anau or bust, where bust meant an additional night freedom camping on the side of the highway in the rain with minimal food and incurring a financial penalty. But let us start from the beginning….

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Leaving Otautau with clean, dry clothes and 15 liters of water between us, we are each super amped to finally be hitting the trails and heading into the bush to live out of our packs for the next 6 days, our first proper multi day section.

Somewhere in the middle of the Woodlaw Forest we spent our first night freedom camping, nestled between rows of pine trees emerging from bases of thick gorse- walled shrubbery on a small patch of grass at the divergence of two forestry access roads. How proud we felt.

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The next day, the weight of the 5liters of water was painfully evident as we climbed higher out of the area. Later in the day we finally left this forest at a hill top that gave us our first view of the alps. Elated by the scenery, we strode happily across the grassy hill, patchworked with wild flowers in a Sound of Music moment. We were soon to discover we had carelessly wandered off the trail for some while and the mood broke as we had to backtrack. That night we camped once more, setting up our tents in the grassy hollow of a half fallen willow tree. How novel to camp inside a tree.

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Lunch the next day, at Linton Station, was overlooking a flock on the move. Filling past us, if sheep were measured in time, was half as hour of sheep. We then watched the farmer doing the amazing whistling thing, instructing the dogs exactly where to go to assist the sheep into the correct field. The sheep at Linton Station are lucky to have such amazing views.

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The night was at the sandfly infested Telford campsite. They had seemingly adapted- in a fashion akin to the Borg- to our insect repellant. That night Robert read aloud excerpts from A Life Worth Living – the sole book he’d brought – about the context and foundations of Camus’ thoughts and ideas. The sandflies in the morning led to a very distressing pack up, leading Caleb to flap his arms and flee attempting to outrun them.

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This day was a 6 hour journey over only 9 kilometers. The hike to the top was the most arduous indeed, following a ridge line with steep views to the top then plunging straight down again, thankfully now however under bush cover, a welcome respite from the exhausting sun. Arriving at the Lower Wairaki hut, our first night in a hut for our Te Araroa adventure. The transition in scenery this day, a real testament to the beauty of Aotearoa; breakfast in a grassy valley, lunch on a rocky apline peak and dinner in the bush. Caleb and Sam tried unsuccessfully to catch an eel in the near by stream, their lack of eel-in-hand upon returning to the hut was unclear if due to a lack of skill or the preference of eels for pepperoni salami.

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It was mid-way through this day, the undesirable realization that this leg of the trip was an extra day longer than previously thought. Undesirable because prior to leaving reception at the start if this leg accommodation had been booked at Te Anau and no cell phone reception meant we would incur the cost of the night we wouldn’t be there for.  Eek.

Passing through the bush we encountered some fellow Te Araroa trampers nearing the end of their New Zealand long hikes. A Frenchman,  an expat Englishman,  two Americans and a Kiwi. We shared stories about the different parts that were really easy and difficult,  the transition one goes through mentally on such a jaunt and generally relished in the comradeship born by the commitment of such an undertaking as our own.  They, proud of us for just beginning ours, as we of them for nearly reaching the end of theirs.

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That night by the time we reached the Aparima Hut we had pretty much decided that the following day we were going to commit to reaching Te Anau the following day.  Hence the name Te Anau or bust.  For dinner we feasted on most of all of our remaining supplies, save for what was allocated for breakfast and lunch en route, to save on pack weight.  And so we went,  up before sunrise,  hiking at a tremendous pace, seemingly swimming through tussocks that were at times head height,  where Sam twice completely disappeared having fallen into concealed holes.  Back into the bush,  up hills,  down hills,  through more tussock and some patches of particularly painful scratchy bushes, more tussock and a final long bush section to arrive at the Lower Princhester Hut in the early afternoon.  After 6km of gravel road we emerged at the highway to hitch our detour to Te Anau,  getting a ride with a German tourist.

We had made it. Te Anau or bust and Te Anau it was!

It hadn’t even crossed my mind, the thought of encountering an uncrossable body of water until at least the Rangitata and the Rakaia. But this far south? This early on? And by a stream that barely had a mention on the map?

So here we are, eight hours into a hike; cold, wet and at an impasse. Even the track here was so entirely flooded that it looked like another stream.

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With ourselves and much of our packs utterly wet from eight hours in the rain and with the rain forecast to not cease for another 20 hours, this stream was only going to become an even more formidable torrent. There was no option left other than to have some miso soup.

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We backtracked quite a bit with only a few hours sunlight remaining and made camp on the track. Cold and wet the effort required for each of us to individually dry and re-clothe ourselves seemed a logistical and time consuming nightmare. But we did manage. We all slept in Sam’s tent (the biggest) to conserve what little warmth we had remaining. Caleb’s tent fly formed a covered foyer for our tent, sided by our packs as walls and weather protection, the hiking poles balanced the fly upright, giving us enough room to manage the cooker and moroccan bean stew dinner from the comfort of our tent.

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The next morning there was no rain. Having no guarantee that we might now be able to cross the stream, and no energy or desire to return to the stream and find that yes, still uncrossable, then to have to return all the way to where we made camp and then continue the remaining 8 hour hike back out of the bush again, it was easiest to just retreat.

We made surprisingly great progress getting out of there.  Goodbye Round Hill. Hello once more to Colac Bay,  where once more as we had two nights earlier in nearly the exact places, spent another night camping in the rain. The warm pub and ample food were very well received, despite how frustrated it felt to have returned two days in the wrong direction, South.

Cold wind. Making our way up and out of Riverton into our first stint in the bush, Mores Reserve.

The trail led us to an abrupt stop at a raised wooden scenic lookout with views across to our destination Colac Bay. This was the end of the track, but from the vantage point our next leg of the track was clearly visible, just below the hill , through the bush. Off track it is then. With our bearings from the compass to the closest patch of pasture we made a scramble through the undergrowth finally re-emerging along side a deer fence on what was marked  as the Te Aroroa trail.  Getting accosted by a gorse bush is always a good reminder that you are having a New Zealand experience. Following the fence we made hast for the beach (our last coastal section until the Queen Charlotte Sound at the other end of the island).

The beach was an arduous trudge in parts, walking heavily through fine granules of stone. The tedium of this section became evident upon finally ending our up and down from beach to rock to grass land to beach again rigmarole, Caleb and Rob ditched their boots, tying them to their packs to give their feet a rest as from here to Colac Bay was a final unending stretch of beach. 

When Caleb finally gave up and needed to reboot panic struck Rob instantly and overwhelmingly realising he only had one boot on his pack. Rob and Sam took off running back where they had walked with the waves now rising higher, lapping at their previous foot prints. Triumphant cries drowned by the waves and the distance between us; Victoriously, we held our arms up in unity.

We rocked up to the Colac Bay tavern and holiday park. Walking into the tavern, the three weary and saw travellers drew the attention of the packed and warm bar, looking rather out of place amidst the local punters. We enjoyed some good pub food and a pint of the pride of the south. this was the first night we spent in our tents. The people at Colac Bay were all really nice except  one old man who threatened to run over Sam and told Caleb to get a job.

Our next day was a rest day with only a six kilometre road section to walk to round hill station. Our host Scott and his family were the nicest people. Their block of land, with plans to be organic and self sufficient as must as possible was inspiring and an example we felt we’d all like to emulate. Chickens, sheep, rabbits, geese, turkeys, cows, gardens and stories of mass kereru fly overs. We stayed in a cute little cabin with a pot belly fire place falling asleep to the ambience of the flickering light at the eve of an amazing day.

 

 

A Long Walk on the Beach

This picturesque beach was Burt Munro’s beach of the Worlds Fastest Indian fame. So awesome that the access to the beach is by driving straight onto it (which Dave did for us to bid us farewell).

In the far distance across the bay, beyond the horizon we could just make out Riverton. From the get go we missed Nick, our English companion from yesterday’s travels. Not long into walking we passed a retired kiwi couple who asked if we were doing Te Araroa. They had recently completed the entire North Island section and were glad to see some kiwi kids doing the track. Great swaths of half composting red seaweed offered great respite for our blistered feet. It was stinky and squishy but oh so comforting.

Walking westward following the sun we watched it set as we kept on walking, finally reaching Riverton shortly after dark Robert Guyton (our host for the night), met us just across the bridge offering us a ride, we settled on him taking our packs only and we joyously jumped and ran and generally walked incredibly weirdly (without the weight of our packs) the last couple of blocks to the Guytons house. Their hospitality was amazing. Their food forest and eco-setup was epic, and hearing their stories from the Riverton environment centre and the great community initiatives; food co-operative , heritage trees, and general green goodness was so inspiring. In the morning we fumbled our way through singing happy birthday in Sweedish to one of the Sweedish woofers with the Guyton whanau and thought to ourselves that this is what our adventure is really all about.

The First Day

First day finished – Bluff to Invercargil – 37km – 10.5 hours.  Sore and exhausted!

We caught a bus we weren’t supposed to be able to catch to hike a track that doesn’t exist. 

After inquiring with the bus company for a ride to Bluff we were informed we could only catch the bus if we were going to Stewart Island which we weren’t.  So instead facing no option other than hitchhiking we thought we’d at least ask at the i-site in the morning, we arrived to have just missed the first bus but booked a later one, with the same company we had phoned the night before who told us they wouldn’t take us. The driver of this service was a real character and asked bewilderedly if we were going to walk “that track that doesn’t exist. “  

It was a beautiful sunny day and we managed a swim at Bluff, we got our first blisters and endured an unceasing long country road, turning down an offer of a ride on four occasions from very nice people.

A huge thanks to Dave Kennedy and family for taking us in and for having a well needed dinner waiting for us on arrival.