126 Days Later…

1 Apr

There was a lot of variety in the last 500kms of our walk.

We walked long, open ridges. (Look carefully to see the trail stretching down the ridge behind me, around the hillside and over the next ridge.)

We walked through marshy clearings.

We appreciated the commentary on the trail and community that we found in the hut books.

We had the pleasure of muddy forests.

And, we passed through planted forests and farmlands.


We met Darrell, who allowed us to sleep in his barn and gave us cupcakes, bananas, oranges and apples from his trees.

We walked along an old water race that condensed 23kms of trail into what should have been 8. (A water race is basically a ditch that carried water to nearby mining operations.)

We stopped by Martin’s Hut that was built in 1905. I considered making it my homestead, but was dissuaded by the mud.


We cruised along the beach.

Camping along the Tasman Sea, we awoke to the most stunning sunrise of the trek. On our 7-year anniversary, no less!


We walked some more state highway.



We passed the 3000km mark just as we entered the last seven kilometers of track.

 And, then we were there. 3007 trail kilometers from Cape Reinga and 126 days later, we finally arrived at the sign marking the southern terminus of Te Araroa!

To add to the celebration, Zach and Amy (whom we hadn’t seen in weeks and had finished just a day earlier) were waiting there for us with a bottle of champagne ready to celebrate our collective achievement and lure us into another six day tramp starting the next day … But that’s a story for another time.

What the Tussock?

29 Mar


After all those rivers, walking through the chest high tussock, along cycle trails and next to lakes was a welcome reprieve. Oh yeah, and it didn’t hurt that we passed the 2500km mark.

There are several lakes fed by glacial run-off along the Te Araoa. We caught an initial glimpse of the turquoise waters of Lake Tekapo from an open ridgeline. Then, we got to walk along the shores of several more over the next few days.


From the end of Lake Pukaki, we were able to see Aoraki/Mt. Cook looming high above the other peaks in the distance. Aoraki/Mt. Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand.

And, from the top of Breast Hill overlooking Lake Hawea we could see Mt. Aspiring- the pointiest peak on the left.

The climb and descent from Breast Hill kicked off the last 500 kilometers right. Both the climb and the descent had us wondering at times where the track could possibly be going. 3000feet of descent over three miles is no joke, especially along an exposed ridgeline.

  

It hasn’t all been steep ascents and descents. As we cruised along this road/cycle route with Amy and Zach, we came upon Telegraph Hut. This tiny but amazing guy is built for two, but it was so windy that the four of us made ourselves nice and cozy inside. This was by far one of David and I’s favorite huts.


Even though we were nearing the end- just 300 miles left- the trail was still giving us challenges and an amazing rewards.

Rivers, Rivers and More Rivers

28 Mar

As we have probably alluded to numerous times, there are many moments when we are baffled by where the track goes or what constitutes the track or why the the trail makers would choose a section of track.


I think we’ve finally become a bit more zen about these bits of track. I find myself laughing when we come across sections like the one pictured above. The trail literally followed this beehive lined fence for at least 500 meters. And, as if the bees  weren’t enough, prickly gorst bushes bounded the other side of the trail further along.

This also happens to be what our notes call a ‘TA specific link.’ We’ve learned that what that phrase really means is “the track is going to be shit here, so take the road.”

Much of the trail in the central part of the South Island followed river valleys and river beds. There were times when the walking was tedious with rocks ranging in size from oranges to basketballs shifting under foot. Then, there were times when we found ourselves climbing up through waterfall after stunning waterfall and swimming hole after gorgeous swimming hole.


On one of the rivers, we got to witness part of  the Coast to Coast Race. These athletes go from one side of the island to the other in less than 10 hours!


They ride to the Deception River and then run up the Deception River Valley and then down the Minga River Valley. From there, they bike, kayak and run to the other side of the island. For a bit of context, the winner of the race completed the whole course in the time it took us just to go up and down the river valleys.

Fortunately, in all the hundreds of kilometers we put in on river valleys and stream beds, we only really faced challenging crossings once.

After several days of heavy rains, we found ourselves facing a river walk with a definitely swollen river. In fact, it was so swollen that we waited overnight and more before we felt like it was safe to attempt. And even with the waters calming, we felt there was safety numbers so together with Zach, Amy, Mary Kate and James we headed up river. The six of us worked together to scout the safest places to cross and to actually support one another as we crossed. We must have crossed the river 50 times in about 5 kilometers. All that teamwork paid off. All of us made it without a single fall.

There were two rivers that crossed the track but are not considered part of the trail – the Raikaia River and the Rangitata River. They are wide and braided rivers and can be quite difficult to safely cross. Although some people do cross them on foot, we chose not to because of the recent rains.  So, that meant we had to find another way around. Both times, this meant a 100 kilometers or more of multiple roads – some of them dead end gravel roads.

We made a hard hitch off one of those dead end roads. After waiting about two hours, an older couple with another hiker already in their car stopped and picked us up. Lucky for us, they were headed to the town we wanted to go to as well.



Coming out of town we got to ride on a local school bus. The bus picks up kids at the end of a long long long road to nowhere, which also happens to be where the trail picks up again. The bus driver also delivers the paper to several folks that live on the road, and they tote  hikers along for a pretty nominal fee. The morning we rode the bus, it was full with 13 people headed to the trail.

The next river was a bit more complicated to get around. We had to go quite always south to get to a bridge. Then, we had to go quite aways north back to the trailhead at the end of a dead end road. It took us 6 rides to get from one trailhead to the next, but we did it! We were picked up by two ATVers, some seasonal sheep station workers, a primary school secretary, a whitewater river guide, a farmer and a hunter.

All that hitching was worth it…here are a few glimpses of what we got to hike.


 

 

More to come soon… We love you. Be well. Enjoy the view!

Really? The track goes there?

8 Mar

After our adventures on the Red Hills Range, we were ready for whatever the trail was going to throw at us next. We spent one night in St. Arnaud, ate a good meal, picked up our resupply box and were on our way again.

  

The trail follows along Lake Roiti and then up an ever narrowing river valley towards Travers Pass. This section of trail happens to coincide with the Travers-Sabine Circuit, a very popular loop hike in the Nelson Lakes National Park.


Due to the popularity of the circuit, the huts usually hold 20-25 people. It’s easy to understand why people do the hike when you find yourself in a setting like this.

 

 Although, it might make it slightly less enchanting to know that several of the huts on the trek are in an avalanche path. In fact, there were at least three 500 meter sections of trail with these signs.


Many of the tracks in New Zealand have their challenges. Hell, if the track weren’t precarious, I don’t think Kiwis would hike it! So, we were surprised to see this sign asking if we were prepared. In fact, we laughed about it. Then, we read about two people who have disappeared from the saddle without a trace.


Travers Saddle offered both a steep up and steep down, but paled in comparison to Waiau Pass. People had been telling us about Waiau Pass and its challenges since the middle of the north island. And, it certainly had its challenges.

After skirting Lake Constance (in the background) on steep and slippery tussock covered hillsides, we had to climb straight up the scree field you see here. This photo does not accurately capture just how steep this climb actually way. There were many places  in this climb where I could reach straight out and touch the rock without really having to lean forward. Fortunately, the climb down from the pass was much easier, though still long and steep.

Did I mention that the night before we completed this pass we read an article in Wilderness magazine about all the hikers that have disappeared without a trace since 1975? Yep. There are about 80 people who have never been found, including the aforementioned hikers and another that went missing in Waiau Pass. Comforting stuff.


After the long climb and descent, we found ourselves in a long river valley. (Some of those 80 people disappeared in rivers, too.) Though the initial walk in the river was very rocky, the valley soon opened up beautifully.

It was a perfect place to enjoy a trail milestone. Zach, Amy, David and I made this 2000km mark to celebrate the 2000km accomplishment.


Our celebration was sadly cut short by SANDFLIES! These evil biting creatures are a lot like the black flies you find up north. They swarm persistently and love to chew you until you bleed. And, they are very good at getting in the tent with you. We spent at least 20 minutes that night trying to kill all the little devils. Sometimes 100% Deet isn’t enough to keep them at bay.



The next couple of days were more walking of the river valley. The weather was perfect and the walking was relatively easy. We were grateful since both of us were beginning to feel pretty worn down after two weeks without a zero day.

In fact, we were really worn down. Even though we had carried more days of food through the section than we thought we needed, we had eaten almost all of the food. By the afternoon of our last day in the section, we had only tuna and spaghetti sauce left. And, that’s what we sat down and ate to make the final push to the road.

We had sent ourselves a resupply box to an outdoor center at the road, because the hitch to the nearest town was about 70kms. We collected our box, and ended up making the hitch anyway. We wanted real food, a real bed and a day off. Plus, the next day was David’s birthday.

It remarkably only took us two rides to get to Hanmer Springs. One car took us about 60km to the turn off for the village. The next car took us into the village.

As we got out of the second car, the woman wished us luck finding accommodation for the night. It was the weekend of a national holiday, and we were in a tourist town. Luck happened to be with us. After trying with no success at a couple of places, we found a room in a holiday park. It was the only thing left and only open because some one had just cancelled. It was meant to be.


After a soak in the hot pools in town, lots of good food, an earthquake and two days of rest, we were ready to get back at it.

Odds and Ends

17 Feb

Throughout New Zealand, we’ve seen several signs and sights that we appreciated but that didn’t necessarily fit in any particular blog post. We’d like to share a few of these odds and ends now.

From all the signs we’ve seen, it seems like house fires started by cooking incidents is a real issue here.

 

These kids were skateboarding over and over down a steep residential road. A fourth guy was driving a car down the hill behind them and filming their runs. It all seemed very safe.

 

 

This photo was taken inside a hut! Why are they monitoring rats in a hut? Is this attracting more rats? Who wants to sleep here after learning rats are hanging around the hut?

 

As a Hoosier, I couldn’t resist taking a picture of this moonshine we saw in a liquor store. I’ve never heard anyone talk about Indiana moonshine, but maybe these Kiwis know something I don’t about my home state.

 

“Couldn’t get you a pony for your birthday, honey, but we got you the next best thing!”

 

We’ve seen lots of fancy shaped mailboxes- a giraffe, a campervan, a ladybug. This camera is by far the most elaborate and detailed.


A great thing about NZ, (to us hikers, anyways), is that there are public toliets all over the place. Some of them are standard looking public toliets, some are cheeky, others are spiritual.

 

David is always spotting rocks shaped like hearts, but this time he spotted a heart-shaped cloud.

 

 

WTF. I want this on a t-shirt.

 

Very comforting! This was posted on a popular bridge over a deep and rocky river gorge. It didnt seem to stop anyone from leaning on the handrail.

 

What is the stick figure in this picture doing? Why isn’t he running? Did he just karate chop that tree? Thankfully, it was calm the day we walked through this forest.

We’ve been there. Though it never feels like it when we leave town with 20 pounds of food.

 

Rural graffiti. Possibly lamenting the ratio of pig to sheep in NZ farms.

We are currently in Methven, NZ, about 75% complete. It is a bit stormy in the mountains today, so we’re hiding out in a hotel today. These signs in the hotel’s restaurant were like magnets to my sensibilities.

And, there are a million more little stories to tell! Just get us drunk next time you see us.

Take care. We love you!

The Red Hills Gang

11 Feb

The day started like any other day – a long climb through tussock to reach a saddle. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and it was just cool enough to be comfortable while climbing but not too hot.

David and I had been ruminating about this spot since way back when a section hiker insisted that we MUST take the Red Hills Ridge instead of the trail. He insisted that it was a shortcut. He insisted that it was better than the actual trail.

We’d told Zach and Amy about this shortcut. We’d even looked at the maps together and considered the possibility of doing it. In the days before, we ruled it out due to timing, lack of information, etc etc.


BUT, it was so beautiful and so early and looked so simple when we got to the saddle that morning, the four of us decided we’d go for it. We’d hike the Red Hills Ridge.

As we stood there in the saddle, David assured us that we had already done most of the work. This turned out to be one of those statements that never should be uttered on a trail.


We started out of the saddle and up to the ridge top. The walking was easy at first-just a mixture of tussock and small, flat scree fields. The higher we got and the further we pressed, the more bouldery and rocky it became.

We sidled around some of the small peaks on screw fields. On others, we scrambled over boulders ranging in size from a breadbox to a fiat. It was already tougher than we presumed it was going to be, but we could see that not too far ahead, just past a saddle that the ridge was going to flatten out again and be less rocky. If only we could see what that saddle looked like…

Well, it turned out that there was no saddle. There was only a significant narrowing of the ridgeline into a jagged boulder strewn maze that fell off steeply on each side.

We’d come far enough along the ridge that none of us wanted to turn back and back track to the trail. Nor did Amy and I really want to attempt that precarious looking section. So, we were left with one choice…climb down a scree field into the bowl below us and then descend from there to the river valley below – a route that would still take us where we wanted to go.

So, down we climbed. This picture hardly provides perspective of what we were descending. The slope was steep and covered in loose rock of varying sizes. We picked our way down slowly with David in the lead, helping us find the best path down. We were spread out at an intervals and stepped gingerly so as not to dislodge rocks that would tumble down on the person below us.

It sounds dramatic. And, it was a little. After all, we were tramping where people don’t often tramp, and though there was evidence of others on the ridge, it was very sparse. (Side note: yes, I realize this was risky and could have been better planned but I also know that the four of us were capable of making good decisions when we put our heads together.)

Since Amy and I were definitely the two more anxious members of the gang, we took a moment to celebrate coming down the scree field  and into the bowl successfully.

From there, we continued down out of the bowl and into river valley. This descent was longer but certainly less steep and tempered by the tussock grass growing down the mountainside.

The valley, like the ridge, showed little trace of other human visitors. I am almost 100% sure that we were the only people in that whole valley and that it will be weeks if not months before some one else visits.

The river was full of beautiful blue pools. There were rocks of all sorts of unusual colors – orange, red, green, purple. The water was cold and crystal clear. We walked down the valley for several kilometers enjoying the ease of the walk after all the climbing.

Before long, the river valley started to narrow and we found ourselves having to make another difficult decision- keep heading down the narrowing, deepening and faster moving river or climb up to the ridgeline or sidle along the mountainside.

After some frustrating sidling through dense scratchy bush and scree fields, we decided to climb the 200 meters back to the ridgeline. By this time, it was getting late in the afternoon, and we were all getting tired.

However, the climb was worth it! When arrived back on top of the ridge we had 360 degree views, wide flat ridge and tussock to walk on.

We were able to follow the ridge all the way to the plateau where we planned to descend down to a hut. We were slowed down only briefly by unexpected swampiness.

Then, it was just a gentle descent down to a hut and the 13 hour epic adventure of the Red Hills Gang came to a close.

 

And then there were mountains…

11 Feb

After many kilometers of wondering when we were finally get to the ‘good stuff,’ we have arrived!


The Richmond Range is the first mountain range we’ve encountered on the South Island. The long climbs upstream of multiple rivers were well worth the views that the ridges have to offer, even with the clouds looming low.


Like the Taurarua Range, the Richmond Range has many huts both above and below treeline. It is rare to find a hut that isn’t in a dramatic location, and Slaty Hut was no exception.



After spending the night at Slaty Hut, we woke to find the clouds trying to clear from the ridges. In every direction we looked, there were jagged peaks showing through the shelf of clouds.



It wasn’t all just easy ridge walks and goat silhouettes though. The Richmond Range had some serious elevation change, and intimidating descents.

Particularly intimidating for me was the traverse between Little Rintoul and Mt. Rintoul. Between the two peaks there was a very steep descent on scree. Standing at the top of the descent, we could only see the next two poles marking the trail. Beyond those two, you couldn’t actually see where we were headed. Despite my nerves, the descent and ascent and descent were fine.

And, when we came out of the trees below Mt. Rintoul we could look back and appreciate the peak from where we’d come.

  

The next day, we followed the Wairoa River upstream. We took advantage of the many waterfalls and emerald pools to cool off throughout the day.


And, that evening we spent the night at the Top Wairoa Hut with our fellow trampers, Amy and Zach. As we enjoyed the evening together, none of us had any idea of the adventure the next day would hold…

 

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