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Te Araroa – Hacket Road End (and Motueka) to St Arnaud

or the call of the Mountains...

After a few days off in Motueka, I come back to the Trail on Tuesday the 3rd of February, around lunch time, and with a perfect blue sky and a hot sun to greet me. Stopping in Motueka was of course very enjoyable, but it also made me think about the “after Trail” life. I was happy to see my friends again, listening to their stories about what they’ve been up to since I left. t’s only been 3 months, but it seems like a lifetime… and because of that, I felt quite disconnected from everything. The Trail has taken up my entire life during all that time, and will again for another 2.5 months or so. If I feel that way just stopping in a familiar place for a few days, what will it be when there will be no more trail to walk? As I cross the Hacket stream, hopping from rock to rock, and slowly climb up towards Starveall Hut, I feel that is where I belong, maybe not forever, but for now; and at the moment, this is all I need to know. That evening, sitting on the top of the hill near Starveall Hut, looking at the view of Motueka and the bay, I can hear the call of the mountains… The next day, blue sky and hot sun have been replaced by low grey clouds and cold gusty winds. I gear up accordingly and absolutely enjoy the walk up towards Starveall Summit. The views get better and greater as I go, with just a short interruption as the track descends into the forest and follows the ridgeline towards Slaty Peak. A sidle across the peak’s northern face brings me to Slaty hut, where I take a short break. The Trail then goes up again and stays above the tree line, up the next peak, down across Ada Flats and up Old Man Peak. The wind gets stronger and I struggle to walk a strait line in the most powerful gusts. I get to Old Man Hut junction early afternoon, and very much enjoy the cover of the trees again as I walk down the side trail to Old Man Hut. I have the Hut for myself, I read a book and make a fire… it’s snowing on the Nelson Lakes tops. I feel slightly nervous when I get up the next morning. A quick glance at the dominating silhouette of Little Rintoul in the early morning light brings a smile on my face. No clouds, and as far as I can tell from here, not much wind either. The walk up back to the Alpine Route is a good warm up, and I feel totally juiced up when I reach the treeline and start climbing Little Rintoul. The conditions are perfect, and the view is stunning. I can’t help stopping every 5 minutes to turn and watch. At the top, I am mesmerized by the huge mass of Mt Rintoul in front of me… the trail veers to the left along a short ridge before going down steeply to a saddle. Then it is the climb up to Rintoul Summit (1743m)… I am a tiny speck of nothingness walking amongst powerful mountains…and all the sudden, I am on top of the world… I can see everything in all directions. I stay there for a long timen, tasting the view, feeling the place. then it is down again. I stop at Mt Rntoul hut. It’s only 12pm and I could go on, but it feels too good to be up here, the valley can wait for tomorrow. It rains during the night but it slowly clears up in the morning, creating a magical atmosphere as I climb up and around Purple Top. Mt Rintoul wears a scarf of clouds, the hut seems tiny at the foot of this giant. Tasman bay is a shiny blue-grey, and the sun plays hide and seek behind the low clouds, drawing shadows on the hills. I feel privileged to be up here.

The track then drops down in the forest, following ridges to the lovely Tarn Hut and further down to the Wairoa River, where I stay at Mid-Wairoa Hut. The track from there follows the river. I find it a bit tough, as it involves a lot of sidling, at times on steep terrain just above the river (or a river crossing above a waterfall!) but the beauty of the place makes up for it. After Top-Wairoa Hut, the landscape changes completely. The track traverses the flank of the very unique Red Hills, silding below Mt Ellis. These hills, formed from ultramafic rock, coming from the Earth’s mantle, have a striking red colour and are rich in iron and magnesium minerals. What a unique and beautiful sight!

From there the Trail takes me to the headwaters of the Motueka River. The left branch before Hunters Hut, where I stay the night, and the right branch coming down from the Red Hills. It pretty funny to be able to cross the Motueka River in just a few steps! I spend my last night in the Richmond mountains at Red Hills Hut, and have a short day to reach St Arnaud the next day, just in time before the rain!!! I take an afternoon rest there, but I am very much looking forward to The Nelson Lakes Park, and the mighty Waiau Pass… as John Muir would say: " the mountains are calling, and I must go…”

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