or 300 km of tussock, rivers and solitude …
It’s a very long stretch of the Trail I have just done in one go, and as much as I would like to write in details about it, it is way too long and varied. So I’ll do my best to write a readable summary, devided in 2 parts.
Now, you might want to take your map out while you read all this, as it is a long section and there will be a lot of names of places, tracks, rivers and lakes and it all might get a bit confusing after a while.
don’t worry, it is confusing for me now, and I walked it.
1) Windy point to Methven: 9 days
After 2 very nice zero days in Hanmer Springs, I get back on the Trail the 18th of February, hitching a ride to Windy Point, the start of the next Track. (Yes I know, it’s not exactly where I left the Trail but 10km down the road, making me miss the Tui Track… I’ll make up for it later…).
This is the Hope-Kiwi Track, which takes me up the so named rivers to finally reach Lake Sumner. What I notice strait away in these valleys are the very rich bird life, with a impressive number of Bellbirds and it is with great delight that I walk listening to their beautiful songs. I must say I am a bit disappointed when I discover that there is absolutely no good view of Lake Sumner, (not even from the lookout which is overgrown by trees) and it is only when the Trail drops down toward its very most western shore that I finally get to see it, but there, the fierce sandflies don’t give me a chance to sit and relax for too long… From Lake Sumner, the Trail follows the Hurunui River all the way up to its headwaters above Harper Pass. One of the best gift of NZ volcanic activity is the presence of Hot Springs in the wilderness… Paying to go to some developed ones like in Hanmer Springs is one thing… getting naked and soaking in a hot pool in the bush where you have to hike to is another, and this for me is the real luxury… so you can imagine how I feel when I see this beautiful steaming pool about an hour up the track from Hurunui Hut…!!! that what life is all about…!!
On the west side of Harper Pass, the Trail follows the Taramakau River. From there all the way to Tekapo, I will have wet feet pretty much every day, the Trail having an intimate relationship with so many rivers and streams along the way. But after so much time hiking, I really don’t mind it anymore. There’s an incredible sense of fun and adventure when you just step into cold water and get your feet wet and keep on walking … I learned to embrace wet feet, and this is quite refreshing, literally and figuratively!
In this section I catch up with Patrick, Eef & P-J. I am very happy to meet up with my trail buddies again and walk a few more km of the TA with them.
The walk down the Taramakau river leads us to the Otira river. We walk to the Morrison Footbridge and set up camp there, wondering after a few light showers if the weather will hold for the next section of the Trail.
It is with a smile and great excitement that I get out of my tent the next day and see blue sky. We are about to go up the Deception River to Goat Pass, and down along the Mingha River on the other side. This track is part of the famous Coast to Coast Race (here’s the link) and I have heard so much about it, I’m stoked I can finally do it!! Well.. I mean, walk it, I’m not going to run! The Deception River is probably one of my favourite track of the TA. It starts with a very gentle climb up the valley, criss crossing the river, sometimes following its bed, sometimes on a track in the bush. Then after Upper Deception Hut the valley narrows down and it gets steeper. We have to pick our way up, hopping on rocks and scrambling up, walking in the low but fast flowing river as much as beside it. Rugged mountains, dense bush, lively river… it is beautiful and wild and I absolutely love it.
We stay at Goat Pass Hut, a charming hut overlooking the valley and surrounded by high peaks. What a stunning place!
We all walk separately the next day, walking down the Mingha River Valley, so this is where I lose touch with my hiking buddies, them stopping at Arthur’s Pass to resupply, me walking down to Bealey Spur where I have a food box waiting for me. It’s on my own that I head out the next day up the hill towards Lagoon Saddle, offering stunning views over the vast Waimakariri River Valley. Then it’s all the way down the valley following the Harper River to the northern end of Lake Coleridge. The landscapes are starting to change slowly from here. The nice green bush giving way to golden tussock and hills that look like they’ve been made by a child playing in a giant sand pit. The Trail follows Harper road on the back of Cottons Sheep Range, depriving me from the view of Lake Coleridge but going past a few lovely small lakes, where I spend a nice evening camping by Lake Selfe. I finally get a splendid view of Lake Coleridge going over the hill on its southern end to drop down to Lake Coleridge Village, and the mighty Rakaia River…
Now, according to the Trailnotes :” The Rakaia is a large braided river with an unsettled shingle bed. Even in low flows it is not possible to safely ford this river on foot anywhere near Te Araroa’s trailhead on the north bank. As a result, Te Araroa Trust has declared the Rakaia a hazard zone which does not form part of the trail. Instead it marks a natural break in the continuum, just like Cook Strait.”
In short, I have to get a ride around it. So I hitchhike to Methven. I was hoping for a zero day there but getting a ride to the south bank of the river appears to be a bit tricky, forcing me to go on the next day… The ride doesn’t work out so well and I end up having to walk 10km up the road to the real start of the track. (It’s OK, this makes up for the Tui Track that I missed after Boyle Village )
Here are the pictures of this part, scroll down for the next part of the tale!
2) Methven to Lake Tekapo: 7 days
On this side of the river, it’s another world. I am getting deep into Canterbury high country, working my way up Glenrock and Turtons Valley via A Frame Hut and Comyns Hut. Then the trail follows Round Hill creek, becoming confined in the stream bed and involving a lot of crossings and river walking. I enjoy this a lot more than the descent on the other side of Clent Hills Saddle. There is no formed track and the thick tussock, prickly matagouri and speargrass make for hard progress. It is easier walking once down in the valley floor.
The walk from Double Hut to Lake Clearwater seems so unreal. I have been walking on my own for a long time, seeing very few people, and this feeling of solitude is largely increased by the vast expanse of nothingness around me, the constant strong wind and the hot sun, harsh country. Not much water is available, nor shade or shelter during the whole day. It’s like walking through a post-apocalyptic landscape. Am I the only human left on earth? I pitch my tent in an empty tarn overlooking the Clearwater valley and enjoy the coolness and quietness that comes back after the sun is down.
The Rangitata River is the second large braided river to cross path with the Trail. Like the Rakaia, the Trailnotes declare it a hazard zone and recommend to go around it. Though I had heard from other hikers that it is an easy crossing, being by myself, I decide against it and walk to Clearwater Village to try and find a ride to the other side…(and get a day off in the town of Geraldine). Not many people are in this small village of holiday homes, but asking around, I meet some very friendly locals who tell me that because of the very dry summer, “the river is a trickle right now, you can cross it easily!”
So Linda and her friend Elaine, who knows the river well, become my Trail Angels and drive me up to the river bank to show me where to safely cross the deeper braid. It’s up to my shorts, and the other braids of the river are no higher than knee deep, the current swift but manageable. This is how I end up crossing the Rangitata River, heading up towards Crooked Spur Hut into the Two Thumbs Range (passing the 2300km mark in the process), and still not getting the day off I probably could use.
I am feeling generally tired after already 12 days without stopping, but the adrenaline of crossing of the river, the rugged beauty of the landscape and knowing I am close to one of the best highlight of the Te Araroa brings me the strength I need to push on. This highlight is Stag Saddle, the highest point of Trail, and the ridge walk down the other side. The complete white out I walk through in the morning the day before did get me a bit worried about my chances of a good crossing, but once again I am blessed by a perfect blue sky (and no wind!!) on the D day, and spend there what I would probably call my best day on the Te Araroa. The view from the saddle is so beautiful and the feeling of being here is thrilling!! (This name, Stag Saddle, has been resonating in my mind since the start of the Trail…) but when I get to the top of the ridge to join the alternative way down to the next Hut, my heart jumps and my jaw drops: Mt Cook is covered of snow and just magnificent, towering way higher than the other peaks surrounding it, and in the foreground runs the beautiful braided Godley river, bringing its dazzling blue water to Lake Tekapo, which can be fully seen from here. I spend hours walking slowly on that ridgeline. I don’t want to go down.
But I have to. I spend the night in Camp Stream Hut and the next day it is a long walk to Lake Tekapo Village. And finally, I can get a couple of days off.
Hanmer Springs to Lake Tekapo, 16 days of walking, going full steam ahead. I am exhausted but incredibly happy and grateful for all I have seen and done.
it was rugged beauty,challenging harshness, valuable solitude.
it was intense Living.
“It is not the length of life, but the depth.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson