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Te Araroa – Queenstown to Te Anau

or …WILD…

Just as Cook Strait or the Rakaia and Rangitata Rivers, Lake Wakatipu is a natural interruption in the route of the Te Araroa. The trail ends in Queenstown and starts again at the Greenstone trailhead, on the other side of the lake.

The last blue line on the map.

I hitchhike with Patrick to Glenorchy, (where we take a compulsory stop at the GYC cafe) but from there we take different routes. Me sticking to the original course of the Trail; Patrick, Eef and P-J taking a detour via the Routeburn Track, one of the great walks of New Zealand.

I walk this section taking my time, mostly by doing very short days, due to different reasons… the weather, my general tiredness, and the fact that a part of me doesn’t want this Trail to end. Also, I walk solo again. Heading up the Greenstone River to the first hut on the Track, the roomy and quite busy Greenstone Hut, I love the feeling of being amongst the trees once more.

I leave the crowded path the next morning, the other hikers in the hut doing the Greenstone/Caples track, me heading onto the much less travelled Mavora Walkway. The fog is thick when I walk out of the hut, but soon I am above it. I feel at peace, walking through the forest, savoring the solitude, catching glimpses of the mountains around when passing through small clearings. The view finally opens up when the track reaches the Pond Burn Valley. Suddenly, no more trees.

The going gets slower as I have to work my way through tussock and swampy areas. I walk to the small Boundary Hut, and decide to call it a day, my feet and toes in a bit of pain from the recent change of shoes. I had to let go of my second pair, which gave in the day I walked into Queenstown, and I am now walking with my slightly less worn out first pair again. They are ever so slightly too small, and even if I walked pretty much the whole North Island with them without problem, I now wear thicker socks, which make them much tighter, and with having wet feet all day, my poor feet aren’t feeling very comfortable.

The walking is easy from there on, the trail following a 4WD track. I keep looking back, watching the rain filling up the valley behind me. I arrive at Careys Hut under a few drops and the moment I step in the hut, it comes pouring down. I spend the next hour and a half reading and snacking, waiting for the rain to pass. I have plenty of food and no desire to rush, I’ll stay here all day if the weather doesn’t improve. As I consider making a cup of tea, the light changes outside: sunshine! So I strap Arno (my pack) back on and walk out. The trail follows the shore of the beautiful Upper Mavora Lake to the Mavora Campsite. From there, I leave the 4WD track to take the trail in the forest on the other side of Lower Mavora Lake, keeping a eye on the clouds back in the valley… rain is coming again…. The energy there is fantastic, the forest vibrant and peaceful and the lake placid. I know I will have to camp by that lake, there’s no way I can walk away from this magical atmosphere. I find a cosy spot tucked in the trees a few meters away from the track, set up camp and spend the remaining of the afternoon writing my journal and enjoying the place. The lake is a mirror, the sky tormented and the valley filled up with rain, it’s perfectly silent…

As I get ready to make dinner, I suddenly hear a low rumbling sound… Thunder! It slowly starts to rain… I stand still and watch, completely fascinated by the amazing atmosphere. A few moments later, I can hear another sound growing louder… what is this? The rain gets heavier, the thunder more powerful, and all the sudden, the sound I couldn’t identify becomes clear: Geese! Dozens of geese flying from the south in a V formation, landing on the lake, calling loudly. I am left speechless, incapable of moving, bewildered by the magic of everything around me… I barely dare to move, as if it would break the spell…

But I have to get to the shelter of my tent. I make dinner in it, bracing myself for the thunderstorm and the wind picking up, the rain pounding heavily against the thin walls of my tent, the thunder cracking loudly above me.

The next day, the trail follows the true right of the Mararoa River, and I very much enjoy the walk. The vibrant green of the moss on each side of the track rivals with the darker green of the river, and mushrooms of all shape and colors are scattered all over the ground. It’s silent, if only for the chirping of the birds and the discreet tap-taping of the rain drops, the sound of my foot steps muffled by the soft dirt and beech leaves on the track. The serenity of the walk is interrupted when I get to an intersection between two tracks, the ‘river track’ or the ‘terrace track’. I decide for the latter, thinking I’d stay dryer… Wrong! The track is completely overgrown by small beech trees, still very wet from the rain, and there are a lot of trees down…. I bulldozed my way through, one pole in front of my face to push the branches away, climbing over the damp trunks… when I finally get out, I’m soaked through, and it is with relief that I cross the Kiwi Burn swingbridge. From there I walk on the gravel road. The trail normally stays along the river, but I have heard it has been wash out in some parts, so the road provides easier and faster walking. I take my time, SH94 still too far to reach that afternoon. Mid-afternoon after getting soaked by some rain, then drying fully in the sun, and then getting soaked again by another short but heavy shower, I decide to take an angler’s access back to the river and find a place to camp. I find a flattish spot good enough for my tent, on top of the high river bank, offering a stunning view of the valley… perfect.

As I sit there, sipping on a hot chocolate, enjoying the scenery, I realize this is also for moments like this as much as the walking that I do this Trail for. It is about finding the best place to set up camp, free and wild in Nature, and just enjoying being there, sitting on a rock and watching the ducks, the sun, the clouds and the rain.

The next day is a short, easy and dry walk to SH94, where I hitch a ride to Te Anau for resupply and a day off.

In the last few weeks, I have been carrying a book with me, and every night I very much look forward to getting in my sleeping bag, and reading one chapter before falling asleep. You surely have heard about this book, of at least about the movie that just came out. This book is “Wild” by Sheryl Strayed.

I have been touched by this book, by the similarities of what she describes and what I have been living on the Trail. I want to share one of my favorite parts with you to finish this post :

“It had nothing to do with gear or footwear or the backpacking fads or philosophies of any particular era or even with getting from point A to point B. It had to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles with no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way.” ― Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail ―

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