Te Araroa – Te Anau to Invercargill
or … staying focused…
Te Anau is a very pleasant place to take a zero day. Patrick, Eef and P-J powered through the Routeburn track and I am delighted to see them arrive in Te Anau only a day after me.
We will walk the last stretch of the Trail together. I do not want any more solo time. I know now I can do this on my own, I have had plenty of profitable solitude, and the Trail is almost over. I want to spend the rest of it with my fellow hikers who also became very dear friends.
We start again the 1st of April and decide to take our time through this last section: non of us in a rush to get to the end. So that first day we take our time leaving Te Anau in the morning and just walk the easy 6Km to Lower Princhester Hut, a small 6 bunks hut tucked in some trees in a cute spot by a stream at the end of a farm road. There are only 3 huts left after this one, so we intent to make the most of them all and agree to stay at each one.
The next day takes us into the Takitimu Range. I realize when I start hiking that I actually don’t know much about the Takitimus. I only heard that it was going to be muddy and tough, but in the end I am completely won over by the charm of this mountain range. The trail takes us alternatively through beech forest and tussock areas, undulating over some hills that provide fine views of the surroundings. The sky is grey but it doesn’t rain, the tussock is violently shaken by the strong wind and, seen from above, looks like a wild beige ocean. I absolutely love this place.
As much as we all feel that the end is near, I keep reminding myself to stay focused, the swampy ground and tussock can be deceiving underfoot, and we had all been shaken by the heartbreaking news of our friend Andrew breaking his ankle on this track a few days before, and having the Trail suddenly brought to an end. He will come back next December to finish the Trail, and we are all inspired and impressed by his serene tenacity… Kia Kaha Andrew!
We reach Aparima Hut mid afternoon, and hang out in the hut made comfortable by the fire in the wood stove. Other day hikers and TA hikers arrive later and it’s a very crowded place! So much for expecting the Takitimus to be a road less traveled!
The next day is a relatively short day to Lower Wairaki Hut. Again I am pleasantly surprised by what the Takatimus have to offer. The track takes us through marshland before entering the forest, in which we will stay all day. The forest is light and airy, with old big trees and the ground covered with crown ferns. Everything is so green and vibrant, the energy strong and ancient. We are sheltered from the wind and the sun shines through the trees. I am very much enjoying the atmosphere of the place, reciting poetry as I walk.
Our hiking party gets bigger with the addition of Johannes, a young German who has been hiking the South Island part of the TA. The next day starts with a steady climb through the forest to the Telford Tops. It is raining a little, but because of the climb I am warm and the rain drops feel good ony bare arms. When we get above the tree line and reach the top, I can barely believe what I see: the ocean, the southern coast, and Bluff, far away, hardly visible in the mist.
We take a snack break there, but our rest is shortened by a strong cold wind that brings an even colder rain. So we layer up and walk down the ridgeline. The atmosphere is pretty magical as we walk down, and the sun finally breaks through again, allowing us a sunny lunch break at Telford Campsite. From there on we pass through private lands, so our places to camp become limited. We have to push on another 20Km to get to the only place where we are allowed to camp, Struand Flat Rd. The trail follows a long gravel road undulating through farmland and the landscape reminds me so much of the North Island. It gets really cold and we finish the day exhausted from fighting against the freezing wind. We set up camp by the side of the road, happy to finally get a hot dinner within the shelter of our tents. That night a lunar eclipse occurs in the hazy sky, but sleep wins the battle against my curiosity.
Daylight savings is on our side the next day (5th April, Easter Sunday!), and we start walking in the early morning light under a clear blue sky. The trail goes along paddocks, along a eucalyptus forest and then up a hill, offering stunning back views of the Takitimu Range. We stop early after going through the Tinlaw pine forest and the lovely Woodlaw forest, and set up camp under a line of eucalyptus trees along Scotts Gap road.
We walk as a undivided group the next day (6th April), starting with the Island Bush and then walking on the road to get to the beginning of the Longwood Forest Track, our goal for the day. We walk mostly in silence, wrapped up in our warm gear because of the chilly wind, listening to the deers calling in the nearby paddocks. Camp that night is rough, the end of the road muddy and not providing easy tent spots. But we make it work, and the spirit of the group stays high.
The Trail starts with a rough and muddy track, but gets better as we walk on. Longwood forest is absolutely stunning, with twisted trees covered of green moss and fluffy lichen. It’s a pretty easy climb to the summit of Bald Hill, and the view from the bare tops is absolutely stunning. We take a long mid morning break there, enjoying the sunshine and the scenery. From there, the trail goes in and out of the forest, and in and out of the clouds, and it is a very muddy descent that takes us to Martins Hut. Martins Hut is an old, 4 bunk Hut, but I like the energy of it. And it is the very last hut on the Te Araroa.
The sky is clear the next morning and a beautiful golden light hits the trees behind the hut… We stand there in silence, staring at the hut with our packs on… The last hut, the last night in the wilderness, the last forest walk…. The track is nice and well maintained at first, but gets rougher and muddier as we go. And to add to that, it starts raining and turns colder around midday… So when Patrick and I get to the junction to a possible shortcut, we don’t hesitate long. Instead of winding through the forest, we could reach a farm road that will take us to Colac Bay faster. And a farm road might also provide shelter where we could stop and have lunch. It turns out there’s no shelter, and we have to push on in the cold and wet weather, but we reach Colac Bay by mid afternoon and are grateful for the warmth of the Colac Bay Tavern and Holiday Park.
Thursday 9th of April is a short and very pleasant day to Riverton. We walk the road South to the beach, and there we cannot walk South anymore: the ocean lies there in front of us.wow, what a feeling… We walk East on the beach, and then the trail goes up and down through paddocks, offering stunning views of the wild coast. We get to Riverton early and in the evening share an amazing dinner beautifully cooked by Eef and P-J for all of us, talking about the Trail, trying not to think too much about the end.
It’s a long 32Km day from Riverton to Invercargill. I start early with Patrick, Eef and P-J following shortly after. It’s a clear and crisp morning, the sun just rising over the horizon. The ocean is beautiful and wild. We mostly walk separately that day. I remember the beginning of the TA on the 90 miles beach: fast pace, easy walking, the eyes on the ocean and the mind wandering, not having to focus on anything. Rain comes and goes and creates beautiful rainbows over the ocean. The Trail leaves leaves the beach at Dunns Road and from there it is road walking all the way into Invercargill. Patrick waits for me for the last few kilometers and I am grateful for his company as I limp my way into town, my feet burning with new blisters, my body aching from the long day.
We are in Invercargill…
let’s stay focused until the end.