We made good time walking South from Wanganui along what we dubbed “driftwood beach” named not surprisingly due to the enormous amount of trees washed up, presumably ripped out of the forests by flooded rivers. We crossed streams and rivers and walked along long stretches of State Highway before reaching Otaki. From Otaki we attempted the Southern Crossing, an alpine crossing made famous by its frequent bad weather. In fact experienced mountaineers die on it with harrowing frequency. TastyTrek unperturbed though climbed to the summit of Mt Hector and along the ridge line to “The Beehives” the weather, of course, was terrible and it was blowing a gale. Anders was blown off the ridge and we started getting very cold. Because visibility was reduced to 30 feet or so and we were unsure of the difficulty and distance of the remaining ridge we opted to turn back. Later we found out that we had just tackled the hardest part of the ranges in bad weather… Twice. Oh well. Good fun though.
From Otaki to Wellington now turned into a fairly mundane couple of days. But we made it and were feeling good for the South Island.
We crossed the Interislander, like everyone else in NZ crossing the Cook Strait, and ended up in Picton. From this tiny little town we headed to Ship Cove and the famous Cook Monument – the beginning of the end, every step we take brings us closer to home. Well, farther from home but closer to the end of the trek at least! The popular 4 day Queen Charlotte Track (QCT) was everything that it promised to be in good weather. We ate fresh muscles, took videos and pictures of the stunning views of the Marlborough Sounds and generally had a good time meeting tons of people. In fact, that was the biggest problem with the trail – its popularity. You just don’t get the same feeling when everyone else is doing the same thing that you are. The top of a mountain that few people ever see is so much more rewarding. Still it was a nice change of pace seeing other people for a change. Needless to say, they were pretty impressed when they found out we had walked over 1500km without any foot problems despite our boots disintegrating – all down to the DarnTough Vermont socks of course!
From the QCT we headed straight into the hardest section of the Te Araroa – The Richmond Ranges. Apparently though, these can also be the most rewarding. We pushed ourselves hard over the 10-day section climbing over 3000m up and 2000m down (I estimate, dont hold me to it) and it was steep! One particular day involved a 900m climb without break for 1.5 miles through beech forest covered in wasps (this particular time of year allows a hair-like fungus to grow on the beech trees which secretes a nectar that attracts lots of wasps). Not only that, we got to the top and we were in clouds! No views for us. Luckily though, after climbing over “Old Man” and “Little Rintoul” the clouds started to clear and just as we summited Mt. Rintoul the clouds were gone. Views for miles! It truely was one of the most spectacular things we have seen rivaling the sunsets from Mt. Pirongia on the North Island.
From Mt. Rintoul, although it felt like the end of the section, we were still going for 5 more days out to St. Arnaud over and through gorges, streams, mountains and Ophiolite rocks that wouldnt look out of place on Mars. We were rewarded for this grueling section with… Nothing. St. Arnaud is a seasonal skiing town with nothing in it. There is an alpine store where everything is marked up 300% and a takeaway that is open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It was Monday for us. Great. Not only were we completely out of food but we had another 10 day stretch to Arthurs Pass! We brainstormed and then hitched into the closest town to resupply.
Our rest day brought rain. We admired the Nelson Lakes on Monday night but come Wednesday and the start to our next long section we were in the middle of a downpour.
The track itself was fairly easy until we discovered that we were going to be fording flooded streams for a while. Surprisingly though, despite having zero river crossing training, we made it through in one piece. Others weren’t so lucky. Upon arriving at John Tait Hut we met a Romanian woman who was washed into a river and nearly died. She lost all of her gear but being alive was something to celebrate! It warmed your soul to see how all the trampers and travelers open their packs and team together to make sure she was equipped to get back to safety. By the time we arrived, it so late that she was all taken care of and needed nothing from us!
The following day – John Tait Hut to West Sabine Hut over the Travers Saddle gave us another opening in the clouds and we crossed another alpine section in good weather with stunning views. Not only that but on the way we spotted the Romanian woman’s bag in the river and took the time out to try and rescue it. We developed elaborate schemes and in the end it was the simple one which… nearly worked. It just slipped by us and the torrent of the still-flooded river swept it down towards the lake (and her actually). I wonder if she ever got it. Another exciting thing about today… it is day 100 for us! We celebrated by drinking beer on the top of the saddle with lunch! This is an incredible luxury for us. Beer adds a huge amount of weight and we just carried it up 1000+ meters. But our celebration didn’t stop there. We made it to the hut and started baking. Chocolate cake mix and eggs found their way into our packs and we carried them into the mountains! It worked and we shared our celebration with Christian and Romain (two trampers who we’ve been walking with for the past 2 days – awesome guys).
Day 101 – A easy 300m climb and a half day to prepare us for another of the hardest sections of the trail (debatable of course, but we’ve been strongly warned that this should only be attempted in fine weather) – the Waiau Pass. Our feet dry up until the last 20 mins before the hut when the track decided to take us up through a stream. So with soaking-wet feet we walked up to Blue Lake (supposedly one of the purest water bodies in the world). Amazing. Then disaster. These S. Island huts have these awesome little cookers (The Corker Cooker from The Foundry) and they put out lots and lots of heat. I was drying out my favorite socks (Darn Tough Full-Cushion Merino Wool Boot-Length socks) and became preoccupied multi-tasking our dinner as well. I think you can guess what’s coming. Anyway I managed to burn a whole in the side of my socks. I was furious. But i’ve been using them for a week or so since this happened and they are still ok, in the sense that they are comfortable. But I would’ve preferred any of my other socks to burn but my favorite ones.
Our bad luck continued when starting Day 102 we woke to a heavy downpour. Looks like we wait it out and go tomorrow. Day 103. Snow. WHAT! Snow in summer. We werent expecting that. We went up to the base of the climb to check it out and it was a complete white-out. Luckily Darn Tough field tests their socks in Vermont (plenty of snow (so I’ve heard)) and our feet were nice and toasty despite being soaked in the freezing waters of Lake Constance. We decided that this mountain had beaten us so we changed plans. Walked to Murchison, restocked and then hitched to Boyle Village and continued from there. Slight snag. We decided to walk on the beach on the East side of the lake (the path heads up and down all the way along the West). All fun and games until the last 150m which was a cliff into deep water. We werent going back so we climbed. It took 1 hour. In snow. Damienmarc even decided it was too hard to climb so went for a swim.
That concludes most of the epic stories. It was fairly flat getting to Arthurs Pass. Although we walked for about 15 miles through and along a river which was fun.
Unfortunately we dont have any pictures of the snow really, since the camera battery ran out and the shutter froze open but I think we have a few videos that will hopefully go up later. Probably not until we finish though. Broadband speeds arent anything to shout about here!
Oh, we are in Greymouth atm restocking before another 10 day + section towards lake Twizel. 2 Major river crossings that can be quite dangerous and lots of walking so you probably wont hear from me in a while.
-Landey and the Tasty Trekkers