2595km | Lake Hawea – after mountains, rivers, lakes and cyclones
Firstly, our deepest apologies for blogging only now. The last couple of weeks we were deep in the high country with very few moments of internet reception. Having said that, we witnessed some of the Te Araroa highlights in the wilderness of New Zealand!
After Hanmer Springs, we got back to the trail knowing that there was some very bad weather in the forecast. The one issue with having limited access to internet is not getting always the most updated weather information. And as we have learned by now, the weather can change rapidly at any time. We woke up in a shelter to some light rain, nothing too unusual in NZ and decided to tramp to Hurunui No 3 hut and take off the next day for the bad weather. While tramping our last kilometres for that day, deep in a forest, a massive wind gale hit us and started a tree apocalypse we’d never seen before! Trees falling around us like dominoes, a scary experience. We managed to leave the forest, aiming for the hut. Once out of the forest we had to walk across a meadow and cross a swingbridge which almost became a mission impossible – Hannele had to back track from the bridge as the wind blew her poles away and pushed the bridge on it’s side. Eventually, we got safely to the hut but so exhausted and tired. The next day we waited out the storm with a fire to keep us warm.
Bad weather kept following us all the way to Arthur’s Pass, where we had to bailout earlier to get to the village. In Arthur’s Pass we found out that there is a stomach bug circling amongst TA hikers. Every hiker having their own theory of what it could be. We decided to continue out of the beautiful alpine village the soonest we could to avoid getting sick. One in our group, Noam, unfortunately got sick and had to stay behind – we are hopeful to see him soon again on the trail.
The next section were to take 3-4 days but we managed to complete it in less than 2 days. Winning us time for the next part where we had to hitch around the Raikai river as it impassable on foot. We were lucky to easily find lifts on quite a deserted road – and started the next section on the same day.
The section between the Raikai and Rangitata river is the first part of the Canterburry high country. One of our favorites so far. The trail takes you over high hills and through yellow grass fields. Quite spectacular!
We also made a new trail friend, Logan, an extreme hiker and tattoo artist from the US that travels the world guest spotting in studios. We tramped with him for a couple of days, or at least seeing him speed off in the morning and meeting him while meditating on the trail or the evening at the next shelter. A great guy full of wisdom. We unfortunately greeted him in the next section as he walked 100km in a day and we couldn’t keep up.
We managed to cross the next big river, Rangitata, on foot. A complex river with more than 20 braids over 8kms ranging from ankle to hip deep water. Not something we would recommend in bad weather.
The next, The Two Thumbs Track, is said to be a highlight on the TA. Starting with a river walk through a gorge before accenting 1000m to the ridgeline. The trail has a funny way of bringing people together, taking them apart for a couple of 100kms, and out of the blue bringing back people, almost like a soapie. This happened a couple of times with a trail friend Bill. An Aussie with love to the outdoors and sharing it with others. We met him on the first day again and completed this section together.
The Two Thumb Track also includes the Stag Saddle (1925m) which is the highest point of the TA, a bit ironic that the highest point is a saddle and not a summit. After reaching the saddle we walked down a ridgeline towards Lake Tekapo; where we took a very hot nero-day, at 2L of ice cream and drank Savignon Blanc at sunset.
Road walking is something that we perhaps don’t mention enough. Between many mountainous/conservation areas there is a road connection. Hours of staring at the floor and digging deeper in your thoughts. Sometimes it surprises you what you find. The next road was however quite enjoyable following a canal, salmon farms, lake sides and most spectacular Mt Cook in the distance following you all the way.
After a wonderful couple of days on the road over the Canterbury flat into Otago we reached our next mountains.
The East Ahuriri river track was our next wilderness section, a short one day 26km over more grasslands and hills. We should have enjoyed this more because the next section was nothing less than a roller coaster of adrenaline.
The Breast Hill track starts with a luring 4×4 track up over a 1600m saddle before dropping down a valley to the Timaru River Valley. From there you siddle along the river, up-and-down, on goat track with a couple of washed out parts creating drops down the valley. This continued for about 5 hours before taking you up a steep ridgeline to Stodys Hut. It could propably be a beutiful track if you keep by the recommended 3-4 days, but we were off-rhythm and pushed to complete it in 2 days. The first day was quite hell but the second, shorter, day was just another trap. Starting with a steady 4×4 track climb next to Breast Hill we thought that this would be quite relaxed. It was all the way to the last hut of the section sitting at 1200m. The trail after this takes you completely off of any rational trail that is made for human beings to walk on. It follows a very steep descent on a must be mountain-sheep-trail (we saw them as we crawled down) along the ridgeline dropping 950m in 4km with steep cliffs on both sides. Which made it even more exciting was that the first tail winds from cyclone Gita welcomed us down with gusts hitting us every couple of minutes. The adrenaline, many prayers and swearing in three different langues brought us safely down.
We made it to Lake Hawea (smaller brother of Lake Wanaka) and now we are waiting the rest of the cyclone out at the local hotel.