• Hannele & Folkers

Day 128 | 3041km Bluff – The End of A Journey

Since reaching Bluff, our bodies have been doing a lot of recovery – apologies for posting only now. It took us a while to gather our thoughts on the last couple of weeks. We must say though, that rest has never felt this good.

But before reaching Bluff, we still need to tell you what an intense couple of weeks we went through before rewarding ourselves with some hot showers and tap water.

After taking the zero-day by Lake Hawea due to the cyclone weather, we did not rest too much anymore. We had gotten exhausted in a way we knew one rest day would not help much in anyway, so we had become all the more determined to, simply, finish the hike.

Cyclone clouds approaching.

We strolled down to Wanaka on an easy-going bicycle track and enjoyed the flat walk despite a constant light rain in our faces. Wanaka was as we had been warned against: busy, busy and, busy. It was very beautiful town by the lake, but fully-booked by tourists and as the weather wasn’t too flattering either, we just decided to resupply and continue walking towards the next section, which was the very last alpine route we’d go through on this thru-hike.

Throughout the hike we had been using so called trail notes, that give some sort of indication how each section will be like and how many days of food should be reserved minimum. We often ended up doing most sections in half-the-time, but it is good to be prepared, in case you need to wait out bad weather etc. One frustrating element in the trail notes is, however, that they tend to warn you against ‘difficult’, ‘challenging’, ‘notorious’, or ‘demanding’ sections. This is why some hikers don’t even bother to read the notes, as they make you prejudge too much. On the Motatapu track, the Department of Conservation warns you as follows:

The Motatapu Track is particularly demanding.

Due to the exposed nature of the Motatapu Track and its physically challenging terrain, it is only suitable for experienced trampers.

Several steep sidles require care, and tramping times should be adjusted for those not confident in this type of country.

The climate is typically Central Otago, and very hot, dry conditions are common in summer.

Carry plenty of water, as water sources are limited, and have adequate protection against the sun.

Wintry conditions can occur at any time of the year, with the higher country subject to snow, especially during winter.

Be prepared by having warm, windproof clothing and the appropriate footwear.

Be avalanche alert: This area has terrain that can produce avalanches that cross the track, usually from May into November

So we entered the track bearing this in mind, once again thinking what on earth is waiting behind the corner, but we were also curious to see these attendant dangers. We tramped into the section which started at the end of a gravel road leading into a narrowing valley. The cyclone had left its marks, which in this case, was heaps of snow on the mountain tops. We were curious if our trail would also entail some snowy encounters. Those we had not had on this hike yet.

We walked through farm land and greeted many elegant deer and camped at the start of the little forest land, as the sun was already set and we knew it would take another two to three hours to reach the first hut. That night was particularly cold and our tent was still close to soaking wet from the previous rain. As we woke up the next morning, the snow was still lying in the valley we would be heading into. The climb was steady, but rather long due to the wetness and snow.

The first valley on the Motatapu track.

Views back to Lake Wanaka.

Jack Saddle offered us gorgeous views of the mountains as well as of Lake Wanaka in the back where we had come from. It was one of the most beautiful days on the trail; the sun was warming our cheeks and we were playing with snow! We were truly spoiled and most of the day on our own.

Tramping in slippery snow up to Jack Saddle.

But as we had learnt, an ascent is always followed by a descent – this time a steep and narrow ridge-walk. The path on the ridge was busy melting but still covered with snow. That made it extremely slippery and difficult to walk on. Hannele was happy and smiling all the way; if there was something she could handle it would be snow. Folkers, then again, was not as comfortable with snow-tramping. He ended up sliding down most of the way with the minimal thread left on his shoes.

Fol balancing on a steep ridge.

This section entailed in total four major climbs – not to forget about the steeps downs. Every time we got down to a river, we would climb up again and sidle in the valley. Likely the sidling wasn’t as bad as it can sometimes get. At times, the paths get washed out in deep river valleys and you really need to negotiate your way. The water flowing in the rivers was murky and grey from all the snow and not suitable for drinking. The day was short in kilometres but yet felt long enough for the day. When we reached the second hut, Highland Creek hut, we felt relieved and grateful.

Sunset at Highland Creek Hut.

While we had had lunch break at the first hut, we had met a Dutch woman who was also hiking this track. It was refreshing to find out she was not a TA hiker but just doing hikes here and there. Sometimes the thru-hike conversations follow the same lines; four months of talks of light weight, the food you eat, the shoes you wear, the next hike you’ll do, etc. can be too much for anyone. We did however also have many amazing and life-changing conversations, too, and with people who have become lifelong friends.

The next day would be the most demanding part of the section, at least if you read the trail notes: two major ups and downs, steep sidling and so on. However, it proved to be one of our best days on the Te Araroa! The sun was shining from a clear sky and the steep sidles were in fact very enjoyable. We have definitely also gotten used to the heights by now, and this allowed us to focus on the great landscapes opening to all directions. Even the two major climbs didn’t drain our energy – we were rewarded with unique alpine beauty. The woman we had met the previous day was quite scared of the hike – the hike was much tougher and scarier than the DOC staff had told her on the phone consultation. We offered to check on her and hiked in a distance where we could see her. She was contemplating on turning back, and we knew she could overcome her fears if she had some support and turning back would lead her again over the ice parts that´s much more dangerous than some high siddles. We were happy to see her later arrive to the last hut.

The last bit of the section was walking over the last saddle to a river which we followed all the way to a historic mining town. Macetown had a big Chinese population back in the day, and some of the old ruines were still visible. The river walk to the town was rather painful, the water was so cold from the melting snow that we couldn’t feel our toes. Even the sun didn’t want to come out to warm our stiff toes. At times, we had to walk thigh-deep in the river due to the steep riverbed. But as we went on, the temperatures got warmer – and we even met a local person panning gold, by his looks it seemed like a wasteful business.

We headed to Arrowtown, which is another very historical and beautiful town right before Queenstown. As we got there early, we walked around and decided to continue after some typical NZ hotdogs and chips. On the way towards Queenstown, we tramped through a golf course which was busy being prepared for the New Zealand Open – shame we were too early! A little forest at a lake end close to Queenstown served as our home that night.

Queenstown was very much like Wanaka – once again a busy place with expensive services, and just as we sat down in a local café, it started raining again. From Queenstown one has to figure out a way to the trailhead. The only problem is that, the trailhead is on the other side of a massive lake. Some people take a water taxi while others try their luck by hitching around. We had decided not only hitch around but to add another, very popular, trail to our adventure: Routeburn. Routeburn is one the Great Walks of New Zealand and connects back to Te Araroa adding only extra 60 kays to it.

We looked pretty desperate when we were trying to get a lift in the rain. Luckily, a local man took us to the end of the town, where it would be easier to find people driving to the direction of Glenarchy. It took an hour – an hour in that rain felt like ten hours. But eventually, a silver Volvo stopped and a kind German Johannes cleaned up his car to find some space for us. We had fun, he was an energetic young man taking a gap year. He had learnt Swedish, and had an immediate connection with Hannele. We told him about the route we were about to embark, and he got so excited about it that he decided to join us! We camped at the start of the track, and hiked the next day the whole length of Routeburn, which is 32 kilometers. Most tourists reserve three days to do it, and usually the fancy huts are fully-booked. Now we understand why, the stunning blue lakes, massive waterfalls, dramatic mountains and constantly changing landscape just lure you in. That was a day we’ll never forget. We met an older group which of one was originally from Finland. This was the second, and the last time we met Finnish people on the hike. She had been away from Finland for almost 20 years.