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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
That night we camped with Johannes before our paths separated – he would hitch-hike from the end of the trail back to his car with a 300+km detour, whereas we would continue down the Greenstone track back to Te Araroa. Now that was another magical track – deep green forest with incredibly pure and fresh air. The dark colours painted a contrast that made the forest appear fairylike. It was good to get back on the trail again, when you know you are tramping on TA, you just feel more at home.
But sometimes this feeling is also just about romanticizing the reality. The next day we tramped on wet tussocks, cow shit (and there was heaps of it) and some goat track that sometimes made no sense. We reached Careys hut which was by a most peaceful lake. We took a swim, and enjoyed our time there, until the night came. It didn’t even get dark when the mice were running all around the floor. Mystically they also got onto the top bunks and tables so we rushed to hang all our food. Regardless our action, the mice gang kept us awake.
Luckily, the next day was walking on flat and an enjoyable lake trail before we got to Te Anau to fetch our last bounce box. Te Anau is some 20km off the trail so you need to hitch out of the trail and back on again. We got a lift from a local rural postie who was a great older chap. We didn’t realise we would end up doing the rest of the postal delivery round with him so we got to explore some local areas and his fast and furious rally driving. “This corner I tend to take carefully these days”. –How so? “Because two years ago I rolled a truck here, I drove a bit fast on this buggered road!” We remained in silence and asked if we could be of any help but he refused.
In Te Anau, we got some ice cream and unpacked our bounce box in the park. A guy next to us is busy speaking his friends – and who else, but our German-Swede friend Johannes! It was great to see him again. He was on his way to Milford Sound, which is another Great Walk of New Zealand. We hitched back out to the trail and to the very final week of our tramp. The last sections included some forest, farm and beach tramping. The first night we decided to continue further from the first hut and sleep on the saddle in the forest. The forest was dense, and the path not the best, but we managed to get to the saddle right before the last light. The next day was uncomfortable, we had to walk in wet tussock and swamp that kept swallowing our feet. Every now and then, we dived into forest to come out again. We had had these ambitious thoughts of making our way to the end the trail, but in the afternoon a big thunder storm hit us, and we got soaking wet. We agreed to sleep in the last hut instead and make a nice fire. On the hike we would always make a fire, when an opportunity appears due to weather, and we had gotten quite surprised during the hike that not every hiker thinks the same way! Isn’t fire the most relaxing and enjoyable thing to have in a hut full of mice? Perhaps it’s the South African in us, they love fire.
The fire that night was not the most effective one, in fact, it was raining onto the fire from the chimney. Well, at least we gave it a try and the other hikers seemed to enjoy it too.
The next day we started with our first “last”, we climbed to our very last mountain. It gave us so beautiful views that we were glad we didn’t attempt it in the mist. After the ridge down, we entered Mt. Linton station, which is the biggest commercial farm in New Zealand. They had approved Te Araroa trail to cross the station for 25km to link to the next section. Although, we had learnt that recently they had gotten slightly upset with hikers getting lost on the trail and not respecting their rules. Well, we made sure to get out of the farmland during daylight hours even though it ended up being quite a hilly length of a half-marathon. The sheep gave us some company and we followed the rebel sheep who had found some holes in the fences to get through. We smiled and imagined ourselves in Orwell’s Animal Farm. Sadly, these sheep would run just to find another fence along the way. We had a bit similar journey, as we kept crossing the stiles over and over again, until one of the fences ripped Hannele’s rain cover open. It was difficult to find clear water, so filtering our water took some time on the way. But it was very pretty and easy-going, and we started to reflect on the past journey that had been quite tremendous.
The Mt. Linton station was followed by the last farm land which took us through a conservation park over a big hill. Once again, some rain kept us company as we woke up early in the morning to get to the last forest section. Before that we had get over a hill and some forestry roads. We love tramping on pine needles; they are not only soft but have this unique scent reminding us of Finland and Stellenbosch. The last forest section was just like our very first forest, Herekino on the North Island, muddy, muddy, and muddy. It was slow-going and rain was in the forecast. We climbed to a hill with a cell phone tower, but ironically, we had no reception (must have been something in the phone, we’ll never know). A local man returning from the second top with his dog was very kind and told us that the trail would be very good and nothing too much to worry about. Lesson we had learnt in the past proved to be true once again: never trust a kiwi when they underestimate the trail conditions. This trail was deep wet mud all the way up and had no mercy on us. But the views from the top were breath-taking – for the first time in two months we saw the sea again! And the better, we could see Bluff in the distance! At this point, we knew we would make it. We were so close.
The next morning we walked happily and past the last hut (Martin’s hut) of the whole trail. It was an emotional moment. We left a message to fellow-hikers in the hut book to thank of the journey. From here on, there would be no more hut books and exchange of messages.
We followed an old and very historical water-race from as far as 1800s (built with Chinese precision) to Colac Bay and slept at a campsite. It felt so good to be back in civilization! In the local tavern we ran into a punch of fellow-hiker friends with whom we had dinner and some beers. It was great to see even hikers that had started in Cape Reigna with us on the same day. What a journey it has been for each and every one.
The second last day we hiked through Riverton and camped on the beach. The ocean rocked us to sleep and little did we know that it was the last night of our hike. The next day we planned to hike through Invercargill, the last bigger place on the hike, and camp somewhere before Bluff to get early the following day. We took a long lunch break in Invercargill and thought we’re not that much in a rush. As we moved on, there weren’t really spots to set up a tent – it was merely highway and a very dangerous of a kind! The sun started to set, but concurrently we started seeing Bluff in horizon.
We checked: 15km left. We felt strong. Looked at each other: what the heck, let’s go for it!
And so we tramped with determination more than 50km that last day to Bluff – who thought our last day on the trail would also be the longest distance we’d covered. People were hooting to congratulate us; they knew exactly what was going on. Some bikers passing by also saluted us. It all became real; we had really done it – the length of New Zealand and on the most extraordinary trail. We could not prevent tears from falling on our cheeks as we reached Stirling Point at 10pm in the dark. The strong waves were hitting against the rocks as we sat next to a distance sign and drank some bubbly. We wanted to visit the nearby restaurant the next morning to receive our plaques, so it was time for one last night in the tent – right in Stirling Point where it all begins for some, and ends for others.
By coincident we reached Bluff on international women’s day, which gave a symbolic meaning to our campaign as well.
To describe how it all felt is almost impossible. 128 days – 3000km. What a journey, what an adventure – and what a honeymoon!
We’ll still share our post-hike reflections. In the meantime, we want to thank for all the support we have received from various people on the way, even if it was a short encounter, it meant a lot to us.
Let the adventures continue!