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.

At the start of Routeburn.

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.

Greenstone track.

Greenstone hut.
Waterfall on Routeburn.

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.

Fol opening the food parcel.

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 last big hill.

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!

Stirling Point.

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!

Love,

H&F

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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.

Tree dominoes.

A fallen tree on a bridge end after the cyclone.
Folkers balancing on a 3-wire bridge.

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.

Lingering towards the sunset.

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 found camping chairs on the top – a perfect lunch spot!
Sunrise over lake Emily.

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.

Rangitata river crossing was magical.

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.

An old hut from the 1800s.

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.

A pleasant ridge walk.

Mt. Cook.

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.

Lake Tekapo.
47km day walk next to a canal.
Folkers and Mt. Cook/Aoraki. One of the most magical days.

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.

Love,

H&F

Day 90 | 2095km The Waiau Pass

Having had finished the Richmond Ranges, we felt quite relieved – after all, people say it offers the toughest portion of the Te Araroa trail. So far, we do agree with it, and as we got to the DOC office in St. Arnaud, we were asked if we had seen a missing hiker in the ranges. Unfortunately, we had not, but we hope the person will be found safe and sound.

On the last day of the ranges, we felt rather good, so we made a lunch stop in St. Arnaud and continued to the next part, the Waiau Pass Track. This day we hiked, again, more than 40km. We had been warned that on the South Island it is more difficult to cover distance because of the tougher terrain. For us this was a third time we managed to walk a long distance in one day.

The Waiau Pass is a very lovely track with a couple of harder sections. On the first day, we walked on a beautiful and touristic trail by the Rotoiti Lake. The Lake Headhut was full of both international and local hikers, and no wonder – the area was very beautiful. We went for an evening swim with some black swams and heaps of sandflies. Sandflies are here pretty much everywhere, apart from the mountain tops.

From the hut we had another lovely day walking in a valley upstream a river which eventually took us up to 1334 meters to Upper Travers hut. This path was surrounded by stunning mountains with still some snow on the tops. Slowly the clouds started building up bringing some evening rain. This was welcomed as the temperatures had been very high for several days.

The next morning the weather cleared up and we started heading Mt. Travers Saddle. The climb was steady and we were rewarded with some spectacular views to both valleys from the saddle. Unfortunately, an ascent is always followed by a descent. This time the descent was, as usual for the trail, rather steep down! We took a lunch break at West Sabine hut and continued again on a river track all the way to Blue Lake hut. This hut was located right next to blue lake which was tested in 2011 to be most clearest water in the world, with up to 80 meters visibility. It was a perfect place to rest the afternoon and prepare for the actual Waiau Pass.

We got great weather for the pass, and it happened to be on Hannele’s birthday too! She got a birthday wake-up with a hut candle and some tramping food gifts. This was a great day to climb up the Waiau Pass. On the way, we stopped with other hikers by the Constance lake to enjoy the views and cool down from the early heat. This would be a hot day and we would be the whole time on an exposed area. The Waiau pass contains a very steep climb up a scree slope. We found this tough but still enjoyable as the weather was good and there was no wind. A French hiker Matthieu was ahead of us, and as we got to the top, we discovered a birthday message from him on the path – you really become part of a hiking family on this trail and these friendships will endure for a lifetime.

Luckily, the downhill was not as steep as the ascent was, but it entailed a bit of mountaineering over rocky sections. We pushed all the way to the new Waiau hut, with some big clouds turning darker and darker as we walked down the valley. Not long after, the storm broke and we got soaking wet by the rain. Thunder was persistently in the valley for a couple of hours and at times the rain turned into hails. We were happy to finally reach the hut and light the fire! We could watch the river rise next to the hut and eventually even our trail to the hut had turned into a running stream. This really reminded us, that rivers should always be taken seriously here when they rise.

The following two days the rain was long gone, and we were back in the heat and scrutinizing sun. When we finally got out of the valley and got to Hanmer Springs to resupply, we heard that the temperature was 37,8 degrees, no wonder we felt exhausted and dehydrated. The weather forecast is predicting a tropical cyclone, and we’ll try get into the next section before the biggest part of the storm reaches us. Let’s hope for the best!

Love,

H&F

Day 86 | 1980km From Queen Charlotte track to notorious Richmond Ranges

Finally on the South Island! We set out early morning on the 15th of January to catch the 6am ferry to Picton. The ferry takes 3,5 hours and we were lucky to have perfect weather during the crossing through Cook Strait. A couple of fellow hikers joined as well and were set to start on the same day. Upon arrival we left straight to the post office to send resupply boxes for the next couple of sections and month on the trail. After the post office we arranged a water taxi for the same day to Ship Cove to start our first section, Queen Charlotte Track. The water taxi also serves as the post boat through the Malborough Sounds so before dropping us we first had to make a couple of stops to deliver and pick up post. Once we reached Ship Cove, we were ready to begin our tramp on the South Island. Captain Cook used to keep his two ships in Ship Cove for the storms so the place is rather historical. The Queen Charlotte Track is one the most beautiful coastal walks in New Zealand and it takes you through the Sounds bay-by-bay. The ocean water is more of a turgose colour and clear. We managed to do a conservative 10km on the first day and met a whole bunch of new people. Despite our longish break in Wellington, we felt strong enough and ended up walking the 71km trail in two days. The trail was very lovely, easy-going and had such gorgeous views that we didn’t even think about the distance. On the second day we stopped on a quiet beach for a lunch break and swim – this magical moment reminded why we are on this trail.

Queen Charlotte Sound

However, the sunny days do not tend to last forever in this country and already the next day we were hit by rain as we tramped out of the trail to a road walk to Havelock. In Havelock we waited out the rain and got our first bounce box for the Pelorus River and Richmond Ranges. These two sections together can take up to 10 days if one is unlucky with the weather. Once again, we managed to finish the river section in two days instead of the recommended three to four days. The Pelorus River is one the TA highlights with its chrystal clear blue water. The water levels were quite high due to the rain but we were happy to have swing bridge crossings which enabled to get through the section.

Tramping along the Pelorus River

Despite the beauty of the Pelorus River, we had our minds already fixed on the next section – the notorious Richmond Ranges. As the trail notes describe, the Richmond Alpine Track is rugged, though well marked, unformed in places. The summits are consistenly above tree-line and the track has some pretty steep ascents and descents. On top of this, the weather plays a significant role in the safety of tramping this track. We were once again lucky enough to get good weather to head into this section. On our first day we hiked from Hacket Hut to Old Man Hut which included a big climb and walk on the ridgeline. On this section we already realised that in New Zealand there is a fine line between tramping and mountaneering, we found ourselves suddenly bouldering on rocky edges as a big cloud was approaching our direction. When we got to Old Man Hut, we felt so tired but glad to have made it this far.

A short windy break on Mt Rintoull

The next day entailed the toughest portion of the ranges; two summits with steep climbs and descents and descenting on a steep scree slope. In the morning as we began our climb, the wind started picking up and was partly very strong. Once we got to the other side between the Little Rintoull and Mt. Rintoull, the wind eased up but the tramp required more focus. We were rewarded with some amazing views from the top which made it all worthwhile! We continued all the way to Tarn Hut which was situated by a magical little mountain lake. The following day the trail dropped significantly and took us next to Wairoa River for a whole day. This didn’t make the trail any easier as the path was partially deteriorated. Several river crossing provided us with some nice swimming moments which came in need on a hot day. As soon as we left the river, the landscape started changing into a more deserted and harsh environment. The next day from Top Wairoa Hut began with a climb to Mt. Ellis which has some different minerals on its top and rarely found on a surface. The more we moved further, the rougher the vegetation became. This area is called Red Hills and has a magnificent colour landscape.

Taking an afternoon swim during a river crossing

Even though towards the end of the 94km ranges the altitude dropped steadily from 1700m, the track kept challenging our feet and minds. On the fifth day of the ranges we walked out back to civilization to St. Arnaud – only to escape it again to the next tough section, Waiau pass which we’ll speak about in the next blog. Love, H&F

Day 60 – 72 | 1700km Whanganui to the Wellington City – The End of the North

Greetings from Wellington – we have finished the North Island and its gorgeous, often strenious and very adventurous 1700 kilometres! We have so far walked further than Cape Town to Johannesburg and further than the length of Finland.

The journey since the Whanganui river has taken us on roads, over the notorious Tararua Ranges and through beautiful native forests. After having finished the river section, we met with a local man Tim who we had got to know at a marae by the river. He invited us to camp on his family property and took us to his home to shower and do washing before resupplying and heading back to the trail. He named our group a Waka Crew which refers to the canoes that are used on the river by the Maori.

After the river, we were excited and had well-rested feet, but little did we know about the amount of road walk ahead of us for the next couple of days! 

The first day we did a short walk on the road and ended up camping in a rose garden next to the highway. Walking on the road is propably one of the worst things on the hike, it gives blisters, creates inflammation in your feet and mentally drains you. But on the other hand, often important reflection takes place when you are fighting the so called “road blues”. 

Roses, roses.

The lovely rose garden was followed by a volcanic beach at Koitiata before Feilding. On the beach, we met local people camping with their mobile home that looked like a ship. They invited us for coffee and we ended up being interviewed for their news letter. (Link here: http://www.koitiata.nz/news/)

Despite all the tedious beach sections so far, we really loved this one, in fact so much that we decided to camp on the beach, rejoice in the sunset and the view of Mt. Taranaki across the bay.

An open ship home on the beach.
Enjoying the sunset and the ocean.

The next morning the trail took us soon back to the road on which we tramped our last day of the year to a small nature reserve of Mt. Lees. We celebrated the change of the year and our hiker friend Kelvin joined us from Wellington. The man managing the place was also an international orienteering advisor so Hannele had lots to chat with him, as orienteering has its origins in Scandinavia. We have witnessed on our trails that kiwis truly love bush tramping in untouched forests whereas other nationalities often long for established paths. Also, many have come into a conclusion that Te Araroa is one of the toughest and most rigorous thru-hikes in the world. Most American fellow-hikers have mentioned that no hike in the US reaches this level of intensity. One other big factor is the unpredictable weather. 

As we were tramping on the road to Palmerston North, we could see dark clouds building up in the distant Tararua Forest Park we were planning to enter the coming days. We were exhausted from the couple days of road walk and apparently it was obvious too – two ladies in an ice cream  truck stopped next to the road and gave us free ice creams and milkshakes! That was definitely the highlight of the day – once again the trail angels arrived at the perfect time. In the previous town the only ice cream shop was closed when we passed it. 

Free ice cream – made our day!

Once we got to Palmerston North, it started raining. As the weather was supposed to get worse on the following days and a big storm was building up, we decided to resupply early and get as far on towards the forest as we could. On that section, there was a lovely bike track where we camped next to a river. We swam and washed ourselves in the river, and as we got into the tent, the rain began. The next morning we ran into our fellow hikers on the 1500km mark which felt quite rewarding! 

Halfway through – the Waka crew.

We pushed through Burtton’s track which passed a whare of James Burtton, a kiwi who lived in solitude in the forests in the early 1900s. He died at the age of 41 as his selfmade swing bridge collapsed. The story reveals, that before heading to hospital with his broken leg and other injuries, he first crawled home to feed his dogs. Later, he unfortunately passed away in the hospital.

When we got out of the forest, the dark clouds were still looming around. After reassessing the situation, we decided to hike into the next forest section and camp somewhere on the trail. Not long after, the sky ripped open and a massive thunder was on us for a very long time. We found a camp spot in the forest, where we camped the night before heading out of the forest. The next morning we were luckier with rain as we tramped to a Outdoor Pursuit Center but bigger news were awaiting – a cyclone and a sub-tropical storm right behind the corner. The couple running the Outdoor Center for youth and other groups are also known as trail angels. They update hikers on weather before the Tararua Ranges where good weather is essential. We were right in the eye of the storm and were advised to wait out one day for the worst to go pass but to head into the ranges before the second part hits. The ranges are only 45km in distance but can take from 3 to 6 days to complete, depending on the weather conditions. The previous week other hikers had tramped in snow – at alpine conditions this can be the case even in the middle of the summer. 

Weather forecast showing the storm.

After the 0-day, which we found very needed, we headed to the ranges up a steep ridge climb. On the ranges, there are huts every four hours which makes it nice to plan the hike acccordingly. The first day we had nice weather and reached the first hut before the afternoon wind and clouds kicked in. That night, we were a big group of hikers in the hut as many of us had been waiting for the weather to clear up. This meant the whole section on the ranges would be rather busy. 

A native forest in the Tararua.
Our first hut at the ranges, photo taken on the morning we left it.

The next morning, we walked on the ridgeline climbing to an altitute of 1400 meters providing magnificent views over the ranges. We were amazed by the good weather we had gotten right after the storm! We hiked to Nichols hut which was right after a bushline hike on an open ridge saddle. At times, we could feel the adreline in the open and exposed sections. That night we were 10 hikers squeezed in a 6-man hut. This didn’t bother us, we were glad to have a roof on top of us for the night. 

A narrow path on the ridge.

Nichols hut.

The next day the weather was even better. There was no wind as we summitted Mt. Crawford in the morning. We could see both Mt. Ruapehu and Taranaki standing in the distance. The view was beautiful and humbling. 

On the top of Mt. Crawford.

A few kays after, we were back on the treeline where a rather steep descent began. It was tough for the knees and we had to be careful with every step we took. Eventually, we got down and were rewarded with a swim in a river next to a hut from where we tramped another 10km out of the ranges. 

The ranges is definitely one of the toughest parts on the North Island, lots of climbing, ups and downs and the risk of rapidly changing weather conditions. We were grateful to have good weather, for one day after the second big storm hit the ranges and hikers were advised to skip the section and return later. We felt the bad weather as well on our last days before reaching Wellington, non-stop rain started making Hannele feel cold, but the miserable weather felt like nothing as we got to be reunited with a friend Hannele had last seen in New York. We also met with a Finnish lady who now lives in Wellington with her family. 

We were quite ready for a few rest days to explore this artsy city – not to forget to prepare ourselves for the whole adventure ahead of us on the South Island!

Love,

H&F

Day 44 – 59 | 1401km Taumanarui to Whanganui, from Mountains to Sea

The past couple of weeks have definitely been an adventure to the fullest, taking us through volcanoes on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing to canoeing a major river Whanganui for several days.

Before heading to the 42 Traverse and Tongariro Alpine crossing, hikers usually pre-organise their upcoming multi-day canoe section in Taumanarui. We camped at the canoe company, which is ran by a lovely family and at their home. We celebrated Hanukkah with our Israeli friend Noam and Dylan, and had a lot of fun preparing their traditional dish with camping utentils. We succeeded and the dessert was one of the best meals we’d had so far on the trail.

Lunch break on the 42 Traverse

From Taumanarui, we continued on the trail to the 42 Traverse, which is known as one of the best adventure mountain bike rides in the North Island with steep ups and downs. For a tramper, it was a pleasant route to walk on with a few proper river crossing and spectacular views over the volcanic terrain ahead of us. 

The 42 Traverse trail finishes right next to a Hillary Outdoors Adventure Center, which aims at enhancing youth leadership through adventure. As we got there, it started to rain heavily so we took a little break there and inquired about campsites ahead of us. A young man doing his internship adviced us to camp next to a shelter across the road. We were happy to have a shelter as the rain stayed with us the whole evening. We camped with local young hunters who had not been lucky with their deer hunt. 

The next morning we took it slow and  strolled down towards the start of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, but as we got to the junction, a thunder storm was pushing from behind. The weather conditions can change rapidly on the alpine crossing and good weather is needed to do the crossing safely. Having this in mind, we made a decision to head to the nearest town to take a day off. This proved to be a wise decision as the day after that the weather was sunny and beautiful.

The Alpine Crossing is one of New Zealand’s most popular Great Walks and it passes through three volcanoes and crater lakes with blue water. We started the hike at 6am to have a whole day to enjoy the crossing. The track climbed up steep and not too long after the start, we could smell the sulphur in the air from the volcanoes and see some snow on the top. On the way we ran into DOC staff who were busy taking down an old hut that was hit by rocks in 2012 eruption. At this moment, we could only humble ourselves in front of these powerful entities and admire their beauty but be aware of the hidden danger underneath. The higher we climbed, the stonger the wind got and once we crossed the ridge, it got suddenly very cold. Despite the coldness, we felt incredible grateful to be right there – we could see large gorgeous craters of deep dark red and grey colors, a massive blue lake and a volcano top covered with snow. On that spot, all the moments of sore feet, pain, exhaustion, home sickness, and all the feelings we’d gone through on the trail so far turned into a mere feeling of ‘this is why we are doing this!’

Smoke coming from a crater in Tongariro

The magnificent blue lakes

The actual volcano that was used in Lord of the Rings as Mount Doom

Not only do the volcanoes hold incredible beauty but also stories that paint a narrative of long Maori history. 

“Ruapehu, the beautiful maid, was married to Taranaki. One day, while her husband was away hunting, she was wooed and won by Tongariro. When Taranaki returned at the end of the day he surprised the guilty pair. A titanic battle ensued in which Taranaki was defeated. He retreated towards the west coast, carving out the course of the Wanganui River as he went. When he reached the coast he moved northwards to the western extremity of the North Island, where he rested. There his great weight made the shallow depression which afterwards filled with water and became Te Ngaere swamp. Taranaki, or Egmont, as Cook named him, now sits in silence looking towards his wife and his rival. In spite of her infidelity, Ruapehu still loves her husband and sighs occasionally as she remembers him, while the mist, which drifts eastward from his head, is the visible sign of Taranaki’s love for her. For his part, Tongariro, who despairs of ever possessing her again, smokes and smoulders with anger. To this day travellers in the Tongariro National Park see the basin called Rua Taranaki, “the Pit of Taranaki”, which lies to the east of the Tama Saddle which was the original home of Taranaki.”

 

 After the Tongariro Crossing, we tramped to a little village of Whakapapa, where we slept in a public shelter. There we figured out that we were so close to Mt. Ruapehu that we’d like to go up visit the ski resort and see if we could climb up the mountain. The next morning we headed off the trail on our own detour, and due to hard wind ended up leaving the summiting (we’ll definitely return one day!) but taking another trail next to the mountain that took us to a lovely hut next to a river that allowed us stare at the snowy mountain and its strong waterfalls the rest of the day while we washed our clothes in the river and kept the fireplace burning. That was another miraculous moment. As we walked down the mountain valley, We got emotional and felt grateful in front of the vast landscape. There is no way of putting the feelings into words, but everything was in its right place. 

Ski Resort on Mount Ruapehu
Sunset on Mt Ruapehu
DOC hut on the foot of Mt Ruapehu

The rest of the trail, we had lovely weather as we hiked towards the National Park village and Fisher’s track which is another scenic bike track. 

Our minds were already steered to our next section which was 154km of canoeing down the Whanganui river. The Whanganui river is a major river in the North Island. It is the country’s third-longest river, and has special status owing to its importance to the region’s Māori people. In March 2017 it became the world’s second natural resource to be given its own legal identity, with the rights, duties and liabilities of a legal person. 

For a change, it felt so good not to carry a backpack and stand on our feet all day. The river flew through a deep gorge and was literally in the middle of nowhere. We could enjoy the quietness of the nature, listen to the birds and feel the stream pulling us through the rapids. On of the first rapids managed to flip Folkers into the river but luckily he survived without injuries. 

The more we paddled with our group, the more ideas we started getting. On our second day, we had already invented how to build a sailboat with three canoes, a kayak, a ground and a tent sheet – and it worked! The wind blew our homemade catamaran down the river and through the notorious 50/50 rapid that flip most canoers.  We had so much fun.

A deer horn found on our way to the river

We spent Christmas at a campsite cooking a shared Christmas dinner and playing games. The owner had deers that ate our plums and he allowed us to caress them. Could Christmas get better than this? Well, apparently yes. On Christmas day we paddled to the historical town of Jerusalem where sister Suzanne Aubert from France had established a monastery in the 1800s. Sister Christina invited us to camp next to the church and held a private Christmas service for us the following morning. We enjoyed our stay so much that we decided to stay another day to avoid the rain on the river. 

Some Jerusalem nuns and friends

Han with a Christmas deer

The further we got on the river, the slower the stream became and tougher to paddle. The last two days the wind was blowing against our faces and made it very exhausting to move on the river. We stayed in a DOC hut after a cold afternoon paddling and were grateful to have a fireplace for the night. We even caught a small eel from the river, which was an interesting tasting experience. 

The last day we still had the strong wind from front but we were determined to paddle 46km to the town of Wanganui. On the river, we had a lunch break at a marae and met a local guy who invited us to camp at his property in town. These next few days with lots of road walk we’ll try to digest all that happened and get ready for the mountain ranges waiting ahead of us over the next 1600km.

“The river flows from the mountain to the sea. I am the river and the river is me.”

Happy new year to everyone, and let’s make the year of 2018 even more adventurous!

Love,

H&F

Day 38 — 43 | 1075km Hamilton to Taumarunui

Another week on the trail with some more adventure.

This time we left after a couple of 0-days in Hamilton to give our feet a break. The first day back on the trail we started directly at the Pirongia forest after a local gave us advise on walking the original track up to the Pahautea hut. We try to keep as much as possible to the Te Araroa trail but take side adventures as we have learned over the last month on the trail that this is a really long journey and to get most out of it you should hike your own hike. The Tirohanga track up the Pirongia ranges was steep with a couple of fake summits and chain climbing. We did not mind being back in the forest so soon as this gave us an opportunity to escape some of the New Zealand summer heat. The hike up took about 5 hours and we reached the hut just before sunset. We met with a group of school leavers spending their first night after writing exams on the mountain and a kiwi couple from Wellington. We cooked a hot meal and watched the peaceful sunset on top of the multiple hills. Just before last light a Belgium couple arrived at the hut that we had met before on the trail and that had started with us on back on 1st November.

The Pahautea hut sits on the top of the Pirongia ranges with a beautiful view over the last bit of the Waikato and in the distance the start of the King’s country.


We started early the next morning and decided we want to push for a new record day as we had a short forest section left with a long gravel road that can win us some distance. We did indeed make up distance and managed to push a 33km day. Once you set a new distance record you realize that you can easily do it again. We finished the last half of the day with yet another beautiful forest walk over private land and crossing some airstrips as well, it was really well maintained by the farmers which seems to really support the TA. The night we found a good camping spot in a open field with some sheep.


We started the next morning early with good weather over the farmlands. After about 2 hours on the track, New Zealand held up to what it’s known for, fast changing weather. It was pouring rain for the next 3 hours. We pushed through the farmlands trying to reach the Waitomo forest which could give us some cover.

The Waitomo forest is beautiful and it felt mysterious with the mist blowing through the trees. About 20 minutes in we reached a steep downhill with the track winding down. This is when we heard a loud cracking noise and a tree coming down on Hannele. She luckily managed to get out of its way but her hiking stick was not so lucky. This was really our first encounter with danger in New Zealand. After a bit of an adrenaline rush with moved swiftly on and aimed at lunching at Waitomo Village. On the way there we walked more roads and took a wrong  turn adding another 3km to the day. Every morning we wake up and say that today we will take it slow, which seems to never be the case. We walked 36km that day. First looking for a camp spot on the farm section before  Te Kuiti but then reaching a hill where we could see the town in the distance and deciding to rather continue on with the hope that we can also catch-up to some of the other hikers. Upon reaching Te Kuiti  looking at the local campsite, which had unfortunately closed down. We were however offered a dry bed just next to it by some young working-holiday workers. Another long day ending with a dry bed, some fish-and-chips and a sugar rush from the local supermarket – sweet!


Te Kuiti is the last town to resupply for about 7 days through the King Country forests. In the morning we met up with Noam, our fellow Israeli hiker, echoing what we heard the previous day about the next part being washed away and dangerous to hike through. We decided not to take a chance and rather leap this one to the start of the Timber Trail, the second forest part.

The Timber Trail was one of the most enjoyable and beautiful parts of this section. The trail starts off with a steady climb towards the summit of Mt Pureora before reaching a plateau and connecting to a old tram track that takes you for the next two days down the mountain. We started the first part of the trail with a short 20km walk in the rain and mist to Bog Inn Hut, a hut with real character, build in 1960 with only four bunk beds and a fireplace. We arrived just after lunch and used the day to relax out of the rain. Most DOC back country huts works on a first come basis and we were lucky to be first on the day as we ended up being 6 hikers and having to share the sleeping space.


The following day was all downhill on the tram track. This helped us to be swift and make an even bigger record with 43km walked for the day. Along the way you see the impact of the timber industry on native forests post World War 2. With the economic boom in the late 1940s and 1950s there were a huge demand for housing which led to investment in forestry but also the devastation of native forests in the north island. For some hikers this was an uncomfortable scene to experience but we were really impressed how progressive New Zealand was to show you the truth of the industry and take you through the rehabilitation process. Moreover, we found it very fascinating how these old tramways had been turned into solid bicycle tracks. With current conservation policies in place future generations will be able to enjoy the forests almost as magnificent as it use to be.


We slept the second evening at one of the old timber camps (Camp No. 10) which was known as the coldest part in the forest. We experienced this through the night and our tents soaked with dew in the morning. With a late start we managed to finish the timber trail by lunch time. A local man had given Noam earlier some oysters and fish for us to cook at the campground before Timber trail. He had also invited us to go stay in his house in the next town, Taumarunui, after Timber trail. We decided to accept the invitation, and ended up having a great evening with his family. Also our Australian friend Dylan joined us again and we were ready for a 0-day to prepare ourselves for the next section which entail volcanic landscapes and a multi-day river section on canoes. We are quite excited!

Love,

H&F