Arthurs Pass to Hanmer Springs

Freezing cold hitching from Arthurs Pass

Dear readers, if you ever see trampers hitching from Arthurs Pass (especially when it’s super freezing cold) please stop and pick them up in your cosy heated cars…..7:50am on the Lordes day and no-one gave us a lift for two and a half hours…..that’s all I’m gonna say about that.

Looking back to the divide

Having waited 2 days in Arthurs Pass for the rivers to go down, we left on a cold and drizzly morning (eventually) and headed across Morrisons footbridge to skirt the Otira river and head up the Taramakau valley. We followed mainly the 4WD track and had a very safe crossing of the Taramakau river which was still up quite a bit. We passed a couple of private huts, some small herds of cows and made it to Kiwi Hut. We collected and cut up a stack of dry firewood, put the fire on and spent a lovely night in the hut – managed to dry everything overnight.

Kiwi Hut

Because of our late start we’d only done the 14kms to Kiwi Hut. Now we had to do the 24kms up and over Harper Pass. 10 quick km’s to Locke Stream Hut for 1st lunch then the grind up and over the Pass. Often scrambling up loose scree, a few tree falls and over flood damaged track we eventually crossed the Pass and 2nd lunch at the cosy little Harper Pass Biv.  Thank goodness we had no rain as it must be awful up there in bad weather. Although the track is pretty good it seemed an age to hike down past Cameron Hut and onto Hurunui 3 Hut. A father and son had crossed the Pass earlier in the day from Lock Stream and already had the fire going. Cosy! Only 24kms but I was pretty tired.

Sunrise at Hurunui 3 Hut

Having reached the Hurunui valley over Harpers Pass we hoped to no longer be effected so much by the weather dragged across the divide from the West Coast. Thankfully the weather was OK, not super sunny but reasonable. We left the hut and took the Matagouri Flats track across the river from the actual TA and by-passed Hurunui Hut. What a lovely track, it followed the old 4WD track down the valley. Three hours after leaving the hut we’d done 12kms by the time we met up with the TA again.  I’d forgotten just how stunning this area was. Lake Sumner and surrounding forest is lovely beach forest. The hum of the Wasps was still quite loud but the bird song was even louder. My journal mentions the “Orchestra of Tui”. We stopped often to be entertained by the Fantails and Robins. The only disappointment were the grazing cattle and the Feral Cat we saw. 28kms in 8.5 hours saw us reach an empty Kiwi Hope Lodge, heaps of dry firewood and a cosy birthday evening in the hut. Paradise!

Yep, 57 years old, I share my birthday with my Mum who turned 91. What a way to spend your birthday. We left the hut a bit later than usual and appeared to drag our feet somewhat only having 16kms to get out to Windy Point. We kept stopping to listen to the chorus of Tui in the canopy – wonderful! We’ve added this area to our return visit list for next year when we come down south again with our house bus. Eventually we crossed the swing bridge at Windy Point and headed up the road to hitch to Hanmer Springs. Unlike Arthurs Pass, a Nelson couple on holiday were at the car park and took us straight to the YHA in Hanmer Springs. By mid afternoon we’d checked in, had showers and were halfway through doing the laundry. Great section! Next up, St. James and Nelson Lakes.

Boyle River valley

Rakaia to Arthurs Pass

Dave and Anna at Harpers Campsite

We resupplied in Methven for the next 7 day section to Hanmer Springs. Dave drove us all the way around the Rakaia, past Lake Coleridge to the roadend at Harpers campsite. Said our farewells in the drizzle and rain and trudged off up the trail with super heavy packs – thanks again Dave! 7kms later we reached the river crossing we needed to make to continue. After going up stream looking for a quieter spot we decided to camp instead. The river was not only too high and fast but also very milky with no sight of the river bottom. It was cold and still raining, we found a wonderful flat spot on top of a small Ridge above the river amongst some Beach tress. Palace up in no time, beds made, wet stuff organised, coffee made and then settled down to an afternoon in our cosy tent.

The Palace.
View from the Palace.

The drizzle carried on and off till evening then stopped, we were hopeful the river would drop by morning. Luckily by morning with no further rain the river had settled down a bit. It was still milky as we crossed, I had an unfortunate unbalanced moment but Anna was brilliant and kept us from going for a cold dip. That’s why you always pair up when rivers appear challenging. We avoided the next few crossings by staying on the bank but eventually had to cross the Harper river a few more times. The 4WD track took us quite near to the hut so the going was generally pretty easy. Certainly far more challenging than 6 years ago. We arrived at the Hamilton “Hilton” by 2pm and decided to have a lovely quiet hut afternoon. We collected firewood, I had a coffee, we read books and chilled. Put the fire on early evening, had a lovely dinner and managed to have the 20 bunk hut to ourselves – luxury!

Hamilton Hut with drying line.

A bit of a late start the following morning, only 15kms to our destination. Took the bridge across the Harper river and followed the river up to the historic West Harper Hut. Nice to see its looked after. Followed the river all the way to Lagoon Saddle A Frame Shelter for lunch. Again as in previous river sections, the damage from slips compared with 6 years ago is amazing. If this carries on there’ll be no trails left, they’ll all have washed away. After lunch we crossed above the saddle and sidled around and down to Bealey Hut. Thought we may have the hut to ourselves until just before dark when a French guy and a Quebec guy turned up. Only being a 6 bunk hut it felt a bit full. Then around 10pm a guy from the Czech Republic sneaked in so quietly no-one noticed he was there until the following morning.

A broody Arthurs Pass.
Beale Hut.

The Quebec’ian gave us a lift into Arthurs Pass the following morning. We visited the DOC Visitor Centre to get the river level update for our next section. Not good news, wettest Autumn for years, from Arthurs Pass in a Westerly direction the rainfall has been huge. We decided to wait a couple of days and let the rivers drop. Got a couple of beds at the Sanctuary Backpackers (thanks Bill for all your help), poured down till evening, cranked up the woodburner, ate in the cafe then the restaurant and chilled out.

Otira River day two

The river level will lower tomorrow so first thing in the morning we’ll be hitching to Morrisons Bridge and seeing for ourselves if we can continue. Fingers crossed!

Rangitata to the Rakaia

Looking back across the Rangitata River

Up early, big day planned to get to Manuka Hut. Beautiful weather again, super clear skies. Gorgeous countryside. The trail is pretty easy around this section, lots of 4WD tracks to follow makes for easy and relatively quick going. An hour in and the first tell-tale signs of the approaching weather begin to appear with high-level pre-frontal clouds. This spurs us on and makes us feel better about doing the 60kms in two rather than the three days we’d originally planned. All good till lunchtime then the wind hits us big time, it was as bad as the gale force stuff we encountered on the day we walked the canal to Tekapo. The 5km on the road between the Te Araroa road signs was awful. Back onto the trail and the wind seemed to calm down somewhat.

Yep, it’s an actual place in the North Island….here it’s just the ”TA”

32kms in 9 1/2 hours was pretty good going. Manuka hut appeared around a bend in the tiny valley off the main one. A welcome site given the darkening skies.

Manuka Hut
Dry inside….wet outside.
Billy and Renée arrived early afternoon.
Open fire in Hut on a wet night.

It started drizzling at 4:06am (journal says…) and then poured down from 6am. Rain and showers till early afternoon when Renée and Billy arrived. A lovely hut day is to be cherished at any time and we certainly had a great day complemented with a very cosy fire in the evening when the downpours recommenced.

Clent Hills Saddle

Up early, gone by 7am, across the final flat section to the beginning of the climb to Clent Hills Saddle. No rain but we could see some dark clouds ahead. Through a small forest of spikey Spaniards, up the hill and across three scree slopes to the saddle. A bit drizzly over the top but nothing serious. Down the other side and then into the stream for two hours of stream hoping. Only 21kms but super tired as we arrived at Comyns Hut. An hour or so later and our mate Dave Hobbs arrived. Dave had come in specially to catch up with us and transport us around the Rakaia River. An hour later Billy and Renée joined us, plus the hut already had 2 Sobos. Cosy evening! Great to see Dave again. Anyone wanting to see our history with Dave should see my previous blog posts from 2016 when Dave joined us to Bluff.

Dave and Anna on trail.

Not having to go far to get out we got up slightly late and popped up to the A Frame for lunch. Halfway there and we had to put raincoats on. Pissed down for a while but we had a dry lunch in the hut. As we left, Billy and Renée arrived, they were going to stay the night at the A Frame. We carried on up to the saddle overlooking the Rakaia river, had a brief break then took the wide zig-zag down the other side. Along the 4WD track in the valley and eventually found ourselves at Dave’s car……all wheels still attached and no blocks in site.

Rakaia River.

We drove to Methven and stayed at Mt. Hutt Bunkroom Backpackers. Showered, laundry’ed, dinner out on the town and extremely greatful for Daves help. Thanks mate! Next up, the drove around to Lake Coleridge and onto our next section.

Tekapo to the Rangitata

No tourists!

A well deserved zero day in Tekapo. What a difference to 6 years ago…..there were soo many tour buses and tourists you couldn’t get a photo of either the church or the dog. All we bumped into was a house bus couple from Northland on holiday. Great! Sent Mum another postcard – she likes postcards – and then with coffee in hand we walked out of town and onto the road going around Lake Pukaki. 8kms on the road and we got a lift from a lovely guy who took us around to the Round Hill Ski access road. Nice! Up the winding road, onto the TA and 7kms further along the track and ended up at our destination – Camp Stream Hut. With 7 days of food in our packs they were bloody heavy so the little hitch was well worth it.

Billy and Renée had joined us at the hut, was lovely to see them. Up and gone by 6:45am. Stag Saddle our lunchtime destination – the highest point on the entire TA and roughly the halfway point of our South Island adventure. A bit of a climb, took the ridge track with stunning views across the lake to the mountains. Gorgeous spot for lunch on the saddle then 4kms down to Royal Hut. A brief break then down Bush Stream to the next hut, Stone Hut. Both huts in great condition and appeared recently maintained. A longish day but worth it. The updated weather forecast we got from the saddle meant we needed to get a move on if we wanted to sit out the rain in 3 days time in a hut.

Stag Saddle
Stone Hut

We needed to do 3 days of trail in the next 2 days to earn a zero day at Manuka Hut to sit out the forecast rain. Tricky as that meant we had to climb around the back of Crooked Spur and down to the hut, walk Bush Stream and then cross the Rangitata River – 27km of pretty uneven trail and river walking. Arrived at Potts Road carpark, our destination by sunset. Palace up, coffee, dinner, book and bed. I have to say, Bush Stream was totally different from 6 years ago. All completely filled with debris from huge slips. Bank to bank from below Crooked Spur Hut was just awash with gravel. Plus, crossing the Rangitata, we found heaps of Cow poop from local farmers herds…..didn’t think that was OK….or legal to graze in the riverbed.

Bush Stream
Crossing the Rangitata

First goal achieved, crossing the mighty Rangitata, now it’s only 32kms to Manuka hut tomorrow….lucky us!

The Palace at Potts Road

Wanaka to Tekapo

Wanaka sunset!

A very lovely and well deserved zero day in Wanaka. We left the YHA after a nice cooked breakfast and walked around the lake and Clutha river to Albert town. Nice autumn colours appearing along the way. A short hitch to Hawea, Fish and chips and then a walk along Lake Hawea to the base of Breast Hill. I preferred to do the Timaru river trail, Anna wanted to climb the hill. We eventually made it to an empty Pakituhi hut after a slog up the hill. Big day!

Breast Hill 4WD track.

Head-torches on as we left the hut at 6:20 in the morning. Great watching the sunrise across the tops. Anna finally got to see the view she missed 6 years ago. Stody’s hut was just the same, a great refuge in foul weather but not much more. Huge steep downhill to the Timaru river then mostly river walking instead of the track. Finally met Renée and Billy who we had stalked in the hut books for weeks. They’re Nobos like us. A premature departure from the river saw us do an extra up and down which was less than pleasant. Pretty tired when we got to Top Timaru hut. Shared the hut with Renée and Billy – nice couple, great evening.

Martha saddle

Up and gone early again. Head-torches required till we started the climb up to Martha saddle on the old Bulldozer track. What a glorious reward for our efforts. We were above the clouds, pretty chilly but stunning! Weaved our way down to Tin hut on the old 4WD track for lunch. Along the farm road to the Deer fence then across the Ahuriri River and up the valley all the way to Quailburn Hut. A new record for us on this trip, 34kms in 11 hours 35 minutes. Tired!

Ahuriri River.
Quailburn Hut

Seriously thought about a zero day at Quailburn Hut but with only one tiny window we would have had our head-torches on most of the day. A late start then up the valley to the saddle crossing over to the track down to Lake Ohau. Lovely area and luckily we only had a couple of sprinkles of rain. Memories of walking through miles of fire damaged forest on the PCT came back to us as neared the bottom of the hill and entered the charred remains of burnt trees. A couple of hitches and we made it to Twizel to have our fears confirmed that everywhere was sold out. Rowing regatta plus Easter put paid to our plans of a shower and comfy bed. Resupplied and carried on 5kms down the trail to camp. 

Sunset on trail near Twizel.

Cold? Bloody freezing! Even the tent fly was frozen solid – memories again of the PCT in the Sierra. Took a while to warm up but eventually we packed up and carried on. We’d hitched this section last time due to the heat so it was great to finally get the view. Coffee at the Salmon shop then onto the trail around Lake Pukaki. Nice quick trail – we share the Alps to Ocean cycle trail for most of the way to Tekapo. Camped on a small Pine covered hill just before the Hydro power station. Arrived early enough to have a lovely chilled evening.

Lake Pukaki.

No frost this morning. A bit windy but warm. Little did we know that the rest of the day would be spent battling gale force wide along the canal. Heaps of cars had driven past our tentsite early in the morning. Getting to the lake at the end of the canal we realised everyone was going early morning fishing by the Salmon farm. I must confess I preferred the alternate we walked 6 years ago (the canal was closed for maintenance). Back then we walked Braemer Road, longer but with more TA atmosphere. Even without the gales I would have found the canal a bit boring – no wonder almost everyone we met cycles from Tekapo to Ohau. Got to State Highway 8 and hitched to Tekapo….the gales were so bad the caravans were ordered off the road. Finally accommodation, a shower, laundrying, dinner and bed. Great section, grand views. 

Sunset over Lake Pukaki.