After 65 days, 1 hour and 20 minutes we managed to make it to the very top of the Sth Island and completed our latest adventure. Woohoo!
But before we get to the very end, I’ve got to tell about the final section. It had been a very well deserved zero day in Havelock after our fantastic 8 days in the Richmond Ranges. Even better since it poured down most of the day. We did all our usual stuff, showered, laundry, blogs, eating and resupplying for our next section. We even managed to spend an evening of Pizza making and eating with Billy and Renée, our Nobo companions since Timaru River way down south. We also shared breakfast the day we left Havelock. They’re carrying on up the Nth Island for a proper Winter TA while we are pausing until Summer.
Thank goodness you don’t take the firebreak after leaving Havelock. Last time we had to climb up and over…..it was shit especially the gorse at the Havelock end. Instead you follow the lovely bench track above the road, lots of seats with views and almost no gradient. We stopped for lunch as the trail met the road again before Linkwater and then quickly hitched to Anakiwa. From there we walked just 4 kms to Davies Bay and cowboy camped at the shelter. I managed to read a lot of my book and chill. The rain, as forecast started at 6pm.
After 9 weeks on trail, you really hope for fine weather to end your trail on…..unfortunately that wasn’t going to be the case this time. It was quite warm leaving the shelter so we used our umbrellas and slung our raincoats over our packs. It poured down, Gale force Norwesterlies, the rain didn’t just pour down, it poured up and across and every which way it could. No views, the wind so bad it blew our umbrellas inside out at every saddle crossing. The only shelters were down in bays and coves but that meant a kilometer long hike down and back up to the track. We just toughed it out and carried on to Black Rock Shelter. Through some ingenious design work we managed to put the Palace up in a shelter with a centre pole. The hexagonal shaped shelter only had 3 sides so let quite a bit of rain in. At least we were dry.
Windy and wet overnight, we managed to have a great sleep in the Palace. Sadly, the weather had changed again to rain with a Southerly. Not wanting to end our trail on a freezing cold super week note, Anna booked us into the budget accommodation at Punga Cove. Another day of few views and rain showers, at least it wasn’t gale force. We even managed to have lunch in a shelter along the way. Wet and cold, we arrived at Punga Cove. Hot Fries and coffee, a lovely hot shower and dry clothes, sat in the lounge area and chilled with some of the Queen Charlotte Track walkers. Wet Tent and Fly, wet pack, wet shoes and wet raincoats all went into the drying room. Wonderful! We’d bumped into Billy and Renée who had decided to do this section Sobo. They’d stayed at a Resort the night before so we didn’t feel so bad about having a luxury night.
The final showers didn’t stop until 9:30 in the morning. Still cold, we left for the last full day on trail, 22kms to School House Bay. We finally got views which was a huge plus. Sadly the Queen Charlotte track doesn’t have culverts so we’d been walking on super slippery creeks running on the tracks for the previous 2 days. The track dried out a bit so the walking was easier. It almost seems like the track is built more for Mountain biking than hiking.
Freezing overnight….only 3 degrees. Toastie in our sleeping bags in the Palace. The previous day had flow by, as is tradition on finishing the TA, we had spent the previous day reciting the daily memories from Bluff, where we camped, the weather each day, the people we met and the views we’d seen. Uncle Rick and I had done this on our two days walking into Bluff. Today we only had 6kms to walk. It dawned cold but fine – thank goodness! Arriving at Ship Cove, we did the usual photos and waited for the boat to take us back to Picton.
We took the boat from Ships Cove, visiting resorts only the way and went to Picton. Bought our tickets for the Interislander (NZMCA discount of course) and returned the Wellington. The train up to Waikanae and then walked in the dark the final 2kms of our journey to our House-bus. Home sweet home.
As always, the completion of these long hikes is bitter sweet. A wonderful feeling of achievement, having seen heaps and managing to get my now 57 year old carcass up and over too many mountains to count and across many a raging river. We’ve sweated, been wind blown, woken to freezing temperatures, been baked in sunshine and met heaps of awesome folks. We’ve been shown untold kindness from strangers, picked up dirty and smelly by lovely people when hitch-hiking. Sadly, reaching the end of this trail means, for a while at least, this lifestyle of long distance hiking comes to an end (actually a pause) and we have to return to what other people consider a more normal life. For us, after more than 10,000km each of long distance trails, this is the most normal life could be. Uncomplicated, physically challenging, emotionally rewarding and simple.
A very special thank you to my Partner Anna. Whose patience at times is overwhelming as she waits for me to finish packing each morning, always pointing me in the right direction each day so I don’t get lost, never complains at my sometimes slower pace on the mountain climbs and for putting up with my somewhat eccentric and possibly unusual personality. Thank you darling! Hugs!
We plan to walk the Nth Island in the Summer later this year. Come and join us either on the blog or in person. Thanks for following our adventure!
As we had hoped for, the day of the climb over Mt. Rintoul dawned with blue sky and no wind. Stunning! It was a pretty quick climb, a bit gnarly on the scree slope but the reward at the top was fantastic! What a stunning 360 degree view. It’s certainly something you need to experience and not something you get the same feeling from by watching it on video. Having said that Anna’s video is pretty good.
Down off Rintoul is no easier, then you straight away have to climb Little Rintoul which is actually the pointy one out of the two and a bit more sheer on top. More stunning views, another descent then a less steep climb up to Old Man where we had lunch. Down the other side, across Ada Flat and around Slaty Peak got us to Slaty Hut before 3:30pm. I wanted to stay in as many huts along the way which I hadn’t stayed in the previous time. We decided we could just about make it to Starveall Hut before dark. We took off, climbed most of the time up to Mt. Starveall and got down to the hut with half an hour to spare before dark. Collected and cut firewood, put the woodburner on, had coffee and a well deserved first dinner.
Apparently, a couple of years back, Rintoul, Slaty and Starveall Huts all ran out of water at the same time over summer. To think you’d have to carry around 5-6 litres of water from Hackett Creek to Tarn Hut is amazing. We sometimes carried 4-5 litres on desert sections of the PCT but didn’t have to do huge steep climbs in between. I’d hate to think what’s going to happen when the borders open and the trail gets busy again. We left Starveall Hut, dropped all the way down to Hackett Hut and carried on to Browning Hut for lunch. The trail would have been pretty good if not for the 10 Mountain Bikers who ripped it up. They had carried their bikes to Slaty Hut and riden back down. Not a track suited to cycling. After lunch we climbed up and onto the siddle track which took us to Rocks Hut, arriving a half hour before dark. These are huge days made a bit trickier with less daylight hours.
We met 4 DOC staff at the hut. They were doing a Snail survey, sadly they hadn’t found any live snails. Not much pest control happens in the Richmonds. We saw heaps of Pig sign, saw some Goats and there were plenty of Possums. We allowed ourselves a short day, two hours down to Middy Hut and another two hours to Captains Creek Hut. We were back down at the Pelorus River and stunned at the colour of the huge pools. Although there hasn’t been much pest control, we were constantly entertained by Fantails and serenaded by Bellbirds and Tuis. Captains Creek Hut gets zero sun after summer, lovely spot with a good swimming hole but the place was cold and damp. No saw or axe meant we had to collect lots of smaller treefall branches and break them up by hand. We collected plenty of dry wood, broke it up and turned on the fire – cosy warm in the hut all afternoon and evening.
Happy Birthday Kevin! I had managed to get reception the previous day to wish my Son happy birthday for the following day as I knew we’d be out of reach on the day. We left the hut early, with a bit of cloud it was still pretty dark in the forest at 7:30am. We walked the track fairly high above the Pelorus River until we got to the day-trippers picnic table then the 5kms on the bench track to the carpark. We had hoped to hitch to Pelorus Bridge but there wasn’t anybody on the gravel road. 15kms later we arrived at the Pelorus Bridge Cafe, had coffee and a pie and felt the 1st spits of rain – it was forecasted. We hitched to Havelock, was offered a ride while still drinking my coffee. By the time we got to the backpackers it had just started raining properly. Thank goodness we got out when we did.
We were so incredibly fortunate to get 7 stunningly clear days in a row through the Richmond Ranges. I was lucky enough last time with the weather but this time it was perfect. To cross the Richmond Ranges, especially the likes of Mt. Rintoul, with good weather is a blessing. Fingers crossed we get the same blessing on our penultimate section, the Queen Charlotte Track.
Our 2nd to last section on the South Island and also our longest (8 days). We had been watching the weather forecasts and praying for fine weather after our wet experience at Arthurs Pass. We walked the old TA track, with 8 days of food it was a no brainer and enjoyed the gradual climb up the 4WD track to Red Hill Hut. We thought hitching out of St. Arnaud would be a huge issue again but with the sign Renée and Billy made for us we got a lift after only an hours wait. Ahead of us were 7 days of forecast bluebird sunny days. Thank goodness!
Shit it’s a long way to Porters Hut when you’ve got a heavy pack and short days. We crossed the East branch of the Motueka River, climbed and descended a dozen times before finally close to dusk we arrived at the hut. Firewood collected and cut, woodburner on and coffee made. A hard yet rewarding day.
You sometimes gotta love the DOC descriptions of the routes from huts…..the track siddles around the 900m mark all the way to Hunters Hut with the occasional drop to cross creeks…….in fact we spent the entire time dropping and climbing in and out of creeks like yo-yo’s always returning to the 900m contour. A lovely walk regardless though slightly tougher with extra full packs. At Hunters we met a day hiker and chatted. I remembered from my last time here the memorial to the two DOC staff who were swept away by a flash flood. Very sad indeed. We heard and watched a helicopter doing Wilding Pine treatment work across the tops, I hope the local Pine Plantation owners are paying to have their trees (Weeds) killed – I somehow doubt it.
The start of the climb from Hunters up to Mt. Ellis is steep and unforgiving. Finally out of the tree line the views on a beautiful day are stunning. When Anna was here last time she walked in low cloud and saw nothing. Great to have the chance to finally see the views. Across to the saddle and all the way down to Top Wairoa was a bit of a mission, the final piece of trail gnarly over the boulders make it trickier with tired legs. I love that these old huts have been painted bright orange again with their numbers on the roof (see above photo). Firewood collected, open fire roaring but far too smokey. We let the fire go out early with doors and windows open.
The trail down to Mid Wairoa Hut along the river was as gnarly as I remembered. Not super difficult but required a bit of focus. A few cliffs, some tree falls at steeper places but eventually we got to the hut for lunch. The climb out of the valley is murderous – 400m climb in 1 kilometer, half the vertical climbing for the afternoon. Beautiful forest along the way with another gorgeous sunshine streaming through the trees. Thankfully we made it up and over and arrived early at Tarn Hut. I’d said to Anna I’d like to stay at as many huts I hadn’t stayed at last time. Tarn was one of those. Nice spot, heaps of firewood, woodburner on, coffee and time to read my book. First shorter day so far!
Up late, only 8.5kms planned today to Rintoul Hut. I’ve got to say, the huts in the Richmonds have been consistently the best maintained we’ve experienced to date. All have had work done on them, the saws are new and sharp, the huts are clean and tidy – great work DOC! Sadly, we read the stupid comments from idiots who rubbish the work DOC does…..really pisses me off. We climbed up and over then along the ridge to Rintoul Hut. Got there super early and spent ages collecting and cutting up firewood. A convenient set of tree falls 100m down the track provided the wood. Anna spent quite a while sawing the wood up and splitting it to fit into a really awesome old potbelly stove. The stove worked a treat and the hut was toastie warm. We were joined by an English couple for the evening who were hiking the opposite way.
Next up, climbing Mt. Rintoul, little Rintoul and a long day to another hut I hadn’t stayed in. See the next exciting episode……if you’re keen.
A great zero day in the lovely Waiau Hut, we woke to another chilly morning but no rain. It was overcast but appeared to be slowly clearing. We left the comfort of the hut and ventured up the valley to Caroline Creek Bivy and eventually to the campsite before the climb up Waiau Pass itself. As we progressed the weather improved and we could see that it had snowed a bit on the tops while we got rain at the hut the day before. Up and past the waterfalls at the start of the climb, the landscape opening up and becoming steeper. The mountains all around became more majestic as the clouds totally cleared. And what stunning views! Up and up we climbed……me slightly slower than Anna…..until we reached the steep shut which was covered in snow. Anna, not a huge fan of heights, even less so of steep slippery icy snow covered sheets of rock had a few moments of doubt about our progress as her comfort levels were tested but eventually we reached the Pass. What views! Amazing what a sprinkling of snow does to transform the mountain tops. Lunch was had then the scramble down the scree slope on the other side. We stopped often to marvel at the gorgeous views.
The photos from my phone never did true justice of the views. Anna’s video does a much better job of that. Down to the valley floor and passed Lake Constance – the trail there just keeps giving – then over the Moraine wall and down the track to Blue Lake and the hut. What a surprise, an hour after arriving and almost dark and who pops up to the hut? My mate Jamie and his sister Sophe. I’ve known these guys since they were born (I’m a friend of their folks) and Jamie worked with me before he did the TA a few years back. What a great treat!
Lovely catching up at the hut but onwards we had to hike. We left at 8am and hiked down to the swing bridge that takes people to West Sabine Hut. A lovely track following the river down the valley. The TA crosses the bridge as it goes over Travers Saddle but since we’d already gone that way last time we thought we’d do something a little different. We carried on down the Sabine River, the DOC sign said 5hrs, with a few washouts of the track that was pretty well how long it took us to get to Sabine Hut. Apart from a Father and Daughter, who had put the woodburner on (but tented) we had the 32 bunk hut to ourselves. A lovely day but feeling it towards the end.
A great nights sleep and clear weather in the morning were well deserved. The first hour and a half from the hut saw us only do 1.7kms. We started to think this may become a very long final day in Nelson Lakes. The next section, almost all the way to Speargrass Hut was a siddling bench track which was much quicker going. Quite a bit of bird life along the way. We got to the hut and had lunch, a beautifully sited hut at the intersection of the track that takes you up to Angelus Hut. The walk down the Speargrass Creek and finally up to the carpark overlooking Lake Rotoiti and St. Arnaud was pretty cruisey. The bird song on long the latter part of the track was brilliant. The local pest control efforts appear to be working.
Two huge shout-outs at St. Arnaud. To Mike S for letting us stay at his Bach for two nights – thanks mate! To Sophe and Jamie for rescuing us from the side of the road (trying to hitch to Renwick) driving us all the way to Renwick to resupply and then driving all the way back to St. Arnaud even though it was totally in the wrong direction. Love and hugs!
Up next, the longest and probably gnarliest section on the TA…….the Richmond Ranges. Enjoy!
A lovely zero day in Hamner Springs, clean clothes, clean body, watched two movies and filled our stomachs with lots of food. No hot pools for us, we did it last time and didn’t feel like tourists. Just nice to have a chilled day. We started to get that sinking feeling – similar to our hitching experience in Arthurs Pass – but hitching turned out to be not too bad. You first have to hitch out to the main highway and then hitch again to Boyle Village to start hiking. We waited half an hour for the first lift and 45 minutes for the second, not bad really. Started hiking at 11 o’clock. The drizzle started almost straight away, a nice track and happy to be back on trail. An hour from Boyle Flat Hut and the rain began. Another Wellington couple were already at the hut, Julie and Murray Packer who already had the woodburner going. Nice to arrive in the rain to a warm hut.
A bit of a cold start with some drizzle but not too bad for hiking in. We followed the valley up and over Anne Saddle and bumped into a group of 3 people doing the St James walkway. An easy track and only 18kms meant we arrived at Anne Hut around 2:30pm. A family was already there, Grandma and Grandpa taking their Granddaughter out tramping. Later another couple of St. James circuit trampers arrived. Got the woodburner cranking later in the evening and had a lovely peaceful afternoon. Nice hut!
The weather was much clearer the following day. Cold. A lovely day with just a few clouds. Left early as we had 27kms to hike to get to Waiau Hut but it was mainly on 4WD tracks. Just a few minutes from the hut, a family of pigs crossed the trail. We’d seen heaps of Pig rooting sign earlier on the track. After about 8kms we left the St. James walkway and carried on up the Waiau river. The mountains get slowly higher the further along the valley you walk. Many peaks further along had dusting’s of snow on top. We must be getting pretty fit, it took us only 7 hours to get to the hut including a half hour lunch break. This is a brand new hut paid for by a local farmer/tramper and maintained by DOC. Another couple, out for a short hunting trip were already at the hut. They had parked their 4WD at the car park a few kilometers down the river. Late afternoon a Hiker doing a section of the TA arrived. Cosy.
Because of the weather forecast we had planned for a potential zero day in Waiau hut. We didn’t want to cross the Waiau pass in poor weather especially if it was windy. Next morning the weather seemed pretty fine. We’d woken to a whore-frost, the field outside the hut totally white. We um’d and ar’d but decided to stay. Thank goodness, by 9am it had started clouding over, by 10am the wind was up and by 11am the drizzle had started. By 2pm the rain began and poured done from 4pm onwards. During the day we busied ourselves with dry firewood collection, lots of sawing and staying toastie warm in the hut. We had it to ourselves. A lovely location for a day-off.
We went to bed hoping the following day would dawn clear and calm. Check out the next blog to see how that turned out……..