[19] Day 140: Canterbury Tussock

Location: Wanaka, Km around 2600

I’m getting closer to the end… It has been four and a half months now, since I started in Cape Reigna. And there are only a couple of kilometer left… To be honest, I’m getting tired. Not of the beautiful countryside, nor of the wonderful people, who became a trail family. Nor of the daily rhythm or the hiking in general. It’s just that my body is really tired, my knees hurt, and I could sleep (or eat… or drink) all day. Beside that, the last section through Canterbury has been amazing. We hiked across many saddles, over the highest point (Stag Saddle (1925m), and most often through tussock – a beautiful grass-like plant. The most strange ground to hike across is when the tussock covers a little stream, which builds wholes in the ground and you have to look out, not to fall into those wholes ;-).

After Arthur’s Pass there was a long section, in which you would have to cross two big river beds (the Raikaia and the Rangitata). Both riverbeds are about 5 km wide and are a hazard zone on the TA. However, in dry summers (as we have it now), it is possible to cross those rivers in reasonable conditions. The first river, we decided to avoid and took the school bus (at 6:00pm on Monday morning) from Methven. The second river, we actually planned to cross, but the weather did not agree with us. When we got up (we camped on a car park before the river), we saw big rainy clouds in the mountains (which means the river will rise quickly), and the wind blew about 160 kilometers per hour. So, instead, we took a zero-day, got a house, some pizza and whisky, and had a great time. After this 7day section between the mountains, we came back to civilisation: Lake Tekapo Village, 70km later Twizel, about 100km later Wanaka. I like coming back to cities, but thru-hikers definitely become a weird species: smelly, incredibly hungry, very happy, and very down to earth.

Here some pictures:

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hiking through tussock
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the track sidles along a gravel field
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a rainbow over the Rangitata river bed. the grey line just above the trees is the blowing dust in the river bed
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same view just 5 min later: the blowing dust increased and the rains clouds hang over the mountains… not a place to walk through
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our hut right before stag saddle (that night it had -6 degrees)
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walking up a saddle… there are hikers in bottom right corner… and you can see the track
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the only plant on top of stag saddle
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and the ridge we walked down (again, little hikers in the corner). view of lake tekapo
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coming back to civilization, we got greeted by sheep…
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later on, some were nice and turned around 😉
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sun rise at lake tekapo
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my camp at the lake between tekapo village and twizel. after my first 40km day!

Food: The hotel in Lake Hawea had a Rugby special: a big house burger with fries and a jug of beer for 25$. So, 8 hikers had 9 of those special deals (yes, one person had two specials), plus two baskets of the “hungryman chips”, plus two scoops of ice cream with caramel sauce (that was me 🙂 )!!!

Motto: I need energy… where are the caffeine drops?

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[18] Day 125: Waiau Pass and Arthur’s Pass

Location: Lake Coleridge, Km 2230 [Christchurch right now]

“Restdays” are crazy days: picking up boxes, sorting out boxes, buying things, resupply, planing the next section. Right now, I’m in Christchurch with two wonderful friends, who I have been hiking with in November, planning how to cross the Raitaia River. Although my time starts to run out (it’s only about 4 weeks to got), I still have about 800 km to walk. So, I will be skipping parts. However, I start reflecting the last weeks and months, and with the weather starting to be autumny, it feels like getting to an end. But before that happens, I want to share some of the wonderful sections that I walked trough in the last two weeks… maybe some of the most beautiful and most intense sections.

After the Richmond Ranges, I was more tired than I thought and it took me some time to get back into the next part: the Waiau Pass section (which is also supposed to be one of the toughest parts, because of the Waiau Pass itself, and people have died there). And since it was raining quite hard, I took an extra day to wait until the rivers would get down again. So, instead of the planned 5 days, I took 8 days for that section, had beautiful weather, and just loved it. Every day you walk trough this breathtaking landscape; at nights you come to a great warm hut; and you meet other TA hikers, day hikers, or TA NOBOs (north bounders … hi Flo! 🙂 ) on your way. It’s all a big great joy!

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trail being flooded after the rain… I tried to walk in it for some time, but decided its too wet and cold, so I turned around and went back to the hut.

One of the most beautiful spots that I came to was Blue Lake… one of the clearest waters in the world. The water is so clear, that you could see up to 75 meters underneath. But you are not allowed to swim in it. It is also sacred to the Maori, being the connection between the past, the present and the future.

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And, it happens that there lives a couple of blue ducks (that’s really their name); a very rare species, with only 3000 animals, and they only live in NZ. It was amazing to see them.

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After an easy relaxing day at the Blue Lake, I crossed the Waiau Pass together with three other hikers. And – as most of the time – it turned out that the part wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. In fact, climbing down the pass was one of the nicest bits I did.

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Waiau Pass and view of Caroline Lake

Once in a while you come across those swing-bridges, and depending on their rustyness it can be quite scary to cross them 🙂 .

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The last days of the section were beautiful and easy walking in the valley. It was all a bit like a holiday in between. After the Waiau Pass section, I went to Greymouth because I had to buy new hiking poles (lost the old ones). I skipped a section, hiked another section, and now I’m in Christchurch. After my “restdays” here, I am going back to the trail, enjoying the last weeks of beautiful landscape.

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Motto: It’s not over yet!!!

[17] Day 110: South Island – Charlotte and Richmond

Location: St. Arnaud, around Km 1960

(It’s getting interesting, I don’t even know at which kilometer I am right now … I don’t only seem to loose the sense of time but also the sense of distance 😉 )

After a crazy couple of days in Wellington (buying new gear, preparing 3 boxes with about 25 days of food, enjoying the great hip city with all its bars and restaurants), I took the ferry with 14 other hikers, crossing from North Island to South Island, entering a whole new period of hiking. The fourth and the fifth month of this hike will be a whole different chapter, in which I can apply all the knowledge I gained in the first three months… I am excited.

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resupply boxes for those parts with no town access (including 5kg of muesli and 66 bars)
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on my way from north island to south island

South Island gives you a sweet and soft introduction into its remote wilderness: the Queen-Charlotte track. A wide path, no climbing, extremely beautiful views. The most difficult part is to reject the tempting coffee places and lodges every couple kilometers. One evening, we stayed next to a pub with life music. We had a wonderful evening drinking and dancing, jamming with kitchen utensils and later on swimming in bio-luminescent water. That’s the hard and tough life of a thru-hiker ;-).

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Queen-Charlotte track
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we saw whales in the bay from that lookout… amazing!

But the easy-going life must have an end. The following section is supposed to be the most rough part of the Te Araroa: the Richmond Ranges. The first 3 days are easy going with a lot of sweet river swimming (once you have your technique how to deal with the sandflies). We had a short stop over in Nelson in order to resupply for the Richmonds, so we would only carry food for 5-7 days instead of 9 days. The 5-7 days are the approximate time given in the trail notes, so I am quite proud that we have made it in 4 days. I was hiking with a great group (Birdhouse, Tapper, Sunshine, Right On, Sticks, and Boom Shaka Laka (former Leaf) – all trail names in case you haven’t guessed 🙂 ) and felt save all the way. We had a lot of luck with the weather, with the sun shining all days. The rain just started 10 minutes after I arrived at the last hut. In order to be ahead of the bad weather, we got up one morning at 4:00 am, hiked in the dark up a mountain and waited for the sun rise. Just before climbing steeply up to little and big Mt. Ryntol (the highest peaks in the Richmonds).

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sun rise on Old Man mountain
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on top of big Mt. Ryntol (1731m)

Due to the great weather we had, the Richmonds weren’t as tough as I expected them to be. It was exhausting and I wouldn’t want to do them in bad weather, but I never felt they were seriously dangerous. Next to climbing some so-called PUDs (pointless ups and downs ;-)), we had a couple of river crossings. The rivers were pretty low, so most of the time you could pass them with dry feet. But again, after rain or bad weather the situation would be totally different.

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easy river crossing (unless you slip 🙂 )

All in all, I loved the Richmonds and I am getting into what hiking will be on South Island: remote nature, incredibly beautiful, and a lot more self-dependent.

Shelter: huts, huts, and huts (thanks DOC for providing them…)

Food: bars, bars, and bars… oh yeah: freeze-dried dinners and muesli

Most important equipment: hiking poles, a light pack and endurance!!!

Motto: I am my own safety.

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[16] Day 90: The end of North Island

Location: Wellington, Km 1690

The end of North Island combines every terrain we previously came across: beaches (a beautiful black sanded beach with white dead trees), road walking (Highway 1 again), small funny towns (like Bulls, the only place in the world where you can get milk from bulls ;-)), bush walking and mountains (the amazing Tararua Ranges), and city walking (Wellington, the most southern part of the North Island). The last weeks have been amazing and I can’t believe I walked the length of the North Island.

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Turakina beach… black sand and a cemetery of beautiful white trees
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road walking with the Tararua Ranges in front

The Tararua Ranges were some kind of a ‘test phase’. They are labeled as “hard tramping”, you need to carry 6 days of food (approximately 5 extra kilos), you climb up to 1400m with about 800m ascend and 500m descend per day, and have a 1000m descend within 3 km coming of the ridge. This is a small version of how the mountains in South Island will be… We were a group of 5 hikers and we finished the Tararuas in 5 days. We had hard times here and there, but overall we loved it. The weather was great, a bit misty in the beginning but when we reached the summit of Mt Crawford, the sky cleared up and we had an amazingly beautiful view. Miraculous. The forests in the Ranges are again fairy-tale like and I totally enjoyed jumping down from root to root.

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the day 2 section. we walked along the ridge you see: climbed the mountain on the left and then along the edge to the right.
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misty day. this is the “view” we had, out of the toilet at Nicols hut on the ridge
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weather clearing up on the summit of Mt Crawford
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our last hut in the Tararua Ranges (it smelled like dead animal, and we couldn’t figure out if it was a dead rat or just us…)

 

After this mountain adventure, there were only about 80km until Wellington city. I took a short day and a day off, in order to rest my muscles. And then did two last 35km days. Now I’m in Wellington and I prepare South Island. Since there will be muss less citys or towns for resupply, I will have to send boxes with food and equipment to certain backpackers.

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the first glimpse of Wellington

It’s been such a great adventure so far, I have learned so much, and yet, it was all just a big preparation for South Island. There is still so much to come and I have 2 more months to apply all my gained abilities.

Most important equipment: confidence!!!

Motto: Welcome to the wilderness… 🙂

[15] Day 72: Whanganui River – 240km in 6.5 days

Location: Whanganui, Km 1370

One part of the Te Araroa is the old “highway”, the Whanganui River running between Taumarunui and Whanganui. The official trail starts somewhere in the middle of the river and asks you to paddle down for approximately 3-4 days. We (a group of 4, including the French girls I’ve been hiking with for a while now) chose the 8 day option all the way. So we got four kayaks, food for 8 days, not enough alcohol, and some maps and instructions, in order to paddle down the 240km down the river. It was an amazing experience, maybe even the best part up to now! (So, the best part of a 3000km hike is the one section where you sit in a boat… 😉 ) The river is incredibly beautiful. It runs along canyons, along native forests, waterfalls, rocks. Everything is very mystical.

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And everything is very much back to nature. So we saw a dead cow on the river bank, wild goats (unfortunately, they are a pest and not rare), a floating dead goat, and heard and saw some great birds. On the first day, I thought I saw a deer antler, picked it up and had a jaw bone in my hand. Since the Maori have a story about the river and a magical jaw bone, I tied it to my kayak. Now Destiny was riding on “Magical Jaw Bone”.

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We also had quite some adventures on the river: The river drops in altitude, so you come across a lot of rapids. Since I have only kayaked once before for an hour in the Mangroves, and have been on a Canoe trip for three days with my climbing girls, my experience was quite limited. But I learned to read the river, its current and whirls. On the second day, I thought I could navigate a rapid just by using my body lean and no paddle. But I was wrong. So, I ended up running right into a hanging tree (with approximately 15kmh in a rapid). Stopping me with the paddle didn’t work either, so I tipped over. First reaction: Hold on to the boat and paddle (everything else is tied up) – that was smart. Second reaction: Oh, my hat floats away… grab it – not too smart. Third reaction: I can’t navigate, call the others for help, get me into slower water, turn the boat and get back in. It worked and I had a lot of luck not to hit a rock. The barrel and drybags kept everything dry (surprisingly), and the adrenaline boost kept me warm and going. So, at the end it wasn’t that dramatic. And two of the others also had an unintentional swim a couple of days later.

On our third day we had a lot of rain, which was beautiful on the one hand, because the water surface looks very nice and we saw many waterfalls. On the other hand, everything is soaking wet (and cold), so we hid in a cave for lunch and only paddled 3 hours that day (instead of 6-7) and camped in a hut instead of our tents. Other than that, the river was extremely nice to us (except for the swarms of sandflies that just eat you up!).

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rain shelter… on a close look you can see the drops on the water surface

On the fourth day, we caught up to our original plan, including a short walk to where the original trail would have entered the river: the Bridge of Nowhere. (That is a bridge that literally comes and goes to nowhere. It was build according to a street plan, which never has been realized. Now, tourist swarm that bridge.)

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All in all, I loved the river and the beauty it offered to us. And although we didn’t do the big group, a lot of beer, music, party -trip (which would have been great too), I totally enjoyed the partly funny, partly meditative trip we had. We had times, where everybody was paddling for themselves and I could absorb the pure nature. But we also had times goofing around, which was great.

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Most important equipment: Anti-sandfly stuff; luck with the weather (i.e. sun!), so your stuff can dry out at some point.

[14] Day 65: Pureora Forest or a 1000km

Location: Taumarunui, Km 1020

I’m back on the trail. And since the time is a little rushing for South Island, I’m picking out the best parts. I started north of Tongariro to do the Pureora Forest, a 3-4 day hike in the supposedly most beautiful forest in North Island. It was beautiful. Although it was incredibly rainy the day I got there and the first day hiking (and of course, I didn’t have any view at all… Pureora is supposed to have great views on Taupo lake), the forest itself made up for that: beautiful trees with a lot of moss, hanging plants, bright green… everything makes you feel to be in a fairy-tale forest. If a fairy or gnome would have passed, I wouldn’t have been surprised.

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Before I started, by coincidence, I met a whole big group of new people… which was terrific. I love meeting new TA hikers, funny people, crazy people, people who share the same experiences and teach me a lot on the way. This group had a further companion: Berry the Brick. Berry the Brick is a brick (;-)) that was sneaked into somebody’s backpack and has been carried unknowingly until it goes into somebody else’s pack. So, the rule is: if you find Berry before starting to hike in the morning and you know who hid it into your pack, your allowed to return it. Otherwise, you have to carry Berry and try to sneak it into another pack. As far as I know, Berry has been on the trail ever since Kerikeri and wants to keep going until Bluff.

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Berry the Brick

On our second day in the forest, we accomplished a great step: We hit the 1000km marker and celebrated it accordingly: with a goofy dance, some high-fives, and chocolate. 1000km, that is one third of the trail (although, I’ve been walking approximately 830km at that point… it nevertheless counts)!

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I learned a lot during the last 400 kilometers, and I am starting to get faster. The new shoes, new insoles, the lighter pack already made a big difference. Now I’m working on boosting me at the right time (with energy drinks ;-)), and keeping up the speed downhill. I was very surprised that shortening my tracking poles just by 5cm made a huge impact on my speed and comfort while running along the rooty and muddy forest trails. So, I was able to keep an average speed of 5km per hour (compared to the 2kmh in the first couple of forests, and 1kmh in Herekino forest). Only on uphills I have to train my fitness a bit more.

Shelter: The forest provided some of our first DOC huts. So, instead of pitching your tent, you come across a nice hut, mostly with a long-drop toilet and rain water supply. Our first hut was set for 4 people, and was already occupied by two hunters. We nevertheless managed to stay and sleep in the hut with a further 8 hikers (so 10 people in total)… very cozy!

Most important equipment: Tracking poles in the correct length, i.e., 5-10cm shorter than on straight roads.

 

[13] Day 58: Tongariro crossing

Location: Turangi, Km something 1000

The time between Christmas and New Years is kinda chaotic. You want to spend both events with nice people and at a nice spot. So, I am doing a lot of going back and forth, not really being on the trail. After Paihia, we went back to Hamilton (as a stop in between), and separated the next day. Two German friends of mine are in NZ right now (with a camper van, of course 🙂 ), and we decided to do the Tongariro crossing together. So, I went south to meet my friends, will go back to Hamilton for New Years and will then continue after Waitomo, where I am actually on the trail. Although the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is part of the trail, it was a totally touristy event. I did that hike 10 years ago, walking with a friend, enjoying the nature and the surreal scenery. It was great seeing all the places again, but they were mostly covered with tourists (us being among them). At least a 1000 people started in a time window of two hours heading in the same direction. It was crazy. Everybody bumps into each other, tumbles across each other, and tries to get out of the way for the pictures… Besides that, the hike was great. I enjoyed walking without a full backpack and had enough space to carry my stove for coffee and three beer for us on the summit.

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Mt. Doom in the morning
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an emerald lake (imagine 200 people standing there)

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Most important equipment: water, sunscreen, and patience

Motto: I want to be back on the trail!!!!