I had few expectations of the trail before I started. I hadn’t read the book; I hadn’t read the trail notes (OK maybe that was a bit remiss). But one thing I did expect was that my journey would be linear. I expected to wait out the occasional rain day but in general I thought I’d start at the top of the island and work my way gradually the bottom. Because of the weather, this has turned out not to be the case. It has been hard to let go of this idea.
But once I’d allowed myself to conceive of an alternative way to do the trail, it opened up more options. When we arrived at Hanmer we discovered the next section of the track (to Arthurs Pass) was in a mess and rivers still high with no sign of the rain ceasing. Caroline only had a week to go and I didn’t want her to have either a miserable time on a messy track or a mediocre time on a boring one. So we decided to hitch ahead with three sections to the next seriously fabulous part, between Geraldine and Tekapo.
This is old farming country at its best. Dry, sparse, rolling hills, covered in tussock grass, with a backdrop of scree-covered mountains. On the first day we weren’t feeling so swell, so after navigating a major transport faff to the road end, we walked in just 6.5km to a camping spot we’d been told about. I say ‘just’ but this was an almighty slog in 25 degree heat, crossing Bush Stream countless times and dealing with slippery grass and rocky unformed paths.
The next day we had some ground to make up, first along the river, then up over a hill to an old farming hut. The afternoon was a big climb up scree and back down the fields to a cute hut in a great spot. Though there was space in the hut, I camped outside to get a bit of Frannytime, and sang songs to the hills before bed.
The third day was the main event, beginning with three hours following the course of a stream. Then we slowly climbed to Stag Saddle, the highest point on Te Araroa. It was a veritable mission in the hot sun. From here you can either traverse a ridgeline or drop into the valley. Like all sensible people we chose the ridge. After a short climb up on the mainly easy scree (except for the last couple of metres, where we just had to have faith in our tread and hope for the best) it was a blinder of an afternoon. We strolled down the wide ridge with luscious views of the Southern Alps for hours.
The following day, the incoming storm on the walk-out made the mountains look foreboding.
In summary, a hard section but well worth the detour and good use of a short fine weather window. In the last few days, we’ve learnt that many people are chopping and changing and it’s unusual for the trail to all proceed orderly.
But who am I kidding? I’m way too stubborn and inflexible to be truly ok with this change of plan. I can’t let it go. I’m going back north to where I left off.
STATS OF THE TRACK
Items lost: one toothpaste lid
Nights’ sleep rated less then 2/10: one
Hut concerts given: one
Items found: one toothpaste lid (in sleeping bag)
POTENTIAL BAND NAMES (for consultation): The Hikeleles, The Quail Girls, The Ukes of Hazard
HOW WE SPENT OUR DAYS
Day 24 Rest day at Hanmer Springs
Day 25 Hitching adventure extraordinaire from Hanmer to Geraldine
Day 26 community bus from Geraldine to Peel Forest, great ride with the mail man to the Bush Stream Car Park; camped along track 6.5km in; (NB a couple of the stream crossings were fast and high-ish even in low flow. Don’t try to climb over Sawtooth Bluffs unless you really need to, it’s rough, cross the stream instead)
Day 27 camp spot to Stone Hut, 9 hrs, 12km, 950m ascent (camped)
Day 28 Stone Hut to Camp Stream Hut via ridgeline from Stag Saddle, 10.5hrs, 21km, 950m ascent (camped)
Day 29 Camp Stream hut to Lilybank Road, 5hrs, 18km (then hitched remaining 13km to Tekapo)