Click here to read posts in chronological order: Oct 2015 to Feb/Mar 2016 🙂
Well, folks; we finished the Te Araroa.
It took us four and a half months, hundreds of packs of chicken-flavored instant noodles, thousands (if not millions) of peanuts, two pairs of shoes each, four rolls of toilet paper and a whole lot of perseverance.
When we are back in the States, I will upload pictures of the second half of the South Island. And maybe the entire rest of the trip. We are thinking about making a photo book–not just one for ourselves but a professional one too, so I’ll keep you posted on that as well.
We are now in Queenstown waiting for G’s sister to fly in and hike with us for a couple weeks. Since finishing, we’ve gone out east to see the Caitlins–beach, waterfalls, sea lions, dolphins and panguins–and made our way back up to Queenstown. Tomorrow we start some volunteer work with the Department of Conservation and we are hoping to hit a couple of impressive hikes this weekend.
Can’t wait to be back home. Even though I’ll miss New Zealand and the Te Araroa immensely. All great things should end so you can get to the next one coming, right?
Mountains are the most awesome landform on Earth.
I write you now from Hanmer Springs. We have completed the first three hikes of the South Island, including two mountain tracks–the Richmond Alpine Track and the Waiau Pass. The last posts I published was after the Richmond, so now we are after the Pass, too.
My best friend’s dad, Dr. Doorenbos, joined Philippe, Georges and myself. Hiking with Dr. D was really great. He brought a lot of balance to Philippe’s pace needs and G’s and my more developed fitness. He brought new conversations and new focuses. And he brought part of my home to me. 🙂
G and I sometimes realize we don’t exactly know a lot about a particular track…it’s not that we don’t listen when people share things, it’s more like we don’t have any idea about anything. Oh well; someone’s always saved us before we make any harmful mistakes. 🙂 So, though we didn’t know it, the Waiau Pass was the highest point on the TA–quite a surprise for our guests!! Haha…oops.
From day one of this section, everything was breathtaking. A walk through purely indescribable scenes. In hindsight, it was the perfect section for Dr. D, but at some points during the hike, G and I exchanged worried looks wondering what we got Philippe and Dr. D into.
In brief, we followed a long lake south and the continued hiking up its tributary river–both of which had completely clear water. The first hut we slept in had exactly enough beds for us, which means there were nearly thirty people in the hut. G and I are used to having huts mostly to ourselves, but we knew this section could be crowded. While in the hut we heard the weather was expected to turn bad in the next couple days–also that the crux of the section, the Pass, couldn’t be completed without fair weather. We had a bit of rethinking to do.
The weather was predicted to bring two days of gale force winds and rain. Looking at our schedule, we could neither get over the pass before the rain nor confidently wait out the rain with regards to getting Philippe and Dr. D to their flights home. Knowing the weather reports are unreliable, we agreed we wouldn’t try to rush and combine days to get over the pass before the rain (because it was a biiiiiit too much to ask of our guests) and we would just take things one day at a time.
The second day we followed the river further upstream, deeper into the mountains. We had a short 3-hour day planned–just to the next hut. About halfway there I realized I had forgotten the SPOT at the previous hut. Since it was such a short day planned, Georges ran back to the hut to get it. He caught up to us just as we arrived at the hut (completely soaked in sweat). Long discussions later we decided to push over the second hardest part of the section, Travers Saddle, and so we headed back to the trail and completed the next 6 hour section we had planned for the following day. Surprise everyone! Georges has already completed a double section, Dr. D was hoping to rest after our two 11 hour days, and Philippe was still struggling to fit to our somewhat demanding lifestyle. I was fine 😉
Over the saddle we went!! Steep climb up three hundred meters and then down six hundred. Dr. D realized the true demands of hiking over a mountain, and though he made it to the top a nap was in order when he arrived. (Beautiful pictures to follow) The saddle was awesome (and yes, a great deal of work to summit). We saw a helicopter land just on the other side of the saddle as we hiked up. We would later learn it was rescuing a TA hiker with an existing back injury which flared too much for her to be able to carry her pack or walk. The decent down to the river on the other side was substantially less enjoyable, but “one step at a time!!” got us down. Unfortunately, having combined the whole day’s hike into an afternoon, we were quite late to the hut. Boasting 34 bunks, there were about 40 people in the hut. Even more stressful was talking to a few groups of people and finding about twenty folks who were headed off the main track to the next hut on the TA–which has only 16 bunks. That hut would be the last before the pass and we were planning to wait out 2-3 days of rain storms in it. G and I decided that the following morning G would hike the 3 hours to that hut starting at 5:30 a.m. and guarantee our group 4 bunks; the guests and myself starting at our normal 7.
With the threat of sand flies devouring us, we decided to fight for a strip of floor space for the night in the 40+ people hut. Dr. D slept under one table, Philippe under another and G and myself slept on benches. Not comfortable. In the night, a couple decided to move out to a tent site and offered G and myself bunks. With G planning to race out in the morning, we decided he should move to the bunk. The other bunk was offered to Dr. D. I couldn’t sleep at all on the bench, so I moved down to Dr. D’s spot under the table. A couple of hours later, Dr. D came back to his spot in an attempt to treat severe heartburn was startled to find me under his table. He asked if I would move to the bunk because he thought he’d need to be up most of the night trying to take care of his discomfort. Seemingly exhausted, I gathered my sleeping bag and wound my way through the packed hut in the pitch black to find a free mattress I had never seen before. Finding G’s feet, I clambered up to a top bunk in my underwear and prayed I wasn’t snuggling in by someone or something gross since I couldn’t see anything. It was a restless night for many people, I think.
We had prepared everything down to his breakfast so G got up at 5 and raced off to the next hut before anyone else was awake. Philippe, Dr. D and I left around seven and hiked leisurely to the hut. G told us later he arrive near 8 and very few people were out of bed before he got there. He waited until four bunkers pulled their sleeping bags down and quickly put our stuff in their places. By the time we arrived at 10, he had selected perfect bunks, made a fire, bathed and done laundry. The hiking had been easy and beautiful. We continued up the river but were gifted unbelievable views of the towering mountains with their waterfalls and snow. Everything was beautiful. Everything.
The hut overfilled and we ended up with about four people sleeping on the ground. Luckily, the rain didn’t start until the late afternoon so everyone had plenty of time to clean up and settle down. Everyone also had enough time to hike out to the blue lake upon which the hut was situated. It is said to be the clearest natural water in the world–thousands of years of rain water and all the right conditions. Georges spent most of the day chopping wood and building a wall by the stove to support us through the rainy days. By evening, the rain started and the wind told us it meant serious business.
No one could hike over the pass until the weather was good and no one actually knew when the rain would stop. A couple from Alaska came in late and had a satellite phone. Thankfully, they called D.O.C for weather reports each day. Everyone enjoyed a warm and restful evening, knowing we would all get to know each other very well in the coming days.
With morning came very little light and very much rain. Going to the toilet was no easy feat, and people waited as long as they possibly could before dawning full rain gear and running the fifty meters through the shoulder-high grasses to the toilet. A group of folks who were not going over the pass but heading back north geared up to leave around 8. We thought this would lighten the capacity of the hut, but within two hours the group came back saying the streams coming down the mountain to the river were impassible. Those who had eagerly moved from the floor to the vacated bunks sadly returned the bunks to the very wet hikers. So we knew no one could come or go for the day; everyone was safe and stuck. The hut was completely cut off from the world with winds making the south impossible and waters making the north impassible.
The day passed socially with everyone trying not to eat too much food because of boredom. Some people didn’t have enough food to get through being stuck, but everyone’s packs opened to share. The rain was predicted to keep us there for two days but our evening report said the pass might be possible after only the one day of rain. Our group decided to try the pass if it wasn’t raining when we woke up, so we packed our stuff after a very restful day and a half.
In the morning the skies were clear. We, along with three other groups prepared for the pass–9-15 hours up, up, up, down. The others prepared to go north. Philippe decided not to do the pass with us and went back north with someone else from the hut; he had developed a toothache. Dr. D, Georges and I set out to climb to the highest mountain on the Te Araroa.
Dr. D set a shocking pace and I couldn’t help but wonder if he was going to burn out before our potentially 15-hour long day. We climbed and climbed and climbed. We skirted a massive lake which feeds the Blue Lake, and began a 500 meter climb straight up skree (small rocks that slide backward as much as you try to climb upward). Unbelievably, we made it to the top. In celebration, Dr. D found a nice place to sit, G rushed to his longed for snow and I enjoyed the views–of the mountain ranges and of the men I love. G and I climbed a nearby peek to make sure we really conquered the mountain and then we began our descent. We submitted in only a couple hours and so were confident the day would be easy enough. The weather remained perfect, and the views remained awesome.
After a long 9 hour day we had summited the highest point on the trail, touched mountain top snow and completed our first two dangerous river crossings. Thankfully, Dr. D is much more experienced than G and me, so he taught us lots and we crossed safely. We knew the following day would bring us to a river which could be impassible after heavy rains. It had certainly rained hard, but we were hoping the river would drain by the time we got there the following day.
The remaining days of our hike brought us increasingly closer to each other and to the other couples hiking with us. Besides two other TA couples, a couple from Auckland, Brynley and Connie, traveled with us each day. Laughter was common at each camp and conversations flowed easily from one sit to the next. The views remained amazing, Dr. D remained incredibly fast, and the hike concluded with as awesome views as it had started–more awesome, maybe.
Three days after the pass we hitched our way into Hanmer Springs and rustled up one of the few remaining beds in town. Philippe joined us the following day and we enjoyed wondering around the town eating too much, drinking too much coffee and relaxing for hours in the thermal pools.
All in all, it was probably the best section we’ve done–due to the nature and the company. Like so many others, Brynley and Connie will forever be an unforgettable part of our trip. We were honored to hike with the BCTC (Brynley and Connie Tramping Club) for a day and I hope to meet them in Auckland for ice cream at Giapo’s before flying home in March. Having Dr. D and Philippe with us added more value than can easily be explained. They just left for Christchurch and it was terribly bittersweet–I know they have to leave for G and me to finish the trail, but having them here was so close to home.
Tomorrow morning Georges and I head back out to the trail. Nothing left to set goals for except Bluff, and February 29th will be here before we know it.
Philippe arrived as scheduled and we caught our ferry to the South Island with only a moderate amount of stress.
We’ve now completed the first section on the South Island, the Queen Charlotte Track; and the second section, the Richmond Alpine Track. The Richmond was AWESOME and put the entire North Island into SHARP contrast.
Today, Dr. Doorenbos (whose real name is Roy), joined us and tomorrow morning the four of us set off for the next section. I am so glad to see Dr. D and he brought with him all my favorite feelings of happiness and contentment. Plus he brought some Christmas treats from Molly and Darlene. 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂
Unfortunately for you guys, there’s not likely to be another blog post from me until we finish. There’s just not that many towns on the South Island (as in: there’s like three we will go through). Just wait for March. 🙂 I’ll get back with you.
Oh, and by the way; I’m over being sad and struggling. I love every second of every day on the trail. (…except maybe when Georges and I are in a fight…24 hours a day together, ok?) I am now stronger and healthier. I can carry any weight up any mountain or through any mud pit. I have no fears and no doubts about what I’m doing or why. Really, it just turns out that some ‘Why?’s don’t have answers you could put into words. Sometimes, the reason why is the time spent wondering why–because when you are done wondering why, you see exactly why.
(((that means everything is really good, and I’m really happy)))
Ok, some of the lack of blogs is due to lack of desire to do so. I have had some days I could have blogged and I choose not to. That being said, I am now in a part of the world where they don’t build towns and therefore don’t give me opportunities to tell you about all the hills I’m hiking. (They are actually mountains now 😛 )
I’ll catch you up in brief; then you’re probably going to have to wait until March for me to put up all the good parts.
So we summited Mount Doom
Which has a real name–not that I can remember or spell it. It is a part of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing–a one-day trek across a sweet volcano family. Here’s some pictures.
But wait!!!! Did I get a rock from Mount Doom?!???!!
So that was one of our favorite hikes. The weather was very cold, but the alpine and volcanic surroundings were super cool. We stayed in National Park for a few days after our crossing to wait out some rain. The backpackers had a rock climbing hall, so we spent all our time climbing. We did get to move into a dorm room after a couple (below freezing) nights in the tent.
Oh, yeah; and this is National Park Village’s Kiwi,
The Best Not-On-The-TA Hike Ever: Around the Mountain Track
So, since we had messed up this section of the trail, we decided to hike our way down to Ohakune rather than hitch a ride. Ohakune is where we rented our canoes for the Whanganui River. From Ohakune, the canoe company brought us back north of the volcano area to enter the river as close to the mountain in which it begins as possible (just after the last waterfall). More on that later. Because we had the time, we tried out this Around The Mountain Track to travel from the start of the Tangariro crossing south through Whakapapa Village and to the Old Mountain Road.
It was amazing. Probably our favorite hike on the North Island.
So that was the Around the Mountain Track–a MUST for any hiker visiting New Zealand.
Canoeing to the Southern Coast
So we stayed in Ohakune for 5 days waiting out rain before canoeing down the Whanganui River. We stayed with a really kind gentleman, Rob and his wife joined us for a day, Beau. Though we enjoyed and were very grateful for our stay with them–their hospitality was superior and unending–we absolutely do not recommend the canoe hire company we used. We selected YETI TOURS because it was recommended on other blogs, but our experience was very unprofessional and unpleasant. We were quoted different prices every time we called the company and were completely mislead about advertised “free pre-trip accommodations”. I’m not one to post negative info about a company, but when I have more time I will expand upon our experience with Yeti because Georges and I were both so displeased with the company we agreed we would share the information with the big wide web. In the mean time, take our word for it and don’t use Yeti Tours.
That being said, we then canoed down the Whanganui River–which was really cool. It goes through pretty astounding gorges for a few days and then is out in wider forests and pastures. Thanks to not having to carry our food, we ate like champions for that week–5 POUNDS OF CHEESE was consumed. We ate a lot of sandwiches.
We Finished the Last Couple Forests of the North Island
This included the best part of the North Island (after the Around the Mountain Track)–the Tarauas. It’s the only real mountain(ish) range on the island and it was soooo cool. But details will have to wait until another time.
A Couple Beaches and then…..WELLINGTON!!!!!
We made it. We finished the North Island. We made it to Wellington and we made it through every single day.
We also stayed with some AMAZING folks in the days we spent in Wellington. Even now I almost tear up with homesickness…for the homes and love of a few strangers.
I can’t wait to have some more time and tell you the absurd story of the hitch that took us to “Johnsonville”, which is absolutely not on the trail; but you try telling the old man who picked us up to stop…….But in Johnsonville we met Marg, Phil and their sons David and Jamie. We camped on their perfectly manicured grass for three nights and were almost instantaneously adopted as their own children. The love they were able to so easily stretch to cover us was absolutely tangible. The second couple that took us in had offered us a place to stay when we met them earlier–an American couple from Boston–very homey to be back in an American home. Sallie and Brian took exceptional care of us and supported us in all our errands and driving needs. Sallie even helped me get some blood work I was in need of and Brian drove us to every grocery store in their town to get all the food we mailed throughout the South Island.
More info to follow in a few months.
So We Finished the North Island! Hooray!!
We mailed eleven boxes to ourselves for the South Island and made extensive arrangement to make sure they would be where we wanted them when we wanted them there. Lastly, we waited for Philippe (Georges’ best friend) to join us in Wellington. Then…..the real mountains.
So, waking up from our riverside campsite, we had made arrangements to mountain bike the next section, called the 42rd Traverse–it is a cycle track, so we thought we’d cycle it. The guy was bringing the bikes from National Park Village and would be picking the bikes up after a long day of biking. G and I thought it would be so cool to do a section by mountain bike.
We were so excited!
We had even made these pack covers from plastic.
But it was an epic fail. I was crying within 20 minutes. My bike was crap. G and I both struggled with the fitness demands. And I ripped the crotch of my pants wide open trying to mount the bike on a hill. We didn’t even make it to a piece of level ground (assuming one might have come).
I called the guy back and asked him to come get us and the bikes. We decided we’d skip the section and bike around National Park Village (our next town destination) for the day. Then we’d go back to the complicated plan we had made the day before in the Tameranui iSite.
He came and picked us up and took us to National Park Village. From there we headed out for a much more feasible loop mountain biking track. The pictured view of the mountain is Mt. Doom from the road down to National Park Village.
Most unfortunately….Georges tried to take a ledge around a deep mud puddle and ended up flipping sideways and doing a backflip into the mud. 😮 I won’t go into detail about how he felt, but it is enough to say he was upset.
We skipped the end of the track (which was a really rough road the whole time) and got on the nearby state highway.
Back in National Park Village (which is a backpackers, a restaurant/bar, a gas station and a café that rents bikes) we returned our bikes and asked where we could do laundry. They recommended the Backpackers.
We went to the Backpackers to do one load of laundry. We stayed for three nights.
Because I’m running out of time to write new posts, I’m going to bridge the remaining with captioned pictures and short explanations. Lots will be left out, but you guys probably won’t mind. 🙂
The following is a summary of the best forest section so far. It had three huts and so took us four days to hike through. We loved it. I was very, very afraid of day 3 because it was said to be 12 km, 10 hours–which would have to be so hard it would be worse than anything we had faced. I had been bracing and prepping myself for several days about this forest, praying I could make it through that day.
It was the most beautiful trees and plants. It had the most wonderful summit views and both summits were easy ascents. The huts were awesome. We loved it all.
Also, we met another couple Te Araroa hikers, Lindsay and Cory–from Florida (USA). G and I have been asked if we are the American couple, and we decided a couple weeks ago we weren’t. Turns out it’s Lindsay and Cory. Lindsay showed up at the second hut only an hour before sunset. She had left Cory at the Bog Inn Hut in a dispute and pushed through to the second hut. We met Cory the following night at the 3rd hut–he having pushed through to skip the second hut. Lindsay arrived to find us having built a pretty hot fire in the wood stove–we wanted to cook our dinner on it…and the hut was huge! It needed a lot of heat to be warm enough for G; plus, we were hoping we might get it warm enough to still be warm in the morning. We have many hilarious memories of Lindsay trying to cope with the rather extreme heat we had created….even I was in just underwear and a light tanktop when she arrived. Hahaha… 🙂 too bad you guys weren’t there to share the great deal of laughter. In the third hut (our second with Lindsay), we didn’t make such a fire….
Georges decided we should stay in the campsite. Happy to go back to sleep, we both rolled over and slept in until about 7:30 a.m.. Unable to sleep anymore, I got up and started my morning. It is very cold most of the time in New Zealand; the one time you can expect warmth is in the sunlight. Unfortunately, when we had set up the tent, all the spots which would get morning sun were occupied. I meandered from sun spot to sun spot to go to the bathroom, filter water, get breakfast stuff out.
Georges said he wanted to shower (even though I told him he should wait until the sun is in the campsite….) and he wanted me to wait to have cereal until he was finished. blahhhhhh. Eventually, he joined me outside the tent. We went about claiming the next spot we would move the tent to, having breakfast there at the sunny picnic table and building our very first fire since coming to New Zealand. 🙂
We spent the day luxuriously. Lillian and Bruce, who we met the night before, invited us to dinner that evening. The night before, they had invited us inside their RV for wine, warm drinks and great conversation. We looked forward to spending more time chatting with them.
G pointed out that it was the first rest day I had which I didn’t have to spend blogging…which, I love you guys, but I enjoyed very peacefully. We bathed from our kitchen pot. I washed my hair. We napped in the sun. I did laundry. We studied the maps. Peaceful.
Dinner was unbelievable. Lillian and Bruce, a retired couple, travel in their RV and enjoy cycling and hiking nearby day hikes from their campsites. They made breaded chicken, golden potato wedges, and a dish with bacon, asparagus and red peppers. They also treated us with crackers, chips and cheeses; wine (juice for Georges); and ice cream with apricot pastries for dessert. We loved the food, but the conversations over dinner and the evening fire they lit for us, was ideal.
It was a wonderfully peaceful day absorbing sunshine and good company.
And to top it all off, Lillian and Bruce offered to take us in their car up the beginning of the next day’s track–saving us several hours. The next section is three days in the forest. Huts each night, which we were greatly looking forward to, but still…another forest….
The next day started with a beautiful river trail. From the maintained-for-public-use trail, we proceeded into sheep pasture–where we would remain for 6 hours to come. Unfortunately, most of the day wasn’t as beautiful as the pictures (we rarely take pictures when the trail sucks–too busy).
After the river section and the beginning of the sheep pasture, we followed a river along a narrow, unpleasantly slanted track as it wound up and down steep, forest-covered mountainsides. All through private land, so the farmers of each section chose where we walked and what kinds of conditions we experienced.
It was one of those days that never ends. Hours and hours and minutes and minutes and minutes and seconds and seconds and seconds and seconds and milliseconds and milliseconds and milliseconds and milliseconds and milliseconds. All day we hiked on through rough, slanted track. We both ran out of steam toward the end.
This hike also marked the most dead sheep bodies anyone should see in a life. We had been hiking through lamb tails that drop to the ground after the babies are vaccinated and docked–which is pretty gross–but now we were in fields of dead sheep bodies. Georges never seemed to notice them until I pointed them out or asked if we could stop to read the map somewhere other than right above a dead body. It’s weird being in a country without any predators. There’s simply nothing to eat dead bodies. They rot in slow slow ways…nothing but flies and bacteria to break the bodies down.
Eventually, we finally came out on the gravel road we had been waiting for all day. Following the road for another hour, we saw our first sign of humans–a man on a four-wheeler with his dogs. Waving, we kept hiking. He came back about a half hour later and stopped to chat. Turns out he owns much of the land we were walking through and informed us there would be hitching the next day’s ten-hour road section. He offered to let us sleep in his yard (one of three in the whole two day section) or to give us a ride to the main state highway. From the highway, he assured us we could hitch to our next day’s sleeping location, a campsite ten-walking hours away. G and I thought about it as we walked to the guy’s house and decided we would take the ride.
A ride, a hitch and 3 more km on a dusty road later we were at the campsite which was the next day’s sleeping location–an extreme relief after such a long day. We didn’t know if we would sleep there one night and start the next forest a day early, or if we would sleep there two nights and take the next day off.
We set up our tent and met the neighbours–Bruce and Lillian, traveling by luxurious RV. We tucked in, still not having decided how many nights we would stay. I told Georges to pick and just let me know in the morning.
Well folks, I spent a lot of time editing and adding some pictures. As a result, I’m a bit stressed about trying to blog the last two and a half weeks. I will work to get in what I can.
From Waitomo we had a day of pasture hiking to Te Kuiti. This was the first hiking day after I hit bottom going into Waitomo (we refer to that section as the cloudy forest now). I was hoping and hoping I would have an easy time getting back on the trail. The views were certainly beautiful. Again, I struggled with the resemblance to Lord of the Rings causing such homesickness; but I kept my head up.
Even though my head was up, it was hard to laugh at the first section of the trail–thousands of gorse (don’t be fooled by the pretty yellow flowers!!!!!) stabbing every inch of my body for hours.
G, having his fancy pants, was mostly unaffected. 😛
I did take the time, though, to have G record what I mean when I tell you the hills here are stupid steep. See below,
But there came an end to the gorse-engrossed section. 🙂 And then things were much more enjoyable. Just beautiful hiking across the countryside.
The day was long, but rewarding. With the open views and great weather, we were able to see and appreciate all the distance we were traveling. There was this sick hill section at the end that was nearly unbelievable. The trail was made specifically to go from a high point to the absolute lowest and then summit the highest hill. We could have gone around. I decided we’d rest before going over. (Notice how very tiny the sheep at the top are)
We did get our first clear views of the coming volcanic range, including Mt. Doom…but we could have gone around.
After a long day of pretty hiking, we arrived in Te Kuiti–the sheering capital of the world.
We went to the grocery store to resupply. We gathered our expensive groceries, ever conscious of the soon-to-set sun. Our sleeping plan was to walk to the southern end of town and ask if we could camp in a yard. At the grocery store, the young gal who was ringing up our groceries started asking about what we were doing. She couldn’t believe we had walked into town and was further amazed that we were going to put all our food into our packs. As we talked about it, the woman behind us in line hesitantly offered to give us a ride to the south end of town. We were very grateful.
She drove us down to the bottom of town and stopped at a park. As we were getting out, she hesitantly offered to let us sleep in her mother’s yard (she was in town staying with her mom) and to drive us back to the south side of town in the morning. We were incredibly grateful and settled back into the car.
Meggie took us to her mom’s house and showed us around. We pitched our tent, sorted our groceries and went into the house to join Meggie and her mom for some milo (hot cocoa).
We passed the evening talking about many things highly relevant to Meggie and her family; it’s amazing how deeply you can step into a stranger’s life with a simple exchange of generosity and kindness.
Meggie took us back to the trail in the morning and we exchanged our bitter sweet good-byes.