Let’s try this again

Fingers crossed… no more lockdowns… and I’ll be able to leave in 12 hours from now! My flight is booked and my bag is packed!

I stayed at work this week because stuff happened that meant work was busy this week. In a way delaying my walk until tomorrow was almost a blessing in disguise because now that that’s out of the way I can walk and not have to worry about leaving behind unfinished business at my job.

I’m all set to go… here is 9 days worth of food, to last me from Queenstown to Colac Bay (although it doesn’t look like that much).

It weighs 6kg, plus I will add a 500g block of cheese once I get to Queenstown.  I’m still apprehensive about carrying this much food, because it’s heavy and it’s hard to fit that much food in the pack, and also I don’t know if it will be enough – I’m going to have to ration it! But like I decided last time that doesn’t really matter.  I can hitchhike out and get more food if I have to.

The pasta, one of the packets of rice and one of the Back Country Cuisine meals are the exact same ones that were in my pack when I flew back from Queenstown a year ago. They have been in my pantry all this time! And also, the cash that I am taking with me has also been in my wallet for the same length of time.

I put feelers out there to see if any other hikers are in Queenstown and who might be getting a shuttle around Lake Wakatipu this weekend… but got no responses. So right now I’m the only one booked Sunday morning on an Info & Track shuttle between Queenstown and Greenstone on the other side of the lake. There’s a very real possibility I’m going to see very few people for the next 2 weeks. Other Te Araroa walkers I’m following on Instagram who I hoped I might get to meet in person aren’t yet at Queenstown.

It’s going to be nice to be away from civilisation for a while. Away from the little irritations of everyday city life, and away from the constant notifications from my phone. I don’t know what the cellphone reception is like down there, but I’m guessing there is not much. It’s going to be great.

Postponed

Like I thought might happen, another COVID-19 lockdown has forced me to postpone my trip.  People in Auckland are not currently allowed to leave the city.

It’s not the end of the world though – once the current lockdown is over I should still be able to go. I didn’t lose any money as these days I only book transport and accommodation that is fully refundable. The little bit extra that this costs turns out to be worth it time and time again.

The current lockdown is confined to Auckland only (where three new community cases were discovered) and as happened last time, people outside of Auckland who live in Auckland are allowed to return home, so if I had’ve been in Invercargill when lockdown was announced, I wouldn’t have been stuck there. There is some concern that because these cases are the new and highly transmissible B.1.1.7 variant (the UK variant), lockdowns in future might have to be more severe, but all I can do is see what happens.

I did console myself with this

I’m sad I won’t get to see Oliver and Sanj who just happen to be in Queenstown right now. Oli sent me this picture from Tekapo a couple of days before. I recognise exactly where it was taken from.

Hopefully I’ll be there soon. But I’m not going to predict or even guess at a possible future departure date. Getting your hopes up and having them come crashing down gets old after a while.

Another update – 10 months later

The trail changes you.

Once the trail is over, you think that you will be able to just stop walking and you’ll be back into your old life and that your old life wasn’t that bad… but no, as I learned, it definitely doesn’t work like that.

It’s been nearly a year since I received that text message from Nick while in Pak’n’Save in Queenstown.  The text that said:

“NZ going to lockdown in 48 hours”

The text that made me drop everything and race back to Auckland on the next available flight. The text that ended my Te Araroa dream for 2020. The text that indicated that life as we know it on this planet was about to change.

Even now I wonder what would have been different if I was somewhere deep in the forest when the lockdown started, rather than walking right beside Queenstown Airport by pure chance. Or if Nick hadn’t sent me that text, and I continued walking oblivious to the lockdown. I probably would have been able to walk a bit further from Queenstown, but I doubt I would have been able to continue to Bluff without being stopped by police. I probably would have spent a month of lockdown in a tent in Te Anau or some other out of the way place. Or I would have turned up at Colac Bay on the south coast, expecting the pub to be open to get some food, but instead finding nothing, and starving.

It took me a while to find a job last year with the pandemic going on, but I did return to work in July after four months, and so life did largely return to normal.

The exciting view from my new workplace

It was winter and so I didn’t think much about hiking.  But then as September arrived, so did the “Te Araroa 2020-2021” Facebook group. and I got to see a surprising number of people commencing their own TA adventure. Given that this country is still not allowing any arrivals from overseas except New Zealand residents, I was surprised just how many people there were. And I got to see all their photos and experiences and I got jealous.

Not to mention every time I hear certain songs, I get a flood of memories rushing back. For example, any time I heard the song High Hopes I would be reminded of the walk into Lake Tekapo, where that song made me feel emotional.  Any time I heard any song by Crowded House (especially Four Seasons in One Day) I would be reminded of the walk out of Te Kuiti and also way back at the start at Cape Reinga when I walked with Rhydian.  Youngblood reminded me of Okiato – Helena Bay.  Numerous other songs reminded me of numerous other sections of the trail.  And any time anything hiking-related popped up on my Instagram feed from Alex and Ethan, I was reminded of the 30 days I spent walking with them.  And there seem to be a larger number than usual of stories about Te Araroa in the local news – I wonder if Mark Wetherall is making more of an effort to promote it than usual?

And every time I read my own blog, I wanted nothing more than to regain the simple life I had for those six or seven months.  So I got researching what other walks I could do one day. The Appalachian trail sounds like a great trail. Maybe I’ll get to walk that one day.  But of course with the world in the state it is, who knows when that’s gonna happen.

Instead I set my sights to the next logical thing to do – finish the remaining 337-ish kilometers from Queenstown Airport to Bluff. That is do-able right now, I decided. We’re in a fairly quiet period at work, so I was able to get two and a half weeks off work.

Here we go again

On February 18 I’ll be flying back to Queenstown and continuing on. Can’t wait.

But I’m a bit rusty now on all sorts of things. I have to remind myself how to even work the blog again. Even simple things, like attaching photos to my blog posts, I can’t remember how to do.

Hello!  Ooh, it looks like my test photo uploaded correctly.

The more important thing is that I need to learn how to hike again. I haven’t done any long walks since the TA, and I haven’t really done much running either. During lockdown I put on a fair bit of weight, more than the total weight I lost during the hike. I did purchase myself an e-bike though, and I use that to get around everywhere. My new car that I bought sits in the garage 6 days out of 7 now.

I did manage to run the Auckland half-marathon in November in less than two hours, so that wasn’t too bad.

The hideous green hat we were given as part of our hefty entrance fee

New Zealand was quite fortunate to even be able to hold a big event like the Auckland Marathon. If there was any COVID-19 community transmission, the event wouldn’t be able to go ahead, but there wasn’t, and it did.

I didn’t die

I’m not sure any of that is going to help with being fit enough to hike long days again.  Ultimately I’ll just have to take things slowly.  It’s only 330-something kilometers.  How hard can that be?

I don’t know exactly what the terrain is like for this last bit. I understand there are no really high peaks or really steep bits. The Mavora Lakes which is first is apparently really nice. I think the highest elevation from here on is about 1,000m.  Then there’s some farms, some beach, and the infamous Longwood Forest with “Abundance Of Rats Hut” (formally known as Martin’s Hut).

Oh yes, and as you can see I have not cut my hair since getting back to Auckland. It was too hard to cut it during hiking and then too hard to cut it during lockdown and then I just decided to let it grow.  I don’t think it looks too bad.  At least I no longer look like Justin Bieber or any of his entourage.

I’m going to have to work out how to keep this hair out of my face while I’m walking.

I actually had considered walking the trail over New Years when I also had two weeks off. But when my friends asked me if I wanted to spend New Years at the beach, I couldn’t say no. It worked out for the best – the weather in the South Island during January was atrocious. Lots of storms, lots of flooding, and even a fair bit of snow. Remember, it’s supposed to be summer here!

I’m glad I was here over New Years and not hiking, to be honest…

I did find these sunglasses on a walk up One Tree Hill, at the summit.

Snazzy

Thanks to whoever left these sunnies up there!  They’re mine now, and will come in really handy while I’m walking!  I hope I don’t break them like I did 4 or 5 other pairs of sunnies while walking TA last year.  These ones are actually quite nice and fit me quite well and are comfortable.

Getting back into shape

I did a couple of walks with my pack to make sure I could carry a pack with up to 20kg in it. It didn’t take me long to get back into the swing of things, although I got exhausted a lot more quickly than I used to when I was full-time on the trail.  One such walk was the Pūweto Loop in the Waitawa Regional Park in East Auckland. It was a 9.2km hike, a nice mix of farmland, gorse and beach.

I set up my tent to make sure it is still structurally sound and it was. But I have to get back into the routine of taking photos of everything. Several times I thought “I wish I took a photo of that” (e.g. the tent setup).  Here’s the maps of that walk, and some photos that I did take.

Brown farmland
Much more colourful markers than the usual orange triangles
Company
Disc Golf – we saw people playing it… again I wished I took a photo of them
Great view of the ocean
Me!

The map of the walk is at the end of the post. I even had to re-write the software that displays the maps on the blog posts, because Suunto (the maker of my GPS watch) forced an update on us which completely changed the way they store their map data. Very frustrating.

I also did a practice walk with the pack around Oliver and Sanj’s farm, where I stayed on Day 48 last year. It’s very rugged in places and there are some parts that even they haven’t explored. It also meant that there weren’t the usual groomed tracks to follow, we were just following goat trails. When you’re doing the TA, you are often slightly reassured that other people have walked the trail before you many times. When you’re out here on private land in the middle of nowhere, you don’t have that reassurance.

On the drive back I saw these new signs between Te Rauamoa Road and Kaimango Road. They weren’t here when I walked through last year! The first time I saw these signs while on trail were down by Lake Coleridge in the South Island.

Te Araroa Trail Users

And one other thing… there won’t be any more discussion about my toenail. It grew back and is normal again!

Hut Tickets

Last year I used the Department of Conservation Hut Pass which meant I could stay in any hut for 6 months. That’s expired now of course, so I bought a few of these bad boys.

Hut tickets

These are blue hut tickets, meaning they’re adult hut tickets for standard huts (as opposed to serviced huts). They cost $5 each and each one is good for one adult to spend one night in a hut classed as a “standard hut”. It’s hard to know exactly how many to buy, but if I’ve got too many I can give them away, and if I don’t have enough then I can sleep in my tent. I know that Abundance Of Rats Hut is classed as a “basic hut”, therefore it’s free.

There was a Facebook post by someone saying that apparently only 30% of people pay their hut fees. That’s quite a low number and it’s quite sad.  I don’t know what evidence they have but I would believe it, based on reading the hut books last year. Although when I bought these tickets, I commented to the sales girl at Bivouac in Sylvia Park that she has a lot of them, and I asked her how long it would take to sell all these. Her response was “in summer, not very long at all”. So that’s good.

Gear

I’ve pulled out all my gear from the corners of my room where it spent the last year, and made sure it is still present and working. My sleeping mat got a bit mouldy, even though I’m positive I dried it out as much as I could at the time before packing it away. I found a small Swiss Army Knife lying around that will replace the one that got taken off me at Queenstown Airport last year.  I would want something better if I was going to be doing another through-hike, but this will do. It has a little knife and a tiny pair of scissors which were the only two things I ever used, as well as a file, so it will be fine.

Something I found lying around

Packing was very nostalgic. I remember that I always used to pack my stuff in a certain way each day and of course now I have absolutely no idea what that was. Although I’m very glad that I posted my gear list here. It meant that I could just refer to that and I know that I haven’t forgotten anything.

Gear list referencing

There’s a few things that I crossed out, which I’m not going to bring this time. They are…

  • Rain pants – I hardly ever wore them except when I was doing laundry
  • Cheap op-shop shirt – This was the one I bought in Taumarunui when I got desperate
  • S8 Smartphone (backup phone) – I almost decided not to take it but after some thinking, I will. Never hurts to have a backup phone.
  • Tent repair kit – The one I bought on Day 5 which I never needed because the duct tape on the back of the tent is still holding.
  • Wool for blisters – Only because I can’t find it
  • Spare tent stakes – The ones that came with the tent were fine and none ever broke
  • Razor and wet wipes – I’ll survive for two weeks without these

I also crossed out “shorts” – I went through a lot of pairs of shorts but the ones I had at the end of the walk were my light blue togs that I bought from Wanaka and so I need to find some new ones.

Food

The interesting thing about the last section is that from Queenstown (km 2681) to Colac Bay (km 2918) there are no towns or shops. That’s 237 kilometers without any place to resupply. There are three places where it’s possible to hitchhike to a town and resupply… but do I really want to do that?  I have ummed and ahhed about it many times and my current thinking is that I’ll just pack as much food as I can and walk.  I estimate that section will take between 8 and 12 days, but it’s hard to say exactly how long since I’m out of practice.  I survived carrying 9 days worth of food through the Richmond Ranges.  If I end up packing my pack too heavy, then I’ll just give some food away.  On the other hand, if I end up running out of food, then I’ll hitchhike and get more.  I have to remind myself that you don’t need to plan these things too much.  It’s a nice feeling – just going with the flow.

I’m a bit worried about having such a long stretch without a chance to recharge my devices, I never used my big battery pack again after the trail and so I hope it still retains its charge. At the end of the Richmond Ranges I had the tiniest amount of battery left although I was blogging as I went.  This time to save battery I probably won’t publish any blog posts until I hit the towns on the south coast. Besides I don’t think there’s much phone coverage after Queenstown anyway.

COVID-19 Coronavirus

Ah, that which I’d prefer not to speak about, but unfortunately it’s a necessity.  Here in New Zealand we have been nowhere near as badly as hit as a lot of countries around the world due to COVID-19. We had the four week lockdown in March last year, followed by a less strict three week lockdown in August. Then, there were no more cases detected in New Zealand outside of quarantine for quite some time.

Fast forward to last month, and literally the day after I decided I wanted to do this, and booked my flights for this trip, a new case of COVID-19 was detected in the community, in Northland. Lockdown threatened for several days, but fortunately never eventuated. Then there was another community case in Orewa, and then another one in Hamilton just the other day. So depending on how many more cases they find, it really is going to be touch and go whether I actually get to go or not.  I won’t know until literally the morning of the flight on Feb 18 whether I’m going or not.

Despite new Coronavirus variants emerging in the world which are many times more easily transmissible than the original variants, I’m feeling good that I won’t get stuck in the South Island in some kind of lockdown.  They’re calling these variants the “UK” and “South African” variants. When the August outbreak happened last year, it was localised to Auckland, and so only those of us in Auckland got locked down.  Those who lived in Auckland were allowed to return to Auckland, people just weren’t allowed to leave Auckland without a good reason.  It is generally acknowledged that there won’t be another nationwide lockdown unless things suddenly get really really really bad. As long as I have access to any kind of computer, I can do my work remotely anyway.

My goals

  • Finish Te Araroa
  • Don’t die
  • No more conversations about COVID-19
  • My car doesn’t get stolen this time

Click here to see today's walk on the map.

Final Thoughts

Every time I think back to the things that happened while I was walking Te Araroa, I still struggle to believe that some of them even were possible. Leaving the trail five times (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) and yet still not completing the whole thing, my car being stolen, meeting the Prime Minister, walking with the same group of awesome guys for a month, flipping kayaks and crashing canoes, and the crazy COVID-19 pandemic – I still can’t get over the sorts of things that happened that I never expected to. So much for just a walk from one end of the country to the other – it was much more eventful than that.

Of course none of those crazy events are even related to any of the wonderful places I ended up visiting. It’s really hard to pick the best parts of the whole trail, but I’m going to give it a go. These are the parts of the trail I’d recommend to people wanting to do a short section of the trail.

These were the five best walking tracks in my opinion, but there were of course other days which were really great, not because of the view or the wonderful path, but for other reasons. I would have to say that my most favourite day on the whole trail was actually the very first day for no other reason than it was so exciting and scary – I was finally on the trail after spending almost the whole year thinking about it and the emotions I was feeling that day I’ll remember forever.

There were a few times on the trail where I thought to myself that I would be prepared to wipe my entire memory of the whole trail just so that I could experience the thrill and excitement of that first day a second time. The start of the trail was so new and exciting because it was the first time I’d ever done any kind of multi-day hike before. I especially started to think this in the second half of the South Island because once I passed somewhere around Lake Coleridge in the South Island, a lot of the trail became a bit “ho-hum” by then and I was just looking forward to finishing it so I could return to normal life.

Lots of foreigners come to New Zealand and only walk the South Island, either because they have heard the North Island isn’t worth it, or they only have limited time, or for other reasons. So which island did I prefer? Perhaps controversially, I preferred the North Island.

The North Island was a huge variety of landscapes and experiences, it was thrilling because it was first (and therefore new and exciting), having lived most of my life in the North Island it allowed me to see all the places I have known and loved all my life from different angles, and I was able to walk with a couple of groups of people for a long distance.

The South Island was merely an epic hiking expedition. Which is great, but it’s not the main reason that I originally sought to do this.

I know I’m writing this as if it’s all over, despite the fact that I only completed 89% of the trail. I’m aware that I could do the final 11% in two weeks, in a break from work (once I start working again), however the truth is I probably won’t. There were no sections of the trail past Queenstown I was particularly looking forward to, except perhaps the beach walks along the south coast. Realistically there’s no chance it’s going to happen this season now and arriving at Bluff with a gap of a year or two since starting feels like it would be pointless and would achieve nothing. Of course, if it ever does happen I will document it here!

When I sit down and read back through all the previous posts, especially near the beginning, I am reminded of how happy I was to be out there. It was always more about the journey than the destination. Getting to Stirling Point at Bluff would have been nice but it always felt like just a formality. This was more and more the case each time I had to leave the trail for whatever reason. If I had’ve walked from Cape Reinga to Bluff without stopping so many times like most tourists would do then reaching the finish line would have been much more important.

I remember on the morning of my last day on the trail when I was deciding whether to continue on or not, I was chatting with Henry who was one day ahead of me and who had just left Queenstown, and we were discussing whether we should go on – by that time the lockdown had not been announced. Henry was worried about going on from Queenstown and I said I agreed, I don’t want to be stuck in Invercargill after the trail was over. But then I said “surely they won’t cancel all domestic flights. I just really can’t picture that happening”. The idea just seemed so incomprehensible. And then, less than 6 hours later, that’s exactly what they did. We really are in crazy times right now.

I also know that Henry was originally unable to get a flight out of Queenstown but then he did make it home safely before the lockdown.

If the announcement had’ve been a day later, when I would have passed Queenstown, I wonder what would have happened to me. Would I have finished the trail, but be stuck in Invercargill or Bluff for the duration of the lockdown? Would I have found the two big farms that we walk through closed, and be stuck in the middle of nowhere? Would I have arrived at the Colac Bay tavern with no remaining food, expecting to go in and get a huge big meal, only to find the tavern (and everything else around) closed?

It would be great to walk Te Araroa northbound one day (in the very distant future!), and if by chance I ever did that then I would like to do it without stopping. No break for Christmas, no injuries (hopefully), no social engagements, just walking. But again I think it’s unlikely that I’ll do that – it’s hard to take such a long time out of normal life, and also to experience the excitement of a brand new experience again maybe the next long hike will be something overseas. But with the pandemic ravaging the world any kind of overseas travel might be years away now, so who really knows.

Since I’ve been back home I’ve been pretty bored, especially since I’m not working. As I write this we’re on Day 6 of the Alert Level 4 lockdown. The lockdown has been forecast to last four weeks, and if it does last exactly four weeks, then it will be lifted on the exact day of my 40th birthday. I’m interested to see if I’m allowed to go and have a drink with my friends on my 40th birthday or not.

I’ve been getting back into running – being about the only outdoor activity we’re still allowed to do. On the first day I was only able to run 4km, but now I’m consistently running 10km on two days out of three, so that’s good. It seems that despite walking big distances most days in the last six months, this hasn’t carried over to being able to run long distances each day. But that’s okay, at least I can run which gives me something to do and means I might not put on a ton of weight during this lockdown. I put today’s 11km run on the map below – just one last map for old time’s sake!

It was really fun writing the blog, I don’t know what I would have done in many of the evenings otherwise, and it will always be a reminder of this six month period of my life. Walking Te Araroa was a great experience and I never regretted it at any time. I really liked all the positive comments I got from you readers and especially when people said that they were inspired to walk some of the sections of the trail that I walked. I’d love it if this blog ever inspires anybody out there to do the entire TA – if that’s you, please let me know in the comments below!

Gillies Ave, Epsom, Auckland during the lockdown – completely empty. Any Aucklander who has ever driven this road (or tried to turn right onto this road) will tell you that this is completely unheard of – this is one of the main routes to the airport from the city centre and was the most used route until they opened the Waterview Tunnel a couple of years ago.
At least the view from the top of Mt Eden is still the same. This point is km586.2 on Te Araroa.
Another view from the top of Mt Eden.

Click here to see today's run on the map.

Day 155 – Mt Soho Derelict Hut to Queenstown Airport

Date: 23 March
Trail covered: 30.3km (kms 2637.5 to 2667.8)
Weather: hot with a few spits of rain

I slept great in the derelict hut. I woke up while it was still dark at 6:30am because I needed the loo. I was annoyed about having to get out of bed earlier than sunrise but at least I’d get an early start.

I had my cereal by candlelight and then I was off.

Sunrise

The elevation profile showed me I was immediately off up “Big Hill”, or as I was calling it, “Unimaginative Name Hill”. It was only slightly less steep than the four other hills I’d walked over in the last three days, but compared to those it was uneven, overgrown, thorny and not well marked for the bottom half. At least the grass wasn’t too wet so I didn’t get wet boots.

Straight up the hill
The top of Big Hill Saddle
View over the other side
Looking back

The descent was a lot nicer. Quite a bit less steep and a more defined path. That must be because we were close to Arrowtown, no doubt.

Arrowtown view

It went through a forest section.

Like yesterday, it also went through a muddy bit with long grass and like yesterday, I slipped over in exactly the same manner.

Arriving in Arrowtown, I headed straight for the coffee cart.

The owner couldn’t explain why I had to “watch out for Gordan”.

The town itself had an unusual style. I thought it was neat.

Arrowtown Chinese Settlement
Arrowtown main street

I stopped in at the bakery for breakfast #2 – the building on the right in the photo above.

When I came into Arrowtown, my first task was to try and book a shuttle for tomorrow from Queenstown around Lake Wakatipu to the Greenstone carpark where the trail stops and restarts again. I called various numbers without success. Some would only take me if I did a tour, and some were in self-isolation due to Covid-19. Some the number just wouldn’t connect at all.

So I asked on the Te Araroa Facebook group for advice on how to get a shuttle around the lake. The reaction I got was surprising. What I ended up getting was almost everyone telling me that I should be going home and it’s unwise to continue the trail since the country was imminently going to go into lockdown over this virus. Of course they provided no evidence of this, so I dismissed it as scaremongering and typical Social Media nonsense.

One person even shared a Facebook post from Hone Harawira. For those who don’t know, he is a prominent activist in Northland and he is one of the most vile and racist human beings to grace this country. He used to be a politician but when people realised just how vile he is, he got voted out again. His post basically said if you’re not from Northland (tourists and Aucklanders were specifically mentioned) then piss off back to where you came from. I tell you what, any punishment I would get from punching that lowlife scum in the face would be entirely worth it.

Anyway, now that that’s out of my system, amongst all the ill sentiment on Facebook I did manage to get the number of Info & Track who were prepared to shuttle me around tomorrow for $120. Normally it is $60 per person but they need two people minimum before the shuttle runs. I was prepared to pay it given how hard it appeared to be to get anything.

While I was at it, I also booked a refundable ticket home from Invercargill for about two weeks’ time. If I end up taking longer than expected getting to the finish then I can refund the ticket but with all the strangeness going on right now I thought it would be good to have a confirmed reservation.

Because of the reaction I got on Facebook about the virus, I called my Mum to see if I was doing the right thing by going on. She essentially said “don’t you dare come home, you’ll regret it”. She thought the same as me – if I do have the virus and am not showing symptoms, I’m going to infect a lot less people being in the middle of nowhere for 14 days than I am being in Auckland, and I’m also a lot less likely to get it in the first place. Good, I’m glad we agreed on that.

With all that sorted, I continued on. The path out of Arrowtown went through quite a varied series of places. First, a park:

I liked the markings on these two ducks, even though they don’t show up well in the photo

Then a golf course:

Then at 11am, a subdivision built around the golf course. Kind of like Gulf Harbour in Auckland, where I have family.

11am photo

Then past Lake Hayes:

Then across Highway 6:

It’s a mad dash across here

Then through a residential suburb:

Then alongside the Kawarau River:

Some construction going on here. This digger was balancing precariously I thought.

Then on a bridge over the Shotover River:

Walking around here was interesting. People who I passed seemed mostly friendly and said hi but a lot seemed uncomfortable and kept their distance from me. I’m not sure if that is just the general sentiment of people who live in this kind of big tourist town or whether its just a reaction to Covid-19, but either way I noticed it.

I went past the wastewater treatment station:

It was very very stinky

And through this uninviting alleyway:

And then finally to PAK’nSAVE.

PAK’nSAVE Queenstown

I thought to myself how this is going to be my last major resupply on the trail. I need to get 10 days worth of food here for the upcoming section. I went inside and starting going around the aisles doing my shopping.

That’s when a message came through from my friend Nick, which simply said:

“NZ going to lockdown in 48 hours”

Uh oh. Better check the news. Yes, New Zealand is moving to “level 4 alert” in 48 hours which is the highest alert in the Covid-19 alert system. I don’t know exactly what that means but I know it’s bad and I got scared. All cafés and bars would close and there would be severe restrictions on travel. It seemed very likely I’d get stuck in Invercargill once the trail was over with no way of getting home.

To make things worse, I had cut my finger on something without realising, and when I took my phone out of my pocket my hand was covered in blood and I got it all over the phone and the supermarket trolley. I was trying real hard not to touch my face in the supermarket (because that’s the advice in the wake of the virus) but with blood everywhere I had no choice.

After some quick decisions and chats with my family, I made the call to go home right there and then. The trail is now officially over for me for this season. It was a tough decision but the final 11% of the trail won’t be going anywhere. I can do it in two weeks some time in the future.

I abandoned the supermarket trolley with my half-completed shopping and left the supermarket. I went onto the Air New Zealand app and booked a flight home. There were none today or tomorrow, only flights departing after the 48 hour window, so I was nervous, but I booked the first available one anyway.

Then, as I was walking around the area trying to look for food and trying to decide what to do next, I kept constantly checking the flight status. A flight opened up for tomorrow, so I quickly changed to it. Excellent – now I have a confirmed flight within the 48 hour window.

I went to nearby Sal’s Pizza and got some food. There was a notice saying that anyone dining in has to fill in this form with your name address and email – a Ministry of Health requirement. That’s new, I thought.

While I was eating, a seat on a flight became available on the 4:55pm flight today – that’s in two hours time. I quickly changed to it. I thought to myself it is only by the sheer grace of God that while walking the entire South Island, this all happens when I am only 30 minutes walk from a major airport. How fortunate is that. Seriously.

I called up and cancelled my shuttle that I’d booked, and I also tried to cancel my flight from Invercargill to Auckland that I booked earlier this morning but the website wouldn’t let me do it, which is weird because I’ve never had any problems cancelling flights online before. It must be because of all the chaos going on at the moment. At least I have two weeks to sort that.

I walked over to the airport. I saw my first sign for Invercargill and realised that this is as close as I’m going to get to it this season.

So close yet so far

At the airport it was clear that things weren’t normal. The first clue was that people were being asked what flight they were on and I presume, being turned away if they didn’t have one.

Then, I saw a lot of backpackers sitting around on the floor. Why, I wasn’t sure.

Then I saw the big queue of people looking to buy tickets.

Queenstown Airport – Long line to try and buy a ticket, with police and everything.

I feel sorry for these people. An announcement came over the loudspeaker “we’re trying to get our executives’ approval to increase flight capacity but at the moment we can’t. Consider flights from Invercargill airport or Dunedin airport”. I felt so fortunate that I had a ticket. The announcement said there’s no capacity for a flight out of Queenstown for the next 3 days.

Before checking in I threw out my half-used gas canister and lighter like a good traveller, and checked in. I then went to get something sweet, and noticed they had a Patagonia Chocolates here too – just like in Wanaka!

I also had to write my name and address down when I bought stuff from here too.

When I went through security, they confiscated my Swiss army knife. I was unhappy about that. I wondered why it didn’t happen before and then I realised that before I lost my other knife a week or two ago, the Swiss army knife was always in my pack. Since I started using it for cutting cheese, it had moved to my little carry-on pack. And now it’s gone. Dammit.

Still, it’s not like I’ll be using it again any time soon. I sat near the gate and waited to board.

I was surprised on board that there were two empty seats in the same row across the aisle, and the seat right next to me was also empty. It didn’t appear to be “social distancing” – every other row was full. I was surprised to see empty seats when there were so many people queueing for tickets earlier.

The guy in green there was also at Sal’s earlier when I was. He had his leftover pizza in his carry-on.

Once on board, I can honestly say that was the scariest flight I’ve ever had in my life. It’s the first flight where I thought I was going to die. Nothing to do with the virus, it was the severe turbulence. I’ve never been thrown around in a plane so much. Not just up and down, but side to side as well. It went for the whole take-off and for 30 minutes after that. It felt like the plane was going to break apart. The landing wasn’t terribly smooth either. Boy was I glad to be back on solid ground.

Welcome back to Auckland

After landing, between the turbulent flight and the ending of the trail, it required a large amount of strength not to cry. Although it was helped by the fact that this is actually the fifth time I’ve stopped walking the trail this season – two for injury, one for Christmas, one for a wedding, and now this. If I had’ve walked all the way to Queenstown from Cape Reinga without stopping and this happened, it would make it all a lot tougher. I think it’s hard now though because I know it’s over for the season now. I won’t be finishing Te Araroa this season.

Even the clouds on the drive back looked creepy. They really made it feel like it was armageddon.

Well thanks everyone for reading. It’s been a blast, but as I now attempt to settle back into the “new normal”, I hope you’ll all look forward to whenever it is that I complete the final 11% of the trail.

Goodbye for now.

Click here to see today's walk on the map.

Day 154 – Highland Creek Hut to Mt Soho Derelict Hut

Date: 22 March
Trail covered: 23.6km (kms 2613.9 to 2637.5)
Weather: fine

I slept really well during the night in Highland Creek Hut. Right through until 8am, which was a surprise because while I was having breakfast the others said “did you hear all those people outside the hut at 1am? Did you see their lights shining through the hut?” and I honestly didn’t. Normally I’m a light sleeper but I slept right through these inconsiderate people who apparently were hanging around the hut in the middle of the night.

I had hung yesterday’s wet clothes on the clothes line outside overnight under shelter but of course they were still wet and cold. I’m hoping I can stop somewhere for lunch today in the sun and dry stuff out, but that always takes time.

The clouds had mostly cleared overnight and so a different view could be seen.

Highland Creek Hut

I didn’t waste any time having breakfast and was out the door by 8:25. I knew that there were three big hills and 20km between here and Macetown, where I hoped to get to today. Roses Hut is on the way after two big hills and 10km, and Arrowtown is 35km away which would normally be doable but not with all the steep hills in between.

The hills didn’t waste any time in becoming steep.

Right up to the top of there
Difficult footholds, which fortunately were not common

And that hill was just a taster of things to come. For 75% of the day I was hauling myself and my pack up and down these types of hills. It was definitely one of the more exhausting days anywhere on the South Island.

View to the left

Looking down from near the top of the first hill, I saw what appeared to be a road and signs of civilization. After busting my gut to get up here, I kind of wish the path went along the road instead.

Is that a farm I see? And a road?
Top of today’s first hill
View from over the first hill

Today the descents were a welcome relief after the big hill climbs, even if they made my knees hurt a little.

Bottom of hill 1

The bottom of the first hill had me in the forest. At 11am I had just come out of the forest and was staring up hill 2.

11am picture – staring up hill 2

As usual in this type of terrain, the three main creatures that you see are grasshoppers, little orange butterflies, and skinks. Finally I got to take a photo of one of these skinks. They’re everywhere, you see one every couple of minutes or so, but they always dart away when you get close.

Little skinky

At the top of hill 2 I set up my laundry and spent an hour having lunch.

Top of hill 2

Things got half dry. It was better than nothing.

Coming down hill 2 was interesting. It was straight down the ridge so that meant the whole time you could see Roses Hut, followed by the big track going up and over hill 3.

View from Hill 2 – Roses Hut on the right, and a path I’d soon be going up which would be hill 3

Coming down near the bottom of hill 2 there was a patch of muddy grass. I slipped right over on it at one point and got annoyed with myself. Then, two minutes later, I slipped over again. That’s some real slippery grass right there.

This is where I slipped over
Big rocks to hop over

Near Roses Hut there was a field with some sheep. Of course all the sheep ran off when I got near.

Except this one. He was on this side of the gate, and did not care one iota about me.

Brave sheep

I even reached out and gave him a pat. He didn’t even flinch.

Very brave sheep

I had another snack at Roses Hut but since there was nobody else there I didn’t stay long.

Roses Hut

It was immediately up the next hill. For some reason, I got lots of bugs in my mouth on the way up this hill, it was weird. Also, the third hill looked less steep on the elevation profile than the others, but it wasn’t. Maybe i was hurting more by the third hill, or maybe hill 3 is mostly steep at the top.

This picture is looking back down hill 3, with hill 2 being the ridge in the centre. Although hill 2 doesn’t go all the way to the top of that ridge, it goes about halfway up. The peak on the right is apparently Knuckle Peak at 1800m up.

Looking back at hill 2
Top of hill 3
View from hill 3
Roses Saddle 1270m

I’d read in the notes that as you start getting closer to Macetown you start to see relics from the gold-mining area. Looks like here are two of them – some kind of building on the right and a digger on the left.

Mining artefacts?

Although neither of these things look like relics, they both look in good condition from here.

There’s a choice to make here. In low or normal river flow you can take the “low water route” where you walk down the Arrow River, or you can take the “high water route” any time.

Low or high water route?

The notes say that the low water route is faster if possible. I found that a bit hard to believe since I know going down the river is usually slow, but I decided to do it. The river didn’t look high and it was the afternoon so the water wasn’t too cold. If it had’ve been early in the morning I might not have done it.

Low water route it is

I put my crocs on for the water section. It was actually quite pleasant walking in the river, the rocks were not slippery here.

Looking back at the digger
The way forward

After a while I realised I wouldn’t be in the actual water the whole way – sometimes I’d be beside the water.

Like this.

And then the path even turned into a 4WD track, which always makes things easier.

Shame I left my 4WD at home.

There were times you could see orange markers to the left way up on the hill, which was the high water route. This way wasn’t marked, although it was as simple as following the river downstream.

After 4km of walking downstream I’d reached the end of the Motatapu Track.

There was some kind of vehicle in the distance. Another relic?

Nope… It was people panning for gold. I didn’t know people still did that.

I had a chat to them and continued on. I was now in Macetown and was excited to see what was here. Macetown apparently had 100 or 200 people living here in the late 1800s during the gold-moning area but they all left and now the place is uninhabited.

Other people who had set up camp, but not TA hikers as they had a quad bike with them

There wasn’t as much in Macetown as I expected. The map had the words “derelict huts” over and over again but I didn’t really see any.

There were only two buildings in the town. One was a cottage which I didn’t see because it was off-trail. The other was the restored bakehouse. There were also a bunch of mining batteries but these were an hour or so off trail.

The Macetown Bakehouse
Inside

I still had my crocs on through here. There were still more river crossings, and just lots of water in general. It must take a chunky 4WD to get down here.

Perhaps this is what they mean by derelict hut.

It’s just stones

Another very wet section of track

Looking up on the hill, I could see a path but it doesn’t seem to go anywhere. Maybe used during gold-mining?

Although a bit further on there was another similar path where it was possible to walk.

Okay, so that was Macetown. There was still another hour of daylight left and so I thought I’d continue on. Guthook had mentions of other good camping spots and also potentially a hut further up.

Start of the “Big Hill Track”

This is the start of the Big Hill Track, which goes up and over the Big Hill saddle. Not a very imaginative name, Big Hill, especially since it is smaller than the other four hills I’ve walked over today and yesterday.

The first part of the walk was through these plants I hadn’t seen before. They rattled when you pushed them.

Mystery rattling plants

Only a short distance up here I found the hut Guthook talked about.

Inviting

It had no name, everything outside looked a bit smashed up and broken, and on the map it said “Mt Soho Homestead (derelict)” for this whole area. I was a bit apprehensive about going in.

Wow, it sure is quaint inside, but it’s not in as bad condition as I expected (although that deer head with no eyes is just creepy). There’s lots of mess around, lots of shrapnel everywhere. I wonder if mice have ripped up the foam mat or whether it was bored hikers. There’s definitely evidence of rodent activity here. A bit of a scary place to stay by myself but I decided to do it, as it saves putting the tent up.

I made sure to cook dinner outside in the hopes that it didn’t make the inside smell like food and therefore attract the rodents.

Having a proper look around, there are definitely rats here. The droppings I can see are far too big to be from mice.

Messing with the self timer. Note I’m not wearing my new snazzy shorts. I thought I’d save those for days when I actually have to interact with people.

Inside I got into my sleeping bag and started writing this blog entry. While I was doing that, I heard something constantly running across the roof. A mouse or a rat, perhaps? Although it’s a corrugated iron roof, I’m not sure how a mouse could run across it. Hopefully it’s a possum and it stays outside. But the chances of rats being here are close to 100%. Hopefully they don’t keep me awake and hopefully they don’t run across my face. And hopefully I don’t see them. Since I’m the only one here I went to sleep with the torch on my phone on, pointing up at my food bag hanging from the ceiling. Although for all I knew that would keep the rats awake.

Click here to see today's walk on the map.

Day 153 – Wanaka to Highland Creek Hut

Date: 21 March
Trail covered: 30.6km (kms 2583.3 to 2613.9)
Weather: wet in the afternoon

I could’ve stayed in bed all day because the bed in the motel was really big and comfortable. But I did drag myself out of bed at 7:30 when the alarm went off. I had my rest day yesterday and today it’s time to keep walking.

Last night, when I looked at the forecast for today, there was a lot of rain.

Sure looks bad for the South Island

Looking outside, it appeared it had been raining overnight, but the weather right now seems okay.

A few spots of rain never hurt anyone

I went out and had bacon and eggs for breakfast at a nearby café and then went back to the motel room to get my stuff. I had left by 9am.

Never mind the “thieving kea”, it’s the ducks you have to worry about

The first thing I did since I saw the Lotto shop open was buy a Lotto Strike ticket for tonight’s draw. That’s another Lotto game, like Powerball, but the prizes aren’t as big. However this is another “must be won” draw and the prize is $1million, so why not have a go.

I also called in at the bakery and bought a chicken and avocado roll, a Belgian slice and an apricot danish for lunch later. I probably shouldn’t have, since I already resupplied for at least three days from New World yesterday, but I couldn’t resist.

In town yesterday I saw Mickey and Michelle. They said that they aren’t leaving Wanaka until Monday – two days from today. So I know I won’t be walking with them and probably won’t see them again.

The weather stayed good for most of the morning, although there were a few spits of rain. I had accepted as soon as I left the motel that I will get wet today. That’s okay, most of the walk is an easy walk, and I understand there are no river crossings for a change. I put on my rain gear from the start today – including my rain pants that I don’t wear often. It’s a shame that when I arrived in Wanaka I bought these snazzy new shorts and now I don’t even get to wear them on the first day of hiking afterwards.

The first thing I was looking out for on the walk was “That Wanaka Tree”. It’s a fairly famous tree in NZ. People claim it is the most photographed tree in the world. It was coming up soon.

There it is.

#thatwanakatree

It was in the news two days ago that somebody had attacked it with a saw and cut its lower limb off. It was quite sad to see.

The path from here

Looking back at Wanaka

It was a nice walk from Wanaka to Glendhu Bay. Largely flat, with just a few small hills. There were lots of people running and walking dogs. At one point, two women had a Rottweiler and when I walked past it started walking with me, for quite a distance. Uh oh, what do I do? I was walking quite fast – do I wait for the owners to catch up and get it? In the end I tried to reach out and pat it, but it got suspicious and ran off back to its owners. Phew.

At one point the walkway went around a point. It was at this spot that I realised there hasn’t been any rain, if anything, it seems to be clearing. I’m getting hot and sweaty too, so I removed the rain jacket. While I did that I realised how still it was. It was really nice.

Is it clearing? Maybe?

My 11am picture is what appear to be big spikes in the path. Turned out to just be driftwood. There was a lot of that around here.

11am spikes

Up next is the Glendhu Bay campground.

The best thing about this place is it’s huge and almost every spot is close to the lake, although that photo doesn’t make it appear that way. One thing that was interesting was a “self-isolation only” notice on the door of the kitchen.

The trail goes through the campground and then out down a road, however the gate joining these two bits was locked and I had to climb over the gate.

Climbed over this
The signs suggest that Te Araroa goes down the road but Guthook said otherwise.
Being watched

When I got to the start of the Motatapu Track at 12:30 I’d already walked 17km and was feeling good. I had my bakery lunch here.

The small shelter where I had lunch

While I was doing that, a girl named Aiko walked past and said she was heading to Fern Burn Hut, the first hut. She said I’d catch her because she’s slow. A German couple passed me as well. They said their destination was Highland Creek Hut, the second hut, which is where I was hoping to get to today too.

I think it’s worth having a look at the elevation profile for the Motatapu Track between here and Arrowtown, near Queenstown.

The P at the start is where I was having lunch. There are four big hills and one medium hill in the next 45km. I’d like to make it to the second hut at the bottom of the far side of the the first hill, so I can at least get one hill (the biggest hill) out of the way today. The clear weather has helped.

The start of the track contained a small boardwalk over a small river. That’s always promising.

A very small boardwalk

Initially I had to walk through private farmland.

This cattle is not moving fast out of the way. I wonder how close I can get.
Turns out very.
Okay one of you is going to have to move.
Another one of these weird gates to walk through.

Then, briefly through “The Stack Conservation Area” which was quite a nice forest. I passed the other three here who passed me while I was having lunch.

Through this area a hunter came the other way. On his shoulders he was holding the skinned head and antlers of a deer. Gross. Apparently the meat of the deer was in his backpack.

The all-to-familiar tussock started after leaving the forest.

And the muddy bits.

It was getting steeper and steeper as the afternoon went on, however I knew that the real steep bit was after Fern Burn Hut, which came into view after a while.

Fern Burn Hut in the distance

View from the hut

When I got to the hut, there was one woman there whose name was Maraid from Ireland. She had spent all day in the hut because she had seen the bad weather forecast for today, and she said she likes taking rest days in huts because it’s cheaper and usually has a nice view. Then within the next ten minutes the other three I passed earlier also turned up.

It was at this point the rain started. It wasn’t heavy, but I seriously thought about not continuing today because of it. I decided to give it an hour and then if it was still raining I’d stay here.

I waited for the hour but then I realised that within that hour there was barely even one chance to get a word into the conversation – this was a talkative group. I didn’t mind, I just wasn’t in the mood for a loud hut full of talking today. Plus it was such a muggy day I was already wet just from sweating. So I decided I would keep going even though the rain was still falling. Maybe it would be quieter at the next hut.

The people there seemed surprised that I was continuing on in the rain. The German couple had decided to stop here. I think people were worried I wouldn’t get there by dark, and I was slightly worried too since it was now 4pm and the notes say four hours for this section. It gets dark around 8:15.

Time to continue on

Because it was raining and I was wearing my rain pants with no pockets, I didn’t take many photos between the two huts, although there were usually too many clouds to see much anyway.

Do I have to go straight up this hill? Yes!

It didn’t seem that steep going up this section, at least not as steep as I expected, but I found myself forever out of breath for some reason. Maybe it was all the food in the pack or maybe the rain didn’t help. I was very glad to get to the saddle.

As expected this time, there was no view at all.

Just a sign.

Jack Hall’s Saddle 1275m

Now, time for the descent.

The clouds clearing a little bit

The descent was surprisingly easy. It was like the creators of this trail have designed it so that you should walk southbound. When you’re going up hills, there are kind of steps in the dirt to help you up, and when you’re going down hills, the trail is continuous with no breaks. It’s just what you want. Well, it’s just what I want.

In saying that, there were a couple of times that I looked behind me while going down and thought that I’m glad I don’t have to go back up there. And there was one other short but steep uphill to contend with as well, which doesn’t show in the elevation profile above because the waypoints are blocking it.

The sign at the beginning said you’re only allowed to camp on this trail in the vicinity of the huts, and nowhere else. And honestly everything is so hilly I doubt you even could set up a tent anywhere, except for maybe in the forest back at the start.

Highland Creek Hut in the distance

It didn’t take long before I arrived at Highland Creek Hut. It only took two hours to get to this hut from Fern Burn Hut, which was a surprise given the time in the notes was four hours. Maybe that’s why I was so out of breath, maybe I was expected to go a lot slower. The rain must have pushed me to go faster than normal.

Highland Creek Hut

The people already at this hut made the people at the last hut seem super quiet. This hut had three people who did not stop talking loudly from the second I arrived until the second we all went to sleep. At least they all knew each other so I wasn’t expected to join them and make conversation. They’re not TA hikers, they are just walking this section since a major 100km running race got cancelled, so I figured that meant they will probably be up talking until late I’m guessing, just like the last hut!

I also presume that they are new to staying out overnight. I had to show them how to use their little gas cooker, and they didn’t even bring something to light it with.

There was one other person in the hut, she was a TA hiker. But it was hard to talk to her because she had a very quiet voice and the other three were so loud, so I didn’t get her name. However she did make it clear she thinks the huts are too crowded and she loves having huts to herself, which for her has only happened twice on the TA. She says that having huts to yourself on the non-TA walks is standard.

It always feels good changing out of wet clothes and into dry clothes after a day of walking in the rain. The added bonus this time is that because it wasn’t raining too hard, I actually still enjoyed the walk.

I was told that Chris is at the next hut, Roses Hut. I’m surprised since he had a deadline of 1 April to catch a flight, although I guess a lot of European flights are being cancelled so maybe he’s not in a hurry anymore.

You might’ve seen from yesterday’s post that I bought a new bag to replace my water filter bag that broke. I tried it in the shop and it did have the same thread as the filter, however it isn’t watertight because trying to filter with it results in water all spraying everywhere, just like it did with the original bag with the hole in it. I wonder if I can buy a new, original Sawyer bag in Queenstown which is a bigger place than Wanaka. Otherwise I’m going to have to “wing it”, I guess.

The rain did stop, and even the clouds started clearing in the evening.

Walking up to the toilet

Sun’s setting

Because of how quickly I got to the second hut today, I’m feeling good about tomorrow. I plan to do the next three hills in one day. Three big ascents and descents suddenly don’t seem so daunting after today. And everyone was in bed and asleep by 8:45pm which was nice. And no whispering or kissy noises this time. Hooray.

Click here to see today's walk on the map.

Day 151 – Pakituhi Hut to Wanaka

Date: 19 March
Trail covered: 35.3km (kms 2548.0 to 2583.3)
Weather: fine again

I had set my alarm for 6:45am so that I could get to Wanaka at a reasonable time today. At one point during the night I looked at my phone and it said 6:03am. Sweet, I thought, I’ve still got 40 minutes of sleep left. But I swear that once I rolled over the alarm went off for 6:45 instantly.

Sunrise

On the plus side, I was up before the sunrise. On the minus side, it was too cloudy to get much of a scene.

I tried to be as quiet as I could so that I didn’t bother the other two couples sleeping in the hut, despite the fact they kept me up so late last night. My breakfast consisted of the only food I had left in my pack – a wrap with marmite, cheese and a few chips. Now the last bit of food in my pack is a dehydrated meal I have left for “emergencies”.

Sunrise a bit later on and with the hut, as I was leaving

I left at 7:15am, and I was just able to see where I was walking without the headlamp.

Morning view of the lake
Mountains to the left

I was apprehensive about the 900m descent. I pictured it being the reverse of the climb up to Stodys Hut yesterday but it turned out to be much tamer than that.

The descent

There were like usual a ton of Wild Spaniards to avoid.

This is the biggest clump I’ve seen in one spot. You do not want to walk through these.

I saw Dave’s tent again. I guess he hadn’t made it to Hawea after all. This must have been by choice as he left the hut yesterday about 5pm and so would have had plenty of time to get to Hawea if he wanted to.

The familiar green tent from this time yesterday

The tent was on quite a slope though. It looked uncomfortable. But since I heard absolutely no noise coming from the tent I decided to keep walking without trying to see if he was awake.

I saw these sheep, really close to the fenceline. I just knew they would all run away when I went near them, and I didn’t want to bother them, but there wasn’t any other way to get down.

Sure enough they did run off when I went near them. In fact all the sheep from all over the hill all formed several lines and made their way a long way from me.

Big lines of sheep

Farm dogs must have it really easy. I just had to look at these sheep and they all made their way off into the distance.

The bottom one-third of the descent zig-zagged it’s way down the hill without any steep climbs over rocks or anything challenging.

My knees weren’t burning as much as I expected at the bottom. That was nice.

Warning

It took 1 hour and 30 minutes to get down to the road, less time than the 2-3 hours the sign yesterday estimated for the 4km journey.

I noticed on this sign that the road is called Dingle Burn Road, same as on the sign in the hut yesterday, but on all other maps it’s called Timaru Creek Road. Dingle Burn Road is a great name, it should be called that.

Just as I got to the bottom of the hill and stepped onto the road, a girl started to head up. We had a brief chat – definitely rather her than me.

There was a short walk along the road beside Lake Hawea:

And then a walk beside the “beach”:

I caught up with a guy from the UK while walking along the lakefront to Lake Hawea. Of course he wanted to talk about coronavirus. If I understood him correctly he is self-isolating by living in a tent nearby. Hmm, should I be getting too close to him? He did give me a Paleo Bar when I told him I was hungry and had run out of food, which was nice.

I took a slight detour off trail and arrived at what seemed to be the only shop in Lake Hawea. It was great to get a coffee and an omelette. I noticed there were three other hikers there. Surprise surprise the topic of conversation at their table was coronavirus, so I made no effort to talk to them.

I also got a coconut slice, a chocolate bar and a sparkling water. It was a lot of food but I didn’t mind.

While I was in the café I got in contact on the phone with an old workmate, Gareth, and he was available to have a drink later once I got to Wanaka. That was good news, but I’m going to have to buy a new pair of shorts. I can’t go into a bar and have a drink with ripped shorts with my underwear showing.

That means I have to do the 25km from Hawea to Wanaka in five hours so that I get there before the shops close – time to get a move on that means.

There were lots of kids cycling on this section

That 25km is made up of the Hawea River Track, the Clutha River Track and the riverside track around Lake Wanaka.

A nice easy trail

My 11am picture was not far down the Hawea River Track.

11am picture
The sign suggests this thing is man-made to allow surfers to practice. I wonder if that’s right? Due to time restrictions I didn’t walk down to read the sign.
No, you can’t sleep in this hut.
Hawea River swingbridge. It’s not clear if there are 10 people whether that’s okay or if the bridge will break.

People were friendly along the river trail. At first there were a lot of Mums and prams and dogs. Closer to Wanaka there were many many cyclists. It must be a popular pasttime there.

Once in Albert Town, halfway between Hawea and Wanaka, there are two campgrounds – the first one you come to is $7 and the next one is $10. They both appear to be just a big car park beside the river. I walked through both of them but there wasn’t an obvious water source, and it was a hot day. So I took a slight detour into Albert Town centre – it seemed to have exactly two shops, a Four Square supermarket and a takeaways. From the takeaways I got an ice cream and I also got a huge jug of water.

The trail from Albert Town was along the Clutha River. It was an easy walk, and I saw Dave with his brother sitting on the riverside chatting. I briefly said hi and continued on.

Clutha River trail

Once I was going around Lake Wanaka it became very windy. The trees in the area had very obvious slants to them.

Slanty tree
Slanty trees in the other direction, after going round the point

There were a lot of fancy houses along here.

This was the first view of the main part of Wanaka.

I like this sign
And this one

Lots of construction was going on along the waterfront.

Construction
Looks like this will be the finished product, not bad.
The view from these apartments

It was a lot of walking today along the various river paths, and it was quite a hot day. My back was really hurting by the end of the day, I mean my back hurts every now and again, but it was really bad today. I was very glad to finally walk into the town.

I checked into the Bella Vista Motel that I booked from the top of Breast Hill yesterday. I had a nice big room, but for now I just put my stuff down and headed back out to the Red Cross Hospice Shop. The only shorts they had were size XL or 2XL, so I headed over to the Salvation Army shop. The only shorts that fit me there were a pair of turquoise swimming togs. But the good thing is I liked the colour, they had big deep pockets and weren’t too heavy. And they were only $5. Hopefully they last until the end of the trail. Since they’re a bright colour they’ll be hard to keep clean but I don’t mind.

$5 Salvation Army shorts

While walking I noticed that Wanaka has a lot of food trucks on Brownston Street. They all look amazing, but for now the only thing I got were some little donuts to tide me over until I met Gareth for dinner and a drink. I’ll have to check one or two of them out tomorrow.

I did turn on the news to see what was going on, and while I am sick of hearing about coronavirus, the news that New Zealand is closing its borders tonight at 11:59pm to all but citizens and residents is quite amazing news. What a memorable time we’re living in right now.

Breaking news: NZ borders to close from 11:59pm to non-residents

I met up with Gareth and we talked about all sorts of things. We last worked together in the start of 2016 and he didn’t know I was walking Te Araroa so there was a lot to talk about.

Gareth and me

After dinner I went back to the motel room via a Gelato place and caught up on blog entries. It was nice to have a real bed, and I’m happy I have a rest day tomorrow. Im definitely going to get a massage tomorrow because of how much my back was hurting today, and also I need to replace my water filter bag.

Before I went to sleep I decided to do a quick plan to see if I could finish by Easter, which is the 10th of April. Mainly because my flight back to the North Island might be expensive if I finish around Easter. This is exactly what I wrote down:

20th 2583 Wanaka
21st 2613 highland creek hut
22nd 2634 macetown
23rd 2668 frankton
24th 2689 greenstone hut
25th 2711 boundary hut
26th 2742 kiwi burn hut
27th 2777 lower princhester hut
28th 2793 aparima hut
29th 2814 Telford campsite
30th 2841 birchwood station
31st 2868 Merriview Hut
1st 2897 Martins Hutish
2nd 2926 colac bay tavern
3rd ?
4th invercargill
5th finish

Im not going to force myself to stick to this schedule or anything, it’s just nice to know that with an average of about 25km per day I should be able to finish around the 5th of April. I wrote “Martins Hutish” as I won’t be staying in Martins Hut because of all the stories of rats I’ve heard!

Click here to see today's walk on the map.

Day 150 – Timaru River to Pakituhi Hut

Date: 18 March
Trail covered: 14.4km (kms 2533.6 to 2548.0)
Weather: fine all day

It’s not every day you can say that you slept in a tent which had a view like this from the door.

The river was really loud overnight being right by my tent, but it was actually nice and soothing. It didn’t affect my sleep.

I had packed up and left by 8:20. I stayed in my crocs because there were still a few more river crossings. Surprisingly, the Timaru River wasn’t ice cold like I expected it to be at that time of the morning.

Just around the first corner I saw a big tent. It was occupied by Dave from Cambridge, England.

He’d only just started having his breakfast and so we didn’t talk for long. He set up camp at 6:30pm last night so he didn’t pass my tent as I set up at 7:30pm.

At this point I proceeded to go up a steep hill on the true right of the river bank. It was really steep in my crocs and when I got to the top the path didn’t go anywhere. Damn, looks like I’ve taken a wrong turn. I had to slide down on my butt to get back down.

Then, just down the river a bit more, I saw a group of people who looked like they were about to set off. However, they were off the trail a bit.

Trail left, people right

I went down to talk to them. They were a group of six retired people all hiking this section of trail. One of them pointed out that my pants are ripped at the back. Grrr, I bet that just happened now coming down the hill after the wrong turn. That’s frustrating because I only just bought these pants when I restarted the trail a week and a half ago. At least I was wearing underwear today!

As I had to change into my shoes to go up the next steep hill, the group of six trampers got past. It was then hard to get back past them because the paths are really narrow.

Two in this group in particular were going really slow and looked quite unsteady. Apparently one of them is 71.

Hard to get past…

I was reminded again that the trail maintenance people had been through yesterday.

This is the turnoff up to Stodys Hut.

Stodys Hut, straight up

I had read that it is steep up to the hut from here. An estimate of 1.5-2hrs for 2.2km seems to confirm that. Alright, time to go!

Steep

Yes it is indeed steep. And it didn’t let up at all.

Still steep

I was worried for the two slow trampers. If they struggled on a narrow ledge which was flat, how on earth will they be able to pull themselves up here? And then I told myself off for being quick to judge.

Friendly bird
This tree is staring at me.
Quality nailing here
More steepness

Being up so high though meant that the views started to show again.

It was hard going the entire way to the hut. It was the sort of thing where I took 20 or 30 steps and then stopped to catch my breath, and thus went on for over an hour.

Still strep though

I knew that the hut was just past the treeline. So when I saw this, I was optimistic.

But no, you’ve got to go sideways a bit first, and then back into the trees.

Eventually I saw the hut peeking through the trees.

Stodys Hut

I don’t entirely know why, but the only photo I took of the outside of the hut was this one on a weird angle. But it’s the only one I have, so here it is.

Stodys Hut on an angle

At 11am I was inside the hut.

11am picture inside the hut. As you can see the last people left the bench of the hut in a bit of a state.

It was a dark and dingy hut, with a concrete floor which had a tarpaulin over top of it. The tiny little window hardly let in any sun and the hut was shaded in the trees anyway. I reckon instead of Stodys Hut it should have been called Scody Hut. I had my lunch outside the hut and up the hill where it was actually sunny and warm.

I noticed that the intentions book was completely full, but I managed to scrawl my name on a loose sheet of paper. It’s always annoying when the book is full because you don’t know who else is around.

Someone had written “steepest section since the Richmond Ranges” in the book. I’m inclined to agree.

I saw there was some quite brown newspaper plugging up gaps in the window.

I was really curious to know how old this newspaper was – would it be from the 1400s when this hut was probably built? No… When I took the paper out and read the edges it was just the Sunday Star Times from 2011. And since it was the sports section I didn’t even bother reading any of the news that happened that day.

The three fastest members of the group of six turned up at the hut about half an hour after me, after I’d had lunch and was preparing to go. We saw a helicopter in the distance.

Another helicopter

But then it started getting really close, and landed right by us.

Ooh, exciting!

We thought maybe something had happened. Had one of the other hikers hurt themselves? Was there some big problem that would mean we’re all stuck here? Nope… turns out the guy was swapping out the full intentions book for a new one – that’s all.

There goes Matt with the old intentions book

I don’t know how much it costs to run a helicopter but I bet it’s a lot. I wonder how many minutes that helicopter could stay in the air with the $92 I gave DOC for my hut pass.

Bye bye!

At least I got to be first to write in the new book, other than the DOC guy!

New book! And any chance to plug my blog…

After that excitement I continued on. I could see the hut in the distance.

Stodys Hut, looking back
The path up from here

The mountains were in full view now. As well as seeing the mountains, I could see the path running up the hill in the left side of this picture.

Path in the distance

It was many kilometers of again featureless landscape but with a great view. The only thing that happened along here was that I met up with a guy going north. He was so engrossed in his music that he almost walked right past me. But he said hello at the last second, and told me that he saw 5 people at the next hut, that it’s already quite full. That was a surprise to me, they can’t be TA hikers surely, they must be day hikers.

I’d decided earlier that I don’t really want to walk past the next hut tonight. The distance between here and Wanaka means that there’s no point in doing another long day today because it would just be a short day tomorrow. So I might as well have a shorter day today and a longer day tomorrow when the terrain is flat. But this conversation with the NOBO made me wonder if I’d get a bed in the next hut tonight.

Mountains
Mountains and path

At the point in the next photo there’s a decision to make, well for most people, not for purists like me.

A junction, in the distance
Track junction

The trail to the right (as you approach) and up the hill goes to the next hut via Breast Hill and is the official TA route. It’s a fair bit steeper than the other route which goes to the hut via an easier 4WD track but doesn’t have any kind of view. The alternate route is also the poor weather route. Of course I went up Breast Hill.

Of course then I thought like Beavis and Butthead would. Heh heh heh, you said breast. Hehehehehe. I felt very childish that the word breast was making me giggle.

Anyway, this path was also fairly steep. Nothing compared to the track up to Stodys Hut, but enough to leave me out of breath at times.

Hmm, is that there the “nipple” of the breast? Is that why it’s called Breast Hill?

Whatever the reason for the name, there sure was a stunning view of Lake Hawea at the top.

I spent a bit of time up here admiring the view and also admiring how quiet it was. There was no wind most of the time, so it was really still. But when the wind did blow it was cold. The temperature at the moment over the last few days has been nice. When you’re up quite high, even when there are no clouds and the sun is shining brightly, it’s not too hot.

There was also cellphone reception up here, and other than a heap more companies emailing me about Coronavirus (no, Intercity bus company, I don’t need you telling me to wash my hands), there were no urgent emails to deal with.

I’d been thinking that since the section between Wanaka and Queenstown is apparently quite strenuous (the Motatapu Track) and I’ve been doing quite a lot of reasonably challenging sections since I restarted the trail, I really ought to take a rest day in Wanaka, so while I was up on the hill I booked myself into a motel in Wanaka for two nights from tomorrow. Time for a bit of luxury I think, even though it was the cheapest room at the cheapest motel, it’s more luxurious than another holiday park or backpackers. It might be the last bit of luxury on the trail.

So now I have to walk the 35 or so kilometers into Wanaka tomorrow, but other than a big downhill from the hut to Lake Hawea, it will be completely flat. That’s okay, today is only going to be a 14km day and I’ll have an early start after a night in the hut.

I started walking down to the hut.

Is this someone’s mailbox?

I saw two people walking very closely to the edge of a big rock. It looked dangerous to me!

Looks like an Instagram photo if ever i saw one

As I walked past they came down and introduced themselves. They said they were doing a day walk to the top and I’d see them at the hut.

I knew that the walk tomorrow to Wanaka went past Lake Hawea and so I wondered how I would actually be getting down to the lake from way up here. When I reached the junction to the hut, it appeared I’d simply be going straight down the side of a steep hill. Can’t wait.

Hard to tell from this picture though

I made it to Pakituhi Hut. It looks quite new.

Pakituhi Hut

Turns out it is, it was built in 2011. Much nicer than Scody Hut.

Despite reports of five people already in the hut, there were the two beds reserved by the couple I ran into up the hill and that was it. I reserved my bed and then spent some time relaxing enjoying the time to myself. I knew the hut would get full later.

I spent some time looking at this sign.

First, I noticed that the descent to the road tomorrow is estimated at 2 to 3 hours for a 4km walk. That’s seriously slow – it must be one hell of a descent.

Second, there is a hut on the map called Moonlight & Roses Hut. That’s an awesome name, but it’s up high in the mountains and seemingly has no track to it. I wonder what it’s like and who stays there?

The third thing I noticed is that Little Breast Hill is taller than Breast Hill. How odd.

While I was enjoying time alone, a Dutch couple turned up and reserved beds but then did the walk up to Breast Hill, and also Dave who I met this morning turned up but decided to keep walking to Hawea. Dave and I talked a bit first and he said when he started out he had a 34kg pack. I remembered back when I started hearing about a guy called Dave who had a 34kg pack. It was nice to finally meet him! He was infamous back in September!

Dave said he got lost walking up the big hill to Stodys Hut. He wasn’t paying attention and must’ve taken a wrong turn. He said it left him exhausted and sore – must’ve been one hell of a wrong turn.

The group of six took a while to turn up, but they did eventually. So there were 11 people in an 8 bed hut, but all of the group of six decided to sleep in tents outside the hut, or in one case on a mattress directly on the balcony. Apparently most of them are snorers and they don’t want to bother people. That’s really nice of them.

Hard to find a flat bit of land here, but they managed it
View from the top bunk

As you can see, 11 people in a small place is quite crowded so once I had my dinner and hot drink I went up to my bunk and wrote my blog entry. I don’t have any chocolate or anything sweet left in my food pack so I’m really looking forward to finding a café in Hawea in the morning. I hope to leave early but since I’m the only TA hiker here in this group, I have a feeling this group is going to be up late making a lot of noise.

They all ultimately were up till quite late, not being really loud but they were playing some kind of dice game and it smelled like they were making some kind of chocolate fondue which was excruciating because it smelled incredible. But I didn’t want to go and join them because the two exclusive subjects being discussed were translations of words in various European languages, and coronavirus.

I know I’ve been complaining a lot about the amount that people have been talking about coronavirus and I’m getting sick of it, however listening to these guys talk about it tonight was the first time I realised how much of an impact it has on foreigners here. They didn’t know if they would even be able to get back to their various countries and sounded quite worried. I felt bad for them.

Once the others were in bed I realised how annoying it is to be in a hut with couples. Not just couples, but young couples. Not just young couples, but new young couples. Every minute or so for half an hour I kept hearing “whisper whisper whisper whisper hehehehehehehe kiss kiss kiss” then they’d be silent for half a minute and then I’d hear “whisper whisper whisper whisper hehehehehehehe smoooooch”. Ick. I think the hut was finally quiet about 11:30pm and I could finally get some sleep.

Today is Day 150 over. On Day 100 I remember thinking that I hoped I wouldn’t be walking in another 50 days since then. Well, look what happened. I really hope I’m not still walking on Day 200! That would be May!

Click here to see today's walk on the map.

Day 149 – Ahuriri River to Timaru River

Date: 17 March
Trail covered: 34.2km (kms 2499.4 to 2533.6)
Weather: warm

Today I packed up my tent and had left by 8:30. It was quite cold when I left, although it wasn’t as cold overnight as I feared it would be.

Does this tent space count as “leave no trace”?

Today I didn’t have a destination in mind. There’s Tin Hut after 11km, Top Timaru Hut after 22km and Stodys Hut after 37km. I was fairly sure I’d be camping somewhere between the last two of those huts, unless the walk over Martha Saddle today went slower than expected.

But I planned to try and find a geocache at the top of Martha Saddle. It hasn’t been found in 8 years, and it’s only been found twice since it was placed there in 2009. To me, that doesn’t bode well, it should have had more finds than that, especially since it’s on the trail. But I’m going to look for it anyway.

I started off listening to music and just daydreaming because it was completely flat. Lucky I saw this. I would have totally forgotten about the milestone otherwise!

2500!

Of course it warranted a selfie.

2500 selfie

Here’s the flatness I was talking about.

This place is really bustling.

Two houses!

And a truck even went past.

It stopped at this point, turned around and went back the other way for some reason.
Access to Ahuriri and Hawea Conservation Parks

The path eventually went through a farm. That meant the inevitable swampy mud.

Ewwww

And also streams to cross.

This is where I’m heading now. I got excited because I thought I saw people on the 4WD track in the distance… But if you look closely they were only cows.

Up through the mountains… again…

A helicopter went past. I wonder what it’s doing way out here?

🚁 – Hope nobody’s hurt

I can see that the 4WD track starts to go up into the mountains here. Is there any chance it goes anywhere near the top, I wonder?

Looking back

Okay, those are definitely three people on the 4WD track. I wonder if I can catch them.

Other people!!!!

They got away though when I needed to stop for water, and then at 11am I made it to Tin Hut (imaginative name, right?) so I went in for a snack.

Basic on the outside but actually not too bad inside
“Intentions book”

The intentions book is interesting. Henry is only two days ahead (assuming he stayed overnight here) and since he appears to be doing side trails also, I might catch him. That’d be awesome. Also Mickey and Michelle are two days ahead also. I reckon I’ll definitely catch them.

This hut is a private hut, owned by the people whose land it sits on. You have to pay $10 into an honesty box to stay overnight.

If you hadn’t noticed, the weather in all the previous pictures was quite gloomy. When I emerged from the hut after finishing lunch, I was surprised to see clear blue skies.

The path starts going up now. This is where it starts getting really steep, once it goes up and over the hill to tbe right.

Going up this section I started singing to a particularly catchy song and just as that happened two NOBOs came around the corner and I got busted singing. I didn’t mind though. They are the first NOBOs I’ve seen since before Tekapo.

And look, here are the three people that got away from me earlier, stopped for a break.

I only chatted with them briefly before continuing on. They’re three retired guys who are from Dunedin and are just walking the section between Ohau and Lake Hawea.

The walk up to Martha Saddle was indeed up the 4WD track the entire way. However that doesn’t mean it wasn’t steep.

I don’t think I’d be wanting to bring any 4WD vehicle up such a steep, rocky track.

Rocks
More rocks

The steepness left me out of breath and stopping quite a lot for a period of about 5km. But, like all good saddles, the top suddenly appeared…

The top… here we go again

What was the view on the other side going to be like?

Not bad! Now, to find the geocache. I looked and looked. The description gave no hint as to what I was looking for or where I should be looking, which was annoying. I turned over every rock within a large radius, which took a long time. But I never found the geocache, dammit. Oh well, time to continue on.

It was also a well marked 4WD track coming down the other side too.

Looking back, easy to see the path

I met a German girl going northbound who told me she had lost her Sawyer Mini water filter. How annoying for her. She asked if I’d keep a lookout for it, which I said I would, but then getting it to her would be near on impossible.

I knew Top Timaru Hut would be coming along soon, but I couldn’t see it. Suddenly I saw this though:

⬅️⬅️⬅️⬅️⬅️⬅️⬅️

It was pointing down the hill to where the hut was. I probably would have found it after seeing the toilet which was on the trail, but you never know.

Top Timaru Hut

Top Timaru Hut is not named as such because Timaru is such an awesome city. It’s named after the Timaru River which runs right beside it.

I arrived at 3pm. Clothing was hanging outside (surrounded by Bumblebees) so I knew people were in there. Inside were Mark from Hokitika and Hank from Greymouth. They’re also retired and also just doing this section of the trail. They congratulated me on getting here in such good time and then asked me all sorts of questions about the trail. They said they’re giving themselves three days to get to Lake Hawea whereas I’m hoping to be there tomorrow.

They also said they crossed the Ahuriri River where the marker poles pointed to yesterday, and encountered the deeper water towards the end, but kept crossing. They said in hindsight they should have turned back and looked downstream for a better crossing point like I did. They seemed surprised it was only up to my knees.

Originally I was tempted to stay at this hut, but there were still 5 more hours of daylight and it was quite a small hut. Once the other three guys I passed arrived at the hut it would be crowded indeed. So I continued on.

The terrain changes now.

The next section of trail was a totally different beast. It was following the Timaru River through a narrow gorge with steep sides. It would alternate between crossing the river:

To forest sections:

When I encountered this river crossing, the crocs went on.

There was no keeping boots dry from here

The crocs went on and off throughout the day as I was determined not to have wet feet and boots at the end of the day.

One of the numerous crossings of the Timaru River

This section of the trail was quite treacherous. It was steep – steeper than the track up to the saddle – and often on the side of a cliff. It was slow going and exhausting. It reminded me of sections in the North Island or through the forests in the Richmond Ranges.

A switchback going down the hill. This was rare, as usually I was climbing steeply down tree roots.

But one thing I noticed was freshly cut sawdust.

It looked like some trail maintenance had been done recently. That made me feel better about walking the trail knowing that someone actually cares about it.

And then not much later I came across this:

Suddenly, all these people!

At first I thought they were four TA walkers but then I saw the huge meal they were cooking and the big bucket of food, and the chainsaws. One of the guys said they were doing track maintenance. Aha, that explains the sawdust!

Their campsite

Before I continued on, they offered me a beer, which I declined. Right now I’m not entirely sure why.

River walking

There are some points where you could walk down the riverbed, but the trail points you up a massive climb instead. This is the silliest one:

You clamber up this massive rock only to come back down to the riverbed just around the corner.

This is 40m from the last picture

I knew I wasn’t going to make it to Stodys Hut before dark because of this section, so I started looking for a place to camp at 7pm. There were quite a few nice spots by the river further back but by now I was on a steep section way above the river with no flat areas at all.

No flat ground here

I started tripping over rocks and stuff. I was definitely getting sore and tired and was hoping for a flat piece of ground soon.

Still no flat ground

Sure enough eventually the track went back down by the river and I shoved my tent into a tiny piece of relatively flat ground right by the path.

This was a nice spot

It was 7:30pm and by the time I set up me tent and had a pasta dinner it was 8:30pm and dark. The days are definitely shorter now. Back before Goat Pass six weeks ago I was still walking at almost 9:30.

The hole in my water filter bag is bigger now and it’s made it essentially unusable. So I’ve done what I said I’d never do, I’ve started drinking water directly from the river without filtering it. I mean, I’d been following this river since the top of the saddle and it doesn’t flow through any farms. The guys in the hut and also the guys at the campsite told me that they never filtered it, and they were okay.

It was weird drinking straight from the river, but I also felt “at one with nature”. In saying that I wished I was able to filter it and I’m definitely going to have to see if I can get some kind of replacement in Wanaka. The last section of the trail passes through some big farms so I definitely want to filter the water, and drinking straight from the filter gives me quite severe hiccups.

Anyway, another day down, and tomorrow’s going to be another day of not knowing exactly how far I’m going to go. I’ll probably be camping again somewhere in Lake Hawea or Albert Town, which is the next place after that. My tent really has been getting a workout the last few days.

Click here to see today's walk on the map.

Day 148 – Lake Middleton to Ahuriri River

Date: 16 March
Trail covered: 28.2km (kms 2471.2 to 2499.4)
Weather: hot but with sun often behind clouds

There was rain during the night. I woke up and thought it was mice trying to get into the tent so I moved my food. But then it got heavier and I realised it was rain. Silly me.

So I was surprised when I woke up at 8am and saw clear skies.

View from the tent

A duck seemed very interested in my stuff while I was packing up.

I couldn’t resist giving him a chip.

I know all the buzzkills out there say you’re not supposed to feed ducks. But I don’t care.

The terrain coming up between here and Wanaka is three quite significant hills/saddles. Hopefully I can do one each day. Today’s saddle seems to be unnamed, and goes from 531m elevation up to 1413m. Tomorrow’s is Martha’s Saddle, which goes from 693m up to 1687m, and has a geocache at the top of it which hasn’t been found for 8 years. I’m definitely looking for that one. The third hill is Breast Hill and goes from 601m up to 1569m. Anka said she really liked that last hill.

There aren’t as many huts coming up. The next one is Top Timaru Hut which is over Martha’s Saddle and is about 55km away so I’m definitely camping again tonight somewhere.

What is coming up today is the Ahuriri River – the largest unbridged river on the trail in the South Island. Quite a few hikers report problems crossing it so I’m a bit nervous. I want to make it past the river today if possible to get it out of my mind… Although if it’s not crossable then it’s a 10km detour to cross it by bridge. I’m not sure I’d have time today to do that detour so if I can’t cross it today I’d camp nearby and try again tomorrow. There hasn’t been much rain here recently so hopefully that helps but if it rains up in the Southern Alps then that feeds into the rivers so you just don’t know.

I was on the road again by 9:20am. The first thing I noticed was the zig zag road going up the hill.

It would be nice if the trail went up there, as it would be an easy walk, but I know it doesn’t.

View of Lake Ohau to the right

I was too busy looking at the mountains to realise that you’re supposed to turn off onto a track to the right that runs between the road and the lake. No worries, I just cut across the grass.

The proper way

The path was still shared with the Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail and there were a lot of cyclists this morning. All of them over 65 I think, I assume everyone else is at work. Everyone was friendly and said hi.

Starting to go up
Nice little waterfall (no need to walk up this one)
Nicely manicured path at first

This sign marks where Te Araroa leaves the cycleway.

You know when a sign points to “bushline” that there’s not going to be much else up here – if that’s all they could come up with

It was still a pleasant walk through the trees until the bushline. It was steep though.

Steep in places

My 11am picture is at a fallen tree. It’s been a long time since I had to make my way around one of these!

11am picture – almost forgot how to get around this

There were rocks to walk over…

And these rocks mark the end of the bushline.

From there its still relatively clear where to go, and the path is well formed.

Look, the moon is even still out, and now I know why!

I stopped and had some food. Since I didn’t replace my knife in Twizel, I decided I could use my Swiss army knife to cut my cheese.

I might as well get some use out of it, the only thing I’ve used the thing for is the scissor attachment when I need to cut some duct tape (and also I used it for my toenail if you read that bit).

Also since my water filter bag got a hole in it, I realised that even though I attempted to tape it up water still leaks everywhere while I’m filtering the water. And some of the water that escapes from the bag makes its way into the bottle I’m filtering into, which kind of defeats the purpose of filtering the water in the first place.

So I tried connecting the filter to my second water bottle, which worked. So now I have two water bottles, one “dirty” and one “clean”.

This is a nice temporary solution but I have a feeling it isn’t going to last

Actually filtering using that bottle though is problematic because the plastic bottle crunches up and becomes smaller because air can’t get back into it, unless I loosen the filter every now and again. It’s a bit annoying but it will have to do.

Looking back

Most other saddles have a steep bit at the top where you suddenly see the view on the other side. This one however is steep for the whole way up but at the top it is not.

Again you have to avoid tons of these things

So when you get to the top, it’s flat this time.

Flat at the top of the saddle for a change

But there is a view. It’s very similar to other featureless landscapes I’ve seen recently.

Going down this next bit is difficult, and not well marked.

There’s more of these evil things to avoid, and even finding the path is tricky. The trail notes even say “go down the hill by any practical route”. It’s rare for the notes to be that vague.

Wild Spaniard again

It levels out though and becomes easier.

I scared some goats who ran off. They were a long way away but I guess they got spooked.

Goats in the distance
That’s a lot of rocks
Coming out of the valley into the plains

Coming down wasn’t very pleasant. As well as a path that was difficult to find, there was all manner of obstacles.

Matagouri

And a swampy bit that seemed unavoidable.

It *seemed* unavoidable, unless I just went the wrong way. At least there was a stream further on where I could clean up

At the bottom there were signs of civilization.

Lots of fencing on the ground

And then three guys who were rebuilding the fence.

Guys fencing to the left
View to the right

Okay, now that I see the big canyon, I know that down there is the Ahuriri River.

The sign confirms it.

Well technically it doesn’t confirm it. But I know it is.

It didn’t look too dangerous today, but it’s hard to tell from a distance. I tried to cross immediately where the marker took me, after first putting on my rain jacket. I did that because my rain jacket has a pocket that is high up and my emergency beacon and phone can go on there. Everything else went inside my pack.

Crossing where the marker was started off easy, but after two thirds of the way across it got too deep and I had to retreat.

So I walked downstream to find something better. About 100 or 200m the river split into two and that seemed like a good spot to cross. I remembered from crossing the river just north of the Bealey Hotel that where the river split and turned was quite shallow and not too fast moving. That proved to be the case here too.

After crossing the river

I found the shallowest and slowest bits of each of the two divisions and crossed without any problem. The river never went above my knees and wasn’t flowing fast enough to make the poles shudder. Here’s where I went:

A nice technical diagram showing where I crossed the river
Looking from the other side

I was very glad to be across the river. That meant I didn’t have to take an extra three hours walking downstream to the bridge that crosses the river as a detour. Although the next problem was how to get out of the river bed. I misread the trail map and I thought I had to go along the riverbed and then up the hill. When I did that, the hill seemed impenetrable.

Maybe up there isn’t the way

I turned and looked behind me and realised I was supposed to go up the hill first, then along the top. That looks like it in the distance on the left.

Although actually the markers point up here. That looks steep.

Given that I’d walked almost 30km today and it was getting cold, I decided to simply set up my tent here (far enough away from the water) and I’ll worry about where to go in the morning.

Final destination

It’s definitely not an ideal spot, it’s flat but very lumpy with the long grass. No worries, I’ve survived in this kind of camp spot before and I’ll survive tonight too… Even though the temperature is supposed to plummet tonight. It’s going to be very cold tonight, I can feel it in the air already.

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Day 147 – Twizel to Lake Middleton

Date: 15 March
Trail covered: 29.2km (kms 2442.0 to 2471.2)
Weather: gloomy

My 11am picture is leaving the town of Twizel, less than 1km from where I slept.

Not the most exciting 11am picture

Yes, that’s how long it took me to drag myself out of my tent this morning, get packed up and leave. I got nearly 11 hours of sleep after the night walk and I felt great in the morning. I was in no rush since I knew today was another almost completely flat trip of about 30km alongside rivers and canals and lakes.

I had breakfast with Kristy – not Christie as I’ve been spelling it. I’ll go back and correct it, I promise! She showed me some Facebook posts that Michael had posted. He said he loved the last few days from the Rangitata River to Tekapo. He also saw my blog and something I said made him think that I thought he was the snorer. No way, I never said that. I always knew Kristy was the snorer!

Kristy also said the rowing event today is not the big rowing regatta but some South Island thing. That’s not exactly what she said but since I hadn’t had my coffee by that point I can’t remember what the event was.

This way

Kristy decided on having a rest day in Twizel today so I set off alone. It was a gloomy day to start with.

The path out of Twizel

I didn’t win Powerball with my ticket that I bought yesterday. Somebody did though because I noticed the jackpot has gone back down to $4 million which is what it always gets reset to when somebody wins it.

Disc Golf
One very photogenic deer
That explains the symbol on the sign yesterday

The trail goes beside Lake Ruataniwha, and over a dam. Its quite high!

Looking towards the lake
Looking away from the lake – much higher!

Then I knew that the trail went to the right, so I turned right straight after the dam. But that was wrong – it wasn’t long before I saw a dead end and turned back.

Oops – not that way

But I did get to see the salmon farm scarecrow. Hilarious.

Can you see it?

You’re supposed to go a bit further down the highway before turning right – across one more bridge.

I feel like it’s been a while since cows have been staring at me….

From the opposite side of the lake I could see rowing happening. Well actually I heard it first. People were yelling and screaming so I went to the shore to see what was going on. I could see the rowers but they were a bit far away to get a photo.

The path was a gravel road for almost the entire day, but it had a good view a lot of the time.

It’s been a while since I had to carry five days worth of food. It’s noticeably heavier but I will survive. I do wish that just for a few days I could try a different pack with more shoulder padding.

At the point above in the photo there’s a pathway down to the river to get water. I took it, and also used the time to have lunch. This was the first time I got water since two days ago when I was determining if 600ml was enough for the canal walk or not. Turns out it easily was.

When you’ve lost your knife, you need to use your finger.

There were not many people using this road. One car did come past as I was having lunch but came back the other way a minute or two later.

There it goes

And not long after, Taia came past on her hired bike. She said she didn’t like the gravel road on a bike. She also noticed that we had the same pack. She’d just passed another person, who she said appeared to be jogging. We looked behind us and could see someone coming up behind us in the distance. I wondered who it was – everyone else I knew or talked to at the campground was taking a rest day today.

There she goes

I saw one motorbike too, and further on when the path becomes the Alps 2 Ocean cycleway again, I saw a few cyclists. I got in the way when they came up behind me because I had my music on today. “Yoohoo!” I’d hear them yell behind me and I’d jump out of the way.

A nice tree-lined section of the path
Ben Ohau

The hill above which was always in the distance is apparently called Ben Ohau if you believe the topographic map. The tiny village of Ohau is at the bottom of it, across the lake. That’s roughly where I’ll be staying tonight.

The walk today was almost entirely flat, the only hill of note was this one.

There have definitely been steeper hills than this one on the trail, but today this was notable

It was a shock going uphill after two and a half days of completely flat terrain!

Coming up to Lake Ohau
A boat on the lake

There was one hut on the way, but it must have been private. It was locked, had no visible name and I was too short to see in the window.

Once you leave the river trail and start on the Ohau Lake trail, the views get really good again.

And I was across from the bottom of Ben Ohau so I knew I was almost there.

The path along Lake Ohau
The view further down

At the campground this morning I spilled something on my sleeping bag liner, and so I had to go rinse it. There wasn’t enough time in the morning to dry it because of the gloomy start to the day, and it went in my pack wet. Since the sun came out at about 4:30pm I decided to dry the liner while I was walking. I held my poles in the air and hung the liner from them. The wind was blowing quite hard so I knew it would dry fast. It looked like I was walking along flying a huge burgundy-coloured flag!

Here’s this scary guy
Right by the lake now
Who needs the expensive digital speed limit signs on the motorway? This foldable sign with a lock works just as well to vary the speed limit!

Lake Middleton was the most likely spot to camp tonight. Its a DOC campsite that costs $8 and is just before the village of Ohau (which I was told has absolutely nothing). An alternative was to camp at the start of the next part of the trail 6 or 7km on, but I didn’t feel like walking that far. So Lake Middleton it was.

Nice to have somewhere scenic to camp

It’s a nice spot here. There were no sandflies, the sun was out, it was out of the wind, and there was even a flush toilet!

Tomorrow I want to make it to the Ahuriri River. It seems to be one of the most dangerous rivers on the trail that requires crossing. So my plan is to get there tomorrow and see how it looks. If I can’t cross it safely tomorrow, I’ll camp nearby and try the next day. There hasn’t been much rain recently so hopefully I can cross it first time.

If I still can’t cross it safely the next day, there’s a 10km detour to get around it. The river is 28km away so that should be a perfect distance to walk tomorrow.

And I never saw the jogging guy again which I found strange. I guess I’ll never know who it was.

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Day 146 – Lake Pukaki to Twizel

Date: 14 March
Trail covered: 22.4km (kms 2419.6 to 2442.0)
Weather: cloud cover that lifted

Where did I leave off with the night walk… Oh yes, I was having a quick nap on the side of the road facing Lake Pukaki. I ended up lying there for about two and a half hours, from 2:30am until nearly 5am. I didn’t use the sleeping bag as I was worried about damaging it lying directly on the grass. But I was wearing all my clothes so I didn’t get too cold. Once I started to get cold before 5am, that’s when I started to walk again.

I checked Metservice for the day for the sunrise time, when I might get to see Mt. Cook, and apparently it’s at 7:30am today – good timing. I noticed that as well as the sunrise times listed, the moonrise and moonset times are also listed. How have I not ever noticed them before.

I continued walking down the road that runs beside Lake Pukaki (Hayman Road). I could smell the smell of Pine trees. They were everywhere. No wonder the upcoming campground is called The Pines. And remember that anyone camping anywhere along here has to have a self-contained vehicle. So this guy is being naughty naughty with his tent (but check out the view).

Definitely not self-contained

The trail went off-road after a while, following the Alps 2 Ocean bike path (no relation to Wayne’s shuttle service). I nearly missed the turn at that point and nearly continued down the road. It’s clearly signposted but because it was so dark I didn’t see it. By pure chance I happened to open Guthook just ten seconds or so before I needed the turn. So look out for it! If you end up walking on State Highway 8 then you’ve missed the turn.

Still taking my time, there was a geocache on the south side of Lake Pukaki which I took my time to find. It was very close to sunrise now and I thought I could see the outline of Mt. Cook in the background from the geocache spot. Also I looked on Google Maps and the upcoming town of Pukaki has nothing there – no coffee, no breakfast. So I had some food now too, consisting of everything I had left over that I bought yesterday evening. Of course I’ll have a big proper breakfast in Twizel, hopefully 3 hours from now.

Finally the sunrise. It looks amazing, again much better in real life than photos.

Sunrise from the south end of Lake Pukaki

And Mt. Cook peeks through, but only just (on the left in the next photo).

Photo from the geocache site
Mt. Cook poked its nose through, and then disappeared behind clouds a minute later
Progressing sunrise

It’s probably worth mentioning that Mt. Cook’s actual official name has been “Aoraki/Mt. Cook” since 1998 – backslash and everything – with Aoraki being the Maori name for the mountain. New Zealand has been doing that with some place names in the last decade or two, the other main one that springs to mind is “Stewart Island/Rakiura”.

The whole morning has been the nice dedicated Alps 2 Ocean cycleway. It runs from Mt. Cook to Oamaru I think – 300km. Or possibly Tekapo to Oamaru, although that might be the “alternate” course. There are some road sections though, like the one I walked down earlier.

Looking back

Sometimes it gets close to the road, but you are still separated from the cars.

Highway 8

Now that the sun is well and truly up, I can see the view.

I walked past this thing. What in the world is it? And surely it’s not self-contained?

Some kind of innovative solution to the housing crisis?

Walk along State Highway 8 to the visitor’s centre, and that’s when you turn left down the road.

Crossing another dam
The last view of Lake Pukaki before turning and walking away from it

It gets slightly less beautiful from here on, now that the lake is out of view.

10 or so kilometres to Twizel

There are a lot of pine trees again.

I swear this one in the middle is giving me the finger, with its outstretched arm.

Do you agree?

I’m not really sure what came after here. The visibility was good at first, but it all turned to custard.

Can’t see much now
Lots of spider webs 🕸
Just walking through all the mist, not even through grass, was getting my thermal pants wet

I didn’t see much on this section, although I did see two cyclists and a runner pass me at 9am, and the runner ran back past at 9:40am.

It was about 10km of this, until you come out suddenly to the driveway in the next photo leading onto the highway. About 800m from the driveway I heard loud cars so that’s how you can tell when you’re close. My feet were really starting to hurt now so I was glad to nearly be there. Not reminiscent of the pain I just recovered from a week ago, this was just painful feet I think from walking on the road all this time.

Here the trail does go down Highway 8 a bit. I was reminded of how far I’d just walked.

Yes, thank you, I’m well aware of how far it is to Lake Tekapo having just walked it.

I don’t know what the other symbol next to the State Highway shield is though. Some kind of star-gazing route? This area is supposed to have some of the clearest skies anywhere.

Not far from here into the town.

Still about 700m from this sign to any sort of food

I really had felt like an omelette for at least a couple of hours, probably since the sunrise. I wondered if Facebook will have the menus for the cafés of such a tiny town, so I can work out which would sell me an omelette. When I looked, I was pleasantly surprised that it does. And the best news is that Musters Hut Café is the first café you come to in the town and they had an omelette on the menu.

I wish it had more than one piece of toast, but otherwise it was exactly what I wanted

They were really nice and let me charge my phone. More places should let you charge devices. It meant I ended up staying there two hours and ordering more food.

I arrived at 10am-ish to the town. This is only second time ever I’ve finished walking before 11am, the other time being coming into St. Arnaud.

Here’s my 11am picture, still sitting at the café. It was a lot busier when I arrived.

11am picture – Musterers Hut Café

Reception at the Twizel Holiday Park doesn’t open until 1pm so I used the time to do some stuff. Although first I was thinking. The town is really quiet. Is there really a rowing regatta this weekend? Google shows one in two weeks time – the Aon Maadi on 30 March, which is apparently really big. Nothing this weekend. I don’t see any guys or girls around that look like rowers.

I really don’t think there’s a regatta on this weekend. I wish I had’ve looked at other accommodation options in Twizel rather than just booking a tent site without looking first. I would have really loved a bed tonight given how tired I will be later.

I tried to buy a replacement knife for the lightweight one I left behind before Stag Saddle. Sadly, the shop here sells the same knife but only if you buy it together with the spork… and I still have that. I think I can probably go without the knife for now – it’s not essential.

One thing I did buy is a Lotto Powerball ticket. Earlier on in the trail I was discussing with someone, I can’t remember who, about being single. I said at the time that it would be funny if I happened to meet someone in some small out of the way hick town like Twizel. And then the day after I said that, somebody in Twizel won $17million on Powerball. After that I said I really hope I do meet this person when I get to Twizel. I haven’t met whoever it is yet, but there’s still time!

So I really wanted to buy a Powerball ticket from the same “lucky” place that sold the jackpot winner, and I did. Let’s see if it wins the jackpot for me tonight. The jackpot is only $7 million this time, but I’d cope with that amount I think.

I saw Chris in town. As expected he skipped the section I just did, and is skipping the section from here to Lake Ohau. I wonder if I’ll catch him again – seems unlikely since he has a tight deadline of 1 April for his flight. He told me I was mad for walking the last section. “A hiker, walking?” I thought. Pure madness! Look up mad in the dictionary and there’ll be a picture of me.

It occurred to me also that I haven’t seen Daniel since two days ago. I wonder if he did the night walk.

Okay it’s now time to go and set up my tent at the holiday park.

Twizel Holiday Park entrance – no vacancy on anything but non-powered sites

Interesting that the holiday park seems to be busy. I guess that doesn’t necessarily mean the regatta is actually on, I mean it’s a Saturday and it’s an absolutely stunning day. All the cloud and mist from this morning cleared by lunchtime.

Speaking of the weather, wow it’s hot this afternoon. I’m so glad I’m not walking in this heat. The night walk was nice, a tad too long possibly, but so much better than 54km of scorching hot sun.

This afternoon I wasn’t feeling sleepy, just a bit out of it. The nap during the night definitely was a good idea. Hopefully I sleep well tonight. There aren’t too many other tents around, although in the late afternoon a campervan pulled up right next to me and the occupants have set up a little table and chairs and have started smoking. Gutted.

I also fit a resupply in from Four Square for the next five days which should get me to round about Wanaka. Did you know this town of barely 1,200 people has two Four Squares? They’re almost across the road from each other. What’s up with that? Despite that, the one I went to (being the Mackenzie one, the closest one to the campground) was still busy.

And there was just enough time to have a beer and a bowl of fries with Christie who turned up along with her TA hiker friend Taia. One beer though made me so sleepy I had to return to the holiday park and go to sleep at 8pm.

And having just got into my sleeping bag now, I’ve noticed this stain on my sleeping mat. That wasn’t there yesterday I’m sure. Where on earth did that come from?

I love this mat but it’s starting to get manky

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Day 145 – Lake Tekapo to Lake Pukaki

Date: 13 March
Trail covered: 31.8km (kms 2387.8 to 2419.6)
Weather: clear

Coronavirus. That seems to be the theme of today in the real world. It’s every news story. It’s every email in my inbox from companies I haven’t dealt with in years. It’s every post on my Facebook feed. I wish I could hear about something else.

Tents. Mine is third from the left
View from the tent sites – not bad

This morning I talked to the guy who was camped next to me. He said he didn’t hear me setting up last night, which was good. He was hiking Te Araroa northbound but because of a family emergency he has to stop here and go back to Australia. That’s a shame for him because he was just getting to the good bits (well, I don’t know how the good bits compare to the bits he’s already done, obviously).

A lot of ducks hang around the tents here. They’re definitely not shy.

Ducky McDuckFace

I got all my laundry done and had a shower and a shave, everything smells so nice now. It feels great. And my leg hardly hurts at all after yesterday – a very nice surprise. I packed up my tent and headed the 2km back into town.

Since my leg is not hurting I’m going to stick to my plan of walking the 54km to Twizel overnight tonight. This is because there’s nowhere to camp between Tekapo and Twizel if you believe the trail notes, and also because I’ve always thought a night walk would be nice. And this is apparently one of the safest sections to do at night – first along a canal and then along a cycle path. And there was a full moon only two or three days ago so the moon should be big and bright in the sky.

This meant I had to fill in my day somehow. I sat myself down in Doughboys Bakery. I spent a lot of the day here. Far too long. Long enough to hear the whole music playlist on repeat twice.

Doughboys Bakery & Cafe

My 11am picture is the first round of food I got.

11am – very average food. You’re also not able to charge devices, as they’ve taped over the outlets

I caught up on blog posts, and once that was over I went for a walk around the town to see the sights (mostly the same sights I saw yesterday but in the daytime) and to look for some geocaches.

Animals and birds
Church of the Good Shepherd
A nice tree of some kind

By the time I did all that it was 5pm. I saw Christie at one point, she came over to say hi. She reminded me to book something in Twizel so I booked in at the holiday park online. She said the other day that there is a rowing regatta on in Twizel this weekend so I didn’t bother looking at any other options first.

Christie cycled from Boundary Stream to here today, and tomorrow she will be cycling to Twizel. Sounds like we will both be at the holiday park. Then Michael came over to say hi too. He said he didn’t follow the ridge track yesterday, and instead followed the TA official path down the valley.

Here’s a travel tip for Tekapo. Don’t pay $1.50 for the public toilets by the bridge. The ones down by 4 Square are free.

I had to make a quick stop to 4 Square to buy food – food only for the walk tonight. I don’t want to carry any more than is necessary to Twizel and there’s a 4 Square there where I can resupply for the coming sections.

My purchases this evening

The chicken legs and peanut slab ice cream were my dinner tonight. The rest is for the walk.

Eventually I left on my night walk at 5:45pm. I was cold right from the beginning so I put on my jacket. I hope it doesn’t get too cold tonight overnight.

Leaving early felt weird. I kept feeling like I left something behind for some reason. Maybe it’s because I didn’t walk with my poles because it was completely flat and I was trying to take my time. Walking without poles felt weird too. I had to keep reminding myself that they were in my pack and I didn’t leave them behind.

I haven’t seen these TA signs for quite a while now
The last sight when leaving Tekapo – this new subdivision

I’ve gotta walk slowly, I keep telling myself. Partly so that I don’t injure myself but also I don’t want to arrive really early in the morning. Right now I’m feeling excited but also nervous.

I had to decide how much water to take. I already had 600ml or so – not much. But I shouldn’t need much. I stopped at the river at the beginning of the path twice, but both times it didn’t smell nice so I continued on without getting more water. 600ml will have to do, and that’s okay anyway, surely I won’t need too much water overnight and not carrying unnecessary water for this long section is important.

The first 20 or 25km of the walk are along the Tekapo Canal.

Water from the lake – half of it seems to end up here and then into the canal
While the other half becomes the Tekapo River
Starting down the path, with the river on the left and the canal on the right

At first the path beside the canal was a private road, but it soon turned into an actual public road with a 60km/h speed limit. I bet cars that drive down here want to do more than 60km/h. It’s a dead straight road with nobody around.

It was tempting to walk at my usual fast road walking speed, but I need to slow myself down. How do I stop myself walking too fast? One way I guess is just to relax. But it seems the best way is to use the phone while I’m walking. I don’t have the ability to walk and type fast at the same time so that forces me to slow down. I’ll just have to be careful of the cars on the road. At least I’m not listening to music.

It does look like you’re allowed to camp down there, so that’s weird
The road takes a big turn to the right and you start heading west

I wondered if I would see Daniel, who I briefly met yesterday and who told me he was considering the night walk as well. I haven’t seen anyone else walking yet, actually one other person cycling at the start of the canal is the only other person I’ve seen who isn’t driving.

An Irish girl offered me a lift in her campervan at 7.30pm, which I declined. Interestingly, every car coming down this road is some kind of tourist campervan. I wonder where they’re all going.

Suddenly, something unexpected happened. The road ended. Weird. So why were so many people coming this way? It doesn’t seem to go anywhere.

End of the line, for cars at least
These two forms of transport are alright though. I like the smiley face on the person

So suddenly I was on the road on my own, with no other cars around. I was on some kind of private road. I could take up the entire road and walk all over the place and nothing would happen. I could even put in my music… Although I didn’t yet.

The sun is really starting to go down.

Really loooong shadow

And it was feeling cold. Let’s have a look at the temperature, I thought.

21 degrees now? No way. It’s already very cold. Since the sun will be gone behind the hills in the very near future I think it’s best to change into all my warm clothes now. Plus I also put my headlamp on.

The works
A terrible attempt at a self timer

I don’t wear the gloves often, but tonight I’m certain I’ll be wearing them all night. Back at the start I made sure I bought gloves that work with a smartphone screen. They do… however I obviously can’t use my fingerprint to unlock the phone like I normally do. That’s a pain. I had a look through the settings and activated something called “smart lock”. That apparently means that as long as the phone detects I’m holding it, it won’t lock. If it detects it is put down, it will lock. That’s a really handy feature that I didn’t know about.

Earlier, the canal took a big turn to the right, so now I was walking west. That means right into the sunset. It was absolutely beautiful. I tried to take a photo of it, but I couldn’t capture what I was seeing. What I was seeing is a whole sky lit up yellow. But what ended up on camera was this.

Attempt 1
Attempt 2

Still nice photos, but not what I was seeing in real life. I tried to take one with my backup phone.

Attempt 3

Still not what I was seeing. I even quickly looked up online how to take a sunset photo but didn’t really understand it. Most of the articles seemed to talk about how to find a good sunset, rather than how to actually take the photo. I wished I was walking with someone who knew photography. Anka from last week would have known. She carried a big, expensive-looking camera with her.

Suddenly I felt a lot of rumbling. Geez, what is that? An earthquake? Nope… it turned out to be a large number of sheep who all decided to run from me at the same time. I was too busy on my phone I didn’t even notice them.

Sheep all running for it

I felt like I was going slow and taking my time. That was good. It was a good feeling. Lucky I was going slow too, or else I might not have noticed this in the fading light:

2400km down!

Like usual it was just over 1km from where Guthook says the 2400km mark is, but I didn’t mind.

Attempt 4

Ok well the inevitable moment has come. The sun has completely gone, and it’s dark. I’m going to try and walk without a light on, so that I don’t attract bugs. I remember when the guys on the Whanganui River paddled at night and they said they could only have their headlights on for seconds at a time so that they didn’t get swamped by bugs. Besides, the full moon should mean I can see.

Wait a minute. Where is the moon. It’s nowhere to be seen. Weird. I swear to God I saw it the other day at Royal Hut and it was full. So it should still be relatively full now. I don’t understand why I can’t see it. I mean, I’m no scientitian, but the moon comes out every night, right?

Confused, I kept walking. I switched my phone’s camera to night mode, and started trying it out.

Tekapo Canal trees

The canal path crosses State Highway 8 after 13km. I tried out the night mode setting there too. I was in no hurry of course so I spent some time messing around with the camera.

Crossing the highway wasn’t too hard at what was now 9:30pm.

I stopped every now and again for a bit of food. I had to keep telling myself – don’t drop anything. And don’t lose anything. It’s too dark since there’s no moon out. Whatever I drop I’ll never notice and I’ll never find it again.

It really was pitch black. Despite being a private road that barely had a corner at all, I was still worried about walking straight into a fence or some other obstacle that I couldn’t see. I do actually have to pay attention. I also took this time to realise that I’m glad there are no bears or dangerous animals in New Zealand because I wouldn’t see them either.

There was a very faint white line down the road that I could follow in the darkness. When the road was gravel I could hear my footsteps but when it changed to tarmac I couldn’t really hear anything at all. It was eerie. Although every now and again I could hear things moving in the canal. Could it be salmon? I know there are salmon farms coming up later on.

My thoughts turned back to the moon. Why can’t I see it. I looked on the Internet. Apparently tonight the moon is waning gibbous. I even know what that means. So where is it? There’s a small glow behind the hills behind me. Is that the moon? I don’t think there is a town there.

For those that don’t know, gibbous (as opposed to crescent) means the visible portion of the moon is bigger than a half moon but smaller than a full moon, and waning (as opposed to waxing) means the visible moon is getting smaller each day.

I kept seeing lights on the opposite side of the canal. At first I got nervous because I thought they were people with torches. But it turned out they were just static lights. Nothing to worry about.

I got a message from my friend Nick at 10:30pm and so I took a break to exchange a few text messages. While I was doing that, what should rise up behind the hills behind me, but the moon. It seems the moon rises and sets like the sun. Who would’ve known. Probably you, the reader of this blog, but I didn’t know. You learn something every day.

I looked on the Internet and when the moon is waning, it rises after the sun sets and is still in the sky in the morning. When it is waxing, it rises before the sun sets but has set before sunrise. There you have it.

I can see the face of the moon. It’s watching me walk. It looks sad. Also it seems to have set off the cows – cows everywhere started mooing when the moon appeared.

That’s actually a picture of the moon rising. This photo makes it look like the sun.
Stars on night mode
A loooong shadow, the night version

Whatever the moon is doing, it is definitely helping me to walk. Everything is so much lighter now. I can see clearly despite it being night. Hell, I don’t even need to pay attention anymore!

One thing I can see is the saucepan constellation. Is that Orion? I’m not sure!

At this point of the walk I was still enjoying the night walk concept. I started thinking about the “100k challenge” which is where hikers walk the last 100km of the trail without stopping. This obviously means some kind of night walk. I’m still not sure I could do that yet. I mean, 100km is in a totally different league to 50km.

But it would tie in well with something else I’ve wanted to do, which is get my phone to show 100,000 steps in one day – which requires about 85km or 90km of walking. Maybe that could tie in with the 100k challenge. The thing with that is it has to be one calendar day, because the phone resets the step count each day at midnight. That would mean arriving at Bluff in the middle of the night, which is definitely not what I want, I want to get to Bluff in daylight hours. Hmm, maybe this 100k challenge isn’t gonna happen. And also around that time the moon would be a new moon, so I wouldn’t have the benefit of the moonlight.

While doing all this thinking and looking on the Internet I wasn’t paying attention and at one point I did walk off the side of the road into the ditch. Lucky it was that side of the road and not the other side of the road where the canal is. I guess I have to pay some attention at least!

At 1am I reached a bit where the private road ends and the road becomes public again. Not much further down here is the Mt. Cook Salmon Farm. This place reeks. You can smell it a mile away, and it kind of smells like cat biscuits.

Salmon farm
They had comfy-looking sofas that part of me just wanted to go and sleep on by this point
Salmon nets

And interestingly, after that just down the road I saw some Russian guys outside by the canal beside a van. It was weird to see others in such a remote place so early in the morning. I wonder what was happening. “What’s going on?” I asked, and “nothing” was the reply. I didn’t ask any more.

But one of the guys did comment on the fact that I was walking so late and then proceeded to tell me a story about some crazy Russian girls that he knows that we’re hiking on Lewis Pass and had to get a lift out to get back to Christchurch. I didn’t pay too much attention and got away as soon as I could. It all felt dodgy.

By now it was 2am. I was scrolling Instagram for something to do when one of Henry’s photos popped up. It was him doing this exact same section a week or two ago, also at night, and in the post he says that he took a nap by Lake Pukaki, coming up soon. You know what, I’m gonna do the same. There’s no point getting into Twizel really early and his post said that after a nap he was able to see the sunrise and Mt. Cook. That would be cool.

It seems my plan to only bring minimum water was good. I hardly felt thirsty at all during the night.

After the canal ended, there was one more chance to try the camera’s night mode, as Lake Pukaki is now in view. Here is a picture without night mode:

Non-night mode

And here’s the same shot with night mode:

Night mode

I couldn’t believe the difference. The camera was seeing things I couldn’t even see. This picture looks like it was taken during the early evening, not at 2 o’clock in the morning.

Here’s another night mode picture of some campervans. All along Lake Pukaki it is “camping for self-contained vehicles only”. That means little old me with just a tent isn’t allowed to camp anywhere along the lake.

Self-contained camping only, even though there’s a toilet there. This probably also applies to the campervans I saw back at the start of the canal. $200 fine for non-compliance.

But it’s not camping if I don’t set up my tent. I’m just going to have a short nap anyway. I found a spot that looked over the lake. Away from trees, so that there would hopefully be no possums. Away from campers and a bit off the road. I made sure that the grass isn’t wet. It isn’t – perfect. I lay down in the grass beside my pack and closed my eyes.

Click here to see today's walk on the map.