Date: 1 February
Trail covered: 31.2km (kms 2146.0 to 2177.2)
Weather: perfect for walking – overcast, light wind, no rain
Wow so it’s now February. Will this be the last month of the TA for me? Will I manage to finish by 29 February like I’ve anticipated? I can’t wait to find out…
I opened my eyes at one point during the night and it was still dark. Good, I thought, that means I can still sleep longer. But no, I was wrong, the alarm went off very soon after. Gee, I thought it would at least be a bit light at 5:40am. I hit snooze and slept another 10 mins.
I had wanted to leave by 6:30am but packing up the tent and having breakfast never goes as fast as I think it will. I didn’t get away until 7am.
You have the option here of going along the Otira River or back along the flood route from yesterday. Since the river was barely ankle deep in most places I chose to walk down the river.
I then followed a 4WD track into a farm.
Then it went into scrub. In hindsight I should have just kept following the river, as there was a lot of gorse this way.
I eventually got to the start of the Goat Pass track. There was a big sign listing all the dangers.
It was 7.30am by this point. There was another sign saying it is 14 hours to Greyneys Shelter from here.
I really hope it isn’t that far – the Bealey Hotel which is my intended destination is another 6km past there and I don’t want to arrive there at 10pm. But if I do there is a place called the Klondyke Campsite just past the shelter where I can set up camp. I hope it doesn’t come to that though. I want my food box and I also want a beer and greasy pub food for dinner.
This is the Mountain Run section of the annual Coast To Coast event. Apparently top athletes can do this section in 3 hours. Surely if they can do it in 3 hours, then I can do it in less than 14! In fact the Coast To Coast is actually six days from now. It was Saturday today and one of the few days in the next week where no rain is forecast, so I expected to see a lot of people out there today training for it.
Here I encountered a guy called Pete who had camped overnight beside these signs. He said he had the same plan as me originally, to start early and do this entire section in one day. But he said that after how difficult it was to cross the Taramakau River yesterday, he was having second thoughts, and ultimately decided not to do it. That was sad for me as I would have liked a buddy. It also made me question my decision to go through here today. I mean it wasn’t raining right now, but the weather can change in 14 hours!
Like the big warning sign says, the first river crossing is the Deception River. Even the name makes it sound scary. This crossing is 1.5km on and so I should be able to gauge fairly fast whether the river is at a safe level.
The trail notes have called this section the Deception-Mingha track, as you follow the Deception River up one side and then the Mingha River down the other. Hopefully it is well marked. Florian said that he has done this track before and doing it in one day is definitely doable. He also said that in the event of rain, the southern end of the track (the Mingha River) would be easier to escape from than this end (the Deception River).
If the rivers become impassable and you get stuck on the track, there are three huts to stay in. One is Upper Deception Hut halfway up this side, then Goat Pass Hut at the top, and then Mingha Bivvy halfway down the other side. So these were the backup options, but hopefully they’re not needed.
Sure enough after 1.5km I came to the first crossing of the Deception River. How this crossing goes will definitely determine the mood for the rest of the day.
It was fairly deep but not particularly fast moving. When a river is deep it is just mind over matter to cross it (as long as you can see the bottom). Fast flowing rivers are what sweep you away and where you get hurt. Crossing this river was a breeze compared to the Taramakau yesterday. Scariness rating 4/10. That’s a good start.
I didn’t realise at first but this river had to be crossed multiple times, in fact going up Goat Pass was spending almost the entire time in the river or on the rocky riverbed. There were only a few times where the trail went into the bush on the side.
I had managed to do 10km by 9.55am. I thought that was pretty good going. It was perfect weather for walking which helped. There were a fair few clouds and the sun is behind a layer of haze, but it looks like it won’t rain.
At one point a guide came through with a runner. She wasn’t running the Coast To Coast, she just wanted to see the course apparently. I spoke to the guide briefly and she said there is a lot of bad weather forecast starting tomorrow. I said that’s why I’m trying to do the whole thing today. Her response was that it shouldn’t be a problem. Nice to know.
Here’s my 11am picture: a waterfall that had to be crossed. I saw four or five guys at this point, but since it took me a while to cross this bit of water, I lost them.
Here’s Upper Deception Hut.
Well that’s what it’s called on the map and on the sign at the start of the section. But on the outside of the hut it says “Deception Hut” on the sign. I know I often talk about hut naming discrepancies but this seems to me like a big one. If you are in touch with Search and Rescue and it’s not clear which hut you’re at, it could be the difference between life and death. I wish they’d name the huts consistently.
I was the first to sign the intentions book in this hut today. I had lunch here and while I was doing that a runner went past and waved. The presence of other people coming this way again made me feel good that doing this track with a bad weather forecast tomorrow isn’t a bad idea.
From here it was really rocky. There were lots and lots of large boulders to climb over, and I was in the river most of the time. But I really enjoyed this bit. The rocks weren’t dangerous like the ones on Rintoul. If you fell you wouldn’t fall far. And being tall definitely helped.
I got up to Goat Pass Hut at 1:10pm.
I had a look in the intentions book. Joshua and Nina were in there from five days ago. Interestingly none of the runners that went past had signed themselves in. I guess they didn’t have time to stop.
It was quite windy at the top. But there was a boardwalk which was surprising – although it shouldn’t have been too surprising since the trail notes mentioned it. The boardwalk was quite long and was a nice change from the relative difficulty of the previous section.
It was really nice walking along here. I wonder if this boardwalk will last all the way to the bottom? It went a surprisingly long way.
There were still a few streams to cross. While crossing one of them I accidentally dropped one of my poles into the stream. It was quite a fast moving stream so I nearly lost the pole downstream, but luckily I grabbed it in time.
The poles have straps on them so that that doesn’t happen, however I stopped using the straps in the South Island. I remember Robert saying to me in Northland that he wouldn’t want to fall down a cliff and have his arm broken since he was strapped to the pole. Those words resonated with me and so for the last month I have just held the poles without the straps. I think it’d be more likely that the poles break than my arm breaks but I can’t get the image of my arm breaking out of my head.
Here’s the Mingha Bivvy. A fairly standard two-bed structure painted the usual “Rescue Orange”.
I didn’t stop for lunch #2 today. I wanted to save myself for a big pub dinner later.
From here it was easy going downhill at first alongside the Mingha River but as the path went further down there was more water and more climbs.
The way down was a bit “meh” after the enormity and the excitement of the uphill. You could say the Mingha River side was more of a “minger” than the Deception River side. I was glad when it was over.
The last bit was a bunch more rocks to walk along.
Near the road I encountered a Dad who was waiting for his son. The son was apparently walking or running the Coast To Coast track and Dad was getting worried that his kid wasn’t through yet. Although it had only been four hours. I told him he didn’t need to worry yet.
Soon after that Highway 73 came into view, as well as the train line that ran alongside it.
It was about 4:30 by this point. I was making good time but I had been thinking for a while about a small problem. If I go to the Bealey Hotel for a pub meal and get my food box, I either have to stay with them the night or backtrack 5km to a campsite. The other option could be to go to Bealey Hut which is 4km further on but then I’d arrive late and arriving after dark at a hut is not cool. Would the hotel have a room available on a Saturday I wonder? The weekend before the Coast To Coast? Probably not, I figured!
Well this was the point where cellphone service returned, so I could find out for sure. I called the Bealey Hotel and asked if they had any rooms… turns out they did! Phew… I will get my pub meal, beer and food box tonight after all, and won’t have to backtrack. Wonderful. And hopefully a comfy sleep too.
I was still a few km from the hotel though. There was one final river crossing before the safety of the highway – the Bealey River. This is it:
It was pretty tame. I gave it 3/10 on the scariness scale. That was the last river crossing before I was no longer “trapped” if the rain came in – if the rivers get flooded now at least I’m on a road and can get out instead of being stuck in a hut. That was a good feeling… however there are still a couple more river crossings before the hotel.
First though was a walk down a 4WD track beside the road and then under the railway line through this tunnel:
And here is Greyneys Shelter.
This was the point that the sign at the start of the day would take 14 hours to get to, and I’d done it in just over 9. Not too shabby.
In the car park was a car that had left this note in the window. I thought it was odd that somebody has explcity advertised that this car will be sitting vacant for two or three days.
Then there was this track, which had a big fence and was closed:
That wasn’t the way anyway. The way from here is the road.
At least for a little bit. Then you turn off to the left, and walk through a field:
Then a forest (the Klondyke Campsite is just after here):
Then on a 4WD track:
And then there is one final river crossing before the hotel – the Waimakariri River:
This was actually the scariest river crossing of the day. It was fairly fast moving and took a couple of goes to find a spot that wasn’t too deep. In the photo above, the river starts to turn just before the power lines. I found that a good place to cross that wasn’t too deep. The scariness rating for this river was 5/10.
Once you’ve crossed there you end up at the back entrance to the hotel. Some animals are waiting for you:
Here’s the pub’s accommodation.
For $80 a night I got a private room with shared facilities. It was all quite cramped and everyone was all over each other a bit. But a room with an ensuite was $180 so I didn’t complain.
I saw Dave and Baxter in the pub playing pool. They had hitched from the Otira River because they were worried about the Goat Pass section and the rain. I asked Baxter how he found the Taramakau River crossing from yesterday. He said he was “shit scared”. No wonder since he’s 14 years old and very lightweight.
In fact everyone I had talked to in the last few days was intending to skip the Goat Pass section because of the weather. I of course didn’t want to skip it, hence the big day today. Most people would do the pass in two days, according to the trail notes. I’m so glad I didn’t have to skip it, today was a really excellent day.
I had a burger for dinner and two beers, and dessert, and then also got my food box and ate sweets out of there. I was feeling a bit sick after all that. I tend to do that when I come across anywhere that sells food – stuff my face too much. I really shouldn’t.
It was a surprise that at the hotel they sold a few hiker-related items, in particular I got a new gas canister from there. Awesome – now I don’t have to worry about running out of gas with all my pasta I still have. If only they had milk powder, then I’d be set.
One final thing I noticed – I finished the section with some chocolate left over. That has never happened before. It wasn’t much chocolate – it was just one Freddo. But nonetheless, it was still an achievement.
I don’t know what’s gonna happen tomorrow. The weather forecast is all over the place. There’s a 20km walk to a hut called Hamilton Hut and then after that there are a bunch more river crossings. Hamilton Hut is apparently a common place to sit and wait if the river (the Harper River) is too high. Let’s see what the weather is like in the morning.
Today's walk on the map (blue = Te Araroa, red = today's walk):