Rakaia River to Arthur’s Pass

Day 30: campsite past Stone Hut to North side of Rangitata River, Lots of km, including some extra wandering off course for good measure.

We woke up chilly having slept near a river valley and past numerous potential spots to camp. During the night we woke up and looked at the stars as we are in a night sky preserve. We saw the prominent Milky Way and figured out how to find the southern cross constellation.

We woke up earlier than usual to hopefully get to the road in time to hitchhike into town. We were hoping to be in town for my birthday.

We worked our way up to the high point of our day and were greeted with amazing views of Bush Stream valley. Working our way down to the stream we encountered our first forest in about a week. We were eternally grateful for the shade and sturdy nature of the trees.

We descended very steeply to the valley floor where we forded the stream many times. Interestingly enough the first crossing was deepest and fastest. Today being Valantines Day it seemed appropriate that during the fords the two of us linked arms or held hands- although this was mostly for safety. It is very easy for me to get swept away by the current because of my shorter stature and lighter mass.

Much of the day was spent walking on river banks often with large pillow sized rocks to navigate through.

Somewhere along the way I lost my footing and screamed out for help. John turned around terrified to see me on the ground pinned awkwardly among the rocks unable to move like turtle turned over on its shell. After laying there for a moment, I had to take off my pack to get up. I now have a large bruise on my hip and it hurts to the touch. As I was hanging out close to the ground, I found a heart shaped rock and handed it to John saying “Happy Valentine’s Day!”

“You want me to carry a rock?” He asked looking at me skeptically.

I laughed and told John to just carry it for one day.

When we finally got to the road we saw there was less than no traffic. We saw a couple who were resting in the shade. They had just crossed the Rangitata River we asked them for advice and looked at our watches. We decided we were up for the challenge. Crossing this river was not to be taken lightly. It is a braided river a number of km across. The route across is not an official part of the Te Araroa.

We started by approaching the river which is quite a distance from the trail. After about a half hour we found ourselves on the banks of the raging river. Definitely the biggest river I ever considered crossing. We walked up stream looking for an appropriate place to cross. This was difficult as the water was murky with glacial silt making the depth almost impossible to judge. We tested in a number of spots to see if it was possible. We determined if the water is glacial blue it is dangerously deep. After figuring that out we realized we had to walk significantly up stream to cross safely. Finally after getting to a safe spot we figured out that crossing to a sand bar allowed for access to shallower crossings further down past the island sand bar. We used this method to cross the deepest and swiftest part of the river all while only having water up to our knees.

After passing through that channel it seemed like we just needed to cross smaller and smaller braids of the river. This went on for hours. It was like crossing a stream a hundred times.

All the while I was encouraging us to travel further and further upstream so we would be upstream from a confluence of another river. Everything seemed great and we started seeing bunny holes and deep grass, so I figured we were done with the river.

Unfortunately, this was not the case. We came to another river crossing. We found this branch to be even swifter and deeper then all the rest of the branches. This was not at all how the people coming the other way had described it.

I looked at the map and decided to go further upstream to where it looked smaller. We agreed that this was a good idea but after dragging ourselves through deep swamp to get there, we found that smaller just meant narrower and deeper. In retrospect this seems obvious.

In the end we back tracked to another place where we had over looked as a place to cross and forded. Then we walked across farmland to a road with absolutely no traffic.

After walking 2k on the road we made it to where the trail continues north and a place to camp. There there were many southbounders hanging out waiting for a shuttle to the other side of tee river we had just crossed. The shuttle came and went fully packed. We were out of food so unfortunately we couldn’t simply hike further to the next road crossing where there was likely to be more traffic (two days ahead).

We pitched our tent and decided to try hitching in the morning.

Day 31, 0km

We got up and sat by the road waiting for any traffic. An hour went by and no cars passed. We thought maybe we would starve to death before we got out.

Another hour passed and one car passed by and the people in it somehow completely ignored us (my jaw was down to my ankles for about 15 minutes after that), and another truck who stopped and showed us that he had absolutely no room for us.

Another half hour later and a Jeep with some guys drive up and stopped. They weren’t going far, but they were willing to drive us.

We jumped in and got as far as a tiny group of vacation houses. “There will be heaps of cars here” the guys said as they let us off.

We stood in the empty road and laughed at the lack of “heaps of cars”.

But actually this was better than ~1 car/ hour and within an hour we got picked up by a lady who probably drove quite out of her way to get us to the next biggest thing, a tiny village with a small petrol station and a tiny convenience store. Along the way we passed by a load of sheep being moved by way of the road and we had to pull over for a while to let them pass. It was fun to see the sheep dogs at work.

From this town, we were finally at the cross roads of various places. We could go to Methven, Geraldine, or Ashburton. We stood by the road to Ashburton for a while next to some adorable ponies but after feeding them grass for some time, we decided we actually probably wanted to go to Methven.

Sometime later a Chinese couple picked us up and dropped us off at the turnoff to Methven. From here we didn’t have to wait long for a farmer to stop and give us a ride down the road into town.

All in all, we spent 6-7 hours hitchhiking. And this was my birthday. By the time we got to town and tried to sort out accommodation, I was exhausted. We decided we stank enough to take a shower before eating but then I didn’t want to put my stinky clothes back on so we had to figure out where we could do laundry. I was tired of not being able to do all my laundry for lack of additional clothes to wear, so I visited a thrift shop and found a somewhat lightweight dress I could wear while laundry was running. The dress was a bit short for the amount of wind in town, so I walked around holding the dress down the whole time.

With clean clothes we headed out for dinner and a drink after which I was ready to hit the sac.

With no plan for tomorrow yet, we fell asleep. We thought we would have had more time to plan, but town stops just seem to swallow all our time- plus hitching took most of the day. Not exactly the best birthday on record, but I can’t complain that I’m stuck somewhere in the middle of New Zealand, right??

Day 31, 0km

We woke up and looked at the maps. We’re not sure how we can get back to the trail where we left off given how long it took us to get to this town, and once we looked at the next section we saw that we had to do 30km in a straight shot because of private property. I have to admit, this trail is a patience tester. You can’t just hike and figure it out as you go unless you don’t mind walking a ton more than you may like or a ton less, and potentially spend money to camp or stay somewhere, etc.

We decided we really needed to spend some time looking at the maps and planning how to continue on before getting our resupply food. Plus we heard that a tropical cyclone is in its way to New Zealand early next week just to throw us another curve ball.

We decided to spend a second night in Methven, but this time at the Snow Den, the hostel in town. There, to our great surprise, we met 3 other northbounders! We traded thoughts and also found that we may be able to pay for a shuttle back to the trail for a reasonable amount. Soon it was decided- we would skip the small section, about 2 or 3 days between the two big rivers so as not to have to spend a full day trying to hitch around the Rakaia as well as trying to get back to the other side of the Rangitata. I now understand why this is such a headache for everyone unless you get super lucky with hitching, or you’re willing to spend several hundred dollars on shuttles which you need to plan in advance.

In any case, it was nice to have a kitchen to prepare a lovely salad for dinner full of bacon and avocado, and we went to bed with a plan to get a shuttle back to the north side of the Rakaia with a couple of the other northbounders in the morning.

Day 32, north side of Rakaia to Harper River campsite, 30km

We got our ride at 8am and shared it with Sam and Martin, two northbounders we met yesterday. The ride took almost an hour, and it looked like rain. As we got close, we saw a beautiful rainbow appear, and Martin pulled out his ukulele (yes, he’s carrying a ukulele!) and played ‘over the rainbow’. It felt like a magical moment.

It was so nice to hike with other people! Martin is from the Czech Republic and Sam is from (you won’t believe this), Long Island, NY. If you didn’t know, John grew up on Long Island.

For the first few hours of the morning we had some rain, which was accompanied by strong winds, making it very hard to talk to each other.

Most of the day we were walking along a gravel road, next to lakes – lovely scenery, and easy walking.

The day went by fast while talking with our new friends even though the wind was gusting so strongly at times that it was hard to walk.

We got to the area where we were allowed to camp in this section, and were surprised by how many other people were there. We were even more surprised when we found out that two Germans there were also northbound, and a French man who we also met in Methven but didn’t take the shuttle with us. We bonded with the German couple over recalling the terrible section from the ghost town of Macetown along the river – the section that basically made me want to quit. I had to laugh when I listened to them describe it:

“You’re trying not to fall off the cliff while hugging those stupid thorny bushes” the lady said.

“They should put up a sign that says ‘for stupid people’” said the man.

More people filed in, all southbounders, and it soon looked like a tent city. I couldn’t believe how many hikers there were.

We ate dinner and John and I helped Sam readjust her pack so it fit better. The metal stay inside her pack had slipped out and we tried for about half an hour to get it back in again. Finally John shouted “are there any other engineers here that can help!?”

An older German man walked up and in a thick German accent he said “yes? I’m an engineer. How can I help?” He looked at the pack and asked if anyone had a knife or something. John handed him a spoon and he got that stupid stay in in less than 5 minutes.

Martin played the ukulele. We set up camp and went to sleep.

Day 33 Harper River Campsite to Hamilton Hut, 19km

The trail followed some river valleys for quite some time and we crossed through streams over and over again on four wheel drive roads. No chance of dry feet today.

Martin, Sam and Jeremy caught up with us and I spent some time practicing my French with Jeremy.

The walking was easy but there were some spots where navigation was tricky, so for the first time in ages I took out my compass.

It was again enjoyable to hike with others, and we got to the Hut very early – by about 2pm. We considered moving on further but we had to consider the upcoming weather – we knew a typhoon on the horizon, but we didn’t know exactly when it would hit.

Hamilton Hut was one of the most amazing huts we’ve seen so far. It was huge- could sleep 20 in two separate dorm rooms with bunks that went three high. We quickly claimed bottom bunks, and we found that there was a radio in the Hut which we could use to call Arthur’s Pass. Fancy! We could Communicate with the outside world!

John picked up the receiver and radioed out per the written instructions:

“Arthur’s Pass, Arthur’s Pass this is Hamilton Hut, Hamilton Hut, over.”

Someone on the other end answered and we were able to get the forecast:

“Rain to start at midnight tonight with gale force winds starting tomorrow and extreme gale on Tuesday, with 200mm of rain expected. [pause] Do you copy?” She said in a voice that implied: “get it guys? You should get the hell out of there by tomorrow.”

We deliberated. The Hut was a much better place to spend the night if the storm was going to start during the night, and the weather tomorrow morning didn’t look dangerous enough not to be able to make it the 16km to the road the next day. It seemed like it made more sense to stay put for now and hike out in the morning rather than try to go further and camp.

This was about the earliest we had stopped hiking on any given day, but the Hut was full of surprises. We found a 1000 piece puzzle and I decided to pour it out on one of the tables. Jeremy and I got to work turning over the pieces and finding the edges.

More hikers filed in, and John and another woman named Ruth started helping us with the puzzle. As the puzzle started coming together, more people stepped in to help, and we thought there was a chance we could finish it before nightfall. We took turns eating dinner and making the puzzle, and all in all probably about 10 people helped with the puzzle. The Hut was quite full of people, and everyone was making plans for sitting out the typhoon.

It turned out that Ruth, who is from Holland, had a car at the car park that we were headed to, but she was taking a different trail out and was going to hitchhike back to her car. We decided that she could give us the keys and we could get her car and drive it to where she would be hiking out- only about 10 minute drive away, and then she could give us a ride to Christchurch. Since we barely knew each other, we decided it was fair for her to trade her car keys for my passport. That gave we some assurance we wouldn’t run away or disappear with her car!

As darkness started to fall we were so close to finishing the puzzle. We had so many people bending over the puzzle it was hard to even keep track of what we were working on. It was a lot of fun and everyone had more energy than you would think to work on this pointless project. We figured it was a good metaphor for hiking – a bunch of stubborn people coming together to complete a pointless goal. We took our headlamps and flashlights out to put the last few pieces in and celebrated when we found the last two pieces on the floor.

We all slept fairly poorly – it was too hot in the rooms and there were too many people as well as sandflies too.

Everyone got up very early to start their day to get out before the really bad weather hit.

Day 34: Hamilton Hut to Arthur’s Pass, 16km

We were awake by 5:30am, and even though John and I were some of the last people to drag ourselves out of bed, we were the fastest to get ready and leave.

The trail was wonderful – we traveled through forest, which we had missed so much for the last week or two, and the trail was quite well formed.

We did have to cross a couple of small streams which were slightly swollen already, so no dry feet today. We ate breakfast along the way, but the sandflies were horrible so we didn’t stop for long. While we were having breakfast Jeremy caught up with us and we hiked together over a saddle – the only small exposed part of today’s hike – but even with the small amount of rain we were getting, we still got a view.

In fact the weather wasn’t that bad – a slight drizzle and practically no wind. It was actually a great day of hiking, I really enjoyed it.

We got to the Hut right before the road and found the Germans were there. Bastien was trying to convince us to stay there for free instead of heading to Christchurch we’re we’d be spending a lot of money. They had a good point, but Christchurch promised food, which we’d have to get anyway, and new socks, a shower etc. plus we had a ride. But we considered coming back to the Hut after a night or two in Christchurch if we needed to wait out the weather longer.

We got to Ruth’s rental car and John and Jeremy piled in with all our gear and we headed down the road (on the left, as John kept reminding me every few seconds) to the next car park where Ruth was waiting for us while having some lunch.

I was glad to hand her the keys and get my passport back. It was almost a two hour car ride to Christchurch and we managed to call a few hostels to find a place to stay.

We got in and got some groceries before checking in.

We got a 8 share room and since we weren’t the first to check in, there were only top bunks left. Sigh.

We cooked dinner and ate together then Sam arrived and we shared our left overs with her as well.

Finally we got to sleep quite late and I slept fairly poorly in this wobbly bunk bed. Every time I moved the guy below me also moved and every time he moved I woke up. Sometime around 1am I woke up sweating in the thick air – it was probably especially hot since I was on the top bunk. I got up and opened the window, hoping that would help. I got back to sleep and didn’t get up again until it was almost time to check out.

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