Day 41: Kiwi Hope Lodge to Boyle Village, 14km
We woke up to rain. Some people staying in the hut going in the opposite direction had an updated forecast and told us that the rain would ease in the morning, so we weren’t in a hurry to leave the hut.
After eating some breakfast and using the privy, we set out with the Germans to reach Windy point, a spot with a swing bridge where we could cross the Boyle River without having to ford it. That landed us right at the highway we needed to hitch hike into Hanmer Springs on. We had sent a box to Boyle Village, but we only put 5 days of food in it, and we figured we would need at least 6 for this next section, possibly more if there is any bad weather in the forecast.
We were warned that there was a section of the trail right after the hut that had a ton of blow downs. Some told us that it was impossible to get through, some told us it took them half an hour or more to cover 0.3km. Everyone told us to walk through the marsh next to the forest instead, to avoid this jungle gym. After last night’s rain, the marsh was particularly wet, and we were often up to our knees in water or mud along with swampy grass. Still, it wasn’t that slow going compared to the forest, and we soon rejoined the trail further along.
We made fast progress through the forest, mostly because of all the yellow jackets which motivated me to keep running forward. The trees were covered in some kind of black substance- maybe mold or moss. We weren’t at all sure. But what was clear is that wherever the trees were covered in black stuff, there were tons of yellow jackets.
After a while we made it to the swing bridge, and over to a car park. The German couple opted to eat lunch, allowing us to hitchhike first. It took forever to get a ride. Hitchhiking in this country sometimes feels like an extreme sport. We kept analyzing our spot, the road conditions, whether we should smile, put our packs in front or us, or keep them on our backs, etc. We just couldn’t understand why nobody was stopping. Eventually, however, a Chinese family stopped and we sat in the back seat next to their adorable 4 year old daughter who was clutching a stuffed kiwi bird. They spoke some English, and we were thrilled when they drove us all the way to our destination- to Hanmer Springs. The ride was close to an hour, and the 4 year old was very antsy to get out and take a break. They played her songs from American movies to cheer her up, like “let it go” from Frozen, which made me laugh because every little girl I know in the USA is obsessed with this movie. Who would have guessed Chinese little girls are too?
In Hanmer Springs we secured a spot at the Kakapo Lodge, a very nice backpackers close to the center of town, and we started our usual chores- food, showers, laundry, shopping, blog writing, family calling, etc. We got to bed later than we had hoped since we had quite a bit to do, but once we did, the bed was soooo comfortable!
Day 42: Boyle Village to Anne Hut, 31km
The weather forecast does not look good, and we spent some time in the morning trying to figure out a strategy for the next few days. We wound up calling the local DOC office to ask for advice, and figured out that we needed to try to hurry up and get over the sketchy pass up ahead called Waiau Pass on Thursday- possibly the best weather day, although pretty much every day is calling for some amount of rain. We’re bummed about this since we had such great weather further south where it didn’t matter quite as much. We’re told Waiau pass is not somewhere you want to be in bad weather, and I believe it.
After a big breakfast we headed out to hitchhike. Again it felt like a sport which we were bad at. It took a long time for someone to pick us up, and in fact it took two rides to get all the way back to Boyle Village. Both rides were with Germans, which I thought was kind of funny. Seems like there aren’t many locals around here!
Once at Boyle Village, we picked up our resupply box with the 5 days of food in it for which we were charged $20 just to pick it up.
Not only did they charge us a small fortune for our box, they also had the nerve to ask us if we had any extra food which they could resell. Instead of the American “hiker box” idea, they actually go around trying to collect extra food from hikers to try to sell it for exorbitant prices to the next desperate hiker. That didn’t sit well with me despite the fact that they were a non-profit.
By the time we hit the trail it was 12:15pm, and we wanted to try to make it to Anne Hut, or basically as far as possible.
I set out at a practically unreasonable pace given how heavy our packs were, but the trail was very easy going. The trail we’re starting on is the St James Walkway, which is on a list to possibly become a Great Walk. It’s definitely easy enough to be a Great Walk, but the scenery so far hasn’t quite been comparable to the Great Walks that I’ve been on so far. But who knows, maybe the next section of this hike is more up to the Great Walk standard.
We walked along a river most of the day, but didn’t have to get our feet wet for quite a while. In fact at the first small stream crossing I hesitated, trying to decide if I should simply plow through or delicately pick a rock crossing to keep my feet dry. It always feels pointless to do that when you just wind up getting your feet wet 5 minutes later. But, miraculously we kept our feet dry for maybe 2 whole hours before the trail finally gave way to swampy mud where we had no choice but to sink our feet in. Those couple hours were quite nice though!
We kept hiking fast, and attempted to take a short break to eat some food, but the sandflies quickly found us, and we only got about two bites in before I just wanted to move on.
Finally, when we got close to the hut, around almost 8pm, we came across a field full of wild horses, many of which had young. There were dozens of them, and some of them galloped away from us in a heard. It was kind of amazing to watch.
We arrived at the hut just before it started to really get dark, and we found that several of our NOBO friends were there including the Germans, Martin, Aurélie, and Diamond. We had some dinner and set up for sleep. It took us a while to get ready for sleep, but some others took even longer, and it wasn’t until after 10:30pm that I was able to finally close my eyes. Wayyyy past hiker midnight!
Day 43: Anne Hut to Waiau River Forks campsite, 34km
I woke up quite tired around 7am, but we got going by about 7:30 just a few minutes after the Germans. The hiking was easy going, and the valley was beautiful despite the fact that it was quite cloudy and periodically it would drizzle and then occasionally it would actually rain hard enough to put on our rain jackets.
We caught up to the Germans after a couple of hours, and we walked together most of the way to Waiau Hut. The hut was small, and had only 6 bunk beds, and by the time we got there around 2pm, there were already two people from the Netherlands who were taking a day off in the hut. They had a fire going in the wood burning stove, and it was nice and warm inside. However, the hut was not sandfly-proof, and we killed quite a few while having a late lunch there.
Soon Aurélie showed up and asked if we had seen Martin and Diamond, who she thought were ahead of her, but we hadn’t. Maybe they got lost.
Everyone wanted to spend the night in the hut to avoid camping in the rain, but it was so early in the day, and we didn’t want our big day over Waiau pass tomorrow to be even harder or longer than it needed to be, so we decided to continue on. Plus, even after an hour break at the hut, it was only 3pm.
We geared up and hiked further along the river towards the pass, soon passing Caroline Creek Bivy, which had some nice camping, but we decided to press on even further.
We then saw some southbounders going up and down the bank of the river looking for a nice spot to cross, and we started crossing from the other side towards them. We met in a shallow area in the middle and started trading notes. I was a bit annoyed that we were talking with them for so long in the middle of a river, and my feet were slowly getting completely numb. Finally I just apologized that I couldn’t stand there any longer, and I plowed ahead towards shore where I tried to wiggle my toes only to find that I had lost all feeling. I wobbled further down the trail, and slowly some pain came back to my toes as they regained feeling.
The trail got progressively harder, and we went in and out of the forest and up and down some scree fields. At 5pm we decided we would take the next campsite that we found, but time kept passing without anything resembling a campsite. Again, the trail got harder with bolder fields with loose large rocks with no flat sides to step on, and they were of course all wet from the rain, so slippery as anything. I was losing energy and slowly I was also losing hope. We kept looking at the map to try to understand where the campsites were that everyone had told us about.
My legs were shaking and I was starting to complain loudly when John pulled out the peanut butter and made me have a spoonful. Luckily, it was only another 10 minutes to the promised campsite, which was indeed real, and I was so happy to finally reach it.
I plopped myself down and took out a bag of chips to celebrate. It was a long day, over 30km and some of it was really hard. Tomorrow will be easier because of what we did today, and I’ll still get to fall asleep early since we’re camping all by ourselves, so there will be no one else to keep us up.
Day 44: Waiau forks campsite to Blue Lake Hut, 9km
I slept like a baby for nearly 12 hours, so we definitely slept in slightly, which we allowed ourselves for doing the extra mileage yesterday.
It was really hard to find a place to poop in the morning because everywhere was either stream or bushes. John had also left my pole next to where he had dug a hole the night before, and had to go find it, so I ventured out with just a stick – which made digging take at least twice as long.
We started up the pass at about 9am, and soon the trail started going straight up, about 800m in less than 2km. We saw Aurélie and Diamond coming up behind us, having come all the way from Waiau Hut.
We had heard that the way up Waiau Pass was a “rock climb” from southbounders, and I wondered if it was a language barrier that caused them to call it that rather than a “rock scramble”, or whether it really was rock climbing.
Soon Aurélie and Diamond caught us, and we found out that it was Diamond’s birthday today. As we climbed, views started appearing, and we snapped many pictures.
The rock climb was more of a scramble in reality, but I was quite happy to be there in relatively good weather, both because the rocks were not too slippery and because it meant we could actually see the marvelous views.
After a lot of huffing and puffing we hit the top and had a terrific view before getting a blast of clouds and wind from the other side. We put on extra layers before heading down the other side, which was more of a scree slide. As we got off the pass, the wind died down slightly, and we stopped to eat. As we were sitting there, we got small glimpses of the lake and mountains around it on this side of the pass.
We continued down, and hit Lake Constance, which we skirted around, sometimes climbing very high over rocky cliffs. It was slightly slow going. From the opposite edge of Lake Constance, we had to climb down to the next lake, Blue Lake, which is actually a sacred lake to the Maoris. This lake is amazingly blue, and has amazingly clear water. You can see all the way to to bottom of the lake.
We arrived at the hut around 3pm and sat down for second lunch. By 4pm we decided that instead of moving on to West Sabine Hut, which would have been another 3 or 4 hours of hiking, we’d just stay here, where all of our other northbound friends planned on staying.
I know that it’ll make tomorrow longer, but that’s OK. It was nice to talk with some other hikers, and take a little walk around Blue Lake in the late afternoon.
Tabea told me that she felt some tendonitis in her foot, and she wasn’t sure if she would be able to do much hiking the next day. I gave her some anti-inflammatories I was carrying to hopefully get her to the next road crossing.
After celebrating Dimond’s 25th birthday with Tim Tams and a candle, we had dinner and set up for sleep.
Day 45: Blue Lake Hut to Upper Travers Hut, 16km
I slept somewhat poorly in the hut, as usual. I always have a hard time sleeping in huts with people shuffling around until late, the fear of mice eating my food, people snoring, going out of the hut at random times to go pee, and then some people get up early, etc.
Bastian and Tabea told me they would likely only go to the next hut. I said goodbye to them thinking that we may not see them again.
The first section of our hike wasn’t too bad, but it was drizzling non-stop. We made it to West Sabine Hut in good time, and took a break to eat some food. We got an updated forecast from the warden staying there, but it looks grim. Showers, or rain practically every day.
We continued on towards Travers Saddle, which was more than a 1000 meter climb. It started off not too bad, but quickly turned into an uphill mudslide. The rain didn’t help the mud, and the trail was so slick, and so steep that I had to hold on to trees and roots to pull myself up, my feet often slipping out from under me.
The rain only got harder as we climbed, but I was warm because we were climbing steeply, so I was only wearing my shorts and tank top. I was soaked to the bone, and I knew it would become a big issue when we got above tree line. In fact, I was still too warm above tree-line, but only barely. We had a small glimpse here or there of some of the huge rugged mountains around us, and I tried to imagine doing this hike on a nice day. I wish we had a nice day.
Finally we hit the top and the wind picked up right on the saddle. I pulled my rain jacket out and quickly zipped it up over my drenched shirt. Moments later I also pulled out my rain pants and pulled with up over my dripping wet shorts. It felt terrible, but it was now somewhat dangerous hyperthermia weather. My hands started to go numb, and I found my gloves and pulled them on as well. I wanted to run down the other side of the saddle, but the terrain did not allow for that. We had to go over time consuming boulder fields, and random waterfalls, rocks, etc.
We just walked as quickly as possible to reach the tree-line. I was worried about John behind me, who was very quiet, but of course I shouldn’t have been. I think he was warmer than I was.
Finally we got to some trees, and not a few moments later, John said he saw the hut. I didn’t see the hut at first, and wondered if he was hallucinating, but soon it appeared like an oasis with smoke coming out of the chimney.
We got inside, dripping from every inch of our bodies, and found Aurélie and Diamond inside as well as a southbounder from Vermont. We pealed off the layers one by one. I wrung my shorts, and my shirt out in the sink and draped them near the wood stove.
I put on whatever dry clothes I could find, and we slowly warmed up. We had been considering trying to get to the next hut, which was only about 2 hours further, but I so ready to be dry, or at least try to be dry and warm up.
Soon the hut started filling up. Tabea and Basitien appeared and I was happy to see them but worried about Tabea’s foot. Apparently the anti-inflammatory I gave her worked great, and she made it over the pass with almost no pain. I was thrilled to hear that, but I really hope that she can soon just rest. They have to catch a flight back to Germany in a week or so anyway, but I hope she doesn’t injure herself more before then.
As the evening progressed the hut filled up with probably 20 people total, each one arriving dripping wet. There were coats and socks and shirts hanging everywhere dripping, while the wood stove steamed up the whole hut.
There were two bunk rooms in the hut, and we designated one the TA hikers bunk room, and everyone else went in the other one. That way all the TA hikers could go to bed at hiker midnight (9pm) while the weekenders stayed up late playing card games.
Day 46: Upper travers Hut to Lake Head Hut, 20km
In the morning I peered out of the window to find that it was not raining anymore. It was still cloudy, but I was excited to walk without rain.
We left the hut with the Germans, as this is their last couple days on the trail, and we were all quite tired. On the way to the next hut, we came across a side trail to an amazing waterfall, which was gushing due to the recent rain.
Once at the next hut, we caught up to Aurélie and Diamond, who both looked exhausted. We all sat in the hut having a snack and staring off. We were all exhausted, and we didn’t know why.
Luckily, the trail wasn’t too difficult through forest with nice bridges over the larger rivers. There were mushrooms everywhere which had recently popped up. I also noticed that there were fewer yellow jackets than before the rain, and I wondered whether they got flooded out and perhaps drowned. Hopefully this will mean fewer yellow jackets in the Richmonds. We’ve heard that there are quite a few of them there… and you all know how much I love stinging insects.
There were many other people out hiking because it’s a Saturday, and we’re in Nelson Lakes National Park, so a popular destination. We also crossed our longest swing bridge so far.
The trail was super muddy, and our shoes and legs were completely covered in mud when we got to lake head hut. I tried to wash my legs and my shoes off outside in the sink, but in doing so I got swarmed by sandflies.
There were already quite a few people in the hut, and there was only one large room with the kitchen area, a table and the bunks all in the same space. John decided we would get a better night’s sleep in the tent, and braved the sandflies in order to set it up outside.
We hung out in the hut for dinner and a couple from Australia had packs that were well balanced with pockets in the front as well as the back, and we all took turns trying them on for fun. Finally we retreated to our tent for an early night of sleep.
Day 47: Lakehead Hut to St Arnaud 10 k
We slept in having slept outside the hut in our tent. I went to the bathroom in the privy like normal making sure to pick out a privy without any wasps in it. I started to go to the bathroom and pretty much immediately two wasps crawled in through a tiny hole where the door latch is and flew straight for my face. I flailed my arms about in a panic and was barely able to wipe as I ran out of the privy. I almost wish someone was there to witness that.
We walked along a lake to St Arnaud which was sometimes loud with sounds from motor boats. The scene was serene when the boats went silent.
As we got closer to town we came across some informative plaques with information regarding questions we had for a number of days. 1. What’s the black stuff all over the trees? And 2. Why are there so many wasps around them?
It turns out the black stuff is called black sooty mold (imagine that). The mold is found where there is a boring insect that feeds on the sap and creates a secretion (AKA poop) that is called honeydew. The wasps and mold both love the stuff. Also it turns out that this type of forest is somewhat rare.
We got into town to find that there was an antique boat show going on which explained the loud boat noises.
When in town we looked at the weather forecast and realized it was going to rain for a full week. In the evening we decided we were going to take time off the Te Araroa to hike on the Abel Tasman Trail which is much lower elevation and we hope more fun to hike in the rain (or maybe has better weather altogether).