Day 48: St Arnaud to Red Hill Hut, ~15km
We hit the trail from St Arnaud after a hiatus during which we hiked in Abel Tasman National Park (see previous blog post).
The trail has changed recently and we only figured that out after we started heading steeply up the trail starting only at 4pm. My notes indicated that it was a 7.5km walk from the road to Red Hill Hut but with the new route it was actually about 12km. That error was not in our favor. Plus our packs were heavy for this section with about 7-8 days of food. Luckily we were well rested and well fed so we had the energy to power up the hill.
After a long climb we had great views of the surrounding area. We continued into forest which had quite a few wasps buzzing around, and at one point John cursed, and I found out one had stung him in the arm. Poor John- it turns out this is his third sting! I haven’t gotten stung at all yet – lucky me, because I’m the one with the phobia.
In the forest we heard something flying right over our head and into a tree right next to us, and it was an owl! The native owl here is called Morepork. We were able to get a picture of it as it wasn’t afraid of us at all (just like all the other New Zealand birds).
We managed to reach the hut after just 3.5 hours of hiking, which is surprising because we’re (I’m) usually slower than that. I was glad to get there before the sunset.
We entered the hut and found our friend Jeremy – the first northbounder we met on the trail many weeks ago now. It was great to catch up with him while eating dinner and setting up for the night.
Day 49: Red Hill Hut to Hunters Hut, 19.5 km
We woke after a sound sleep in the cozy hut. We made our way down the trail and immediately had wet feet in the the nearby bog. We were joined most of the day by our friend Jeremy, a software engineer and cat lover from Portland, OR.
The walking was generally easy. Along the way, the landscape became more austere with more scrubby vegetation, and it also became more difficult. The soil became increasingly colorful with reds, greens, and blues appearing on the hillsides. The colors and vegetation were colored because of the presences of rare rock and mineral types found in the area.
As we approached hut for the night, there was a boulder field. The rocks in the boulder field were incredibly heavy for their size because they were composed of magnetite a rock primarily made out of iron.
We got to the hut and made a fire in the wood stove after eating dinner. We also did a few gear repairs- sewing John’s shoes some more with dental floss and sewing the handle back into John’s food bag- something I broke two days ago when it was over full with food.
Day 50: Hunters Hut to Mid Wairoa, 17.5km
When we woke up in the morning I was very surprised to see that another person was sleeping next to us in the bunk bed. Apparently this guy came in around 10pm last night and nobody heard him come in. I was pretty impressed that he didn’t wake us up – we must have all been out cold once we fell asleep.
We left the hut and dropped down to a river which was supposed to be the last water source for a while but we followed it for a while before heading up towards Mt. Ellis which was quite a climb. The views were amazing as we climbed up and it got colder and colder as well along with strong wind.
We put our rain jackets on to keep warm. We got great views of the Tasman Bay as well as a 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains. At the same time we were being practically blown off the mountain by huge gusts of wind.
The track then went down towards Top Wairoa Hut, but as it did we had to cross a ton of boulder fields. By this point I was exhausted and in need of lunch, and the boulder field were kicking my butt. Finally when I got another view of the hut, I realized we were still quite far, so I sat down and had a snack.
We didn’t stop for too long in the hut since we were told that the next section was perhaps the hardest section in the Richmonds, and I didn’t want to be stuck hiking too far into the evening.
The next section was along a river with about 8 crossings, and some steep ups and downs. Sections were quite narrow with some serious drop offs if one were to fall, but the foot and hand holds were always solid and I was never actually afraid of falling. In fact for most of the section I kept wondering where the hard part would be. It never came.
The river was beautiful with many waterfalls and crystal clear pools one of which John decided to take a dip in.
The only part of this section I didn’t like were the yellow jackets, but there weren’t too many of them. I was just afraid that one would get me when I was in a precarious spot.
We made it to the hut faster than I had anticipated and there was a lovely swimming hole nearby. The water was cold and the air temperature wasn’t that warm, so I opted to stay dry, but John and Jeremy both jumped in, screaming as they went out of shock because of how cold the water was. John described the water as painful and amazing.
In the hut we found a bottle of olive oil. We added generous pours to our dinners in hopes of getting a few more calories. We’re a bit nervous about how much food we have for the next 5 days. We may be a bit hungry by the end of this section.
Day 50: Mid Wairau Hut to Rintoul Hut, 14.5km
In the morning we crossed the river one last time via a swing bridge that was very tricky to get up onto -it started above my waist level so I had to clamber up to it. Then we had a long slow climb up to the ridge. It was probably about a 1000m (3000ft) climb through forest.
We passed a few southbounders including a group of four middle aged kiwis one of which had fallen on Rintoul Mountain which we will climb perhaps tomorrow if we get any good weather (apparently it is supposed to rain). The section over Rintoul Mountain is supposed to be one of the hardest if not the hardest part of this section. The lady that fell knocked some teeth out and busted open her lips. It looked bad, but she was just going to carry on.
We stopped for lunch at Tarn Hut, and Jeremy caught up with us. The next section was a mostly beautiful ridge walk and climb up Purple Mountain which had amazing views. The ridge, however, had so many wasps that sometimes it felt like we were swimming in them. Luckily nobody got stung, but they frequently bumped into us while flying about. I just walked with my head down trying my best to breathe slowly and only through my nose in case one decided to fly into my mouth.
Before we got to the hut we was another morepork owl which sat in a tree watching us as we walked by. This is the second owl we’ve seen in this section.
We made it to Rintoul Hut and two other southbounders were already there and two more arrived shortly after we did. Between the seven of us, we will squeeze into the 6 bunk hut for the night. Tomorrow looks like rain, and we may need to sit in this hut and wait for better weather in order to attempt this really difficult section tomorrow. It is all exposed and there is a lot of loose rock (scree) and it will be very steep. Hopefully going up will be easier than going down.
Day 51: Rintoul Hut, 0km
We woke up to a thick layer of clouds. John, Jeremy and I decided to sleep in and wait for the weather to clear before trying to head up Rintoul. Jeremy started a fire, and we stayed in our sleeping bags for quite a while.
We are low on food, so we didn’t eat any breakfast. The dark clouds continued to hang around, so we started to play some cards. John started getting quite hungry – I could tell because he was getting very grumpy.
We decided that we would take a zero in the hut if the weather did not improve before 2pm, and as it started to rain around that time, we called it. We took some time chopping fire wood and doing some laundry in a small bowl that I found in the hut.
I took out all our food and rationed it so that we could eat something without jeopardizing the next few days.
The view of the bay cleared up, but the clouds over head didn’t clear up until late afternoon.
Eventually some other northbounders showed up to the hut. There were three of them: two guys from Sweden and a guy from Scotland.
Annoyingly, the sun came out and we couldn’t hike on because it would take us 5 hours over gnarly terrain to get to the next hut.
Before long the conversation turned to food and we spent several hours torturing ourselves by talking about food. Somehow the conversation always circled back around to food.
Eventually we all ate some dinner and settled down. That evening we enjoyed an amazing sunset.
Day 52: Rintoul Hut to Starveal Hut, 19.5km
We woke up to fog, and were a bit disappointed that there was a good chance that we wouldn’t get any views from Rintoul. We had no choice but to head out based on our food situation, so we packed up.
As we left the hut, the clouds looked like they may clear a little bit.
Jeremy and I headed out first leaving John behind to poop before leaving the hut (last place to poop for many hours). We headed straight up Rintoul at the rate of 480m climb in just over a kilometer. It was loose scree going up and quite hard to make forward progress, but I was so glad to be going up and not down.
Before too long John caught up and we did get a few glimpses here and there of the mountain and views.
From the top of Mt Rintoul we had to go along a steep ridge to reach Little Rintoul, which involved some scrambling. I felt like my rock climbing skills came in handy because I just treated it like an easy rock climbing project rather than a hike. It was fun.
Clambering up and down steeply. The only part I really didn’t like was walking on boulder fields which I just seem to be bad at. I think it’s an issue of balance.
We got done with the most technically difficult bit before I knew it, and we could see Old Man Hut. We didn’t stop there though because it was 300m (elevation) down from the trail itself and we brought enough water to be able to skip the hut. Plus it was very cold out- just above freezing with lots of clouds, sometimes spitting a little bit of a drizzle at us.
We ate lunch at the trail junction to Old Man Hut and continued on towards Slaty Hut. It was a beautiful walk first climbing Old Man Mountain, but then walking along a picturesque ridge with occasional views. If we had had a perfectly sunny day, the views today would have been really amazing.
We made it to Slaty Hut in really good time, stopping there to have another meal, and continuing down to Starveall Hut. We decided that if we made it to Starveall Hut today, we could probably finish this section in just 2 more days after today, instead of 3 allowing us to eat more of our food, and also bringing us closer to a burger in town. Food has become a big motivator.
We walked mostly through forest, which with the fog looked really moody and picturesque. We had a couple more small mountains to climb- in particular, Mount Starveall. When we reached Mount Stearveall, the clouds parted and we got fantastic views for the last descent into the hut.
By the time we got to Starveall Hut, however, it was fully packed and there was already someone camping outside. The other three northbounders had got there before us, and there were people out for the weekend as well (we forgot that it was Saturday).
We searched around for a suitable place to camp and found very little. Jeremy opted to camp on the helicopter landing area where there was a no camping sign, and we crammed our tent between a couple of trees on the edge of the trail.
It’ll be cold tonight, especially since we’re not in a hut, but at least we have warm sleeping bags. My guess is it will drop below freezing, but I’m not sure by how much.
Day 53: Starveall Hut to Middy Hut, 28km
We woke up quite cold, but I don’t think it was below freezing. We teamed up with Jeremy again and headed downhill towards Hacket Hut. It warmed up tremendously as we descended.
We had a bunch of stream crossings, so for the first time in a couple of days we got our feet wet. It has certainly been a novelty to have dry feet recently.
At the hut we ate two lunches since we will get to town a day early. I had tuna and chips as well as a tortilla with Nutella. We got back to the trail and my stomach was gurgling it was so full. We had to climb up again, and I had trouble going up hill with any kind of speed because my stomach was busy trying to digest. Eventually I put my pack down and went to dig a hole, and after that I was full of energy and feeling quite a bit lighter!
The next section had a lot of downed trees, and we were impressed with the trail maintenance that went into this track. Unusual for the Te Araroa Trail. We did have a few trees to clamber over, and I even misplaced the trail once, leading us astray for a short period of time.
We got to Rocks Hut and Jeremy decided that he wanted to stay there. It was a larger hut (sleeps 16) and somehow had flushing toilets. Nobody was there, so Jeremy probably got the place to himself. John and I decided to carry on to Middy Hut knowing that tomorrow will be hellishly long if we didn’t. We all wanted to make it at least to Pelorous Campground where they have some sort of cafe by tomorrow night.
MIddy Hut was only another 2 hours away and I felt good heading downhill one more time although my knees and ankles did start to feel it. We got to a swing bridge and knew we were nearly there.
At Middy Hut we caught up to the three other Northbounders. Middy Hut was next to a river with a giant swimming hole and we took off all our clothes and jumped in for only half a minute before we were freezing our butts off. Sand flies tried to devour us as we scrambled to put some clothes back on and run to the hut.
We decided to camp instead of sleep in the hut – first because there were only top bunks left (and no ladders to get to them!), and second because we plan to wake up before sunrise to get a head start on tomorrow and hopefully get to the campground before the cafe closes at 5pm.
As I’m typing this, a resident weka just walked up to the tent and walked straight into the bug netting obviously not seeing it was there. These birds are so funny. I’m going to have to close the vestibule door on the tent so it doesn’t somehow try to peck through the bug netting while we’re trying to sleep. Never thought I’d have to worry about flightless bird attacks.
Day 54: Middy Hut to Havelock,
We got up at 6:30am, and we were on the trail walking by 7am before it was really light out. We quickly made it to Captain’s Creek Hut and I signed the intentions book and noticed that someone had left there that morning.
We carried on along the Pelorus River which had many beautiful crystal blue swimming pools one of which John decided to jump into.
We carried on along the river and got to a turn off to Emerald Pools- another great swimming hole where we ran into three Koreans who had all come from Captains Creek Hut. I found out that they were getting picked up at the trail head by some friends. John took his second swim of the day while I hiked forward, trying to make forward progress. I knew that we had a long road walk ahead of us and it was unlikely anyone would pick us up since the road dead ends in the mountains.
We got to the road and carried on a ways before a car drove up and stopped to ask us if they were in the right spot for getting to the trail head. I asked if they were there to pick up three hikers, and they said yes. I dismissed the idea that they would be able to also give us a ride out since there were two of them and they were picking up 3 more people plus all their bags.
A half hour later we stopped at the side of the road to have lunch. Just as we were finishing our lunch, the same car came driving back towards us and stopped again.
“We made room for you guys!” Said one of the Korean hikers.
They had literally packed all their bags in a huge wall blocking the entire rear view but making enough space for John to squeeze in the trunk while I squeezed next to 3 other petite ladies in the back seat. It was an uncomfortable but completely worthwhile ride down the road to the campground. Meanwhile we learned that there is at least one long distance track in South Korea, and these hikers had done all the 9 Great Walks in New Zealand as well as many that aren’t Great Walks. They thought that probably their favorite hike they had done in New Zealand was the one they had just finished through the Richmond Ranges. I had to agree that this was one of the most beautiful walks I had ever done too. And probably one of the hardest too.
We had been hearing about the Richmond Ranges ever since we started hiking in New Zealand. Every Southbounder gave us the same story: “just wait until the Richmonds!’ mostly referring to difficulty: sketchy trail with rock scrambles, loose rock with terrifying drops and footpaths so narrow that one false move or one gust of wind and you’ll fall to your death.
In the end, the reality of this section totally missed the expectations I had going into it. The trail was hard but never scary, and usually the challenging bits were really quite fun and in superbly scenic places. It was never tough with no reward or for no reason. I’ve never walked through such a diverse and gorgeous section of trail for such a long period of time with so many amazingly beautiful spots. I would recommend it to anyone even if you’re afraid of heights.
We got to Havelock and ate an embarrassing amount of food from the local “Takeaways”. We found a place to spend the night at the Holiday Park before planning the next portion of our hike which will be on the Queen Charlotte Track.