Twizel to Rangitata River

Day 25: Campsite near hut to Twizel, 21 km

In the morning, the “trail” turned into less and less of a trail and more and more of “try to follow the markers without losing them.” We hiked through quite high tussocks which easily hid muddy patches and boggy terrain, which could easily swallow your shoe if took a bad step. With grass up to our armpits I often took steps with very little confidence, not knowing if I would be stepping in a knee deep pit of mud, or a rock, or a mound of shorter grass, or perhaps a hip deep hole with water flowing somewhere beneath. Of course John walked through this terrain with gazelle like grace, and I stumbled behind going half the pace, if that.

At some point I saw Charlie chasing up to us. He was gaining on us fast, and when we stopped to take off a few layers, he caught up. We wound up hiking with him for an hour or two and covered some terrain much faster than we ordinarily would have. As we finally were headed downhill, and it was easier to jump from rock to rock, I enjoyed the challenge of keeping up with the boys. Eventually I fell behind, and Charlie went ahead while John waited up for me.

We knew that once we got to the bike path, all of us were in favor of trying to hitch-hike into Twizel instead of attempt to either walk the impossibly long bike path with no camping allowed, or bike it, with a huge headwind.

We eventually got down to the road, and there was absolutely no traffic. We decided to walk towards a junction which could possibly offer more traffic and we walked for maybe an hour or two before a Department of Conservation pickup truck pulled over and picked us up.

The gentleman named Gus knew a heck of a lot, and we picked his brain about plants, history, etc. In fact, he was part of creating a number of the bike paths that we were skipping, or likely to skip up ahead. We felt slightly sheepish skipping the bits that he had built, but knew that we were likely to spend a really good day hiking at Mount Cook instead if we took a side trip.

He also told us about how when they first were building the trail, they imagined that a few retired kiwis would hike it each year and that would be about it. They had no idea that hundreds of over privileged young Americans, Canadians, and Europeans would show up to do it. So they built the huts too small. He also admitted that they mostly didn’t build any trail.

“We just set up a few ‘reassurance markers’ where appropriate. We let you think you’re lost for just about 5 minutes before you should be able to see the next marker. But now so many people walk it, some paths are forming.” He told us.

He dropped us off in town, and we found a place to stay for the night. We ran into Charlie checking into the same place. We made plans to meet up for dinner, and set off to take showers and do laundry.

Before too long we were in the pub next door having several pizzas with beer before the kitchen opened up for dinner. At 5pm we were finally able to order “real” food, and we each ordered a burger. After dinner, we decided to go to the grocery store to get some ice cream, and a few meat pies and chocolate, you know, in case we got hungry.

We got back to the hostel and immediately pulled out the pies and ice cream while looking at maps of Mount Cook.

After an impressive amount of eating, we finally retired for the night with a plan to do an awesome day-hike near Mount Cook tomorrow. We’re hoping the weather holds up since it is calling for overcast turning into rain later on.

Day 26: Mount Cook, 10.5km

We got up and packed some of our stuff into a locker for the day before trying to hitchhike to Mount Cook.

Hitchhiking wasn’t too hard, and we got a ride with an Australian couple headed directly for Mount Cook! I climbed into the back seat right next to their adorable one year old baby. As they drove off, they asked us if we knew of the famous Australian hitchhiker murderer. We shook our heads, and I glanced over at their baby who was busy throwing the toy I had just handed it onto the floor. He gave me a dirty look and I had to laugh.

The 45 minute drive went by quickly and soon we were climbing up from the parking lot near Mount Cook Village to Mueller’s Hut, aver 1000m (3000-4000ft) elevation gain over about 5km. It was mostly stairs and rock scrambles.

Along the way we heard keas, which are alpine parrots, making a racket. They landed very close to us and started playing with the orange trail markers. They were not shy and I got quite close to one to get it’s picture. As I was busy taking a shot, the Kea made a lunge for my trekking pole, which it intended on stealing, but I snatched it back and it eventually few away. I knew that these birds were quite clever and very cheeky, so I’m quite glad I didn’t donate a trekking pole to the Kea lost and found.

By the time we got to Mueller Hut, my legs were worn out, but we had fantastic views of mount Cook and the surrounding peaks covered in snow. The clouds cleared just in time for us to have a perfectly clear view in all directions before we headed back down to the parking lot.

Once back down, we made our way to the exit, and as we were trying to find a place that would be convenient to try to hitchhike from, a British gentleman asked us if we were looking for a ride. Conveniently he was driving right past Twizle on his way back to Lake Ohau, which we had walked past the day before.

Again, the ride went quickly, and before we knew it we were back in the middle of this tiny town, but with nowhere to stay. We tried calling around to all the hotels within walking distance, but they were all fully booked. We finally found a place to stay at the local Holiday Park, where we paid to camp, but at least had access to a shower and the communal kitchen, so we were able to make some pizza for dinner.

Day 27: 0km

We had a number of chores to do in the morning. We had picked up a package with new shoes in Twizel and we needed to send it out again as well as shop for the next section.

By the time we had finished most of our chores it was already lunch time and it was pouring with rain. Looking ahead, we needed to hitchhike to Lake Tekapo to start the next section (skipping the rest of the flat cycle path). It was going to be a series of hitches to get to where the road ended and the trail began. We really didn’t fancy standing out in the rain waiting for a ride, let alone trying to hike in this exposed alpine desert in these conditions, so we decided instead to try to find another place to stay for the night. It took several hours of calling around to find a place. Since it’s tourist season here, everything is booked out a week in advance. We finally got a room, and with a sigh of relief treated ourselves to lunch. Once we got to our room we were more than ready for a nap. We got some greens for dinner, since we’ve been craving vegetables, and we made a fantastic salad which we fattened up with avacado and bacon. I think we’ll be making this meal again next time we have a chance.

We met some other hikers including a girl I recognized from “Wizards of the PCT”, a movie about the PCT that John and I watched years ago before we hiked the PCT. The hiking community is sometimes so small…

Somehow even though we had the whole day off, we still got to bed late and struggled to figure out the logistics of the next section which will involve either crossing a big river, the Rangitata River, or trying to hitchhike around it, which apparently is really difficult. We’ve been advised to try to cross the river – apparently it’s quite manageable.

Then, roughly 4 days later there’s another river, the Rakaia River which is apparently much more dangerous although we’ve met at least one person who has forded it. We will definitely hitchhike around this one.

The rain continued until the evening, and when we crawled into a warm dry bed we were thankful not to be outside, although we did feel slightly wimpy about it.

Day 28, Lilly Bank Road to Camp Stream Hut, 18km

We woke up to a slightly overcast day – perfect.

After breakfast, we walked to the edge of town and stuck out our thumbs. A postman picked us up, and let us put our packs in the truck with the mail. He thought web may be headed for Mount Cook- where he was headed to deliver mail- but he gave us a ride to the intersection to Lake Tekapo where there is a small visitor’s center.

At the visitor’s center we wandered around for a short period of time, indulging in hot beverages which they had for sale inside, and then found a good place to try to get all the way to Lake Tekapo. We were picked up by a Hungarian lady on her way to Christchurch. She dropped us off right near the public toilets, which we decided to use. These were talking toilets- they gave you verbal instructions, and were very automated. They even had elevator music and a time limit of 10 minutes. Very weird.

We walked through Lake Tekapo, visiting the church along the lake, and finally making it to the edge of town where the trail took a turn follow a small road for many miles. We decided to stand on the edge of this road and try to hitch hike even though there was not very much traffic here. We needed to get 9 miles up this road in order to get to where the trail left the road. We did manage to get a ride after about an hour with a couple from Belgium, who were trying to get away from the touristy towns.

The road was long, exposed, and at this point the clouds were gone for the day, and the sun was blazing hot.

Finally, at about 1pm we got to the trail. Half a day of catching rides and walking small bits here and there to finally get to trail! I’m so happy we didn’t do the roads, and we got to go to Mount Cook instead. I’m so happy with our decision not to walk every mile of this trail. It seems like more and more of the other people we meet hiking this trail are also doing the same thing.

The trail continued along the lake, but slowly gaining in elevation as we climbed a ridge beside Lake Tekapo. We are still very much in alpine desert territory, and the vegetation is boring to say the least. The scenery is still beautiful, and we can see for miles in all directions, but we are so exposed, and the wind was fierce. Unfortunately we couldn’t even talk to each other because the wind was so loud. Even though it was quite warm, we decided to put on our long sleeved shirts in order to try to avoid a sunburn. I’m sure we still got more sun than we needed!

After defending into a stream valley and getting our feet wet, we climbed up to a very old hut, perhaps the oldest on the whole trail, built in 1898 (not maintained by DOC – and requires a $10 per person donation in a box by the door). Here we ate dinner, and contemplated whether we wanted to stay inside. It was so windy outside that we decided to stay inside. We deposited our donation for the night.

Then some southbounders showed up and stayed for a short period of time to eat dinner and continue on. They told us everyone they talked to said the hut was full of HUNDREDS of mice. That convinced us to camp outside the hut. At least then we would be able to hide in our bug-netting, and hope that no mice try to chew through.

Day 29: Camp Stream hut to campsite past Stone Hut, 23km

The day was unusual – we woke up to clouds. Our first cloudy day. It was exciting because for a while we didn’t need to think much about getting sunburnt.

We had the choice between taking the ridge up to Stag Saddle, the highest point on the entire Te Araroa Trail, or to take the stream. The choice was obvious, and many southbounders had advised that the ridge walk was one of their favorite moments of the entire trail. The views were fantastic – on one side we had Lake Tekapo with tall mountains, including a somewhat obscured Mount Cook behind it, and another set of less tall mountains on the side that we were walking on.

From the saddle we went downward towards a stream which we would be following for the rest of the day. The mountains continued to be beautiful, but the view of the lake and the taller mountains disappeared. The vegetation was a bit same-ish. Tussocks as far as the eye could see with scree further up on the hills. Sometimes the tussocks were quite high, and we found ourselves getting swallowed by it.

We passed Royal Hut around lunchtime, and sat inside eating our tuna wraps contemplating what it must have been like back in 1971 when Prince Charles visited this hut by helicopter. According to our notes, he and his sister had a cup of tea and then left. Since then, the hut has been named Royal Hut. It didn’t seem very Royal to me. In fact, it could have used some cleaning up.

We moved on, again following the stream to the next hut, Stone Hut. This hut was very similar to the previous hut but had a stone foundation. We passed a number of southbounders, many of which were not interested in chatting, and we decided that we should probably try to hike few more kilometers and camp. I didn’t fancy making friends with any of the hut mice or rats.

We were somewhat forced to stop at a flat spot due to the terrain up ahead. We considered our options given what the map had to offer in the way of information, but decided that this one flat spot would have to be it. Tomorrow we will be approaching our first big river ford, and we’ll have to assess it, and see if we want to cross.

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Wanaka to Twizel

Day 21: Fern Burn Hut to Wanaka, 22km

The trail started off much like the rest of this section with steep sidelining, and steep ups and downs into ravines, but the trail was much more pronounced and there were almost no sections where it was washed out, or nonexistent, so I found it quite a bit easier than the previous days. I was relieved to be able to hike without adrenaline rushes, nor the need to take any breaks. Soon the trail descended into forest where it was very pleasant, and sheep started to appear in random areas, scrambling up steep banks. I made the mental note to channel my inner sheep next time I was having a hard time with the terrain. The trail spilled out into a car park with a toilet where we took a brief break, and then walked the road towards the lake. We then had many kilometers to walk along this pretty lake into Wanaka. The path was a bike/pedestrian trail, and many people were out walking their dogs, or riding their bikes.

A few hours later, we were in the touristy town of Wanaka. I had booked ahead because I knew it would be busy, but as usual, all I could get was two beds in a 6 bed dorm room at a hostel. We checked in and found that in the room there were only two top bunks left available in opposite ends of the room. I can’t tell you how painful it is to get into an upper bunk with a bad shoulder, one screwed up hip and sore feet. I am getting very tired of sharing rooms, never having any privacy nor being able to sleep when I want to. It would also be nice once in a blue moon to share a bed with John, since we’re usually too smelly to even want to give each other a hug most days.

We had a lot of chores to do, and not many hours to do them, so we got to work – laundry, resupply, showers, food, etc. Soon I was so exhausted I couldn’t think anymore. I was practically falling asleep standing up. We decided not to set our alarms for the next day, so that we could try to sleep in.

Day 22: Wanaka to Lake Hawea, 25km

I woke up before I wanted to just around 6am, and tried to fall back asleep with no luck. I was still exhausted, and I thought we had a 20 mile road walk along a bike path to Lake Hawea. I decided to call head and see if we could find a place to stay there that was a private room with a double bed. I found somewhere willing to give us a camper van (no private toilet or shower) for $75. Seemed steep, but perhaps worth it.

As we started our walk, we discussed what we wanted out of this hike, and what was worth it or not worth it. Neither one of us are entirely happy at this point (mostly me), and we discussed why. I decided I needed more rest and sleep, and that flat road sections were quite hard on my hip, and also cause my shoulder to tighten up. In terms of hard terrain, I’m willing to do it unless it is actually dangerous.

We sat down on a bench to have lunch, and a lovely retired kiwi couple stopped to talk with us, noticing our big backpacks. “Life is too short to walk on a road or through miles and miles of farm land” one of them said. They were interested in hiking sections of the trail in future years, but only the best bits. It made me feel quite silly for spending any time on stupid road walks. It’s not a goal that seems worth it since I obviously know I can walk a long way, why waste time and energy covering miles in areas that aren’t worth it?

The walk along the lake was nice with beautiful mountains towering around the lakes, and in the end it turned out to be 25km not 20miles, so we got to Lake Hawea fairly early.

At Lake Hawea, we checked into the motel with the overpriced camper van and very quickly fell asleep to the sound of howling wind rattling the vehicle.

A few hours later we woke up from our nap and got several meals at the local restaurant. Over dinner we finally decided what we would try to do is not hike the entire Te Araroa mile per mile, but rather try to hike the mileage of the Te Araroa, mostly using the designated trail but sometimes adding other trails that seem more appealing rather than doing boring road walks. I think this will allow us to enjoy our hike more, and enjoy some of the other trails that New Zealand has to offer. We’ve already done the Greenstone and the Routeburn which were worth it and not on the TA and I’m sure we will find others we also want to do. For now we’re still hiking the TA, but at least we’ve had the discussion.

Day 22: Lake Hawea to Stody’s Hut 21km

We slept in and ate a large all you can eat continental breakfast at the restaurant savoring cups of tea and coffee as we gorged ourselves on pastries, bread with meats and cheese, as well as fruit and yogurt. Eventually we said good bye to the beautiful Lake Hawea and walked along the bike path to where the trail departed the lake to head straight up a “hill” called “Breast Hill”. The climb was only 4 or 5km but we climbed about 4000ft total to get to the top. The trail was very steep and I put away my pole in favor of using my hands to crawl up certain sections. It wasn’t scary going up, but I would imagine it would have been quite scary going down.

Somewhat before the top of Breast Hill, we turned off the trail to take a rest at a hut and refill our water bottles and eat some lunch. This was the most modern hut we’ve seen – built in 2011. After a nice break we left the hut for the summit of Breast Hill which offered fantastic views in all directions, including views of Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka. You could just about see where we came from for the last two days. The mountains across the lake were unbelievable. Obviously formed by glaciers and towering above all the other mountains was one that was quite pointy and covered in snow, which we could only assume was Mount Aspiring, the second tallest mountain in New Zealand.

Close to the top, we ran into a Lady with a knee injury who had been staying at the previous Hut for 3 days now trying to recover. I offered her some of my diclofenac cream for inflammation and she applied some to her knee. She’s planning on making the decent into Lake Hawea tomorrow.

From the top of Breast Hill, we had an easy walk on a 4-wheel drive road down to Stody’s hut, which is a very old Shepard’s hut. It had a fireplace, and a bunk bed with room for 6 people, but after reading some of the notes in the register about a resident rat, we decided we’d set up our tent outside.

The wind was blowing very cold air down the valley, but we have our warm sleeping bags, so I’m sure we’ll be just fine.

Day 23: Stody’s Hut to Campsite, 16km

We slept in slightly and struggled a bit to pull ourselves out of our sleeping bags since it was fairly cold.

The trail went steeply downhill to a large stream which we then had to follow on a pretty slow going trail that crossed the stream about a dozen times. When the trail didn’t have us crossing the stream, it went straight up and down hills on either side. It was fairly nice, though, because we were mostly in the forest.

At some point we got sick of all the ups and downs, and decided to simply walk up the stream to the next trail crossing. We continued to walk up the stream, sometimes walking in it, sometimes walking on it’s banks, until it got very narrow, and the water was getting quite deep. We were nervous that if we kept going up the stream, we may find that we have to climb a waterfall, or something equally impossible to cross, so we eventually decided to go back to the last trail crossing and take the trail up. Finally we saw the hut in the distance, and I figured we would stop there for the night.

The hut was very small, with only room for 6 to sleep, and there was already one couple there. As I took off my shoes another person showed up and then another couple. We decided to move on and find a place to camp with the hope that we would get more rest that way. As we were leaving, we passed Charlie, a northbounder we met going southbound for a small section before Wanaka. He looked pooped. We told him we were headed for a place to camp a couple of km up stream.

As we walked up a bit further, one more southbounder passed us on their way to the hut. A few people must have had to camp near the hut tonight.

I was glad when we finally found a flat spot nearly in the shadow of a mountain (because now we’re above tree line so getting shade is impossible during daylight hours). We ate our dinner as the sun set behind the mountain, and I was happy to hit the sac early without people keeping me up later than I want.

Day 24: Campsite near Top Timaru Hut to Campsite along East Branch of the Ahuriri River, 30.5km

In the morning we had a gentle but steady climb up to a saddle at about 1650m, which we did well before the sun hit the side of the mountain we were climbing, so we had a cool breeze and no sun, which was perfect. Once on the other side, we followed this gentle 4wd road down into farm land. We passed many people going southbound, and many of them told us about the Ahuriri River, and how to cross it safely.

As we descended into the valley, the sun beat down on us and there was no shade.

Finally we came to the Ahuriri River, which is probably the biggest river we’ve had to cross so far. First the trail had us go down a cliff in order to even get to the river, and we took a probably 0.5km detour to find a safer way down. Then we took a look at the rover to strategize a safe crossing spot. We picked a route, which involved getting to an island in the middle, then John and I linked arms to cross. At the deepest, it was up to my mid thigh and quite swift, but I think we may not have crossed at the lowest point possible. It wasn’t scary but it was quite a wide river.

Once across, we were back to the very dry, grassy landscape with very little in the way of vegetation. At one point there were an abundance of moths that flew up at our faces for maybe a quarter of a mile, which caused us to flail about a bit, trying not to let them get into our clothing and in our faces.

The landscape felt almost more like a desert than the desert in Southern California. The only difference was that there were small streams and rivers all over the place, but besides this strange abundance of water, it was so dry. Maybe it just rains up in the mountains but not down in the valley. We passed many carcasses of animals who had died out here – lots and lots of bones. This is something that I’ve failed to mention in previous sections, but while passing through much of the farm land so far, we have seen many bones of sheep, cows, bunnies and birds. A few times we’ve seen a somewhat recently dead animal. I guess it’s just the way it is here.

There were no good camping spots for ages, so we probably walked a bit further than we would have otherwise until we found a spot that we could make do with. We’re getting used to camping on grass and without the comfort of trees or other sheltering things like rocks or bushes. We feel quite exposed here camped along a stream in this grassy valley. Tomorrow hopefully we’ll make it to Twizel.

Queenstown to Wanaka

Day 17: Routeburn Flats Campsite to Queenstown, 6km

We got going fairly early. The signage indicated 6km, 1.5 to 2.5 hours. I figured we would be closer to the shorter side of that, but somehow the trail just kept on going. We were headed downhill, and I felt most of the time like I was practically running, since the trail was extremely well graded and wide, almost like a gravel road. We crossed a few swing bridges, but nothing difficult.

Finally we made it to the end of the trail about 2 hours later. I swear this trail was longer than advertised.

There was nobody at the car park yet, so we decided to set ourselves up to hitchhike, knowing it would take a while.

The area was swarming with sand flies. It was so bad that it only took about 5 minutes before we were wearing all our rain gear along with our head nets.

The views from the parking lot were still gorgeous, and occasionally a rainbow appeared.

One car passed, but was full of people. Over an hour had passed.

Several vans full of people were being dropped off to start their hikes, and we decided to stick our thumbs out when one of them pulled out to leave. The driver stopped and said that they were a paid shuttle service, and asked if we were interested. We inquired as to the price. $45 per person to Queenstown, he said. I thanked him and told him we’d wait a bit longer. He paused, and said “I’ll cut you guys a deal. How about $50 for both of you?”

John and I looked at each other and and nodded. We knew it would take a while for anyone else to leave the parking lot, and who knows how long we would be stuck there waiting for a ride while suffering with the heat and these horrendous sand flies.

An hour and a half later and we were in the bustling city of Queenstown. Not having made a reservation in advance, I spent part of the ride there calling various backpackers/hostels and asking if they had any vacancy. It turns out that Queenstown was pretty booked out. Finally I was able to find one backpackers with two beds available in a 12 share bunk room for about $60. Ugh. I guess we’ll make do.

The shuttle dropped us off and we were able to get some food and stop by the grocery store before checking into our hostel. Just 30 seconds after we started checking in, a bus load of 20-something year old kids poured out and joined the line of people to check in. It was almost a scary sight. Lines out the door waiting to check in. We hurried up to our room, and tried to immediately start getting things done. But soon enough, a bunch of young people, all seeming to know each other started to pile into our room.

I took a shower, but had no soap, no towel, and no clean clothes to change into. I decided to take my bowl and squirt some of the soap from the dispenser for washing your hands into it to use in the shower. The shower felt good, but then I had to attempt to drip dry, which was completely unsuccessful, and then put my rain pants and rain jacket on with nothing underneath so I could wash everything else.

I wanted nothing more than to have a private room where I would just lay in bed without a worry. No such luck.

Once back in the room I pealed off the rain clothes and wrapped a sheet around myself for the time that it took to do laundry. I wish I had a lightweight dress or something. I feel like my clothing choices aren’t on point this trip.

We soon learned that the group from the bus were all going to go out drinking for the night, and we lamented that we were likely not to get any sleep.

Just as we were putting in our earplugs to try to sleep, several guys in the room sprayed themselves with really noxious perfume, which caused both of us to start coughing in fits. I was surprised when this happens twice. I literally had to get out of my bunk bed and leave the room so as to breathe.

Luckily, after that I feel asleep, and didn’t really wake up until the morning, when somehow everyone else staying in the room had materialized. Somehow there were even more people in the room than beds. John and I snuck out at 7am and headed for the dirty kitchen to cook breakfast. This hostel left something to be desired. We were ready to get out.

Day 18: Queenstown to Arrowtown: 30km

Today was probably the worst day of walking I have ever experienced. It was supposed to be raining at tropical storm levels (seriously, there is apparently a tropical cyclone passing through), and I honestly thought I was prepared for that, but guess what? I wasn’t.

Today was mostly a road walk from Queenstown to Arrowtown along a bike path and walking paths, roughly 30km or about 20 miles. The day started off with rain, and the rain continued throughout the day, with sometimes heavy rain and quite a bit of wind. It was miserable.

John was attempting to cheer me up by laughing at all the really ridiculous things that we were walking past or though. For example we walked on a road where we couldn’t hear each other and got splashed by every other car going past. We walked past an airport where planes were attempting to land and take off in this horrid weather. We also found ourselves wading across many flooded areas of trail up to our knees in cold water, or walking past a sewage treatment plant reeking of… sewage. It was almost like every time I thought this couldn’t be any worse, it got worse.

Unfortunately along with all these external elements, my physical ailments started acting up at the same time. One of the muscles in my hip started spasming, and pretty much all the muscles in my shoulder, neck and upper back started tightening up to the point where my pack felt like it weighed 100 pounds. I honestly wanted to give up. This road walk really wasn’t worth it. It was only because we set this arbitrary goal of walking the length of the South Island. That meant that sometimes we were going to walk sections that made no sense to walk. This was certainly one of them.

We walked through at least 5 construction zones, one golf course, at least a dozen bus stops which, as we passed each one, I questioned whether we shouldn’t be simply waiting for a bus. Luckily John agreed to take my food bag so as to lighten my load. That made a big difference.

By the time we finally made it to Arrowtown, I was so happy to be done with the day. We had reserved a spot in the holiday park in town. We reserved a spot to pay an unreasonable $40 to pitch our tent at their facility. I was hoping to upgrade to some sort of room, and dry ourselves off.

I hobbled into the reception area, dripping from every exposed surface, and asked if they had anything else available. Unfortunately they were fully booked, and only the one tent spot I had reserved was available for us. I groaned. At least they had a coin operated laundry and John and I decided to put all of our wet clothes in the dryer. I went to the ladies room to take off my wet gear. I was soaked to the point of being able to ring out all of my clothes down to my underpants. I’m not kidding you. My bra and underwear were completely and utterly soaked though. I decided this was because I hadn’t seam sealed the seams on my rain pants and my rain jacket. I made mental note that I probably needed to do this.

I had just a few things in my pack that were dry that I could wear while the rest of my clothes were busy drying: my down jacket, a pair of shorts, and a dry pair of socks, which I wore without shoes, since my shoes were soaked through. We sat in the communal kitchen area while the drier was running.

We also set up the tent, and figured out where the grocery store was. When we had dry clothes on, and our umbrellas ready for the 5 min walk, we ventured out to the grocery store. There we attempted to buy a bottle of wine to help us cope with the situation, along with a bake in the oven pizza and some cheese and crackers. The cashier wanted to see our licenses for the wine. We happily handed them our driver’s license, and the cashier claimed he needed our passports since we were not from New Zealand. John started to get frustrated with the situation. The drinking age here is 18, and we’re in our 30’s. The cashier insisted, telling us he would get a $10,000 fine if he did not ask people who looked under 25 for the proper ID. I suppose I was slightly flattered that we looked under 25, but nonetheless, John had to walk back to the Holiday Park to get our passports.

Finally, we got our food and had dinner.

Then, finally, I crawled into the tent, and was horrified to find that my down sleeping bag had gotten wet inside of the pack liner I was using. I had been told that this thing was waterproof! It definitely wasn’t. A good portion of my sleeping bag was wet, and John was trying to convince me that he told me earlier that silnylon was not waterproof. We got into a huge argument because all I had was silnylon gear for rain, along with down, which cannot get wet. I have no other insulation- no fleece, no synthetic insulation, etc. I’m seriously considering taking the bus back to Queenstown tomorrow to go back to the outdoors stores and purchase a few more things to keep me warm. At the end of the day, that’s what’s important, and today I realized that if it were just a few degrees colder, I would not have had the ability to keep warm. And of course we won’t have a drying machine available whenever it rains. Luckily we do have the ability to dry gear here, and it’s not so cold at this elevation, but I’m very worried for when it rains for more than one day at a time, and the temperature drops more than it did today.

Day 19: Arrowtown to Roses Hut, 22km

We slept in, which was nice, since we were exhausted, but it caused us to have quite a late start to the day. It was slightly tricky to navigate through town, but a lady spotted us and asked us if we were hiking the TA. She gave us information about how to find the trail in the direction we were going.

The grass along the trail was wet, and very quickly we had wet shoes. There was only a small section with trees, and then the entire landscape was all just just made of grass. The views were amazing, and there were snowy mountains not too far away, since the storm brought colder temperatures, and some of the peaks got snow.

We climbed a hill and then headed down to a spot called Macetown, which is an old abandoned gold mining town. We ran into a British guy by the river and chatted with him for a short while. We had to cross several streams which were quite swollen from the rain yesterday, but they were not that difficult to cross.

From Macetown, you could take either the “high trail” above the river, or you could basically wade through the river for 4km. It was not advised to take the river route if the water was high, so it was easy to make the decision to take the high route. This section of “trail” was my worst nightmare for hiking. We were traversing a very steep slope, with basically no trail, with the continuous possibility of falling. On top of that, the vegetation consisted of bunches of grass which where hard enough to navigate over, but scattered in were these gnarly bushes covered in huge spikes.

Sometimes there just wasn’t anywhere you could step, and the slope was so steep my legs would shake. The trail went up and down over many little hills, and sometimes we had to bushwhack through dense vegetation consisting mostly of this thorny bush with very little in the way of footing underneath. It was really scary for me, especially because I am afraid of heights. I constantly wanted to grab hold of a plant so as not to fall, but they were all thorny. I walked so slowly I wondered if we would ever make it to the hut.

Finally the trail left the river, and headed steeply up. Like I mentioned before, the whole section was mostly grass, so it was very exposed, and offered amazing views in all directions. The trail was so steep that I couldn’t really walk flat footed. I needed to walk on my tippy toes most of the way, and my calfs were burning.

I’m not exactly sure how much of a climb we had, but it was probably more than 1000ft and less than 2000ft, but it felt really long. Finally we made it to the top and climbed over the most scenic stile we’ve encountered so far.

From there, the trail went steeply down to Roses Hut where we met a Dutch couple hiking southbound. It was nice to take off my shoes, stretch, eat some food and dry out our gear.

Day 20: Roses Hut to Fern Burn Hut, 16km

Today has been another one of the hardest days, and we only walked 16km. We got up at 6 and were walking straight up a steep “hill” by 6:30AM. Again, it was so steep, most of the time I was on my tippy toes climbing up. My calf’s burned. The uphill was hard, but doable. Then came the downhill. It was super steep and in many sections I was afraid of falling.

We got to a gully where I was navigating practically down a cliff, and I just felt like I couldn’t do it anymore. The trail was too hard, I was not brave enough, not strong enough, not fearless enough. My frozen shoulder still does not have any range of motion back, so I am extremely afraid of falling, and I cannot use my left arm a lot of the time for grabbing on to things. We also had to cross streams that were very small, but had carved holes maybe up to 6ft deep into the side of the mountain, and somehow you just had to jump across. The “trail” is also many times very narrow, only as wide as one foot, or even washed away, and really hard to balance on while looking down the side of a very steep mountain. Once we got to the bottom from descending the gully, I sat down and cried. I wanted to give up on the trail. If the trail is going to be like this, it’s not worth it to me; it’s just too hard, too dangerous, and I’m too scared. The terrain here is too crazy, and the trails only exist because crazy people walk this way, not because of any trail maintenance or building. I feel like a bit of a failure, and I don’t know if I’ll actually quit, but I did really want to earlier today.

Finally we got to the second climb of the day, and it was just as hard as the first. We had no flat ground in between. Just straight up, straight down, and now straight back up again. This section, from Roses hut to Highland Creek Hut was supposed to take 5 hours. In the end it took us 7. We did take a number of very long breaks, took time to talk with southbound hikers, and took the time to have a mental breakdown, so maybe if we had just gotten on with it, it would have only taken 5. But it was only 10km. Ugh.

We got to the hut and took another long break, used the privy, filled up our water, ate, and left for the next 6km section. It was a bit easier, but still hard, and still very steep up and down. We passed a lot of people, probably because it’s Saturday, and people are out for the weekend. We probably passed between 20 and 25 people throughout the day, and when we arrived at Fern Burn Hut, there were more people than I could count. The hut was completely full, and there were tents scattered around the hut covering most of the flat space. We searched around for a place to set up our tent, and only found one spot quite close to another person’s tent that was on quite a slope.

The person who we set up next to was actually from Maine and hiking the TA northbound, but was doing this section southbound because of the weather (he was ahead of us, and would have had snow in this section if he had hiked it when we hiked through the rain).

It looks like we probably got quite a sunburn today (I only thought to put sunscreen on too late, because it was quite cool most of the day for a change).

I’m happy we made it to the hut today, but I’m still very worried about what various sections up ahead are going to be like and whether I will actually be able to accomplish them. My vertigo plus frozen shoulder make it really tricky to cover difficult terrain. I think it’s likely only to get harder from here.

Lastly, I suppose I have to mention that although it was really hard today, it was amazingly beautiful. Since there are no trees, we always have an awesome view of these ridiculous mountains.

For now, it’s time to rest and let tomorrow happen. Tomorrow we will arrive in Wanaka.

Te Anau to Queenstown

Day 10: Te Anau, 0km

We took the day off and took showers, did our resupply, called home and visited an awesome bird sanctuary where we saw three Tehake birds. These are quite funny looking flightless birds that number not more than about 300 in the world, so we were staring at about 1% of the population.

Day 11: Te Anau, 0 km

We spent most of the day visiting Milford Sound. We took a bus, which took us on a very windy 2.5hr ride to Milford Sound. The ride was spectacular in and of itself, with beautiful views of surrounding mountains. Unfortunately, John was sick most of the way, and wound up not enjoying it nearly as much. The bus made several stops, and at one point we were able to see some Keas (big mountain parrots), which were not at all afraid of humans, and were jumping around on people’s cars in the car park.

We then took a 3 hour boat ride around Milford Sound, and it pretty much rained the whole time, which is to be expected in this area. The boat ride was fantastic, and due to the rain there were many temporary waterfalls which we wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

We got back to Te Anau around 7pm and found our friend Jeremy, one of the other northbound hikers we’ve met, and had dinner with him and traded stories.

When we got to the hostel, they had messed up our reservation such that we were stuck in a 6 person bunk room instead of a private room, and we were quite worried that we would get no sleep. We had made a friend, Anna, the night before who agreed to drive us back to the trail early in the morning on her way to Queenstown. We gladly accepted.

We slept better than expected in the dorm room.

Day 12: SR94 to Kiwi Burn Hut, 30km

We got up around 5:30AM to get a ride back to the trail with Anna, and so we got an early start. The day was quite long and tedious as it was all a road walk. We had the option of walking along a river for part of the day, but we heard from other hikers many days ago that the trail wasn’t good, and walking through the river was pretty crap too. The river was full of this invasive species of algae which looked like slime.

The gravel road simply followed the river as well, so we opted for that. Unfortunately there was very little shade- although there would have been almost no shade walking in the river either.

Eventually we found a spot where we could cut through and ford the river to join the trail to Kiwi Burn Hut, and although it looked like a trail was there on our map, it actually was another gravel road through a small farm.

A truck pulled up from behind us and the gentleman inside rolled down his window asking our intentions. We apologized for walking on his land, and asked him if it was OK to cut through his property on this road in order to access the river. He said that was fine, and announced that he was busy shearing sheep today. In the distance we saw a field full of naked sheep and giggled.

“Can we watch?” Asked John.

The farmer, whose name was Kevin, invited us into the shed where there were about 4 people shearing sheep, one after another. The sheeps with their coats on where behind a wooden gate, and one of the shearers would grab one by the arm and neck and drag it out on its back, and then shear it upside down. The sheep looked very content with the process, and really didn’t struggle much at all.

The naked sheep were then shoved down a chute where they exited the building and joined their flock of other naked sheep. The wool was then collected and pushed into large bags.

I was amazed by how quickly they could shear a sheep – probably in under a minute, and I was also surprised by how docile the sheep were once they were turned upside down for their hair cuts.

We finally left the farm and thanked Kevin and found a safe spot to ford the river before carrying on towards Kiwi Burn Hut. The hut was quite a ways off the main trail maybe 1-2km, so we actually decided to camp along the way out of laziness.

As we were setting up our tent, we had a number of “robins”, which are a completely different bird from the American robins, who came and investigated the situation. They came so close we could almost touch them, and they weren’t really afraid of any loud noises, or sudden movements. At one point we were nervous that they would peck at some of our gear and poke holes in it, so we encouraged them not to stay too close.

We’re looking forward to an early night tonight so as to make up for some of the lost sleep in town.

Day 13: Kiwi Burn Hut to Careys Hut, 27.5km

I slept like a log, and barely wanted to wake up when my alarm went off. The trail from Kiwi Burn towards Carey’s Hut was fairly easy, and mostly along a beautiful lake. We had the opportunity to cross several swing bridges, which seemed much more sturdy than the swing bridges that we’ve seen up until this point.

We passed by two southbound hikers, an older lady who was section hiking the trail, and a British lady who had a lot of advice for us, and luckily passed us as we were eating lunch, so we had the time to chat.

The lake was really beautiful, and there were many people enjoying the lake from the road- people on kayaks, boats, swimming, etc. We passed a campsite where people with RVs were hanging out. We had a section of trail that was mostly exposed, and it was very hot out, so we used our umbrellas.

We got to Carey’s hut around 5pm, and we considered the possibility of continuing another 6km to Boundary Hut, but we decided not to after striking up a conversation with a French lady who was staying at the hut doing sketches of the surrounding mountains. Soon after, another French guy showed up.

We had dinner, and decided to have a swim in the lake. It was hard to get in because it was cold, but I finally got the nerve to jump in. It felt really good. The temperature during the day was in the 80’s so we were covered in sweat. I was grateful to rinse off.

We chatted with the other two people for a while before heading to sleep. We thought it was funny that the French lady also was not carrying a stove (we aren’t either) and the French guy was a vegetarian but had the biggest knife out of all of us.

Day 14: Cary’s Hut to Greenstone Hut, 27.5km

We got going as early as possible so that we could hike in the early coolness for as long as possible. The trail spent ages on grassland in a very open and mostly flat valley. It was mostly easy walking, but before we knew it it was sweltering and we were dripping with the heat. Our umbrellas came in handy, but it was just oppressively hot. At one point my watch read 97F.

We passed one hut and stopped to have breakfast. We passed a bunch of people headed southbound, maybe 6 in all. Somehow most of them were French.

Right before we passed the second hut we found a little oasis. It was a largish stream with a few trees growing around it and a perfectly formed swimming hole. We couldn’t resist the temptation and jumped in. The water was absolutely frigid but it felt good to jump in and feel freezing cold for a split second before scampering back out again. We spent a good half hour there cooling off, hydrating and eating second breakfast.

It didn’t take long after we left our little oasis for the heat to become too much again. There was little we could do besides hike on and try to enjoy the views, which were absolutely fantastic. The valley we were walking through was formed by glaciers a long time ago, and the mountains around us were breathtaking.

At the next hut, we had lunch, and I was disappointed to figure out that a mouse had managed to eat a hole in my food bag the night before, and somehow I hadn’t noticed until now.

We walked through mostly grass, but also some tussocks (large grass), and a few muddy spots here and there.

Finally the trail went into the forest and we were grateful to have shade. The hut was not much further, and was amazingly big. Greenstone hut is the biggest hut we’ve seen with two separate bunk rooms, and an area for eating. They even have flush toilets. I hate to think where that water goes.

There were only two other people staying there and a warden, who took our hut pass information and gave us some information about local birds and plants. Nevertheless, we decided to set up our tent nearby so that we could go to sleep early and avoid any snorers.

Day 15: Greenstone Hut to Howden Campsite, 22km

We woke up around 6 and packed up to start our hike. We had an easy 18km until the next hut (McKeller Hut), and then an easy 5km or so to our campsite. Thankfully the temperature was much cooler.

This stretch is no longer on the Te Araroa. We decided to hike the Greenstone Trek- marked an “easy tramping Trek” to the Routeburn Trek adding about 2 extra days, but hopefully some beautiful scenery. The Greenstone Hut was still on the TA, but TA walkers typically walk from there to a car park and then have to get around the lake to Queenstown (there is no official route around). We are walking further north on these trails before hitching into Queenstown and continuing from there.

Soon after we left, I had to go poop. I decided to find a spot in the forest to dig a hole, and a New Zealand Robbin followed me to where I started digging. It was very excited that I was digging (obviously because I could unearth some bugs), and it came so close to me I could almost touch it. Unfortunately, the hole I was digging was for me to poop in, and the poor bird did not understand that. As soon as I squatted, I decided I would take my trekking poke and scratch the dirt in front of me so the Robbin wouldn’t do something stupid. It was throughly content with standing two feet away from me while I dug little holes for it, allowing it to jump in from time to time when it saw a bug. I quickly buried my waste so my new friend wouldn’t find any surprises, and as I walked back to the trail, it followed me hoping I would continue to provide a free digging service.

We walked through a valley next to a river, the Greenstone River, with some cows in it, sometimes in grassland, sometimes in the forest.

It was mostly easy hiking, but some parts still necessitated scrambling, and we laughed at some sections since it was explicitly labeled on the brochure “easy tramping Trek.” Apparently an “easy tramping trek”

is equivalent to “a trail” in the United States. In any case, that’s what we decided in the end.

Closer to McKeller Hut I saw a huge bird flying through the canopy and land on a tree not too far from us. We quickly realized it was a large parrot, and we only had to figure out if it was a kaka or a kea, which are the two types of large parrot in this area. There also used to be kakapo, a flightless parrot, but now they are critically endangered, and only live on islands off the coast of NZ. We watched the parrot closely, and noticed its markings. It had a deep red underbelly and it’s back was mostly grey or even slightly purple. There was a very white patch on top of its head. We figured out it was a kaka. So exciting! This is probably the only area where we would see one of these birds.

Moments later, we reached the hut where we took a very long lunch and chatted with Robert, an Englishman who lives in Nova Scotia. I think we convinced him to visit the Blue Ridge Mountains in springtime.

From there we entered Fiordland National Park, and it was an easy 1.5 hour walk to our campsite, which was just a grassy field with a privy in the middle. There was no shade and the sandflies were horrendous, so we decided to walk another 20 minutes so the next hut to have dinner and hang out a little longer.

We ate our mashed potatoes before the warden came in and asked us if we were spending the night there. I told her no, we were staying at the campsite, and she told us we had to move on, and that the facilities were for paying guests only. I was surprised we weren’t even allowed to sit at a table if we weren’t spending the night there. Hopefully tomorrow when we want to stop for lunch, we don’t find the same attitude further down the trail. These huts are on the Routeburn trek, which is a Great Walk, so they are bigger, more crowded, and much more expensive ($NZ 65/night/person)

We wandered back to our campsite and tried to set up quickly before being eaten to death by sandflies.

Tomorrow we hike the Routeburn, and camp right before the end, so we can easily get out to Queenstown the next day.

Day 16: Howden Campsite to Routeburn Flats Campsite, 23km

We woke up to fog, and we sort of figured that the weather was going to make a turn for the worse based on a somewhat old weather forecast that they had at the last hut.

The trail steadily climbed, sometimes over easy trail, sometimes over more difficult rocky sections.

We soon got to a gigantic waterfall, Earland Falls, 174m high. We figured if we weren’t going to get any views, we’d at least get waterfalls!

Surprisingly, though, the weather made a turn for the better and the sky began to clear up. We hit Lake Mackenzie Hut and made sure to sit outside of the hut to eat lunch so as not to be told off by a warden. There was a sign clearly stating that campers were not meant to use the facilities.

There is quite a funny class system on these great walks. There are the campers, who are just using their tents at campsites (paying $20 per person per night). Then there are people using the basic huts (paying $65 per person per night), with bunk rooms and gas stoves. Finally, there are the guided hikers who get a separate luxurious hut with food helicoptered in, paying perhaps thousands for the experience. We were at the bottom of the ladder. But at the end of the day, everyone has to walk.

Unnamed beautiful cascades

Soon after Mackenzie Hut we were above tree line and quite exposed. At this point the sun was shining and the views became more and more spectacular as we climbed. We passed a gentleman cleaning out stoat traps, and we learned that they check the traps once a month, and actually he only found 2 stoats and one weasel in 70 traps. I was surprised. The stoats are one of the biggest pests here, eating many of the endangered bird’s eggs and young.

We made it up to Harris Saddle where we could see snow covered mountains. We decided to take a side trail up to Conical Hill (1515m) to get a 360 degree view from the top. This was by no means a “hill”. It was quite a climb, and we had left our packs at the shelter at the saddle, leaving our water-bottles behind too. It was very hot and sunny, and the round trip took us about an hour. The views were totally worth it, but by the time we got back to the saddle, I was dying of thirst.

We made our way down the other side of the saddle and the trail improved significantly. It was a very well graded path, practically paved, with stairs where it was steep. By the time we got to our campsite, our feet were sore from all the downhill.

Our Campsite at Routeburn Flats was breathtaking. Again we were camped in a large field (where my allergies immediately started acting up), but the mountains shot straight up out of the valley. We had a clear view of snow covered mountains as we ate our dinner and got ready for bed.

Riverton to Te Anau

Day 3: Riverton to 8km short of Martin’s hut

We left Riverton quite early, about 6:30am in order to catch favorable tides on the beach walk between Riverton and Colac Bay.

The beach walk started out not so much a beach walk, but rather a scramble up and down hills along the coast where sheep and cows were waiting to greet us at the top, and the rocky coastline pulled us back down to the ocean. Mostly, this was a pleasant and very beautiful walk, except that all the grass, ferns, and flax plants we were walking through were soaked with dew and we quickly got wet feet and wet legs. It was also drizzling, which felt really nice compared to the heat that we’ve had the last few days.

Then, we spilled out onto a beach where some of the time we were able to walk on hard sand, but a lot of the time the sand was soft, and my hips quickly got aggravated by my feet slipping in the sand. Soon, however, we reached Colac Bay, where we found a Tavern which was open. We ordered burgers and rested. The burgers were amazing and huge, and I had to put some of my fries (“chips”) in a zip lock bag to take with me. I obviously don’t have my hiker appetite yet.

The notes said that the next stretch would take about 9 hours through forest to Martin’s hut, but we found a short cut which would save us a few km, and a substantial part of the road walk, and we figured we would camp somewhere before Martin’s hut. We took a steep driveway up to meet the forest when a car drove up to us, and a gentleman asked us if we wanted a ride to the top of the hill. We politely declined, and he looked slightly disappointed. Next time we’ll have to explain that we’re stubborn stupid people that want to be able to say we’ve walked the length of at least the South Island of New Zealand.

We entered the forest, and it was gorgeous. Huge tree ferns scattered the forest in a jungle-like fashion, with ground ferns and ferns growing on trees filling in the vegetation further. It felt like we had taken a time machine back to the Jurassic age, and I could almost imagine a dinosaur barging through the trees.

The birds made sounds we’ve never heard before, and unlike most birds we’re familiar with, many of these are curious. Especially a bird called the fan-tail, which, as its name suggests, has a tail which fans out in a lovely display. This bird is the most curious of them all. It is practically flirtatious, and flutters around us, almost landing on our hands. It’s hard to get a good picture of one though, since the forest is dark, and they move quickly.

The jungle does not lend itself to finding a place to camp. Even where the terrain on a macro level is somewhat flat, the trees, ferns and other vegetation have made the forest floor hilly on a micro level. We walk for hours looking for a suitable spot. I’ve never walked this far without finding a spot to squeeze our tent in, but this was almost worst than finding a spot in the dense forest of Maine.

I had almost given up hope and come to accept that we may really have to walk the entire distance to Martin’s hut when we did in fact find a tiny spot with a bit of a slope, but which will do for the night. I was happy to take off my soaking wet shoes, and not walk the remaining 5 miles. It looks like we will need to be a bit more careful with planning our days so we don’t get stuck doing more miles than we want due to lack of camping opportunities. I think I understand now why so many people just hike from one hut to another!

Day 4: 8km short of Martin’s hut to 2km short of the end of Marrivale Rd, roughly 16 miles

We woke up to our alarms, at 5am, and started walking in the dark. The jungle is full of obstacles for walking in the dark, so we decided that from now on we would shift our schedule so that we’re walking starting with daylight, which starts around 6am. In the darkness, we either wore or carried our headlamps, but something glowing caught John’s eye. We turned off our headlamps to see what it was, and it turned out to be glowworms!! They were all over the place under ferns and wet overhangs. We felt like we were on another planet.

As the sun came up, and we were able to put away our headlamps, we stumbled upon a campsite with a tent on it, and someone peered out from their tent to see who we were. It was a Canadian girl named Frances who was walking southbound. We spent some time chatting and trading notes. It was very helpful to talk to her and find out more about the trail ahead.

Soon we came to Martin’s hut, the first hut on the trail, and we peered inside. It didn’t look very welcoming. There was nobody there, it was dark inside, with only 4 bunk beds, and quite a lot of trash. I found a notebook for signing in, and I checked the last few entries to see if any northbounders were ahead of us. It looked like there were, but not close ahead. We used the nearby privy, and headed out.

We climbed steeply up for quite a ways, and at some point the forest opened up into boggy grassland with fantastic views of our surroundings.

The mosses and lichen were amazing, and often covered the entire ground, sometimes obscuring ankle deep mud underneath. The trail went in and out of trees, which were less dense than the last, more jungle like forest. The trees in this forest were covered in huge lumps of moss wherever light could shine through, and they looked like trees out of a Dr. Seuss book. We joked about being Thing One and Thing Two.

The sunshine gave way to fog, and we climbed up to a tower which was barely visible in the fog. It was nice to have the cool fog blowing on us like air conditioning. We came across a flat spot in the forest before Marrivale Rd where we decided to set up camp.

Day 5: Just short of Maryvale Rd to Justine and George’s farm, 15.5km

We got going and walked down to a gravel road which was lined with eucalyptus trees. With the humidity and the fragrant smell of eucalyptus, I felt like I was in a steam room. I breathed deeply, hoping the scent would help my lungs. Today is my last full day of taking antibiotics for a sinus infection, and I still seem to have a little bit of a cough. I’m really hoping it will go away, but if it doesn’t, I’ll go see another doctor in Te Anau, and get checked out for pneumonia. I would hate to have pneumonia (I feel like I would know if I did?)

Soon we ran into a couple of trampers from New Zealand who had lots of advice for places up ahead. Most of of the places they mentioned I had no idea where they were talking about. But we also got some names of birds that we’ve seen, so slowly we can start learning.

The gravel road led us to a paved road, and we did the small road walk before hitching into Otautau. We got a ride from a lady who was a midwife, and was definitely a local: she even showed us the house that she was born in as we passed it.

In town we hit the grocery store and stocked up on food. While we were repackaging food outside of the store and stuffing it into our packs, we got chatting to a lady who offered to drive us back to the trail once she was finished with her shopping. We gladly accepted. She was very familiar with the area, and knew just where we were talking about when we tried to describe where the trail left off- it would have been hard to find it otherwise.

“This is where I usually see walkers looking at their maps” she said, pointing to the side of the road.

That was just about the right spot!

We climbed over a stile and into farmland and up into a pine forest. We stopped to take a rest and John noticed a orchid growing in the undergrowth. As we continued, we noticed a few more. There were at least two species. I’m sure most people miss them since they’re hard to spot, and quite well camouflaged.

We descended to another road where we walked along some country roads next to farms for a few miles. Then, where the trail left the road again, we saw a sign that indicated that there was no camping allowed in the forest up ahead for the next 16 km. We probably wouldn’t make it through that forest before dark if we started that section now. So, we decided we needed to redo our strategy since it seemed like most people walked from one designated place to stay to the next – meaning not many people actually camp on this trail. In fact there aren’t really that many opportunities to camp. Either the trail is on private land, or in a conservation area or on farmland, or through bog, or in dense forest where finding a camp spot is practically impossible.

We found the phone number of some folks who offered a cabin not far from the road we were on, and there was one bar of cell phone service. Luckily the call went through. Fifteen minutes later George picked us up and drove us to their farm were we met Justine and had a cup of tea. It was still early since we didn’t do many miles.

Justine drove us up the hill to their rustic cabin where they had just installed an outside shower that you could fill full of water from the top. Once we got the tour, we heated some water for the shower. There were no curtains, so I took my shower with a wonderful view of the hillside. But there was no one for miles, so I didn’t have to be shy.

We cooked some dinner and set up for the night.

Day 6: From Justine and George’s farm to Birchwood, 17km

We slept in knowing that we only had 16km to get to Birchwood the next day (now we’ve figured out where we can stay each evening, this was the next obvious spot). We got a ride back to the trail and hiked up through some steep terrain to get to more flat four wheel drive roads in pine forest. It was so windy that we couldn’t use our umbrellas and the sun was shining brightly. We got to the top of a hill with some towers on it and we had fantastic views of country side with large mountains in the background. The trail then went extremely steeply downhill along a fence next to sheep and cows.

Amongst the cows there were smaller calfs and mothers and a very very large bull. He looked at us walking through his domain and showed no fear. I had a sudden rush of adrenaline, but thankfully he decided to move on. We got to a road and found Birchwood, a farm with a hiker cabin/hostel. Here there is a shower, a washing machine, and a bunk room with room for at least 8 people. We took showers and put our clothes into the washing machine for our first actual laundry since leaving the United States.

After an hour or two a British couple showed up headed southbound, and then an American girl hiking with a French girl, northbound. I was keen to meet some more northbounders. Soon Jeremy whom we met in Riverton also showed up and a Polish guy going southbound. The cabin was full up. We chatted about the trail up ahead and did our chores. John and I along with the British couple decided to do some sewing to fix a few pieces of gear.

I was the first to crawl into bed and stick my ear plugs in hoping for a good night’s sleep. In fact, I had bad allergies from all the grassy fields that we’ve been walking through, and even with allergy medicine, I was having quite a hard time. On top of that, John was in the bunk above mine and every time he shifted, the entire bunk squeezed loudly, waking me up. I decided I much preferred camping.

Day 7: Birchwood to Telford Campsite, 28km

We were the first to open our eyes with our alarms at 5:45am and quickly turned them off so as not to bother the other people as much as possible. We grabbed our bags and headed into the kitchen to sort our gear. Several others started packing up as well, and by 6:15AM we left and started walking through farmland.

Today’s hike was entirely on a “station” meaning one farm. But I really wouldn’t call most of what we walked through “farmland”. The first few miles we were walking through more dense sheep and cow pastures, but later in the day, it was beautiful country side, with lots of sheep, and some cows, but enormous areas of land on steep hillsides as far as the eye could see. It was so picturesque, I could not stop reaching for my camera.

Unfortunately, I’ve developed a bit of a fear of cows since an encounter with another bull this morning. Nothing really happened, but this bull wouldn’t move until the last moment, and looked like he was hesitating between walking off and charging us. It was completely nerve wracking, and now every time I see a bull I imagine it charging us. I wish we didn’t have to walk through their pastures. I wonder how many incidents there are with hikers and cows each year. I’m also slightly worried because my shirt is bright pink, and I have a feeling that doesn’t help. If anyone has any advice, I’m all ears.

Besides that, today has been a really wonderful day of walking. There was morning mist, which hung around well past noon, and made walking without shade very pleasant, and the views have been very rewarding. We had to ford a stream twice, but it was not much more than ankle or calf deep, and felt very refreshing. Not hazardous at all. As I mentioned earlier, there’s a drought at the moment, so all the rivers and streams are quite low.

We got to a designated campsite where we are allowed to camp (otherwise the rest of today’s walk has all been on private property), and even though we arrived at 3:30pm, we’re stopping for the day since we wouldn’t make it through the next section today. I guess this trail is letting me take it easy. I’m kind of grateful since my hip does ache on a daily basis, and the muscles in my shoulder like to cramp up after a lot of walking. We’ll just continue to take it easy and see what this trail has to offer next!

We camped in the grass, and the sand flies started to get bad as the day wore on. Our friends, Dianna and Aurélie showed up a bit after we did, and we stayed outside chatting until the sandflies drew us into our tent.

Day 8: Telford Campsite to Aparima Hut, 21km

Overnight it rained, and in the morning all of the grass was covered in rain. Even though the rain lifted by the morning, our feet still got drenched walking through the wet grass.

The trail went straight up to a ridge. By straight up, I mean steeper than a staircase. Sometimes I had a better time if I thought of the trail as a climbing wall instead of a stupidly steep trail. As we climbed we had terrific views, and I stopped to take pictures every 5 minutes (and to catch my breath).

We hit the top of the ridge and we saw our friends not to far behind us scampering up the rocks. We cheered them on while we sat eating breakfast. Once they made it to the top we took pictures, and carried on.

We then entered forest, and the trail was easier. We passed by two couples going southbound, one older couple from New Zealand, and one couple from Europe.

We soon reached Lower Wairaki Hut, and stopped to eat lunch. This hut was nicer than the first one we saw, but our destination for the day was one hut further. We once again packed up and followed the trail through the forest. It was fairly easy going, but lots of up and down to keep us on our toes, and keep our hearts pumping. The New Zealand forest just isn’t somewhere where it is easy to walk.

It felt like forever before we hit an open bog where we walked through squishy terrain towards the hut. We had to cross a river with a swing bridge, and we took turns crossing over safely.

We made it to the hut, where there was an old hut and a new hut, and also some flat spots for camping. It looks like there are quite a few sandflies around here, so we may camp so as to have the bug netting.

Day 9: Aparima Hut to State highway 94, 23km

We woke up early so as to get into town (Te Anau) in a timely fashion. The hike started with walking through massive amounts of tussocks. If you’re not a hiker in New Zealand, you probably don’t know what tussocks are, so let me try to describe them. They are basically huge grasses that grow in large bunches about 4-6ft tall. You can’t see your feet, nor much ahead of you (unless you’re closer to John’s height) while walking though it. Along with the tussocks, there were small streams running through, some of which were visible, but some were just so completely covered by tussocks that the only way of finding them was falling directly into them. These streams carve out holes that are about 3ft deep due to erosion, but I promise you that there is no way to see that you’re about to fall into a 3ft hole unless you are the height of a bunny rabbit.

So, it was slow going, and windy. The tussocks waved about as we stumbled along.

Eventually we got to more forested area, but the trail did not become easier. In typical Te Araroa fashion, the trail led straight up and straight down several hills and although the trail is well marked, it is anything but easy walking. We often are pulling ourselves up by roots or branches of trees and scrambling over fallen branches, logs or incredibly muddy patches. It’s kind of fun, but very exhausting.

Finally, we arrive somewhere. We see a hut, and then a vehicle, and a lady who has been waiting on a friend to come out of the “bush”. We assure her that her friend would definitely not be coming out of the bush today, but potentially tomorrow given that they started after we did from Bluff.

Then, in the bright sun and with 20-30 mph winds, we walked the gravel road through some farms to reach the highway to hitch a ride into Te Anau.

It took a while for someone to pick us up, but eventually we did get a ride and made our way to the YHA youth hostel to check in, take a shower, eat a meal and fall asleep.