Had a slight sleep in this morning but still managed to pack up and get away at 0730. Today we aimed to walk down to SH94 and then along to Princhester Rd intersection (around 12km of flat road walking) before starting the hitch, off-trail, into Te Anau.
It was around 10.5km to SH94 which we covered in a whisker over 2 hours, passing relatively few cars in the way. We started walking along SH94 to our TA turnoff at Princhester Rd, so we're walking against the traffic as usual so no-one would think we were hitchhiking. However, before we could get to Princhester Rd a couple of girls (English and Israeli) stopped on the other side of the road to ask if we wanted a lift into Te Anau. I suggested to Belinda that we shouldn't be looking any gift horses in the mouth, so we accepted!! So our almost 12km today took us about 2h10, classified as a ”nearo” day (for those unfamiliar, nearo is short for “near zero” - almost a rest day but not quite). :-)
So a quick 30km or so later they dropped us off, at about 1030, by the Te Anau Kiwi Holiday Park in the centre of town, where we had our tent site booked. We got the tent set up and changed shirts (town clothes!) and headed straight into town for a (well-deserved in our opinion!) yummy brunch. Food and a nice drink is always first thing on the agenda after a few days in the boondocks! The camp has a lovely kitchen and lounge facility so I spent a bit of time in the lounge later doing things like charging electronics (harder when you don’t have your own power outlet in a room) and checking up on the news of the world (nothing much changes!).
We texted David, who had arrived in town yesterday with Caesar, and made a date to catch up over a pizza dinner - which we duly did, before heading back to the camp. We had another late afternoon thunderstorm while we were eating but it had cleared by the time dinner was over. As the guys had had their rest day today, they were setting off in the morning - so we said our goodbyes, although we will keep in touch via instagram etc :-) We really enjoyed David’s, and more latterly Caesar’s, company so it was sort of sad to part ways - but that’s life on the trail :-)
We got away about 0715, just after David and Caesar. This day ended up being our longest ever in terms of kilometres walked - over 42km in just under 9h15 of walking (an 11 hour day in total).
The Mavora Lakes campsite was 10 km away and was on a 4wd track all the way. The track was generally OK to walk on, although there were a few deep puddles to get around and for small parts it was on the gravelly lakeside. We met a guy heading northbound and stopped for a brief chat on the lake edge; he commented that the campsite had been a bit noisy for him (especially with offroad motorbikes zooming around all over the place) - reinforcing that it was a good decision to stay at Carey’s Hut :-). We arrived at the start of the campsite and made use of the toilets and water supplies before heading through the camp for the swingbridge at the outlet of North Mavora Lake. The campsite is very large - my estimate from maps is as much as 30ha available - although not all might be suitable for parking / pitching tents.
We crossed the swingbridge and headed down the short (~1.5km) stretch of the Mararoa River that joins North with South Mavora Lake. The first bit of this was in beech, followed by a bit of open ungrazed grassland, before we got back into beech forest to walk around the western shores of South Mavora Lake. This was a very pretty part of the walk for us :-)
A young kiwi lass called Kate caught up with us part way around and walked the rest of the way with us. She had been staying at the camp and was doing a short walk from the campground to the bottom of South Mavora Lake where there is another swingbridge that takes you back out onto Mavora Lakes Rd. Interestingly, Kate also told us that the motorbike activity around the campsite had just about driven her nuts! Just something to bear in mind if passing through during the height of the summer season - maybe camp away from the main camp ground!! The DoC sign said 2.5hr from the outlet of North Mavora Lake to the swingbridge at the end of South Mavora Lake - we did it in 1h15.
From there it was another stint of mainly pretty beech forest following the true right of the Mararoa River down to the Kiwi Burn swingbridge (about another 7km or so), which we did in 1h50 (DoC suggested time was 2.5hr). We arrived there just after 1300 so stopped for lunch for 30 minutes or so in the shade of the trees, before crossing the bridge.
We had already decided to avoid the next 18km or so or riverside trail and skip out onto the road here. Kirstine Collins had described it as the worst section of her TA back when she did it!! Also, when we met Bruce and Chris in Roses Hut a few days ago, Bruce had also described much of it as horrible - he indicated a fair bit of it was fenced off farmland on the river margin, so was full of long grass and growing scrub to battle through, with a few bogs thrown in! We can’t find anyone who really has anything good to say about this bit - hence our decision to take the road option instead :-) So after lunch it was across the Kiwi Burn swingbridge followed by a short walk up a gravel access road onto Mavora Lakes Rd. We hit the road already having completed 24.5km for the day - it would turn out to be almost another 18km down the road to where stopped for the night.
The rest of the day was just walking down the road (luckily we could walk alongside it, off the gravel, most of the way) until we reached the spot where TA joins up with Mavora Lakes Rd - a total of 42km for the day; as noted above, our longest daily kilometreage ever! It was very hot today but for once we were grateful for a gentle breeze which helped keep the temperature down a little. We had a couple of half hour stops along the way when we found some shade from shelterbelts planted near the road - it really was hot, exposed walking! There was also plenty of dust as there were numerous cars heading up and down to/from the campground.. Water was almost impossible to come by along the way (it is heavily farmed and the waterways showing on the Topo50 maps were very small/non-existent), but we made it with little to spare.
We knew that there was water by where the TA joins Mavora Lakes Rd (Wash Creek is very close and the Mararoa River not too far away also) so we shot down below the road to find a flat spot for the tent (luckily we had actually driven up here on our TA break before Xmas last year, so knew what it looked like!), dropped out packs and headed for Wash Creek! Had a nice cool wash and filtered a heap of water for tonight and tomorrow (the stream passes through a Landcorp farm). Had dinner and then set up the tent as it was still really warm - eventually getting in at about 2030 with the sun still beating down! Couldn't wait for it to cool when the sun finally went down.
Also managed to get some patchy reception here to arrange some accommodation for Te Anau. The placed is chokka, as expected, but we have a tent site for two nights in the Te Anau Kiwi Holiday Park right in the middle of town (where we had also stayed before Xmas last year) - tenting is not our preferred option for a rest day but it will do!!
David, Caesar, B and I had left our packs out in the common area last night to minimise noise in the morning as we wanted to be up at 0600. We got underway around 0720. It was a bit misty around the hut at 0600 but it cleared relatively soon so didn’t affect our start. The day ended up being 29km in around 7h45 - I forgot to turn the watch back on after our stop for lunch around 1220 - so missed about 15 minutes and 1km of tracking (its easy to see the straight line on the Suunto GPS map, so I can work out how long it was off!). The GPS info is here.
We set off through beech forest knowing there were not a lot of ups and downs today, which should make for relatively easy going. Some of the beech track was “rocks and roots” which made me a little slower as I was still being very careful about where I placed my feet. In other places the underfoot was better, with a few roots and no rocks - which increased speed a little. We had our first stop after 1h40 having averaged 3.5kph to that point, so we knew we were making reasonably good time. As we got higher, we entered areas of scrub and also of tussock - with some bog areas thrown in for good measure.
We eventually dropped into the river valley, although we were walking on a sort of terrace above the river often, rather than right down by the river. We arrived at Taipo Hut just before 1030 - 2h45 walking time - so had made pretty good progress seeing as DoC times say 4-5hr! I can imagine, if it is wetter, that some of the boggy areas would be much slower going, but we managed to go over or round all the bogs pretty easily. It was a nice fine day with a gentle breeze, which helps. We had a break at the hut and were underway again after an almost 15min break - straight across a swingbridge over the upper reaches of the Mararoa River (that we would now follow, more or less for the next day and a half).
From here the first couple of kms was very easy going on a flat track before the track headed to the edge of the valley, running just at the bottom of the hills to the west of the river. This made for little ups and downs through more open scrubby/ rocky, tussocky, and occasionally boggy, terrain - so the going was slower. This was mostly the case until we hit the swingbridge across the Mararoa to Boundary Hut - this 12km or so from Taipo Hut took us about 3h15 walking time (with a long stop for lunch thrown in). After the swingbridge, the hut is actually 200m or so back upstream (easy to see on the day’s GPS track) but, as it was hot and time for a break, we headed back to it - also topping up our water while we were there.
Seriously?? The only time we have come to a fence without a stile or gate. Barbed wirw on top, so only sensible way was under without packs attached :-) B is more nimble than me so was chosen as the model for this particular photoshoot.
We rejoined the trail heading off towards Carey's Hut on a 4wd track and immediately ran into three guys on trail bikes - the only problem with getting so close to “civilisation”! The 4wd track comes as far as Boundary hut, with no vehicular access beyond that. It was only 6.5km to Carey’s Hut, but by now it was really hot so, with no shade, we started to feel the effects! At one stage I had even thought we could do another 10km to Mavora Lakes campsite but by the time we arrived at Carey's I was convinced it was a good place to stop for the day! The last 2.5km or so the track climbed above the Mararoa River on the hillside (up to 60m or so above the river at times), with a fairly sharp descent to the hut over the last little bit. David and Caesar had arrived a couple of hours before us as they are faster and don't stop much. They were lounging in the sun in a couple of deck chairs left at the hut!
The hut is right beside the lake so the guys had already been down there for a “refresh”. B and I also took off down there once our packs were off. We both had a bit of a dip in the lake and rinsed out our clothes as well - walking in this weather is very sweat-inducing :-)
We had a couple of visits from small groups of bikes - most of them are camped down at Mavora Lakes campsite. About 1800 we also had a couple of American nobos, John and Katie, drop in for a chat. They decided to push on the 1.5 hours to Boundary Hut and maybe try and get out to the Greenstone carpark the next day. So it was the four of us for the night in what is quite a pleasant 6-bunk hut.
Belinda and Anthony (aka Tony) Hadfield made a decision, in their late 50's, to do something a "bit different" and walk New Zealand's 3000km Te Araroa Trail over summer 2015/16 - although updates will now tell you that this plan will take longer now!!. As the old saying goes - "don't leave home 'til you've seen the country"!!