Made an 0630 start from the hut this morning as it looked like a fairly tough day ahead to get all the way to Pakituhi Hut, beyond Breast Hill. Ended up covering about 25.2km (left watch on pause for short while so did a little more than GPS data suggests) in just over 10 hours of walking - arriving at the hut at 1930. The 10 hours walking included literally dozens of micro-breaks because of the terrain! As the data shows, we did around 1700m of ascent and 1400m of descent during the day. It was an absolute gut-buster of a day for us! GPS track is here.
It was a big photography day today - over 140 photos between us!! So apologies in advance for the trouble I had culling them for the blog page - it was an epic day in many ways!
The TA notes actually explained the first bit very well! A short 20 minute continuation on an old farm track made up the start of the day, before dropping down on a sharp ridge into forest closer to the Timaru River. The TA notes state that the track then “climbs, descends and sidles through this steep sided river valley”! And this is what we did for almost 5 hours. We probably did more sidling on steep slopes than we have done in one TA section before, with lots of climbs up and down alongside the river included. There were also plenty of times we crossed the river, with occasional stretches walking downstream in or near the riverbed. We had about had enough of it by the time we arrived at the junction with the Timaru River track - after 4h50 of walking time covering 12km! Despite that, it was through nice beech forest and did include the odd little stretch of nice flatter walking at times - but not much of it unfortunately!
Just to rub in the pain to our achy joints and muscles we were then faced with a 500m climb over 2km or so! This was up through scrubby forest for the most part but was very steep and lose underfoot, making it pretty slow going for us. At least we were in shade a lot as it was pretty warm and sunny. Then it was a steep sidle across an open face and a short section of gentle descent through bush before reaching Stody’s Hut, an old musterers hut with a dirt floor. It had taken us 1h50 to do 2.4km from the Timaru River Track junction - a hard slog indeed!
At Stody’s Hut we met Marie, a young German - she had earlier completed the TA (except a few sections of the North island) and was just doing a 2 night trip up from Hawea, on one of her favourite TA bits, to fill in time before flying back to Germany on Xmas day! She had stayed at Pakituhi Hut and had just done a day walk over to Stodys and was about to head back to Pakituhi. This was late lunch time for us and we needed a good break so spent some time relaxing and filling water from a nearby stream. Marie headed off and we followed about 20 minutes later.
We were now back into open tussock country and on an old farm track so, while we still had to climb from 1080m asl (Stodys) to around 1578m (Breast Hill), at least the underfoot conditions were pretty reliable! It was a hot, sweaty climb given the exposed nature of the terrain. We stopped part way up where we had cellphone reception and organised some accommodation at Glendhu Bay, a 15km walk from Wanaka. This was after altering our plans slightly for how we would tackle the Motatapu Alpine Track - we had chatted with Marie about it and she had given us some good advice on time/distance/terrain that made us rethink.
The climb to Breast Hill was definitely worth it. It was 1800, and already 11.5 hours after we had left Top Timaru Hut this morning, with almost a hour still to get us to the next hut! A lovely evening with stunning views down to Lake Hawea and even further across to Wanaka and beyond. This vantage point is about 1200m above Lake Hawea (where we are going tomorrow morning) which makes for the stunning views. Obviously also looking across to the Alps and back where we had come from. Marie was there, as was an American girl working for a family in Wanaka who had come up for the day, as well as another young couple who were on an overnighter to Pakituhi Hut as well. We stayed after they had left and soaked up the views - also took the opportunity of cellphone reception to send a few “brag” photos and videos of our viewpoint!
Also had to include a video showing the 360 degree views - can't seem to put captions under videos, hence this explanation!!
Eventually we headed on down a (initially rocky) ridge by a fenceline towards Pakituhi Hut, which is a short diversion off trail. It took us almost an hour from the top - not my optimistic half hour stated in the video! Upon arrival we found a number of overnight trippers there. Marie was wanting to leave early, as were we, so we pitched our tent instead of using the hut. While there was room, with quite a few people in there and with the hut being new with double glazing and insulation, we decided a cooler tent would be better for an early start. As we hadn't got there until 1930 ( a 13 hour day since leaving the hut this morning), by the time we were ready for bed it was a bit later than normal - closer to 2200! :-)
We managed to make an 0700 start. We achieved 21.6km today in 6.25 hours walking, arriving at Top Timaru Hut at 1430 - where we decided on balanced to stop for the night. There day included over 1100m of ascent and 900m descent - not so much flat!! The GPS track for the day is here.
The camera seemed to have produced some pretty washed-out shots today (moisture?) - I have tried to manipulate them a little to improve the look, but I'm no expert. My phone camera was a little better behaved!
It started raining lightly at around 0200 and was still raining lightly when we woke at 0530. We fluffed around in the tent packing stuff up as usual and, miracle of miracles, it stopped raining about 0600 so, while the tent was wet, we could pack up and have a cuppa in the relative dry. We had a short walk alongside our stream before climbing up onto a terrace and starting to follow a good farm track. We progressed steadily as the initial climbing was gentle, and reached the private hut (with toilet!) after 8km and 2 hours walking, so a pretty good pace to start. We had already climbed from 700m at our camp to about 900m so only another 780m to go up to the saddle below Mt Martha (1684m asl)!
We started climbing more steadily after the hut, but still on good farm tracks. Eventually we reached the Conservation Park boundary and the quality of the track deteriorated somewhat as it is not really maintained by DoC - certainly not for any vehicle access. However it is still easier than bashing through tussock and spaniard! From the hut we climbed for another 6km to achieve that next 780m vertical, arriving at the saddle after 14km, in 4h10 of walking time (around midday) - which also included a lot of “micro breaks” on the way to rest legs and catch the breath! Overall we were pretty chuffed with our efforts :-)
Over the last km or so to the saddle the misty drizzle returned and, with a cool wind, required a stop to put on the rain jackets. We ended up keeping these on all the way down to Top Timaru Hut as, even though the drizzle came and went, the wind remained cool.
From the saddle it was a steep rocky descent on a bulldozed track to the valley floor. This was fairly tough for us as it is very hard on the knees - so not the fastest descent on record! Some younger legs had taken more direct routes down, cutting out some of the long zigzags, but the track was steep and rocky enough for us! DoC say 1.5-2 hours from the saddle to the hut - we took just over 2 hours.
We stopped for a bit of lunch once into the tussock, then continued on alongside the Timaru River until reaching the hut. The toilet is the first thing you see from perhaps a km away, but the hut (below the toilet) doesn't appear until you are right on top of it. It had stopped raining but was alternating between sunny and cloudy. The hut is a quite new 6 bunk affair and is very comfortable inside - insulated, double-glazed and with bug screens on at least one window. Our biggest problem was trying to cool down - leaving the door open or staying outside inviting the invading airforce of sandflies to attack!!
We had tossed up whether to carry on and camp further down as we have two rather long days ahead of us to get to Wanaka by the evening if the 23rd - however we decided to take the opportunity to rest instead and just accept the challenge of the longer days ahead!
Got up early to 3degC in the tent - very brisk - and had a hot drink with brekkie to ward off the cold! Ended up walking a whisker under 26km in 9 hours of walking. With stops included, it meant we stopped at our camp spot at about 1730. Still plenty of daylight left but the bodies suggested rest would be good! The GPS track for the day is here.
We got underway at 0720, up through some lovely beech forest, including a couple of boulder fields to negotiate. Around 2.5km saw us at the treeline. The “informal campsite” mentioned in the notes was there but would have presented challenges for our tent. The best spot had a large dead beech suspended above it - a real “widow maker”!
Then it was out into tussock and ever upwards. After 2h15 we stopped for a break at 1420m asl, having climbed 720m in that time over 4.7km. We took it reasonably slowly today, having had a big day yesterday and having to care for our respective niggly joints (the sprained ankle is still strapped and bearing up OK on what had been reasonable going so far). It was only a little more climbing before beginning the descent into the East Ahuriri River.
The descent was quite steep but manageable. Once we got down to the river the going was not the best for the first few km - rough tussock and spaniard interspersed with rocks and swamp. In many places the worn track was OK to follow, in other places it was easy to lose. This was quite slow going (and it involved river crossings as well). The going improved when the route diverted up above the river for a couple of kms - while it was mostly sidling, it was good going. Then we dropped back down to the river onto mostly flat ground, interspersed with the occasional boggy crossing!
Finally it was a 3km straight run across rabbit-ravaged pasture past pine trees towards the Ahuriri River. From well above, we got a chance to survey the river and spot a likely crossing place - very near to where the large orange triangle is on the other side. We scrambled down to the river and got our phones etc into waterproof bags before setting off together into the river. The deepest part didn't quite reach my crotch so wasn’t too bad. Last I had looked at the river flow data for the Ahuriri at South Diadem - the closest monitor - the flow was about 14 cumecs and dropping. So this is very doable at that flow. Belinda, being somewhat shorter, did get a little wetter than me :-)
Then it was out and across to an incredibly steep scramble up a very loose shingle face to get up the other side. Just about the gnarliest little climb (although it was pretty short!) we have had to date, I think - hard top make forward progress at times because of the loose nature of the surface.
Once up onto farmland (Longslip Station) we headed the 1.5km our so to Birchwood Rd. Just after we started on the track, just on the other side of a fence from a farm road, a young girl on a small quad bike came from a nearby house and wished us a Merry Xmas as she went past :-) We had decided to camp a little way up this next section of track and settled on a nice spot about 1.2km from the road, just after you drop down towards the river. This is farmed, so filtering water was the order of the day - there are cattle here and we had some wandering down the trail past the tent this evening! A wise decision to stop when we did as we have had a couple of longish days now and also have a 980m climb tomorrow as part of a 21km day to Top Timaru Hut (hopefully)!
We left our accommodation just after 0715 - finally stopping at 1730 after almost 38km in 8.5 hours walking. We made it to Freehold Creek just where the trail turns and heads up the creek. We had thought we might go up another couple of kms to what the TA notes refer to as an informal campsite just below the treeline. However we bumped into 4 kiwis who had just come down and they said they couldn't really find it - so we decided to camp where they were, rather than starting uphill into the beech. GPS data for the day is here.
We set off out of town alongside SH8 and headed over the canal outlet by High Country Salmon. Then it was a right turn heading up alongside Lake Ruataniwha (not that we saw even one taniwha!) towards the Ohau A power station. Then it was on up the Ohau River to the control gate at the base of Lake Ohau. All this time was basically on or alongside metalled 4wd tracks and the scenery can best be described by the photos (not the most exciting always).
At the weir we rejoined the Alps to Ocean (A2O) cycle trail, so the track became a nice smooth, lightly gravelled jaunt besides the lake for 9km! It was windy pretty much all day again today. In this part of the country it seems easiest to just refer to every wind as a headwind!! Had a couple of breaks earlier today, before stopping for lunch at 1300 just off the track beside the lake, after covering almost 22.5km. While we were sheltering out of the wind having lunch, about half a dozen cyclists went by - so the trail is used!
We were back onto an asphalt road for a little while for the last bit into Lake Ohau village. Stopped at Lake Middleton campground, just next to the village, as they had toilets there, before walking about 50m to look at friends’, Cheryl and Malcolm, building site in Lake Ohau village. Great to see progress in the form of the concrete pad being poured recently. We could have stopped there but it was still only 1530 and we wanted to make more progress. We sent Cheryl and Malcolm a photo of us perched on their concrete slab - will have to come and visit when they are down here!
So we were back on the road after a brief stop, walking another 3km or so to where the track turned off the road near the Glen Mary Ski Club. We headed up a 4wd track which meandered back and forth but eventually took us up to join up with a cycle trail again which, of course, means really easy going for us!. From here it was only 1.5km to the bridge over Freehold Creek, and another 50m or so past this was the turnoff into the hills where we ended up camping. We saw two kiwi couples there setting up and, as noted above, they commented that they had looked out for the informal campsite on their way down and hadn't seen anything obviously suitable - on the basis of that, we found a flattish spot in this open area to set up camp for the night.
Today was a rest day, at least in part because of my ankle, but also for resupply. I got a number of blog posts completed today (at last!). We went out for a little look around the shops and had a late breakfast (at least in my case!), while also buying a few odds and ends we needed. B had a further look around while I went back to the room to do some running repairs on my shoes with linen thread and 'Shoe Goo”!
After lunch time we went to the supermarket and did a restock shop for the next 5 days to Wanaka. Managed to get accommodation in a double ensuite room at the YHA :-) for the 23rd so hopefully we make it there on time! Then it was time to rearrange the food into our packs - leaving time for reading and some more blogging. Belinda also arranged for her sister Julia to pick up our backup shoes and send them down to the hostel in Wanaka as we will definitely need them at some stage soon. The final order of the day was the plan for dinner tonight - we settled on pizza at a local bar!
We got down to the nearby carpark at 0715 as requested and the shuttle arrived about 0745 with our tandem bike :-). They also took our packs to deliver to our accommodation at the High Country Lodge and Backpackers in Twizel - blissful! Despite the notes saying it was about 60km, the Suunto says we did 54km in 4hr10 cycling time. The data is here.
We set off around 0800 and soon had the hang of it. We took plenty of stops as: a) it was hot and windy, and b) our bums were pretty sore given it is a long time since we have ridden a bike for any distance! Anyway, we made it safely to Twizel around 1430. The service from Cycle Journeys in Twizel was great and we would recommend them to anyone wanting to take the cycle option.
Most of the trip was along the Tekapo canal so was pretty flat. We passed Mt Cook Alpine Salmon on the way and later High Country Salmon farms as well. By about 1100 we had also caught up with Phil and Viggo who had stopped for a break in the side of the track. There was a little cycling around the side of Lake Pukaki, where we stopped at the High Country Salmon shop for a break. Met up with a lady (Faith) from Motueka who was cycling part of the A2O cycle trail with her husband. He had driven their car to Oamaru (the end of the trail) and was catching a shuttle back, so she and her son were awaiting his return before setting off.
Then we had to cross SH8 before we headed across country for the final 10km or so to Twizel, battling increasing winds as we went! This last bit was real flat, barren Mackenzie country landscape! We survived this and arrived at the outskirts of Twizel before heading to the Cycle Journeys depot to drop off our bike. Then it was a short walk to the Lodge - we are in a small room that would have been one of the workers rooms when the power scheme was being constructed. Not flash, but perfectly comfortable. Then it was out for an early meal before heading back to our room and doing a few chores before bed!
The ankle was pretty swollen this morning so I wasn't intending to do much other than try and rest it - hence I didn't leave the room too many times during the day. B went for an early morning walk as the church was very busy with tourists when we arrived yesterday afternoon. I took the opportunity to finally get the technology working sufficiently to update some blogs!
Discussing what the ankle might mean, we thought one way of making progress while giving it a bit of a rest was to cycle to Twizel instead of walking. It is a minimum of 34km to Pukaki that you have to do in one hit anyway, with a further 13km to Twizel. There was no way I could walk that far with the ankle so the bike seemed a great solution to the problem. The guys planned to leave early and try and do the 60km to Twizel walking. That was all sorted today so we are set for tomorrow hopefully. Have also booked another rest day in Twizel for recovery and a required resupply for the next stage to Wanaka.
Today was also a momentous day as I decided to retire my red Icebreaker hiking shirt. It was so full of holes from the pressure of the pack that it was starting to rub and bruise above my hip - couldn't throw it away though so it is still in my bag as an emergency! Now into my orange long sleeved version!
Left just after 0700 and ended up doing 34km in 8 hours of walking. The GPS data is here.
We headed off first as Viggo was still asleep outside! We shot down the steep hill past the hut to the creek (dry foot). We then walked along Camp Stream for about 2km to the junction with Coal River, which was inevitably a wet foot crossing! We headed off down the true left of Coal River but after only 900m or so came to an orange pole pointing us up a steep climb. The initial steeper bit was about 500m long (160m vertical) but further climbing ensued until we started across more rolling tops. The notes say that you climb up to meet the road, but the road is actually quite some distance away! We carried on across rolling tussock until we reached the skifield road after 1h45 and 5.2km. We stopped here for a break and for B to rearrange her innersoles which were bunching up - not comfortable!
We then headed off following what appeared to be a bike trail with a narrow little track that was near impossible to walk in. This was not the most exciting part of the day as we slowly descended towards Boundary Creek and then, parallel to this, down to the carpark at the road. Unfortunately as we were about a km away from the carpark I had a random stumble and twisted my ankle resulting in a bit of a sprain. We stopped at the carpark and I put some Voltaren cream on it and took some ibuprofen to try and ease it.
Reinforced with anti-inflammatories, we carried on and walked the remaining 17km into Tekapo, although it wasn't the most comfortable walk for me! This was pretty much all gravel road walking apart from the last bit into the township. The guys caught up with us while we were having lunch, sheltering from the wind behind a large rock. We arrived in Tekapo and noted the large number of tourists at the Church of the Good Shepherd - the photo below was actually taken by B on an early morning walk the next day, when tourist numbers were significantly less!! We walked to our lodgings and settled in to a 6-bed bunk room all to ourselves, with a rest day already planned for. This was handy as the ankle was quite swollen by now! Went out and had a lovely meal to top up our reserves! Caught up with the guys on our way out of the restaurant and joined them to chat and have a nightcap before heading back to the hostel and bed.
Got up around 0630 and the four of us left at pretty much the same time just after 0800. Best guess is we did just over 14km in 5.5 hours walking time. Twice during the day I left the watch on pause (dummy!) so, while the track will look ok, albeit with a couple of straight lines on it, the time and distance is it. Anyway, the data, for what it's worth, is here.
This was probably the most spectacular day, view-wise, of the TA so far. We set off at the same time as Phil and Viggo, turning west from the hut and heading up a narrow stream valley (still Bush Stream? Not sure), crossing back and forth across the stream. It was about a 5km hike rising about 600m to Stag Saddle, pretty steep in places, but easing off a little as we neared the saddle. Not as steep overall as yesterday's climb over Bullock Bow Saddle. The guys, as usual, pulled ahead of us as we took our time on the steady climb through tussock and swampy areas. There were a few little snow patches as we neared the saddle at 1925m, nominally the highest point on TA. The day was fine and clear for us so we had some great views.
Samuel had left after us but passed us at the saddle as we were on the phone sorting out some things (yes - there was cell reception!). Luckily this included sorting out some accommodation at Tekapo, which was pretty full! Samuel followed the guys in scrambling up onto the ridge to the west of the saddle and heading down that rather than the “main” route down the valley floor. We followed, initially across rocks and then onto a scree slope, eventually creeping under some slushy snow (quite steep and very slippery due to melting snow) to get onto the ridge. The views down and across the Macaulay River valley to the Southern Alps were just stunning. While Stag Saddle is nominally the highest point on TA, this ridge option actually takes you a little higher to around 1945m (according to the Suunto). We would recommend this option to everyone as long as the weather allows for it. We followed this ridge down for maybe 9km, enjoying views all the way, until we eventually dropped down to join another bulldozed track coming in from the upper part of Lake Tekapo.
Below is a video taken part way down the ridge from Stag Saddle. And just ignore where I make reference to "Lake Pukaki" - I meant Lake Tekapo !!!
A couple of kms and one stream crossing saw us arrive at Camp Stream Hut after an amazing day’s walking. The guys were there ahead of us, as was Tomas, a nobo walker from the Czech Republic. This was a small 6-bunk hut with little room and shortish bunks - operated by the Mackenzie Alpine Trust. B had been keen to spend a night under the stars so she set up a mattress outside. Viggo decided he had better try it as well so he also spent the night outside. The rest of us bunked inside with the door open. B said she had a great night, waking around 0230 for an hour or so during which time she saw a whole bunch of shooting stars and a couple of satellites :-). The temp was not too cold and the wind also was not too bad, so a good night to test the outdoor sleeping!
Left camp after brekkie and cuppa about 0650 - not much point in hanging around as we are always awake early and we were expecting a possible deterioration in the weather later in the day. After a short day we arrived at Royal Hut at around 1115, after 3.5 hours of walking time over 10km or so. The GPS track for the day is here.
We climbed back up to the orange markers through tussock and sidled our way up through more tussock until after about 600m we met the old 4wd farm track we were expecting. From here it was another 2.4km of fairly steep, steady climbing up a rocky/gravelly disused farm track to Bullock Bow Saddle. This was previously farmed before tenure review saw it come back to public ownership - hence the old farm tracks. The 3km took us 1hr45 of walking and we climbed 650m vertical - so had a rest at the saddle! It was cool overnight (7deg at 0530) but dawned fine and sunny with, thankfully, little wind. So some great views from the saddle, although the weather did start to deteriorate a little, with some cloud cover, as we were there admiring the views.
Then it was downhill! Still on the old farm track (although a bit the worse for wear now it is no longer farmed). We passed a number of clear mountain tarns on the way down. Three hours and 8km from our overnight camp spot got us to the junction with Bush Stream track - 450m lower than the saddle. From here it was 2.2km (just over 30 minutes) gently uphill to Royal Hut where, as noted above, we arrived about 1115 for a ”half rest day”!
We had been looking at our stored weather forecasts (retrieved when at Mt Potts) and it suggested some dodgy weather later today and overnight, that looked as though it might clear by tomorrow morning. The weather had been threatening a little since Bullock Bow Saddle when it clouded over. We only got a couple of spots of rain before reaching the hut, but soon after it started to rain steadily, albeit not yet heavily (I'm writing this bit on Google Docs at 1145!), so we were glad to have made the hut in time. If it clears overnight as suggested it should give us a better day for Stag Saddle tomorrow - would be great to have some views especially as it is the highest point on the TA, and the views are supposed to be stunning.
We settled in for a relaxing few hours, although the weather got colder and we got into our sleeping bags for a while. Around 1430 B stuck her head out during a break in the weather to find a dusting of snow in the hills above us. It rained on and off but warmed a little by the time Phil and Viggo arrived in just before 1700. Another hot drink was had to warm everyone up and we all settled in.
Phil and Viggo had been at Stone Hut last night and said the trip up Bush Stream was OK but that they could see how a little more water would make it pretty tricky and potentially dangerous. We have since heard from some that have had not so pleasant trips up the route due to higher water levels. As the route took longer, they also got a bit wetter and colder than us as most of teh worst weather arrived after we had reached Royal Hut.
About 1830 a very cold and wet French chap, Samuel, arrived in. It took a little while and a small fire to thaw him out so he could get his fingers working properly!! Everyone had dinner and were in sleeping bags by about 2030. Hoping that the weather will improve tomorrow.
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"!!