Doing the slippery tussock two-step - Lake Tekapo to Lake Coleridge
As I think back about this recent section, it hasn't been my most favourable section, but I can't help but laugh at the experiences I've had.
The morning that I left Lake Tekapo felt very slow, so slow that I didn't end up leaving until 12:30pm as I was finishing off my last blog. I set myself the challenge of getting to Camp Stream hut before the sun set. With 33km to knock out I worked hard to keep my pace up. The first 15km was gravel road walking, where unfortunately none of the cars that drove by were courteous enough to slow down or move over, usually leaving me inhaling a cloud of dust. Once I had made it to the Richmond Track trail head I took a quick break and set off again at 4pm. The ground trail was good as I progressed to the Round Hill ski road. On the other side of the ski road it was less apparent and more tussock-y. It tapered to a steep descent down towards Camp Stream and then a couple kilometres following the rocky, tussock dominated valley took me up to Camp Stream hut. I made it by 8:30pm with about half an hour of light left. There was a German couple and Kaspar from Denmark doing T.A. in the hut. Not wanting to disturb them trying to sleep I had dinner outside in the dark.
Still feeling a bit sore from the rush the day before I set off towards Stag Saddle (1925m - the highest point on Te Araroa). I decided to take the 'good weather' route which followed a ridge line for about 8km up to the saddle. The views all the way up of Lake Tekapo in its entirety and Mt. Cook were absolutely stunning, and a highlight of this trip. I would recommend anyone on the trail to take this route even in bad weather (providing it's not blizzard conditions) as it would still be much better than walking through tussock in the valley. I decided to spend a bit of extra time and climb to the nearest peak: Beuzenberg Peak (2070m), simply because it was there and didn't seem like it would take much more effort. I became very cold while I was up there taking photos due to wind chill, but once I started moving back down my extremities soon became less numb. I had a cool little scree-slope-foot-ski down to the saddle. From the saddle, travel turned into tussock tripping, which I've now named the Slippery Tussock Two-Step. I followed a stream for a while before arriving at Royal hut, sooner than I expected. Apparently Prince Charles and Princess Anna visited this hut as children, hence the name, but more importantly it had a two stringed guitar inside! I had a break before continuing on through more tussock and stream crossings for 6km until I arrived at Stone Hut. This hut featured Geoff and Lisa, a very nice couple from Auckland walking the South Island part of the trail.
After some rain and hut shaking winds in the night, we awoke to clear skies and fine weather. It was a nice 7km 'two-step' up to a saddle from the hut. The final climb was up a very loose scree slope that looked like it would be enjoyable to run down. On the way down to the other side I met Jackie & Trevor who were carrying the largest canvas material packs I've ever seen. Trevor said he had left some food behind at the next hut to get rid of some weight...no kidding! I asked them if they forded the Rangitata River and what it was like. They mentioned it was pretty good in comparison to fording the Rakaia River...the river that is considered pretty much deadly. Jackie said they forded it after 3 weeks of no rain and it was the scariest thing they'd ever done...good work team Australia! I arrived at Crooked Spur hut and had a break. I was curious to see what food Trevor left behind. Turns out he left more food than I was carrying and I couldn't resist taking some hot chocolate, quick oats and protein bars. The trail went steeply down into the Bush Stream valley and from there it was a combination of randomly finding a section of ground trail while trying to avoid gorged sections and ankle bending river boulders, walking all the way out to the Rangitata River valley and the road to Mesopotamia Station. I met Mathias along here who had just forded the Rangitata. He said it was up to waist height and he seemed a little shaken up by it's strength. I made my way down the road to Mesopotamia Station and after a bit of a search, stumbled across Lynn from a walking tour company that had a tour group staying in one of the houses. She kindly gave me a beer and directed me up to the main house to find the owner. When I arrived at the house I was greeted by a little girl who told me that Sue (the owner) was out on the property and there was no way to contact her. Instead, she went to get my food parcel and reappeared with a fella in his 30's that had quite a strange character. As they led me down to the house I was to sleep in, I imagined the pair as fictional characters by the way they had interacted. I imagine that the young girl had lots of little adventures with her best friend, an old talking dog, played be the older quirky dude...maybe this is the first sign of insanity. A special thanks to Lynn and John from the tour company for inviting me to share a salmon dinner with the group. Tasty stuff!
Wednesday the 19th was the big day - Rangitata crossing day...and it was raining when I woke. Considering the information that it was already up to waist height from a bit of rain the other night, as well as not knowing what the weather had been like further upstream or on the other side of the alps, I began to reconsider the crossing. The fact that it was now raining again, I decided that being in a 10km wide braided river valley by myself was not the way to go! The Rangitata and Rakaia Rivers are considered natural breaks in the Te Araroa, meaning it is not a requirement in order to complete the trail. I spoke to Sue who said I could wait for the mail service and they would take me about 40km to Peel Forest. From there I hitch-hiked to SH72. Once there I had reception and called Trevor Macauley who has been filling in from Kim (his daughter) as my emergency contact to let him know my new itinerary. I wanted to allow an extra day in the next section in case I wasn't able to get to the trail head on the northern side of the Rangitata in the same day. It took around 90 minutes before Geoff from Arizona stopped. By pure luck, he was going to pretty much the same place that I was trying to get to, and even drove an extra 2km out of his way to drop me at the trail head. I walked for about 7km that evening and set up camp around 7pm.
In hindsight I should have kept my itinerary the same and done one longer day if I needed to. The next 4 days were much slower than they needed to be because I had a prearranged my pick up date from the southern side of the Rakaia River.
The next day I made my way over a small saddle through the Hakatere Conservation Park out to a small road section. The walking was nice but I quickly discovered the bugs that populate the area love sitting on me, or dive-bombing my face, or even occasionally trying to enter my ear canal. Once at the road, the flies came out in droves and I found the experience similar to being in Alice Springs. I met Joe and Liz Delfino here, and while we were talking the flies disappeared because it was now the bees (or perhaps wasps) turn to swarm around us. After the road, the trail went through some farm land and then back into another section of the Hakatere Conservation Park before arriving at Manuka Hut. It was very hot and I was looking forward to cooling down in the nearby stream. Before I had made it to the hut, a slippery rock helped me out, and I was instantly refreshed in the cool stream. That evening I went to look at the night sky and witnessed the coolest shooting star I've ever seen. It spanned almost half of my view of the sky and left a bright blue/white streak behind it until it disappeared.
I had a whopping 6km to do the next day. After cleaning up the mess from a strange couple that I shared the hut with last night, I set off walking at 10:30am, and arrived at Double hut at 11:30am. I was a bit frustrated by the lack of walking I was doing and hanging out at a hut for most of the day didn't really help. I built a fire in the fireplace but didn't light it, so hopefully someone will benefit from that in a time of need. I spent almost an hour reading the wall signatures trying to find Edmund Hillary's signature, whom apparently signed his name in the hut a few years before he did something that made him notable, but I had no luck...maybe 'Joe Nobody-Awesome was here' in big bold black marker has something to do with that.
I was extremely pleased to be doing some decent walking the next day, with 6 hours of walking over 17km. From what I had heard, this section was meant to be very challenging, but overall the thing I struggled with the most was (again, but worse) the insane amount of bugs, once again jumping into or onto my face. The trail started off a bit confusing. As I was following the marker poles, I saw what I thought was some ground trail that led through a spear grass dominated creek. After making my way across the creek, I looked over and saw a marker pole up on the beginning of a ridge back on the side of the creek I just came from. I found another way across the creek and a few more blood samples later, I was back on what I thought was the trail. I ascended for about another 300m but couldn't find another marker pole. I checked the map and then the GPS, which said I was meant to be in a valley about 300m to my left...on the other side of the creek! I looked at what effort would be required to get through the spear grass and tussock to rejoin the trail and decided that climbing the ridge I was on and then rejoining at the top was the way to go. Once I rejoined the actual trail, it was mostly sidling in and out of valleys through tussock grass and then scree slopes up to Clent Hills Saddle (1480m). There was one particularly tough section of tussock sidling for about 100m where I was having to hang on to the tussock as I did the slippery tussock sidle two-step. For anyone who doesn't know the definition of 'sidle' which is most likely anyone that hasn't walked T.A., it's walking on the side of a mountain, generally fairly steep slopes on either side of you. Tussock sidling just means there are holes everywhere that you can't see and are a joy to step in. Over the saddle I descended through tussock down to Round Hill Creek. The going was pretty good for a few kilometres and I was able to rock hop and keep my feet dry for a little while longer. Eventually the trail turned into more or less the creek itself and it became too deep/dangerous to rock hop so for the last 3km my boots became fish tanks. Looking back I think it was a pretty decent effort to keep my boots dry for so long considering there was apparently 51 creek fords in 8km. Towards the end it seemed kind of pointless to climb out and onto a bank for 20m before another crossing and I found it easier to just slosh through the creek. I met Jason from Australia and we ended up talking for a while. When I said goodbye and turned to start walking again I was shocked at the realisation of where I was. Somehow I had completely blanked out the fact that I was walking through a gorged valley for that period of time. About an hour later I climbed over a small hill and arrived at Comyns hut by 5pm. It rained plenty that evening.
With another short day ahead and the temperature dropping considerably from the day before, I didn't awake until 9am. I slowly got ready and started walking just as the sun came over the now snow capped mountains to keep me a little warm at 10am. I enjoyed the trail despite it being short and only taking 90 minutes to reach A-Frame hut. I followed an old farm track in and out of a gully, then down into the Turtons Stream valley where I had to ford a few times, but it was easy enough to rock hop and not soak my still wet boots. 6.5km later I was at the hut. I checked for phone reception, just like I had been doing at every high point and hut for the past few days but there was no signal, so I was definitely staying at the hut. The valley was very windy so I spent most of the day sheltered in the hut trying to keep warm while reading Pig Hunter magazines...always good for a laugh! I went outside at about 4pm and discovered it was freakin' snowing in February! It passed after a few minutes and I felt a little bit let down after getting kind of excited to touch snow for the first time. There wasn't enough on the ground to make it worthwhile. I ventured outside at around midnight on this night and found myself completely blown away by how clear the night sky was. I almost fell over...haha!
On the final morning I was keen to get away...as soon as the sun had come out to start warming me up. It was only a brief 10km trek out to the Glenrock Stream carpark, but it was a highlight in my opinion. After following an old farm track for a few kilometres I came over Turtons Saddle (1120m) where I was awarded with the spectacular view of the Glenrock Stream valley and where it intersected with the Rakaia River valley. I made my way down into the valley and out to the Glenrock Stream carpark (which was just a DoC sign on the side of the road). I met a SOBO French couple that had just been dropped off. I had a long chat with Peter and a girl who's name I won't attempt to spell (sorry!) as they seemed to be procrastinating the start of their day. We made an awesome exchange of some food I didn't want or need for a fresh orange. What a treat! I waited at the carpark for Trevor to pick me up for around 2 hours, until a truck driver working in a nearby field pulled up and offered a ride to the end of the road. Once I arrived at the end of the road I was struggling to obtain reception, but luckily Trevor and Janet realised it was me standing on the side of the road and stopped as they were turning the corner. Janet kindly prepared some food for me...you know, just casually whipped up some Anzac biscuits, star shaped cookies, chocolate brownies, sandwiches and a quiche! I couldn't be more grateful for their generosity and help. A big Thankyou to Trevor, Janet, and of course Kim Macauley.
I'm now at the very TA friendly Lake Coleridge Lodge successfully expanding my stomach with a lot of food. On a fitness related note, I was able to weigh myself this afternoon to see how much weight I've lost so far. Despite being skinnier than when I left Australia I'm weighing in 3kg heavier at 87kg. My resting heart rate has dropped by 10 beats per minute to 58bpm.
I'm feeling glad that I won't have to walk with time constraints anymore and can do a longer day if I feel like it. Now excuse me, dessert and the outdoor spa are waiting...