Into the wild - St. Arnaud to Havelock
I had been told that the place to get proper solitude while on TA (which is something I've been wanting from the start) was through this section, and although I didn't quite get to be alone the whole time like I was hoping, Mt. Richmond Forest Park has been the most incredible part of the trail so far. This longer stretch was described as the toughest section of the entire trail, but I can’t understand what all the fuss was about. I expected physical torture everyday from reading people's comments about how hard it was, and while it was more demanding than most of the trail, there was never a time when I felt completely drained of energy. Once again, I carried extra food, making my pack weight around 25kg, including enough to take a half rest day if I felt like I needed it.
The day out of St. Arnaud was started very late. I spent the morning backing up media and rushing through the blog before walking at 2:30pm. I had allowed for a shorter day and only had to get into Red Hills hut, 17km from St. Arnaud. The first 11 were on state highway, and as far as road walking goes, I didn't mind it. There were very few cars and the scenery was nice. Once I reached the trail head, I ascended through some forest that led to a 4WD track which took me all the way to the hut. Almost four hundred vertical metres later and I arrived at 5:30pm. The hut is a very nice and new one, it was disappointing to open a hut book littered with complaints by TA trampers about its lack of heating, despite there being no suitable fire fuel vegetation in the area.
I awoke to rain the next morning, ready for my first day of leg torture. I set off as the rain cleared and walked through sludgy tussock terrain. There wasn't much difference in height between the first few huts, but the terrain was generally slippery, rough and up or down, which made for slow going. The clouds lingered in the valleys below, but eventually lifted and all the weather from Cyclone Lusi vanished. The slow walking made the day seem long, but I arrived at Hunters hut (which was my intended destination) by 2:30pm and thought about going on. I reminded myself that I was there with the intention of enjoying the park, and the hut was in a beautiful location overlooking a river and beyond to Mt. Ellis: the mountain I would climb the next morning. Shout out to Janine, another NOBO whom I’ve followed up the South Island, until we finally met in Hanmer Springs. Janine got stuck in Hunters hut as the weather from Lusi closed in, and spent her day off making the hut pristine and stocking firewood. She even cleaned the long drop, now that’s how you build up seriously good hut karma!
The following morning I felt a little nervous about the second half of the day, because I had read comments about it being a particularly rough section...and the rock chute river crossing above a 4m waterfall. The trail descended through beech forest that was heavily infested with wasps down to a river. After crossing the river, the trail stayed on one side for some time. I found the markers to be distant or hard to spot and had to backtrack a few times after following what I thought might have been some ground trail. Eventually I crossed the river again and began ascending towards Mt. Ellis (1615m). It seemed to be a fairly strenuous climb as it never really eased off. Up, up and only up on rocks and beech forest roots. Once I got closer to the top of Mt. Ellis, the trail veered to the side and sidled over tussock and scree slopes. I came to a ridge that the trail began to descend along, and for the first time I felt properly high. The views were very rewarding. I smiled my way down the ridge, right up until I got to a saddle and made a left turn. Suddenly the trail became a combination of all terrible kinds of ground trail: mud, tussock and jagged boulders. It wasn’t far to Top Wairoa hut, but I spent a long time trying my best to be careful as I descended. A couple of tussock slips, lots of knee jarring and I was at the hut by 12:30pm feeling kind of beat and wondering about what kind of death terrain lie ahead if I had just been through the easy half of my day. From the hut, the trail crossed the Wairoa River and immediately went into amazingly well cut forest that followed the river. Since coming into this section, I had remembered something that Geoff Mead had said to me about his and Lisa’s experience. He explained how DoC workers had finished cutting the trail the day before they entered the Park, and I had Geoff’s calm voice distinctly ringing in my mind, “...so you’ll benefit from that too.“ every time I had to push through an overgrown section of trail. The thought made me smile on every overgrown occurrence, but obviously this section is what he was referring to the most. The trail ended up being really well defined the whole way, and for 3 hours I kept wondering when the 'rough' trail was going to come. There was a fair amount of sidling, some of it on ledges or very steep slopes, but nothing I would consider to be unsafe (and that’s coming from Captain Uncoordinated). As for the rock chute crossing... no problem. It seems that the trail has been moved upstream to a crossing above a 1.5m waterfall where I was able to rock hop and keep my boots dry, but after assessing the old crossing above the 4m waterfall, I would have had no problem attempting it in the water level at that time. I was at Mid Wairoa hut by 4:30pm, and joined by Maja and Håvard, a Norwegian couple doing sections of TA shortly after. I was a little bit disappointed that my solitude was broken, as were they, but fortunately we got along well and had things in common, such as how we’re always hungry, which led to lengthy conversations about food.
I had solid 400m ascent to get me warmed up the next morning. After the incline eased off, I began to follow a forested route all the way to the turn off to Tarn hut. It was only 10am so I didn’t bother going down to the hut and kept walking. As I got higher, the forest became stunted and more open. Eventually I found an open spot that looked good for a quick break. I saw a rock through the shrub and decided to bush bash through. I emerged onto a big rock formation that afforded awesome views of the heavily forested mountains surrounding me, and where I had come from over the last day. My quick break turned into a 45 minute chillout on the ledge before I continued towards Purple Top, which was the only open section of my whole day, but the views were mighty. Not only was I in awe of Mt. Rintoul, I saw the ocean for the first time in months, with a view right out to the Tasman Sea and Abel Tasman National Park! It was spectacular and I had plenty of time to enjoy the moment. I then descended back down to Rintoul hut, which sits right below Mt. Rintoul in a clearing with similar views to what I just described. I was at the hut early again, and wanted to embrace the wicked location. So instead of walking, I did manly things and chopped firewood for a couple of hours. The evening brought a sweet red sunset and I went to bed a very happy chappy.
The next day was full of ups and downs…literally. The morning gym instructor Mr. Rintoul had me on the hill climber for an hour before I could stop. The climb was mostly straight up a scree slope, which is actually similar to being on a machine. You take a step, push up, and slide back down, then repeat. Once I summited Mt. Rintoul (1731m), I went straight down again and made my way across rocky terrain to begin climbing Little Rintoul (1643m). Although all the 360 degree views were amazing, I personally enjoyed summiting Bubba Rintoul more, for the view of Papa Rintoul. Unfortunately there was no scree on the descent from Little Rintoul, so no land skiing was enjoyed this day. I skipped going to Old Man hut and kept walking, down to 1300m in forest, then back out on open tussock tops and up to 1514m. I recall an encounter with a fly during this time, where it persistently dive bombed my face until I got frustrated enough to start waving my trekking poles around, which resulted with punching myself in the forehead with one of the poles. At that point the fly must have felt satisfied and left me alone. The trail followed a ridge across open top country where the ground trail was consistent enough to get a reasonable pace going which made me feel like I was gliding along, and then sidled below Slaty Peak (1544m) down to Slaty hut. This was my destination hut for the day, but I was there by 1:30pm and felt full of energy. I had lunch at the hut then trotted on to Starveall hut. It was a nice short section that descended into forest to around 1300m, and then back out of forest over Mt. Starveall (who thinks of calling a mountain that?!) to 1511m. The afternoon views from there were some of my favourite throughout the park. I arrived at Starveall hut by 4pm, so used my time to chop a bit of wood and drag out a big piece of windfall from nearby forest. I do not want to come across as rant-y, but it was again disappointing to see comments from a local in the hut books about how he had to clean up rubbish and food mess. It’s mostly people walking TA through this section…respect the huts people! I’ll say no more on that.
My alarm went off a bit early and very abruptly this morning…oh wait, that was a couple of Weka’s! The trail descended for 900 vertical metres down to Hackett hut at 270m, which is the lowest I’ve been in months. From Hackett to Browning hut, the ground trail was also a cycle trail and made for super easy walking. After Browning hut, the trail got a little bit rougher, but I still really enjoyed the walk as I sidled for around 9km down to Roebuck hut. I treated myself to a double dinner on this night, and ended up lying down early because I felt so full. Stupid stomach. Throughout this day, I was thinking quite a bit about how so many of the people that I meet seem to tell me all of these things that I should be doing in New Zealand, sometimes without even acknolwedging that I'm walking the length of the country. I love to discover amazing things, but I would prefer hear about why people have enjoyed their experiences so much. Share your story and inpsire me to check it out, because I'm finding that those people who have explained why whatever they did was incredible, has made me want a similar experience. I think this could be applied to so many things in normal life, which is a very positive thing.
Maybe I wasn’t as mentally prepared as I should’ve been for the section of trail between Roebuck and Middy huts. The trail notes described it as ‘rough but enjoyable’...yet only one of those adjectives I would agree with. After crossing a couple of swingbridges, the trail was in my opinion, the worst sidling I’ve experienced: rocky, root-y, slippery and overgrown. I had rolled both my ankles 3 times within the first few minutes and was sure I’d end up going down at some point, which did not improve my mood. I was pretty glad when I eventually got closer to Middy hut and the trail improved significantly. I think the trail notes meant that this section is 2 hours of ‘rough’, and 15 minutes of ‘enjoyable’. Just before I arrived at Middy hut I had a gun half raised at me by a startled hunter when I came around from behind a tree. Upon entering the long drop at Middy hut, I came across a lone wasp, most probably a regular at the facility. However, he must have got the word out to his mates... and around 30 of them were keen to hang out. The trail beyond the hut was described as ‘undulating’, which I had read a few comments about it being a big understatement. I had no problems though and enjoyed the small ups and downs. The final stretch from Captain’s Creek hut was the nicest section of the Pelorus River Track, although I felt like I was rushing because I had a long day to get through. I was at the road by 2pm for the final 13km to the Pelorus Bridge camp ground. The road was up, down and windy, but I was appreciating that I could have real food soon. I arrived at the camp ground at 4pm to relax for the evening.
There isn’t much to say about the last day into Havelock: 20km of walking on state highway road. Left, right, left, right. I didn’t wish to do the 7km Te Araroa specific Dalton’s track, because I’ve had multiple people mention being abused by one of the private land owners through there, and walking the road I can keep a consistent pace. Havelock had mussels advertised everywhere, so I thought the best use of my afternoon was to go on a mussel tour and try four different restaurants. The Mussel Pot was by far the winner.