It hasn’t been so long since I wrote the second part of my article about my wondering experience. I was in Tekapa and I had just gone through the 600 km point. I am now a month later and 700 km further and trying to review the previous part of my journey.
I have just finished travelling through South Island. I really feel that it was like only yesterday that I started my journey and from the very beginning, time has passed incredibly quickly.
Before I went to the mountains I had the opportunity to admire the beauty of three alpine lakes known for their unmistakable turquoise colour. You can sit for hours and admire them and it is an ideal place for a glass of wine and some romantic moments. I had neither wine nor anybody to chat with, so I took out my ukulele and started to play. It was great!
Lake Pukaki, the largest of three Alpine lakes on the South Island.
When I left Tekapa, the inland of South Island was approaching very fast. I had become a little aware of that! The New Zealand Alps are well known for their difficult segments, their very variable weather conditions, an elevation gain and many rivers that have to be crossed. People are usually delayed in the huts because of the frequent rain. They have to wait until the high water level of the rivers to drop down again.
A Hut - prior to the hike of the Two Thumbs trek.
The first challenge became the Two Thumbs trek which is the highest point of the entire route of Te Araroa - Stag Saddle located at a 1925m height above sea level. What are we gonna talk about? Everyone was telling me “what a great view, you will wet your pants! “ I was looking forward to it even though the weather wasn’t good. As I approached through the valley, to the dream destination of the week, the weather was getting worse and worse and finally it was raining so heavily that, to put it politely, there “wasn’t any” of the long expected view. Drenched to the skin, I climbed to the Stag Saddle. Surprisingly, I was in a good mood, even though the road was muddied, my feet were soaking wet and I had fallen down several times because of the wet stones. I was surprised that I even managed to do it in these difficult conditions. I yelled excitedly aloud into the valley and ignored the rain pounding on my rain cape.
What it looked like, you can see the in the following video:-
I started to descend, soaking wet through, on a rocky road toward the hut. I swore often because I fell down several times, and even though I was covered in a mud, it was still great day! In the evening only hot chocolate would save me, but I had finished it all in the morning for my breakfast. Ugh!! I woke in the morning and the weather was splendid! The clothes of the previous day were dripping wet but today there was sunshine! I put my wet clothing on the backpack to dry and set off to the river Rangitata.
Excellent weather on the way to the river Rangitata.
Rangitata and Rakaia are two huge rivers that cross the Te Araroa route:- As a result of their highly variable water levels and taking into consideration that both of the rivers have caused a few lives to be lost, the creators of this route have removed all information about these rivers from the official route planner. In practice however this means that the route is interrupted and continues beyond the river. A small complication is that you have to get there somehow, haven’t you? The nearest bridge is 20 km away and to wade through these rivers is very dangerous. It can only be done in very favorable conditions, in a group and at a time when the water level is low (waist-high or lower). As soon as I got to the first river, I found out that it was flooded by the previous day’s rain and to wade across was not possible and I had no option other than to use the bridge. Well, I checked the map and confirmed the distance was 20 km and it meant 2 to 3 days delay for me. That should be enough time to reach the bridge and to return back to the trek on the opposite side of the river.
Luckily, I did manage to stop a car on the road that everyone calls „middle of nowhere“ and there were actually 8 people in a car for 5 people, so the question of if they would take me as well seemed pretty pointless. However, the driver didn’t hesitate and let me in the car and we drove along the rocky path towards the bridge. Just to give an idea of how it looked like inside the car- 2 boys were sitting in the passenger’s seat, another was sitting above the gear lever and he had to move aside when the driver needed to change gear. There were 4 people squeezed in to the back and I was laying on top of them. The car boot was full of backpacks because all the passengers were participants in the trek and as I found out during the journey, the driver was the local vet.
We were laughing all the way and we went on the next three day trek together, which was pretty cool!
Sunset beyond the river Rangitata
This three-day journey was one of my favorites. We walked all the way through the valley between magnificent mountains, we crossed plenty of springs that flowed down from the mountainside and we had to wade through a lot of them. The weather was kind to us, the sun was shining so bright and we really enjoyed these days. A beautiful trek that I recommend to all who are seeking a three-day, cool and undemanding long weekend in the mountains.
the valley between the rivers Rangitata and Rakaia
As we approached the river Rakaia, we constantly crossed the mountain springs that were quite flooded in one area. Because of it we decided to cross the spring together as a group. For those, who do not know, what a group crossing means, in short it is the more people that interlace their arms the better (like when you offer your lady your arm). The whole group crosses together because there is much greater stability than when an individual crosses alone. During this crossing, Evan (one of the guys) accidentally activated a SOS emergency signal on the PLB device (PLB – personal locator beacon) that everyone has to carry. Unfortunately he didn’t realise he had done so and he didn’t correct it. Some time after that, the Emergency Helicopter flew right over us and landed at the hut, where we had just arrived. Two rescuers jumped out, they ran to us and were asking for Evan. He came to them very confused and slowly concluded what had happened. Eventually everything was resolved by the agreement that it had been a mistake! Evan did not even have to pay the call-out charge and the pilot said with great humor, „At least we got to fly as today we had nothing else to do anyway.“ So we talked briefly and then the helicopter flew back to the base without a patient.
Fortunately, nothing had happened to anyone but with the helicopter flying over your head, and as you are not completely aware of all your mates who are travelling with you, it is not a pleasant feeling at all.
The Helicopter landing at our hut.
When we reached the river Rakaia, the whole situation regarding the crossing of the river was repeated, because there the nearest bridge is also 20 km away. Unfortunately, there was any vet, so I really had to cross the bridge on foot but with the views of the picturesque mountains around me, it was worth it!
Breathtaking views beyond the river Rakaia.
In view of the fact that I chose a 5-month trip, I knew not to expect only good weather conditions. As I walked in the Mountains of Arthur´s Pass, the days of continuous rain started. At first, the tropical cyclone - Gita arrived and due to it, I had to return back to the town and spend a couple of days there waiting until the weather improved. When I got back onto the trek, it was merely raining.
There is no bad weather, all weather is fine. It can be only bad equipment. I quite enjoyed myself in the rain. It’s true that the climb up the Waiau Pass, I assessed as the best experience in the South Island so far. Due to the heavy rain, the mountains were literally “saturated with water” and from the higher points could be seen the most beautiful waterfalls. In addition, the trees and grass were much more fertile because of the heavy rain. For purely selfish reason, when you climb a high mountain in such adverse weather conditions, you are really proud of yourself!
One among many of waterfalls caused by the current rain.
Sopping wet, but happy! Waiau Pass, 1870 m above see level.
Surprisingly, I managed the mountain part of the journey pretty well. It was challenging for me, “I got a real sweat on” but I completed the most of my trip faster than the expected time.
Hamilton hut – room with a great view that cannot be offered by any five-star hotel in the world.
My last part of the journey Te Araroa was the very well-known Queen Charlotte track. It is a lovely well kept path along the coast that leads up to the south tip, called Ship Cove. The road has changed rapidly and finally I had seen the sea and the views were marvelous and many – the trip lasted only 3 days, which meant no 8 kg of food in my backpack! Yippie yay!
View of the Queen Charlotte trek, the final part of path to the Ship Cove.
Queen Charlotte trek I decided to take completely easy. Because it was the last part of journey of the South Island and at the same time I wanted to clarify what I had achieved so far, what I had learned and what I had to work on during my wandering across the North Island. I was kind of hoping, the mental meditation would give me “an enlightened mind” and I will become a better person. Well, unfortunately, “an enlightened mind” didn’t happen! I hope, it will happen by the end of the trip :-).
Some mornings are simply unreal! Just open a tent.
76 days after I started on the northernmost point of New Zealand I found myself on the opposite southernmost point – Ship Cove. Should i appraise the south part of my journey - Te Araroa, the result would be:- From the beginning to the end of my journey, I have definitely not been bored, I met a lot of new and very inspiring friends, I have pushed my physical and my mental boundaries incredibly, and I hope, I will push them furthermore on the Northern areas. Several times I have hit rock bottom but “I rose again”. What else can you do in the mountains, where there’s nobody to help, right?
I amazed myself on some critical moments. I am really glad I never thought of giving up on this trip, and I am certainly glad that I got involved in this crazy project. Now, let’s go the north!
1300 km a foot! South Island has been conquered. Hooray, northward now!
Text and photo: Martin Mařík
Finally a few photos without comment