Friday, 14 June 2013

10 days to go!

Hurray! We're getting close now! And to be honest were all wanting the glory and are a little impatient for the end. I've been finding the psychological effort required to keep pushing and walking everyday quite tough really. Normally with sporting events I've done before eg, marathons and coast to coast, the finish line comes into sight and it's possible to wind it up, pick up the pace and charge to the checkered flag but it's not possible with walking. The days are slow, static and finding the motivation to get out the plod like 1st gear is hard. My moods are shooting from one extreme to another. One minute happy, then so bored and annoyed, then cheesed off and whilst I keep trying to gain perspective and remind myself I'm doing this through choice and that it's a holiday I can't shift the feeling of wanting it all to be over. I guess 4 months of mostly arduous walking has started to take its toll. But we have got a celebration arranged for Bluff - in Lake Ohau I got talking to some guy at the campground who had just got back from the Cayman islands and after hearing about our adventure gave me a Cuban cigar for the finish line. Me and Rajiv are planning to go two's up on a bottle of scotch whiskey and Emily is getting a bottle of champagne. Following that it's back to the fine culinary experiences of Invercargill to go and have a curry together! 202kms left! C'Mon!

Day 100 and counting.....

March 5th marked Day 100 of being "on the trail" and in true Te Araroa style we cut loose by rationing ourselves half a packet of biscuits more than usual. Rock n Roll.....let the good times unfold! It would of been great to of packed some cheese and red wine but our packs were heavily loaded to support our 8 day stretch from Lake Coleridge to Tekapo village. A few minor adjustments to our food and we're the heaviest yet. Easily 20kg which makes 1000m ascents feel like somebody's trying to pull you back down the mountainside but we stay calm and cruisy and just plod along.

And "plodding" seems to be the theme of the day at the moment. Not too sure why but since the complete utter highs of Richmond Range and especially Nelson Lakes I've crashed a little. We're still surrounded by fairytale type scenery and the lifestyle is so great so cannot make complete sense of the emotions but will just keep motivated and ride it out. Maybe fish n chips in Tekapo (or Takeapoo as I affectionately call it) and a rest day will turn the corner.

So plodding 1000m to the first saddle took us right up from the Rakaia river up and over and slapped straight back into the Southern Alps hut hopping our way to Lake Emily. Towards the end of the 1st day the wind started to pick up slightly then just out of the blue about 25m in front of Emily a little dust devil sprang to life on the track where it wobbled and whisked together on the spot, then after a few seconds it waved and wobbled its way to our right and down the mountainside where it unravelled itself and swirled back to fresh air.

The end of the day saw us escape the oncoming rain and strong, gusting nor'wester as we flung open the door to Comyns Hut. My favourite hut so far. It was old and built in the 60's out of the most basic of materials - wriggly tin and a mechano kit girder type assembly. It was dark but the many candles gave the hut a warm, atmospheric glow and the large open fire place allowed for a heartwarming heat and focal point to the evening as the wind howled outside.

Climbing, ascending, sidling and repeat. This was the theme to getting to Lake Emily and once there we snapped a shot as towering above Lake Emily was Mt Taylor so it seemed fitting. Joining the 4WD track to leave and finish this section Melanie noticed a presumably empty box of beers most likely left by some litter bug but upon closer inspection saw that there were 5 beers in there! BOOM! Within seconds the lids were popped and the 5 of us were doing a cheers in a real remote part of NZ! Happy days! It was only 11am but whose wearing a watch these days? Oh yeah......what day is it?

So tomorrow we head up to Stag Saddle, the highest point of Te Araroa at 2000m altitude. We pushed out an 11 hour day yesterday to get ourselves to the hut at the front of the pass for tonight then on Emily's birthday we will summit and if the weather holds huge views across Lake Tekapo to NZ's highest mountain, Mt Cook/Aoraki should be on offer! Happy Birthday Emily X

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Hut Life

So, on the whole we've met really down to earth, friendly people at the huts and campsites but every now and again you bump into a couple of whacky and odd people! I'm sat opposite one now.......Me and Em are doing our best to avoid eye cotact by burying our heads in books or writing to not encourage conversation but this guy doesn't want to take the hint. He's told us about how he likes trains and "if you want to get him talking then to mention trains", how he enjoys the circular routes that Christchurch buses take. He's then told us about how he like jigsaws and if he was to do the one in the hut that is "about 15 hours completed" he would use a "colour strategy" to complete it! Oh no, he's moved and is now sitting around mine and Emily's table eating an apple! Please help.....

Man Vs Possum

We got a successful hitch to HanmerSprings by a couple of entrepenural type kiwis, Nelson born, one of which has done a fair amount of hunting and tramping so could tell us more about the netx section of the walk. Can't beat a bit of local knowledge!

Once in Hanmer we went crazy at the sight of a supermarket and smashed close to $300 without even blinking an eyelid! There we go, all resupplied ready for the next 7day section to Arthurs Pass via Harper Pass and Goat Pass. But first things first, lets go across the road to the leafy park, sit by a picnic bench and devour an artisan bread loaf with a jar of nutella, a slab of butter and a jar of strawberry jam! Satisfaction was guaranteed.

We then called up the Alpine Adventure campground to check for prices and once theyoffered a courtesy pick-up wehad to say yes. Couldn't possibly walk for another 10 minutes! This place was great - hot showers, hot laundry (trust me, that's nothing short of amazing) and the people running the joint were chilled out and real friendly so we decided to stay for 2 nights. The first night we slept like logs but the 2nd night we had an unwelcomed visitor - a bloody possum! These area pest in NZ as back in the early 1920's (I think) they were introduced into the wild for the fur trade but their numbers exploded and with it they caused havoc by knawing at certain trees, eating birds eggs and in Waitomo we even had a possum kill a bird directly above our tent, the blood of which spilt all over our abode! We've had numerous sleepless nights because of possums and now, here was another potential, but not if I can help it. Once I heard it close to the tent and the walking poles disturbed, I lept out of the tent with the headtorch and shone it directly at the tree adjacent to the tent and there it was, startled, daring not to move (this is why you see so many dead at the side of the roads). First thing I noticed was that it was trying to get away with Emily's walking pole would you believe. Second thing I noticed was in my right hand I was holding my 4ft long wooden pole with the thin end grasped in my hand. I looked at the pole, looked at the possum and instinctively decided it was time for it to die!

Keeping the possum in a daze with the headtorch, I drew back the pole with the precision of an archer, got myself into the position of a baseball batsman and I was poised ready to strike. The heartbeat got stronger, I took a couple of breaths knowing I would have to strike it hard in the head to kill it. But here's for all theinnocent birds you kill, here's to devastating the countryside, here's to keeping me up all night and for infecting animals with TB you dirty pest and with all my might I swung the pole and SMACK! I felt a sharp shockwave go up my arms but to my dismay realised I had hit the tree and not the possum, who scurried up the tree out of reach and stared back at me! "Bastard", I though, here goes another sleepless night......

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Nelson Lakes

I'm not too sure why but since abandoning the tablet and putting pen to paper all of a sudden my blog posts have become more thought out, descriptive and enjoyable to write. I'm currently sat on a grassy mound at the shore of Blue Lake in Nelson Lakes National Park and the scenery around me is nothing short of truly magnificent.

Since arriving into the South Island the hiking has just got better and better. The 4 day Queen Charlotte Track scored a 6/10. After tasting the rigours and adventurous side of hiking it was a little tame to be honest but great warm up after completing the North Island and taking 3 days off in Wellington. Next we moved onto the Richmond Range, an 8 day epic that was rugged, tough and hard work but the alpine views and surprisingly consistent weather made it a 9/10 but since entering the Nelson Lakes it's been demoted to a 8/10 making Nelson Lakes 9.5/10! It would only be better if there was a skimpily clad bar women in each hut at the end of the day serving ice cold beer.

Yesterday, when climbing up the Travers river the sentence that came out of my mouth when approaching Upper Travers hut for a lunch stop was ", I think that this is the closest place to paradise I've ever seen..." Insanely beautiful and picturesque. The hut lay on a plateau at the foot of a steep mountain ridge that seemed to cocoon and dwarf the hut. Snaking its way along the flat plateau was a crystal clear river with slight and occasional rapids and all around us was knee high grass and tussock, green, brown and yellow in colour with wild flowers in abundance. With the cloudless blue sky and the full strength of the midday sun the colours intensified.

Today we have decided on a short day as we have enough food until or next resupply and Blue Lake is outstanding - what's the rush! It has been crowned the purest water in the world with visibility up to 80m and is sacred to the Maori. Sitting here, drinking from the lake, washing adjacent to it and being drawn to sit at the source for a few hours I can appreciate why.

After Blue Lake we pushed on to Boyle Village then hitched to Hanmer Springs to resupply before embarking on the next 5-7 day mission up and over Harper Pass to Arthurs Pass. The Nelson Lakes was a complete Te Araroa highlight for me and the South Island is just amazing! We are now over 2000km into the journey and have less than 1000km to go so are two-thirds of the way through already! Happy days!

Bye for now....

Phil and Em x

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Richmond Range!

Following on from the Queen Charlotte track we grabbed a hitch from Havelock to Nelson to hang out with Casey and Fisk, a couple of friends from back in the days of Karaka. Also, we needed to resupply our food and such for the next section - a 9 day stint from Pelorus Bridge to the next town, St Arnaud. 110km of untouched wilderness. Was great to hang out with Casey and Fisk so we decided to take a rest day with them. We drank beers and ate home cooked food - delicious. When hitching back out to Pelorus Bridge we got dropped off by Casey on the State Highway about 100m in front of two other hitch hikers, one of whom wandered down to us for chats and let us know he's been waiting for 1hr15mins and still no ride. Then he resumed his position back up the road, shortly after a ute pulled up and Cory the driver said its fine for a ride so we hopped in and as we pull off see the other two hitch hikers still trying to get a ride. I lowered my window smiled smugly and waved to them as we went past. All I heard was "...but we've been waiting for over an hour..!." Oh well, was good to be back on the road.

As we approached the start of Pelorus River track we bumped back into Rajiv so linked back up to take on the next big section. It was beautiful walking along the river. Tall ascents and steep descents broken up by many stream and tributary crossings, one of which saw Emily turn into a ninja as she was faced with leaping a long distance to the safety of the other side of the gushing stream or swimming down through the rapids!!!

Rajiv has been nursing a bad ankle which swelled up to 1 1/2 times its size and after day 2 with compensating for his ankle his knee started hurting so we took an early unscheduled stop for the day at a hut by the side of two joining rivers with 2 sets of rapids. A gorgeous setting.

After day 3 me and Em decided to push on and leave Rajiv in the company of 2 other walkers who were doing the same trail but at a slower speed so that fingers crossed after a 4 hour, 900m ascent to the hut we would wake up in the morning to blue skies and sunshine as forecast. The forecast was right and today was the best days walking so far!

Many hours spent walking the exposed tops with clear skies and not a breath of wind with views that were so vast and expansive it was hard to know where to look. Nelson and the ocean with Kahurangi National Park one way, Blenheim and the North Island one way and then a fine array of tall peaks dancing down the interior of the south another! Absolutely stunning! We took a lunch break and just sat there gazing for an eternity. Such a magnificent vista that felt all the better for knowing we had got there under our own power. This is why we trained up in the north island for 2 months. To be here right now trail fit and experienced.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Tararuas Day 6

There was alot of hype about the Tararua Ranges - very unpredictable weather patterns, steep accents and descents, difficult navigation, typical strong winds, exposed summits etc. It's reputation preceded it and as a result we planned accordingly. Advised to wait out storms in huts and to be prepared to turn back if weather deteriorated we made sure we had plenty of food, gas and other essentials. Arriving into Palmerston North after grabbing a hitch with four Taranaki, early 20's metal heads in a beat up 4x4 we started plodding our way through the city centre weighed down by a pack that seemed to of adopted its own being, now with 8 days food packed in. A desperate attempt at a hitch saw no results, so a little bereft crossed over the main highway then all of a sudden a shout of "PHIL" came out of the sky. I thought I was imagining it until I looked up and saw my old friend and house mate Saad driving his car with his head out of the window waving!! He turned around and immediately took us under his wing. He took us straight out to dinner and wouldn't let us pay, then put us up in his house for the night and even took us to the start of the track the next morning. Wow! What a stroke of luck that was. So great to see Saad. He's such an honest, genuine, humble and caring person. He couldn't do enough for us and we were so grateful when it came to our goodbye. After 2 days of forest we were out of water and no potable water for a few km's so we decided to do our first "cold call" at a fancy house out in the countryside. This led to being welcomed warmly and treated to tea, coffee, cheese and biscuits and Emily even scored a shower! I wanted one but felt too British and polite. Oh well! The couple we met, Gill and John, were both great people to chat with and share stories. John knew a bit about the route we were about to embark on and let us know a story about a CEO of Te Papa National Museum in Wellington whom recently perished up in the hills when adverse weather kicked in. Apparently unexperieced and unprepared equipment wise. Looking at our packs we were quite the opposite so reinforced our committment to the 4 day traverse of the range and the forecast was for fine weather! Sweet! We camped out at the very start of the track in a beautiful setting by a river so that we could start first thing for the 1000m ascent to the first hut. Once warmed up we constantly attacked the climb getting much rewarded views and lunch at the first hut. Absolutely stunning scenery, not a breath of wind - gorgeous! Very much like the Lake District as in compact and concentrated ridges and range but taller peaks. The second part of the day was a 5km section that was meant to take 4 hours! Very tough going. Went past a memorial to a 'local' who had been caught out in a storm and perished. A reminder that conditions like today are temporary and must be savoured. I took a fall and snapped my pole. Was a little annoyed at myself as wasn't watching my footing and looking at my GPS at the time. All good though as have resorted to traditional means and have a fantastic birch branch that I have customised and named 'Totem'. Emily took a spectacular fall also. I heard a yelp, asked if she was ok, she said no and to come and help her. As I raced back she was lying half on the ridge track and the other half was down the side of the ridge and she was holding onto a tree root. Her bag was wanting to roll down the hill so she was pinned into that position. I grabbed her shoulder straps and helped her to her feet. We were both laughing and carried on (what else do you do?!) Finally reaching the hut, we both remarked that this was probably the best days hiking on the whole trail so far and what lay in our view was the entire ridge line we would follow the next day, if the weather holds..... Rajiv, Kelsey and Emily (Sweden) met up with us in the hut so was great to see each other and catch up. Reading the intentions book 5 days earlier 3 TeAraroa trampers were pinned in the hut for 3 days following disastourous weather and failed attempts to get to the next hut. We felt lucky to have seen the Tararua's unvelied and had shown her face in the best light. In the morning me and Em decided an early start was warranted to try and get views from the summit of our second big climb in time for the morning mist to of burnt off. Up at 6am the climb was up a ridge, almost vertical in parts with steep descents both sides. The morning cloud hung about the tops but was optimistic it would lift. At one point the sun broke through and spots of blue sky appeared but it wasn't to be. The cloud hung, swirled, thickened and blew around the tops all morning as we commenced our main ridge walk from the summitt to the next hut for lunch. After a hearty feed we followed the main ridge t our highest hut destination, Nichols Hut. Part way through the afternoon the cloud lifted and the sun shone through the forest. Although we were on another 5km/4 hour slog of a track I wanted to hurry up and break out above the bushline to soak up the vistas but hurrying on this track wasn't possible. A strong head for heights, leaps of faith and a solid portion of luck was needed to tackle this beast but the final, long, arduous, stength-draining ascent was very much worth it as once above the bushline a full 360 degree view of the interior and intricacies of the entire range sat their suspended in time. Out of breath, sweat pouring off the face with legs burning it was truly a fantastic moment. And looking down the face of one mountain revealed our accomodation for the night. It was a room with a view for sure!