Richmond Ranges (South Island)
The two weeks spent in Wellington were amazing and, in hindsight, very needed. It was a time to rest and reflect, to let the finishing of North Island really sink in. It also left us with a huge hole in our budget and whole lot closer to winter.
At the ferry terminal we met up with Ben. He has had a long time to heal his foot and was now ready to re-join us for South Island. Yippy!
We ran around the Interislander like kids on a sugar rush. We saw dolphins jumping around in the waves and stunning mountains glide by. We rested against the winds and let the new adventures sink in.
We had previously made the hard decision to leave out Queen Charlotte track as it would save us money and time. QC track is situated on a long, hilly forest spine surrounded by water. It’s meant to be really beautiful but for us it meant going further up from where the ferry stopped and we would have to catch a water taxi to the starting point. I figured we leave it for another time. There will be some tough decisions like that we will have to make if we want to get to Bluff before the big snow. It is another part of the journey, you never know what lies ahead and sometimes you just have to change things up because there is no way of arguing with the nature.
The Richmond Ranges are the longest stretch without resupply on the TA, meaning we had to carry 10 days food with us. Our bags were so heavy and loaded I wasn’t sure I would be able to get up the hills. I was carrying around 24kg and Arthur close to 30kg it wasn’t fun at all. The first days were really hard. At one point we had to climb up 900m and it nearly killed us all. I could hardly lift my legs and every time I had to pull myself up I felt like a heavy weight champion.
Once we got up in to the mountains things got a bit better. Every day our bags got a little bit lighter and the climbing up and down seemed less impossible. We were even so lucky to get some amazing views at times. It was mostly overcast but now and again the clouds parted, the sun broke through and we were left breathless in awe. We were encircled with wild mountains. We felt like the only people in the world. I got a strange feeling I was staring at a post card, except I was in it. We looked at each other with our over happy grins, right there and then there was no other place in the world we wanted to be. We spread our arms out and screamed till there was no more voice left. We were the kings of the world.
When the sun came out it was pretty warm but in the mist and wind on the exposed mountain tops it could also get pretty cool. The nights got even cooler but luckily for us we had huts with fire places waiting for us and warm sleeping bags.
Most times we could even cook water on the stove tops if we could find enough firewood. The huts are so amazing. Most times they are coloured in crazy neon paint so bright that sometimes it hurts your eyes to look at them. All huts are different and have interesting history to them but they all quickly become the best home ever. First we chose our bunks and ley out our sleeping bags then the fire gets lit. Most huts have axes and saws provided. Once the fire is going we hang up our smelly sweaty clothes, have a quick wash in the river or in water from rain water tanks and get in to our slightly less smelly camp clothes. We eat our dinners, drink our teas and go to sleep. Of course we have cards with us and Kindles and sometimes we have chats with other people in the huts if there are any.
For the majority of time in the Richmond Ranges our weather was good to us, it wasn’t always sunny but we only had rain one day. Once it started to rain though it was some pretty serious rain and we were about go across our highest point (1781m) and the most dangerous part of our track on the Richmonds. That day started out fine, we had hopes we would get some views from the top and the rain was forecasted for the next day so we felt pretty good. Once we got to the top however, the misty clouds turned out to be rain clouds. It started off as a drizzle so we kept pushing on, then the wind picked up and it got pretty unpleasant. Somehow we got to our first hut in record time despite the steep scree slope. No sooner than we had stepped in to the safety of the hut did it start bucketing down. It was still early in the day and we had planned to keep going to the next hut but as the weather outside was sounding more like a water fall than rain we decided to dry up our wet asses and call it a day. It was so cosy with the fire in the rain we were very happy with our decision. We wondered if Domino’s pizza would consider delivering to us as we dreamed and discussed various delicious foods.
Treated ourselves to a footbath at the hut :)
After the crazy rain day we had two days to go before we got to our big river crossing section so we hoped the river would be low enough to get across it in the 8 different places we needed to cross.
It was a sunny day and it all looked fine but the river was still very fast and it sounded seriously angry. The track weaved up and down cliffy sides of a hill along the river and it was very unpleasant walking. It got even worse once we got to our first crossing. The river looked too fast and deep but we couldn’t turn back without trying. I wasn’t very happy with the decision but the boys promised we would be careful and walk across holding hands. We got across ok but it made my heart rate raise considerably. The currants were seriously fast and I was worried about the other 7 crossings. Safe to say we made it to our hut, but it was by far my least favourite part of the walk so far.
On our last day in the mountains it happened to be my 27th birthday. I tend to pretend like I don’t care about my birthday but, who am I kidding, it is always nice with a bit of novelty once a year. We had a 9h day ahead and it sounded like Arthur hadn’t even thought about it at all, we even got in to some silly arguments about something silly and I spend the day feeling sorry for myself. It was sunny and my state of mind pushed me to go very fast, despite the annoying hilly terrain.
Half way through the day we got to a nice river and decided to have a break. The boys had a swim and I had my birthday cigarette (I found a half packet of cigarettes in the beginning of North Island and had stuffed them in my bag and forgotten all about it until now). It was amazing. I was basking in the sun listening to the river humming, surrounded by bumble bees (they are my new best friends) taking slow long drags of my cigarette feeling utterly fantastic.
Little did I know my amazing man had a whole party planned out for me. I had stepped outside the hut for a little bit to wash my legs and when I returned there were party hats and banners, kinder Surprise and a cookie time cookie with a candle (a wickedly cool pink cactus candle) waiting for me with song. I was amazed I had really believed we would have a simple evening with nothing special. He had brought some small cute gifts and even a bottle of whisky. I was so overwhelmed and happy it was the best birthday in the mountains one could wish for. I am so thankful to my incredible awesome Arthur for being so good to me and also to Ben who helped and managed to keep it a secret for all the days. I must add that the hut was in an incredible beautiful spot too with golden grass and big mountains in the background.
The next day we had a small sleep in before walking the 8km to St Arnaud. We had a well-deserved pie and a bowl of chips and a rest day. Ben has left us for a little bit as he had to go to Blenheim to pick up some things but he will be re-joining us as soon as he can.
The Richmond Ranges were amazing and knowing that it is only the beginning of South Island is very thrilling. It was also very nice to have Ben back with us.