It is getting colder there is no denying it any longer. We have been lucky with some perfectly clear, sunny days but it seems like the sun rays can’t quite reach us the same.
The nights are cold and the mornings greet us with crispy, frost covered grounds. The rivers and streams that we have to constantly cross are ice-cold leaving us with icy bricks for feet.
There are some good things that come with the cold though. There aren’t half as many sand flies around, we don’t meet on many hikers so we always have space in the huts and finally, my favourite, is the autumn colours.
We had to hitch to Methven to resupply for our next leg.
Methven is a really nice little town that I can imagine it buzzing in winter as it has a ski field close by. We stocked up and had some well-deserved chip butties.
The next day we needed to get to the other side of the Rakaia River as this was one of the rivers one shouldn’t try to cross by foot. Ben managed to score a ride with a lady that kindly offered to drive us half way there. We thanked here and headed off towards the beginning of our track. We had 30km to go on a dirt road and if we didn’t get a lift to the end we wouldn’t be able to walk the 4 hours into the hills to the first hut, meaning we would have to tent. As much as I still love our tent it is getting pretty cold at nights.
The day was stunning and the road we were walking on had the most amazing views. I was listening to some badass classical music and I felt like I was in some ridiculously epic movie.
After 10km of walking we finally got a ride to our track and we totally made it to our hut even with 20 minutes to spare before it got dark. The hut was more of a metal tin with 6 bunks, two of which were already occupied by an Auckland couple doing sections of TA. Coincidently, Arthur knew one of them from the film industry back home. There was no firewood but with all of us breathing the hut was warm and cosy.
We go up nice and early for a long day of walking. First, we had a section of literally walking in a stream. My feet were so sore and cold I felt pretty unhappy and wished I could be anywhere else but here. The day was sunny and despite the miserable start, it turned out quite nice.
We walked over saddles, through valleys, crossed streams and through fields. We even walked through Rohan from Lord of the Rings and saw Edoras. It was amazing. The day didn’t end all that well though.
First while trying to rock-hop over a stream, I ended up slipping and having a swim. Only my pride got hurt though, but my bag and (up until then) dried shoes got wet. Luckily it was sunny and the hut was just around the corner. The next terrible thing that happened was me poisoning Arthur. I found an unopened packet of nuts in the hut and happily shard it out. Arthur had the most of it and it wasn’t until after that I discovered just how expired they were, oops. Arthur felt sick shortly after and ended up in bed with stomach cramps.
He wasn’t feeling too good the next morning either and as I had been going around with an annoying cold we spent a day in the sun outside the hut. Arthur was sleeping and I was enjoying a day of doing nothing. Well, I did a bit of tanning, reading and eating. We felt guilty for not spending this perfect day walking but there was nothing we could do.
In the late afternoon we were joined by a young man and his dog. He was going through Geraldine the next morning and offered us a lift as we needed to restock. We were so happy for our great fortune and had high hopes getting to the next hut the same evening.
However, our luck ended there. Cars were passing us one after another and it wasn’t until two hours later that we managed to score a ride to the beginning of yet another lonely, long metalled road. The road was quiet but we kept our hopes high. In the end we managed to get half way down but had to pitch a tent as the sun was about to set.
The next morning, bright and early we set out to walk and hitch further to our track start on the other side of the Rangitata River. After some hours of walking and discovering the most amazing apple tree, we got the most unlikely but amazing ride yet. It was two beekeepers in a small truck. There was no space for us it seemed but they let us stand on the back of the truck and off we went. It was incredible, the day was yet another stunning one and we were driving through mountains, paddocks with deer, cows and sheep, lakes and rivers and rows upon rows of colourful autumn trees. I felt like I was on top of the world, the cold wind was playing with my hair and the sun filled me with warmth. At one point they stopped to look at the salmon spawning in the river and told us how some years ago it was crawling with them.
We walked the 4 hours through streams and up mountains talking about how amazing the two beekeepers had been and the unbelievably incredible ride we had.
That evening we ate our supper by the small fire we managed to get going on the few branches we sourced, watching the moon between the hills shine through the crooked window.
The next morning we had breakfast in the same spot looking at the sun slowly brightening the top of the hills with red and gold.
It wasn’t a long walk but we had to cross a big saddle and walk through yet another larger stream. It turned out to be a bit challenging at times as the long golden tussocks shielded the views of the orange markers we needed to follow.
That night we stayed in Royal Hut. It is called this because when Prince Charles and Anna were little they used to visit this hut.
It was a nice and cosy hut but there were no trees anywhere near so we had no hopes of a fire to warm us that night. Arthur came up with the idea of collecting dried horse dung as there was plenty around. (This part of the walk is also a horse riding track) We collected two burlap sacks full and I must say it did burn well and dried all of our wet stuff.
It was supposed to rain the next morning making our climb to our highest point on TA hard, but hoping for the best we got up early never the less. A mouse had kept me up most of the night so I wasn’t too upset when the morning started with heavy showers. We did debate if we should just push on in the rain anyway but luckily we didn’t because in the afternoon four wet trampers fell through the door.
We quickly learned that they were friends from long ago and for the past 10 years had met up once or twice a year to do a tramp. They were fun and kind and the most unlikely collection of friends I had met: a university lecturer, farmer, physiotherapist and an accountant.
We got the second sack of horse dung going and pots of hot water heating. It was lucky for them that they had met us too because they had managed to forget a lighter, leaving them with sandwiches for dinner the previous nights.
We happily shared our lighter and offered our flint for their return journey. They, in return, fed us with cookies, pudding and one of the most amazing whiskeys I had ever tasted. We were over the moon, their company was so lovely and they kept us laughing all night. If all that wasn’t enough, one of them offered us his holiday home when we got to Twizel. He told us where the key was and that he would drop off the flint in the letter box. We were overwhelmed and incredibly happy.
The next morning must have been the coldest morning so far. There was frost on the inside of the window.
Before starting our climb, we had to cross a small stream. I refused to get my shoes wet that early in our walk and opted to walk barefoot instead. It was the coldest water I have ever touched and I have been ice bathing in Norway. It was so painful when I got out on the other side that tears were popping out. It took 30 minutes before I could feel my toes again. We were walking along a small stream for a while and I didn’t care about taking extra time to rock hop when we needed to across it as there was no way I was going through that again. With the help of my walking poles and Arthurs kind hands I managed to get to the top with dry feet.
The sun was shining and the sky was cloud free and we reached the top of Stag Saddle in good time. We were standing on the highest point along the whole Te Araroa (1925m), a thing we had been talking about for a long time.
There were no signs of snow where we were, just amazing views over mountains, Mt Cook and Lake Tekapo. In good weather our trail notes suggested we walk along a ridge line for more views. It made me even happier that we didn’t walk in the rain the day before because the views really were spectacular.
We walked along the ridge overlooking a row of glacier covered mountains on the other side of the valley. The wind was icy but we couldn’t have had a better day for this. Amazed we walked and took photos, this must have been the most amazing place on the whole trip so far.
We had decided to push on to Tekapo instead of staying the night in another hut as we had lost some days and Ben was waiting for us there.
We got to the road still high from the stunning day and managed to get a ride in within the hour.
Lake Tekapo is amazing and it is weird thinking we were there three years ago on a road trip never to imagine I would one day walk there, let alone through massive mountains.
The track from Tekapo to Twizel was a two day dusty road walk around an amazing lake with the views of the snowy mountains and Mt Cook.
Somehow the weather had decided to be really good to us. It was not only sunny every day but was getting warmer too.
In Twizel we headed straight to the holiday home we had been offered. Upon arrival I wanted to cry as it was a magical little place and they had left a nice note for us and two glasses of whiskey on the kitchen counter.
There are no words in the world to describe my gratitude to these men who let two strangers use there beautiful bach. This was exactly what my tired feet and mental state needed.
I really hope I will be able to do this for someone one day.