Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Days 89-91: 72 Kilometers From Arthur's Pass to Lake Coleridge

Hello from Mt. Hutt Hostel in Methven! We've only come 72 kilometers (46 miles) from Arthur's Pass, and Methven is not even on the trail, but there's a whole story for why we are here.
We are at kilometer 2228, which finishes at Lake Coleridge Lodge and the Rakaia River. Here's the thing about the Rakaia River section. According to our trail notes, it is an official "hazard zone" of the Te Araroa. To quote:

"The Rakaia is a large braided River with unsettled shingle bed. Even in low flow, it is not possible to safely ford this river on foot. Don't risk a foot crossing. Instead, go around the road in a vehicle. Doing so will not compromise the integrity of a through tramp."

I'm fairly certain that most TA hikers skipped it and hitched around. We heeded the advice of others and did the same. So Wednesday morning, we picked up our resupply package at Lake Coleridge Lodge, plus a bonus card from Emily T. from Colorado who is following our blog! Hi Emily!! Thanks for the card and words of encouragement!

The ice cream did not come in the mail ...

In any case, we had realized we didn't send ourselves enough food to Lake Coleridge, and there are no stores there. So, we planned to hitch to Methven to hit a real grocery store, and this would be the best place to get the hitch around the Rakaia River. Our hitch to Methven ended up being from a Hi-Tec (our shoe sponsor) connection! Hi-Tec sponsors another TA hiker who we recently caught up with.

Hi-Tec Ambassadors unite!

Thursday morning, we will "hitch" (we are paying, but J got a "deal") with a school bus from Methven to the other side of the river and be back on the trail! 

And now for a short summary of the past 3 days and 72 kilometers!

1) Wet and Wild Trail
Besides the Rakaia River, we are basically crossing rivers everyday. And when it is not via a swingbridge, it is via foot. Just the other day, we crossed several braids of the same river 21 times!



2) TA Hiker Bubbles
We are still hiking with Kevin, but almost everyday, we run into more and more TA hikers, both NOBOs and SOBOs. It makes for crowded huts and hostels ... there were 12 of us in a 20-bunk hut the other day and there are 8 of us in Methven right now. But, it is fun to be able to exchange information!


3) Road Walking
We are doing far less road walking on the South Island, but there has been a good bit in this section, 35K, to be exact. This is in addition to the 65K from previous sections. Not bad for the 400K we've walked already on the South Island.



4) Underwear
For some reason, we have seen a lot of underwear on the trail lately. Six pairs to be exact. The. We came upon this display on the road the other day. What the???


5) Kea
We've encountered new bird life! The kea, which is a mountain parrot. Cute, but apparently they also steal food from people!

That's it for now! Probably another 7-8 days to another town. Wish us luck with the river crossings!







Saturday, February 21, 2015

Days 79-88: 230 Kilometers From St. Arnaud to Arthur's Pass

Hello from Mountain House Hostel in Arthur's Pass National Park! It's been a long time (10 days) since an update because Internet service (or any service for that matter) in these parts was hard to come by! Usually we have at least a cell signal here and there, but we had nada for the last 10 days. And you can probably smell me all the way in the states because this also means it has been 10 days since our last shower!!! 

We passed the 2000 kilometer mark days ago, and this means we are more than 66% done! 


We are actually now at the 2156 Kilometer mark (or 1,380 miles) and I have updates on the 2 sections combined into one here.

First, we trekked 115 kilometers (or 74 miles) from St. Arnaud to Boyle River Outdoor Center (Lewis Pass), then we headed into another 115 kilometers (or 74 miles) to Arthur's Pass National Park. Lots of the themes for both sections, so get ready for a long read.

1) New Hiking Partner
We have a new hiking partner! We met Kevin in St. Arnaud and have been hiking with him since then. Kevin is from California and is traveling the world and doing a 100-mile hike on every continent (hmmm...). For NZ, he opted to hike the whole South Island portion of the Te Araroa.


2) Section #1 - From St. Arnaud to Boyle - Best Section Yet
On Friday the 13th, we left St. Arnaud and entered Nelson Lakes National Park, our 2nd national park to visit in NZ. This definitely tops our list as our favorite section. 


FYI, National Parks in NZ differ from the states. There is no entrance fee, no rangers and not nearly as many visitors. But, the trails are a little more maintained and the signage is good. I like how their signs even had a bit of humor.



Much of the time, we were hiking along (and sometimes crossing) raging, crystal clear rivers in a valley closely surrounded by several majestic mountains, marking the northern end of the southern Alps.



Other times, we were climbing up the majestic mountains. Our 2 biggest climbs were up Travers Saddle (1787 meters, or 5,862 feet) and Waiau Pass (1870 meter, or 6,135 feet). They were both demanding, but so rewarding. 



There was, of course, a bit of skree, sidling and swingbridges ...

The key to sidling is to keep putting one foot in front of another.

Yes, indeed, we had to climb up that.

Wow! A 2-person max swingbridge!

But how can I complain about any of this with a view like this?

Halfway up the skree field!





3) Section #2 - From Boyle to Arthur's Pass
On Tuesday the 17th, we reached Boyle River Outdoor Center. We picked up our resupply box, but couldn't do much else there (like shower, use Internet or have a proper meal) before heading into the next section. Actually, we could have showered at the center, but it cost $6! Not sure what is included in a $6 shower, but we passed on it ... We could have hitched into a town from Boyle, but we had all we needed, so we pressed on.

This section took us through Lake Sumner Forest Park, then into Arthur's Pass National Park. The vast majority of the walking was through the valley and along several riverbeds. 








There were a few hot springs in this section and we indulged. We planned to go all the way in, but never made it past our legs! The water was pretty hot!




I love the warning sign: "Amoebic meningitis fatal and caused by water entering nasal passages. Do not immerse head."

But the biggest part of this section were millions of the river crossings we did (okay, I could be exaggerating). We crossed A LOT of rivers. 

Sometimes it was a rock hop. 


Other times, it was a full on crossing.


For 25 kilometers, the trail goes up the Deception River to a high point of 1000 meters (3,280 feet) at Goat Pass, then down the Mingha River.  The trail was a mix of rock scrambling and crisscrossing the Deception River (21 times to be exact). It was actually quite fun! And extremely beautiful with all the cascading water against the green landscape within the gorges. The Minga-Deception Route is actually part of the Coast-to-Coast Race. Racers typically take 3 hours to do this section, but it took us 11 hours split into 2 days!



4) Hut Report
After all my complaining last time about the huts, I am happy to report a much better experience!

Our 1st night out of St. Arnaud, we stayed at John Tait Hut with 6 other people. No mice, no snorers.


Our 2nd night, we stayed at Blue Lake Hut with 8 other people. Again, no mice, no snorers.

We camped our 3rd night there were 1.5 million sandflies around and it was brrrrrr cold. We wished there was a hut in the vicinity!


Angry sandflies trying to get into our tent!

Our 4th night, we stayed at Anne River Hut and it was more like a home than a hut. There were 2 separate bedrooms, plus a common area. And there were only 2 other people besides us there, but they were in the other bedroom.


For the next section through Arthur's Pass National Park, the huts were fine, but there were mice galore. Apparently NZ is experiencing a mast year, which means the beech trees have more seeds than usual, thus attracting mice, rats, stoats and other rodents. There are often lots of traps/poison set in the forests for these guys, but this section is a "controlled" area, meaning they don't set traps to see the impact. That said, there is an exploding population of mice in the area.

At Hope Kiwi Hut (our first hut in this section), the number of mice could form their own soccer team. At Hurunui No. 3 Hut (2nd hut), they could form their own football team. We have found that earplugs definitely do the trick. What we don't hear won't hurt us.

Must hang everything!

We also have seen quite a few crowds at the huts. When we were hiking toward Hurunui No. 3 Hut, we kept seeing helicopters full of gear flying in that direction. Turns out, the Department of Conservation was flying in to do some research on the kiwi population in the area and will be staying at that hut for a few weeks. Not only were the DOC workers all there, but there were also 3 other TA hikers! So it was a full house that night. The DOC workers were kind enough to share a plate of nachos with us hungry hikers. It took about 30 seconds for us to polish those off! It was also a full house at Goat Pass Hut, where we caught up to another 4 TA hikers. We knew there was a bubble in front of us, but wow! 

TA all around!

5) Sting Report
The wasps were only bad for the first part of the trek around Lake Rotoiti out of St. Arnaud. But one got J. So, the count for wasp stings:
J - 1
P - 0


6) Swingbridges
We are up to crossing 22 swingbridges. And we are finding variable quality in their craftsmanship.

For example, this swingbridge most certainly needed inspection. The bolts were shaking, the wires were rusty and the side netting was disconnected.


But, this one, this one, takes the cake. Welcome to my new nightmare. A 3-wire swingbridge. No lie. We were walking on a WIRE!



Now that we've taken my much overdue shower and restocked our provisions (thanks Uncle Freddie and crew for your awesome care package!), we are ready for the next section!