Trip Report TA: South Island pt1

With a Bang

I wake early and walk across Wellington to the main bus terminal where the ferry I booked will pick me up. I get to talking with a young German tourist, Teo. The three hour ferry ride is peaceful and my anticipation for what awaits on the South Island builds. I pass the time staring out on the observation deck, chatting with Teo and watching a live magic show for children.

On landing, we say our goodbyes and I rush over to the tourist information centre to book a private boat to the start of the Queen Charlotte Track(QCT). A cute Belgian receptionist, Sophie, helps me out and I get a spot on the last water taxi. Within two hours I find myself at Meretoto(Ship Cove) and the hike begins anew!

Start of the South Island

Starting off at 1400h I hike an easy 27km(18mi) to get to Camp Bay Campsite. I pay my dues to the camp host and reconnect with Dan, Hannah, Lee and Tam. Along with a few other Auckland girls we play cards into the night. I get my first encounter with cheeky Wekas and it rains a bit over night.

Cook strait bays

I wake early and blast off. The QCT is another bit of trail that can be cycled or you can pay to have you bag shuttled ahead of you to your campsite. I enjoy hiking, so I just do that and crush the softly graded path. It is cloudy all day and I do 50km(31mi) to get to town. I meet an Australian hiker, Sam, who has just started his SOBO journey a few days back.

All road lead to Rome

We stop at a tavern that allows TA hikers to camp for free on their front lawn. I order a pizza and a burger and get reprimanded for drinking a 1.5L of cola I bought from the dairy across the road. Sam and I kill the afternoon talking and playing some card games.


The morning starts with a road walk into Havelock. I get an egg breakfast from a cafe and then resupply. My pack is heavy as the next section is meant to be long and hard. I spend the next few hours walking through cow paddocks and going over fence stiles every few minutes. I finally make it to Pelorus Bridge and am able to pickup the new shoes I mailed to myself here.

It's a beautiful day so I decide to end it early and book a campsite. I am given a random piece of grass on a slanted hilltop between two caravans...thanks. The good part is that I'm near the common area and the river. I take a dip in the river and hand wring my clothes. The sandflies force me out after awhile so I relax in my tent for the rest of the evening.

There is a rain storm forecasted for today but I anticipate that I can get into a hut before getting swamped. I blast along the road, past large sheep farms and down quiet lush valleys. Eventually I enter the base of the Richmond Range and begin to gain elevation. The rain starts to come down but the track is well cut and I continue to blast forward. I opt not to use rain gear as I would just sweat out instantly with the exertion of climbing.

I arrive in the mid-afternoon, completely soaked to Rocks Hut. I immediately start laying things out to dry and chat up my roommates. Bryn from Wellingon, Forest from Arkansas, a German woman who lives in Wellingon and Arthur from Oregon who just came from a teaching stint in the Philippines. The first two are NOBO hikers, the woman is SOBO and Arthur is just section hiking. We chat and play cards games into the evening.

Despite no active rain the morning, everything is still wet from yesterday and the track is overgrown so I'm soon soaked again. Regardless it begins to rain anyhow to make sure I have no chance of staying dry. As I crest a hill I take a wrong turn and find myself off trail. I begin to bushwhack and get progressively more and more off trail. I begin to scream and cry as I push through thorn bush and a complex lattice of sodden windfall to try and find the trail. I struggle for thirty minutes in the rain until I am able to find the path again.

I arrive at the first hut of the day and have a brief chat with a German who doesn't seem to know where he's going. The day is filled with small river crossings and forest climbs until finally a long climb brings me out of the forest and under a beautiful ridge line.

Richmond Range

Stopping into Slaty Hut to sign the logbook I meet a bunch of cool hikers: Gabby from Manitoba, Alice from Britain, and Thomas from Norway. The girls are SOBO and Thomas is NOBO. There is also a kiwi I passed early who arrives, Sveirn. I decide to stop my day early here and hang out with the group. We start a fire to keep warm and play card games. There is a little mouse that keep sneaking in under the door and we try unsuccessfully to kill it. At night we can hear it loudly munching on garbage.

Richmond Range Richmond Range

A beautiful clear and sunny morning awaits. Straight climbing from the hut to the ridge line, the views are stunning and the wind tries to knock me around. I pass tons of hikers going both directions as I climb over Mount Rintoul. The trail is properly maintained and I can keep up my pace in the morning. All the elevation is lost with a long descent to Tarn Hut as I am then led to follow along the Wairoa River.

The trail here is extremely precarious. It is narrow, eroded, requires bouldering moves to progress and any mistake would end up with a straight fall down below into the rocky and raging river. I'm too focused on my footing to really worry to much and I aim just to get past this section as quickly and safely as possible. I run into Dale, a Slovenian hiker and an American, Shaun. We all end at Top Wairoa Hut for the night. In the hut there is a notice mentioning the death of a hiker in the years past who died on this section...

We settle in for the night and a group of five show up in the late evening. There isn't space so most of them lay out on the floor of the hut. Mice are at large as soon as the sun is gone and one ends up getting into my pack overnight by climbing up someone's trekking pole left near my hanging pack... Only a muesli bar is lost.

Richmond Range

There is a straight climb out from the hut to the ridge line. The morning is cool, quiet and calm along the spine of the mountains. The rest of the day is a roller coaster ride of up and down into rivers. The sun is boiling hot and the trail is eroded making climbs sheer and exhausting despite their relative short length individually. I catch a large group of hikers at Porters Creek Hut and stay a bit to chat before heading on.

Richmond Range

I end the day at Red Hills Hut and reconnect with Wild Turkey. There is an off-duty DOC ranger and her cute son bouncing around the hut. Wild Turkey tells me of how he slipped on the Wairoa River section and fell into the river! Thankfully he had only superficial injuries and is able to continue his trek. He leaves in the evening to wild camp as the group from Porters Creek Hut arrives to spend the night here.

I start early and cruise into town. I trip early on while hiking and eating Oreos, cutting open my palm... In town I have a really expensive resupply from the gas station. There are no prices on anything and I end up being charged 100NZD for a three day resupply. I head over to the nearby lodge for lunch but have to wait an hour before they start serving. Wild Turkey is here so we pass the time together and charge electronics.

Ridge to Angelus Hut

With a full belly I blast out of town and head onto an alternate path, towards Angelus Hut and Sunset Saddle. It's a big climb but the walking path is wide and graded for tourists. Within an hour I'm on a beautiful granite ridge line and it feels like I've been transported to a different country. I cruise along the rocky trail and feel blessed with the perfect weather. Arriving at Angelus Hut is a bit jarring. Tons of day hikers are here and the hut itself is more like a little castle with twenty-eight bunks.

Angelus Hut

I eagerly set off and within five minutes there are no longer day hikers walking the trail. With vibes similar to Wyoming my goal in front of me is a rocky saddle with no defined track. Loosely following cairns and my own judgment I make my way up. Pure bliss as I crest over the saddle and look down into the opposing canyon which will consume my thoughts for the next hour along the descent.

Sunset Saddle

I meet an American hiker, First Class, for a brief chat but continue down alone. The descent follows a waterfall down and then there is a fun ski scree section to the valley floor. Finally I make it to Hopeless Hut where there is a cot still left open for me. I settle in and talk with the kiwi family here, while First Class eventually pops in to say hi but continues on.

Poukirikiri Saddle in distance

I wake up pumped from yesterday and with bigs plans. I want to get over both passes ahead of me in a single day. One thing at a time, I reconnect back on the TA and pass disconcerting amounts of TA hikers who all slept at John Tait Hut last night. I don't linger as I want to be clear of large groups and push on. I make short work of Poukirikiri Saddle and take a short break on top. An Australian hiker, Ellie, comes down from some random peak to greet me before continuing on.

Poukirikiri Saddle

I eventually get restless and give chase. I catch her on the steep descent down to the Sabine River and blast on past. Once at the river the climb begins again. It is not steep but the track is cut with large steps as I glide past amazing valleys and gushing waterfalls. The constant deep stepping wears thin after a few hours and by the time I reach Blue Lake Hut I decide to give up on my ambitions. I reconnect with Max and meet a bunch of other TA hikers: Matej from Czech, Jon from Germany, Valentine from Netherlands, and a German girl I met briefly in Taumarunui. Ellie eventually arrives and another German TA hiker named Teo. The group of us play Durak into the night. A former DOC ranger gives me some good info about the Cascade Saddle alternate which I plan to do near Queenstown.

Moss Pass(?)

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