Trip Report TA: South Island pt2

The Days of Our Lives

I awake to a rainy and cloudy sky as the group of us think about maybe taking a zero. Waiau Pass is completely obscured and I have no strong desire to slog through one of the supposed highlights of the trail. I have enough food to hunker down and wait it out but I'm convinced from previous weather forecasts that it should clear up by midday anyhow.

We spend the morning chatting and playing more card games until lo and behold the sun comes through. An hour before midday the clouds break so we scramble to get ready and hit the trail. By noon the sky is near cloudless overtop of us and the surrounding valley is gorgeous. I meet a British hiker with the trail name England, two German girls, and a French couple. The climb is steep but rewards you no matter where you look with stunning views.

Rotomairewhenua Waiau Pass approach

At the pass we take a small break to let everyone catch up and I climb the nearby peak for a proper 360deg view. The descent down is sheer and fun as the boys and I egg each other to rush down. In half the time we took to ascend we are at the valley floor following a trail along a river. I come up onto an Australian hiker, Dominic, and stick with her to Waiau Hut. There are a million sandflies so we have to be quick about entering and leaving. Eventually the boys arrive and we agree to do a marathon length day tomorrow. Dom sleeps under her sleeping bag all night as her bottom bunk is overrun with sandflies.

Rotopōhueroa Waiau Pass

Dom's alarm cracks off at 0500h and she is off in a blink. The rest of us sleep in but somehow my spare phone is turned on and it's 0530h alarm sets off. I eventually wake at 0700h with everyone else and I blast off to chase after Dom. I pass an elderly SOBO couple and a solo NOBO guy who give me estimates on how far ahead Dom is. I end up catching her right before we reach Anne Hut, the half way point of our marathon. We lunch together in the hut.

St James Walkway

I blast off solo since Dom seems to want to hike alone and take a short break to dip in a stream in the mid-afternoon. Eventually I make it to Boyle Flat Hut which is already quite populated. I meet a SOBO Korean woman and a Ukrainian section hiker who is allergic to basically all local biting insects... I spend the evening eating all my food since I'm reaching town tomorrow as I wait for the group to arrive. Everyone trickles in except for Teo and there is enough space for everyone to get a cot. Max is feeling sick when he arrives and settles in for bed so I give him some flu medicine.

Despite trying my best to convince my new group to do an extra ~800m(2600ft) climb this morning I can't understand why no one wants to join me. I leave early and blast up a faint trail to Mount Faust. The trail disappears once I break past the treeline and becomes some fun cross-country(XC). It's windy on the ridge but the unbridled feeling of freedom of being off trail over powers any other concerns.

Mount Faust Boyle Valley

I descend down from the summit to the Lewis Pass highway and start to thumb a hitch. Not long after a Irish/Canadian couple picks me as they are on their way to Christchurch. They leave me at the road junction into Hanmer Springs and the second they leave another couple, British, stop and take me into town. I gravitate to a group of people who I realize are thruhikers and make instant friends: Lorenz from Germany, Fabian(Soft Hands) from Britain, Shaun from America, Greta from America, Mindy from America and Alicia from Australia.

I get my resupply sorted out and then try to find a repair shop since more stitching from my bag is coming loose. There is no repair shop in town so I head over to an Indian spot for lunch and then run across Dom for a chat. Eventually I run into Wild Turkey and Thomas getting out of a car and stick with them. Thomas and I hit up the local hot pools attraction park for a handful of hours. Eventually the three of us end up splitting a motel room. We hit up the local Irish pub for pizza and beer. The live music event at the bar is atrocious with the guy just playing random American 70s/80s music over a speaker while faking that he's play a guitar. Bizarre.

I want to hitch out of town early but my plans are delayed as it is raining. Once it stops I head into town for an egg breakfast and then start to hitch alone. It doesn't take long for a kiwi/German couple to grab and bring me back to the highway junction. They make great conversation and the kiwi tells me how he hitch-hiked from Hamilton to Queenstown! As I'm dropped off I see Teo trying to hitch in. I get picked up not long after by two elderly female hikers coming back from the Milford Track.

Tui Track

As I'm driven back to Boyle Village I can see that last night's rain has snow tipped all the mountains. I get dropped off and can feel the chill. The trail is well maintained and obvious so I cruise all day. At the first hut I meet a kiwi hiker, Brie(Sweet As), already tucked away in bed. She's really interested in reading her book instead of hiking further today. I continue on through some overgrown fields and along riverbed wash for the rest of the day. At the very end there is an unavoidable creek of mud and cow piss I have to step into... I push all day to reach Hurunui Hut just as the sunsets. I try to be as quiet as possible as the hut is fairly full of hikers already asleep. Overall a solid day!

Getting ready in the morning I chat with a speedy hiker I had met in National Park and he makes fun of another hiker on trail, Rampaige. We leave together and he decides to XC on a river bed while I follow the official high route. There's a fair bit of deadfall but it's easy enough to navigate. The track after that is pretty flat except a climb up to Harper Pass where I run into Soo again.

I find Lorenz taking a break in a bivy and he says that he is sick and is lacking any sort of appetite. I continue forward and eat lunch with a group of NOBO and SOBO hikers at Locke Stream Hut. Mindy and Alicia are here and are surprised that I caught up to them so quickly. We chat then I blast off to Kiwi Hut for the night. It fills up and we have a good crowd: Dustin from Texas, a NOBO European, Mindy, Alicia, Canadians Amy and Chris, and Soo. I borrow Mindy's sewing kit to sew up some loose thread on my pack and the back of my shirt which is shredding. I also help Alicia sew up a hole in her shirt. Late in the evening Wild Turkey also arrives. The hut is plagued by swarms of sandflies.

Leaving Kiwi Hut I ignore the trail and instead stay in the rocky river bed all morning. It's a quick and easy XC versus the pointless steep climbing that is designated in case of high water levels. I pass some other hikers with the same idea both NOBO and SOBO. Turning onto trail around Morrison bridge the track has me following the river now.

The rest of the day is pure fun. The steady climb up to Goat Pass gets steeper and narrower as I go. I make my own path up the raging river: jumping across rocks, scrambling and wading in to crystal clear pools. I let out a big hoot and the trail reaffirms why I love hiking so much! I meet a hiker, Keenan, briefly for a snack in Deception Hut before making it to Goat Pass Hut. There is a maintenance crew here giving the hut a new layer of paint. I chat with a hiker from the Netherlands, Maria, and find myself an empty cot for the night.

Mindy and Alicia had mentioned a few days prior about a nice little detour called Lake Mavis here so I leave my pack behind to begin the steep climb up. After a good bit of route finding I eventually crest a saddle and then follow a near direct line to the lake. As I arrive two kiwi girls are heading back down so I have the entire lake to myself. I skinny dip in the ice cold water and dry off in the alpine sun. Eventually I head back down and the hut is near full now.

Looking away from Lake Mavis

Wild Turkey arrives as well as another group of hikers which I chatted briefly today with: Anouk from the Netherlands, Ella from Britain, Quentin from France and Julie from Quebec. We spend the evening chatting and playing Durak.

I leave early and descend down to Mingha River. I have enough food so despite wanting to stop I skip past Arthur's Pass for a resupply. It is predicted to downpour here but I think if I continue and get into the next valley I can avoid the worst of it. I meet Maria again as we both get lost navigating the riverbed "trail". There is no clear way forward so we just bushwhack through thorn brush to the other side. At the road junction Maria begins to hitch back to Arthur's Pass and I begin to second guess my decision. I spend half an hour resting on the side of the highway before getting bored and committing to just keep hiking.

On the climb over Lagoon Saddle I pass tons of NOBOs. Two girls are sitting down with party hats on celebrating one of their birthdays, I meet a Quebecois couple and a kiwi couple who had crossed one of the "dangerous rivers". I chat with the last couple about their experience and their suggestion. They are encouraging about attempting the river crossing and give a bunch of info how to do it safely. The rest of the day is chill walking down forested valleys until arriving at Hamilton Hut.

It's a bit awkward at first as the hut is quite full but everyone is silent. I don't want to pass up the opportunity to meet cool people so I slowly try to get people chatting. Eventually everyone opens up: Georgia from Britain, Eli from America, Kit and his partner from Britain, a French girl, three kiwis, an American couple and Yelmer from the Netherlands(?). The American couple mentions that there is a cool The Lord of the Rings filming location coming up (Edoras) and I scour them for the details. They also making passing refernce to a new trail called the Hexatrek in France. I teach some hikers how to play a card game called Swap(taught to me by Felix and Lara) and then we play some UNO as well. At night there a few mice that can be heard scratching the walls.

I wake and leave early hoping to out pace the coming weather. I make quick progress following the Harper River south usually linking up with 4WD tracks that criss cross the water. I keep racing as all the surrounding valleys are dark and storm covered and with a bit of luck the wind is pushing them away from my direction. At the end of Harper River there is a dam and water diversion that forces me onto a gravel road walk for some 20km(12mi).

Road walk views

The day ends with hopping stiles through shit filled sheep grazing fields and a short walk along the coast of Lake Coleridge. I manage to finish 48km(30mi) by 1530h and arrive at Lake Coleridge Lodge. The owners are super friendly and they have things setup perfectly for thruhikers. The husband and his daughter had actually hiked the Te Araroa years prior so they knew how to provide the perfect experience. I'm given a free cola and cookie with my paid stay. I end up ordering two massive plates of hot fries and then waffles with ice cream! I book at night in the hiker bunk room and have it all to myself. There are a few other hikers around all NOBO: Ondra from Czech, a kiwi/French couple and an Australian woman. I chat with Ondra about possible trail alternates and I sign the largest trail marker on the whole TA that the owners had setup in the backyard. I reconnect with my mom over the phone and organize a ride into town tomorrow morning with the lodge before settling in for the night.

Largest TA trail marker My signature

The owners serve tea early in the morning and Wild Turkey wanders in. When I try to pay up my credit card does not seem to want to work, and the machine doesn't take tap to pay. Thankfully Wild Turkey covers me and we both get driven into town. We settle in for a bit of breakfast which I am able to tap pay for. I try to go to an ATM to withdraw money but again since it requires the chip or swipe I have no success. We resupply and then get a hitch out of town.

We are trying to hitch around the Rakaia River. Most hikers will pay lots of money to organize a shuttle around since there is not much traffic along these road but Wild Turkey and I are confident with all our past hitch-hiking experience. We would learn later that it was possible to cross the river safely at this time but the only info we had was the fear mongering of other hikers and the locals. Anyhow, after an hour and a half we get picked up by a father and his son going out hunting. It becomes obvious why not much traffic comes this way: it's a dead end rough gravel road with numerous fords.

Just as we reach our destination we see a few NOBO hikers and Wild Turkey asks our hitch to let us out. I meet Quadzilla, Marvel, David and Boom Boom (all of them are American). After a brief chat Wild Turkey and I blast off onto trail. It's wide 4WD mostly so we make quick work of it. We meet an America NOBO, Betty, who says he may try and swim across the Rakaia... Wild Turkey and I make it to Comyns Hut by 1700 but decide to push for one more.

Looking back at the Rakaia

The trail jumps directly into the Hakatere River and then Round Hill Creek as we are constantly wading through and across water all evening. Each crossing is easy enough to do as we bounce like pinballs back and forth down the narrow canyons. Eventually we are led out of the rivers and over Clent Hills Saddle. Racing into the dying sun I lose the trail a few times but eventually make it to Double Hut as the sun hides behind the Longman Range. The hut is nearly full: a kiwi family who drove up here for the night, a TA kiwi hiker Philip and another TA kiwi hiker Gavin. Wild Turkey eventually arrives and I spend the twilight watching the darkening sky.

Approach to Double Hut

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