Trip Report TA: South Island pt5

Super Star Hiking

Waking in the cold morning the mountaintops are still snow-peaked. At this point I'm too restless to spend any more time sitting around so I hitch to the trail. The first car leaving Glenorchy grabs me and it turns out they are also heading to the Routeburn.

Designated as a Great Walk, the track is wide, well graded and cruisy. I crush miles with ease passing a handful of guided groups who tackle the 28km(17mi) typically over three days. The huts along the Routeburn are by far the largest I've seen yet. Multi-story lodges over hanging cliff edges and all newly built it seems.

Routeburn Flats Routeburn Flats

The views are stunning as I climb up and over Tarahaka Whakitapu Saddle. The high point is only 1255m(4117ft) and well below the snowline. Lots of water is streaming down the valley and I also take a distant peek into the Valley of the Trolls. I'd like to stop and camp there but the overnight temperatures will still be dipping below zero and I don't want to risk that with my gear.

Routeburn Routeburn Routeburn Routeburn Routeburn Valley of the Trolls Routeburn Routeburn

I finish the entire 28km(17mi) just after midday and hop onto the Greenstone Track to reconnect with the Te Araroa. I take a brief break at McKellar Lake Hut for water and to sign the logbook while the DOC warden there yells at me once he realizes I'm a TA hiker. He accuses other hikers and myself for "cheating" the system and lying to him. I have no idea what he is on about and he asks to see my backcountry hut pass hoping to catch me red-handed. I show it to him and he apologizes. Probably my worst-encounter in the whole country was with this self-righteous asshole.

I end my 52km(32mi) day back on the TA camping at Greenstone Hut. I meet Paul and Philip again here.

I wake up a bit later than usual before heading out. I'm expecting rain today so the plan is just to get as far as possible and hide in the nearest hut around 1400h. Following the Mavora Walkway it starts as a decently cut trail with occasional patches of mud. After about an hour it deteriorates in to a faint track that is mostly inundated with water and muck.

Despite the wet trail I still make progress at my normal pace and zip through the day as the clouds loom behind me. I pass by two huts and a handful of hikers through the day. The rain catch me just as I arrive to Careys Hut so I take that as I sign to stop early and take one of the remaining bunks.

Sharing the hut today is the hiker from the Netherlands I met back in Roses Hut, Maggie from Sweden, Phil from Britain, Albert from Denmark, a German guy and a French guy. A few people arrive in later and pitch tents outside as the rain continues into the evening.

The morning is very chilly as I spend the first few hours just walking on a gravel road. Passing Mavora Lakes Campsite I'm led onto an immaculately cut trail. Around the west edge of South Mavora Lake and into the hills the nice trail continues but it involves a bit of navigation with plenty of windfall along the path. Nothing too crazy to break my pace and it actually adds some fun to the otherwise straightforward hiking.

I arrive at Kiwi Burn Hut at 1300h and chat with a kiwi day hiker. Everyone from Careys Hut eventually waddles in by 1630h along with a French/Belgian couple, Claire and Anton. Most of the hikers are planning on skipping the section tomorrow in favour of road walking. I spend some energy trying to convince them not to take other people's fear as their own and just try the track first before making a decision. It seems to have an affect. After sunset a few young kiwi arrive and fill up the remaining bunks.

I leave early and blast off. The track is quite overgrown but poled and easy to follow. The morning dew make all the bush wet and with a river crossing at the start as well I'm soaked from my chest down.

The weather is perfect as I wade through low overgrown bush and follow a poled fenceline before exiting on the road after three hours. Sadly my inner thighs are bleeding due to the rubbing of my wet shorts on wet skin. I take a moment to cover the open skin with KT tape and then walk to the highway.

I hitch into Te Anau with a young Brit and walk across town to Rosies Backpackers where I intend to stay the night. Philip arrives as well and helps me pay for the room since my credit card is still not working. In exchange I give him my credit card to use tomorrow for his resupply since all grocers accept tap to pay. We do laundry, take showers and gorge ourselves at a lovely dairy that has takeaway.

Today is an odd day. It is a zero in the sense that I'm not making any hiking progress down trail but instead am hiking 47km(29mi) to the top of Mount Luxmore and back. I start at 0630h in the dark walking out of town and to the trailhead for the Kepler Track.

Another designated Great Walk, this is somehow 100x nicer than the Routeburn in terms of maintenance. The path through the lowlands is wide enough to fit an ATV and graded to allow a baby to crawl it's length. I walk through lush fern forest as the sun begins to rise over Lake Te Anau. It's a bit mindless but eventually the climb starts and soon I find myself above the tree line.

The wind is ripping as I stop into Mount Luxmore Hut. There is a queue(!) of helicopters trying to land on the two(!) helipads beside the hut as I see family after family getting dropped off. It's is so jarring as I haven't seen such a display of wealth so blatant in a long time. The DOC warden in the hut tells me not to summit due to wind...

Continuing forward I get around the horn of the mountain range and can see into the South Fjord. As I approach the summit path there are a bunch of hikers huddled behind rocks hiding from the gale force winds. I make my way up, stopping and kneeling to prevent myself from being blown over. After ten minutes or so I make it to the peak for a decent 360deg view.

Mount Luxmore Mount Luxmore

A short break later I blast back down and to Te Anau. I stop in to the dairy again for a fill up feast and then do my own resupply. Back at the backpackers I chat with my bunk mate, Mislav a temp worker from Croatia.

I head out early to get breakfast in town and am joined by Philip and Wild Turkey. I leave with Philip to hitch back to trail. He ends up paying 20NZD for a shuttle as I continue to thumb. Eventually a German cyclist travelling in a caravan brings me out.

I catch Philip along the gravel road towards Lower Pinchester Hut and push forward. The trail starts up and I pass Paul, Maggie, the hiker from the Netherlands and an American couple that aren't keen to chat. Low clouds roll in with some mist as the temperature drops in the later half of the day.

I reached Aparima Hut fairly early and decide to push while the weather is still not horrible. I run into Gavin as we try to navigate overgrown tall tussocks while finding the hidden route poles. I blast past him and get to Lower Wairaki Hut. I let my shoes and socks dry out before hopping into my sleeping bag to keep warm. Gavin eventually shows up as well as I fall asleep worrying about possible cold rain tomorrow.

Gavin leaves before me but I catch him, blasting over the first climb of the day. It's completely overcast but not to cold thankfully. As I crest the mountain the valleys below are mysterious with low rolling fog.

Takitimu Forest

The rest of the day involves a series of shallow river crossing and criss-crossing on old farm tracks through sheep and cow paddocks all whilst getting rained on periodically. Thankfully the rain is never sustained enough to wet through my shoddy rain gear but a new problem arises as my toes are begin to rub raw after being wet for so long. Following clearly marked junctions through privately owned land is boring so I keep myself entertained by chatting with the livestock. Despite the urge to look at the map and take detours I stick to the red-line of the TA.

I reach my original goal of Birchwood fairly early and decide to continue to push forward. The sky clears and the sun pours down as I chase a doe straight up the steep climb of Twinlaw Mast. By this point my toes are throbbing in pain but I push it down and continue. I hike hard without letting up and get into Merrivale Hut just as the sun sets. There is luckily one last bunk available as a torrential downpour starts less than a handful of minutes after I arrive. I inspect the damage done to my toes: the middle toes and the surrounding skin is all rubbed raw. As I settle in the roof leaks onto my bunk so I bring the cot onto the floor. I apply some ointment to my toes and let them air out over night. Today I hiked a total of 64km(40mi).

The howling wind and rain stop sometime in the early morning. A lazy sun greets me as I properly wrap up my feet in preparation for the day. I chat with one of my bunkmates who is from Tasmania and I recount my bike trip across the island. On the 16km(10mi) road walk into the Longwood Forest I catch another bunk mate, Sydney from Edmonton. We immediately get into a deep conversation and end up hiking the day together.

After the road walk we miss our junction while in conversation, having to double back 1.5km(1mi). The trail starts in earnest and it's mud caked. Slipping and gingerly stepping along taking our time not to sink into a mud hole. Cresting over Bald Hill there is not much of a view as the clouds are about eye level and surrounding us. I end up trying to be smart and monkey around a massive mud pit but put to much trust in a frail bit of vegetation. Sydney laughs as I'm slowly dipped backwards into the muck. Now that I'm dirty I no longer need to be so careful, I'm free!

A light rain follows up periodically through the day and climbing up to Longwood Peak I get my first glimpse of the Tasman Sea in months! Sydney is a strong hiker and I'm encouraged to stick with her, taking only a short break at Martin's Hut before running after to join her at Turnbull's Hut. The hut itself is actually a two-person hut and as a reward for our efforts there is a large cooler in the mud. Inside there are ice cold soda and beers! My feet are properly fucked at this point with the surface area of raw skin having been doubled. I distract myself by chatting with Sydney into the night.

Getting close

Sydney leaves early and biting through my foot pain I chase after her. Without such motivation I would not have moved so quickly with my injury and I am grateful to have someone set my pace. The sun is out today in the morning playing in the shadows of leaves and along the mosses covering the ancient forest. We reach ĹŚraka(Colac Bay) early hoping for a burger but the lodge is closed. Sydney sneaks a shower to rid herself of muck before heading off alone. I stay behind and wait for the restaurant to open. After finally eating the sub-par burger I regret being left behind.

The track is a nice coastal walk to the town of Aparima(Riverton) but I can't enjoy it. My feet are in pain and the soft grassy track has my foot sliding around in agony. I even end up cutting my hands on some sharp razorleaf to add to my misery. Then I lose my water filter and in a panic double back to find it. I limp into town and go to the pharmacy. With some advice of the lovely staff I buy some supplies and spend the day resting in the bunk room of the local pub, tending to my brutalized toes.

The final chapter to my Te Araroa hike is just around the corner!

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