Day 1 - Saturday 26 December: Mistletoe Bay to Linkwater
19kms, 380m, 5 hrs Having completed the Queen Charlotte Track through to Mistletoe Bay earlier this year, I felt no need to walk that section again, and given it was Boxing Day, it somehow felt appropriate to start my South Island Te Araroa thru-hike from Mistletoe Bay. I had left a very wet & windy day in Wellington behind and the weather in Picton was sunny & hot. The dark clouds to the south perhaps explained the heavy muggy feeling in the air though. We jumped on the boat and motored across to Mistletoe Bay. Even though I would see Rich again in three days at Pelorus Bridge, I couldn’t stop the tears flowing when we said our farewell on the wharf. I blubbered my way though the campsite, feeling both overwhelmed and excited that the day had finally arrived for the start of my adventure. The first hill up to the start of the track soon got things under control and I was off! It wasn’t long after I heard the first grumble of thunder and felt the first spots of rain, I came across TA walkers Alex & Abby, heading through to Anakiwa, then onto Blenheim for the night before continuing on. And it wasn’t long before the heavens opened and the thunder and lightening engulfed me.
Thoroughly drenched, I paused at Davies Bay to message friend Heather at Anakiwa that I was on my way, grabbed my lunch from my pack, and marched on. My first ‘trial angels’ Heather, Sid (& Brown Dog) met me on the track just before Anakiwa and we walked together before they welcomed my sopping self into their bach for a much needed cup of tea & Christmas cake. The tent site I had pre-booked at Linkwater’s Smith’s Farm was not feeling that appealing, so I phoned ahead to see if they had any cabins available. I lucked in and managed to nab the last one. So with the prospect of a warm, hard top over my head for the night, declined Heather’s kind offer of a bed for the night and carried on to Linkwater. I get the sense that I will never be alone on this trail as no sooner had I arrived, showered and eaten, I met Maria, from Thames who is walking her third section of the trail, having completed the North Island in two bites over the last two summers, and Kiera - the first of the Irish for the trip, who had just completed the North Island.
Day 2 - Sunday 27 December: Linkwater to Havelock
16kms, 271m, 3hr 45mins
With everything dry & a good night's sleep, I set off in sunshine & the quiet of the morning along the Link pathway towards my destination of the day, Havelock. This is a relatively new pathway that links Picton, Anakiwa & Havelock - with much of the track now off-road, the last few remaining sections are still along the roadside.
The high tide filled the low-lying headwaters of the Mahau Sound as I skirted around the waters edge and then above the road onto the bush track, along with many day & dog walkers and the odd cyclist. While I was stopped for lunch overlooking the entrance to Havelock marina and township, along came the second Irish lass I would meet - the young Katherine. Her pack was as small and lean as she was and after initial introductions, she trotted off to Havelock. Arriving at the Havelock Motor Camp, I set up my tent under the fruit trees and had a lovely afternoon & evening chatting with my new trail family, Maria, Kiera & Katherine.
Day 3 - Monday 28 December: Havelock to Pelorus Bridge
22km, 148m, 5 hrs
Today was my introduction to gravel roads! On leaving Havelock, the trail goes alongside the SH for approx 2.5kms (not much fun, but thankfully the road was quiet) before splitting off onto a gravel side road.
After crossing the Pelorus River the 9.5km road runs pretty much parallel to the SH before meeting Dalton’s track - an access that has been provided by the farm owner for the TA. It skirts the edge of the farm adjacent to the river, through alternating paddocks of clover, turnips and cows, over and under numerous styles and electric fences. It was here I caught up with Maria, and with no shade from the sun, we waited until we hit the the first bit of bush before stopping for lunch. After a day under the sun, stepping finally into the bush at Pelorus Bridge was like walking into a beer chiller! While there was no beer (or wine, yet) there was a man strumming a guitar as if to serenade me in :) Rich was waiting at the cafe, along with a very BIG box containing the nine days of food I’d carry for the next section over the Richmond Range. My first section was complete!
Day 4 - Tuesday 29 December: Pelorus Bridge to Middy Creek Hut
28kms, 905m, 8hr 30mins
Rich was joining me on this section through to St Arnaud. It’s big and gnarly and is one of the sections, along with the Nelson Lakes / Waiau Pass section that daunt me the most with this trail. Our first stretch was back to the gravel — 14kms up Maungatapu Road to the start of the Pelorus River trail. Our aim was to get through to Captains Hut, 8kms along the River trail After a quick hit of caffeine for Rich we were off into the sun. Many hikers hitch this section but for me, it’s part and parcel of the trail, so we happily waved on any passers-by who offered us a lift. The Pelorus River is beautifully clear and looked so refreshing. We stopped for lunch just short of the Emerald Pools (note to self - read the trail notes more carefully) so missed the chance to splash some water around and cool off. This trail was slow going but eventually we arrived at the 6-bunk, one window, Captains Hut. We had passed Maria on the way. The two Irish girls, who we also knew to be ahead of us, were nowhere to be seen, having pushed on. Still feeling good, and not feeling the vibe there, we decided to push on too, to Middy Creek Hut. Arriving at Captains, I realized I had only peed once during the day, which is unusual for me. We refilled water from the river and I downed another litre as we walked. The two girls were at the hut, along with a Nelson-based Swiss woman & sandflys. After a quick rinse off in the river, it was dinner, tent pitch and bed, with distant river sounds and wekas to lull us off to sleep.
Day 5 - Wednesday 30 December: Middy Creek Hut to Hacket Hut
19.5kms, 1182m, 8hr 30mins
Another big day with the first real climb of the trail, up 700m to Rocks Hut. It was HOT and hard work! The sweat was pouring off me by the time we reached the hut, where we stopped for a coffee and made use of the FLUSHING toilet! I had drunk 2 liters by the time we hit Rocks hut but my energy was flagging. In hindsight, I realised that I had not been drinking enough over the last few days and was probably feeling the effects of dehydration.
We stopped for lunch after another 2 hours where I forced some food down & more water and we carried on. Thankfully the bulk of any climbing was behind us, but the trail was slow going, at 2kms per hour - a decent mind shift from the pace of the last few days. Eventually the energy from lunch and extra water kicked in and things started to feel better. We dropped steeply to the 6-bunk Browning Hut, where we had thought we’d finish that day, but with a family of four hunters there, who planned to go hunting late in the evening and early next morning, we knew a good nights sleep was needed so pushed on an easy 5 kms to Hacket Hut.
Arriving at Hacket we found the two Irish lasses and Michael - a TA veteran who we’d met in the Tararuas a couple of weeks prior enjoying the late afternoon sun having eaten and with the day’s laundry done. We also met Dan, who was in overnight from Nelson. Hacket Hut is an easy 1hour walk in from Nelson and many TA hikers hitch out to resupply before the 6-7 day alpine section. It is also the last option to leave the track before committing 100% to the next 6-7 days over the alpine pass. After the past two days, what lay ahead started to play on my mind. Fatigue and rugged, unstable knife edges were not a combo for a happy time, let alone a safe passage and I questioned whether I was in the best state for it. After much discussion (and tears) Rich rightfully suggested holding off making any decision until the morning after a good nights sleep. And sleep I did - like a log. But I think I already knew my decision.
Day 6 - Thursday 31 December: Hacket Hut out to Richmond, Nelson & Picton
5.3kms, 29m, 1hr 15mins
I was humbled and immensely grateful for the support & understanding from my wee trail family who cheerily hailed “enjoy your break and we’ll see you in the other side!” as they headed off with gusto and excitement for the tops.
Dan was heading out too and with his car parked at the trailhead, kindly offered us a lift to Nelson - so long as we didn’t mind stopping at the artisan cheese shop on the way where he wanted to buy some special cheeses to share with his partner for New Year‘s. We contributed some pate and salami, in thanks, then at the iSite said our goodbyes and booked our shuttle back to Picton for a few days r&r on the boat. I will rejoin the trail at St Arnaud on the 3rd January and continue on south...
One thing this trail has illustrated in spades is how something as simple as walking can bond a group of total strangers and the wonderful kindness of people is alive and well in New Zealand. Happy New Year everyone!