We have decided to go for a longer tramp. 8 to 11 days, that is what this trip is advertised for.
This tramp is part of the TA: Te Araroa trail (trail that goes all across the country, from Cape Reinga to Bluff) and therefore has plenty of huts and good descriptions and maps online. (https://www.teararoa.org.nz/)
It is often referred to as one of the best sections of the TA. This is why we chose it! So after planning our hike, buying a dehydrator, making food and dehydrating it, trying different kinds of home made beef jerky, we hopped on flights to Nelson on 24th March. At this stage our hiking packs were about 17 kg each, without water and gas (as we can’t fly with it).
We spent one night in Nelson, bought gas canisters, left some clothes and gear that was not needed for the hike, and took a bus the following afternoon to Pelorus Bridge. There we had one more night in an Air BnB, with a real bed and a good hot shower. On Monday 26th March, we packed everything back in our bags, and started walking up the road to the track. Estimated weight of each pack: 20kg.
Day 1 – Pelorus Bridge to Captain Creek Hut
The road to the beginning of the track is a 14km stretch, and we were hoping to hitchhike. Unfortunately, once on the road, some construction workers told us that “we are spraying the road, it’s closed, you can’t go and have to wait 1 hour”… it was already 9:30am, that would delay us too much to make it to the first hut… we talked with the guy and explained that we are going to walk for 8 hours until we can stop for the night, so we really needed to get going. He eventually changed his mind and were allowed to go (he looked really surprised when we told him we had to walk for that long). Obviously we wouldn’t get a lift on this section so had to go and walk on the kerb.
We made it to the end of the road / start of the Pelorus track around noon, sat down and enjoyed our first lunch. Food might be one of the thing I will talk a lot about in this post… so let’s get started!
We bought a dehydrator in January, after we realised that we started getting tired of the ready made back country cuisine. Don’t get me wrong, they are great, but at some point the quantities feel small and the tastes are always the same. So there we did it, a bit pricey but worth it, really worth it!
First, we dried fruit, meat (jerky) and a couple of pieces of vegetables to see what happens… well, it dehydrates the food! Amazing jerkies…
We made a fish curry, spaghetti bolognaise, chilli con carne and a beef stew. We dehydrated all of this, along with pasta, rice and brown rice and packed it for our dinners (had a trial before to test quantities). We even dried some grated low fat cheese to eat with the spaghetti and the chilli. This made each dinner for 2 weighing in average 220 grams.
Dinners were sorted. We had plenty to take with us. Now lunches. Somehow we still didn’t find nice lunches to take on multi days tramps that were light, fresh, filling and tasting great until the last day. Well, why not salads with fresh veggies ?? It was quite long to get all the vegetables, cut them, some to boil for a couple of minutes, then dehydrate them… Tomatoes (from our garden!), carrots, capsicums, green beans, spinach, black and kidney beans… then we added low fat feta cheese (low fat because fats don’t dry and then spoil…) chicken breast pieces, and mixed all of these with either rice, bulgur, pasta, buckwheat, lentils, or a mix of some of them! Of course all these had to be cooked, then dehydrated as well… Then it came to our attention that we didn’t have dressing… and usually made with vinegar and oil, not really easy to dehydrate or convenient to carry with us. So, what about hummus? yes, hummus it is: home made sundried tomatoes hummus, made in large quantities, then dehydrated, then powdered in the blender and a couple of table spoons in each salad mix! This is how we got each lunch for 2 at a weight of 270 grams.
Then we eventually started walking on the track! The terrain being a lot less regular than the road, I started having a lot of issues with my backpack straps setup and finding my balance with more than 20kg on my back. Much harder than I thought. A couple of steep drops on each side of the forest track, sometime opening a tiny bit between the trees to see the beautiful blue water of the Pelorus river. The 4 hours to the hut were a little difficult to try adjusting my backpack and getting used to the weight. We made it to Captain Creek hut around 5pm, enough time to get a quick wash in the freezing cold river, collect some fire wood and make dinner before it got dark.
In the evening, I also had a closer look at my backpack and the straps. the inner frame parts were the wrong way around and were putting pressure on my lower back. So first step, I turned them around. Also, the outer frame had a play in its fabric lining, which made the upper half of my backpack wobble a couple of centimetres to the right then to the left at each step. I sewed it closer to the frame and fixed it.
Great night, in the basic 6 bunk hut. The stove was powerful and we were even too hot at the beginning of the night.
Day 2 – Captain Creek Hut to Rocks Hut
The walk to Middy hut was fairly easy, through the forest, was great day with so many fantails around us, following our steps and trying to get food off the freshly moved soil. We enjoyed our second salad for an early lunch in Middy Hut, then kept going through a swing bridge to Rocks hut. After the swing bridge, the track went straight up and it started drizzling. Fantails were still around us, which was quite distracting and helping us keep going through this section that was not really exciting and a little bit challenging physically, still in the process of getting adjusted to the backpack weight and wrong body balance while climbing 700m.
We started spotting weird mushrooms in the forest… purple!
We arrived at Rocks hut fairly early in the afternoon, it was a short day, but a needed day. We dropped our packs and went to the forest with the saw and the axe to get some fire wood. It wasn’t as easy as we thought, the trees were really thin, more like high bush than proper trees. Fairly hard to find dry and thick logs. But we managed to cut a dead tree down and carry it back. Alex’s swiss knife was really useful in this situation.
We walked about 10 more minutes to reach a lookout, recommended by our Airbnb host from the first night, but unfortunately the fog joined us and was way too thick to see anything. But we could guess that we were above Nelson.
Once this done, it was time to rehydrate dinner and wash up. Great hut, and surprisingly the toilets were flush toilets! What a treat!
A really big storm passed us that night, heavy rain for hours. The wind was making the hut squeak from every direction… Rocks hut is located on top of the hills, so we were on the perfect spot to get the whole strength of the storm.
Day 3 – Rocks Hut to Hacket Hut
When we woke up, the sky was clear and the weather was dry! Wonderful to see the top of the mountains from the hut.
Unfortunately our day was in the forest. We passed one small clearing with tussock, where we had lunch. The sun was warm and it was beautiful. The tracked passed an area where trees were down from a storm earlier in the year. A little bit of a challenge to climb over big trees and find the track markers. After the clearing, we ended walking through dense forest again, this time steeply downhill. The track was getting us to discover more mushrooms, sometimes fairly big, red with white dots and unhealthy! Close to Browning hut, where we had a break, we had to cross the river about 6 or 7 times. I did not worry to much about keeping my feet dry. So I went through the water straight. It was already the end of day 3 and we still had dry boots… it was already a great achievement! Alex kept his feet dry, jumping from rocks to rocks.
That day, we started getting used to our backpacks and the backpacks were getting used to us…
When we arrived at Hacket hut, same process again: finding fire wood (I cut down my own tree that day, all with the swiss knife!), rehydrating diner and washing up – all that before it gets dark (around 7pm at this time of the year). Mountain rivers and streams are fairly cold but is it an efficient way to clean up the sweat from the body and the clothes quickly. For dinner we enjoyed the spaghetti Bolognese (recipe from Alex’s mum). The problem with meals where we mixed dried grated cheese, is that it was pretty tricky to wash the bowls and pot as the cheese half melted but then got solid again on the dishes. Well, something learned!
The stoves in the huts were perfect as we could warm up water and our food directly with the pot sitting on top of the stove. It saved us quite a lot of gas.
Hacket hut was a nest for a lot of huge spiders (at least 1 cm big), black and fast… brrrrrrr I did not like that…
Day 4 – Hacket Hut to Slaty Hut
We got up with the day light, even a bit before, around 6:30am. There is 900 metres elevation to do ahead of us, straight up, to go above the bush line. The plan was to reach the bush line for lunch to get some views. So we left early, walked upstream Hacket creek, crossed it multiple times (Alex finally got his boots wet!) for about 1 km and then we climbed straight up the side of the valley. It was steep and long, no view, all in the forest. We met a couple of TA hikers, they were on their last days, after more than a month or 2 walking already. We reached Starveall hut for an early lunch, as it took us less time than planned. The first thing we saw was actually the toilet, right on the edge of the forest, then the hut, and finally, some mountain views!!
Such a great feeling to be out of the forest, even if the air was colder and there was a bit of wind, we really enjoyed being above the bush line. We kept climbing another 300m, up Mount Starveall, and along the ridge line. We took our time on this section, looking all around, as the past 3 days were in the forest. We walked once more down in the forest, then a final up to come out on tussock land and reach Slaty Hut. It was a fairly hard day on our legs, and we enjoyed the wood being really close to us with a real forest, and a quick wash up in the sun. The sunset colours were amazing in the sky, the moon rise and the pink sky made it worth it to spend a bit of the evening outside in the cold.
Day 5 – Slaty Hut to Rintoul Hut
That day was from far the best in terms of views. We got up before the sun, which got out when we started hiking. I am not really talking about times now as we got up when the day light started and managed to get wood collection / clean up and dinner sorted before darkness. So something like 6am-6pm roughly, and also because on the first Sunday of April in NZ we remove the daylight saving… so let’s try not to get confused and talk in sunlight time!
So we left the hut and started the ascent of Slaty peak, when the sun came out. The temperatures were close to freezing, and walking helped us fight that. (my hands were hiding in my sleeves and pockets instead of holding the walking sticks… but it wasn’t bad enough to take my gloves out!) The track turned to the ridge under the summit and opened up to the other side of the mountain. Breath-taking views, especially of the majestic Mount Rintoul and his friend little Rintoul, that were planned to be climbed later that day.
It was an amazing poled route, all open, the sun was with us and we stopped multiple times to admire our surroundings. This was the reason we chose to do this section of the Te Araroa trail.
We walked up and down, along the ridge, the track was a bit challenging to find in the bushy areas. There was a steep drop on our left hand side, when Alex felt like sneezing… the echo was pretty impressive! After 5 days hiking, we didn’t really need much to entertain ourselves… We climbed steeply up Old Man summit (1514m) were the stunning views on the Rintouls made our morning snack break worth it. Then went for a little while back in the bush before starting the climb of little Rintoul. We walked all along the ridge line the whole day. Pretty steep drops, a couple of steep climbs and descents, the day was challenging. We stopped for a lunch in the sun, at the feet of little Rintoul, enjoying amazing views and warming sun.
Up little Rintoul (1643m), still following the ridge, to the summit with fairly steep drops and really narrow track. We literally scrambled to the top, as we needed our hands to stay on the track and not fall down from the summit… luckily by then we were fine with having our centre of gravity moved with the backpack and we were stable and comfortable enough with it!
The way down from this summit was scree slope, really steep and needed some more scrambling. About 300m further down, the track went straight uphill again, for 400m, up to Mount Rintoul this time. The last climb of the day. It took us a while to get there, the scree slope was hard to climb, and our legs were tired. Thinking about our afternoon snack (home made beef jerky) motivated us to keep going. Once on top and the deserved snack eaten, we had to leave fairly quickly to not get caught in the fog. Half of our view was blocked with a thick fog and we still had the clearing of the summit to pass before we could shelter on the other side of the mount. With the steep drops and the scree slopes I was not comfortable waiting too long.
Fairly quickly we made it across the the mount and started descending on the western side, down a fairly easy scree slope (the way down is fine, it’s like snow… heels first, long steps, one foot sinks and then another step, its a nice way to slide down, takes less energy, and it’s even fun! Well, until we fall… but it’s not hurting too much then, as long as we don’t hit a big rock with our bum!)
That done, a little bit further down to the hut through the forest… and we found Mount Rintoul Hut in a clearing. We were back down to an altitude of 1250m.
Fish curry for dinner, smelly but nice to go through round 2 of our own dried food! Apple crumble for desert… rewarding!
The fog cleared up for the evening, which gave us a nice clear view towards north.
Day 6 – Rintoul Hut to Mid Wairoa Hut
The fog came back… we started in the forest, to warm up slowly before the climb up to Purple Top (1532m). We were expecting views, but the only thing we saw was that some of the stones were purple. Well, there was not much else to look at: another scree slope with lose rocks, clouds and fog, drizzle, and wind that was pushing us. A couple of times the gusts made me lose my balance and step beside the track.
After the summit, we went back down in the forest, where we could remove a couple of layers as we were sheltered from the cold wind gusts. We passed a couple of clearings that gave us a little bit of views, until we went further downhill and even found some rain. The track got a bit slippery, some trees were across the track and we had to walk around them a couple of times. I slipped and fell on my left elbow with my whole weight (+backpack), which triggered a shooting pain up to my shoulder. This pain was so strong that I felt dizzy, had time to get rid of my backpack, crawl near a tree, lay down on the wet ground with my feet up against the tree, tell Alex I was going to faint, then fainted. Then I woke up in the same position hearing Alex’s voice saying “Ah you are back!”. Only a couple of seconds, but a bit scary in the middle of nowhere… it is likely that I touched a nerve in my fall. So we had our quick lunch break at this place (it was raining, not ideal for lunch…) but needed to recover from the fainting that takes all the energy out of the body. We kept going until the next hut, another 2 hours further downhill. The last part was really steep and fairly slippery, until we crossed Wairoa River on a cute swing bridge, then another 2 minutes to Mid Wairoa Hut (350m). The hut had an open fire place, which not as efficient as the little stoves from the previous huts, but was nice to just watch the fire. The river was beautiful and a swim could have been nice it it wasn’t so cold. I am guessing in the middle of summer it would be enjoyable. This was confirmed when we read the hut book and saw comments from previous hikers who stayed on the hottest days of the year and kept going back to swim in the river. Well, we didn’t. It was just fine for a quick clean up.
Day 7 – Mid Wairoa Hut to Hunters Hut
The map shows an elevation of 400m until Top Wairora Hut, 7km, and the hike notes mention 4,5 hours. Doesn’t look bad at all, and we expected something reasonably easy. Well, this was a wrong assumption. The track was going through steep parts, climbing up along trees, around trees with nowhere to place our feet. Slippery at times, sliding down big rocks to reach the river, crossing the river (8 times), and finally a steep climb / scramble on a red soil track to reach the really orange Top Wairoa Hut and toilet. It was exhausting, a lunch break in the sun was really appreciated. Alex would like to mention that he nearly died. He tripped, and scratched his leg (I think he didn’t even fall…) He made sure that I noted that on our diary so it is here now, and everybody knows. We got on a further 800m elevation climb for the rest of the day. We entered Rell Hills country, the landscape was so different. This part was above the bush line again, with great views, and even the ocean again from Mount Ellis (1615m).
I finally figured out the major issue with my backpack: the hip strap was not going small enough! I had a lot of shoulder and neck pain, because I was carrying the pack mostly with my shoulder straps. Also, the bag was resting on my bum the whole time. I have had this backpack for more than 7 years and it has never ben a concern that this could get too small! I did loose weight recently and did not realised that this could be a problem. Well, I rolled my jumper and my scarf around my hips to make myself bigger and I got the strap tight a bit better. It wasn’t great but it was better than carrying all the weight on my shoulders! It only took 6,5 days to figure this out… well, it’s better late than never!
The whole hike in the red hills was such a different kind of mountains and tracks! After Mount Ellis, the track went downhill, all the way to Motueka River, to cross it, and finally steeply climb towards Hunters Hut. The walk down was done in the shade as we approached the end of the day and we entered the narrow valley.
It was a long day, also physically challenging, even though rewarding with the landscape all around us. We started thinking about pizza, cheese plater and wine… The hut had a big deck with views on the red hills, and down the valley. Fairly recent hut, with a powerful stove.
Hunters Hut’s toilet was the best toilet of the tramp. amazing view while sitting on it.
Beautiful sunset, amazing full moon and stars… and a gorgeous sunrise the next day!
Day 8 – Hunters Hut to Red Hills Hut
A long day ahead of us: 19.5km. A long day up and down in the red hills, through a couple of passes, enjoying beautiful places and views. A muddy day. My gaiters were useful. We crossed about 12 rivers so our shoes got cleaned on regular basis and our feet got refreshed at the same time. We crossed the Motueka river and then went uphill again for the last hills before our final destination, the Wairau Valley. Alex was not motivated nor talking at all that day, which made the day feel way harder and longer. The last long clearing was a swamp and we were over it when we reached Red Hills Hut. It is a nice double glazed hut, unfortunately no fire place (but also nowhere to get proper wood from (only low bush, no big trees in this area, so anyway, no fire!) There were manuka trees all around us so we made manuka tea, and spent the rest of the day reading, playing cards, and thinking more about pizza, beer, cheese and wine!
Day 9 – Red Hills Hut to State Highway 63
That was it, 1,5 hour downhill, and we reach the highway 63. It was raining a little on this last day, but it was a short one. We hitch-hiked along the road to St Arnaud, and the second car stopped. How lucky! Done, we reached St Arnaud around 11am, plenty of time to get a lift to Nelson.
At 3pm, we eventually gave up and went to the hotel-lodge. We called the shuttle to book a lift (and paid 90NZD) for the next day. What a shame, Nelson being less than 1,5 hours drive away, we couldn’t get back and get the rest of our gear that we left in the hotel… So we read, ate more dehydrated food (the restaurant of the hotel was closed that day, exceptionally…! and St Arnaud does not have anything else to eat out…)
This was it, the last couple of days before flying back to Auckland, we spent them in Nelson, relaxing, riding bikes on the wine and beer trail.
Lessons learned / thoughts for future tramps:
– Take more teabags. don’t count. it’s never too much.
– Boil water/ make tea for the day when it’s cold. Make the tea and pour it in a thermos bottle or a strong plastic bottle. It kept a warm temperature for at least 2 hours in our normal drink bottle. As it is critical to stay hydrated while hiking, this was a good way to do it when it’s cold outside and the water temperature is even colder, which made it really hard to drink.
– Always have warm hut socks. Well, 1 more pair of socks that you can put on top of normal dry socks to keep your feet extra warm and dry in the hut. We only took 1 pair of warm socks, and I ended up not using them for hiking but only for the hut.
– Walking sticks: a lot of thoughts came to my mind during the hike. Sometimes I had my walking sticks on my pack for the whole day. I realised that using sticks makes the body bend forward, with makes the shoulder pull on the straps of the backpack. This increases neck tension. I used my walking sticks mostly when climbing steeply (especially scree slopes), descending steep slopes, or crossing rivers. After the second day, when I tried on a flat section without the sticks, I felt weird, because I realised that the sticks made me forget to trust myself and how to balance myself only with my legs! They are a real bonus for the knees on steep slopes, even though I think I realised what made my knee better on this hike: my weight loss! Easy to say, but 15 kg less on my knees at each step made it pain free!
– Homemade dehydrated food:
1/Jerky is a definite yes! a couple of pieces towards the end of the day (the afternoon snack for example, or when arriving at the hut) – is helping your body and your muscles recover, while keeping your stomach full for hours.
2/ Dehydrated cheese: Not a good idea to have mixed with the meal. Doesn’t rehydrate completely, and is really sticky on cutlery, bowls and pot.
3/ Take 2 pots: 1 for the dinner food and the other one to keep making hot water for soup, warm drink, tea, dessert…
4/ too much rice! Our meals were made with too much rice, we could have had more lunches with noodles or other cereals instead of rice.
5/ Desserts: they were amazing! Creamy rice and apple crumble.
– Dehydrated toothpaste: This will sound ridiculous maybe, but it was great. no need to worry about carrying too much, about a leaking tube, or using too much. Take 1 ball in your mouth, then brush, done!
– Gas canister: we use only 1 out of 3, because of the stoves and fire places, we made all our food on the fire/stove. We only boiled water in the morning and the evening, so only twice a day. (without the fire places, maybe we would have used all canisters)
– Toilet paper: we had 2 rolls, which were the equivalent of 4 rolls as we buy the compact version. I forgot that when packing. We were careful with our consumption and 1 roll was enough, so 2 normal rolls for 8 days sounds reasonable!
This is us, every morning of the tramp:
All the details about this tramp: