Section 4: Waiau Pass, St. Arnaud to Boyle village

St. Arnaud Village-Boyle Flat Village
120 km
6 days

Resupply at Hamner Springs


Day 15: St. Arnaud to Lake Head hut (10km, 2.5 hours) 

We ate a nice big portion of fish and chips in an attempt to make up for the calorie deficit we build up over the past week. With full bellies, for now at least, we leave St. Arnaud at 6pm. We won’t be walking very far, just to the hut 10km down the trail where we can camp for free. It’s a pleasant walk which follows the lakefront of lake Rotoiti.

Lake Rotoiti

Lake Rotoiti

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The trees are not blackened by forest fire but by a fungus. Honeydew droplets that are not consumed, fall on the forest floor or stick to the bark where they provide a food source for the black sooty mould fungus that coat many trees. It’s the cycle of life: one insect’s turds can feed the entire forest.

The forest is chiming with bird songs and there is a sweet smell of honeydew in the air. On closer inspection the trees are covered with droplets of this sticky transparent liquid. Honeydew sounds like a real treat and it is for many insects, mainly wasps it seems. But it’s actually poo! It’s produced by the female scale insect, which resides in a hard casing inside the bark, drawing sap from the tree and excreting the waste through a long waxy filament. At the end of this filament-which is probably the longest anal tube in the world-the honeydew droplets gather.

After this educational forest walk we soon reach the Lakehead Hut where we pitch the tent and I quickly doze off to the sound of the croaking frogs.

 

Day 16: Lake head to Upper Travers Hut (21. 5km, 7 hours)

Travers Falls

Travers Falls

We get a bit of a late start and head out around 8am. The first section winds through the river valley through some open and forested sections. The trail notes mention it’s 12 km to the John Tait Hut but the signs says 15? This is not the first time that the notes differ from the signs though. From this hut the trail goes up through the Travers valley to the Upper Travers Hut, another 6, 5km further. We take a small detour to Travers Falls that is definitely worth it!

This region is quite prone to avalanches and we pass some warning signs on the way, some of which have been bent over, presumably by these same avalanches and at some points whole forest sections have been wiped away. In summer it should be relatively safe though.

After about 3 hours we reach the Upper Travers hut which sits in a beautiful spot on a large flat at the base of mt.Travers at 1220 meters.

Upper Travers hut

Upper Travers hut

Day 17: Upper Travers hut-Blue Lake hut (15km, 8 hours)

From the hut the first section is a very steep climb up to Travers Saddle at 1787 meters. The views from here are very well worth the effort.

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After this it’s a long descent, which involves a lot of sidling along the gravel face, into the valley. The trail notes said this would take 6-8 hours but we are done within 5 (and I’m not one of the fastest so I think this might have been on the conservative side, also we had very good weather).

DSC_1205We take a lunch break at West Sabine hut and head up to Blue lake. As we are climbing I suddenly hear some cursing behind me. I see Jack has taken of the pack. The back frame just snapped in half! And at a terrible time too. He can still carry it but it’s not going to be comfortable. For now best to just head to the hut and see from there. We continue up, following the river to it’s source: the Blue Lake. The lake is beautiful, apparently one of the clearest in the world, but also very cold and after dipping my toes in I consider my swimming plans.

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The forecast for tomorrow is quite poor and our next section, the Waiau pass is only supposed to be undertaken in fair weather. So we might have to wait it out.

Day 18: Sitting out the rain (0km, 24hours)

I wake early to the sound of the rain beating on the roof of the hut. It’s pouring! Unfortunately the predictions seem to be accurate. So I turn around and wake up again at 8:15, still pouring. Guess this is not happening. I feel like I can just slumber all day, but my stomach disagrees so I get up to get some breakfast. The rest of the day will just be hanging around in the hut: reading, writing and doing some puzzles. Luckily there’s a couple of other people in the hut. One guy used to be a chef and he worked for Gordon Ramsey. I asked what he was like but apparently the show portraits him quite accurately. That’s part of the reason this chef changed his career and became a chemical engineer. I guess it’s not such a far leap. Too bad he is not staying here tonight to cook.

Day 19: Waiau pass, Blue Lake hut to Caroline Bivi (12km, 10.5 hours)

When I wake up at 6am the sky is clear and the sun is slowly working her way up over the ridge. We head out at 7am. It’s foggy and the peaks are still obscured by the time we reach Lake Constance. On this section I also get my first taste of spear grass, or wild Spaniard, which added some nice red scratches to the patchwork of sand fly bites on my legs.

We walk around the lake and cross a few streams before reaching the pass. From here it’s a very steep climb up loose scree of the terminal murine. The climb is quite breathtaking, but so are the views!

View of Lake Constance from Waiau Pass

View of Lake Constance from Waiau Pass.Waiau pass at 1870 meters is Te Araroa’s second highest saddle.

DSC_1230At the top we stop for lunch and some shoe-skiing in the snow. We follow the ridgeline and then descent steeply into the valley. At a few places it involves a little scrambling and some mountain goat footwork. Some of the poles along the route are twisted by the tons of snow that have been pushed down by avalanches. I can see how this route becomes very tricky in bad weather conditions.

DSC_1236Down in the valley we have to cross the river a few more times but the trail becomes easier and quite flat. Originally this is an old trail that was used by Maori as a green stone route to transport the rocks from the west coast to the east coast where they traded with other tribes. We make it to Caroline Bivi where we set up the tent, the bivi is really not much more than a little crammed shack. We quickly cook and then eat inside the tent, hiding from the relentless sand flies that are laying siege on the tent.DSC_1239

Day 20: Caroline Bivi to Anne hut (30km, 9 hours)

Today I got my breakfast in bed, or rather in my sleeping bag, on the account of it being my birthday. It’s a nice clear day, although still a bit foggy and the sun is not yet over the ridge to warm us up. The tall grass is very wet and I put my gaiters on. That turns out to be a bit of a waste as only five minutes later we already have to cross the river again. On the first crossing I take my shoes off, naively thinking I might keep my feet dry. But the river is very braided in the valley, so many crossings follow and I just have to accept soggy feet for the next 29km. The walking is easy though, through wide open flats covered in colorful wildflowers and with beautiful views in all directions.

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After a few hours we hit a sign: “Caroline Bivi 11km, Anne hut 18km.” Hmm, the trail notes said 25km total now its 29km? A bit later we hit a second sign: “Caroline Bivi 14km, Anne hut 16.” He?! If this keeps up we will never get there… We cross the river and follow the st.James walkway. Its a long but flat walk to Anne Hut and when we get there its still sunny so I can dry out my socks and pruny feet.

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I also realized today that we have made a small supply error: because we waited a day at Blue Lake and because we thought one role would be ample supply for the both of us for 8 days, we have now run very low on toilet paper. We already started supplementing with moss, which isn’t as great as it looks. I was therefor very happy when I found half a role in the hut. Never thought I could ever get that excited over T.P. Best birthday gift 🙂

Day 21: Anne Hut to Boyle Flat Hut (17, 5km 6 hours)

Today we have a relatively short day. It’s an easy and flat walk through the valley again. We stop at Rockeby hut, an old hut from 1963. I check to see if there is any tags by sir Edmond Hillary, because apparently there are a few old huts that he has left his mark, but not here it seems.

Sometimes there is a suspension bridge and I get to keep my feet dry

Sometimes there is a suspension bridge and I get to keep my feet dry

We reach Boyle flat hut around 3pm. A bit early but there is not really a next option and camping with the sand flies also wasn’t that much fun. We have the hut to ourselves until Mad Dog Murphy arrives around 5pm. He is also walking Te Araroa South Island but is taking a more professional approach with sponsors. Wish I had tried that. He got lots of free trailbars and all he needs to do is take pictures of them on the trail. But that also meant shipping all the bars from the US to here and dividing them over many food drops which was also costly. Sounds like too much trouble to me. He shares a delicious back country blueberry crumble meal with us, which is much appreciated as I am starving. I’m now suffering from what according to Jack is called ‘hikers hunger”: After breakfast I’m peckish, after lunch I’m hungry, after dinner I’m still searching for more and by the time I’m in bed my stomach is rumbling. But luckily then I’m so tired I fall asleep and dream of food…

Day 22: Boyle Flat hut to Boyle Flat village (14, 5km, 3 hours)

We have an easy walk this morning through some forest to Boyle Flat village. Village is a bit of an overstatement, it’s an outdoor center and some houses. From here we hitch into Hamner Springs. It’s not such and easy hitch and it takes nearly two hours before we get a ride. Hamner is a cute little town. We have trouble to decide what to do first: coffee, laundry, shower, FOOD! So hungry by now. We stay at Hamner Springs BP. A really nice hostel with a very homey feel to it and perhaps best of all: they have a free massage chair! It’s run by a Dutch guy and his Japanese wife. They offer laundry service so we try and fill up the machine with what little we have and head to the store. Unfortunately there is no pack for Jack so we’ll have to hitch into Christchurch probably tomorrow to get that sorted.

Day 23/24: Christchurch pack hunt

Sad moment parting after so many km...

Sad moment parting after so many kilometers…

We got an easy hitch straight from Hamner Springs to Christchurch. We even got dropped of in the CBC (or what used to be the CBD). Jack got a new pack and we have some time to explore Christchurch and stock up in Pack ‘n Save. Bulk goods for cheap 😀 We have a dinner at Denny’s, my first experience with USA diners. The portions are ridiculously big, but that’s fine by me right now. Also you get unlimited free top-up on coffee. So I can get my caffeine fix before we hit the trail again.

 

 

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