Fam­ily ad­ven­ture for the ‘Swiss Five’ on the Te Araroa Trail

Walking New Zealand - - Te Araroa Trail -

amaz­ing views of the Queen Char­lotte and Kenepuru Sounds with wa­ter so green-blue it looked ar­ti­fi­cial (1.0). We be­came ac­cus­tomed to walk­ing ev­ery day and got more and more prac­ticed with set­ting up camp.

Our teenagers who had been less than en­thu­si­as­tic about the whole hike quickly set­tled in and started to en­joy the free­dom of it. We ex­pe­ri­enced “trail magic” (good things just seem to hap­pen) and met lovely peo­ple, dealt with a cou­ple of small blis­ters, en­joyed a thun­der­storm and chased a weka through the bush be­cause it had stolen our hot choco­late pow­der!

A friend of ours picked us up from Anakiwa af­ter five days and back in Nel­son we spent the day or­gan­is­ing the next sec­tion – the Rich­mond Ranges.

The weather fore­cast for Mount Rin­toul was for gale force winds and very low tem­per­a­tures. On top of that the track be­tween mid Wairoa Hut and top Wairoa Hut was deemed dan­ger­ous by DOC and so we de­cided not to do this part. In­stead we de­cided to go north­bound or “back­wards” on the Te Araroa Trail to­wards Pelorus bridge. Pelorus River track:

On the Pelorus River track we en­coun­tered very rough ter­rain for the first time and it took a toll on our footwear to the point that we were a bit wor­ried if it would last the trip.

The river it­self was beau­ti­ful with stun­ning green-blue wa­ter­holes which we took full ad­van­tage of de­spite the cold. The swing bridges weren’t much to my taste es­pe­cially as the ac­cess was of­ten hair-rais­ingly steep and slip­pery.

But the four days of­fered a lot of dif­fer­ent land­scape from bush to tus­sock plain, from river views to an old bro­ken for­est and of course a lot of sand flies.

Back at Pelorus Bridge we or­gan­ised trans­port to Saint Ar­naud, re­vers­ing our di­rec­tion once again.

By now the whole fam­ily had set­tled into a rou­tine and was en­joy­ing the trail. I guess the peo­ple we met on the Above left: The ‘Swiss Five’ fam­ily at Queen Char­lotte Sound. Mid­dle left: Cross­ing the Ta­maka­rau River. Left be­low: Lake Con­stance in the mid­dle of the photo sur­rounded by moun­tains.

trail telling our chil­dren how in­cred­i­bly lucky they were – do­ing a trip like this – might have helped.

Nel­son Lakes

We spent a very low-key Christ­mas Day at St Ar­naud and it was lovely not to have to worry about food prepa­ra­tion, guests and Christ­mas presents for a change.

The next sec­tion wor­ried me quite a bit be­cause I knew that there would be long days and steep as­cents and de­scents. But the worry was un­nec­es­sary; we did man­age to pack eight days’ worth of food into our packs; we man­aged the tra­verse sad­dle in one day (nine hours of walk­ing, 1000 me­ters up and 1100 me­ters down!) and our tents sur­vived camp­ing at Lake Con­stance in gale force winds even though no one slept that night.

We came across the scari­est part of the whole trip (in my view) sidling along a very slip­pery flank above Lake Above: On the Mt Martha Sad­dle, look­ing down the Ti­maru Val­ley. Con­stance with a sheer drop over a bluff into the lake and a very steep de­scent down a gully to the lake head.

The chil­dren got bet­ter with ev­ery day and we se­cretly think they liked the scary parts of the trail more than we did

We all agreed that Wa­iau Pass (the sec­ond high­est point of the Te Araroa Trail) was an ab­so­lute high­light with stun­ning views on both sides even though it had to be earned the hard way, 500 me­ters up a scree slope and climb­ing down a rock face on the other side – not for the faint hearted.

Af­ter the Wa­iau Pass we de­vi­ated into Saint James con­ser­va­tion area via Lake Guyon, be­cause we wanted to walk into Han­mer Springs.

The his­toric Stan­ley­vale Hut was well worth a side trip and we spent New Year’s Eve walk­ing over Fowlers Pass. This in­cluded a small bot­tle of Lin­dauer at the top which I had car­ried all this way, up and down all these moun­tains to celebrate not just New Year’s Eve but also Fiona’s 16th birth­day.

We reached civil­i­sa­tion af­ter a night spent in an aban­doned wool­shed and be­ing vis­ited by a pos­sum at 3am, af­ter seven days and roughly 110 kilo­me­tres.

Hu­runui, Lake Sum­ner and Harper River

It was hard work to hoist a full pack again af­ter three days of rest and the

first day felt re­ally long even though we “only” walked for about five hours. Funny how by this stage five hours had be­come a short walk!

The next day was spent loung­ing in a large hut due to pour­ing rain and then we moved on for the next cou­ple of days through rel­a­tively flat river val­leys past Lake Sum­ner to­wards Harper Pass. Once we got to the other side of the Harper Pass we fol­lowed the Tara­makau River out to Aitkens carpark (half an Above top: Bul­lock Bow Sad­dle ac­cent. Be­low: Cross­ing a bridge on the Pelorus River.

Fam­ily ad­ven­ture for the ‘Swiss Five’ on the Te Araroa Trail

hour drive to Arthurs Pass).

This was our first ex­po­sure to river cross­ings and there­fore wet feet as the river bed was ba­si­cally the track.

Af­ter wait­ing at Bealy Hut for the rivers to go down (it had rained for three days) we had an ac­ci­dent at the Avoca, a trib­u­tary of the Harper. Hav­ing crossed the Harper about 12 times, the Avoca proved very fast flow­ing and in spite of us link­ing up and do­ing all the right things, when Adrian slipped and went down, we all did. It was a scary ex­pe­ri­ence but we were lucky as no one got hurt.

Can­ter­bury High Coun­try

Get­ting a lift around the braided rivers (Rakaia and Ran­gi­tata) with alp­s2o­cean, we skipped the mul­ti­ple river cross­ings on the orig­i­nal Te Araroa Trail and walked in a dif­fer­ent route (via Stour River val­ley). It was prob­a­bly the most test­ing part of our jour­ney as we did not get into civil­i­sa­tion for 12 days, the land­scape was vast and the tem­per­a­tures hot. But the plains were ma­jes­tic to see..

We ate snow­ber­ries and hiked up a very steep sad­dle (Bul­lock Bow Sad­dle) which went pretty much straight up from for­est creek for a thou­sand me­tres. There were smaller rivers to cross and we ba­si­cally had wet feet for what seems like weeks on end.

Our chil­dren talked with strangers we met in the huts and by now we had almost be­come fa­mous on the trail. Ev­ery­body seemed to have heard of us and we be­came known as the Swiss 5.

We climbed the high­est point of the Te Araroa Trail, Stag sad­dle at 1925 me­tres and en­joyed the great views to Lake Tekapo, the Alps and of course the phone re­cep­tion avail­able at the top.

Swap­ping the hik­ing shoes for bi­cy­cles

From Tekapo we hired bi­cy­cles to ride to Twizel. There is a 47km stretch along

the canal where no camp­ing is al­lowed. Even though we had been on the trail for many weeks now we were pretty cer­tain that 47 km in one day was out of our league, so we de­cided to bike.

We spent an en­joy­able day rid­ing the pre­dom­i­nantly flat way to Lake Pukaki where Mt Cook greeted us in ab­so­lute splen­dour and then on to Twizel. We had so much fun do­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent for a change that we used the bikes to ride to Lake Ohau as well (in­stead of tak­ing a shut­tle bus).

The last leg

From Lake Ohau we em­barked on our last leg of this two-month jour­ney. Hik­ing up to the East Ahuriri Val­ley first through beech for­est and then through spear grass and tus­sock again, we hit those re­ally hot days in Cen­tral Otago.

With tem­per­a­tures of 32 de­grees it was very hard go­ing, es­pe­cially as there was not a sin­gle tree or bush to pro­vide a scrap of shade.

On the third day we had to cross the Ahuriri River, the largest un­bridged river on the Te Araroa Trail. The bank on the other side went almost ver­ti­cally up for about 25 me­tres and we just about crawled up on all fours.

We made it over Mt Martha sad­dle but then Cy­clone Fehi had us stuck at Top Ti­maru hut. It snowed almost down to the hut and the Ti­maru River which was a clear creek the day be­fore turned into a rag­ing tor­rent of black slick. We spent Tobi’s 18th birth­day wait­ing for the wa­ter to go down and the snow to melt.

Even though we only had two more days to walk to our desti­na­tion it wasn’t meant to be.

Wait­ing for three nights at the hut, we started to run low on food and the river was still brown and fast, so we de­cided to turn back over Mt Martha sad­dle. 32 kilo­me­tres and 1900 me­tres change in al­ti­tude later we got to state high­way 8 where we hitch hiked into Wanaka. Not quite the way we wanted to ar­rive but def­i­nitely safer.

Fi­nal thoughts

It has been an in­cred­i­ble hike with many lessons learnt. We met amaz­ing peo­ple, saw out-of-this-world scenery and hiked hard ter­rain that tested our lim­its.

We be­came well known on the trail as the “Swiss five” and we think Cedric holds the record for the youngest hiker on the Te Araroa Trail.

We saw strength and grit in all our chil­dren which makes us im­mensely proud and we cre­ated a fam­ily bond that will last for­ever. All the ex­pe­ri­ences – good and bad –made this an un­for­get­table two months.

We have be­come part of the fab­ric of the trail, our story wo­ven into Te Araroa Trail and we will carry it in our souls for­ever.

.

Above: Mt Cook in the back­ground with Lake Pukakai in the fore­ground.

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