Monday, March 31, 2014

    Greeting from Te Anau, the gateway to Fiordland National Park.  Sadly the TA does not go through Fiordland, we are just here to resupply, but Brazil Nut and I plan to come back here and visit once we've completed the trail.  It's an outdoor enthusiasts paradise and I think it will be wonderful to explore in a few weeks time.
     We've had a great last week of hiking.  After I last posted we left Wanaka for the Motatapu Alpine track.  The track was beautiful, with unrelenting steep climbs and lots of great views.  It was difficult, and not a step on flat terrain.  As soon as we reached the top of a peak the trail immediately descended as steeply as we had just climbed.  It made for very hungry and sore thru hikers by the end of the day :)

Jetpack on the Motatapu Alpine Track

Brazil Nut coming to the top of a steep climb

Matatapu valley

We spent two and a half days  in high elevation and on the third day we descended to the Arrow River  which took us to Macetown ( an old abandoned gold mining town).  From there we had a lot of easier track, mostly along road or gravel cycleway all the way to Queenstown.  We enjoyed great company during this section, hiking with Pete, a Kiwi that we met several weeks ago, as well as Fred and Dave, a couple from the UK who we met just as we arrived in the South Island. 

Break time at the Highland creek hut

Walking the Queenstown Cycle Trail- Jetpack, Fred and Dave

  Queenstown is located along Lake Wakatipu, NZ's longest lake.  With the ever booming tourism, Queenstown has expanded dramatically in recent years, and one can find anything in town that you would ever want.  We arrived late and left early the next morning, but we didn't leave by foot.  The trail head where the TA continues is over 50km away on the far side of the lake.  The TA  does not recommend that trampers walk the road as it is narrow, windy and dangerous.  Instead we are instructed to take a bus or boat, so we took an early morning bus that dropped us off at the Greenstone Carpark- the beginning of TA's next section.

The Greenstone River

A curious Tomtit

The tip to one of my trekking poles came of in deep, deep mud. Brazil Nut was kind enough to get it for me

   The trail continued with easy tramping for the next couple days.  It was a nice break from the previous steeper sections.  Yesterday we hiked 40km, most of which was along gravel road, as we had heard the trail was not very nice. It was supposedly through flooded farmland, lots of cows and cow poo and tall tussock.  With the flat open road  never more than a few hundred meters away, we opted for a road walk instead.

Scenery on the Mavora walkway
North Lake Mavora on a cloudy day

A benefit of road walking-things found on the side of the road!

On another note, I just got my third pair of shoes.  I believe my second pair would have lasted to Bluff, but I had already mailed ahead a pair that was waiting in Queenstown.  Brazil Nut and I are both wearing Altra trail running shoes and have been since Cape Reinga.  These shoes are probably the piece of gear that I am most happy with- I don't think I will ever hike with another shoe and I would recommend them to anyone.  They're sturdy, extremely durable, they're zero drop and have a super wide toe box which is wonderful as my feet always swell when I hike long distance. I'm so happy we were introduced to them on the CDT when our trail friend Lint was raving about them-thanks Lint!
   Must go and finish our resupply. Thanks for reading!
Happy trails, and onward to Bluff!
-Jetpack and Brazil Nut


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Beautiful Wanaka

     We're in the awesome town of Wanaka, at the head of Lake Wanaka near the Southern Alps.  Sorry for the long gaps between posts, this is the biggest town we've been to in quite a while and internet can be difficult to come by, especially without a smart phone or ipad.
       After I last updated, we left Methven and headed back to the trail on the southern side of the Rakaia river.  The trail for the next few days alternated between tussock covered high country and walking straight up streams.  Recently, in the South Island, we've discovered that there isn't always a 'trail' but rather a deep valley at the base of a mountain, along a fast flowing river, through which we must find our own way.  There are a few scattered markers, but when you're walking along side a river with a steep cliff on the other side, it makes the options for where to walk quite simple.  To quote the Te Araroa website, they describe the trail along the North Branch Ashburnton River as such: "This part of the track is rough and unformed. Trampers are required to pick their own route between markers which, in poor weather, may not be visible from one to the next. The physical and navigational challenges rise accordingly".  We had a perfectly clear day for this area, and I think the route had been a bit updated with some additional markers, but that being said, for several freezing cold kilometres we walked in the river, upstream, in icy water, waiting for the sun to get high enough to reach us and warm us up.
Brazil Nut on the Clint Hills track, Rakaia river in the background
Another stream walk up Bush Stream, after crossing the Rangitata river

   So while we've had lots of lower valley river walks, we've also had a lot of high country tussock walks.  Tussock is the high country grass which covers so much of New Zealand, and makes for particularly difficult tramping.  There's never a true trail and the grass is tall, slippery, and very easy to roll an ankle on.  It is also frequently mixed with the most awful plant ever created: Spaniard aka Speargrass.  It cuts and draws blood right away, and goes through clothing.  It makes for very painful tramping.  I spoke with my mom today and she asked if this trail was more difficult than other hiking I've done, and truly, one of the most difficult parts is the footing.  With the tussock, spear grass and abundance of river walking and rock hoping, it makes for beautiful, but difficult and tiring tramping.

High country tussock tramping

Tussock tramping above Lake Ohau
    Last week we also came to the second of the large braided river crossings on the trail, the Rangitata river. We'd heard from many people that they'd been able to cross it without any problems, as it was quite low and we hadn't had much rain.  Brazil Nut and I were quite nervous as we headed toward the river that morning.   Our first crossing was a bit scary as we headed a little too far to the left and Brazil Nut was in the water up  to her waist.  The current was strong, but we were able to head to higher ground, and for the rest of the crossing, the water was never much higher than our knees.  The whole river bed was over 6km wide, so it took a while to get across, with several small crossings in between.  We made it across with no mishaps and were very happy to be on the other side.
Beautiful scenery near the Rangitata river

   We've been hiking near many of Canterbury's large lakes.  The first one we came to was Lake Tekapo, which we had our first views of from Stag Saddle, Te Araroa's highest point at 1,925 meters.  We walked along the lake for over 20 km before coming to the tourist village at the head of the lake.  Our next section was a long road walk for over 100km, but was mostly on gravel road, with very little traffic.  We followed Lake Pukaki for over 30km which is at the base of Mount Cook, New Zealand's highest peak at 3,724 meters.  The lake has a magical look to it as the water is an incredible color of blue which comes from the finely round rock particles flowing into the lake from the near by glaciers.

Lake Pukaki, the morning after a storm

Lake Pukaki, near our campsite
Beautiful Lake Ohau
Hiking near Stag Saddle

Staying on the high ridge near Stag Saddle

Lake Tekapo in the distance, descending Stag Saddle

  We had wonderful trail magic the following day as we were hiking near Lake Ohau.  A woman named Kay was outside walking her dog Brutus and asked us if we'd like to come in and stay the night. Of course we couldn't say no and followed her back to her house.  Kay lived most of her life in Alaska and has been in New Zealand for the last several years.  We enjoyed talking with her that evening and the following morning, and had a wonderful stay with her and Brutus. Thank you Kay for the great trail magic!

At Kay's house with Brutus
The trail before Wanaka was through the beautiful and difficult Breast Hill track with views to the Southern Alps and over Lake Hawea.  Before Breast Hill we had another difficult river walk, with bits of very steep and narrow trail above the river.  I took a good fall walking near the river and managed to get a pretty good cut on my lower leg.  It's healing but still looks pretty nasty.  We reached Breast Hill in the evening as the sun was setting and had spectacular 360 degree views.

Mount Martha saddle

Results of river walking 

Brazil Nut walking up to Breast Hill

View from Breast Hill over Lake Hawea and the Southern Alps

Jetpack and Lake Hawea in background 

Lake Hawea

From Wanaka we head over the steep Motatapu Alpine track.  Our next town is Queenstown which, as exciting as it sounds, sounds like tourist hell to us.  We will try and pass through relatively quickly as the town itself is supposed to be just overwhelmingly filled with tourists.  Fall is just beginning here and it's been very hot lately, but hopefully the weather will hold for us.  We have less than 500 km remaining, wow time flies!
  Happy trail, thanks for reading!
-Jetpack and Brazil Nut

Friday, March 7, 2014

Around the Rakaia

We've had an adventurous last week on the trail.  We've had lots of rain, snow, hail and a little sun, all in the middle of 'summer'.  It's been cold, and for several days the peaks surrounding us have been covered in snow.  Last Monday we took the day off in Arthur's Pass and it snowed most of the day in town!   The trail before Arthur's Pass was a really fun and challenging section.  For 25 km we follow the Mingha-Deception track, which is the run portion of NZ's famous 'Coast to Coast' race, which had just taken place two weeks before.  The race is a multi- sport event, combining running, cycling and kayaking for over 250 km from the West coast, up and over the alps, ending on the East coast in Christchurch.  Hiking the run portion of the race was WAY more difficult than we thought it would be.  The track isn't really over a trail, but rather UP a river which is quite deep and fast flowing in most places.  The whole time we kept thinking how difficult it would be to RUN up the river, never mind hiking it.  NZ is famous for many of it's multi-sport events and for having some of the best athletes in the world- with race courses like this now I know why!
  Anyway it was a fun, COLD, and challenging day. It had snowed the night before and the river water was freezing cold.  But we were greeted with a wonderful hut at the end of the day, which is always a welcome ending to a long day.
  The rain, snow and cold continued when we left Arthur's Pass, but we enjoyed a beautiful hike that day over the Lagoon saddle, along the Harper River to Hamilton Hut.  A few trampers came in and later as it was getting dark, a tall man walked in looking wet and very tired.  As it turned out, he had fallen "several times" including a few falls in a river, and had hit his head, cut open his elbow (which needed several stitches) and had proceeded to faint after one of the falls.  He was a little out of it, seemed to be bordering hypothermia, and all his extra dry clothes were wet from falling in the river.  He was clearly in need of help, so Brazil Nut and I helped him to clean his elbow and bandage it up as best we could with what we had.  He needed stitches, but that had to wait until he got out of the woods and back to Christchurch-hopefully the following day. We got him into his sleeping bag and got water boiling for a hot drink and food.  Within an hour he was much better and had eaten a hot meal.  We both know the most important thing when someone is that cold is to get into dry clothes/a warm sleeping bag and drink something warm.  He set off the next day seeming much better and we hope he made it out to the road with no further mishaps.  This was just a small reminder of how dangerous tramping can be, especially in cold, wet weather.  The South Island is famous for lots of rain, and all kinds of weather extremes even in the summer.
  The sun has finally come back out and the weather looks good for the next several days.  At the moment we're in Methven which is about 50 km off the trail.  We came here because we got to the Rakaia river yesterday which is one of the two largest river crossings the trails comes to, and we are advised not to cross it. With the recent rain, and because we have no interest in drowning, we are hitching around it, as are all the other hikers.  The rivers are one of the most dangerous aspects of tramping in NZ, so we are not messing around with these large crossings.  The Rakaia is one of several 'braided' rivers, in a stream bed that's over 6km wide!  But unlike most normal rivers, there's not just one crossing, rather several crossings within the wide stream bed, so trying to cross it is very dangerous.   We lucked out yesterday as a Kiwi tramper Peter who we've been hiking with was getting picked up and driven around the river by his wife, and they kindly offered us a ride to town so we could resupply.  Otherwise, it would have probably been a long time waiting for a hitch, as we were essentially at the end of a dead end road. Tomorrow we'll hitch back to the other side and pick up the trail southbound again.
 Happy hiking,
-Jetpack and Brazil Nut

Beginning the Deception river walk

Snow topped peaks near Arthur's Pass

A back country hut

Cold hiking near Arthur's Pass

View up the Harper River

Road walk to Lake Coleridge

Snow topped mountains near the Harper River