New Zealand Part I: a 23-day stroll on the Te Araroa

In the beginning of the year I made a 9-week hiking and packrafting traverse of New Zealand’s South Island. In the coming weeks, I will write a brief trip report on this magnificent trip. This first part will be about the first 23 days of the trip, during which I followed the Te Araroa trail, a 3000km thru-hike of both of New Zealands main islands. No packrafting was included in this section yet.

The Te Araroa was officially opened no longer than 4 years ago, and the trail has become steadily more popular since the very start. In the first 2 years, about 50 thru-hikers made the entire distance, this number has increased to about 250 in the 2014-2015 season. I’m quite sure the the amount of thru-hikers on the Te Araroa will rapidly reach levels which are comparable to those on the 3 main American thru-hikes: the PCT, CDT and AT. I met a few hikers a day during my walk, and when I slept in one of the many wonderful backcountry huts (often with only 6 bunks), we were 2 to 5 people. The pressure on the hut system will soon increase to untenable levels.

Many people hiking the Te Araroa have little backcountry experience – I even met a few (admirable) guys who never made a multi-day hike before setting off on Cape Reigna! Although most of the trail is fairly easy, there are river fordings which can be nasty or impossible in adverse weather conditions, and a few slightly technical passes with steep scree and some scrambing (notable the Rintoul section and the Waiau Pass in the part of the trail I hiked). A few accidents have occurred in the last few years, one British guy fell to his death on Waiau Pass.

In retrospective after the trip, this was the least interesting section of my traverse. Fortunately I was blessed with outstanding weather conditions, even along the West Coast (which ranks among the wettest climates on earth). Once you make it down from Waiau Pass, the Te Araroa stays deep in the wooded valleys all the way to Arthur’s Pass, with little views of the mountains. It was a cool feeling to hike in and with the flow of a world-reknown thru-hike, but I was also happy when I arrived in Otira after 23 days and could start doing what I had really come to New Zealand for: doing my own thing in the hearth of the Southern Alps.

The water taxi to Ship's Cove at the Northern terminus of the Queen Charlotte Track, the starting point of the traverse

The water taxi to Ship’s Cove at the Northern terminus of the Queen Charlotte Track, the starting point of the traverse

The traditional start of the Te Araroa on the South Island is the well-established Queen Charlotte Track, a 71km stroll through the green Queen Charlotte Sounds. There are options to hike this trail with overnight stays in lodges and luggage transport by water taxis, and hence it is rather popular. We met about 10-30 other hikers per day. The DOC has a number of campsites along the trail.

Cook's monument at Ship's Cove, the official start of the South Island section of the Te Araroa

Cook’s monument at Ship’s Cove, the official start of the South Island section of the Te Araroa

Queen Charlotte Sounds

Queen Charlotte Sounds

Endeveour Inlet, Queen Charlotte Sounds

Endeveour Inlet, Queen Charlotte Sounds

Sunrise from the Bay of Many Coves campsite, Queen Charlotte Sounds

Sunrise from the Bay of Many Coves campsite, Queen Charlotte Sounds

Cow Bay, Queen Charlotte Track

Cow Bay, Queen Charlotte Track

After a boring road section through the town of Havelock (the last town with a supermarket I will be in for 8 weeks!) the Te Araroa hits a stunning 8-day section through the Richmond Range National Forest, including a few long ridgewalks around the treeline and a wonderful section through the Red Hills. It is a section with a very strong own identity – and by far my favourite part of my TA section. Water is a limiting factor on the ridges, and I slept in the cozy huts (which have water tanks) most nights with my trail mates Sharon and Malcolm.

Bivy at Dew Lake

Bivy at Dew Lake

Sunset at Dew Lake, with the skyline of the Taranaki's in the back

Sunset at Dew Lake, with the skyline of the Taranaki’s in the back

The skyline of the Richmond Range from the slopes of Dun Mountain

The skyline of the Richmond Range from the slopes of Dun Mountain

Morning views from Dun Mountain

Morning views from Dun Mountain

The Te Araroa is well maintained by the DOC. Here they must have had a long day cutting the track through a massive treefall. I would think back about this kind of trails with a good dose of nostalgia when I hit the unmaintained tracks later during the walk.

The Te Araroa is well maintained by the DOC. Here they must have had a long day cutting the track through a massive treefall. I would think back about this kind of trails with a good dose of nostalgia when I hit the unmaintained tracks later during the walk.

Beard moss, Richmond Range

Beard moss, Richmond Range

A picture perfect evening on Slaty Peak

A picture perfect evening on Slaty Peak

Ridgewalking near Slaty Hut, Richmond Range

Ridgewalking near Slaty Hut, Richmond Range

Ridgewalking near Slaty Hut, Richmond Range

Ridgewalking near Slaty Hut, Richmond Range

Steep scree on the slopes of Mount Rintoul, one of the harder bits of the Te Araroa

Steep scree on the slopes of Mount Rintoul, one of the harder bits of the Te Araroa

The interior of Rintoul Hut, one of many cool 6 bunk standard DOC huts in the Richmond Range

The interior of Rintoul Hut, one of many cool 6 bunk standard DOC huts in the Richmond Range

Rintoul Hut, with Mount Rintoul in the back

Rintoul Hut, with Mount Rintoul in the back

I shared the huts with Sharon and Malcolm for a couple of nights

I shared the huts with Sharon and Malcolm for a couple of nights

Sharon fording a stream on the way to Top Wairoa Hut

Sharon fording a stream on the way to Top Wairoa Hut

The top Wairoa Hut marks the start of a unique section through the barren Red Hills, a deeply weathered ophiolite complex which was comparable to nothing I have ever walked through before

The top Wairoa Hut marks the start of a unique section through the barren Red Hills, a deeply weathered ophiolite complex which was comparable to nothing I have ever walked through before

A gradual climb into the Red Hills

A gradual climb into the Red Hills

Into the Motueka Valley, Red Hills

Into the Motueka Valley, Red Hills

Somewhere on the way to Porters Creek Hut, Red Hills

Somewhere on the way to Porters Creek Hut, Red Hills

Low on food, I covered 35km in the scorching heat on my last day through the Red Hills

Low on food, I covered 35km in the scorching heat on my last day through the Red Hills

Saint-Arnaud was my last real resupply point where I could buy my own food in the tiny shop (I literally buy ALL the cookies they have) – after this I will pick up a series of 7 food cashes I made before the walk while road tripping with my girlfriend Elien. Saint-Arnaud is the gateway to the first National Park I will cross during this trip, Nelson Lakes NP. The Ta Araroa trail cuts through the park in a rather straight line, crossing 2 high passes (Traverse Saddle and Waiau Pass) on the way, before dropping into the Waiau valley.

Lake Rotoiti in Saint-Arnaud

Lake Rotoiti in Saint-Arnaud

Rodents and predators like rats, stoats and possums introduced by the Europeans during the colonisation have ravaged New Zealand's ecosystem. Many bird species have since become extinct, others are now critically endanged. The DOC is running one of the most agressive pest control programs on earth. Aerial drops of poison are now common in many public land areas through the country.

Rodents and predators like rats, stoats and possums introduced by the Europeans during the colonisation have ravaged New Zealand’s ecosystem. Many bird species have since become extinct, others are now critically endanged. The DOC is running one of the most agressive pest control programs on earth. Aerial drops of poison are now common in many public land areas through the country.

Sun breaking through after the very first rain since the start of the trip, Travers Valley

Sun breaking through after the very first rain since the start of the trip, Travers Valley

Travers Valley, Nelson Lakes National Park

Travers Valley, Nelson Lakes National Park

Views from Travers Saddle, Nelson Lakes National Park

Views from Travers Saddle, Nelson Lakes National Park

Descending into the East Sabine Valley, Nelson Lakes NP

Descending into the East Sabine Valley, Nelson Lakes NP

Blue Lake in the East Sabine Valley. The Blue Lake has the clearest freshwater known on earth, with an underwater visibility of 75-80m (distilled water: 83m)

Blue Lake in the East Sabine Valley. The Blue Lake has the clearest freshwater known on earth, with an underwater visibility of 75-80m (distilled water: 83m)

Taking a break along Lake Constance, before tackling Waiau Pass

Taking a break along Lake Constance, before tackling Waiau Pass

View back to Lake Constance from the slopes of Waiau Pass (1870m)

View back to Lake Constance from the slopes of Waiau Pass (1870m)

The start of the descent on the south side of Waiau Pass (1870m). This descent includes a short scramble a bit further down.

The start of the descent on the south side of Waiau Pass (1870m). This descent includes a short scramble a bit further down.

Following the 4WD along the Waiau River

Following the 4WD along the Waiau River

Following the 4WD along the Waiau River

Following the 4WD along the Waiau River

Following the 4WD along the Waiau River

Following the 4WD along the Waiau River

The Te Araroa connects to the Saint James Walkway, which guides me to the Boyle River Outdoor Education Centre – where I pick up my first food drop. My last 4 days on the Te Araroa are on the Harper Pass track, a historical crossing of the main divide through the green Hurunui and Taramakau valleys.

Hope Kiwi Valley

Hope Kiwi Valley

Cow skull in the Hope Kiwi Valley

Cow skull in the Hope Kiwi Valley

Most of the Harper Pass Track is an easy stroll with little altitude differences. This is a view back from near Kiwi Saddle while crossing to Lake Sumner on my birthday

Most of the Harper Pass Track is an easy stroll with little altitude differences. This is a view back from near Kiwi Saddle while crossing to Lake Sumner on my birthday

Morning break near Lake Sumner

Morning break near Lake Sumner

All huts in NZ have a so-called 'intentions book' where you write down your personalia and plans for the next few days.

All huts in NZ have a so-called ‘intentions book’ where you write down your personalia and plans for the next few days.

The Hurunui no.3 hut, one of the cozy standard huts along the Harper Pass Track. This was one of the hottest days of the trip, with temperatures over 30 degrees.

The Hurunui no.3 hut, one of the cozy standard huts along the Harper Pass Track. This was one of the hottest days of the trip, with temperatures over 30 degrees.

View down into the Taramakau valley and towards the West Coast from Harper Pass (962m)

View down into the Taramakau valley and towards the West Coast from Harper Pass (962m)

Bivy along the Taramakau river

Bivy along the Taramakau river

The wild Taramakau valley with its dense rainforest was one of the finest I did on my Te Araroa stretch, with almost no trail and numerous river fords

The wild Taramakau valley with its dense rainforest was one of the finest I did on my Te Araroa stretch, with almost no trail and numerous river fords

Bushwhacking through the rainforest while trying to avoid another river wading

Bushwhacking through the rainforest while trying to avoid another river wading

Reaching the Otira valley on another hot january afternoon

Reaching the Otira valley on another hot january afternoon

I stayed in the Otira Stagecoach Hotel (where I had my next food drop waiting together with my ice axe) for the night. Otira was a real shithole, with about 80 inhabitants. The entire village (train station, 30 houses, hotel, and all inhabitants) was recently for sale for 4 long years, until the nice couple now running the hotel bought it two years ago for 1 million NZ dollars. The hotel is now an all-in-one town hall, post office, shop, bar, restaurant and hotel. Sam, a young Christchurch guy doing the administation, took me to a Maori birthday party in the town where we stayed until the early hours - a great evening!

I stayed in the Otira Stagecoach Hotel (where I had my next food drop waiting together with my ice axe) for the night. Otira was a real shithole, with about 80 inhabitants. The entire village (train station, 30 houses, hotel, and all inhabitants) was recently for sale for 4 long years, until the nice couple now running the hotel bought it two years ago for 1 million NZ dollars. The hotel is now an all-in-one town hall, post office, shop, bar, restaurant and hotel. Sam, a young Christchurch guy doing the administation, took me to a Maori birthday party in the town where we stayed until the early hours – a great evening!

5 thoughts on “New Zealand Part I: a 23-day stroll on the Te Araroa

  1. karelsabbe says:

    Many familiar views! Brings up good memories from those sections I did 2 years ago. New Zealand is truly an amazing place. I remember how much I liked swimming in ice-cold Blue Lake while drinking from the water at the same time. Later on we barbequed a huge Rainbow Trout catched in the outflow of Blue Lake, best backcountry meal ever! Did you also collect mussels on the Queen Charlotte Track :-)?

  2. Willem says:

    Hi Karel, cool to hear of you again! Were you able to tackle the Five Passes circuit after we met on the Kepler Track? Now in Canada? Let me know something once you are back in Belgium so we can have a beer!

  3. karelsabbe says:

    Yes the 5 passes turned out to be a splendid hike! Almost no people and awesome rock bivvies on the way. The Dusky was perhaps even more rewarding, you’ll definately need to do that one day. You can always follow present adventures or read about past tracks like the five passes on the blog thelongpathway.wordpress.com (which has that name because it was started for my Te Araroa hike, but we kept using it over the years). See you in Ghent in September!

  4. Neil Bronson says:

    Any idea whether the Taramakau is paddleable on during the section of the river that coincides with the Te Araroa?
    -Neil

  5. Willem says:

    Hi Neil,

    Thanks for reading! Everything upstream of Locke Stream Hut is a swift single channel with a lot of trees in the river – water levels will also be too low most of the time. I think you can start paddling from somewhere between Locke Stream Hut and Kiwi Hut, most of it will be a class II (III). Water levels could be on the low side until you reach the confluence with the Otehake River.

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