Breaking News...Mission Complete!
Bluff and Blister(s)
This is an 'unofficial' Update that does not constitute a blog!!
I have it on good authority (her majesty) that Rach has now reached the south coast - at Riverton....AND has actually sighted Bluff!!!! OK, given her 'visual acuity', I tend to suspect an actual 'sighting' may possibly be either wishful thinking or possibly fatigue-induced hallucination. But whatever...she's close!
It leaves a mere 67km (42 miles for those in the old world), or so to go.
Or rather NOT to go. Yes, ..... < deep breath> TO FINISH!!!
This means only 2 days (plus quite possibly 'a bit') until her epic 3,000+km adventure reaches its culmination, its climax, its zenith!!!
Please show your support and appreciation of Rach's amazing achievement - however you feel able. Her driving motivation has been to raise awareness of MS, assist research into the cause, prevention, treatment, and cure of this disease and to support the MS community within NZ.
If you can possibly spare it (and aren't among the generous supporters who have already contributed, in SO many ways), you can also show appreciation for her efforts by contributing through the MS-TrampNZ Givealittle site, to the Multiple Sclerosis Society of NZ and New Zealand Multiple Sclerosis Research Trust.
I’m blogged out....tramped out, sleeping in a freezing cold wet tent out. Just plain... wiped out.
The Te Araroa has recently made media headlines, after a French guy set fire to his toilet paper and associated contents on the shore of lovely Lake Pukaki. The well thought-out trail gets you to tramp 30k from Tekapo then tells you that there is another 30k to the designated camp ground so everybody camps wherever they collapse. The French seem to have a relaxed attitude to going to the loo ‘in the nature’, as my mate Richard found in the Richmond Ranges, when he narrowly avoided being hit by a swirling arc of French pee....
I got a lift to Glenorchy with Shaun who works on a farm. He offered me some dope, beer and a ‘good time’. It was 9am. I guess that you have to make the most of your free days and as they say, God loves a tryer....
I then waited and waited, until a lovely Chinese couple gave me a lift to the start of Greenstone track, where the TA Trail restarts on the other side of Lake Wakatipu from Queenstown. They took my photo and were very nice but, while exceedingly grateful, I have no idea why they were on that gravel road, as they were dressed very smartly. Possibly their GPS was going rogue?
I caught up on trail news and heard that Harriet and Alex have decided to finish their TA Trail in Milford Sound and this seems to be par for the course at this stage of the trail. Most people that I meet now are walking the South Island section only and it would be fair to say that, if my trail is a jigsaw with the occasional small missing piece (parts of Lake Hawea section), then there are many more people that have a very fluid definition of what constitutes the TA.
This may be due to the exciting nature of Southland farmland and some not-so-friendly farmers - according to my anonymous local source, who has hunted in Southland for decades, the new station owner (‘that Dutch bastard’) doesn’t want trampers on his station. See photo of friendly sign.
He only wants up to 8 people at a time walking on his land if the moon is in alignment and/or they haven’t randomly-closed access. Why take the trail through the beautiful Catlins when you can send trampers across paddocks full of belligerent cows and/or bulls. There will not be a TA tramper who has not experienced farmers who love to speed up to you on their quad bikes when you are on the TRAIL, pausing only to hurl abuse. Lovely.
PS: If you do not finish a run race, you are classified as ‘DNF’. I used to be happy that I have never had 'DNF' next to my name, but my experiences on the Te Araroa have given me pause for thought:
I ask myself now ‘have I pushed myself to my outer limits and beyond before this trip?’ Over the last 4 months I have most definitely visited the most deepest and darkest places that I have ever experienced.(ed: and given her post-quake trials, that's really saying something!). I am now living in this unknown outer territory.
Honestly I have written in my head so many, many times, the blog about dropping out, not finishing this trail. You may have sensed that I have been so very close to quitting on more than a few occasions. Whilst I am very happy at the prospect of finishing at Bluff in 10 days or so and thus completing this odyssey - ‘knocking the bastard off’ - frankly at the moment, I’m anticipating the prospect more with an overwhelming sense of relief than satisfaction. I would have been equally happy if I had left earlier, as I know that I have more than paid the price for a DNF ticket but not cashed it in....
Jigsaw Pieces of Track...
Walking alongside the beautiful shores of Lake Pukaki in 30 degree heat was so much fun I am at a loss to fully convey the magic of the moment. Quite how you are supposed to walk 30ks from Tekapo and then another 30ks to find the camp area I don’t know. This is probably why I found 2 other TA trampers hiding their tents in the trees after collapsing in a heap.
I had a beautiful dip in Lake Ohau....before the weather broke.
Again. I managed to test the outer limits and beyond of both my tent and my resolve somewhere near Lake Ohau: The biggest storm that I’ve experienced for some time left me floating on my deluxe $6 Warehouse yoga mat, and to add to the general feeling of joy I had been stung by a wasp and my left eye was swollen shut. Next to me was a young American guy whose lightweight tent was even less water-tight than mine. We both made a decision to end our misery by walking out to a road, any bloody road and try to hitch to Wanaka.
Many thanks to my friends Rob and Anne, who found space for me in their Bach. As Challenge Wanaka was on I took the opportunity to run some of the course, as this was on the TA Trail - plus hopefully a few people saw my bright orange MS T-shirt.
As my friend Wendy and her son Dan are here from the UK, I have jumped ahead to Queenstown to spend a few days with them and complete some sections of the trail here, before going back on myself to fill in the 2 sections that I’ve missed.
Then I will be in Southland - the last set of trail notes!
Walking towards nowhere backwards
Was it hard to leave the comforts of Paul and Sue’s place to start tramping again? .... Well it was as easy as getting a sheep with a number on its back to realise it is supposed to be in a race, as happened in Methven....So yeah...nah.
Luckily Lisa and Rich had left me some lollies at Harper hut. Not so luckily, I only saw the picture of Richy emerging from UNDER the hut yesterday on Facebook and so sadly I fear some other bugger will eat them.... hoping to make my next food drop which involves Dominic leaving a blue sock at a secret, undisclosed location, thanks Dom!
After completing the section through from Bealey to the Rakaia River, the Christchurch MS crew very kindly shouted me a night at the Brown pub in Methven (rather than the green or blue pub!). They also gave me some very yummy baking and a selection of Backcountry meals, which have made for luxury eating!
Lake Coleridge Village - from where I exited the trail to partake in this luxury (via the official TA 'Rakaia hazard zone' bypass) is a waaaaay weird place, to say the least Trampers are not welcome, the trail keeps even your shadow from landing on the lawns of the houses there. Harriet and Alex, who I last saw in Wellington, had a terrible reception at Coleridge Lodge: They wanted to buy an over-priced pizza and beer, but were actually told that trampers (and presumably their $!!) are not welcome....
Haketere Conservation Park lies between the Rakaia and Rangitata Rivers. It was chokka on the long weekend - So much for the wilderness of the backcountry! Guys on quad bikes zoomed past me, pausing only to tell me that the local farmer was a bastard and I shouldn’t try to fish/shoot/generally kill anything. Obviously this was a massive disappointment, but I had been cheered up by a guy near Lake Emily/Heron, asking me if I wanted to water-ski. Guessing that my lack of coordination, lack of any spatial awareness and rampant Reynaud’s Syndrome could possibly kill both of us, I demurred.
Raynaud’s is a debilitating condition and I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. Well maybe that muppet from EQC who looked at the holes in my roof and at my purple/cadaver-like fingers and said, “oh yeah I get that, have you got any gloves....”
Lake Clearwater, located on the south side of the Park, was brim full of dedicated proponents of traditional Kiwi camping, equipped that is with jet ski, boat, fridge, beer fridge, separate toilet tent, trailer with extra essentials such as settee, tv aerial, quad bike...etc!
The Rangitata River is another 'official' TA hazard zone and I was only too happy to accept the 'official' diversion allowed, by way of Geraldine, to get to the other side
One of the very best parts of this trip has been meeting kiwis who live such very different lives to mine. Rural NZ is to me another planet and in so very many ways is an entirely different world. Jack is 76 and lives in Geraldine in his campervan, helping out at the lcampground. He spent 35 years ‘on the chain’ at the freezing works and at first glance you may think that we had nothing whatsoever in common. After chatting to him about where I had tramped over in Haketere, he told me that it was the borage that made the lovely purple haze. He shared my love of the beautiful ridges, dips and slopes that stretch seemingly into a never-to-be-reached place. Jack very kindly dropped me off around the official Rangitata river diversion - after he had given me some fresh fruit and a lesson in not making assumptions about people...
Mesopotamia is a well-known NZ high country station. The old school house there (closed in 2000) is testimony to the large number of people once resident in the area. There is a grave yard nearby, occupied by early European settlers who seemed to have died either in the Rangitata River, or while giving birth. A Swedish guy on the trail was washed away attempting the crossing recently but luckily he only lost his gear ... and hopefully gained some common sense.
Mount Peel station is owned by the Ackland family and I met Rosemary and John who are the parents of the current owner, who also owns Rangitata Rafts and seemingly pretty much everything else in sight. I was a tad confused by their rather posh English accent....They told me that their daughter Lucinda was a ‘NOBO’ - walking the TA trail Northbound - after having met many trampers on their station.
Thanks to Wayne from Alps 2 Ocean Tours, who knows the area superbly-well after running the Mount Peel Outdoor Centre for many years, I took the easier route which the owner (son of Rosemary and John) doesn’t want you to take. In fact after a public opening ceremony with DOC at a new car park at the end of the road and to celebrate public access, the current station owner dug it all up and slapped a keep out sign, despite it being public land.
Anyhow, despite continuing knackerdness, I struggled up the Bush Stream until I got to Stags Saddle. This lies mid way between the Rangitata and Lake Tekapo and forms the very highest point of the trail, at 1,925m. This was great as it was soooo hot. Naturally. To be fair, I didn’t give 2 figs about achieving this lofty point, as I was just happy to Stop.Walking.Uphill.In.Searing.Heat!
I met up with some of the very lovely Timaru MS office and heard that Fiona the fieldworker has been very sick so all the very best to her in her recovery.
You may detect more than a slight lessening of my enthusiasm, energy, inclination and motivation for the trail and most certainly a major lessening of my finances. I am however resolute - continuing relentlessly going forward, pressing on with the day...
I am hoping that my friend Wendy and her son Daniel, visiting from the UK, are not taking the next plane home…. The quake yesterday coming so soon after their arrival… in Christchurch of course! If not I will look forward to catching up with (Wendy was my very best friend at school aged from 4-16). Hopefully I can keep up with them as they are going to tramp me for a few days, which I am very excited about☺
In the meantime, it’s onwards and forwards on the section from Tekapo to Wanaka.
I am writing this in the living room of the Platinum sponsors of the Many Steps for MS-TrampNZ, my long suffering friends Sue and Paul Roberts. After a much-needed break with my friend Adrian in Amberley, then a day in Hanmer Springs with Sue and Paul, I realised that perhaps I was more tired than I thought, but luckily as shown in the picture I have an ability to sleep anywhere, forged in my childhood of endless hours in a VW combi with my brothers and parents driving around Scotland and France.
You may spot a theme here, which is I’m exhausted, knackered, worn- out, wrung-out, over-tired, in the mode of ‘you’re not yourself when you’re hungry’…anyone got any contacts for Snicker bars?!
Luckily for me Paul was coming with me for the Harper Pass/Mingha section and he was fresh, brim full of enthusiasm and had lots and lots of snacks and yummy food. Hurrah! Paul is the ideal tramping companion, personable, easy going to a fault and unfazed by the vagaries of staying in huts with people who go to sleep at 9pm, talk incessantly about tramping routes and sobo/nobo and all of the many, many long distance hikes that they have done in the world and know exactly to the gram what their gear weighs and are happy to (over) share that knowledge with anyone who expresses a passing interest…
The weather crept up on us, the clouds indicating what lay ahead with subtlety of when people walked in front of carts full of people with the plague crying out loudly ‘unclean, unclean’. Rivers become very big in a very short time and I am very happy that I was with Paul, particularly 3 days later when we crossed the Taramakau and associated side streams.
At the end of the Harper Pass route, the TA Trail fortunately avoids a crossing of the by-now very swollen Otira River, by hanging a right via the so-called flood or ‘alternative’ route between Aitkens corner and the start of the Deception track. However, despite avoiding a river crossing, this section still turned out to be a commando-like obstacle course, marked only occasionally by doc markers - which might have been orange once-upon-a-time but with the assistance of lichen, time and low or no maintenance, now merge seamlessly with their host trees.
Adding to the fun, it was also raining heavily. Luckily however, I was kitted out in my new Nano rain jacket, a very welcome gift from my brothers/sisters in law. Thus attired, I didn’t really throw the toys out until we reached the highway east of Otira – The continuing downpour and rising rivers had clearly signalled the Deception-Mingha TA Route wasn’t likely to be the most prudent choice at this point and the parallel road alternative via Arthurs Pass would be a lot more sensible – particularly as this could be reached via a cross-river footbridge…Phew!
Given that I had rolled my ankle and buggered my back earlier in the tramp, was soaked and nearly hypothermic, I invoked the well-known temporary substitute-runner rule from cricket: Paul valiantly carried on up the gloomy, mist shrouded and very wet environs of the Otira gorge, in my stead.
He arrived to meet me in Arthurs Pass, just as the whole village was closing, including the YHA and at this point he uttered the immortal words, ‘Rache, you’re not yourself when you kick the dryer because it won’t work, maybe you need a proper break?’
Having made the decision to do exactly that, we enjoyed a pleasant walk the next day the short distance from Arthurs Pass to the Bealey turn off at the eastern end of the Cass-Lagoon track, accompanied by a slowly- emerging sun and Peter from the UK - A fellow ‘TA-sobo’, yomping through at a great rate of knots. …Including, apparently, not suffering to the same degree as Ms Kirkbride. Possibly assisted by more youth, and a slightly higher budget and even bigger appetite, that opportunities permitting can easily handle the six meals a day demanded by hobbits in these parts….
This is the point from where we bid goodbye to Peter and from where I’ll take off again soon…A few days in Christchurch should see me right. Now I have the added incentive of some of Lisa’s lollies waiting for further encouragement on the next section through to Lake Coleridge!
....So I am now very much on my way to happiness….
Well, Geronimo, a German TA tramper, decided to go off the TA route to stay at Hopeless Hut near to Mount Misery, to be far from the madding crowds. I was very tempted to join him: The Nelson Lakes section has highlighted a BIG issue on the Te Araroa, which is the sheer numbers of TA trampers staying in huts on popular tracks. Whilst I would say that all the Kiwi trampers I spoke with were unfailingly polite and well, Kiwi, they were clearly none too happy with the overcrowded huts.
I have met so many lovely people, from so many countries, whilst tramping the Te Araroa that I hesitate to mention that some of them don’t seem to be aware that just because you have a DOC hut pass does not mean you don’t still need to sweep out huts, replace firewood and generally respect the fact that other trampers will use the huts. They may express polite interest in your tales of long distance ‘hiking’, they may act bemused when you respond to questions whether people hike with mules in NZ (er, seen any mate?!!) but if you chat outside the hut with them, where they felt compelled to go for some peace and quiet then they may well ask detailed questions about the TA ROUTE so they can avoid it.
The tramp to the upper reaches of the Sabine valley and beyond is a walk through a mixture of enchanted lichen-dripping forests, thunderous rivers, stunning tarns and is quite simply the most wonderful and profoundly-enjoyable section that I have tramped so far. By the time I reached the hut the grin on my face was in danger of turning into a permanent rictus.
The Blue Lake Hut (located on the West Sabine River, just before the Waiau Pass) was a tad crowded, with a mixture of TA trampers and Sabine circuit people. The Waiau Pass trip started out early and in misty rain, so I didn’t really see much of the much-photographed clear multi-coloured water in the oh-so-aptly named Blue Lake, nor of Lake Constance, to which you climb beside on the way up to the Pass.
I was lucky enough to be accompanied by an American TA ‘hiker’, even though I didn’t realize she was walking with me until I looked behind and there she was, my own noisy shadow. It is of course safer to walk together, especially in difficult sections but usually I’m aware that I’m walking with somebody.
When I reached the top of the Pass I was obviously super-thrilled to be sharing the moment with a very loud American woman, veteran of all THE long distance hikes overseas who hit my hand and shouted “O.M.G we are so amazing. High 5!!!” followed by much waving of poles in the air. Despite my frequent attempts to enjoy this enthralling setting by stopping to have a break, we arrived together at the river crossings. This was actually great as I thought we could cross together. But then again, after an initial attempt where she didn’t seem to grasp the concept of moving slowly-together, I felt it may be necessary to give up this ‘mutual-support’, as I wished to see the day out....Luckily for me, as soon as the scary sections were done, she took off, when I was stopping for lunch after 6 hours on the go, Apparently through-hikers just gulp a 1 square meal on the move....
I decided that I may need a break to meet some non-TA trampers, so I headed to Christopher Hut which I reached at 9pm. There I had a nice chat with some Kiwi trampers, who gave me some red velvet Tim Tams. A perfect end to a bloody-tough day. One which went all the way from elation, stomach-churning fear, exhaustion…. and beyond. Yup, perhaps an average day tramping in NZ!
When I sign the hut books I always write “Many Steps for Multiple Sclerosis” and I have been asked numerous times by people who have seen it about my tramp. I hope that I am in my own small way raising awareness of MS and the sterling work of the fantastic people working for the society here in NZ.
Next up is a wee break for body and soul, then through from Lewis to Arthurs Passes followed by Lake Coleridge. ...
For those that have been asking/needing an updated schedule, my best guess of where I may be when can be found via this (pdf) link....
After my unscheduled stop in Nelson I left for the Richmond Alpine Track on a scorcher of a day from the Hackett picnic area: A beautiful place, despite the Mongrel Mob crew who were jumping off the bridge into WATER trying to take selfies. “Bro my phone’s not working, what’s up with that?” Ermmm....
Richard started off at a cracking pace on his fresh legs, whilst I tried to keep up with my creaking body...We arrived at the hut to be greeted by a group of French guys who were smoking roll-ups and moaning about the price of tobacco in NZ. For reasons best known to them they had cranked up a fire, despite the 27 degree weather, so we elected to pitch our tents. It was then that I noticed that the French crew had a stove that, instead of a gas canister, needed lots of twigs to heat anything: A really lovely contrast to all the many jet boil stoves that most TA trampers use to heat water for their Backcountry meal pouches.
As seems to happen all the time on this trip, I met Stefan again on the track and was excited to see him. This was not only because he’s great company, when he sticks around - but also because he and Richard could zoom off at warp speed whilst I ambled on, listening for birds and looking at the views. Unlike the guys, I’m not training for an adventure race or wanting to join the Australian Police special ops team.
We had a verrrrrryyyy long day on the Alpine crossing route and after speaking to 3 other trampers who had decided to turn back because of mist, we headed on, screwing our courage to the sticking place (apologies to Macbeth fans, but I love the visceral image this quote conquers up).
We were very lucky when we finally hit the top of Rintoul. The views reminded me of my brother Martin’s model war game set-up. That utilized cotton wool, paper mache and all the many hues of Airfix paint from tiny pots to create a realistic topography, complete with tiny figures and random features. It felt as if the ranges of mountain went on forever with so many different colour hues, rocks carelessly strewn around. The real version however also had the addition of a backlog of weather systems queuing up for prime position.
I’m still attempting to get some pictures from the Go Pro and hopefully will be able to post them in here soon but meanwhile have posted some from my phone, The small orange toilet below has the best view from a dunny anywhere in the world I reckon. Mind you Richard was a tad shocked when getting water, to see an arc of French piss heading his way, so maybe not everyone appreciates a good toilet view....
There may or may not have been a 14 hour ‘shortcut’ along a Ridgeline covered in Redhill rock gardens culminating in a descent in the mist then dark, down a gorge and river, featuring many boulders and possibly moans from a non adventure-racing TA tramper.
...Anyway we made it out to be met on the walk out from Redhill hut by a young American guy wearing ‘comfortable’ shoes (aka slippers) and carrying the ever-popular Warehouse $20/5kg tent...As he was looking tired on the 4 wheel drive track, I hesitate to guess how he managed the Alpine section...I fear that I will hear about him again, as the trail has its own internal communication system: I was asked many times if I had heard about those "3 English women in Rocks hut, one with a bung knee..." Latest update via the ‘grapevine’ suggested it took them 11 hours to get out on a 4/5 hour section. But at least, hopefully, they are now safe!
Superlatives, Stupidity and Showers
I am writing this on a lovely sunny deck in Nelson, whereas I should be tramping towards the Richmond Ranges. Are you sitting comfortably? Then let the story begin....
I started the mainland on the Queen Charlotte Track which was rather a shock due to the hordes of people, especially hung over Scottish backpackers. All I will say is that I am now an expert at putting up $20 tents from the Warehouse, which did not look so flash in the morning after the overnight torrential downpour.
I spent a lovely break on my friends boat in Havelock where I managed to get more injuries than whilst tramping whilst tripping onto the boat, dropping my shoes into the water and banging my toe then spending a fruitless time trying to locate a missing sock. Luckily this was not my new smart wool socks generously given to me by my friend Emma along with a complete black bamboo ninja outfit. Top tip: best not to walk through a busy camp ground and Marina whilst wearing the said outfit that makes me look like a stick of liquorice.
Many, many thanks to my friend Mads who has given me an uber light down jacket to replace the one lost down a gully and to her extremely generous contribution to the Many Steps for MS budget. To Paul, Sue, Emma and Matt many many thanks for the lovely meals I am a new woman and the bangers and mash will remain writ large in my memory especially when I'm fighting Richard for a spare peanut in the ranges.
The Pelorus Track, apart from a horror section from Havelock (thanks for the company Ems I hope the extreme sunburn/blisters and bad back have cleared up!) follows the river in a string of superlatives. The greener than green water seems to invite you in and then says ha ha tricked you as you jump into the freezing depths with a squadron of sand flies for company.
I walked into the Rocks hut after a night of very heavy rain and was met with a hut full of TA trampers who had created an aroma that makes the term fetid seem like a breath of fresh air...
I spoke with three women of my age (after they had crawled out of their respective pits at 10am) and found out that one of them had a serious knee 'injury'. They did not have any painkillers so I gave her some from my mobile pharmacy.For reasons best known to themselves and possibly a psychiatrist, they had walked from the previous hut despite the woman being unable to bend the knee and being in considerable pain. I remember reading their comment in the hut book wondering why they had not just walked back out to the road at the start of the track. They had all started the TA on the QC track and had not the North Island or indeed, it transpired, any training or planning. Thus, although they had told a friend when they were due out they had not realised that the friend would more than likely contact the Police/DOC if they were late.The final piece of information that made my head swivel, Damon like, was that the 'injury' was in fact arthritis and obviously pre-existing. Even scarier than this revelation was that the two 'fit' women were going to carry on bravely with the TA Trail after they had made it out of one of the most benign tracks on the whole of the TA with their injured mate.
As there were several young TA walkers in the hut I suggested that, given their were no river crossings, that they tramp out to tell the women's friend that they were going to be very late as they were already more than a day over due. As there were no takers for the attractive prospect of a 5 hour tramp in the pissing rain and gales I decided to take my chances outside rather than in the toxic hut. Also, due to the level of stupidity I had experienced I was liable to break my brand new year resolution of trying, oh trying oh so very hard not to be judgemental....
After a lovely walk to the top of Dun Mountain in the mist I made the descent to Matai Valley dam, pausing only briefly to talk to a French guy wearing only budgie smugglers and his raincoat looking for a cave...
The sun arrived, hurrah, and with it a lift into Nelson where I phoned the contact person and left it up to them to sort out their friends total stupidity, incompetence and selfishness. Mmmm, I feel I may have broken that resolution already...I am enjoying an unexpected break with Carol who is Richard's sister and he will join me for the Richmond Alpine Track, and then through to Lewis Pass so this will be the last post for a wee while.
is New Zealand's trail. The 3000km route stretches from Cape Reinga in the North of New Zealand to Bluff in the South and was officially opened in December 2011.
I am tramping the trail, North-South, starting in November 2015 and finishing in March/April 2016. I hope to raise awareness of the great work done by the Multiple Sclerosis Society and also to raise some funds for them.
I will be carrying my own tent and supplies but I would very much appreciate any help that people could give me e.g.: