This blog of our last few days in the wilderness on our South Island Te Araroa trail, is difficult to put together. There is much to share in words and photos of our joy and pleasure, trials and decisions in tramping in the rugged pretty wilds. To return from days in the wilderness where pleasure in surroundings highlighted our sense of wellbeing, to news so shocking, was numbingly unbelievable and distressing. While enjoying rain and tranquility in New Zealand’s wilderness, terror reigned in Christchurch. We were blissfully unknowing.
We were concerned with ourselves, as well we might, in making decisions on coping physically with the number of days of food, type of gear we would need to carry through and over the mountains in the Nelson Lakes district, making our way south.
John’s swollen ankle had recovered very quickly, which was splendid and encouraging indeed. However, another physical challenge arose. The nerve problem experienced in John’s foot on the Te Araroa North Island venture reared it’s painful presence once more, although this time, in the other foot. Morton’s Neuroma is the name of the condition and can be very painful. Carrying a heavy backpack surely does not help and I believe, exacerbates the inflammation in the nerves of the foot. John is strong and physically able but that strength is dependent on the ability of healthy feet to cope with the demands of weight carried and rigours of terrain. John is determined that we should continue with our journey.
Being out of your comfort zone certainly takes many forms. Apart from physical challenge, mental and emotional challenge can, more often than not, be the more difficult. Coping with the unexpected, with mishaps, changing plans and handling disappointment.
Reaching St Arnaud in the Nelson Lakes District, allowed time to rest up in comfort at the Nelson Lakes Motel. It also meant decision time and we debated the pros and cons of pressing on over the mountains in our quest to reach our destination of Arthurs Pass for this section of walking Te Araroa South Island from Ships Cove.
Apart from physical ailments, other factors were brought into our decision making. The changing conditions; rain at last had broken the drought conditions, high winds were predicted for high country, reduced number of daylight hours available each day to comfortably tramp between huts and, importantly, the number of days food and water required to be carried, 9 days we calculated.
After a day in St Arnaud, a decision was made and under the circumstances, the right decision for us. We decided we would finish our TA journey at one of the huts on the Travers Sabine route and then return to St Arnaud. John and I have walked part of this trail in years past with our older children and we remember the magic of the mountain beech forests. We would take our time, enjoy the journey, the beauty of the terrain and hope that John’s foot would cope with a lighter backpack.
St Arnaud to Lakehead Hut
A 3hr walk around the lake in beautiful bush. Mostly easy walking trail. Beautiful reflections on the lake. Rain preceded darkness
Bed early after early dinner, kindle read and darkness descending. Raining. About an hour later a young couple with a 9 month old baby arrived. They were so apologetic in disturbing us. I was astounded that they were walking in the dark in the rain with a baby. They’d apparently left St Arnaud at 5.30pm underestimating the time it would take them to reach Lakehead Hut. Last 2kms is tougher with dry rock river crossings, especially in the dark. Wow. Such confidence and strength in step, in balance…carrying a 9 month old baby. Thankfully, the baby slept well overnight!
Delightful young couple from Germany, travelling NZ for 7 weeks, walking as many trails as they can, with their baby. Amazing.
Lakehead to John Tait Hut
Cloudy. Beautiful tramp to John Tait Hut. Crossed two swing wire bridges.
From Lakeside Hut the terrain follows kms of wet, light brown grasses, that dampened feet and clothes, eventually leading with gentle incline to forest.
Loved the forest. Luminous shade of green leaf striking against the black bark of the beech trunks and continual trails of black tree roots. Multitudes of fern in size and shape, mosses; fur-like, shoulder rocks, or lace-like, skirt tree trunks. Blossom of lichen in shades of creams, rust and greens decorate rocks and tree trunks.
Periods of sunlight render the forest-bush ethereal and magical in Hobbit-like country and so too did patches of rain where dimming light changed the tone. The forest floor was damp underfoot from recent rain and we trod carefully over rock and root. Senses come alive in such landscape open to mood of terrain and inclement weather.
Birds; peewakawaka, Tui, maybe bellbird and small inquisitive grey birds with white breast (maybe bush robin) entertained in harmonic song and bush flitting antics. The river, constant in rush, sounding like heavy rain. And the smell…the smell of the bush from tramps in NZ years ago, the smell that is unique to mountainous NZ bush. The pungent, not unpleasant, sweet smell that I think emanates from the beech tree trunks. The bees and wasps love it. There is also the smell of forest decay, keener in the damp, the timeless ecological process of growth, death, renewal.
Met George from Queenstown enroute and later Gert from Germany, both NOBO TA walkers. Heavy rain greeted our arrival at John Tait Hut.
Joining us in the hut were Stuart, Karl and Richard from Brisbane walking the Travers Sabine Loop.They come every year to NZ to do a walk. Carrying heavy packs that included the comforts of home; wine for 5 days, port, proper food, blocks of cheeses and biscuits, small drip feed coffee percolator so that real coffee smells emanated. Oh how lovely, oh how we had coffee envy but, our pkt cappuccinos were good anyway. And our backpacks did not weigh 23kgs!
It’s amazing how food, most food tastes so much better after a day’s tramp and we have been enjoying the variety of freeze dried dinners to which hot water is added, steeped for 10 minutes then ready for serving. However, Stuart from Brisbane’s frying mushrooms and onion smelled rather awesome too! Such is life on the trail. Delayed gratification is a good thing. We will enjoy wine and maybe mushrooms too, in two days s time.
This story reminded us of walking the Heaphy Track, NZ in 1989, with Melanie & Nick aged 17 & 14. First night of the three day south bound tramp we set to, with fresh fillet steak, egg, tomato and mushrooms causing many groans from other trampers who were north bound, on their last night, tucking into their pkt rice risottos.
Sam from Redding England SOBO TA walker with the smelliest shoes was also in the hut…we offered him a freeze dried meal (2 person) to have tonight and tomorrow as he’s been existing on tuna and 2 minute noodles. He was very happy!
Fletcher from Nelson 18yo who loves getting out into the bush and tramping whenever work breaks allow, arrived later. Very self assured young man and already bush hardy and knowledgable.
John Tait Hut Day 2
The two younger men left going their separate paths around 8. The guys from Brisbane, ambled away, well kitted for a rainy days tramp around 10.30
We stayed the day. Resting John’s foot and also his back which is finding sleeping on Hut mattresses a challenge. Good decision; it rained steadily for most of the day.
We were dry, we were warm, as John built a fire in the pot belly. We were satisfied to be resting, reading, relaxing with sound of the constant rushing river, even more in a hurry with more rain to course and the rain itself tapping the roof.
During rain periods I returned to the little wooden bridge about 400metres away, passed the day before, through damp forest, delighting in the magic of this scene. The bridge today, over a stream now fuller and wider in little cascading falls.
Two little bush robins, one with white breast, the other with lemon, entertained. Flitting about sometimes very near to my feet and I managed to photograph them, or at least one. As I moved back from my squatting position, one robin pounced beak first to where I had been, upearthing a cricket like insect. Very quickly the robin grabbed the hapless insect and made off, too fast for the camera to record.
Two Aucklanders turned up late afternoon enroute to Upper Travers. Just when we thought we had the hut to ourselves for the night a young Czech called Vetek, arrived as darkness fell.
We have enjoyed the solitude in this little slice of wilderness and have been most fortunate to have this Hut mostly to ourselves. However, planning on heading back to Lakehead Hut tomorrow leaving early. We are praying for no rain but apparently that is the forecast for the following day. We prayed for safety in trekking in wetter conditions, for the rain to be be light and for John’s foot and back to cope with the journey.
John Tait Hut to Lakehead to St Arnaud and return to Nelson
Well, prayers were answered. Rain did not fall on our return from John Tait Hut and we enjoyed the 14.5km journey through forest and slip trails, grasses, over bridges, rocks and roots, in good heart. We had loved our venture into the lower mountain terrain of the Nelson Lake District on the Travers Sabine and now TA route.
On our venture to walk the length of New Zealand, on Te Araroa, the Long Pathway, one of the greatest pleasures has been meeting with New Zealanders who have delighted us often with acts of kindness. New Zealanders are generally down to earth, salt of the earth type people who often go out of their way to be hospitable. Meeting fellow trampers/walkers of all ages from around the world has also, always been a pleasure, despite the odd smelly shoes. They are good people with a shared delight of getting out into the wilderness, to appreciating the beauty and ruggedness of landscape with a sense of shared responsibility in doing the right thing for trails and huts.
Our TA South Island journey, for now, finished. 290km is a pretty good distance we felt , albeit less than we had hoped. Together with 1700km previously walked in the North Island, we were/are happy with this achievement.
And so, it was with light heart and sense of accomplishment, we returned to civilisation.
While enjoying rain and tranquility in New Zealand’s wilderness, terror reigned in Christchurch. We had been blissfully unknowing.
As a Kiwi-Australian my sense of being was profoundly questioned. How could an Australian unleash abhorrent atrocities in New Zealand? We are one! Sisters and brothers ‘across the ditch’ endeavouring to create communities of tolerance, of respect for difference in colour and creed.
This atrocious attack on NZ’s collective sense of security and seclusion; an attack meticulous in planning and execution, was an attack on humanity, carried out in in the name of white supremacy. In my whiteness I shake my head in shame. But I stand tall in solidarity against bigotry, hatred and extremist behaviour and action.
Christchurch, still recovering from the natural earthquakes eight years ago, is now facing another disaster; devastating in its emotional and physical repercussions. New Zealand, recovering from a number of natural disasters in recent years of flood, drought, fires and earthquakes, is now facing an altogether more terrible atrocity. I would like to quote a saying read in yesterday’s Nelson Mail newspaper. “Kia kaha – Be strong. Kia kaha, ko tou ano tatou – Be strong together.” Dame Whina Cooper.
Despite our collective difference in belief, culture and the colour of skin, the colour of the blood that courses our bodies, is red. To be strong together, the values of kindness, respect, compassion and love must be our means of bridging difference.
Today, 19 March 2019, we learned that our friend Jan Lowe died on 17 March after a brief fight with cancer. Her husband Steve studied with John in 1969. We have met and holidayed with Steve and Jan over the years both in NZ and in Perth, last seeing them both in Hamilton last year. We are devastated by Jan’s death and mourn for Steve and their family. How quickly life can change. How we must value each day and have gratitude for the blessings of each day.