Te Araroa part 6 – Twizel to Wanaka

This section covers the end of the Canterbury region and the start of the Otago region.

Day 41: Twizel to Ohau

30km, +150m -100m, 7 hours

We couldn’t get in to our lodge until 3pm and the frontal bands of cyclone Gita were set to bring rain all day, so it was a leisurely 7am wake up today. It was 15 degrees colder than yesterday.

I walked near Sofia and Pontus for most of the day but had one earbud of music playing, the first time I’d done so, but as I could charge everything again tonight, and we weren’t in the mountains, I indulged. It helped the walk be less of a slog, as it was a fairly flat 30km on a gravel road in the rain.

After starting on a track adjacent to the main road, we crossed the dam and then veered off to follow the river towards Lake Ohau. It was a gravel 4WD track the whole way but orange poles kept luring us off on side tracks only to loop back to the gravel, so after the 2nd time we ignored them and stayed on the road.

The rain and cold had nearly numbed my hands and I berated myself for not packing my gloves somewhere more accessible as I had to dig to the bottom of my clothes bag.

We caught up with Pete and Cass on a small climb and chatted for a bit but I kept up my pace to try and stay warm. The track led to the shores of Lake Ohau where I turned off to join the Alps2Ocean cycle trail which wound around the edge of the lake.

Changing direction meant the rain was driving into my face. My leg was hurting and I was hungry but I carried on until I reached a locked private hut.

The porch was deep enough to hold some respite from the rain, and I took off my soaked gloves and put on a jumper then quickly assembled lunch. The others arrived soon after, Sofia and Pontus only stopping for a snack not wanting to get colder.

From the hut it was 3km more on the cycle track and then 3km on the edge of the road up to the little Ohau alpine village to find our holiday house. The house was a lovely haven from the weather and I arrived to find Pontus had got the fire going.


Days 42 and 43: Ohau

Very lazy day curled up with a book next to the fire that we kept fed throughout the day. Pete and Cass hitched back to Twizel so I put in an order of more chocolate. It rained all day and we could see snow peeking out below the low cloud on the mountains. Concerned about the height of the rivers, and the snow, we decided to stay another day. I made a fourth cup of tea and sunk back into the sofa, very content.

The next morning the skies had cleared and it was a beautiful sunny day. There was a lot of snow on the mountains. I had another luxurious morning sipping coffee looking out over the lake. We got an almost instant hitch up to the Ohau Lodge with the assistant manager, and relaxed on sun loungers with hot chocolate, unsure if I could be more content.

After a lovely lunch we got lucky with a quick hitch back with a couple on the start of their world tour. Afternoon of reading and watching some of the winter Olympics, a hot soak in the bath, and booked a hostel for Queenstown.


Day 44: Ohau to Ahuriri river

27km, +1000m -700m, 9.5 hours

We were camping today so weren’t in a huge rush to leave in the morning, but needed to clean the house before we could go. Many hands make light work and we were off by 9am.

I bumped into Greg on the short road walk and he said we were the first English he’d met on the trail since the top of the North Island. Turning off onto the 4WD track we got waylaid by a Scotsman who moved to the lake 20 years ago and we chatted about the TA and his walking exploits. He stressed that the rivers here were definitely drinkable. I’ve found locals can sometimes be offended if I say I filter the river water, so I kept quiet.

The track climbed gently and we rejoined the Alps2Ocean gravel path, meandering along a grassy terrace with great views over the lake. We soon turned off and started climbing through beech forest, which was a pleasant change from the last week of tussock. With all the rain and snow melt after the cyclone small streams were flowing everywhere across the path but it was still a nice trail.

The forest gave way to an open tussock valley as I continued climbing, getting ever closer to the peaks heavy with snow. Pete and Cass had headed off yesterday and hadn’t returned, so the snow must be manageable. Sparkling waterfalls tumbled down the mountainside and I took a last look back down the valley to the lake before turning a corner.

The climb got steeper but then eased towards the pass, flattening out and becoming boggy. The patches of snow grew larger until there was a complete covering with just tufts of tussock poking through. It was beautiful but my feet were wet and cold. The snow hid any path but a few people had walked through ahead of us so I followed their footsteps, only falling into the hidden bogs a few times.

It didn’t take much descending until I was back below the snow line and some feeling returned to my feet. I stopped for lunch with Ali and Liv, gazing back up at the snowy peaks.

The rest of the day was a long walk out of the valley. The path crossed the river a few times which was ice cold and clearly higher than normal, but not too much trouble, but it made us not very optimistic about the state of the Ahuriri river further down. In normal flows it’s the largest unbridged river crossing on the TA and though we knew it was coming down, it was still definitely above normal flows.

The walking got easier as the valley opened up, with a few undulating bluffs to tackle, but then we were down to the flat land. Orange markings were sparse for the whole afternoon but most of the time there was a clear path. Although at one point we came to a field of swamp with an orange pole far across the other side, where it was a case of jumping between firmer-looking patches of tussock. A bit later on when I thought the ground had solidified I fell into a bog up to my knee.

Past a lush grassy area the path ran in a straight line next to a pine plantation across a massive open flat, a super colony of rabbits seemingly the only occupants. A girl came out of the pines and climbed over the fence – she’d opted for the 10km detour around the river to a bridge, but had met a couple that had forded it in the morning.

I carried on and caught up with the girls, and took a rather grim look at the river whilst we waited for Pontus and Sofia. It was running fast and wasn’t crystal clear so we couldn’t see the bottom like we were used to with New Zealand rivers. When they came we looked further downstream where there was an island in the middle, which looked the most promising.

Pontus volunteered as our sacrificial male (always useful to have) to test it out, so leaving his bag at the edge he steadily waded in. It was a tense wait but he made it across both stretches. Relieved that I didn’t have to do 10km extra, we decided to camp this side of the river and cross it together in the morning when hopefully it would go down further.

There was a small grassy terrace overlooking the river which made a lovely camp spot, and it was a calm clear night – fantastic stars once again.


Day 45: Ahuriri River to Top Timaru Hut

25km, +1100m -800m, 8 hours

The days are definitely getting shorter – at the beginning it’d be getting light at 6am but it was now pretty dark still by 7am. It was late February and I was a lot further south. It was also a lot colder, and I got numb hands packing away my tent wet with condensation.

We went back to the crossing spot and had another look. Liv was less confident about river crossings and was more apprehensive, so team long legs (Pontus, Sofia and myself) went across first to feel it out and so she could watch us do it. Most of the way wasn’t too bad but there was a small channel near the other side where it got deeper and stronger. My heart pounded as visions of being swept away flashed in my mind, but the rocks on the bottom weren’t slippery and were quite small so balance was easier than some previous crossings. Once the three of us made it to the island we all agreed that the girls shouldn’t try it. Being that much shorter and lighter than us the water would be up to their waists, and freezing with fear in that middle current would not go well. We felt a bit guilty for sending them on a 10km detour, but better safe than sorry. We couldn’t hear each other over the river but signalled to the girls not to come.

The second half of the crossing was easier, and we climbed up out of the gully to try and warm up before sorting out shoes. There was an orange pole at the top of the cliff but we took the perfectly decent path out 200m along the river bank. Sofia and Pontus changed their sandals to boots and I emptied a gravel pit from my shoes.

The trail led along the cliff top then crossed a gravel road heading through a lush orchard land next to a river. I crossed it a few times and then climbed up to a dusty 4WD track. Greg overtook me which confused me until he explained he took the river detour, not wanting to cross it by himself, and had camped downstream last night.

The track undulated through the valley, the decent path should have made quick walking but my right leg was starting to hurt quite a lot again with every step. I took a break in the shade and met Chris, Swiss, as he came past. I plodded on another 2km to a private hut which had been opened to the public, and stopped to filter more water from the stream and try and stretch my leg out.

From here the real climbing began – today being a mirror of yesterday, this time having a long lead into the climb rather than a long lead out. It was still on a 4WD track, sometimes gravel sometimes grassy as it curved up round the edges of the mountains. I passed Laura and Charlotte having a break, Charlotte deciding to go back down out the valley as she wasn’t feeling good. I contemplated my leg and carried steadily on.

I’d picked an elevation to stop for lunch but when opening my water bottle whilst walking I dropped the lid and it rolled down the slope off the path a little. Well I wasn’t going to take off my bag, put it on again only to stop just round the corner, so my lunch spot was decided for me.

As I carried on post feed my leg didn’t hurt anymore. I’m claiming miracle properties of nutella. The track climbed steeply a bit further then eased as I reached the snow line. The sun was so bright on the snow I had to get my sunglasses out. It was all gravel to the top so the snow was easier than yesterday, and had melted back from the edge of the path slightly. I wrote a message for Ali and Liv in the snow drifts.

The views from the saddle were beautiful but I got buffeted by strong gusts of wind after taking a few photos so I didn’t stay long. The track notes called this a bulldoze track. Quite why a bulldozer was up a mountain I’m not sure, but it was a nice well graded track winding down the mountain.

The snow was deeper on this side of the pass, sometimes sinking up to my knees when I didn’t want to get too close to the edge. Someone had built a little snowman on the side of the path which made me smile.

After a long traverse and then a short steep descent the track changed from gravel to grassy and levelled out. I paused at the river to filter some more water and looked back up at the mountain, spying two small figures high up which looked like Sofia and Pontus.

The path continued as an undulating 4WD track down the valley, crossing a few scree fields. One stream heading to the main river was an opaque grey, and I could see a large landslip upstream which must have muddied the water. It didn’t seem deep but I nudged a rock into it to use as a stepping stone.

I reached Top Timaru Hut, a nice new build, to find Laura, Chris and Ben, and thankful that Greg and some others had carried on so I got a bed. The grey stream had clouded the main river which was our water source, but it cleared fine after filtering. Pontus and Sofia arrived an hour later, Pontus feeling a bit flu-like. I figured something must be wrong as normally they were way ahead.

Ben was telling us about the arduous 5km detour down to the bridge to get around the Ahuriri which took him 3 hours, and we began to wonder if the girls would make it to the hut tonight. They turned up not long after though, having found a better route than Ben, and held an impressive pace for the day. We explained our thoughts about the river and Liv appreciated us making the decision for them not to cross.

With a full hut the girls camped outside but the wind picked up in the evening and I half expected them to come and sleep on the floor during the night. The hut was noisy enough let alone a tent.


Day 46: Top Timaru Hut to Stodys Hut

14km, +850m – 600m, 6.5 hours

Reading the comments in the hut book from the NOBOs, and the course notes, it was with some apprehension that I started out in the morning with Ali and Liv. NOBOs had remarked that walking in the river was preferable at times to the ‘path’ in the forest, but as the river was high that wasn’t an option for us today. It looked less opaque than yesterday, and definitely lower, but was still a murky grey.

However, I thoroughly enjoyed the morning, in a good mood because my leg wasn’t hurting, and the ‘terrible’ trail turned out to be what we thought of as classic TA – narrow, sidling, steep ups and downs, sprawling with roots, and twisty rocks. Maybe this was the first time the NOBOs had come across this? It was a lot slower going than the 4WD tracks of yesterday though.

There were also over a dozen crossings of the main river, and more of side streams, that required a bit of careful consideration given we couldn’t see the bottom. I would wait for Ali and Liv to catch up before each one so we could tackle them together – meaning I would go first, feeling the river with my poles, and then I’d either recommend they follow or try a different place if it had been a bit too strong or deep. Most of the time it only came to my knees.

It was slow going in the forest and the wind was getting up. I was just thinking that at least it wasn’t as bad as when we’d been near Boyle, when I heard the all-too-familiar screech and scratching of tree tops rubbing together, and a far away thud. I froze. Was that a rock fall rather than a tree? But that was hardly much better. The winds would calm and all would be still and then massive gusts would sweep through. Another crash somewhere nearby. I sped up, heart pounding. Fearing for my life on a near-daily basis was getting a bit tiring.

I reached the junction where we turned off from the river track to find Ben having a coffee. I needed to eat something to have energy for the big climb coming up so sat down for a quick lunch as the girls arrived, one eye on the trees. Understandably, Ali really wasn’t happy and wanted to get out of the forest as soon as possible.

It was a 500m climb in 2km. Some parts were almost vertical and it was a case of putting as much of your soles of your shoes against the ground as possible to get enough purchase and nearly running up before you fell down. Add in gale force gusts and it was all a bit dramatic.

The beech trees gave way to shorter scrub trees and then I was out above them. It was a short contour around the mountain on a narrow path but I paused whenever a gust came then almost ran until the next one came. It returned to the trees briefly before coming to Stodys Hut.

Almost everyone had planned to continue to the next hut along which was much nicer, and we almost did as the last forecast we had got leaving Ohau a few days ago said lots of rain coming tomorrow. However, I got a forecast on my garmin inreach (Ali reminded me this would probably be a good time to use it) which said tomorrow would be clear and the winds would die. The route to the next hut was along an exposed ridge and it was starting to rain as well. Decision made, we were staying.

Stodys Hut wasn’t exactly a palace, with its dirt floor and rat-pee smell, but it was shelter from the wind and rain.


Day 47: Stodys Hut to Wanaka

23km, +750m -1400m, 7 hours

We got up at 7, having survived the rat hut, being too cold and dark any earlier, and I started the climb by 8. It was chilly but the sun was out and I got warm climbing up the farm track, which was at a much more civilised gradient than yesterday’s climb.

Reaching the broad ridge track the views were amazing with the morning sun on the surrounding peaks. The trail undulated easily along, and I was very glad we hadn’t continued yesterday – it would have been a battle in the wind and we wouldn’t have had any views.

It was a steep climb up to Breast Hill where I found Ben having another coffee. The girls arrived soon after and we put on jumpers as we sat down to take in the stunning views. We were overlooking Lake Hawea and could see across to Wanaka, and to Mount Aspiring in the distance. It was odd to think that we wouldn’t be this high again on the rest of the TA.

It was a very long and steep descent down to the lake but it was a gorgeous ridge walk down, and we stopped for lunch half way at possibly the best lunch spot yet. A final long stretch of zig zags down (switchbacks do exist in New Zealand!) and I was out onto the gravel road for a short connection to the lake shore. My knees welcomed the end of the descent.

A lovely waking and cycling path ran along the lake front on top of small cliffs, and I got to appreciate the lake from new angles. Reaching the end of the path the other side of Hawea I went into the first cafe I came to and got a lemonade and a bowl of chips.

The weather had messed our schedule and accommodation plans – because everywhere was really full we’d booked a holiday home for a rest day for the 5 of us in Wanaka from Twizel, but because we took an extra day off for the cyclone (which was a good decision) and the booking couldn’t be moved, it meant we had to miss the section between Lake Hawea and Wanaka. It would have been possible if we’d made it to the second hut yesterday and had a long day today, but I would rather had had the amazing views we got on Breast Hill than just nice views along the flat river connection to Wanaka.

Today had been spectacular and I had no regrets getting an easy hitch with some hunters (“I’ll just put my gun in the back”) down to Wanaka. They dropped me outside an ice cream van, and who was I to argue with that.

Having not seen the girls for a few hours, and Sofia and Pontus all day, we all arrived at the house within minutes of each other. The house was amazing, I got a double bed and we squealed at the fluffy towels, not quite believing this worked out the same price as a hostel. Quite a contrast to last night’s rat hut.

First point of call was laundry, and once this had dried so we had clothes to wear, we went down to the lake front for beer and pizzas.


Day 48: Wanaka

I had breakfast and coffee in bed, followed by a second breakfast of chocolate and more coffee in bed, and couldn’t bring myself to leave it til mid morning.

The weather looked potentially dodgy for our next stretch so although it should only be 4 days to Queenstown, and 3 until we could get more food at Arrowtown, we were taking 6 days +spare food in case we had to wait it out in huts. Wanaka is a great little town, but is also home to New Zealand’s most expensive supermarket. My resupply cost almost double what it usually did, though I did add some different treats in.

The afternoon was filled with a trip to Cinema Paradiso, which is now my benchmark for a good cinema. The seats are really comfy sofas and they make an interval in the films where you can get freshly baked cookies. It was amazing.

Evening of reading up on the trail notes, sewing up more holes in my shoes, and more eating.

One thought on “Te Araroa part 6 – Twizel to Wanaka

  1. Some amazing views! Not sure how you sleep in a hut smelling of rat pee (I suppose weeks of hard walking helps). Have fun, take care…

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