Hiking Te Araroa has been perhaps the greatest experience of my life. And I only did a quarter of the full trail... There's something so pure about getting away from a permanent home, away from phone service and away from busy towns and cities. A quiet everyday life with one job - to walk. I won't claim for a moment that it was a big, fun party of a holiday. Sometimes it sucked. Perpetually wet feet, never-ending descents down almost vertical mountains and sketchy river crossings. Still, the positives massively outweighed the less great bits!
The standout section was the Richmond Ranges. 150 kilometres of backcountry hiking with over 7000 metres of vertical ascent. Steep climbs on rough forest ground with even steeper descents with no grip underfoot. Exposed mountain crossings, howling wind and little protection from the rain. More than 20 waist-high river crossings and slippy narrow trails which sat perilously on top of ten metre clifftops. There's no shortage of ways to describe the Richmond Ranges as gnarly or sketchy. Even so, it's an amazing section of Te Araroa. I found myself at home in the Richmonds. Challenged completely by the brutal climbs and rewarded handsomely by the infrequent but stubbing views. I enjoyed racing over this tough-terrained masterpiece of a landscape. Losing myself in the fun of it all. Time has dulled the frustration and anger of the Richmonds, but I still remember. It was genuinely amazing, but I certainly didn't rule the Richmonds. The Richmonds left me kneeling down on the damp forest floor begging for the end of the hill many times. I must have fallen over 100 times and at least once where it was lucky to not be more serious. The Richmonds - forever somewhere I'll love, but I'd be hesitant to go back.
The most beautiful place was Blue Lake, Nelson Lakes. The lake itself is incredible, but the whole stretch of Te Araroa from West Sabine hut to Waiau hut is really quite something. Anyone who hikes the Nelson Lakes but passed by the detour to Blue Lake has missed out - fortunately I don't know anyone silly enough to do that... Blue Lake is, as far as we know, the clearest freshwater lake in the world. It is as clear as distilled water, with a visibility of up to 80 metres. From above the lake's name becomes clear (pardon the pun) as the high visibility of the water allows us to see the natural blue colour of water. Further from Blue Lake is the beautiful Lake Constance, followed by the best mountain pass I've ever crossed - the Waiau Pass. Imagine a trail which climbs 500 metres in approximately 1 kilometer. That's as steep as climbing the great pyramid in Egypt at its steepest point, more than four times steeper than any of the trails up Mount Snowdon and (for my New Zealand fans) more than 2.5 times as steep as the Tiki trail. A trail with loose rock, scree, underfoot. You take a step up and slip back down most of the way. The view and feeling of success from the top was exceptionally rewarding.
The lowest moment was at Hope Halfway hut. Halfway between the road and one of the nicest huts on Te Araroa, Hope Halfway hut is a bit of a sorry sight. My experience here was compounded by a few unfortunate problems. These were, but are not limited to; rain, a damaged sleeping mat, no pizza, more sandflies than atoms in the universe and a less than normal positive mentality. Ultimately, I decided to backtrack and leave the trail that night. I'm quite sure I made the right decision, to leave the trail, but it's a shame to have a hole in my Te Araroa completion. Let me explain the problems in more detail. Rain is usually fine, but not when it's heavy and there's a big river crossing coming up. Mountain rivers and rain equals waiting out the weather (or, alternatively, death). On a deadline to be back at work, I decided to avoid the delay and skip around the swollen river - although in hindsight I think it might have been quicker to just wait out the short-lived bad weather. Upon unpacking my camping gear I noticed some mould or mildew on my sleeping mat. Some moisture had entered the mat and I had then not used it for a week. Ergo, mould in the mat. Not the death of a sleeping mat but certainly makes it pretty unsightly. No pizza? That's right, I had no pizza! I was promised a pizza! Still, thanks Boyle Outdoor Centre because you go above and beyond for Te Araroa hikers. Would've loved a pizza though. Imagine so many sandflies that day turned into night. So many that there is a diamond sharp shadow on the ground. I don't need to imagine that, I've been to Hope Halfway hut. All of this, plus a negative mentality, meant that I detoured off the trail. I don't really know why I wasn't so positive at this time, but I felt that heading south go find a thicker flow of hikers to meet would help me. I was right.
I could talk for hours on this adventure. 100 stores for each day. I learned a lot about myself, I thought a lot about what I wanted to achieve in the next year, and the next 10 years. I think I am happier and an improved person as a result of it all. I recommend it to all and I hope, and plan, to spend more time on the trail before Ieave New Zealand. Thank you to everyone I met on the trail, everyone who picked up this smelly hiker on the roadside and all of my friends for pretending to care. If you have read this far, thank you and I hope you enjoyed it.