I can confirm that:
Deep Heat does not deter sandflies; mice seem to have the magic skills of getting into a closed backpack to eat my peanuts; I have a selective memory of how hard the uphills are in the Richmond Ranges; five days warm up walking the Queen Charlotte Track is not sufficient for taking on “proper” mountains; a trail outlined on a topo map does not mean it is a trail that has been used recently; I love ridgeline tracks.
I know I already walked the Richmond Ranges last season – the most demanding section of the Te Araroa trail in New Zealand due to its 8-10 days between civilisation points and ridiculously high mountains and exceptionally steep and exposed descents – so technically I didn’t really need to walk it again.
But the first four days from Pelorus Bridge were so lovely last year that I really wanted to experience it all over again.
My plan was to drop down from Old Man hut and make my way into St Arnaud via an alternative route, thereby avoiding all the horrible descents that contributed to my injured knee last year.
I do, however, seem to have a very selective memory.
I honestly don’t remember the ascents in this section to be so lung-hurting and heart attack-inducing.
Four hours steeply uphill, over tree roots, essentially 1,000m in elevation gained, and I was seriously wondering what planet I’d been on last year to actually think this was somewhat enjoyable.
Indeed, a Dutch gentleman said as much. “Why would you want to do that climb again?”
It was a fair point. And saying I had forgotten how hard it was seemed a ridiculous answer because how does one forget that?
Furthermore, did I really have to endure the thousands of miniature blood sucking vampires otherwise known as sandflies?
My feet and legs soon came to look like I was suffering from a nasty case of measles or chickenpox.
But enter the next day.
The ridgeline walk.
This was what I’d come to experience again and why all those back breaking uphills and pesky sandflies were worth it.
And I was not disappointed.
The day dawned clear, the sky so blue.
I began to walk.
And soon the mountain tops came, jagged peak after jagged peak, mountain range after mountain range, stretching off into the distance, all 360 degrees.
Below the tops, fluffy cloud floated. A cloud inversion. Seriously cool.
There is nothing quite like standing on top of a mountain. Just you on top of the world, the wind in your hair, the sun on your face; all that space, all that freedom.
That’s how you feel alive. That’s how you feel connected with nature and the greater power of the universe.
That’s how you become one; whole.
That night I slept in a hut by myself, watching the stars twinkling in the night sky through the fogged up window beside my bunk bed.
After being in a six bunk hut with nine people the night before, the quiet and solitude was bliss.
The next day, while all the other walkers took on Mt Rintoul and it’s harrowing descents, I instead walked down on my alternative route closer to the river valley.
Down through more beech forest and over tree roots.
The sign said four hours. It took me five.
My knees unfortunately started to hurt. I was forced to strap them.
I pleaded with the walking gods to let this be just a little bit of enthusiastic over-exertion and nothing more serious.
At my end point for the day, I eyed the cool green waters of the river.
It was hot, I’d been going six days without a proper wash. There was no one around. Perhaps a little dip wouldn’t be a bad idea.
I stripped off to my birthday suit and let the cold water lick the sweat from my body.
Blimey it was cold.
The wash ended up being very quick.
Which was a good thing – barely 30 seconds after putting my clothes back on, two hunters turned up. Their gun was serious.
The next day, I was going totally off-piste.
First a river crossing – totally harmless, although the calm waters did soak the bottom of my shorts.
And then a trail which joined a forestry track.
Only the trail wasn’t exactly a trail. More a young forest of shrubby trees with lots of branches and spikey bits all growing wild in no discernible order.
Sure there was a line marked on the topo map designating a trail and if I squinted hard enough I could pretend that perhaps that was a track amongst the leaf litter and dead wood strewn about during a flood.
It just happened to be a very overgrown trail – a very very overgrown trail.
I’m pretty sure no one had walked along here in at least the last five years.
I was so intrepid, I smirked as I bashed my way through.
After an hour of bush whacking, and only about a kilometre gained, I found the forestry road.
From there the going was easy and the navigation straightforward.
I walked into St Arnaud a day later after a 26km roadwalk, a nice blister growing on the ball of my foot as a thank-you-please-come-again gift.
My knees were ok but my body was tired.
Food and rest needed.
I’d need it for the next section, the Nelson Lakes. It was here I had to turn back last year when my knee grew too painful forcing me to end my #WalkNZ adventure.
This time I plan to make it over Waiau Pass and reach the official 2,000km mark on the Te Araroa trail.
Then I’d be back where I left off.
Just 1,000km left to walk.
Thank you to Nelson Forests for the permit allowing me to walk through your forestry land.