Sometimes the Te Araroa throws everything at you.
Hot, cold, sun, rain, uphill, downhill, stunning views, monotonous boredom, walking like a machine, hobbling and in pain. Wet underpants.
That was this section.
Seven days. Demanding. Challenging.
Totally worth it.
But it didn’t start well.
A 29km walk along a flat cycle way.
Sounds easy, right, compared to all those mountain ascents.
But add in blistering temperatures, constant sunshine, no trees for cover, dehydration and an unforgiving track of hard gravel and you have a recipe for hobbling, pain and a general disdain for life and all things walking.
Even a picturesque campsite complete with lake and flushing toilets wasn’t quite enough to bring youthful life back to my legs and soul.
With my legs still smarting the next day, it was a struggle pushing to the section’s first saddle at 1,430m above sea level.
And then getting down again.
On top of that was the rush to get to the Ahuriri River and cross it before day’s end.
The Ahuriri River is the largest unbridged river on the trail in the South Island. Comments on the trail notes suggested the water could get up to boob height during the crossing.
The weather was set to turn with heavy rain forecast the next day. We had to cross today.
In my attempt to stay dry as long as possible, I made the amateur mistake of crossing a smaller river over slippery rocks.
The result was sitting in water up to my waist, my pack half submerged while my trekking poles floated off downstream.
Thankfully they got stuck on a protruding rock.
It took several hours to dry out – merino underpants are perhaps not as fast drying as the advertising would have you believe.
We finally reached the Ahuriri River around 7:30pm.
It looked cold. It was hard to tell how deep it was.
In we waded, trekking poles used as feelers for depth and dodgy rocks.
We crossed at the rapids where it was shallower, yet the water still rushed above our knees.
We made it to safety without incident, my underpants remaining dry.
We woke the next day to the gentle patter of rain on the tent.
It proceeded to get heavier as the day went on.
For two days in a row I had the joy of walking in wet underpants.
It was so miserable that after barely four hours we decided to call it quits for the day and seek shelter from the elements in a hut.
As luck would have it, after changing into dry underpants and clothes, the sky cleared and the sun came out.
But the warmth wasn’t here to stay.
The next morning we were greeted with an icy wind that zapped the warmth from my fingers.
It was March 4th. Was this the first sign that the seasons were changing and winter was on its way?
I didn’t warm up till after lunch and we were in the shelter of beech forest.
We wild camped next to a waterfall in near freezing temperatures, me spending the night curled in the foetal position with my head inside my sleeping bag.
The cold night brought a sudden burst of renewed energy to my tired body, which was fortunate considering the incredibly steep hill we had to climb.
Two hours to climb (sometimes scramble using our hands) a dodgy near vertical one and a half kilometres of ascent.
I can attest that it was a very good way to warm up.
There was more ascent to come, although this was a much more gradual and enjoyable incline along a four-wheel drive track.
It took us to the comically named Breast Hill (Little Breast Hill was somewhere yonder – we joked how they got their names).
Hill really was a misnomer.
At 1569m above sea level, Breast Hill is more mountain than hill, rising high above Lake Hawea, which glittered gold in the early evening sun.
Giant mountains surrounded the lake, with Mt Aspiring’s pyramidic peak towering above them all.
The descent was steep on wobbly legs, signs of being overexerted on previous days.
Onwards to Wanaka we went, where a comfy bed, hot showers and endless food options beckoned.
It was a long slow trudge along a cycle way.
I found it interesting that it was often the flat easy trails that were the hardest. Monotonous stretches that played mind games with you, miles that never seemed to end.
Wanaka at last came into view as we hobbled the last few kilometres along the lake’s shore.
It was decided: two rest days were needed.
Food here we come.