Day 106. Peel Forest Campsite – Trailhead – Crooked Spur Hut. 9km. Total 2324km.
It’s good to sleep in for once after all the long hiking days. I feel like having all the time in the world but suddenly it’s 10.15am and I still need to pack up my stuff and walk back the few kilometers to the Peel Forest cafe. I almost run there (not appreciated by my knees and blisters) but then the postman / barman doesn’t turn up till 11.15am. However, we only pay 5$ each.
Having now accepted the late start, I relax and listen to the loud music playing, singing along. Feels almost like a road trip! Every now and then on the 56km up to the trail head we stop to deliver mail, parcels or milk and other supplies. Mike also shows us the highlights and provides information about the region. I could get used to being driven around instead of hiking! The remoter we get, the more impressive the landscape. It feels out of this world when he drops us off at the trail head. With the most unexpected toilet and information board and stunning 360 degree view. Wow. I am happy and look forward to entering the Two Thumb Range.
It’s already 1pm and 4h to the first hut. For now I still think that if I am fast I can even continue to the next one another 5h. Almost blown away by the wind, Tim and I enter the gorge. Or let’s say Tim is easily running away while I try to follow as best as I can. The beginning is easy, we follow some kind of old 4wd road in just the most beautiful landscape – which then ends at the Bushstream river. Which is running quite high and strong.
But we find a good spot to cross, all good. Then we continue as long as we can before having to cross again. Not good this time. Difficult to find a good spot to cross and we end up with a bit hairy crossing in the middle of the river but both make it alright. But now my fear is back. It doesn’t look as if the river is running lower the higher we get and I am scared how we can make it. We decide to try and stick to the true left side. The trail notes indicate that the most difficult part can be done without crossing the river, instead hiking over a bluff. This turns out quite alright, enough people went there to form a trail. It’s still some climbing involved especially to get back down where we end up climbing without backpacks, handing them down to each other (my climbing lessons back in Germany paid off!). I am just reliefed that I am not on my own as I fight my panic of more river crossings. And I am not the only one scared, Tim admits that it’s hard to enjoy the beauty around us under these circumstances. We decide to stay if possible on the true left until the trail heads anyway to the left to avoid a gorge. Seems others have had the same idea – although there is some difficult climbing, scree and narrow track involved. My heart is now also racing in between the climbs, scared to either drown in the river or fall off a cliff.
But we manage well together, getting finally to that left turn. Which means a very steep hike up and back down. We see how the river divides onto two upstream, so we know the last crossing will be easier.
And it is easy. Then a few hundred metres of altitude up the hill to the Crook Spur Hut. It’s close to 5pm and I am tired so I need to stay here. Tim feels the same. The hut is in a great location, with views down the gorge and Rangitata. The sun is shining and without wind it’s warm to sit outside till after 7pm.
I am reliefed that the river is done now (more crossings but only creeks). Later a Kiwi hunter comes up as well. He didn’t think it was any issue to cross the river and tells us that the river is not high, this is “normal”. Oh well, seems some Kiwis are either much stronger or more experienced… The Te Araroa has many surprises for sure!
Day 107. Crooked Spur Hut – Camp Stream hut. 30km. Total 2354km.
Last night I didn’t sleep much. The hunter cane back, in and out and then around 2am two others arrived. How and from where? Up Bushstream river at night??? I don’t know because they still slept when I took all my stuff at 5.30am to have my breakfast outside with view of the sunrise. At 6.10am I start into another long day (it’s really time for me to be reunited with Peggy to stop me doing crazy long days). As I hike up a few hundred metres of altitude to the first saddle today, I keep stopping and looking back at the sunrise, light and the mountains glowing. What a great start into the day!
Today I decided to not speed but walk at a comfortable pace, hence even the uphill section is not too bad. Just 3 1/2h later (instead of 5h) I arrive at Stone Hut where two more hunters are sitting outside, trying to spot the tars. Now it’s time for more river crossings, but it’s just a creek really, so all good although still very cold! I just continue all the way up the river for 90minutes until I reach Royal Hut (where apparently Prince Charles was as child hence the name).
Tim is still there having lunch, he arrived an hour before me! It’s not even noon when I am all set for continuing on this perfect day of blue sky and sunshine. Another 4km but also another 600m of altitude up to Stag Saddle, the highest point of the Te Araroa (if you don’t do any detours like me ;-)). It’s more challenging now for me, the sun is now burning and I am sweating and starting to be tired.
After more easy elevation gain at the creek, the trail becomes steeper and finally I can see the saddle. Yeay, I made it to Stag Saddle, the highest point of the Te Araroa. It’s also the midway point of the South Island and that means my journey on the TA is slowly coming to an end, which I have mixed feelings about. I am in the lucky position that I will then leave for new adventures in Patagonia and not straight back into a job and a regular life. But somehow this trail has become my life and even though I just went through the toughest days so far, I already think I will miss the TA once I reach Bluff. I have lived, breathed and embraced the trail for more than a hundred days now and have become so attached to it.
The view on Lake Tekapo is nice from the saddle. Time for pictures and a rest while checking in on family and friends as there is a signal. Now I am well enough rested to hike up further to the Beuzenberg Peak, another 100m on scree. What a surprise to not only see Tim up there but also Mark and Pall! And – one of the best views I had so far on the trail. A 360 degree view of mountains including snow covered Mount Cook and blue shimmering Lake Tekapo.
I take a long break, talking with the guys and admiring the view. But then it’s still 10km left, probably more as I am hiking down on the ridgeline instead of the trail, a possibility if the weather is good enough.
The beginning is great but then it feels endless. In the burning hot sun I just walk and walk, now out of water. It becomes unbearable so I stop to eat something. At 5.30pm I finally reach tiny Camp Stream hut. I immediately decide that I won’t be able to sleep in these bunk beds, it’s just too small. So I just sit outside in the shadow with Tim and another girl and have dinner. Then I walk down to the river and set up my tent. I am so tired and am quite happy about my own little tent site away from everyone else. I can sleep very early now! The last 10 days or so between nightmare and awesomeness with a lot of very long hiking days got me. I feel very tired and my body is aching everywhere. But I also know how fast I can recover, tomorrow I’ll hopefully be OK again and I look forward to relax and have a drink with Peggy and the guys in Lake Tekapo!