Day 56: Havelock to Middy Creek Hut (48km)
The hike out of Havelock followed a gravel road for some 10km and than switched on a track across some farms for another 7-8km until I finally reached the Pelorus Bridge and the nearby cafe.
After a short break at the cafe I followed another dirt road for 13km in the scorching heat of the late morning to the Pelorus River track. The Pelorus river is stunningly beautiful and clear and just after a few hundred meters on that trail I crossed a swing bridge and took a short side trail down to the river bed for a swim.
The water was nice and cold and perfect for such a hot day. Unfortunately sandflies are becoming an issue here and as soon as I got out of the water I was covered in a cloud of these nasty little buggers who try to eat you alive.
The trail wasn't too difficult and increasingly shaded and so I decided to pass the sandfly infested hut at Captains Creek and moved on to Middy Creek hut, where I met 6-7 other hikers and a few weka's trying to steal their food. With a total of 48km this had been my longest day so far, but I still felt good and had no problems with my feet or legs.
Day 57: Middy Creek Hut to Slaty Hut (30km)
From Middy Creek Hut I climbed to Rocks Hut, a 4.5km hike with 650m of elevation change and this was just the beginning of a really tough day.
Just after another 200m climb after Rocks Hut, the trail dropped from just above 1000m to 260m, stayed at that elevation for 2-3km and than went straight back up to Starveal and Slaty Hut at an elevation of 1399m. On my way down i stopped at Browning Hut to refill my water bottles and met a Kiwi hunter and chef, who gave me some Horopita, a local herb, to spice up my meals.
All day long the terrain had been really steep and difficult and upon reaching Starveal Hut I was utterly exhausted, but the amazing views of the surrounding mountains gave me new energy after a day that I had mostly spent in dense forest.
I really wanted to climb the rest of the mountain just in front of me and enjoy the views from the top in the early evening.
(Sometimes it feels more like climbing instead of hiking :-) )
I finished my day just after 7pm and camped right next to Slaty Hut. The standard 6 bunk hut was full and the others were quite surprised about my late arrival and the distance I covered that day.
Day 58: Slaty Hut to Mid Wairoa Hut (29km)
The Rintouls! One of the reasons why the upcoming stretch is considered one of the hardest on trail, is because of the two Rintoul summits. The next 25-30km again promised a lot of very steep climbs, including quite some rather sketchy rock climbing. I therefore started early and enjoyed an easy start in the beautiful morning light on my way to Old Man's Hut.
I was high above the clouds and loved every single step.
From Mt. Slaty I had a perfect view on the Richmond Mountain Range and the trail. Just after the junction to Old Man's Hut the first climb to Little Rintoul Summit started. It was just a mere 300m climb, but loose rocks and the exhaustion from the previous days made it quite a challenge.
(If you look closely, you can see the track leading up the mountain)
From its top I had a perfect view on Mt. Rintoul Summit, technically just 100m higher than Little Rintoul Summit, but in between was a saddle and so I first had to descent some 200m again. That descent was steep, slippery and somewhat sketchy. In fact it was so steep that I didn't take a single picture.
On the way down I passed a belgian guy whom I met in the Tararuas some 2 weeks earlier. He was going incredibly slow and seemed to be quite scared, as rocks and gravel was constantly sent into the abyss by our feet. At one point I almost got stuck and couldnt really believe of still being on trail, as I had to throw my trekking poles several meters down the mountain to free my hands for some real downhill climbing. At the lowest point of that saddle I got a glimpse of Jake and Olivia. They had left Wellington a full day prior to me.
I pushed on to the summit of Mt. Rintoul and got rewarded with some brilliant views of the surrounding landscape, the ocean, and of course Purple Top, the next summit I had to climb that day. Before starting to that last climb of the day I stopped at Rintoul Hut for lunch and had now caught up to Jake and Olivia.
(View from Mt. Rintoul on Purple Top, slightly left of the pictures centre, above the treeline)
The last climb was gentle and easy, but what followed was the descent to Mid Waiora Hut, almost 1500m lower. The first part was beautiful as we stayed above the treeline, but it than dropped into the forest again and finished with a super steep final section with a descent of 400m/km.
I was happy to reach Mid Waiora Hut and quickly went inside as the area was infested with wasps and sandflies. Upon opening the door I saw Alex and an Australien guy inside the Hut. Jake and Olivia arrived shortly after. The gang was reunited again...
Day 59: Mid Wairoa Hut to Porters Creek Hut (24km)
Day 59 started with yet another 1,300m climb. We all started early that day to avoid at least some of the heat and enjoyed a initially nice climb and several crossings of the Waiors river.
All crossings were safe and easy and the trail beautiful and interesting as we sometimes had to scramble along the river bed.
I made it to Upper Waiora Hut by 9:30 or 10am and was stunned by a suddenly completely transformed landscape. The last 2 hours I had spent along a river in a dense rainforest with several waterfalls and over sudden, the scenery opened up and was defined by a dry and desert rock formations which reminded me of southern California.
We were once again above the treeline and now completely exposed to the relentless sun. Unfortunately my hiking shirts right arm is falling apart and so I got quite burned here. At 1pm we reached Mt. Ellis Summit and hiked down into the valley towards Hunters Hut.
Yet again, the downhill section was much more demanding and steep. I had to stay very concentrated to not slip or fall on quite some unstable ground. Rocks were falling down left and right as I was making my way to the river and the next water source. For the rest of the day the trail remained rocky and dry, even though there was plenty of water from the nearby stream, which I used several times to cool off.
For the night I stopped at Porters Creek Hut which was lovely as it had no sandflies at all. I had yet finished another day with 1900m up and 1800m down.
Day 60: Porters Creek Hut to St. Arnaud (31km)
Town day ahead! All of us got up at 5:30 and started hiking soon after. From Porters Creek Hut to St. Arnaud it was "just" 30km and all of us wanted to get to town rather early.
With a total ascent of 1300m and a total descent of 1500m, this day should be easier than the ones before. I hiked fast on a rather cloudy and foggy day, arrived at Red Hills Hut by 9:15am and was really tempted by the local sign.
The sign proposes a shortcut to the main road into St. Arnaud, instead of following the Te Araroa Trail for another 12.5km we could have taken the bike route of just 5-6km. I decided to stay true to the Te Araroa and pushed on hard. Instead of the suggested 4-5 hours for those 12.5km I needed just 2 hours and 36mins. From here on it was another 8km along the road into St. Arnaud where I arrived around noon.
Of all these kilometers throughout the last few days, these kilometers on the road were the hardest for me. I really don't mind challenging up's and down's on difficult and steep terrain, but these hikes on rock solid tarmack which provides no cushioning whatsoever, just wears me down. Once in St. Arnaud I stumbled over quite a lot of other hikers, charged my devices, had some town food and stayed at the local DoC campsite. Alex, Jack, Olivia and I than had some pizza at the Alpine Lodge. All 3 hiked another 10km along the lake, to avoid the 18 NZD campsite in town, while I stayed at Alpine Lodge for a few beers with other hikers. Most of them were only covering 10-20km per day, so it turned out quickly that I would probably never see them again.
That last section was intense, but most rewarding. It felt great to have long and challenging days and I'm getting close to the fitness level i need for my next adventure. I'd come back any day to do this section all over again.
Elevation profile from Havelock to St. Arnaud.