Tom’s back on trail as we climb through beautiful country to Stag Saddle, the highest point on the Te Araroa.
The trail hits a high point as Tom returns!
DAY 73 – Rangitata River to Royal Hut
Tom, John, and I left our rooms at the backpacker accommodation in Geraldine and grabbed some pancakes for breakfast. Then Tom drove us to the other side of the mighty Rangitata River to where the TA began again.
The drive was beautiful with snowy mountains on the horizon. The sun was out and it was going to be a good day.
Tom had decided to hike this section of trail with me. We were heading toward Stag Saddle, the highest point on the Te Araroa.
It was a late start sometime after 10am as the three of us set off. I had misjudged how much food I needed back in Christchurch a few days ago and so my pack was stuffed with food. I don’t think it’s ever been as heavy as this before! I had to leave some food in Tom’s car!
The trail started off following the Bush Stream. It was definitely more of a river with a wide bed of stones and a swift current. We crossed many times and the stony terrain was tedious. My heavy pack was not helping. Tom scoffed at having to get his feet wet; he’d become soft from his days off trail.
Up the stream we went. John had gone on ahead and we never saw him again. At one point we thought we had to climb up a steep slope. Tom and I climbed this steep outcropping only to go down the other side, quite dangerously. We were slipping and sliding down the rocky slope. Near the bottom, the rocks I was standing on started falling away beneath my feet. I was about to go down with the rock slide when Tom pulled me back by my pack and out of danger. What a hero. And what a waste of time this misadventure had been when we realized we should have simply followed the river.
Eventually the trail left the river for certain this time, only a rock slip had obliterated the trail. We spent some time trying to find the trail, picking through prickly bushes to no avail. I found a strong vine and scaled up the rock slip, wondering how injured I’d be if the vine broke and I fellow ten or more feet to the ground. Tom picked a different route and eventually we found the correct trail and were back on track.
The trail climbed steeply up a bluff. It was exhausting with my pack weight and the hot sun but the views were stunning.
The mountains around us were magnificent and the river below was glistening in the sun. The trail climbed ever higher.
Slowly but surely we climbed up into tussock fields. There was a hut where we took a long lunch break. The sun was hot and I needed to eat some of my pack’s weight! I had some cheese and tomato paste wraps and some chocolate.
Tom and I set off once more to tackle a saddle. The guide did not give it a name but the elevation was 1,500m (4,921ft). We were in high country and it was a steady climb through the bush.
As we crested the saddle, the mountains opened up into another valley. This was the land that was once owned by Samuel Butler and inspired his writing, “Erehwon.” I never read it but Tom knew of it.
We descended a large scree slope and enjoyed the views. The landscape was quite desolate.
The terrain became easy enough but there were hidden marshes and spiky plants here and there. The hills rolled as we headed toward another stream.
Eventually we reached another hut where we debated stopping for the day. It was almost 6pm but we hadn’t gone very far, only 18km. The late start and tedious stream earlier had slowed us. We decided to push on as the next hut wasn’t far.
The terrain was easier now as we followed a smaller stream and stayed mostly high above its bank. The heat of the day had passed and I was acclimating to my pack weight.
After a nice hike we reached Royal Hut. Apparently Prince Charles and Princess Anne had visited and so it was named after them. Preferring to avoid the close quarters of other smelly hikers, Tom and I opted to pitch our tents outside the hut.
It was a beautiful spot near the stream with mountains all around. I made a dehydrated dinner of lamb and vegetables and then ate an entire bag of potato chips and some KitKats and peanut butter. All in all it was a good day with views but tiring with my heavy pack. Tom said it was his favorite day on the trail. I did enjoy having his company on the trail once again.
Day’s Distance: 25km (15.5mi)
Total Distance: 2,340km (1,454.3mi)
Distance Remaining: 660km (410.2mi)
DAY 74 – Royal Hut to Tekapo
Tom and I set off toward Stag Saddle. The morning was brisk and our tents were soaked. But the sky was clear and we’d have good views at the top.
First things first, we crossed the stream and got our feet soaking wet. Then we followed the stream for a while which was annoying to me. I think following a stream/watercourse is a lazy way of making a trail. They could’ve put us up on the ridge alongside the stream and our feet would stay dry and the terrain nice and even.
We climbed gradually up through the tussock along the stream. Soon we were high up in the hills. It was a really beautiful morning.
It was a relentless climb as we scaled higher and higher. Tom led the way with his light pack as we reached the saddle.
Once on top of the saddle we were treated with a magnificent view of Lake Tekapo with its turquoise waters. We did it! We were at the highest point on the Te Araroa at 1,925m (6,315ft).
The views all around were incredible. We sat there for quite a while enjoying it all. But all good things must come to an end. Tom wanted to keep going with me to Tekapo but had to return to the rental car. And so we said goodbye and he headed back to the Rangitata River.
I had a choice now of following a stream down from the saddle or taking an unmarked ridge. I chose the latter as I am so sick of following watercourses.
It was an easy traverse to the ridge and soon I was cruising along the top. I don’t think I’ve had a better view on the trail.
Lake Tekapo stretched before me and to my right were the Southern Alps with Mt. Cook peeking out.
This was one of my favorite parts of the trail. The ridge walk was so much fun and just stunning.
I passed some other hikers and kept on going. It was so easy and the panoramic views were out of this world.
Eventually the ridge dropped down and I rejoined the stream route. I carried on to the next hut which was built in the 1890s! It’s amazing that it’s still standing. I had some wraps for lunch.
The next section consisted of following the stream a bit before climbing up to a plateau. The trail kept parallel to the lake as I walked along flat grasslands. It was hot now and starting to get boring.
The sun beat down on me as I eventually made it to the road. I had a 13km road walk into town which I wasn’t looking forward to. I followed the road as it took me around the lake.
I had a break to dry my tent out and rest. My feet were starting to hurt from the road walking, the long distance, and my damp socks. I’d thought my foot pain was behind me. I was nervous since the next section of trail consisted of a lot of road walking. This could spell trouble.
The road was endless as I slowly curved around the lake. By the time I reached the walking path around the lakeshore into town, my feet were throbbing.
The town of Tekapo is quite touristy but small. The beautiful lake is the focal point. I walked the shoreline into town where tourists were milling about, admiring the lake and the mountains. Along the way I passed the Church of the Good Shepherd. It was a beautiful stone church with the best view of all.
I hopped in a gas station to buy a sandwich before walking into the residential area. A trail angel was offering me a place to stay.
My trail angel, Rui, was from Mexico and was planning on hiking the South Island section of the TA in two weeks. He was letting hikers stay in his yard so he could get tips on the trail. Rui and his roommates were fun to talk with and there were three other hikers as well. We had a great time talking over dinner and it made for nice ending to the day.
Overall the day was packed. I reached the high point with Tom before hiking the most epic ridge. Then I was bored silly and my feet were in pain before I had dinner with some cool new people.
Day’s Distance: 49km (30.5mi)
Total Distance: 2,389km (1,484.8mi)
Distance Remaining: 611km (379.7mi)
The Royal Hut had me singing of New Zealand’s own “Royals” singer, Lorde.
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