East Ahuriri Track, Breast Hill Track and Gladstone Track: Thurs 17th Dec to Sun 20th Dec
Thurs 17th December, Walk East Ahuriri Track, 27km, 12hours
I had the most beautiful scenery to wake up to as I unzipped my tent and gazed over Lake Ohau and out to the mountains. Snow had fallen on the mountain tops over night.
We started off at 8am, uphill through bush on a lovely track. Above bush line, we could see snow covered mountains, tussock and the skinny trail weaving off into the distance. We headed up then came to yellow markers so we though we had missed the junction. We checked the GPS and it was off track so we back tracked then saw the correct marker. Following the trail was lots of guessing where the trail was going and making up the trail while trying to spot the next marker pole.
We crossed the saddle then down into a valley. There was lots of walking by a stream, with us crossings it regularly. There was also lots of swamping tussock and rugged, bumpy terrain filled with lots of holes. We had to concentrate on every step and were lifting our knees and working hard. It was mentally challenging having to concentrate so much.
After some scree scrambling we came to a good lunch spot. Two hours of more valley walking and we came to a derelict hut. It was a great opportunity for a cup of hot chocolate and more chocolate for an energy boost. I laid out my tent fly to dry and it did mostly. It was a cold day, barely warming up until 4pm when sun came out.
Next up, we walked along a ridge then onto an area like golf course mounds. We had birds screeching at us as we walk too close to their nests. We came to farmland where the sheep were baaing at us too. It then opened up to a long stretch of farmland straight down to river. It was really long. To the left of us was rows of Pine trees with hundreds of rabbits running in between.
At last, we came upon the Ahuriri river with impressive cliffs and water colour. This is the largest unbridged river on the Te Araroa Trail. If it is too unsafe to cross there is a bridge 5km downstream to use. If we couldn’t cross the river this would mean adding on another 10km of walking. It was not an appealing option to walk those extra kilometers but we were going to be sensible about our safety for the river crossing.
We sat, rested and ate, looking for the best place to cross the river. We had to break the crossing up into three steps. The first part was a normal crossing at mid shin, like what Royce and I had done many times before. I knew this part was the easy one. I was really worried about the last part as we couldn’t see how deep it was.
We then used the island of stones in the middle of the river to walk up stream. Next was walking up and around the rapids that were flowing diagonally across. It was knee deep mainly, but the bottom of my shorts got wet. The pressure from the water current was tiring to fight against. We took it carefully and it took us a while but we made it. I felt relief to be through the second part but now it was on to the last part that I was dreading.
We walked across expecting a deep part that never happened. We could see the bottom the whole way across and it was only around knee height at the deepest. I was ecstatic to be across. It was a real buzz not to have to walk a 10km detour…yay!!!!
After some celebrating, we saw the track was too steep up the river cliff scree slope so we went off course. Veering to the right we climbed diagonally and then rejoined the TA on the ridge.
We were feeling pretty tired by now after a long day and it was getting late in the evening. We had another long straight on a rabbit filled field. We crossed Birchwood Road and car park and then started the next track, Breast Hill Track.
We walked a couple of kilometers until we hit a stream. All we needed was water so this was our camping spot for the night. When you carry all your supplies on your back it is possible to set up camp just about any where. Freedom camping is fun and no one knows you have been there the next day as you leave no traces and take your rubbish with you. Tonight’s camp was a flat campsite unlike last night.
I set up my tent and washed in the stream quickly as the insects tried to get me. It was 8pm so I let off the SPOT signal to let my family know I was ok. We cooked our dinners, having a seafood curry soup and did everything quick as it was cooling down as the sun had disappeared. I got into bed as quickly as possible. It was a cold night and the wind pick up blowing the tent a bit.
Friday 18th December – Walk Birchwood carpark (couple of km from it) to Timaru Hut, 22.8km, 8 hours
I woke up with the birds and started packing up, eating breakfast while lingering reading track notes.
We headed off at 7.20am. A bit more farmland, crossed a creek (avoided beehives) to a 4WD track. The track undulated by a stream with cliffs that were great to look at. There were plenty of birds around, we patted a horse and saw cattle and sheep.
We came to hut that is not in use but had a rest there. From then on it was upwards to Martha Saddle, around three hours of climbing. It was a bulldoze track, so was wide but rocky. I didn’t have to think which was good with all the puffing I was doing. Just down from the top of the saddle my stomach was grumbling for food so sat and ate enjoying the view, waiting for Royce to catch up.
It was then up to Mount Martha Saddle at 1680m. I left footprints in the snow, had a spider charge me (lifted the rock it hid under) and wrote “Kylie was here” in the snow on the top. We stopped to take photos of the great view out to Mt Aspiring.
Descending was all on scree but bulldozer wide. We zig zagged down to walk along the valley floor. There was lots of sheep poo on the track and we soon caught up to the culprits. Finally, the hut toilet came into view and then 20 minutes later we were at Top Timaru Hut. Recently renovated so a nice hut to stay in.
I washed myself and my clothes in the stream. We snacked on soup and crackers and blue vein cheese. I had a lie down while Royce went geocaching. I felt really knackered.
I had a Backcountry meal for dinner. All night I expected it to get cold but I ended up taking off layers rather than putting on.
Saturday 19th December – Walk Timaru Hut to Stody’s Hut, 14.2km 6 1/2-8 hours
Royce and I, started off at 7.38am with 1 kilometer out in open then into the trees. This track was great in places but had lots of ups and downs. There were many river crossings which of course we are used to by now. We came across the perfect morning tea spot. An open grass area with camp fire and stone chairs with back rests set up.
Another two hours on, I stopped for lunch (again tummy grumbling) on a steep place on the track. Three runners went passed doing what we will do in two and a half days, they will do in one day. It was nice to actually see other people on the trail and chat to them.
The track got quite undulating and had some downward parts that I had to do the backwards spider technique. We also had some scree slopes to sidled where the track was only as wide as your foot and the drop to the river steep. We took our time and held onto anything that would keep us on the cliff and not tumbling down.
At 3.20pm we reached the Timaru River Junction where we turned off to Stody’s Hut. This was the steepest track ever. It involved 1 and a 1/2 hours of climbing and puffing. I hit my head into a tree across the track and shunted my neck. I had a cap on so the brim of it blocked my sight of it. Rrrrhhh. I’m glad I didn’t seriously hurt myself.
I left a chocolate and a positive note on the track, for Royce as she told me to go ahead. I positioned the chocolate so she would definitely see it and it was in the shade so wouldn’t be a melted mess when she got to it.
Sometimes, the steepness was unbelievable and I used some colourful language. It just kept on giving. I did take a few photos as the views were good and I tried to capture the steep tack and how high I was going. Photos never really do that justice though.
The track then sidled across on a skinny track and I eventually came to Stodys hut. There were three young people there already so I sat down, took off my shoes and chatted. Two of them were from the States studying in New Zealand and were told this was a nice area to tramp. The other person was a Polish girl who wants to do the TA next year so she asked me lots of questions. She said she was inspired more by talking to me. I must have pointed out all the positive parts.
I eventually got clean, made dinner, hydrated with lots of water and relaxed sitting in the sun. The hut was pretty full (sleeps 6) so Royce and I decided to walk on and freedom camp again. As soon as we started off again a bumble bee took a liking to me and buzzed around me for ages. I exhausted lots of energy trying to get away from it.
We walked upward for an hour extra to the top of the ridge at 1400m and got spectacular views on the way up. At the top I could see Mt Aspiring again and Lake Hawea.
We set up camp right on the track (tussock is not good for tenting on) and settled in for the night.
At 6.45am we started walking as we knew we had a big day to get through. First off it was a 4WD Track all the way up to Breast Hill (1578m). The view was stunning, with craggy rocks, mountains surrounding Lake Hawea and off in the distance Wanaka. It is always good when you can see where you will be at the end of the day or two days in this case. I like being able to look back like this as well and see where I was days prior. It gives a huge sense of achievement.
It was then a 1/2 hour walk on to Pakituhi Hut. It was built in 2011 so was pretty nice and would be good to stay at. After a break, we started the down hill that I knew wouldn’t be pleasant. It started knarly and stayed that way with slippery rock and steep slopes. This challenging section descends 950m down to the edge of Lake Hawea.
The sun was beating down on us while the wind whipped around chilling us. We were walking among lots of sheep poo and many prickly plants. I had to be careful where I stood and careful what I grabbed hold of. A fence lined the downhill and you could tell many people before us had gripped on to it to handle the steep gradient.
The last part of this track was a zig zag down that weaved across the mountain face through ferns. Finally, we were over all the down and had one kilometer along a gravel road to Gladstone Reserve. We posed for a photo as this is where Royce was finishing. She had been a fantastic tramping buddy for this section!
My day wasn’t over yet though. I did 6.8km on a shared cycle/walking track. I walked really fast to get it over with and to get out of the sun and wind. The wind was pushing me about and creating waves on the lake.
It was so good to finish and Royce bought me a cold drink that I really appreciated. Her son Fraser had picked her up and they kindly let me get supplies at the diary and then dropped me at the camping ground. This saved me walking an extra couple of kilometers.
I enjoyed a shower after six days of walking and put up my tent in some very strong winds. It was windy all night and I kept wondering if my tent would blow away with me in it.