Section 18 – Struan Flat Road to Riverton (4 days)

Dates: Monday 11th to Thursday 14th January

Woodlaw Track, Road Connector to Island Bush Track, Island Bush Track, Road Connecctor to Longwood Forest Track, Longwood Forest Track, Road Connector to Tihaka Beach Track and Tihaka Beach Track

Mon 11th Jan Walk Woodlaw Track, 28km, 10 hours 45

I didn’t sleep well and I was in a real bed with a pillow so felt frustrated my body hadn’t made the most of such luxury. Dot and I had to get up at 5am to get under way by 6am. I had avocado on toast followed by eggs on toast. Fuelling up for the day ahead.

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Dot and I said our goodbyes to Anete then Dave dropped us back to trail and we were on our way as it just started getting light. We came to an Eucalyptus plantation followed by Farm land where the trail was meant to deviate around in a “c shape” but went straight instead. It was enjoyable to feel like we were taking a short cut for a change.

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A steep hill rose in front of us, offering a good climb and views back to where we came from, prior to our rest day. I took a moment to sit and enjoy the view. Once we reached the top, it was along the ridge, where we bumped into a NOBO guy. He didn’t stop for long and we carried on with some easy walking along a gravel road.

The next part was down through a forest with good bird life. It is nice when you can hear lots of birds rather than a quiet forest where you know predators or poison have reduce the bird life. I couldn’t put my sun block on right today and every time Dot looked at me, she told me another spot where I hadn’t rubbed it in and had a big smear of it somewhere. Lucky, we weren’t seeing anyone who I needed to look decent for.

At the bottom of the forest we came out to country road where I managed to get us going the wrong way. We walked half a kilometer and then realised and had to come back. I felt horrible letting this happen as we have enough walking to do without adding any more distance.

A hard gravel road and walking in sun had us warming up and searching for shade. We eventually found shade on the side of the road to eat our lunches. I had a nice lunch today of an egg sandwich, banana, apricot and caramel slice. Very different to the crackers or wraps, I usually eat.

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After lunch, we did a track that was on a road called “Loop Road”. It felt like it too. We met a Texas couple, who had started a few days ago, looking very clean and new to the trail.

The down hill was through farmland and at the bottom, we met the farmer. He was the man I had rung yesterday, as the trail notes say to notify the farmer when you are going through. It was good to talk to him and thank him for letting us and all other TA walkers go through his property. He said he wasn’t sure why it was on the TA website to ring him as he doesn’t need notifying. After we talked to him, we took shelter from the sun in his bus shelter and ate a snack.

It was road walking for the rest of our day, starting with a tarseal section, on a moderately busy road for 3 kilometers. We met two walkers from Canada, just doing the South Island. We carried on, with more gravel road walking, getting more and more tired. It was feeling like a big day but it also felt like we had made heaps of progress today and completed a lot of trails.

A farmer was herding sheep on his quad bike and came over to talk to us. We talked about the trail and asked him where is a good place to camp nearby. He allowed us to use his paddock about one kilometer on, that was by a stream. It was a nice grassy area (once you cleared the thistles) and we could dry out things in the sun. My water bottle has a tiny leak and had wet the side of my bag. By walking to here, we had done 3km into tomorrow’s day to make it easier.

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We got busy with our evening rituals and set up camp, got washed and had our dinner. I also had a hot chocolate. We went to bed early but it was very hot in the tent with the sun not down yet. In the South Island summer, the sun doesn’t go down until 10pm at the Southern end and 10.30pm in Stewart Island.

Tuesday 12th January – Merivale Road to Martin’s Hut 12hrs, 26km

A very frustrating morning with sand flies. They were so bad, I was getting really annoyed! It is amazing how annoying they can be. You can put on lotion and it deters them for sure but it is impossible to cover yourself completely and they find those spots. One bit me on the side of my head. I’m not putting repellent on my face but man that was one cheeky sand fly!

Dot and I had packed up camp and just as we were about to leave, a father and son approached us and asked if we were hunting…not likely. I’m more likely to shoo Bambi off from the hunters than encourage hunting. They were checking we weren’t going to the same ridge as them.

We continued up Merivale Road with the knowledge that we had already covered some distance on the 11km road. There were Kereru in the trees beside the road and they managed to give me a fright when they suddenly took off above my head.

The road went on and on and seemed to never end. Many times walking is like that as to cover a kilometer takes so much longer than driving. It feels like progress is never made very fast and it can be disheartening to look at the GPS and see we haven’t moved very far at all. This time, I was resisting checking our progress so when I finally did, I was happy to see we had reached the end of the road and it was now extended further. We were actually quite a bit further than we thought.

We entered the forest and followed a bush track for two and a half hours to Bald Hill. The track was pretty good and well marked. We did have plenty of up and at the top it was bald. The last stretch through tussock lead to lots of telephone towers so we definitely had good reception. The views were good too and showed us the distance to Bluff.

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We stopped for a short break just down from the top to shelter out of the wind. There was a road of white gravel that travelled down Bald Hill for the next 5km. This stretch was torture on the legs, feet and eyes. The gradient was enough to have us breaking with our quads. The surface was compact and hard so the soles of our feet ached and the white glare of the stones had me squinting all the way down.

Near the end, we had a fence to go around and luckily a path had formed by other walkers but it still had a steep drop off so we took our time getting by. Not much later, we came to an area that is used for mountain biking that looked like lots of fun. It created a steep stony bank for us to go up which was hard work. It was definitely a case of two steps forward, one slide back.

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This next forested section was all uphill. We were frustrated to have already climbed this morning and then have a 5km downhill, only to need to go up that distance again. Gaining and losing elevation is a TA pass time. While grunting up the hill, we met our first North Bounder of the day. I stayed and chatted a while to give advice on the next sections for him. He had done the North Island already and was looking forward to the open spaces of the South.

Once we reached the top, we met our next North Bounder and he knew he was just behind the last one we bumped into. We took some rest time and laid out our tents to dry (dew had wet them this morning) and took our shoes off. I lay on my back and ate some food. It was a nice relief to just take some time to relax.

The majority of the rest of the day was spent on the ridge tops, crossing across the Longwood forest. There were some boggy parts but nothing major. After a while, we started getting great views and I took many photos. It is great to look to one coast and see huge cloud action and not having any rain on yourself. Then to look to the other coast and see where you still need to walk, that includes the finish line of Bluff. I had that “top of the world” feeling and enjoyed being up high, looking down on what was to come. I knew after this, walking to the end of the Te Araroa Trail was going to be downhill then a lot of flat to the end.

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Dot and I, were obviously getting tired as once we hit the downhill, we both looked out and could see a giant man and a pink tent. Both were rocks of course and as we got closer they lost their form but it gave us something to look at and focus on getting to.

This downhill was 2 kilometers long and with only half an hour to go, it started raining, coinciding with the muddiest part of the track. We slipped and slid our way down and got wet and muddy.

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It was around 6.30pm when we arrived at Martin’s Hut. We arrived at exactly the same time as two other woman going North. Already inside was a male also North Bound. We all dashed in and realised we had just entered a four person hut and we were now a group of five.

As I was already wet, I went on a mission to get water. The trail notes mentioned a track off to a stream and this was between the hut and toilet. Paula (one of the Northbound woman) and I searched around but found no track. We were sensible and returned to the hut empty handed. That is when I saw the rain collection barrel at the side of the hut. I took off the lid and we had water.

We got back into the hut and faced the five person and only four beds problem. I offered to put up my tent but Dot said that was crazy in this rainy weather and said we could top and tail on the bottom bunk. It seemed a small mattress to contemplate this idea but I went with this and got changed into my dry clothes.

I should explain about Martin’s Hut. This hut was build in 1905 and it showed with holes in the walls, the dirt floor and lack of bench space. With five of us, it was a tight squeeze especially as the rain was stopping us spread to the outdoors. We all got changed and hung up our wet gear as best we could and then shared the small bench to cook our dinners.

Once I had eaten, I did one last trip outside to use the toilet and brush my teeth. I then got into my sleeping bag as I was too tired to organise my gear as usual, or write my blog. I just wanted to be warm and snug in my bed. The top and tailing with Dot worked out fine. We had enough room and probably stayed warmer than the others. It rained all night, only stopping at four in the morning.

Wednesday 13th January – Walk to end of Longwood forest track 28km, 11 ½ hours

Dot and I got up quietly, as to not wake the other three and gathered our gear up and got started knowing we would stop for breakfast once the sun was completely up and we could get water from a stream half an hour down the track. We had our head torches on to start and the ground was very wet due to all the rain in the night.

The trail was very muddy to start, so we were sliding around a bit and adding to the layer of mud on our shoes already. After about twenty minutes of downhill muddy trail, I realised I had left my cap behind in the hut. I knew I had spread my gear around too much due to things needing to dry. Dot offered to wait while I ran back to get it but it just seemed too far and too much effort so I let it go. I also realised, we hadn’t written in the hut book our intentions. This is not good if we were to get lost, as that is the first place rescuers look to see where we are heading. It is also the last hut on the TA so I wanted to read everyone’s last comments. It was a disappointing realisation. It shows what being cold and tired in a dark, dingy hut will do.

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Once we reached the stream, we stopped for breakfast and heated up water for a coffee and porridge. I brushed my teeth and thought how when you move like this, with every thing on your back that you need, you can stop anywhere and cater for your needs. It is a nice, self-sufficient feeling.

We came out onto a short road section and came upon two large tents that must of contained two walkers each. It was still really early so we sneaked around. Dot’s pack got caught on a top rope and made a big noise as it pinged free. Hopefully, we didn’t wake them. They would have had a long, wet night in their tents.

We entered the Ports Water Race Track which is mostly a flat track but gives the sensation of going round in circles. When I had looked at the map prior, it was amazing to see a wiggly worm-like line we had to follow rather than the usual mostly straight line. It played with our bearings all day.

This track also had lots of trees down so we had to go up and over or crawl under. Sometimes there was a detour around but then we would have to search how to get back to the track. It was making the track more challenging and disorientating.

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Another feature was balance beams. By this, I mean to get over deep gullies or streams, some gaps had a trunk of a tree laid across to act as a bridge. This was fine if it was a flat, wide trunk. We weren’t always sure how rotten the wood may be too and how long, till the beam gave way. A couple of these beams where really challenging due to the angle they were on and the deep chasm underneath. Dot and I had to work together to get our packs across and ourselves. One really challenged us but we had no other option but to do our yoga moves and get to the other side.

Due to all the rain, a river we had to cross was up higher than usual and a very muddy colour. The water was running swiftly and it was hard to see the bottom and know how deep it was. I scouted the best place to cross and talked Dot through what we were going to do, as this was her first major river crossing. We stuck to our plan and used each other for support and a fallen tree as a hand rail and got across the cold murky river.

The trail continued to have easy stretches and then something to challenge us and make us concentrate hard, expending mental and physical energy. It was beginning to feel like a never ending circling track. With just over 6km to go, we came to an intersection where the sign said a short cut out to Colac Bay. I had a dilemma to shorten our day and get out of this forest or carry on along the TA as I have all the way down the country. Dot didn’t let me think about it much, as she said there is no way I was taking a short cut now. How could I forgive myself later?

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We plodded on and we passed an orange triangle that stated “5.8km to car park”. It was good to know this but then we got to the 5km one. This was terrible as now I started looking carefully at every orange marker trying to see if it had the next distance to go marked. The next one I spotted, was 2km to go so I don’t know if I missed the 4km and 3km or if they weren’t labelled. I don’t like distance markers as they never come around quickly enough!

Finally, we came to a well groomed section and some mining relics so we knew we were getting close to the end. Of course there was a challenging part where we needed to pull ourselves up by ropes on the side of the trail, for a steep part. Eventually, we came out to the car park and I sat down on the stones and took my shoes off.

We didn’t have cell phone reception and we needed to make contact with Kiri (a friend of Dot’s) who we were staying with for the night. Dot walked off to see if she could get reception just down the road. I remained sitting down. A few minutes later, I hear a motorbike coming up the road. Dot is in the back trailer and Kevin, the driver comes over to meet me. He is the chairperson of the Southern Te Araroa Trust and is eager to hear about my walk.

Dot and I got in his trailer and he took us up the road to his house. We met his wife Anne and Dot was able to use the land line to call Kiri to come and get us. Kevin shared a lot about other walkers he had helped and we talked about the trees down on the Longwood forest track and how challenging it made the track.

Kiri came and picked us up and kindly took us back to her house for showers. A simple thing but so appreciated. She was letting us stay in her hut in Colac Bay for the night and Dot and I got to enjoy the lovely location with beautiful views in all directions and a lovely sunset.

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Thursday 14th January – End of Longwood Forest Track to Riverton, 15km, 8 ½ hrs

We were dropped back to Round Hill Car park, at the end of the Longwood Forest Track and began the track down the gravel road to the tarsealed road. It was a cold morning and we were in luck as there was hardly any traffic.

We came across a sign for Lake George but that is all we could see of it. The road lead us to Colac Bay which is a small beach town that offered us a picnic table to sit at and admire the coast.

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The beach walking after this, was on stones and they made it hard work. We tried walking in the tussock and grassy areas that made it easier. I was taking lots of photos as it was clear enough to Stewart Island and I am looking forward to going there in the next few days.

The track started going up and over cliffs and had us battling through overgrown flax and sometimes finding it hard to spot the next marker. We alternated between beach walking and going up and over a few times. The day was dragging out and taking us a lot longer than we thought it would. We had only packed snacks, thinking we would have lunch once we reached Riverton. It was looking like we would arrive very hungry as our snacks were running very low.

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We were on our last stretch of beach walking, when a man and a dog approached us. He asked me if I was Kylie Lang. Yes I said, shocked that he knew who I was. He introduced himself as Dene, the partner of my husbands Aunty Sally, and invited us to lunch. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The one thing we needed and here we were, getting lunch offered to us.

We followed Dene around the corner and here was a large family group, enjoying an open fire BBQ on the beach. It was great to meet them all and eat some yummy hot food. It was tasting better as we were so hungry. They had caught some kina as well and offered it around. Dot and I, didn’t partake but the others mostly seemed to like it.

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Dene has walked the Te Araroa Trail and intends to walk it again when he is 70. Aunty Sally is also a keen walker and has recently cycled the North Island of New Zealand. We stayed and chatted for quite a while before heading off to finish our day walking.

We headed up into farmland and through a gate that was waist high so we had to climb through it. The notes mentioned the track wasn’t marked for the next part and they were right as we couldn’t see any markers. We used my GPS that showed the track going up the fence line and across a track. So we followed the fence line that then came to lots of gorse. We looked for a way around it but other options seemed impossible so we pushed our way through between the fence line and gorse, scratching ourselves pretty bad in the process.

We then reached an across fence but no track. The track was higher up according to my GPS. We decided to try and go along the fence line to see if we could meet up with the track. This involved getting scratched by more gorse and blackberry. I tried to bush bash my way up to the track but it was impossible. We backtracked and tried going higher along the original fenceline. It was getting frustrating and seeming so impossible.

Looking down, we could see the family we had just lunched with, now start the track through the gate. We watched carefully to see where they went and then followed them after returning down the hill. The GPS track had been so wrong. I was fuming as I have followed this line down the country and it has always been a help to me, not a source of getting lost.

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We were back on track and sat down so Dot could change her socks. I let go of my anger and found the funny side to our extra hour. We then followed a nice groomed trail up to a car park, then down to the main road, passing some Scottish Highland Cows, into Riverton. Here we passed a Petrol Station, where I introduced Dot to Magnum Ice Creams and now she has an addiction.

We crossed the bridge and had to get around a woman with a pram. She asked us where we had walked from. I answered “Cape Reinga” as I have done many times before. She told me “Don’t be silly”. Dot had to tell her, I really had.

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We finished walking outside the Supervalue Store so we could get supplies. Kiri picked us up again and took us to her house. They left us there to stay and went off to their hut for a couple of nights. It felt funny waving them goodbye from their own house. I am so thankful to Kiri and Chris for allowing us to stay and having a place to relax in. Fantastic Southern hospitality!

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