Saturday, February 21, 2015

Days 79-88: 230 Kilometers From St. Arnaud to Arthur's Pass

Hello from Mountain House Hostel in Arthur's Pass National Park! It's been a long time (10 days) since an update because Internet service (or any service for that matter) in these parts was hard to come by! Usually we have at least a cell signal here and there, but we had nada for the last 10 days. And you can probably smell me all the way in the states because this also means it has been 10 days since our last shower!!! 

We passed the 2000 kilometer mark days ago, and this means we are more than 66% done! 
We are actually now at the 2156 Kilometer mark (or 1,380 miles) and I have updates on the 2 sections combined into one here.

First, we trekked 115 kilometers (or 74 miles) from St. Arnaud to Boyle River Outdoor Center (Lewis Pass), then we headed into another 115 kilometers (or 74 miles) to Arthur's Pass National Park. Lots of the themes for both sections, so get ready for a long read.

1) New Hiking Partner
We have a new hiking partner! We met Kevin in St. Arnaud and have been hiking with him since then. Kevin is from California and is traveling the world and doing a 100-mile hike on every continent (hmmm...). Check out his blog to follow his adventures!  For NZ, he opted to hike the whole South Island portion of the Te Araroa.
2) Section #1 - From St. Arnaud to Boyle - Best Section Yet
On Friday the 13th, we left St. Arnaud and entered Nelson Lakes National Park, our 2nd national park to visit in NZ. This definitely tops our list as our favorite section. 
FYI, National Parks in NZ differ from the states. There is no entrance fee, no rangers and not nearly as many visitors. But, the trails are a little more maintained and the signage is good. I like how their signs even had a bit of humor.

Much of the time, we were hiking along (and sometimes crossing) raging, crystal clear rivers in a valley closely surrounded by several majestic mountains, marking the northern end of the southern Alps.

Other times, we were climbing up the majestic mountains. Our 2 biggest climbs were up Travers Saddle (1787 meters, or 5,862 feet) and Waiau Pass (1870 meter, or 6,135 feet). They were both demanding, but so rewarding. 

There was, of course, a bit of skree, sidling and swingbridges ...
The key to sidling is to keep putting one foot in front of another.
Yes, indeed, we had to climb up that.
Wow! A 2-person max swingbridge!

But how can I complain about any of this with a view like this?
Halfway up the skree field!



3) Section #2 - From Boyle to Arthur's Pass
On Tuesday the 17th, we reached Boyle River Outdoor Center. We picked up our resupply box, but couldn't do much else there (like shower, use Internet or have a proper meal) before heading into the next section. Actually, we could have showered at the center, but it cost $6! Not sure what is included in a $6 shower, but we passed on it ... We could have hitched into a town from Boyle, but we had all we needed, so we pressed on.

This section took us through Lake Sumner Forest Park, then into Arthur's Pass National Park. The vast majority of the walking was through the valley and along several riverbeds. 



There were a few hot springs in this section and we indulged. We planned to go all the way in, but never made it past our legs! The water was pretty hot!

I love the warning sign: "Amoebic meningitis fatal and caused by water entering nasal passages. Do not immerse head."
But the biggest part of this section were millions of the river crossings we did (okay, I could be exaggerating). We crossed A LOT of rivers. 

Sometimes it was a rock hop. 
Other times, it was a full on crossing.

For 25 kilometers, the trail goes up the Deception River to a high point of 1000 meters (3,280 feet) at Goat Pass, then down the Mingha River.  The trail was a mix of rock scrambling and crisscrossing the Deception River (21 times to be exact). It was actually quite fun! And extremely beautiful with all the cascading water against the green landscape within the gorges. The Minga-Deception Route is actually part of the Coast-to-Coast Race. Racers typically take 3 hours to do this section, but it took us 11 hours split into 2 days! Here's a video of our second day with some early morning crossings via headlight. 

4) Hut Report
After all my complaining last time about the huts, I am happy to report a much better experience!

Our 1st night out of St. Arnaud, we stayed at John Tait Hut with 6 other people. No mice, no snorers.
Our 2nd night, we stayed at Blue Lake Hut with 8 other people. Again, no mice, no snorers.

We camped our 3rd night there were 1.5 million sandflies around and it was brrrrrr cold. We wished there was a hut in the vicinity!

Angry sandflies trying to get into our tent!

Our 4th night, we stayed at Anne River Hut and it was more like a home than a hut. There were 2 separate bedrooms, plus a common area. And there were only 2 other people besides us there, but they were in the other bedroom.

For the next section through Arthur's Pass National Park, the huts were fine, but there were mice galore. Apparently NZ is experiencing a mast year, which means the beech trees have more seeds than usual, thus attracting mice, rats, stoats and other rodents. There are often lots of traps/poison set in the forests for these guys, but this section is a "controlled" area, meaning they don't set traps to see the impact. That said, there is an exploding population of mice in the area.

At Hope Kiwi Hut (our first hut in this section), the number of mice could form their own soccer team. At Hurunui No. 3 Hut (2nd hut), they could form their own football team. We have found that earplugs definitely do the trick. What we don't hear won't hurt us.
Must hang everything!

We also have seen quite a few crowds at the huts. When we were hiking toward Hurunui No. 3 Hut, we kept seeing helicopters full of gear flying in that direction. Turns out, the Department of Conservation was flying in to do some research on the kiwi population in the area and will be staying at that hut for a few weeks. Not only were the DOC workers all there, but there were also 3 other TA hikers! So it was a full house that night. The DOC workers were kind enough to share a plate of nachos with us hungry hikers. It took about 30 seconds for us to polish those off! It was also a full house at Goat Pass Hut, where we caught up to another 4 TA hikers. We knew there was a bubble in front of us, but wow! 
TA all around!

5) Sting Report
The wasps were only bad for the first part of the trek around Lake Rotoiti out of St. Arnaud. But one got J. So, the count for wasp stings:
J - 1
P - 0
6) Swingbridges
We are up to crossing 22 swingbridges. And we are finding variable quality in their craftsmanship.

For example, this swingbridge most certainly needed inspection. The bolts were shaking, the wires were rusty and the side netting was disconnected.
But, this one, this one, takes the cake. Welcome to my new nightmare. A 3-wire swingbridge. No lie. We were walking on a WIRE!

Now that we've taken my much overdue shower and restocked our provisions (thanks Uncle Freddie and crew for your awesome care package!), we are ready for the next section!


4 comments:

Fred said...

You got there a bit later than anticipated. Did the mice get at anything in my package?

Shadow and Country Mouse said...

You guys ROCK! We think about you both all the time and wondering how you are doing and wish we were hiking the SI with you. If your not in a rush, don't forget to hike hut to hut between Wanaka and Arrowtown. It's one of our favorite parts. 37 days to our PCT hike. I can't believe it!

Thaiguy in NH said...

We finally are getting caught up on your huge journey! This is awesome! Would you prefer sandflies over black flies and mosquitoes? Any mice store their food coach in your boots? Do they use trail names out there? We miss you both!
Second nature and grateful

Mom/MIL said...

Fantastic photos! Patrice, the Trail makes you shine! You look lovely! Justin, I wish I could say the same for you but you look like the Unabomber!