It wasn’t so much that we had the desire and need to prove something to ourselves.
But more a desire to return to something we started back at the end of 2016 – walking the length of New Zealand on the Te Araroa Trail.
We made the decision to postpone the South Island section after completing the 1,600 kms North Island top to bottom. At the time back then, we were a little jaded and needed a rest – remembering that it followed on from the tandem bike ride having cycled 7,500 kms from one side of Canada to the other.
That was then. This is now. A lot of chaos has transpired in-between since. Procrastination and aging, as much as forced reclusiveness over the past couple of years. Whereas all other life has kept going.
The investment in “the third bedroom” and subsequent escapes onto the backyard has certainly stimulated the reframe needed to get out there and enjoy what we have. Getting back onto the trail included. Bring this item on the “Before I Die” list to its conclusion. Even if in sections.
However, the Richmond Ranges by all the stories shared by those who have done it before, is that it’s the toughest part of the TA Trail. One must prepare for it as it’ll test you – are we good enough, tough enough, brave enough, smart enough? How much could we take? How do we measure up?
And it doesn’t discriminate.
And so, it was meant to be this festive Christmas 2021/New Year’s 2022.
But strewth, just getting the gear and food sorted for the nine days/eight nights was testing itself.
A conditioning tramp incorporating climbing, descent and distance humping fully laden packs.
Regardless the weather forecast – which turned out to be a scorcher.
Mount Herbert / Te Ahu Pātiki is, at 919 metres (3,015 ft), the highest peak on Banks Peninsula.
It rose up in-front of us as we stepped out to leave Orton Bradley Park and where we had parked up the third-bedroom the night before. A lovely spot close to the city, yet far enough away from suburbia. From its height, we could see suburbia in the distant horizon.
We passed a group getting ready with day packs and looks on their faces that said it all after we gave reason as to what we were intending to do this day. Not too sure if they were grins of encouragement or grimaces of encouragement. Any descriptive adjectives were probably whispered out of ear shot as we fudged into the tree line.
It just had to be done and so onward we forged.
We engaged a half dozen runners nearing the top, who blurred passed us half-way up now retracing their return down. They too were in training for the annual event – the Coast to Coast and were in good spirits. As is always the case when you have gone as high as you are going to go so as for it to be all down-hill after that.
It took us nigh on 3.5 hours to cover the 7.1 kms and reach the Mt Herbert / Te Ahu Pātiki shelter. Packs came off, salutations with fellow adventurers engaged, seating embraced, and lunch scoffed as chit chat was exchanged.
The temperature had certainly escalated the mercury and so water consumption to keep hydrated was imperative. There is a psychological mental emotion when emptying out water from the pack to consume that the pack weight is declining. We were carrying 3 x 1.5 litres each to substitute the weight of the food that will be carried for when all the training is done and dusted. Or is the shift from one to other just weight transfer? The chicken sandwiches didn’t touch the sides neither. Another weight transfer.
The Irish trekker questioned us as to whether we had been attacked on our climb up.
She had to call a friend to ask for help for which the intermittent service cutting out and interpretation of what she was trying to communicate nearly got lost in translation. And the Police being dialled.
Her friend on the other end of the mobile had thought she had said in her Irish accent, “I’m being attacked by a mad guy, what should I be doing?”
What the Irish girl had actually said was, “I’m being attacked by a magpie, what should I be doing?”
She was worried as she was returning the same path trodden. I reached out with a broom that was standing up right in the corner of the shelter and suggested to take it with her to use as a weapon and give the mad guy a warning sweep.
It had us laughing which is the best medicine to help you forget about aches and pains and any overthinking of there being more of the same to encounter. We hadn’t even reached the summit, so the short sharp steepness brought us back to earth quick smart.
However, when we did reach the 919 metres, you could have imagined that you were on top of the world. The 360° panoramic view was to die for. It was just stunning and friggin amazing. The slight breeze enough to dry off beads of sweat. And time for a selfie.
Our descent took us down the Diamond Harbour Mt Herbert Walkway part of the trail. The Southern Alps, Kaikoura Coast, Canterbury Plains slowly disappeared as the opposite peninsula crept higher. Across farmland and pasture, it was more open with limited shade cover and the 9kms taking us 3 hours for us to reach the tar seal. Sun weathered the bare skin. One should stop squinting as well, so as the burning gets into the cracks!
We turned left which was a southerly direction to route march the road and the homeward 7 kms that had us undulating the coastline.
There was a combination of adrenalin to keep the “it just had to be done” going and the anticipation of what the feeling was like to reach the third-bedroom so as to drop the laden packs and remove boots and socks.
Fellow campers visited our little bit of dirt to inquire about our day as they saw us walk off early morning to finally walk in 9.5 hours later. More looks of horror amplified by shocks when they lifted the packs to hasten a guess as to their weights. But congratulatory comments and further conversation about our reasoning for a training hike fully laden on a scorching Saturday day.
The Richmond Ranges are part of the Te Araroa Trail at the top of the South Island. Every TA trekker that we have had the pleasure of meeting and conversing with, have said it’s the most spectacular part of the whole NZ TA Trail. And one of the most technically challenging bits.
We completed the whole North Island TA Trail at the end of 2016 and start of 2017. The South Island TA Trail has always been on our “Before We Die” list of adventures to tick off. But instead of one continuous trek, doing it in bite sizes.
It’s where we are heading to this coming Christmas/New Year holiday season.
Entering onto the trail at the Pelorus Bridge, we hope to do the 110 odd kms over 8-9 days, finishing at St Arnaud. We have to carry our equipment and enough food for the entire 9 days.
And hence, the Mt Herbert / Te Ahu Pātiki training day. The up, down and distance with sun scorch. Complimented with the aches, pains, grins, grimaces, fellow interactions and view “wow’s”. Times 7 or 8 more days in a row.
Does it come with “are we biting off more than we can chew?”
Nah, not at all! Something ventured is something gained.
Dark grey wafting clouds smudged the mountain tops as the curtains were pulled in the third-bedroom. The sound of the intermittent squally rain pounded the cabin. Then it didn’t.
Decisions were needing to be rendered as to how we should spend the next couple of days on the road. The Thirsty Thursday crew had extended an invitation for us to join them in Queenstown. The first night neighbour was encouraging us to join them in Tapanui, further south. Staying another night at the same place to do absolutely nothing was as equally attractive.
But the NZMCA parking space we backed into with a new view through covering pine trees down to Lake Tekapo won our picture framed setting.
Mt John Observatory rose up across the lake. We couldn’t see it from the third-bedroom, however, absolutely could as we sat at a lakeside picnic table watching the sun sink behind it.
We were surprised at the lack of population out and about enjoying what we were witnessing, given the hordes of mobile accommodations sharing this slice of paradise. Perhaps the heavy rain earlier in the day the reason. Cold bones wanting the warmth of indoors on the dusk.
Tekapo is a popular tourist spot (227 kms from Christchurch) with SH8 dissecting the township. For us, it’s usually a drive through or the occasional stop for a pee. The fading light too took us indoors to hibernate and rest the weary bodies from the Dunstan Trail adventure.
It was back on the mountain bikes the next morning to explore. We rode left skirting the lake front. Lupins were in full colour with pinks and purples and whites.
A public toilet where you had to pay wave $1.50 to use was certainly a first. Still is a first too as we refuse to pay to piss. Dogs, cats, goats, horses, sheep, birds, cows and every other species don’t get afforded such a tax to pee and poo – why the hell should we? So always carry a roll of toilet paper and if nature calls, try to be discreet, cover a turd for permanence, and empty out away from water sources. Or in our case, find the next public toilet which was further around the lake front towards the Tekapo Hot Pools.
The hill side was being cleared behind the pools. Track signage showed a route up to the Mt John Observatory. Initial thoughts were to lock up the bikes and hike up however, a walker with children offered advice that it’s only steep initially and is bikeable once into the pines.
Not judging, our trust in fat bellies took a turn for distrust when we humped and pushed the bikes up and into the pines, only to find we had to hump and push the things nearly to the summit. It gave the calf muscles some stretching.
The rewarding view from the observatory was absolutely panoramic beauty. Up the lake towards the top end mountain range was a canvas of squally rain. Every other direction was as far as the eye could see. We could make out the whites of campers and caravans in our picture frame location as we sat at a picnic table on top of the world and feast on a savoury muffin and cuppa. The café is awesome.
Our return route was virtually dropping straight off the observation point to follow a track on the farmland towards the Southern Alps. It curled back around at the end of the peninsula, and we eventually did a complete circle arriving back at the hot pools. It was bouldery in parts but doable. Follow the horse poo as horse trekking shares the track.
It was back to the third-bedroom and new neighbours had parked up. Another opportunity to greet, meet and swap nomad life on the road over a beer and wine. Not as much as previous nights.
But just enough to be in a happy space to ponder a return back to Tekapo in the third-bedroom to explore some more.
Footnote: There is a wonderful sit-down toilet 280 footsteps from the northern end of the NZMCA camping ground. It’s serviced, has toilet paper until you bum is content and, no charge.
We have often experienced that when you travel a new route for just the second time in reverse, the distance covered seems to be a lot quicker time wise.
Anyone else share the same?
That was our new days Dunstan Trail anticipation heading back from Alexandra to Cromwell, on the bikes.
Until the weather gods decided to huff a gusty head on wind into our faces.
The first nine kms to Clyde were along the Otago Rail Trail which is virtually straight. It was the warm-up. Even the hundreds of rabbits infesting neighbouring hinterlands were perched low to the ground for contour line cover. Laughing with squinted eyes.
Stopping at Clyde for an eggs and bacon our breakfast diet, the napkin taking off disappeared from the direction ridden, to become an added feature on the Clyde to Alex terrain. There was only so many times one could lick the plate procrastinating what was the inevitable. Toughen the fk up, get on the bike seat and get on with it.
The Clyde Bridge with its magnificent structure above the Clutha Rivers was the crossing point of no return, before we hung a right, grinded up the dam slope and then into the gale. Damn white caps on the lake were in their hundreds too. A never-ending escort.
Mates from the Thirsty Thursday crew were doing the ride in the opposite direction to us – Cromwell to Clyde. We knew there would be a nose rub reunion somewhere on the trail. The first three riders of their group didn’t even recognise us as they flew passed at pace. With the wind up their jacksies. Possibly because we had our helmets down looking at the trail gravel for aerodynamics. We did connect with the remainder of the group and seeing fellow bikers out there doing it lifted our spirits.
It was the adrenalin shot booster to keep going after a group photo was taken. Another stop was taken at a winery near Bannockburn where we sheltered under a heaving willow tree to eat our lunch – leftover lamb shank meat portion sandwiches and watching trail blazers arrive and depart at a gate that had to be negotiated after a little zig-zag ascent. They were going with the wind too.
There were moments where the gusts nearly brought us to a standstill. The worst of it was actually along the trail on the northern side of Cromwell’s Lake edge where counterbalancing it meant the bike at nearly a 45° angle.
Unclipping cleats and dismounting after arriving back at the third-bedroom again above the 45th Parallel concluded the ride. It had taken us longer today than yesterday for sure. Meeting and greeting a new caravan neighbour, they were to ride the trail themselves today however, the tour company advised against it due to the wind conditions. Pfft!
Made us smile and gave us some solace that we had knocked the bastard off because of the hurricane. And before the forecasted change in the weather for it to become overcast and rain.
The other positive when doing a route for a second time in reverse, are the things you don’t notice going in the opposite direction. We were certainly not disappointed in the days riding, wind, grime, dust, dirt and all.
Hopefully enough to motivate you to tick it the Dunstan Trail off – whether novice, intermediate or experienced outdoorsy type.
The liquid volume consumed the night before didn’t deter the anticipated excitement of spending bums on a bike seat ticking off the Lake Dunstan Trail.
It links the townships of Cromwell and Clyde which was the direction we headed after securing the third-bedroom for a night of emptiness.
The fascinating landscapes so characteristic of Central Otago was reshaped from the pioneer days of panning for gold, and then again when the lake was formed. The 55 km of views, just never-ending spectacular.
At the Clyde end of the trail is New Zealand’s third largest hydro-dam, the Clyde Dam. This was one of the ‘’Think Big” projects driven by the Muldoon led Government to diversify the economy and drive growth. Construction started in 1977, the first power was generated in 1992.
Could have done with a plug in during a daunting hump ascending the Cairnmuir Ladder and its 6-degree gradient. Except, we don’t ride e-bikes. While the bodies still can, we still ride good old fashioned traditional man-powered frames. Or in BClaire’s case, woman powered.
Switchbacks gave little relief from the grind so when the brow was reached, we dismantled for a well earnt rest and the bonus, a selfie at the trails highest point trig marker.
Elevated platforms jut out from cliff rockfaces on either side of the marker along the trail, so there was some navigation to manoeuvre around on-coming bike traffic. And the traffic included a heap of older generationals. Mostly on e-bikes. The ones going in our direction left us sucking up their gravel dust. Pfft, damn old people entitlement, oh! Nah, It was inspiring to see and gave us some comfort to dream that we too would have many a day left to rotate the pedal into the nearing death years.
When the dam itself came into view, a second wind got us over and down except we didn’t stop at Clyde, we had to continue on for a further 12 kms following the river track on the southern side of the mighty Clutha River / Mata-Aua River, all the way onto Alexandra. It’s where we had booked a motel for the night, thus allowing us to carry only a change of clothes and our toothbrushes.
An early night beckoned after a local pub meal and hydration top up. A few marginal aches and pains from weariness. Notwithstanding, the mind was in focus for the next day was going to be a repeat of this day.
Riding back the Lake Dunstan Trail in reverse.
How hard could that be with experience now under our arses?
The 45th parallel south is a circle of latitude that is 45° south of the Earth’s equator.
It is the line that marks the theoretical halfway point between the equator and the South Pole.
Unbeknown to us, we crossed it as we arrived at Cromwell after driving the third-bedroom south from Christchurch. A short vacation with the only agenda item, cycle the Dunstan Trail.
The traditional Fairlie pie stop was above the 45th parallel, some ways back. A must on anyone’s diet menu. Or not.
Cromwell is 119 kilometres from the sea, the farthest from the sea anywhere in New Zealand. And is the township that mothers the man-made Lake Dunstan.
Finding a slice of dirt to park up the third-bedroom had us switch off the motor at a NZMCA park for subscription campers – whether campervan, caravan or fifth wheelers. It was also on the opposite side of the lake having had to point the nose in the opposite direction and furthermore, north of the 45th parallel.
Usual action list once the key is switched off is to place the door mate at the base of the step, turn on the gas for hot water, pop the top off a beverage, plonk ourselves down in the u-shape seating configuration and perv. Sus out the neighbours and judge.
Wow, that’s a flash set up or OMG, how cool is that. Left, right and partially directly in front.
It kind of decides who we should meet, greet and then introduce ourselves to be invited to join the camp conversation after an initial “I’m so and so…” and “cheers”. For as long as bodies start to disappear to hibernate back to their own rigs for the night.
Now, you know I’m kidding about the judging bit. You just can’t tell a book by its cover. Not knowing neither that it was the calm before the storm!
The neighbours to the right had a wagon circle already with fellow nomads and so we thought it polite to invite ourselves. One beer for me, and a glass of vino for BClaire would be our limit, knowing on the morrow, we had to bike the 55-60 odd kms of the Dunstan Trail.
There is no explanation as to how fellow beings can come together and just gel. As if you were long lost mates catching up and therefore, banter, talk bullshit, laugh, sing and give philosophy opinion.
Three cans of beer and a bottle of shiraz for me; and a bottle of sav blanc for BClaire later … we were making up our bed in the u-shape of the third-bedroom where we had sat earlier, in complete darkness.
Luckily, on the left side of the mid-night hour. But still above the 45th parallel.
Which once the bodies were horizontal, had us giggling that we had to cross it again before we even started the true Dunstan Trail south.
According to Māori legend, a Taniwha (River Monster) used to live where the Rakaia Gorge now is. Long story cut short, his efforts to block out the nor’west wind demon led to the narrowing of the river. Evidence of the Taniwha’s work remain today as the rock island between the two Rakaia Gorge Bridges.
Kind of cool intro to what was then our meander up to the Upper Rakaia Gorge.
In search of the Taniwha.
Our weekend micro-adventure had the third-bedroom parked up at the Rakaia Gorge Camping Ground. This is a private set up where permanents make available their plots for weekend nomads like ourselves.
At $15 per night each, a kitchenette (byo cooking stove, pots, plates and kfs) means the smell of lamb steaks didn’t stink out the bedroom. The ablutions had hot showers with flush toilets – a bargain. There are no powered sites so it is definitely off the grid.
Crossing the two gorge bridges, we hung a left and then followed the sides of the river that had a smorgasbord of topography for a couple of hours. In amongst it, we were able to get close to the Snowden Coal Mine that was a cave wedged between lower and upper earth. Caged off so you can’t enter, we wouldn’t have if it wasn’t neither. Weird that of all places, there is an old coal mine of yesteryear.
A junction on the trail gives you the option of going left and around hugging the hillside, down to the river (optional junction) and then ascend up to the highest point; or right and straight up. Left is longer, right is shorter, you can do it in a loop and so we stayed left.
At the top where we stopped, peeled off apparel, smeared on sunblock and then ate lunch, we were in awe of the view of the Upper Rakaia Gorge and the turquoise coloured river snaking it’s path from west to east.
We retraced our steps in reverse to return back to the bridges. As Bclaire decided to venture off and take a dip at the rock island pool of water, I tracked down the river to try and capture a pic of the third-bedroom on the opposite side of the river, waiting our return.
The cliff faces on the same side further down river showed weathering erosion, more likely because of the nor’west wind demon. This I believe to be true.
That there is a nor’west wind demon!
It arrived shortly after the camp happy hour – we got invited therefore decided it a lovely way to meet fellow nomads, except they were permanents. Didn’t take long for conversations to fudge, bs banter to flow, and pickled onions be judged.
And then it blew like forty bastards throughout the night and into much of the day.
Notwithstanding, Rakaia Gorge is worth a visit – whether visiting for a day or overstaying for a couple of days.
To get up at the crack of dawn and watch sunrises is a habit.
It ain’t for everyone and each to their own.
Nature is at its most crisp – whether landscape, fauna, animal or insect.
Seagulls again flew over-head inland towards the mighty Fyfe. It was if there was a calling and every gull on the Peninsula were attending. There must be some pissed off farmer with them all coming to town!
To discover a tiny snail with its life on its back at a particular point on our path was gorgeous. Only leaving it’s foot prints. Well, snail trail! Wondered if it was doing loops or just on a journey of discovery in the one direction.
There are a heap more activities that Kaikoura can offer – swim with Dolphins, be in the presence of a whale before it plummets to the depths, drop a line over the side to catch a feed, paddle a kayak and talk to seals, surf a wave, walks, bikes, food and beverage options from street vendors to restaurant, camp, motel, air bnb or like we did once, climb Mt Fyfe and sleep under the stars.
No matter how you stretch your rubber band, as mentioned in the first post, with each new sunrise, we start anew.
Choices for the plenty to try something new.
The only loop left was for us to return home back to suburbia.
They are the number of steps taken to complete the second circle loop – the Kaikoura Peninsula walk.
From the third-bedroom campervan door to door.
Where we retraced the route ridden the day before – through the township, up and over into South Bay. Then across the top of the topography versus at sea level and around it, reaching the tourist car park on the Kaikoura side, then footed it all the way back around the coastline, township revisited, to arrive back at the NZMCA Park and where the campervan welcomed us back with open arms.
Actually, we had to unlock, slide the door open and fall in!
When you get a stunner of a day, the panoramic views north, west, south and east are breathtaking.
The sound of wildlife was also in surround sound – squealing seals, squawking shags, scavenging sea gulls, singing song from the other birdlife, and the moo of cows and baa’s of sheep, as we crossed paddocks.
South Bay was an old whaling station. The display board with black and white images with story narrative made for a magnetising read, sending the imagination into yesteryear and what life must have been like.
There was enough space to share with the hordes of others exploring, and the Sea Food BBQ kiosk where one can order everything edible from beneath the hide tide mark is worth satisfying the palette. A well deserve resting spot before completing the loop. No kina though (that’s sea urchin)!
A feed of fnc’s from the local shop nearby rounded out this day and one had to strategically not be seen throwing chips up onto Maree Grenfell and Randall Grenfell campervan for the sea gulls!
A wind down stretch of the legs before retiring for the night to rest the weary legs.
Those steps not counted however, all up, nigh on 20 kms looped when extrapolating out the 33,644.