It’s Business Time…

“…There’s a river crossing on a rock chute just above a 4m waterfall.  The water is flowing fast down the chute and if you lose footing you go over the waterfall… Some trampers may find this section challenging”.

Hmmm…should trail notes really read like this?  Luckily for us we were blessed with hot and dry conditions which made the many river crossings very manageable, although I can imagine that in different weather the Richmond Ranges would be a totally different beast.

Our five day tramp through this section of the Te Araroa Trail has been building up in our minds for some time as a remote and high region (consistently over 1500m) that would likely test us on a number of fronts.  There were many long days with very challenging terrain involving ‘undulating trail’ (terrain rising and falling so steeply that its often hard not to slide back down the slope), ‘steep and exposed sections’ (no joke), and ‘lots of sidling, at times on steep terrain’ (one slip and it would be….bad).

more ‘sidling’, high above the Wairoa River…

Popping a few ‘Harden up’ pills from my first aid kit (thanks for the recommendation Lance) I tackled the trail with the single-minded goal of placing every footfall and pole-plant in a safe and secure place.  I learn quickly that there are actually not too many of these to be found.   Walking down steep scree slopes I try to use large rocks to brace against with my boots only to find that they regularly give way and slide down the slope with me.  On other slopes, boulder hopping from one large rock to another, I discover seemingly large and well locked in boulders shift and tilt with my weight.  Nothing is secure here and no surface can be trusted.  One step at a time, slowly and deliberately… don’t look down, don’t consider ‘what if’… just focus.

Numerous times I scour the terrain for the trail ahead only to scoff inwardly “Seriously…are you kidding me?!” when my eyes finally lock onto the route.

The trail curves around to our right, 100m or so below the jagged ridge top

The Richmond Ranges are huge and beautiful with a vast variety of terrain.  Rocky mountain ridges, scree slopes, beech forest, boulder filled river crossings, and rocky red and grey moonscapes.  During our visit it also felt a very quiet place.  With no wind during our tramp, and no distant sounds of civilisation or other people, the silence is at times deafening.  Only the song of a bird in the trees or the croak of frogs around a glacial lake at night broke the silence.

For future trampers to this region, the ranges are to be respected but not feared.


Hats off to the Queen

“Has anyone told you about the weka?” the ranger greeted us as we walked into camp.
No, what do I need to know about the weka?  “Be careful with your belongings. They have been known to steal things from your tent, even from under the flysheet.”

Suitably informed we wandered down to a small patch of forest right on the beachfront to put up our tents.  I open a zip on my pack and pull out the last of a chocolate block to munch on whilst I assemble the tent poles.  Suddenly there is a flash of movement and out of the corner of my eye I see the pink and gold wrapper of my chocolate bar disappearing off into the bush carried by two furiously running little brown legs. “Noooooooo!”  The weka had struck already.

From the moment I begin my three day Queen Charlotte Track section it is evident that this region is rich with wildlife.  The boat trip through the Marlborough Sounds to reach our starting point is shadowed by a pod of dolphins.  Stepping foot onto the jetty at Ship Cove we are greeted with the buzz and hum of bird and cicada calls, and the lush green ferns and blue skies instantly make us feel as though we have landed in the tropics.

The trail itself too is ‘friendly’ with well graded paths that are a real treat after some of the more ‘indistinct’ and steeper routes we have done so far.  Weka, flightless birds the size of a small chicken, loiter around every picnic table en route hoping to scrounge a bit of food.  Ridge top paths give amazing views into hidden blue coves where the odd white yacht is moored.

Have you seen this weka?

At the end of our first day we reach a cove with a bar right on the jetty and whilst enjoying a sundowner glass of Sauvignon Blanc we spy the unmistakable huge dorsal fins of a pod of killer whales cruise past in the bay.  The barman rushes down and cranks up the engine on a rubber inflatable and looks at me.  “Want to come?” he asks quickly.  I look at the hot chips that have tantalisingly just arrived at our table.  “Can I take the chips?” I fire back.  “No”.  I jump in the boat anyway and bid the seagulls a happy snack.  As we cruise closer we see the shiny black backs of these amazing creatures, and the puff of air bursting through the water as they come up to breathe.  Magic.

Could this place get any better I wonder?  Yes.  As we stumble the few hundred metres back to our tents in the dark we see glow worms lining the path.  A perfect end to a perfect day.

The Queen Charlotte Track is an easy and beautiful trail with abundant options for treating yourself to a proper bed or meal if you so desire, and made an easy introduction to the South Island for us.  From here on I suspect the going will get tougher!