South Island Comes Out Swinging

The Mountains Await

The Richmond Ranges are daunting. They are an iconic part of Te Araroa, known for being the most difficult section with the longest stretch outside of civilization. Some walk in with eight to ten days worth of food, and others have faced nightmares in the form of bad weather and, worse, hiker bubbles.

But we find ourselves lucky from every angle. I reunite with one of my hiking partners, a Kiwi with family in Nelson. This allows us to split up the section so we don’t need to carry in too much weight in food. We’re picked up at a bail out spot and spend a few rest days in Nelson before getting a ride back to the Ranges.

New Friends, New Heights

We’ve made new friends along the way – a German girl I actually met before the trail even started and a sassy Canadian American who reminds me of a best friend back home. Together, we tackle the most challenging section of this journey, and the weather gifts us with yet another beautiful week of sun and stunning views.

I find the Richmonds difficult not only because of the challenging terrain that has us climbing and descending multiple peaks each day, but also because of the long days. I have never been the fastest hiker, and some days have me on the trail for 14 to 16 hours. It is grueling to have so little time to reset for the next day, but I’m grateful for the support of the others, whether they’re already waiting for me at the hut or crawling through the dark at my side.

Taking it all in

But it’s not all hardship, though it does feel that way through scree fields and overgrown goat tracks. We also take time to freeze in crystal clear swimming holes and to revel in the majestic viewpoints that wait for us at each summit. We cross rivers and climb over mazes of boulders and walk along breathtaking ridge lines. By the time we descend from the mountains and find ourselves with our thumbs out on the side of the road, we’re proud of what we’ve done. And also in desperate need of a shower.

The Trail Notes are Being Dramatic

After some rest and good food in St. Arnaud, we head into another challenging section that promises some of the most gorgeous views on the trail so far. I have a feeling of apprehension as I head out from town, similar to something I had felt when entering the Richmonds. These sections are demanding, and once you’re in, the only way out is through. I feel almost trapped by the trail, my body begging for more rest and my mind preoccupied by the dynamics of this new group of people. It unsettles me in a way that makes me feel like I’m walking through sludge. By the next morning, I’m tempted to turn back and run into the arms of civilization.

Ups and Downs

But my friend, whom I’ve walked with since day one, takes what is turning from apprehension to panic and turns it into a rediscovered love for the trail we’ve traveled on for so many months. We climb the first peak together, the clear day granting us endless views. It’s enough to get my mind back in the moment, and we end a huge day at Blue Lake, one of the clearest lakes in the world.

The next day we’re meant to go over Waiau Pass, which comes with a lot of fear mongering from previous hikers. It’s a brutal climb up 500 steep meters of scree and a dicey decent over sharp cliffs. However, it’s a beautiful pass with very few moments of actual fear. We’re careful and aware, so it’s a smooth way down to one of the most scenic campsites I’ve ever experienced.

All Downhill From Here (Just Kidding)

It’s an easy next couple of days before we’re able to walk out and get a hitch into Hanmer Springs. We meet old friends and see some of them for the last time, taking some rest knowing that the two most difficult sections of Te Araroa are behind us.

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