Te Araroa, Days 13-18: Te Anau to Queenstown

Hello, my hike-along pals! When last I left you, I was luxuriating in the library in Te Anau, a town where I ate an entire pizza by myself in one sitting. Shared a room in a motel bizarrely fitted out like a wild west movie set – the sign above the door to our room says “The Temperance Hotel: Pre Prohibition Prices.” I check just to make sure, and learn that though there was a dry movement in NZ around the same time as in the US, national prohibition legislation was never implemented here. So, confirmed: the sign at the motel is just silly. I will observe that Te Anau does not appear to be a bastion of temperance at the present time.

The sign at the motel is officially silly.

We spend a day in town and again I am bowled over by options when resupplying at the grocery store. I make a classic operator error opening the chute at the bulk peanut bin and end up with at least 3 lbs worth of salted peanuts. New assignment: eat a minimum of 1/2 lb of peanuts per day.

We try to hitch out of Te Anau and get as far as the nearest crossroads, where we sit for some time until Rob and Ellyse decide to phone the manager of a local pub, The Moose (name of the pub, not the name of the manager, but that would actually be a pretty good name for this guy), who had told them he would drop them back at the trailhead if they had any trouble getting a ride. He comes to pick us up in the pub’s courtesy shuttle and as we’re getting in we see another TA NOBO hiker, Hugh, strolling up the road. We call for him to hop in with us and we’re on our way. Hugh is from Australia but living and working in NZ – he’s 21 years old, at least 6′ 5″ tall and super lanky, and is carrying a giant stainless steel mixing bowl with him on the trail. I have been dying to know what this is about and I finally ask him – turns out he’s using it to mix up salads. (???!!!) It doesn’t completely fit in his pack so he kind of straps it onto the outside, where it flashes in the sun like a piece of bizarre armor. In my mind, Hugh is now and forever Mixing Bowl.

The trailhead is at the corner of Princhester Rd. and Mavora Lakes Rd. – Moose lets us out and we immediately go to the coffee cart conveniently located at the intersection to fuel up on espresso and delicious pastries. We have been told of the coffee cart by other hikers – food intel is passed between NOBOs and SOBOs in great detail, so we have actually been looking forward to this for days. Oh, cinnamon roll – you were the most lovely treat of all!

Next is a spectacularly grueling 20-mile walk up Mavora Lakes Rd., a gravel road traversed by holidaymakers towing boats and caravans, each of which kicks up a rolling cloud of powdery dust. The interior surfaces of my respiratory system become completely coated in dust. I taste dust, I feel dust in my eyeballs every time I blink. We talk about exercise tapes from the 90s – anyone remember Buns of Steel? – and I decide my exercise tape is going to be called Tongues of Dust. Probably not destined to be a best-seller. It’s hot as hell out, heat waves shimmering above the horizon. We get water from a stinky shallow creek and the water is HOT. We deliriously decide we are Hot Creek Water. Having a gang name is oddly motivating, and after about 8.5 hours of road walking we finally get to our camping spot for the night, next to an old quarry along the Mararoa River. Everyone is exhausted – I lie motionless on the ground with my eyes closed and I can hear Rob saying, “Shari died. We left her corpse to return to the earth in peace.” All that will remain of me is a grassy barrow mound dotted with poetic wildflowers nodding their heads mournfully in the breeze. Eventually I am resurrected as a zombie and set up my tent. I glance over at where Hugh is lying, and he is still dead on the ground. He looks like someone took a burlap sack of jumbled limbs and dumped it out on the grass. His mixing bowl gleams in the evening light.

Hot Creek Water comin’ at’cha.

This is what 20 miles of gravel road in the hot sun does to you.

The next morning all’s well with the world, I meet a giant eel while getting water from the river, and we continue north just over 9 miles to Mavora Lakes Campsite. The shorter hike is a lifesaver after the previous day, and the walk along the lake is lovely. When we arrive we set up camp in a grove of beech trees, and then I take my sleeping pad and notebook over to the little beach on the lakeshore to relax. I lazily watch as a drunk lady tries to untangle the line of her fishing rod. She and her friend have been sitting on the hood of their pickup park, which they’ve parked on the beach with the windows open and the stereo blasting. I’m mooching on their music-bubble, which is a perfect beach mix, until their tunes cut off and it turns out they’ve killed the battery. Neither of them seem very concerned. With the music gone I turn my attention to my feet and notice that both of my 4th toenails, which I’d bashed on that first grueling day from Bluff to Invercargill, are ready to come off. I remove them and they come peacefully, as though they know their time has come. I leave them like little shells on the beach.

Lost in my toe reverie, I don’t notice that one of the drunk pickup truck / fishing rod ladies has come up to me. I look up at her as she plops down with a bottle of Sambuca, which she offers to me as she says something completely incomprehensible. I can understand at minimum that she’s offering me a drink, so I smile and take the bottle. The other lady wanders up and as I mostly fail to understand both of them through their slurring, I feel happy that the universe has ensured that with their truck dead they are driving nowhere tonight. It actually turns out from the conversation that at least one of them is prone to drunken car wrecks and that somewhere there is a car in a ditch that needs to be retrieved the following day. I extricate myself eventually and leave the ladies on the beach with my abandoned toenails.

The next morning I wake up early and get to see the ladies find someone to give them a jumpstart. Safely hung over, I think they will make it home ok.

Here’s how you would cross a swing bridge over the Mararoa River. You’re welcome.


Today we walk from the campsite to Boundary Hut, just past the northern end of Mavora Lake. It’s an easy walk and Harold and I banter nonsense to entertain each other. He comes from a Mormon background and there’s endless conversational gold to mine there so we happily chat away. Delicious dip in the creek when we get to the hut, then sit around outside until the sandflies get too vicious and we go inside to hide from them. Rob and Ellyse have brought a tiny deck of playing cards and we have a bout of Egyptian Ratscrew, which I haven’t played since 8th grade wood shop class. I had forgotten how much shouting and table-slamming is involved, very satisfying. A young French girl named Te is also at the hut with us and we finish the calamitous card game early to spare her the racket.

The next day Te walks the 13.5 miles with us to Greenstone Hut. She’s 19, somewhat shy, and has come to NZ in part to walk the trail and in part to learn English. We are a bit of a raucous crowd and I can’t help feeling like she’s become our captive for the day. She suffers us gracefully and we continue north up a long valley bounded by the massive Livingstone Mountains to our west and the Thomson Mountains to our east. Up ahead the Ailsa Mountains loom, huge and green-furred and closing the top of the valley before us. We are ants on a table strewn with giant broccoli florets. We cross a high rocky saddle on the east side of a gully and suddenly we are at the Ailsa Mountains, they smack us in the face and we descend through the woods to Greenstone Hut.

The Livingstone Mountains

I wake up at 5:30 the next morning and end up talking with just every other person in the hut as they each depart for their day’s adventures. Greenstone Hut is located near a couple of popular hikes – the Greenstone Track and the Caples-Routeburn Track – so there are several groups of people out here on less extreme recreational ventures than our own. Their stuff looks tidy and I notice that they don’t seem to smell as much. Today we have an easy 9-mile walk to Greenstone Station, a farm at the end of a gravel road where Harold’s friends are going to pick us up and bring us into Queenstown. Along the way we find a perfect swimming hole on the Greenstone River – turquoise water swirling deep around big stones just made for leaping. The water’s cold but not terribly so, and I cannonball off a boulder to come up gasping into the sunlight. The Greenstone River flows into Lake Wakatipu, long, sinuous, and choppy with waves.

Harold and his friends Ryan and Dawson were canyoneering guides together back in Utah at Zion National Park, and the two of them are now working seasonally for a canyoning company based out of Queenstown. As we speed along the insane terrifying road I listen to but cannot really fathom the conversation, which is about technical canyon stuff involving lines and rappelling and other stuff way more complicated than hiking. It’s clear these guys are just overjoyed to see Harold, so far away from Utah where they all met and worked together.

Ryan and Dawson chauffer us into Queenstown. Imagine this van going very fast and people saying complicated things about carabineers.

We get into Queenstown and go to a pub where we demonstrate to Ryan and Dawson how good we are at eating. I eat all the garnish on the plates. Then we cross the road to a convenience store and get ice cream bars.

I am actually looking at plants. Here’s an NZ endemic orchid, Caladenia atradenia, for ya!

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Comments 6

  • Keelin : Jan 18th

    This makes miss you. Remember our fight in the stone mountains of China? Classic.

  • SAW : Jan 18th

    I want to go to there.

    Or rather, go back to there. Mavora Lakes, I remember thee!

    It’s actually almost difficult to read your beautiful posts because it makes me want to GO and miss it so much! I have a firm talk to self before guzzling all the links in a row.

  • Yuhui Zhou : Jan 21st

    I enjoy reading every newsletter from Shari! Really feel happy for you, Shari! Hope you enjoy every mile of the trail and all the friends you make there.

  • Yuhui Zhou : Jan 21st

    I enjoy reading every newsletter from you, Shari! Ever considered being a professional writer?
    Really feel happy for you, Shari! Hope you enjoy every mile of the trail and all the friends you make there.

  • Sj : Jan 23rd

    I’ve fallen behind in my shari updates! Darn you, “promotions folder”! Yay for cannonballs into cold creeks and leaving your toenails with the drunken ladies. I’m pretty sure you’ve played Egyptian Ratscrew at least once in your 20s but i won’t tell anyone. ? love you!

  • carolyne : Feb 4th

    This is such a treat on a 14 degree Saturday morning here in SC, catching up on your adventures while snacking on some spicy popcorn, breaking out into laughter already several times. Your writing is just so YOU. I hear it all in your voice. So good. Ok – back to reading.


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