Te Araroa, Days 43-51: Lake Coleridge to Boyle Village
Dang, it’s been a long time! I think I’m officially in the part of a long-distance hike where you feel like the same thing has been happening for enough days in a row that there’s no real news: “Dear Diary, got up, ate a granola bar with a slab of peanut butter on it, walked 5 hours, sat on the ground and ate some random food morsels rolled into a couple of tortillas, walked 5 more hours, saw some trees and rivers and people and trail, got to a campsite, sat on the ground and ate some ramen, passed out. Here’s some pictures of assorted mountains so you know I’m telling the truth. Love, Shari.”
Of course it’s not really like that, but that’s what it feels like as I try to thread my impressions from the past 8 days and 120 miles or so into a coherent narrative.
From Lake Coleridge Village, the Te Araroa follows a gravel road for 17 miles through farms and ranches to the Harper River. The walk was mild, the clouds volunteered some shade from the sun, the rhythmic crunching of the gravel beneath my feet lulled me into a peaceably mindless reverie – kinda perfect as far as road walking goes!
Flopped down in a patch of shade near a pasture fence eating lunch, a double-trailer farm truck drives past laden with huge round hay bales, and someone leans out the passenger window shouting hello. I yell back past the chunk of food in my mouth and flail my arms around in what I intend to be a wave but looks more like a flapping maneuver – smooth. Later on, at the Harper River campsite, it turns out that Brad and Ink had been in the truck getting a hitch and had been the ones to shout greetings. I immediately feel better about my arm-flailing because these guys already know I’m a dork. The campsite itself is essentially a field with an ancient dilapidated picnic table under a brand-new pavilion, which is built just big enough for the table and nothing else. Like the table is a holy relic of some kind and the pavilion is its little shrine. We pass a lovely evening seated at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Order of the Busted Picnic Table playing cards and performing various other worshipful rites.
The next day it’s out of the farmlands and back into the woods, and it’s a true delight to be back under the shade of some trees. Our lodging for the night is Hamilton Hut, nicknamed the Hamilton Hilton for its size (20 bunks!) and snazzy accoutrements (Stone fireplace! TWO tables! Screen doors!). Perhaps not wanting to get too soft on this luxury, Harold decides to go on to the next hut, West Harper, so he can get some more distance in.
I leave Hamilton Hut early the next morning and get to West Harper just in time to collect Harold so we can walk together. It’s a supremely Te Araroa day: the highs are incredible and the lows are absurd. We climb through lush southern beech forest to the shoulders of Mt. Bruce, where we see beautiful subalpine plants and get a magnificent view of the craggy mountains in Arthur’s Pass National Park, our next destination. Then we descend to a road walk along a busy highway, followed by a slide down a highway embankment, some bush-bashing through a trailless thistle patch, and finally a confused wander across the miles-wide rocky basin of the Bealey River. There’s no trail and we spend a couple of hours floundering through thigh-high river grasses and clambering over rocks, aiming for a spot at the base of the mountain on the other side where we think we’re supposed to end up. After walking under a derelict bridge, crossing some railroad tracks, and strolling through a drainage culvert we’re finally at the road, and we hitch up to Arthur’s Pass Village and our accommodation at a place called The Sanctuary.
How to describe The Sanctuary? It’s amazing – a little village of cargo containers, sheds, and giant concrete culvert sections converted into lodgings. Kea (mountain parrots) are everywhere, bending their intellects to evil ends as they work to pry up corrugated metal roofs, gnaw on ratchet straps, and cause general havoc. The tent area at the Sanctuary is segmented into lanes lined with low electric fencing to thwart the kea as they swoop in to steal people’s stuff, but mostly people are just tripping over it and getting shocked, and the kea are shrieking at them in derisive laughter.
Bill, the proprietor of the Sanctuary, is not unlike his domain. He drives a rusty white Land Rover from the 80s that houses a permanent population of sandflies – look at the windows and you can see them swarming in the thousands. I notice Bill standing on top of a picnic table, and then I see that he’s throwing handfuls of gravel at the kea to get them to stop ripping his roof off. He smiles at me and hands me some gravel encouragingly.
The hike from Arthur’s Pass Village up to Goat Pass and then down the Deception River is one of the most beautiful parts of the entire TA so far. I walk with Brad and Ink – we climb through an impossibly verdant landscape laced with creeks and waterfalls, and then wind through the pass and down an endless boulder fall with the Deception River splashing and tumbling alongside us. We see so many birds – weka, blue ducks, wood pigeons – and the trees are just amazing. Most beautiful and strange is the mountain neinei, Dracophyllum traversii, which looks so much like a Dracaena but is, unbelievably, in the same plant family as blueberries (Ericaceae, if you’re wondering).
The next day is the last before a huge rainstorm is supposed to arrive, so our NOBO crew high-tails it to the next sizeable hut along the trail, the Locke Stream Hut, where we figure we can stay dry if it looks like the weather is too rough to hike in the morning. And it is – the rain comes down in cold torrents, and as frozen hikers wash up at the hut shivering over the course of the day we feel pretty good about staying put. The only critters who seem ok out in the rain are a family of weka – two adults, three chicks – who wander around the hut clucking and honking and hooting for part of the afternoon. (In case you’ve never seen them, weka are flightless birds that look like someone started to draw a duck but then decided halfway through that it should be a chicken instead. They’re great.)
The next two days are cold and rainy, and I walk fast to keep warm en route to Boyle Village, where I’ll be picking up a food resupply box at the Boyle Village Outdoor Education Center. The trail winds through Lake Sumner Forest Park, whose rolling wooded hills and gentle slopes remind me of the Appalachian Piedmont, at least until I get a peek at the towering mountains in the distance. I cruise up to the Outdoor Education Center and rediscover that I’ve mailed myself a metric ton of trail mix.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.
What Do You Think?