Te Araroa: Part 9 – you can not (Arthurs) pass

I’m quite impressed I’ve gone 9 blog posts without a lord of the rings (miss) quote in my title but here we are!

As relaxed as a boiled egg

The hanmer hot springs

The Hanmer hot springs

When you’ve been hiking without a full rest day for 21 days and you do finally stop, your body will tell you about bumps, aches and pains you’ve been ignoring for the past few weeks. Luckily Hanmer Springs was the perfect place to soothe tired bodies. Home of the largest geothermal hot pools in New Zealand, we soaked up the mineral fueled ponds for as long as possible, using a multi-entry pass to spend 6 hours submerged in water that made you smell like you work in an omelette factory.

A colorful dinner of steak and salad to match the shirt

Jenny eventually peeled me away from the water slides so we could make a brilliant dinner at the Kakapo Lodge – steak and salad! We caught up with family, holiday admin like renting bikes for our Alps to Ocean cycle, read our books and hung out with the other hikers.

Unfortunately my Altra Olympus shoes that I’d started hiking in just after Christmas had died a very early death, with the upper mesh ripping in 4 separate places. That meant they lasted a grand total of 21 days and about 300 miles. Luckily Daddy had gone to Christchurch to resupply so ended up bringing me back a pair of the HOKA Speedgoats, which I’d heard a lot about but had never tried. Hopefully these last me till the end of my time in New Zealand.

The big daddy breakfast

After 30 hours of not hiking and sitting in 40 degree pools, we were relaxed and rejuvenated. In fact, we were so well rested that trying to leave town was a struggle. A big breakfast and coffee later, we got our thumbs ready for the journey back to trail. 20 minutes later, about three times longer than any other previous hitch in New Zealand, we scored our first lift to the state highway, where 15 minutes of waiting later we were picked up by a mother and daughter duo who were going hiking for the weekend. Jenny shared some food tips after they ogled the huge bag of scrogg Jenny was holding.

Hiking off kilter to the pack

Hope hut

From the road we hiked out to Hope Hut, a basic 6 bunk shelter which we had to ourselves. As we fired up the gas stove to cook, we did realise one thing we’d overlooked in town – our gas bottle was almost empty with only a fifth left in it, which meant we would need to conserve our fuel a bit more. We decided on cold coffee for the mornings so we could try and save the gas for our evening meals.

After trying some squares of each of the Whittaker’s chocolate bars (fruit and nut, Nutella, dark chocolate, salt caramel and white) we brushed our teeth, read our books and fell asleep before sunset with buffs over our eyes as eye masks. We went to sleep in dead quiet, only interrupted briefly in the night by a naughty possum knocking around outside the hut.

Trail served rough

Morning started with a cold coffee that pleasantly surprised the both of us. Then we headed down the valley where we had a brief encounter with some cows. After ushering them off the track it wasn’t long before we made it to the Hope Kiwi Hut. We shared our lunch spot at a supposed lookout area over Lake Sumner with the first Malaysian hiker of the TA. He told us this was his first ever overnight backpacking experience but considering he already had about 1000 km under his belt he was doing well, and so was his $20 tent.

More of nature’s jungle gym

After lunch, the trail wove through the forest. Finding the next marker was at times a bit of a challenge, so looking at where the path was most trodden was normally the easiest way of trying to stay in trail. Thick shrubs, fallen trees and cow paths made this a little trickier. It felt like walking in a blizzard, trying to identify the next pole or marker before leaving the last.

More encounters with cows

A few hours later and we were back on an open plain and heading towards a wire bridge. I hung back as I could see a herd of cows with calves and I knew Jenny could get nervous near them.

Danger. Cows ahead

“Slow down Joal, can’t we go another route?”

“No, we need to cross at the bridge over there as otherwise we won’t be able to follow the trail. These are all just dairy cows anyway, they aren’t just going to plonk a bull on a walking trail.”

As I said this an older more muscular cow pushed his way through the pack to glare at us from the front of the herd.

“Ah, shoot,” not for the first time on trail was I wrong!

All of a sudden the cows started to move towards us at a walk that quickly turned into a trot.

“Ok, let’s take a wide berth. Don’t run, but walk as fast as you can.”

With that New Zealand’s first speed walking competition was on. Our berth was so wide, at first heading in completely the wrong direction that we easily added a kilometer to the track. It wasn’t till Jenny had both feet on the steel wires of the footbridge that she felt more at ease, even though this long bridge was pretty shakey.

Bridge with a helpful sign after our cow encounter

Debriefing on the encounter as we walked on, it was no time before we hit the hut we would be spending the night in. Unfortunately due to poor ventilation it was one of the worst night’s sleep we had, as we were both boiling hot.

What made up for the poor night’s sleep was a great chat with a vet. He compared a thru hike to a farm, which at first I thought was a stretch of a metaphor but actually they share a lot of similarities. At a cattle farm the farmer is trying to get the most muscle or milk out of his livestock. For a thru hike nutrition is similar where you try and carry as little weight as possible to give you the best performance output. We chatted about our respective nutrition on trail and our evolution away from just carb counting to looking at protein and the nutrients we are eating. He then shared tips on how to maximize your body’s absorption of components of food. We didn’t realise that not all protein is created equal, with wheat, meat and pulses all providing different amino acids for your body to work with. If you aren’t getting the right mixture your body ends up just getting rid of the excess, normally through weeing it out.

Hot springs!

The next day we had been told about some on trail hot springs. These natural springs didn’t disappoint, with a plunge pool in the river to cool off after a slightly too hot dip. We spent a good hour here before heading off to a hut for lunch which had a triple bunk – this would be a nightmare for sleep walkers or those with a weak bladder!

After scaling an emergency wire bridge (this one was just three wires strung across the river) we headed up Harper’s Pass. The scenery had changed again and had turned into a magical forest, although the Lord of the Rings audiobook might have been contributing to its mystique. There were ferns, Chinese money plants the size of dinner plates and trees that looked like they were sprouting pineapples.

The uneventful day

The next day was an uneventful day, apart from one event which won’t be repeated here as that would probably hasten any second thoughts Jenny had about our marriage. We walked through bouldery river beds for most of the day, which was hard work on the feet, and fell asleep to the sound of crickets in the trees right by a bridge which indicated the start of the Coast to Coast.

The coast to coast track

The trail – apparently

The Coast to Coast is an epic yearly challenge in February where 1000 participants run, cycle and kayak from the west to the east coast of the South Island. The top participants take about 11 hours to complete the course, spending 3 hours running the deception track (25kms) shared with the TA. We instead would walk the saddle of the divide over one and a half days, a much calmer pace. As we trundled up the mountain we were passed frequently by runners who were head down in training mode, plotting out their run in a few weeks’ time. It being a Sunday just three weeks before the event, it was probably the busiest time on the track. Whilst most were too fast for a chat, a couple of folks did hang back and chat about each other’s respective adventures.

The track followed a river bed up where the boulders got bigger the higher we climbed. For the last bit I put my headphones on, put my poles in my pack and got into the groove of the full body scramble up 200 meters of a boulder field to Goat Hut.

Goat hut

Here we shared a hut with a large number of TA hikers before heading down the other side of the pass the next day.

After getting familiar with Dudley’s Knob, we made it down the pass and into the very small village of Arthur’s Pass. Unfortunately all the owners of hospitality in town seemed to not want customers, with the cafe closing an hour before the sign on the door stated and the restaurant deciding not to open. Instead we had tinned salmon and risotto – not the meal we had imagined or wanted, but fuel all the same.


This section has returned to a greater reliance on our partnership as the trail family we had formed in the Richmond Ranges had scattered. We loved pushing our bodies a bit more and spending more time on trail together. As we got to town we started planning for what could be our final stretch of hiking in the South Island. We now had a question for ourselves: do we relax a bit or go out with a bang?

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Comments 1

  • Granny Grey : Feb 13th

    Enjoyed all of the posts so descriptive, photos so picturesque, thank you Jenny and joal.


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