Day 29: Starvell Hut (1,848km) to Top Wairoa Hut (1,886km)
Day 30: Top Wairoa Hut (1,886km) to road head (1,920km)
Cumulative distance: 1,920km
I’m just in from a 3 day north to south fast pack across the Richmond Range. If that had been a standalone adventure trip, I would feel very satisfied, but to think it came just a couple of days after the Cook Strait and the Queen Charlotte Track is pretty mind blowing. Anyway, I need to look forwards not backwards.
There is something rather refreshing about ‘tortoising’ like this – having everything you need on your back – but it’s obviously considerably slower than just having a daypack setup. In contrast to Queen Charlotte Track the range offers ultimate solitude and some seriously challenging terrain, which dictates a slow and steady pace you would be unwise to force. I couldn’t have ‘run’ it any faster if I tried; the only way to crank up the distance is to be out there longer, and that I did, running 3 x 14 hour days. Now I’m tired….
The trick I find is not to skimp on food. To keep moving for that length of time for three consecutive days requires a lot of energy, so I carried generous quantities of food, and stopped regularly to have hot meals – well freeze dried meals for two. They are pretty good actually although now I’ve worked my way through the full menu selection I’m getting a little more choosy about flavors. I was fortunate to have James and Mark offer to walk in to meet me around halfway and provide me with a resupply of food. It’s amazing what a fresh batch of cheese sandwiches does for morale.
Anyway, that’s enough about food. The terrain was incredibly diverse, and intensely challenging. The route started on riverside trails which, I’ve learned from experience, are the slowest going of all on Te Araroa. But I enjoyed taking in the different type of forest the South Island offers – drier underfoot and less dense – as well as the unreal looking turquoise colored water to the rivers. On a long journey like this it’s easy to find the best bits of the countryside, and to have it all to myself is quite a treat. If only I had a little more time to enjoy it. My choice I know.
By the end of day 1 I was up high and above the tree line, and started the alpine route properly on day 2. It reminded me of a big day out in the Scottish Highlands – with rock, scree and limited vegetation. The route is marked up high using poles which are great in good visibility, but today for instance when it was cloudy, foggy and raining all day, navigation can be quite a challenge. My Garmin Oregon GPS unit is undoudbtly my most important piece of kit and has saved my bacon on more than one occasion. I spent the majority of day 2 up high which included a trip up Mt Rintoul at 1,731m. I craved to stay high the whole time, but what goes up…..
And finally today was a complete washout. It rained from the moment I left the hut, to about 5pm. Staying warm and in good spirits was quite a challenge, but a hot lunch (there we go, food again) seemed to sort me out, and get me through to the moment the sun finally came out. So I visited all the huts on the route – nine in total – so I can tell you which are the nice ones, which are the old ones and the one with the resident mouse. They really do provide an incredible facility for walkers. They are typically located high up, in a clearing or a place with a good view, and provide such a haven after a long day out on the trail, particularly in bad weather. Generally they come equipped with a wood burning stove, stored water or a stream close by, bunk beds with mattresses, space to cook, and a long drop toilet about 30m away. Even more impressive is just how well maintained and cared for they are. Well done walkers!
Tonight I’m back the van, a nice chance to get my kit sorted out before I hit the next fast pack section – 113km through Nelson Lakes National Park – starting first thing in the morning. The guide book assures me it’s more mellow and ‘sociable’ than Richmond. I can only sincerely hope that’s the case….