Leaving Nichols

Arete Peak, the day’s destination is the second peak on the left.

Nichols Hut to Arete Biv – 12kms

We woke to a cold southerly. The ‘Yeah Nah’s’ promised blue sky was absent but we were hopeful they would appear as an occasional mountain lit up across the valley.

We were all feeling pretty good. Joel was excited as he thought he might manage to see some alpine scenery. His trip from the top of East Cape had been cursed with bad weather almost every time he got up into his favourite terrain…alpine country.

This would be our first whole day walking the spine of the fish. We said our goodbyes, I walked out the door and it hit me. Right between the ears.

“Edelweiss! Edelweiss!”

The only way to knock a bad earworm on the head is with proper music, but I was being frugal with the 400 grams of batteries I was carrying so I made my way up the mountain in a somewhat Julie Andrews mood. I planned to hit her over the head after lunch.

Fiona and Neil Diamond were Writing the Songs That Make the Young Girls Cry or Sigh or Whatever, so she had it worse than me. But she doesn’t have the task of writing all this rubbish up on her phone every night so was free to waste as much battery as she wanted to as we set off for the day. She did so with a good dose of Radiohead.

Killing an earworm, Goblin Forest.

We’d walked this track a few years ago on a practice run for our South Island TA trip. I don’t have fond memories of it despite the fact that it runs along a ridgeline decorated with some of the best and most accessible ‘Goblin Forest’ in this part of the world.

Last time we passed through was a hot February day and I got dehydrated. I stupidly didn’t drink enough when we started in the morning at Arete, and compounded my problem by doing the same at our lunch stop at Drachophyllum Hut.

What a dick.

Actual dehydration is very different in real life than it is in the movies. On-screen cowboys and explorers just sweat a lot before falling off their horses. Some of them break out in a crispy layer of salt like I did that day, but none of them ever complain about their incessant need to pee.

Man I needed to pee…even though I couldn’t. I tried. Several times. But not a drop. Like all good movie companion-Indians, Fiona gave me her last inch of water. I survived, but I was scarred by the experience and always drink up when she reminds me to before we leave anywhere…just in case.

The long ridge along to Drachophyllum Hut, known oddly enough as Tararua Range, is quite a jagged route, but the track is well-bedded and none of the jags are too high so it’s quite a pleasant tramp. There were lots of windfallen goblin trees along the way but they didn’t impede us. Perhaps the goblins move them in the night?

We stopped for lunch at Dracho and counted the 250 TA walkers who’d signed in since September. It had been a wet summer so we reckon there was probably enough water for everyone in the hut’s small tank, but in a dry summer things could be different. If the number of TA walkers keeps increasing at current rates it WILL be different.

One great addition to the two bunk hut is the new toilet, for obvious reasons.

Rescue Orange Gothic, Drachophyllum Hut.

Drachophyllum at Drachophyllum Hut.

After a good (big) drink and our usual cheese, marmite and cracker lunch we continued along the range and up to Pukematawai.

I splashed out on some battery and that song from The Sound of Music that shall remain nameless for now was swept away by the best disco song ever written, ‘Cool for Cats’ by Squeeze.

As we slowly wound our way out of the bush and up the many peaks to the top of the mountain, the strong and cold south-easterly winds that the forest had protected us from started to blow us about and cool us down.

Small peak. The track winds its way to the top.

We stopped, put on our gloves and hats, and turned our music off so that we could concentrate properly. Pukematawai and the taller Arete peak behind it dodged in and out of cloud as we climbed. Ahead of us a pair of hikers stood at the junction. Would they come our way? Or were they going to take our route to the two-bunk Arete Biv?

Park Valley, a glacial valley that falls away below Arete Peak. Note: Arete isn’t a maori name, it’s a French word meaning a sharp mountain ridge. Appropriately for us it comes from the Latin Arista, where it meant spine or fish bone.

Thankfully they headed down the mountain toward us.

Jack from Maine and Alisa from Connecticut would probably be the last Sobos we were to meet. They were a couple of speed demons having just completed a massive day before. It was cold as we swapped information and they had an appointment with an Interislander so our meeting didn’t last long. As they powered off down the island we sauntered up to the junction. We passed the turnoff and went on to Arete Biv. We were now off the official Te Araroa.

Our last Sobos? Te Araroa walkers Alisa and Jack.

The wind got stronger and the cloud became constant. It was freezing as we sunk down off the top of Arete Peak to the hut at 1460m. We were in complete whiteout conditions. To say that we got lost would be an overstatement, but we took a lot longer than the five minutes the DoC sign on the ridge above the hut suggested. Small poles that seemed to go in different directions and the occasional cairn, or ‘Ken’, as we started to call them, weren’t much help so we had to get out the GPS. It was a tricky end to an otherwise smooth day on the spine.

Climbing Pukematawai with the trail from Nichols Hut behind.

It was possibly colder inside the hut than outside, but at least we could take our wet gear off put all our dry clothes on and climb into our sleeping bags.

As the wind roared around us, one of us slept soundly through the night. One of us didn’t.

We had left the trail.

At a crossroads. Te Araroa left, the unknown right.