Here at Wilderlife, we’re collating Victoria’s diaries, photos and videos into a digest. Each post spans a section of Te Araroa between major towns and rest days.
Walking with her seven-year-old daughter Emilie, together they are raising funds for Federated Mountain Clubs and telling stories about the mental health benefits of time spent in the wild places of NZ, as well as the importance of protecting those areas for future generations to enjoy.
St Arnaud to Lake Constance
Day 65: 6 January 2022
St Arnaud to Coldwater Stream
After a quick pit stop in St Arnaud, we were off into Nelson Lakes National Park to spend a couple of days with our friend Melissa (a botanist!), her husband Felix and daughter Allegra before continuing on the Trail.
I was fully loaded with a dangerous amount of food – enough for 14 days – and my pack was at full capacity.
We were heading up the Coldwater Track to find a sweet riverside camping spot amidst the sandflies, before making the climb up past Angelus Hut to Hinepouri Tarn.
Everyone was in good spirits. Emilie was delighted to have a girlfriend to hang with and so was I!
The highlight of today was meeting two good old blokes from Friends of Rotoiti, seasoned volunteers who told us they’d removed more than 40,000 pests from the area over the years.
The girls’ eyes popped when one of the guys leaned in to deliver this message: “Kids, just remember . . . conservation is about killing!”
We had two enthusiastic little conservationists on our hands for the rest of that day.
Day 66: 7 January 2022
Coldwater Stream to Hinepouri Tarn (10 kms)
My body creaked and moaned under the impossible task of carrying 14 days worth of food up the steep and jagged Cascade Track to the base of Mt Angelus, but the views almost made up for it.
I was most impressed I could fit it all in my pack – the tent neatly tucked into the outside pocket. However, I was breaking another personal record for the heaviest pack and it wasn’t fun. All our freeze dried meals were gone so I was loaded up with porridge oats, powdered milk, couscous, TVP and dehy vegetables, at least 1kg of wraps, a jar of peanut butter and a small block of cheese. Oh, don’t forget the cucumber (to the hilarity of my friends). Felix, being a good bugger, eventually offered to carry something, so I gave him our tent. I was glad to strip off 1.5kg, but my legs hardly noticed it.
The beginning of these long sections always seem to start the same way: worrying about food.
Do I have enough?
Have I rationed appropriately for two hungry people?
How can I carry more without killing myself?
The plan was to spend three to four nights with our friends then head off on the Trail, all the way through to Boyle.
If the speed of our Richmond Ranges section was anything to go by, I was planning for ten days to Boyle at the most, perhaps eight at the earliest if we pushed our legs once we reached the flatness of the St James Walkway.
And now we had friends! Emilie was delighted to have Allegra to hang out with and I was enjoying botanising with Melissa in this beautiful part of the county.
The monoculture of the beech forest was offset by the diversity of mosses and lichens. Melissa pointed out that a single beech trunk could be home to over 20 species of lichen.
Tiny wildflowers popped up at our feet, from the fragile white bells of native foxglove to explosive blooms of the exotic orange hawkweed.
The Cascade Track is appropriately named for its many tumbling waterfalls, the white blue water contrasting against the dark rock and brilliant green of the moss and ferns.
We hurried past the crowded Angelus Hut, none of us ready to be surrounded by other humans, and headed for the peacefulness of Hinepouri Tarn.
We camped amidst golden tussocks at the point where the higher tarn trickled into the lower – a sweet little base camp perched on bright blue mirrors, surrounded by jagged dark ridgelines.
Day 67: 8 January 2022
Hinepouri Tarn/Mt Angelus
I’m lying on a rocky ledge under a huge craggy boulder. It must have made the basin ring with the sound of thunder when it toppled down the slope.
It’s 11am and I’m exhausted. Not just tired; rather, my whole body feels as shattered as the slaty grey scree slope all around me. We camped on the flat tussocks by the tarn last night and while I thought I’d slept well, I realised I needed to rest as soon as the group began the slow climb towards Sunset Saddle.
So Emilie went off to summit Mt Angelus with Allegra, Melissa and Felix, while I clambered up the rocks to find a spot to rest and survey my beautiful surroundings.
I was drawn to this cave, a shallow space under the giant boulder. It’s the kind of place where a wounded animal might drag itself to lie up and lick its wounds.
I’m lying staring at a multicoloured rock, a patchwork of lichen of brilliant green, white, orange and grey. It’s hard to tell where the lichen ends and the rock begins. Melissa would be able to tell me. Later I hope to join her for some more botanising, but for now I’ll rest as the mist swirls beneath my rocky hideaway.
I can’t even see the tarn below, although the sound of running water pierces the dense white cloud. I wonder if I should use the last of my energy to drag myself back to my tent and get into my sleeping bag. But I don’t think it’s sleep I need – it’s rest and food. I feel nutritionally deficient, my stomach a gnawing void after 60+ days of trail walking on meagre rations.
I’m worried that I simply can’t carry enough food to satiate both Emilie and myself.
Yesterday’s mammoth ascent of the steep and stunningly scenic Cascade Track to Angelus Hut destroyed me, given I was carrying food for 14 days (ten trail days plus four days to hang out with Melissa and Felix).
My huge leg muscles are trembling and I felt a strange rush of dizziness on my way up to this rocky sanctuary, perhaps low blood pressure.
The mist momentarily lifts, revealing a dark blue reflection of the rocky bluffs on the turquoise green waters of the tarns and the tiny white and yellow specks of our tents.
I decide to crawl back to base camp and heat water for herbal tea and a freeze dried meal, then sleep while the sun rises overhead.
Day 68: 9 January 2022
Hinepouri Tarn/Angelus Hut to Sabine River (9 kms/6 hrs)
This morning we bade farewell to our dear friends and headed out on our own version of the Trail – sliding down the side of Mt Cedric to the Sabine River Track some 1,200 metres below.
From here we’ll walk up to West Sabine Hut and resume the southbound route over the Waiau Pass, substituting the Travers Saddle for the Cascade/Mt Cedric crossing.
At this very moment we’re lying side by side on our sleeping mats, safe from the sandflies, with the lull of the river less than ten metres from our tent.
There was no rain forecast, so I felt safe to walk past Sabine Hut and wander up the river bank until we found a grassy spot growing out of the sand – a little lumpy, but otherwise perfect for two tired girls.
Emilie is engrossed in her new book, In the Forest, a beautiful explanation of our New Zealand bush. The swelling from the wasp stings is now all gone from her little face. There’s just a pale pink patch of skin above her top lip to remind us of her scary ten metre fall.
Dinner is a pleasantly delicious concoction of couscous and mushroom soup-infused TVP with homemade dehy vegetables. And even though I served big portions, I could have eaten Emilie’s bowl too and still gone back for more.
We’ve finished sucking our carefully rationed portions of chocolate and I wish I could let us devour the whole block, but we have a long way to go and I’m not convinced the food I’m carrying will see us through to Boyle.
Again, I feel chronic undernourishment gnawing at my belly. I wish I had the skills to catch a trout or an eel or a young deer to supplement our diet with the fat and protein I’m craving.
Perhaps when we get to Boyle, we can take some rest days in Hanmer and lie around eating to our stomach’s desire.
Although it’s only 5pm I think I’ll try to sleep soon, as my body is shattered from carrying my heavy pack on the huge climb down Mt Cedric.
I tumbled twice today, smashing first my left then my right knee, peeling back skin on the sharp rocks of the ridgeline and causing an angry red weal as I slid helplessly down through the slippery beech leaves.
Hopefully a good night’s sleep will see me recovered and ready for a long walk up the valley to West Sabine Hut.
Day 69: 10 January 2022
Sabine to West Sabine (14 kms)
I woke before the sun peeped over the ranges, but long after the bellbirds had finished their morning chorus. Emilie was still asleep so I lay listening to the river rush by and gently exploring my body, flexing my feet and legs and feeling for any aches and pains.
My right knee was definitely still tender from yesterday’s tumble, I must have hyper-extended it as I slid helplessly off the track. It had been twinging in the night every time I rolled over.
If it was still sore at Boyle, then maybe I could find a pharmacy in Hanmer and get a compression brace to support it.
Apart from my sore knee and needing to pee several times, I’d had a remarkably comfortable night tucked up in my Sea to Summit sleeping bag and my skin felt silky smooth from last night’s dip in the icy blue river.
So I turned my attention to breakfast, hefting our big black food bag onto my lap, locating tubes of coffee, Milo and the bag of milk powder for our morning drinks.
I wish I could weigh this bag, as it was definitely the heaviest thing in my pack. I would estimate it contained a kilo of breakfast oats, half a kilo of couscous, 750 grams of wraps, 200 grams of cheese, a jar of peanut butter and honey … oh, and half a cucumber.
I was very proud of lugging that bloody cucumber all the way from St Arnaud and thoroughly enjoyed the crunch of it in my wraps.
I was also supercharging our breakfast porridge with scoops of vanilla flavoured protein powder, in the hope it would keep us full for longer, as well as adding a spoonful of desiccated coconut, sunflower seeds and dates to each bowl.
I think it was working! Yesterday I was full until around 11am, just before we dropped off the Mt Cedric ridge into the punishing descent through the beech forest to the shores of Lake Rotoroa.
Perhaps we would make it to Boyle without eating one another after all . . .
Day 70: 11 December 2022
West Sabine to Lake Constance
My coffee and I are enjoying a few quiet moments before the rest of the world awakens, as it was 4am when I rose. I was wide awake with the kind of energy that would take hours to settle, so I decided to stay up and enjoy the darkness of the pre-dawn. When I opened the tent fly, I could still make out tiny stars twinkling in the sky and the dark outline of the beech trees around our campsite.
Maybe it’s a parent thing, but there’s something so magical about being awake in a world where everyone else is still sleeping. Above the white noise of the river I can hear repetitive peeping, maybe the piping call of a frog, or an insect. Last night we made camp on an island, much to Emilie’s delight, a sizable patch of rocky land peppered with mānuka and beech scrub rising above the confluence of the East and West Sabine rivers.
It’s an island only because a shallow flow of water, no more than ankle deep and maybe 20 metres wide, cuts it off from the mainland about a kilometre north of West Sabine Hut.
When I suggested to Emilie the option of camping here, she strode straight through the shallow water and onto the red rocky shores looking for a soft spot to pitch our tent amongst the moss and wildflowers.
Once I’d pitched the tent, she took charge of setting up our mats and sleeping bags. She did a beautiful job of arranging sleeping clothes (clean thermals), tucking our liners into our bags, and stretching fleece jumpers into comfy pillows. She even tucked her Kiwi and Tui into her sleeping bag. Oh little girls can be so darling and helpful when they want to be!
Once she was satisfied with her work, we went to explore the perimeter of our island. We launched dried sticks as boats down the white blue rapids on the far side and followed deer trails through the mānuka scrub to discover several other mossy/grassy campsites.
We made our way over to a deep pool on the shallow side of the island and stripped off to bathe, egging each other into the icy water.
It really was freezing, so after a couple of attempts I waded in up past my belly and immersed myself up to my shoulders before rocketing out of the water to discover a cave wētā floating beside me. We must have disturbed him with our antics so I scooped him out for a better look. He was about 3 centimetres long, although longer if you measured his antennae, and in the light of day he shone with golden and brown markings. The tiny little hairs on his feet helped him stand on the surface of the water, although he was still shaking droplets off his face. I suggested we take him back to camp and photograph him. Emilie carefully carried him across the stream and we arranged him on a rock, much to the interest of a young robin hopping around nearby, before releasing him into the bush.
It’s now 5:15pm and the sky is beginning to glow – just a soft light – but I can hear the birds stirring, getting ready to call up the sun for another wonderful day.
My alarm is set for 5:30am, reminiscent of the discipline of our Richmond Ranges section, although I’m not sure how much cooperation I’ll get from Emilie. She took much longer than me to fall asleep last night – I know because I growled at her for waking me when she was thrashing around and complaining of not being sleepy.
But since we have a long climb up to Blue Lake ahead of us, I figured we’d best attack it early in the day. That way, we have some time to flop around and enjoy the scenery once we’re up there.
Victoria and Emilie are walking the Te Araroa over the 21/22 summer season. They are raising funds and telling stories about the mental health benefits of time spent in the wild places of NZ, as well as the importance of protecting those areas for future generations to enjoy. To see all their stories, visit wilderlife.nz/adventures_with_emilie/ and follow them @adventures_with_emilie on Instagram and Facebook.
90% of the funds raised are donated evenly between the Mental Health Foundation and the Federated Mountain Clubs of NZ Mountain & Forest Charitable Trust. 10% is going towards some of the expenses of walking the trail.
If you’d like to help them out, please donate via their give a little page.