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.
Deception to Mingha
Day 83: 30 January 2022
Dillons Homestead – Deception River
We’re lying in the tent with half the fly pulled back to enjoy the view up the valley to the rugged Aickens Range. A gentle breeze is trying to stir the hot thick soup of the afternoon, but it’s soaked up by the mānuka scrub. A cicada drones above my head and Emilie is reading to me from her new Snake and Lizard book which we discovered with delight at Red Book, the best bookstore in Greymouth.
We spent last night up the Taipo River at the quaint and cosy Dillons Homestead, feeling warm and loved in the company of dear friends. They walked with us across the Morrison’s footbridge, then bade us farewell. Off we trudged, a little forlornly, up the Deception River.
We had grand plans of walking to Upper Deception Hut this evening, but as Emilie was quick to point out, the DOC sign recommended 8hrs. It was 12pm and we had already walked 10kms from Dillons Homestead back to the carpark.
It was hot and our motivation was low. We quickly agreed to put in two long days tomorrow and Tuesday (which we may live to regret) and called it a day at 2pm, just 3 kms upriver.
Now it’s 4:45pm and I’m wondering if I can be bothered to go back across to the river. There’s a little pool behind a big rock, one where I could immerse myself before hauling out to sunbathe. It would feel nice, but the sun is harsh and I’m sure we won’t get much solace from it tomorrow as we make the 800m climb up to Goat Pass.
Emilie was sad to leave her little buddy Felix. I can see he’s become like a little brother for her and she enjoys taking him under her wing and showing him what to do, from shoelaces to stream crossings. They are a very sweet pair – running off to play games together, swept away with their imagination in the freedom of the bush.
It’s hard to continue on into the mountains when everyone else is going home. But after a swim and a snuggle in our cosy tent, we’re both happy again.
Day 84: 31 January 2022
Deception River – Goat Pass Hut (11 kms/9 hrs)
Today’s long scramble up the rugged Deception River was rewarded by sighting six beautiful whio.
An hour or so upriver, before the sun was high enough to warm the narrow valley, we came upon a group of four whio with dark feathers almost completely camouflaged against the damp rocks. We stopped to marvel at these beautiful birds, dabbling and moving amongst the rapids and rocks with complete grace.
Seemingly indifferent to our presence, they fished, rock-hopped and rode down the rapids with skill and style. Further upriver we came across a lone duck, and an hour later, another, dabbling quietly in a large pool created by a waterfall.
We felt very blessed to witness these beautiful taonga enjoying their native environment, as not long ago, whio numbers had dwindled to an alarmingly low number. But thanks to the collective mahi from wildlife enthusiasts, organisations and volunteers, intensive predator trapping and breeding assistance programmes, whio are now back in Arthur’s Pass.
Recently, young ducks hand-raised at the Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust in Christchurch were released into these rivers. Perhaps the group of four we spotted were part of this batch, joyfully surfing down the rapids together.
As we continued to climb upriver, our long hot day included an hour of serious boulder-bashing when we lost the track and continued up the river bed, only to have our slow progress thwarted by a group of huge boulders. Frustrated and tired, we bush-bashed a few metres into the scrub. To our relief, we had stumbled back onto the actual track.
As we gained elevation, the dense bush gave way to beautiful subalpine scenery interspersed with golden dracophyllum and brilliant red rātā.
By the time we reached Goat Pass Hut we were both exhausted but blissfully happy, still talking excitedly about the whio we’d had the privilege to see.
Day 85: 1 February 2022
Goat Pass Hut to Greyneys Shelter (11 kms)
Today we were visited by a kea! It was pretty magical to be up close with this beautiful bird, our first kea of the Trail.
We had just finished lunch on Dudley Knob, lingering to admire how the dark green of the beech forests gave way to lighter shades of greens and yellows above the now-distant treeline, when to our amazement, a kea hopped up through the tussock.
What privilege to be up close with such an iconic and endangered species! Those iridescent green and brown feathers! That beak! Those claws! And such intelligence and expressiveness in its eyes. We slowly sat back down and watched in awe as it hopped around, inspecting us with mutual interest.
Kea are a unique and endangered parrot species endemic to New Zealand’s Southern Alps. Apparently there are less than 7,000 of these beautiful birds left in the wild!
They’re considered to be one of the most intelligent bird species in the world – but this intelligence and curiosity often gets them into trouble, particularly when it comes to interacting with humans.
For this reason, it’s important that we humans look after kea and take responsibility when we’re in their natural environment. Don’t leave things lying around that could be harmful to kea (particularly food or gear they could steal) and never, ever feed kea.
If you’re lucky enough to spot and get up close with one of these taonga in the wild, take a photo or report your sighting to the Kea Database. This helps scientists find out what kea get up to and where they go. The Kea Database works closely with the Kea Conservation Trust, Arthur’s Pass Wildlife Trust and the Department of Conservation.
Happy kea-spotting! And most of all, enjoy the unique experience of getting up close and personal with the world’s smartest parrot.
2 February 2022
Cass (0 kms)
Our long spell of hot, fine weather has finally come to an end as rain sweeps across the South Island. Only too familiar with the ferocity and speed that turns trickling side streams into raging torrents and impassable rivers, we decided to stay put for a couple of days.
We felt a little displaced and homeless and sorry for ourselves, but not for long, as a kind soul offered to put us up at their beautiful cottage in Cass. We were quickly welcomed to the community by the legendary Barry, former railway man and sole permanent resident of this tiny settlement.
Barry picked us up and got us settled in, then invited us over to the Shed for BBQ sausages, bacon and eggs from his industrious chooks (apparently he’s got 300 pecking around!). We met a few other folk and after a beer and a yarn, felt much more at home. Emilie even whipped out that pink fairy princess dress for the occasion and invited herself round to Barry’s to watch cartoons and eat his cake. She’ll go far, that girl!
Later that evening Deb and Grace came up to see us, armed with a delicious dinner and homemade blackberry crumble. We’re feeling very spoiled! And I’m really looking forward to a few days’ rest with a good book or two, while Emilie takes charge of our social agenda.
3 – 4 February 2022
Cass (0 kms)
I spent a good chunk of today moping around, caught up in my spiral of doom and despair, before I realised what was happening. I’ve stopped walking and everything has caught up with me, including anxiety. My old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again.
Suddenly, I’m questioning everything I’m doing in life and feeling more than a little lost.
I even felt angry, frustrated with myself. I’ve spent the last 85 days healing in nature, so why am I feeling this way? Why is my brain repeating these old patterns? Am I completely broken beyond repair? Won’t anything ever fix me? You can imagine the dark hole I was throwing myself down.
I got so busy trying to ‘will away’ this clenched fist inside my belly that I forgot to take a moment to simply be with myself. Then I remembered something my therapist told me – mental health recovery is not about making the difficult feelings go away, that’s simply not realistic. The goal is to accept yourself, difficult feelings and all, while finding ways to manage so you can live your best life.
Of course I’m feeling anxious. All my props, my familiarities, my routines are gone. I feel displaced. I’ve become used to spending my days outside, negotiating the track or zoning out with the scenery. I shouldn’t fight these dark feelings. Sometimes we get so busy trying to outrun the dark clouds of anxiety, but sadly, this only makes it worse.
So I stood still and took a few deep breaths. I washed my face and went outside to look at the mountains and felt the breeze on my face. A simple change in scenery can be the catalyst our bodies need to break that downward spiral. Sitting under a tree or going for a walk in the park can help.
It’s okay to feel anxious. It’s your body’s physiological response to uncertainty about what’s going to happen next, whether that’s in the next few minutes, days, or months. And it will pass. You don’t need to fight it. You don’t need to run from it. Be kind to yourself.
Acknowledge that you’re feeling anxious. Give yourself a big hug and tell yourself: just like the weather, this too shall pass.
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.