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.
DOUBLE HUT TO LAKE TEKAPO
Day 94: 13 February 2022
Double Hut (0 kms)
The rain turned into sleet and then into snow, fluttering down around the hut before melting on the ground. Nadia has just left, walking out carefully on her sore ankle to meet her family at Lake Heron carpark. She’s way tougher than me, I’m huddled in my sleeping bag and wishing I was in bed, with Danilo making me hot cups of tea.
It’s probably time to confess I’m not really a hard-core bush woman. I’m actually a bit of a princess who likes things clean and cosy and warm. And the corrugated tin shed of Double Hut is a far cry from cosy, with its rough concrete floor and leaking roof.
The Lockwood interior does give it some charm, as do the writings on the wall, and it would all be improved if there was some wood to burn in the open fireplace. But for the most part, it’s dry, and we’re grateful for the shelter.
Emilie is drawing princesses with a fresh set of colouring pencils. I started a watercolour earlier, playing with shades of light and dark in a scene of golden hills giving way to the Rakaia River, before the cold drove me back to my sleeping bag. I should have saved my whiskey for a rainy day like today, but alas, the strongest drink I have is coffee or tomato soup.
Out of the window I can see the gold and grey tops slowly turning to white as the snow continues to fall. There’s something magical about these highland areas with their strange, almost hostile vegetation – flowering speargrass towering above our heads, spiny matagouri ripping into exposed flesh, huge clumps of golden tussock deceptively slippery underfoot.
And the micro-flora, a miniature world of tiny plants carpeting the stony ground. The way the hills just jut straight up out of the flat ground and the noise of water underfoot – what appears to be a dry, desolate tussock field is actually throbbing with underground tunnels created by running water.
I love how Te Araroa takes you through an ever-changing, evolving panorama of New Zealand landscapes, and if you take the time to be still and quiet, nature’s many treasures shyly reveal themselves.
Day 95: 14 February 2022
Double Hut – Mt Guy
The breeze is blowing softly over my empty Speights bottle with the forlorn sound of a distant wind chime. It’s big country all around me, an expansive basin of golden tussock stretches in every direction. Rolling brown hills in the foreground and jagged black and white peaks beyond, sparkling with yesterday’s snow dump.
It’s 4:30pm and the afternoon sun on top of two beers has drained my motivation, but we’re doggedly heading for a gap between two hills where we’ll find Paddle Hill Creek and hopefully a place to camp. I’ve actually walked this track before, in the opposite direction and in very different weather conditions. But apart from an aching nostalgia, I don’t recognise much.
Instead of snow, there are now gentians everywhere, clean crisp white flowers with pale yellow insides. They would be fitting as a funeral flower, although I’ve never been to a funeral. I’m thinking of death and dying and other facts of life as I plod across the grasslands. I’m trying to remember the Kubler-Ross stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I always get stuck on acceptance.
I am thinking of Peter, a retired farmer with a kind smile who invited us in for a cup of tea and cake and bade us farewell with couple of bottles of Speights. He told us his wife of 55 years passed away on Christmas Day. I can’t imagine how terrible that would feel. How to come to terms with such loss. And how hard it is to sense someone’s grief and not be able to do or say anything to help take it away.
Day 96: 15 February 2022
Mt Guy – Potts River Car Park
I’m sitting beside the Potts River which is discharging silty blue snowmelt into the mighty Rangitata. My legs are shattered and my body is enveloped in a warm glow of endorphin-induced bliss.
We’re at the end of another section, but you wouldn’t really know it. Apart from the carpark and strip of metal road, we might still be deep in bush. I haven’t arranged a ride so we’re hoping to flag down a car for a lift into Lake Clearwater or Mt Somers, if one ever comes past these ways.
The forest nymph isn’t particularly concerned. She’s now a stone mountain nymph slathering thick grey river mud on her golden skin. She commands me from the depth of the pool she’s dug, but the river drowns out any sound, which is a good thing as I’m not sure I’m capable of much right now.
Eventually I stagger out to flag down a motorhome who happily gives us a ride to Lake Clearwater, avoiding a further 5kms of boiling hot road walking. When we get there, we find Peter cruising around in his pick-up truck – he was looking for us! We’re all so happy to see each other again and to reach the Mt Somers store at 4:58pm, just in time for double scoop ice creams.
The world seems a bit smaller after these days spent wandering through the vastness of the Hakatere. I told Peter where we camped last night and he knows exactly the place I mean, after 50+ years mustering these hills, he knows it like the back of his hand.
All too soon we’re driving away from those big mountain ranges, home to so much history and memories. Peter, bless him, drives us all the way to Geraldine and delivers us to the wonderful Jan, who welcomes us smelly travellers into her home with open arms, cuddly cats, cold beer and roast salmon for dinner.
We’re tired but our hearts are full.
Day 97: 16 February 2022
Rangitata Gorge Road – Forest Creek
I started the day slightly handicapped by lack of sleep, which was brought on by sitting up drinking wine with Jan until 3am, but managed to get us out on the trail by 2pm. I realised how much I’ve missed hanging out with other grownups, connecting, sharing and trying to solve the world’s problems. Emilie dosed herself up on cartoons and sugar and I attempted hair of the dog with a little medicinal brandy before we staggered up Forest Creek, a less gnarly alternative to Bush Stream.
The landholder clearly doesn’t appreciate a track going up his valley as indicated by the lack of DOC signage, track markers or basic access to the river bed (we chose to crawl under the road bridge instead of clambering over the wire fencing).
We’ve set up camp some 8kms upstream, politely keeping to the side of the river that doesn’t have private property signs slapped on every grassy spot. The Ben McLeod Range stretches away to the left of me and tomorrow we’ll start climbing up to Royal Hut at 1300m elevation, before attempting Stag Saddle, the highest point of Te Araroa at a lofty 1900m.
Emilie is in the tent, drawing up wonderful worlds in her diary and singing to herself, while I’m sitting out on the grass with the sound of the river in my ears. I love these moments where we’re both happy and peaceful. I love how little we actually need to be content. Just some good kai, warmth, shelter and lots of love.
Day 98: 17 February 2022
Forest Stream – Royal Hut
Have you ever bathed naked in a mountain stream? If not, you’ve got to give it a try. There’s something deliciously sensual about being in your bare skin, out in the open without a care in the world.
I say this while lying on the warm grass beside Bush Stream in my birthday suit, watching wisps of high cloud drift across the sky. It’s 5pm and we are the only ones at the old tin musterer’s hut – so far. If anyone else turns up I’ll reach for my clothes, but right now I’m going to savour this beautiful moment, the stream gurgling behind me, mountains all around me, golden tussock eventually giving way to silvery shingle while the evening sun kissing my skin.
Aside from the big party of friendly NOBOs we met on the way up this morning, we haven’t seen anyone else around. We’ve seen paradise ducks swimming in the tarn, fat juicy skinks scuttling for cover under rocks and hundreds of excitable alpine grasshoppers, while a pair of harrier hawks wheeled high overhead.
Now I’m going to swan into the hut and make us a hot brew and put dinner on before collapsing on my bunk. I think I’ll even have myself a tot of brandy. After the epic 8-hour slog we put in today, slowly crawling up and over the 1692m Bullock Bow Saddle before staggering into Royal Hut, I think I’ve bloody earned one!
Day 99: 18 February 2022
Royal Hut – Camp Stream Hut
It’s 8am and the morning sun is already promising to transform the freezing slopes into an inferno. I’m battling an inner inferno too as my neural pathways crackle, pop and short circuit, sending a cocktail of intense feelings coursing through my body.
Someone once asked me what triggers my PTSD and I mumbled something vague, but I’m so sad to tell you the truth: interpersonal relationships trigger intense feelings of worthlessness and abandonment that drive me wild with pain and grief.
It’s so hard to catch myself out from this cycle, and like Alice, I tumble down the rabbit hole of self-loathing before realising this is all me… Maybe it was an offhand comment or something else, but I took it the wrong way and here I am, drowning in my pool of tears with the golden key just beyond my reach.
It’s a really lonely place to be. Sometimes I react and lash out and say things I don’t mean, only to be swamped with the guilt and shame of hurting those I love or even worse, pushing them away.
PTSD stands for post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s a mental health disorder that occurs after an individual experiences or witnesses a terrifying or traumatic event. You can experience flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety or depression, and other intense emotional or physiological responses.
I’ve read a few articles about how to have a relationship with someone with PTSD. It sounds like really hard work. Maybe I am hard work, but surely I’m worth it? At the end of the day, our most important relationship is with ourselves, so if I can give myself a hug and tell myself it’s okay if I fucked up (again), then maybe that’s the best way to soothe myself.
It’s going to have to do this morning, because the gigantic Stag Saddle is looming before us, 1925m, the highest point of Te Araroa and I can’t wait to see the view from up high. As we ascend, my spirits rise too and by midday we’re storming along Snake Ridge admiring sweeping views of Lake Tekapo and the Southern Alps, singing silly songs at the tops of our lungs.
Day 100: 19 February 2022
Camp Stream Hut – Round Hill, Tekapo
We wake to a spectacular sunrise of pink and peach lighting up the dawn sky, then pack up hastily because a pink sky in the morning is a tramper’s warning! The distinctive lenticular clouds of the nor ‘wester are already high overhead and as we climb out of the river valley, I can see thick grey cloud spilling over the mountains, threatening to obliterate them in the mist.
We’re racing a sharp, fierce front of bad weather to Danilo’s car and it’s going to be a close call, but we don’t care too much. Our energy is high and we’re all so happy to be together again. I hug and squeeze them both, Emilie and Danilo, my little crew. Danilo walked in to Camp Stream Hut last night and made us dinner, pasta for two tired and smelly girls. Emilie loves and hates my spontaneous affection and I remind her of when she was a little baby, a squishy lump of love, always ready for kisses and cuddles.
As the view of Lake Tekapo opens up in front of us, the front is now so close I can see the rain crowding down the river valley, sending columns of dust swirling across the shingle ahead of it. The wind is now tinged with ice, no place for shorts and t-shirts. It whips our messy hair and dries out our soggy trail shoes as we stride down the final kilometres, laughing because we’re happy and alive, high on nature and each other.
But only too soon we’re driving away and my relief to finish is now replaced by reluctance to re-enter pleasant society. As we search for food in the Tekapo bakery, I’m painfully aware of my daughter’s dirty clothes and our matted hair. The spiritual awakening of being up high in hills is now a painful comedown as we don masks and read the latest Covid headlines.
I can already feel the waves of depression and inertia lapping at my feet as my body shudders to a halt. Here we go again.
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.