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.
Arthur’s Pass to Double Hut
Day 88: 6 February 2022
Cora Lynn Road – Lagoon HUT (7 KMS)
The rain had passed, so we said our fond farewells to Barrytown and set off on the next leg of our journey, in the company of our beautiful friend Melissa the botanist.
Emilie made some new friends before we left and they walked us up to Bealey Hut for a send off. Thanks Magdala, Hannah and team!
We scooted up the hill, stopping to admire the impressive view of the mighty Waimakariri River, still swollen with chalky blue floodwater.
Our destination was Lagoon Saddle where Melissa opted to test drive her new tent while Emilie and I huddled in the hut. Some clever craftsman has created beautiful wooden shelves and gear hooks from native timber. Next time you’re walking this way, stop and check it out!
It was one of the coldest nights we’ve had in a long time, which reminded us to pick up the pace if we want to make it to Bluff before winter.
Day 89: 7 February 2022
LAGOON HUT – HAMILTON HUT (10 KMS)
Today we were confronted with a moral and ethical dilemma – what to do with a small, quivering mouse that was clearly in the final stages of succumbing to death by poison. There were telltale signs the little fellow had got into a bag of rat bait and he was hunched in a ball on the windowsill in agony.
We wanted to remove him from the hut, but what to do with him? Killing the tiny creature and ending it’s suffering seemed the kindest thing to do, but none of us wanted to be responsible for the brutal act of extinguishing its life through some kind of blunt force trauma. Emilie wanted to just let “Mousie” go into the bushes, but we told her a ruru might prey upon it and in turn, suffer from the poison. She suggested throwing it in the river, but we pointed out that wouldn’t be the nicest way for the mouse to die.
The more we talked about it, the more tightly she clung to the tin billy with Mousie huddled forlornly at the bottom.
Eventually Melissa and I agreed that the best thing to do would be to dig a hole and bury the extinguished mouse in it. Emilie, we reasoned, could lay some flowers or build a fairy garden over the top in his memory.
We found an axe, dug a shallow grave under the beech tree and prepared for the inevitable. But Emilie wouldn’t let go of the bucket.
It was all getting a bit intense, so I sent her off on an errand while Melissa and I tried to get the deed over with as soon as possible. We hunted around for a large, flat rock. I tipped the poor mouse on top, stepped back and Melissa swung the axe.
Perhaps this blunt force trauma was a little indelicate for the task at hand, for the mouse seemed to simply bounce high off the rock, landing in surprise on the grass. It didn’t attempt to run, so we quickly replaced it on the rock and had another go. Doiiing! The metallic, ear-grating ring of metal on stone. By now I felt a little hysterical and could only stare in horror as Melissa picked up the mouse by its tail, popped it back on the rock and took careful aim.
“I think that has done it!” she said brightly, before picking it up and examining it closely at eye level. I cringed hopelessly behind her, then attempted to spring into action.
“Right let’s get it in the hole! Oh, maybe Emilie would like to see how peaceful he looks now. Emilie!”
No, turns out Emilie wouldn’t like to see. We buried it quickly and went back out to the hut, only to find her storming towards us with a stick and a rock in her hands. Her eyes were full of tears.
I felt so bad for her. I remember being her age, prying open my cat’s jaws to rescue tiny, saliva-soaked mice caught during a morning romp in the fields.
How I’d cradle these tiny rodents in my hands and take them into the cool of the barn, make them a shelter amongst the hay and pray for their speedy recovery. And how pissed off my old man was when he found out the mice were recuperating in his good hay.
I gave Emilie lots of cuddles and encouraged her to pick flowers to decorate Mousie’s grave. She chased me away with bared teeth, then went to lay her flowers under the beech tree.
Day 90: 8 February 2022
HAMILTON HUT – LAKE COLERIDGE (16 KMS)
I’m the first one to rise, driven by my bladder and the desire to quietly contemplate the world over my morning coffee. I can see a pair of bunnies chasing each other around a clump of tussock, the whites of their tails flashing against the gold grass.
Unlike many huts (last night’s windowless tin shed springs to mind), Hamilton Hut has a wonderful view. Set back on a high terrace it overlooks the river plains, the golden grasses contrasting with the grey rocks and squat green blue clumps of matagouri.
My companions are stirring slowly; soon it will be time for breakfast then our long walk out to Lake Coleridge.
We’re all a little nervous about the impending crossings of the Harper and Avoca rivers, but yesterday the swift cold water was running clear and receding from its recent flood levels. I think we’ll be fine.
Melissa shows me how to bush bash like an ecologist. While I envy her boots and knee high gaiters, I try to make up for it with enthusiasm and willingness to explore, including sinking up to my thigh in a surprise bog hole.
The track, as much as actually appeared on our apps and maps, peters out about an hour down the river, leaving the rest up to our imaginations.
We slop through bright green marshlands that give way to deep muddy pools and hidden streams, fight through thickets of matagouri and pick deer trails through the beech forest. Every so often an orange marker would appear, a sign of encouragement that we were going the right way.
The braided river bed is home to a mosaic of native plants including wispy native grasses, cushion plants and mosses. We discover clutches of tiny native broom, a distant relative of the pea family, clear streams brimming with fragile aquatic plants and tiny native fish.
Melissa and I wrestle Emilie across a swift chalky blue braid of the Avoca after she decides, a third of the way in, that she’s not keen to cross after all.
Aside from wet shorts and shoes, there were no other casualties and we finish the day on a high, delighted to find Nadia waiting at the Trail end with beers!
Day 91: 10 February 2022
RAKAIA VALLEY – A FRAME SHELTER (9.5 KMS)
I’m standing on Turtons Saddle, watching the wind whip through the tussocks like golden crushed velvet. I love how from a distance, the hills appear a drab olive green, but up close they reveal a kaleidoscope of colour. Golden tipped spiky Spaniard, red and silver tussock, thick clumps of daisies with their stiff green and white leaves.
Below us, the Rakaia opens up into flat brown braids and beyond, we see the dark blue black of the ranges with slightly ominous grey cloud wrapped around their shoulders like a cloak. Brown and gold skinks scurry through the grass on either side of the track, lithe and warm in the afternoon sun. The click and whir of cicadas echoes around my head.
Now we’re up on the exposed, rolling tops, the wind has picked up and is blowing us along the track, heading towards a gully that snakes up between the bluffs. There’s a tiny white blip on the flats below which might grow to become the A-Frame shelter, a tidy 3-bunk hut that will welcome and shelter us for the night.*
I drop down to examine what looks like a tiny hebe and suddenly a miniature world opens up in front of my eyes. The ground is not covered in grass at all but with a thick carpet of multi-coloured alpine plants, something out of a doll’s set in their mini-sized perfection. Set against a bright green mat of cushion grass, chocolate brown spores the shape of goblets reach for the sky. Next to it, incy wincy white flowers emerge from spiky green leaves and these reddish gold leaves belong to the snowberry plant. Here’s something that looks like a miniature cactus, while this white, crispy one resembles coral. I sit and stare, spellbound.
A flicker of movement catches my eye as two harvestmen move through this miniature landscape on 16 spindly legs. Then my perception is turned upside down and suddenly I shrink to the height of your fingernail, the plants now the size of standard shrubs, eye to eye with these long-legged insects the size of Labradors.
I turn around slowly, entranced with this magic kingdom, watching with baited breath as an iridescent black beetle clambers onto a yellow flower. Will the harvestman attack? Am I to witness the end of this beetle? But the harvestman continues its jerky dance and the beetle inspects the flower, unprovoked. I duck for cover as a flurry of wings beat overhead, it’s a rogue crane fly making a crash landing. An ear-splitting drone tells me a male cicada is nearby, his silent female clinging to a stem of tussock grass. They’re both as big as a wheelbarrow.
I exhale and suddenly I’m human-size again, down on my knees with my face in the undergrowth, absorbed in this tiny world while huge mountains tower all around. This is the magic of the Hakatere.
*The white blip was the loo, the galvanized triangular roof of the shelter popped into sight soon after.
Day 92: 11 February 2022
A-FRAME SHELTER – ROUND HILL CREEK
I’m sitting on a smooth river boulder that probably got washed down from the high hills around me, soaking up the last few moments of sunshine before it dips behind a ridge.
We’ve been following the creek all day, when we weren’t bush bashing through matagouri. The track was so poorly marked and overgrown with these spikey shrubs that we staggered up the river bed instead, crossing more times than I could be bothered counting.
At one stage, I led us up a promising deer trail that headed up the hill to nowhere, picking our way gingerly through dense matagouri and giant speargrass.
An impenetrable mass of thick spikes, some ten metres thick, now lay between us and the river, so instead of bashing our way back, we drop down low and commando-crawl under the bushes. This new way of traveling was fun until I got myself wedged under a stubborn branch, requiring Nadia to extract me, with peals of laughter, scrapes and scratches.
After this we stuck to the creek until it became clear we were never going to make it over the saddle, so we found a flat spot and made camp. Despite the forecast of rain, the weather has held out and we’re hoping it will do at least until we’ve reached Double Hut tomorrow.
Day 93: 12 February 2022
ROUND HILL CREEK – DOUBLE HUT (11 KMS)
I’m sitting on a rocky outcrop above Double Hut with the clouds hanging low and a chill breeze touching my hair. There’s a forecast of snow for tomorrow which seems possible as more clouds slide in like cold silver fingers, obscuring the tops of the ranges. Golden tussock and silver scree with the dark smudging of matagouri, slate grey of huge, exposed rocks.
The atmosphere is heavy, foreboding, yet with an eerie sense of calm. Whatever theatre the weather gods are gearing up to play, they have a captive audience huddled in a little tin hut at the edge of the Hakatere. Sir Edmond Hillary and many others have born witness to similar scene, judging by the array of signatures on the walls of this hut.
I wouldn’t mind huddling down in this hut and watch the snow fall outside. I wouldn’t want to be out stumbling around in the tussocks blinded by a freezing wind. You can hear it, whistling through the valley, blowing smoky tendrils of cloud.
I can see Lake Heron straight ahead of me and behind me towers the Taylor Range. Today’s adventure saw us climbing up and over Clent Hills Saddle and sidling across scree slopes before descending into a field of giant spiky spear grass. Along the way we met Simon the Hunter and his little dog Nip who showed us a resting deer and a grazing chamois through his scope.
Poor Nadia rolled her ankle almost at the bottom so I carried her pack on my front and we all staggered the remaining 3km to Double Hut.
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.