On the last morning of our Dragons Teeth Traverse, Eric, our 76 year old hut companion, told us stories of visiting all the huts in the Richmond Range as we watched the sunrise over Mt Fishtail.

We visited my friend Peters new home and he popped on a slide show of his Richmond Alpine Traverse. After some beer and chips, we flew home over the island peaks in the range.

We set a date and started planning. The Te Araroa route looked like it spent lots of time in the valleys and there were a few good looking loops on to the tops. Then I found something very exciting a route that followed the main ridge of the western range from Mt Riley near Blenheim to the Red Hills above St Arnaud.

MadPom had posted an article on tramper.nz with the route details. It is a big route with heaps of off track travel. The article gave a range of 45 to 76 hours of travel and suggested it was a 7+ day trip. I was told by a friend about a wilderness article where Jo had completed the route over 13 days with a food drop.

We had booked a four-day weekend and planned to travel as light as possible and see if we could complete the route. You know you have taken on a good adventure when you have butterflies in your tummy.

A rock had bashed my leg on Ruapehu tramping with the kids. Since the bruising was deep and it was hurting to walk, I visited the physio. His professional advice was not to go, while his personal advice was it should be okay.

If we could get close to 45 hours of travel, we could make it work for four days. Our plan was Mt Riley to Mt Fishtail Hut in 12 hours.

  • Old Man Hut – 14 hours
  • Top Wairoa Hut – 10 hours
  • Out over Red Hills – 9 hours

My friend Marta will tell you my plans are often over-ambitious. On Day 1, we travelled over nine hours heading into the darkness and it was clear it was going to take a lot longer than 12 hours to get to Fishtail. I gently floated the idea of using our camping gear and stopping before the hut, but Marta wasn’t biting. I gave myself a pep talk and kept walking.

The forestry roads were closed due to storm damage, so I asked two of the farmers for access (likely one would say yes). My father-in-law drove us up the rough farm track and the cows were very excited to have some company. My sore leg came right after climbing Mt Riley.

After three-and-a-half hours, we turned off the track to follow the ridge west. We were greeted by an Outward Bound sign and trail markers for our first section to Fosters and then on to Mt Royal. There is a well-travelled ridgeline route towards Fishtail. We arrived at the hut at 1.30am, exhausted after 16 hours of travel. This route was going to test us.

My friends Marta and Paul are adventure races, so they have a unique approach to trips. They are happy to walk for hours in the dark and have short sleep breaks. We agreed to a four hour sleep. Marta is the fastest person getting ready to leave a hut (transition in her world) and I felt the pressure from the time we awoke to keep up. This was a slow morning, will have to do better tomorrow.

Our weather timing for this trip was first class and a huge high was going to sit on top of the range for our trip. It was warm, still and perfectly clear so we could see the Kaikōura Ranges, Nelson Lakes, Kahurangi and everything in between. It was amazing. We climbed over Mt Richmond on Saturday night and were treated to one of the best mountain sunsets I had ever seen. The feeling of being on the tops miles from anywhere, watching the sun setting and knowing you have days to travel is hard to beat.

Our planned seven hours to Richmond Saddle Hut had taken 11, as it was dark and we stopped to rest. Clearly we were not going to complete the route in four days. The map showed a shorter route exiting the range before Red Hills. If we went over Mt Rintoul it would still be a big push, so we set the alarm for 4am. This next section is the hardest of the range due to thick scrub and a steep slippery descent down a loose gravel chute. I didn’t sleep much with that to look forward to.

The sun rose and exposed the next section of winding ridgeline. The first few hours were good travel and then we hit the wall of scrub. After hours of the scrub I was battered and sore, flinching each time I headed back into another section. We could see Ada Flat in the distance as we slowly inched along the ridge. The route finding was hard and energy sapping, involving a number of challenging bits where we had to be very careful.

Arriving at Ada Flat, we found a small water puddle and enjoyed the novelty of walking on a marked track. We arrived at Rintoul Hut in the dark and debated if we need to get to Tarn Hut to get out in time to catch the plane. Three long days were catching up on us; we were tried and sore. We shared the hut with Josh who was finishing up his TA walk.

I had a better transition on our last morning and we heading off in the dark again needing to travel fast for the next 11 hours. We visited the beautiful tarn at Tarn Hut and made good time down to the river. My feet had been dry since the start, so it felt good to sit in the river and soothe my sore body. With the advice from the DOC ranger, we crossed the Wairau River and were picked up at the power station.

We hadn’t completed our full route, but we had a great adventure.

FMC thanks Andy Carruthers for his permission to reproduce this article, first published on his ‘Great Walk Adventures’ blog (13 May 2023).