We had a nice day in Nelson, a charming little town tucked into a bay at the northern end of New Zealand’s South Island. It’s really fun to take a break from walking and enjoy the cultural side of the country.
After our day off, we set off for 7 days walking the Richmond Alpine Track, considered the most rugged and difficult part of the entire Te Araroa trail. It didn’t take us long to find out why.
There are roots and rocks everywhere and the trail often chooses the steepest path possible, rather than working back and forth gradually up a slope. Sometimes you even pull yourself up by grabbing onto a big root. I love the ups and downs and the way you constantly need to think about where to put your feet. It’s very mentally engaging.
One of the best parts of walking in New Zealand that we’ve discovered is the wonderful network of huts. Every night along this section we arrived at a cozy hut where we found a comfortable bunk to sleep and a warm dry place to relax out of the wind. The huts are spaced quite conveniently, so you can easily walk to the next in a day, maybe stopping at one for lunch and the next for the night.
The variety of scenery in the Richmond Range really surprised me. From dense rainforest to exposed alpine peaks and dry desert-like hills that remind me of Arizona, it had a bit of everything. We walked over sharp volcanic rock and I even found a few flecks of obsidian.
Despite being rugged, the trail is usually easy to follow. There are orange markers showing the way, either on trees through the forest or on poles in open areas. Some even do double duty, also catching wasps, which are an invasive species in New Zealand and sting people frequently.
These traps are placed on beech trees that look burnt but are actually infected with insects that suck out the sap and secrete honeydew from their anal tubes. Sooty mould fungi grow on waste honeydew that has run down tree trunks, forming a dark sponge-like covering. Yes, New Zealand is a strange place. You know you’re nearing an infected tree before you can even see it by the sweet smell in the air.
Most people come to New Zealand for the mountains and those have certainly been beautiful this week but, for me, the forest is most special of all. I love walking among the misty green leaves, feeling the soft moss under my feet, breathing in the rich aroma of decaying plants, and listening to lively birdsong. I could walk through this paradise forever.
I’m excited for our next section – Nelson Lakes National Park!