Harper River

Harper River

It took us six days to walk from Boyle Village to Arthur’s Pass and we were looking forward to a shower and a comfy bed. Every last room was booked up for the big race, so we caught a ride back to the trail and stayed at the unassuming Bealy Hut.

Looking back toward Arthur’s Pass and the Coast to Coast race (the tents look like rocks from up here)

I love visiting all the huts as we walk south through New Zealand. The country has nearly 1000 huts (some people say there are even 2500!) and you never know how luxurious or how simple they’ll be until you get there. Here’s West Harper Hut, for example.

We decided to continue on to Hamilton Hut (which has earned the nickname Hilton Hut). What a beautiful place to relax.

Now that we’re beyond Arthur’s Pass, the scenery is completely different. We’ve gone from the wet west side of the continental divide to the much drier east side. The walking was flat, across river beds and through fields, and under volcanic looking hills.

In the afternoon a strong wind picked up, making the flat walking feel more like uphill.

Coming to the end of the trail at Lake Coleridge, we expected to camp for the night then begin a long gravel road walk the next day. Completely unexpectedly, a car pulled up asking if we wanted a ride! This is a very remote area and it’s pretty rare to see any vehicles, let alone one offering you an easy way back to civilization. When we set out to walk the length of New Zealand’s South Island a month ago, I was keen to walk every mile, making a continuous footpath. It didn’t take me long to decide that walking long distances on roads isn’t very fun. So, we were more than happy to take the ride.

The best part of getting into town is that there’s an adorable kitty at our hostel and she insists on sleeping on my pillow! Now, this is the break I needed from hiking.


Arthur’s Pass & Deception River

Arthur’s Pass & Deception River

After four weeks of walking south along New Zealand’s national trail, Te Araroa, we paused for a nice break in locally famous Hamner Springs.

I ate as much as I could. Amazingly, I haven’t lost any weight yet. Then back to the trail.

January was a very unusual month in New Zealand, weather wise – hot and exceptionally dry. A touch of rain finally arrived just as we crossed Harper Pass and made it to Locke Steam Hut. It continued to rain throughout the night but cleared up as soon as we left the hut.

Another beautiful day of walking in New Zealand. I found the Taramakau River valley especially pretty as we walked along the river bed, speckled with brightly coloured red rock. Despite the rain, the river crossings were easy and fun.

There seems to be some fatigue setting in among our fellow walkers, especially those who also walked the Te Araroa in the North Island. The next section, Deception River and Goat Pass, is one of the most spectacular but also easy to skip. That’s what most of the folks staying in the huts with us decided to do.

You’d expect, then, that we’d have the trail to ourselves. The opposite couldn’t have been more true. The river was abuzz with activity as volunteers for the Coast to Coast race, one of New Zealand’s biggest and most celebrated sporting events, marked the route for the following day. That made it pretty easy to follow. Usually navigation is difficult here.

Helicopters buzzed up and down the valley, dropping off supplies and crew. It was all very exciting!

I’d love to stay at Goat Pass Hut one day. It has amazing views. On this day, though, it was packed, so we continued on and camped in the forest.

The following day we walked into the cute town of Arthur’s Pass where I resumed eating as much as I could while watching pre-race excitement build. I’ve never seen so many expensive bikes in one place!

Next up, we walk to Lake Coleridge, the end of the line, as the Rakaia River is too deep to walk across.

Nelson Lakes National Park

Nelson Lakes National Park

We’re into our fourth week of hiking down the South Island of New Zealand along the Te Araroa Trail. The scenery continues to change surprisingly quickly. We’ve gone from hidden ocean coves to cool green rivers, dense steamy rainforest, and now clear blue alpine lakes surrounded by jagged peaks.

We hiked up and over Travers Saddle with just a touch of rain. It’s been so unusually hot this season and we’re grateful for the cooler weather, even if only for a day.

Even in these hot dry conditions, the forest is still nice and cool. There are so many streams and little waterfalls, keeping everything enchantedly green.

The Richmond Range has lots of cozy little huts but in the Nelsons we found them big and luxurious. Here’s Blue Lake Hut.

Blue Lake is celebrated in New Zealand for its incredibly clear water. A glacial moraine has dammed the flow of water from the mountains above and acts as a big filter, releasing nearly distilled water into Blue Lake. Visibility is up to 80 meters! That’s some of the clearest water in the world.

Our next challenge was Waiau Pass. This is probably the trickiest bit we’ve hiked so far along the whole trail. It’s just beautiful going up, and fairly straightforward, but it takes some skill and attention coming down.

It wouldn’t be hard to lose your way.

I love that New Zealand’s national trail includes sections that require scrambling and are only safe in good weather. I think that says a lot about the strong, independent spirit of the country. Here even the marked descent required hands on the rock.

Once down from Waiau Pass, the scenery changes completely. We passed by an old homestead and I could easily imagine myself falling in love with that place. This must be one of the most beautiful valleys I’ve ever seen.

It was nice to have some easy flat walking after scrambling down craggy mountains and over big slippery roots in the forest.

We made good time and caught a ride to the town of Hamner Springs where we indulged in some very tasty food.

It’s a good thing we made good time because my first pair of shoes has worn out! This seems far too early and I’m hoping my next pair lasts longer. But, if that’s the cost of exploring New Zealand by foot, it’s one well worth paying.


Richmond Alpine Track

Richmond Alpine Track

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!

Pelorus River

Pelorus River

We’ve just completed the second leg of our walk through New Zealand. After a rest day in Havelock, we continued south to the Pelorus River Track.

The first 20km or so followed gravel roads and crossed a through farm fields, so it wasn’t the most exhilarating walking. Over the next three months we’ll walk some of New Zealand’s most spectacular tracks. The sections of road walking joining them together are the cost of making a continuous footpath across the country.

When we arrived at Pelorus River, I couldn’t have been happier. It’s a beautiful deep green and warm enough to swim. After a long day of hot walking, there’s nothing as refreshing as a dip in the clean cool river.

We’re getting up into the mountains too! Often in New Zealand, we’ve found, the forest is so dense, you don’t really have a sense of the larger landscape around you. It’s thick and embracing like a jungle. Now we’re getting high enough that the trees are becoming smaller and we can get a glimpse of the mountains we’ll enter in a few short days.

But first, it’s time for another cultural diversion from the trail. Since we’re in the northern part of the South Island, it’s a great opportunity to visit the town of Nelson. I can’t wait to soak up the coastal scenery (and abundant food) before heading into remote mountainous New Zealand.

Walking New Zealand’s Queen Charlotte Track

New Zealand is known for its stunning scenery. An island nation that’s at the same time both lushly tropical and bleakly glacial. We want to get a taste of that scenery and have started by walking the Queen Charlotte Track.

This hike is a classic. It starts at the northern end of the South Island and runs for ~60km along a lushly forested ridge. Below are countless inlets, bays, coves, and sounds. We dipped down to the sea one evening for a restaurant meal and stayed up high on other nights, enjoying the solitude of camping in the forest.

I always learn something new when I visit a new country. In the case of New Zealand, it’s that they lie about the wildlife. They tell you there are no dangerous animals. That’s not true. While you might not get eaten by a bear, there’s something even worse: the stealthy weka. This chicken-size bird lurks in the bushes waiting for you to turn your back. As soon as you do, it will pounce into your campsite, grab anything (and everything) it can get its sharp beak around, and dash off. Don’t be fooled: it may be flightless but you cannot outrun this pesky bird. You will hurt yourself if you try.

One weka successfully stole my bag of trail mix. A neighboring camper has her chocolate bar disappear. A particularly bad weka even pinched someone’s wallet. Now, how does that not qualify as dangerous wildlife?

After finishing the Queen Charlotte Track, we walked another ~20km to the small town of Havelock, known for its green mussels. It was a pretty walk but mostly on roads and hard packed cycling trails. My feet don’t do well on such hard surfaces, so I finished the walk pretty sore. Time for a nice rest before continuing south toward the mountains.

2018 in 12 Photos

2018 was a year full of travel, adventures, and some nice time back home. I made sure to keep things interesting by having a wide diversity of themes to each trip, probably more so than I’ve done in recent years. From cooking classes in Dubai, Hong Kong, and Kuala Lumpur to backpacking trips in Kyrgyzstan and the Grand Canyon, and cycling through Western Australia, it was a great year.

January – Trying strange street-food in Hong Kong
February – I visit my mom and Aunt Bev on the Columbia River in BC. Here’s Bev’s new house, coming along well.
March – Cycling all the way from Perth to Kalgoorlie to see the Super Pit – one of the largest open pit gold mines on earth
April – Cycling through Valley of the Giants in Western Australia
May – Walking Scotland’s West Highland Way
June – I join a great group of people to walk coast-to-coast cross Sweden
July – Backpacking the spectacular Northover Ridge in unusually warm weather
August – Traversing the remote volcanic landscape of Edziza in northern BC
September – Enjoying the clean mountain air of Kyrgyzstan’s Pamir Mountains
October – Discovering old Communist monuments in Tajikistan
November – Hiking and backpacking in the Grand Canyon
December – Sometimes it’s nice just to be home, enjoying the company of loved ones

2019 is shaping up to be another great year of travel with even bigger, grander adventures in the works. Can’t wait!

What will you remember most from 2018?