20/04/2018 - TONGARIRO NATIONAL PARK
As we’re in the midst of fall here in New Zealand the weather got even more unpredictable, more cold and more wet. After having finished the south island, I decided to not continue my hike that was supposed to be a thru hike initially. I lost my joy of hiking somewhere in the rain and cold. Therefore I decided to hike only as long as I have fun and was planning on picking only the interesting bits and pieces. That is why I dived into the adventure of kayaking the Whanganui and now I was looking forward to something truly amazing: I was about to meet up with Dan and PJ again. I met the two somewhere on the south island where we hiked some stretches together, then lost each other again, just to catch up again in Lake Tekapo (for cake!) and Christchurch for food & movies. This time we decided to meet up in National Park Village to hike Tongariro National Park together.
After we had spent a great evening catching up, talking and laughing, we started early to get in some miles. Our goal was to reach Mangatepopo Hut. The day started of cold, misty and after an hour an annoying drizzle set in. At the beginning our high spirits and good mood was still able to laugh all that away, but after some time we started being miserable. The terrain was rugged, the trail a mud slide and from time to time rather a little stream then a path. After PJ fell off the trail, bended his one hiking pole and me being totally wet, we decided to hike out to the National Park’s Visitor Centre and call it a day. Being there, having had a look on the weather forecast, we also decided to catch a bus back to NP village and check ourselves into a hostel again. We’re postponing the hike through the park to … whenever.
This were also my last kilometers on the Te Araroa. I am just struggling with the cold and the rain. I am happy about what I achieved so far, but also upset, that I didn’t find the ultimate motivation to thruhike the trail.
18/04/2018 - The GREAT RIVER JOURNEY
After using my legs for the last months a lot I literally dived into a new adventure: kayaking on the Whanganui river on New Zealand’s north island. It’s actually part of the Te Araroa trail. So it’s been all about using arms and keep your back straight and the balance in the tiny sit on kayak.
So I hired a kayak and the company I hired it from set me up with some other paddlers. After safety instructions we went off in Taumarunui to Pipiriki.
These 150 km of water been just amazing! The river winds its way through stunning gorges, along waterfalls and through typical New Zealand fairy tale scenery of dense vegetation with 100 shades of green. The river provides over 200 rapids of category I and II and with that quite some fun. But rain was forecasted the whole time. Yes, we got torrential rain, but also sunny hours. But once you’re on the river rain doesn’t matter anymore. However, the river was pretty high and had a strong current that made us go real fast. The downside was that high water causes a lot of swirls and whirlpools that were sometimes not that easy to master. Oh, did I mention that I capsized twice? And got stuck in the middle of a natural mighty river step …. rear first? Hahahaha … had to swim out and one of my fellow paddlers had to help me getting my kayak out from between the rocks. Don’t think that I am that super brave … oh no! I was terrified when capsizing the second time as I got trapped under the kayak. After flipping the vessel and climbing back on it while still being on the water I was pretty nervous the rest of the day that causes two other almost-capsizing events. But I managed and now I am damn proud of that.
The journey has been challenging for me, but overall it was amazing fun, it offered stunning almost prehistoric scenery, when landing the kayaks we always got stuck in thigh deep mud.
And the people? Yes, it’s all about the people! The crew was incredible! Laughed a lot, marvelled together at the scenery, been a real team, cooked and ate together and shared a lot of stories, chocolate, rum and beer. Good times, highly inspiring times!
02/04/2018 - DONE with the SOUTH ISLAND
After I decided to call my hike an end and skip the Pelorus River Track and eventually also the Queen Charlotte Track as I already hiked that part in 2005), I went off trail to Nelson and decided to catch the ferry over to Wellington.
Totally excited! I just took the ferry to the north island of New Zealand. We sailed through the impressive Marlborough Sounds and then crossed the Cook Strait into Wellington. I spend all 4 hours outside watching the scenery and the endless sea … time to resume and contemplate without much distraction.
Wellington itself reminded me a tiny little bit of Oslo – seems to be a very nice city with high living quality.
01/04/2018 - The RICHMOND RANGE
Finally, the Richmonds. Almost from the beginning of my hike I kept on hearing about this section – oh the Richmonds here, the Richmonds there. All the stories float between that it’s the by far most breathtaking part and by far the most dangerous and terrifying section. I didn’t know what to expect at all. ‚Cause for most of the people I met the Richmonds where the start of their trail as a lot of people only hike the south island. Among these hikers are some experienced long distance pros, but also a lot of people who never hiked more then 2-3 days before. So peoples perception of that part of the trail is fairly differentiating and therefore hard to tell how it actually will be. Anyway, shouldn’t matter, right?
My fair bit of experience of the Te Araroa so far told me to expect a slow ( oh yeah, painfully slow going 😉😉😉) pace as the trail will continue to be rough and remember, climbs and drops in New Zealand are straight up and straight down. Already after the second day my knees started to scream at me. Never had problems with my knees, but these kiwi trails are a fortune for an orthopedist. But a good night’s sleep always did the trick.
Despite the climbs there was a section following down a river – lots of crossings and hiking high up above the river on pretty sketchy, washed out, narrow, terrifying, also steep and horribly slippery (okay, okay… I stop!) trails. In parts it was rather scrambling and hugging rocks then walking.
For the most majestic section I had perfect weather: scrambled up in loose scree to Mt Rintoul from where I had amazing views down to the Tasman Bay and over the endless mountain ranges of the south island. There was one first taste of what was going to come ( just didn’t know that by the time) – a steep path underneath the ridge line of Mt Rintoul with steep drops to the right. I breathed through it … but then I saw the trail from Mt Rintoul to Little Rintoul and a whole lot of adrenaline just shot through my body. From the position I was standing at I could already see what was lying ahead of me. So I saw the trail descending Mt Rintoul into a majestic amphitheatre of both Rintoul-mountains. The trail was traversing steeply down and then steep up again. Well, no real trail – I could spot the markers I had to follow. Steep slopes and drops to the right and a hella lot of scrambling and climbing up. Now I was more then thankful that friends took me rock climbing in the desert in SoCal 😆 … probably I should mention that I am afraid of heights a little tiny bit.
Anyway, I managed absolutely fine, no sketchy situations at all and afterwards I was laughing the adrenaline away and followed an impressive ridge line to the next hut.
It was an amazing stretch of the Te Araroa. If you would have asked me on trail if I would do it again I prob would have said no. But now – sitting comfortably in a chair, I’d say yes yes and yes. ….and yes, don’t forget to help me supporting the girls in Ladakh. Circumstances got harder, but I hike on.
01/04/2018 - Into the RICHMOND RANGE
North of St. Arnaud the most beautiful and also the most challenging section of the Te Araroa starts: the Richmond Alpine Track in Mt Richmond forest park.
In the trail notes for the TA is stated that this section is ‚the thoughest part, the longest section without resupply and nothing for the faint hearted ‚. Alright, bring it on! On average it should take about 8 days to hike it, but its recommended to take at least 10 days of food. Which I did – fortunately. Because already after the first day I got stuck in one of the backcountry huts. Just made it there on time before a big storm hit New Zealand. I am not exaggerating but it constantly rained, sometimes trickling but most of the time pouring, for 3.5 days. And as there was a big river crossing just lying 2 hours ahead of me I had to sit out the weather in the hut. I read 3 books on my ebook reader, one book that was lying around in the hut, shared stories with Jakub from the Czech Republic, a southbounder who got stuck as well. No, it wasn’t that boring. On the second day we heard a helicopter and now I know that a German hiker got rescued as he tried to cross the river in that bad weather and got swept away. He just managed to press his personal locator beacon and got rescued from a small rock island in the middle of the then roaring river.
Eventually the rain stopped and I could hike on. The formerly dangerous river was back to hip deep and kind of easy crossable. By the time 2 other hikers I met before caught up and we made our way together towards the heart of the Richmonds ….and yes, don’t forget to help me supporting the girls in Ladakh. Circumstances got harder, but I hike on.
01/04/2018 - ST. ARNAUD
Big big big and awesome surprise in the little mountain resort town of St. Arnaud. This place was the next resupply stop for me. In the north of the south island the trail is off the ‚big‘ places so you have to send a box with food ahead. So yeah, when I arrived there I got a message from Raphi and Iris from Switzerland with whom I was hiking together in the south. Our paths departed because I was going offtrail in January for 2 weeks to see friends in the States, but we have always been in contact. So they had finished the trail in the meantime and were cruising the island with a rental car. They kinda assumed I would arrive in St. Arnaud by this time and that’s why they were on their way to see me.
We had an awesome evening and night with loads of food and a couple of great IPAs.
01/04/2018 - North of HANMER SPRINGS
After spending a great zero day in the little town of Hanmer Springs I made my way back to trail. I got an awesome ride – I didn’t even put my thumb up at the junction on the road to the westcoast as a huge truck transporting water tanks stopped. Peter, an elderly guy who despite his age of almost 70 still drives big trucks over the island in order to escape his wife, gave me a ride to a place called Boyle Village, that is no actual village but an outdoor education center for kids from the cities. I collected my resupply box there and headed on. The next days the Te Araroa followed the St. James Walkway. That was great tramping and I have seen some more patches of this amazing New Zealandian forest, watched semi wild horses, stayed in a hut that came to be my favourite and got eaten alive by those little critters called sand flies. Life is good! ….and don’t forget to support the girls in Ladakh with me. Every dollar/euro counts.
12/03/2018 - km 857
Back on trail! I hit the trail at km 857 just north of Arthur’s pass again and hiked through some nice patches of earth. The 4 days I spent from there to km 935 were a quite nice mixture of trail finding, log climbing, river crossings (I stopped counting at 10 times by noon the first day … ), rock hopping in riverbeds and wandering through lush beech forests. Especially the hike through these long strechtes of forests I enjoyed a lot: on the one hand I had to climb over a lot of fallen logs (thanks to the previous three cyclones) which I surprisingly really liked and on the other hand I did never heared that many birds singing! That was really nice.
Also got a little bit of entertaining in the middle of nowhere when watched a hunter got picked up by a helicopter to get flown up and out to another hut for hunting.
But the first time it got quite chilly at night. So I was happy that all the huts I was staying in overnight had a nice fireplace. And that comes quite handy to dry out my wet shoes. Oh yes, wet feet every single day.
03/03/2018 - 'THE TRAIL SUCKS!'
I was thinking of whether to post this or not for quite a bit. And I decided to post it! Because while hiking and/or travelling you not always have great days. And I don’t want to hide that there are, literally at the moment, not just sunny days.
Generally I am a very positive and optimistic person, but for a couple of days now I am struggling with my motivation to continue hiking … Some days in the past week I had to force myself to hike on and I really do not like this I idea of just pushing through. Hardly ever encountered that issue before. Why is that? I’ll speak openly and I guess it is because of a whole bunch of reasons – had a fab time with great people while being offtrail in Christchurch is one reason. But normally the first day I’m back on trail, I am back into it. Is it the weather? It rains right now, it rained the last days and more rain is forecasted. Fine, I had rain before. Isn’t the scenery keep me going? Yeah, it is really pretty, others would probably even call it spectacular. Am I getting tired? Or is it the mountain ranges that I am going to face the next about 2 weeks? I have been in mountains before and I love mountains. So what is it? I don’t even miss things like – most obvious for Germans – decent bread.
I even know how to cure this demotivation – take a day off, spoil myself with food and internet, don’t think to much and get back on trail. But that doesn’t really seem to work right now. Do I want to thruhike anymore? What do I want? How do I keep this whole thing as being my journey? Am I losing the joy and with it my karma? I hate this idea and I am looking for having my jauntiness back.
Until that I will just sit out the heavy rain in the little not-even-a-town called Arthur’s pass.
25/02/2018 - OFFTRAIL for 'THE NATIONAL'
I have to admit that cyclone Gita has not been the only reason why I went off-trail. I took a bus from Lake Tekapo to Christchurch that took 4.5 hours and flew to Auckland for 24 hours to see my fav band ‚The National‘ live in concert again. It’s the band that has been providing me with a soundtrack almost every single day since I hit the PCT in July last year. So the deer along the Pacific Crest Trail and the sheep along the Te Araroa suffered as I am singing along (oh, that is why i didn’t see any bear?) all those songs.
All that hassle, time and logistics …. Was that worth it? Oh I can tell you, yes, it’s been sooo worth it. This was not just an incredible show, I’d even go that far that this has been one of the best concerts I have EVER seen so far. The venue was perfect – a winery (!!!) in Auckland close to the coast. The weather was great. The audience had been awesome as having been singing along every single song. The band was in high spirits … even though quite a huge event it felt intimate and special. So we were singing, dancing, laughing and crying. I had a fantastic spot in front of the centre stage …. and touched that guy who is the singer when he stagedived.
19/02/2018 - By BIKE to TEKAPO
When I heard about the opportunity to rent a bike between Twizel and Lake Tekapo I was very excited. I am a vivid cyclist and rode long distances mainly in Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic and over the Alps to Venice the last years. Today was the day! 55 km along the ‚Alps 2 Ocean‘ cycling trail in Mackenzie county. The track was mainly flat, but what made it fairly challenging were the strong headwinds for kilometres and kilometres. Couple of times I was almost blown off the path! The track mainly led alpng the shore of Lake Pukaki and along the Tekapo water canal.
Especially along the lake you can have stunning views over to Mt Cook/Aoraki… but it today it decided to hide in clouds. However, the views over just another turquoise lake were awesome. Just before I eventually arrived in Tekapo I saw a massive black system crawling over the ranges. A huge storm system is going to hit New Zealand the next days and the authorities warn of heavy rain, flooded rivers and wind and recommend not to continue hiking. So I am taking a couple of days off trail and sit out the bad weather.
17/02/2018 - MARTHA'S SADDLE
After I crossed Martha’s saddle, that is about 1500 m high, I had a very comfortable descent to a high plateau of grassland which I really enjoyed. On the way I checked out an old musterers hut. But while going up to the saddle I had to fight strong winds that wanted to blow me from the ridge … But I was stronger! After the grassland a big crossing was waiting for me: the Anhuriri river. The riverbed and the high cliffs were very impressive, but again, I really enjoyed the crossing – even though the current was strong, the water up to my hip and the wind still blowing strongly.
The next day I hiked over a ridge in pouring rain which I enjoyed as well … all the mist and clouds turned the surrounding mountains in a very mystical scenery. Just after dropping down another saddle to Lake Oahu the sun came up. And the lake is stunning! Again this awesome turquoise colour and snowcaped peaks in the background. It seriously blew me away – as the whole trail does. The scenery is great every single day. Yes, the trail is still strenuous and challenging, but I got used to that and when you know what to expect you can soak in the whole experience.
Just arrived in Twizel, a small town in Mackenzie county. From here I had a great view over to good ol‘ Mt Cook/Aoraki. Most of the time it is hiding in clouds, bit today I was lucky and had blue skies and therefore could admire the full beauty of that giant of the Southern Alps.
17/02/2018 - BACK on TRAIL
After my little detour to see friends in the States I am finally back on trail. Still suffering from a cold but the track offered best conditions, well, at least weatherwise. The last days I did a lot of climbing and I’d say, had some of the finest views the Te Araroa had to offer so far. So the first three days back on track been all about stunningly turquoise coloured lakes, rugged mountains and great people I met on trail. I was hiking more or less together with a German couple and a couple from the UK. One of them was born in Poland so I had the pleasure to speak some Polish again and of course we always had a blast in the evening when sitting together in the huts or in front of our tents.
On trail I met Sharebear from Canada, from whom I heard before and I met Coyote who happens to know somebody I know too … what a small world it is!!! With both I shared some nostalgic memories about the PCT.
Oh, by the way: the biggest advantage of trail running shoes is that I don’t have to get off them when crossing a river … and one day I had to cross a river ten times – big fun!
23/01/2018 - MOTATAPU TRACK
The last two days I was hiking the Motatapu track, that is part of the Te Araroa between Arrowtown and Wanaka. It’s a demanding alpine track for experienced hikers … that’s what the DOC (Department of Conservation) is stating. And yes, it is demanding. You have to hike over 5 saddles, have a couple of streams to cross and I just learned that there don’t exist any zig zags to climb mountains in NZL – Kiwis tramp the straight way! Straight up, straight down. Oh my knees loved it! And you shouldn’t be afraid of heights and you should love little bushes. Actually, I really do as they do scratch the million itchy sand fly bites on my legs 😂. Again, the scenery is just epic! Greenish hills and mountains to the horizon and during the last hours Lake Hawea in the distance. Met some great people along the trail.
20/01/2018 - QUEENSTOWN
I love the trail! After 12 days on the Te Araroa I’d say, I eventually found myself on it. Yes, it still has some rough patches but the scenery changed dramatically since Te Anau. I liked the forests, but now the more mountainous stretches are coming. I love the wide valleys, I love the rocky faces, I love the sun and the wind. Even when it is cloudy the area has some mystical appearance. … and the Kiwis are pretty awesome: one day I was hiking a couple of hours on a dusty gravel road and three cars where stopping by asking whether I am alright or would need a ride. And I coincidently met a couple again with whom I shared a hut in Longwood forest. So not just dust on the roads but also loud laughter and nice talks.
Hiking the Te Araroa means the comfort of a hut at the end of a strenuous hiking day and it’s great to meet different people there and eventually even ending up hiking together the next days 😉. Now I am zero-ing in Queenstown, next stop will be Wanaka where I will go off-trail for 2 weeks.
15/01/2018 - km 237
Well, ’survived‘ the first 237 km and been on trail for 8 days now. This trail is a totally different story compared to the PCT. Actually, wouldn’t be fair to compare these two trails. The Te Araroa is kind of rough – some bushwacking (where is my machete?), lot of mud, bit of climbing, lot of farmland to cross and stiles to use to climb over electric fences. Been eye to eye with bulls, sheep and horses, vanished into tussock, already fell a couple of times and I am getting eaten alive by sand flies.
But the trail is rewarding – fairy tale forests, amazing views to the ocean and to the Southern Alps. Just today I met a couple who made a point: the TA is not a straight trail, it is rather an awesome way to cross the whole country of New Zealand on foot. So true and what an amazing adventure and challenge.
12/01/2018 - The first 4 days
The first 4 days and first 140 km on the Te Araroa are done! What an amazing trail! Challenging! Rewarding! Stunning!
Already after these couple of days I learned a few lessons:
1) The Te Araroa is not the Pacific Crest Trail! Of course the PCT is still very present in my thinking … and probably always will. But I have to reset my mind and take the Te Araroa as something totally new. It’s not a continuing PCT. It’s something new and very different, however very pretty.
2) A trail is not a trail is not a trail! Even though the TA is an established long distance hiking trail it is not always a trail. There are many stretches where you have to walk along roads … next to big trucks. There are epic stretches along a beach – sometimes with hard and easy to walk sand and sometimes with soft sand that takes loads of energy to walk. Then there are ‚routes‘: routes are stretches where you have hardly any trail but signposts or poles you have to walk to and then on to the next one and the next one …. Then you have trails: This does not mean that these are maintained paths, oh no! Knee deep mud, hip high roots and a hell of a bunch of logs to climb.
3) Have your GPS or Guthook App ready! Seen the first official marker after 65 km!
4) Get your head around having wet feet…. always, all the time. Your shoes won’t dry over night, oh no.
5) All weather, all day. Oh yeah, cold and foggy in the morning, unbearably hot sun in the afternoon …. everything is possible, every single day.
6) Take it as it is and enjoy! 😎😎😎 New Zealand is truly an amazing place on our amazing earth and I am happy and thankful that I am here and have the opportunity to hike it. Wait … here people don’t say hiking, it’s tramping!
07/01/2018 - Preparations
… the countdown is on!!! Tomorrow morning I am heading out to the next adventure – I am going to hike the Te Araroa. This epic hike is covering 3000 km from the southern tip of the south island to the northern tip of the countrys north island. Or the other way round. I will head north … So I am going to be a … nobo … 😒. Last night I met an amazing couple in the hostel. They just finished their thru-hike and they already hiked the PCT. So it was great to chat, get precious advice on the TA and it was interesting to get to know their perspective on the differences between these two trails. So the TA will be rougher, prob a bit more difficult as more roadwalking, more mud, more straight up climbs and even more cow shit is waiting for me. Oh, did I mention the weather? Gonna be wetter then the PCT. So then why the heck I am going to do this? Turn the disadvantages to advantages and little fun challenges and you know why I am doing this 😜. And New Zealand is definitely offering some stunning scenery.