Cathedral Cave

Date of Adventure: 11 April 2021

Cathedral Cave has eluded me for the better side of a decade. When my parents and I originally visited the Catlins in 2015, we had plans to stop in and check it out, since we were right there! Unfortunately, I had a date with the Milford Track, and my dad had to go back up to Auckland for work. We skipped it for the sake of time.

My brother and his wife visited the following year, and told of how cool it was! I so wanted to see it! In 2017, I returned to the country with my girlfriend with a shortlist of what we wanted to see in just two weeks. Unfortunately, it didn’t make the list; we didn’t have enough time.

Finally, we returned four years later! Girlfriend turned to wife, two weeks turned to months of touring! We were in the Catlins for four days total! We knew that it was tide dependant, but we had 4 days to work with; we would definitely be able to work around it!

Unfortunately, the cave was entirely closed for three days straight. Guess what: we checked it’s availability at the end of day 1 of 4. Through a wonderful combination of tide schedules and shorter autumn days, the low tide was either before sunrise or after sunset for three straight days, and the organization that ‘owns’ the cave doesn’t let visitors down to see it if that’s the case.

Bummer! Thanks for reading, next post will be about…

Just kidding! We rearranged our schedule even more, so we could head down as soon as the sun rose on day 5 of our time in the area. With bleary eyes and cold feet, we donned our sandals and walked down to the beach!

Fairly nondescript from far away, you quickly realize how cavernous this cave really is as you approach! It rises a few stories high, and is about 20′ wide at the mouth.

I used my wide mouth to sing some songs in the most booming baritone I could muster, listening to the echoes bouncing around the straight-cut rocks.

Though we were there as early as possible, the tide had already reached it’s negative zenith and was slowly regaining the cave’s minimal floorspace. We had to be quick!

Wading through a couple pools, we put our headlamps on and ventured into the maw.

The passage narrows quickly, choking in on all sides until it is just taller than I am (6′). However, at that point it broadens into a large, circular cave full of ocean debris! Driftwood, smoothed rocks, seaweed, dead birds, all kinds of fun stuff in there!

And wait, look at that…

There’s another entrance! That’s right, two sea caves for the price of one! We ventured out onto the beach on the other side of the cavern just in time for the largest wave yet to soak the bottoms of our rolled up jeans.

Before too long, our feet were getting cold from the ocean water we were standing in. We headed back through the cave to start the walk back to the car.

We walked back in to tunnel #2, stopped to listen to our echoes in the big room, then turned out towards the light of tunnel #1. We saw a large wave rolling in towards us, so another group of tourists joined us in waiting for the swell to die down before we headed back out to the mouth. We were patiently waiting…

Sneak attack!!

The ocean had orchestrated the perfect assault! As we were distracted by the sights and sounds of the wave rolling in before us, it had secretly pushed itself through the other leg of the tunnel. We were surrounded!

The large rear wave soaked our legs thoroughly as we laughed in surprise. At that point we didn’t need to wait out any other waves, and we tromped through any more surf as it came.

It’s not a terribly long cave, so we were in and out in probably 20 minutes after 6 years of waiting (That’s 3,153,600 minutes). Worth every minute!

This is the end for real this time, hope you enjoyed! –

–Cameron

Nugget Point

Date of Adventure: 9 April 2021

Though the plan was to go up the east coast to Dunedin and spend a couple days there, our unexpected tickets into the Milford Track and interest in the Catlins had shortened our time. As such, we set our easternmost point to be the lighthouse at Nugget Point!

On our way, we had to do a double-take as we were driving along, quickly turning the van around to see it again: Teapotland!

A front garden full of teapots!

We were racing the daylight a bit, hoping to get to the lighthouse at sunset for some nice light in the skies. Unfortunately, other beautiful landscapes kept showing up, requiring us to stop for photos!

The final nail in the ‘sunset’ coffin was a stop to watch for Yellow Eyed Penguins, in a specially constructed wildlife viewing bunker just outside Nugget Point. The 6 of us that were in there waited with baited breath for a little waddly bird to hop out of the ocean. We didn’t see any in the 15 minutes we were there.

Any warm sunset colors had already come and gone, but our mission to the east wasn’t done yet. We power-walked out to the cape, hoping to catch the last blue light of the fading dusk.

Waves crashed on the large sea stacks below, and we could hear sea lions roaring as they sat on the rocky shoals.

Though we didn’t get the full ‘sunset’ experience, it was possibly better: we got the platform to ourselves, as all the other tourists had already left!

We headed back to the van, and discovered that the Nugget Point car park is apparently the place to go to smoke in your car with your friends. Two cars full of teens peeled away as we were packing the van back up. Now you know!

Next up we will be returning through the Catlins and seeing a feature that’s been elusive to us for 7 years: Cathedral Cave! Stay tuned!

–Cameron and Kadi

The Catlins: Waterfalls

Dates of Adventure: 8-12 April 2021

The Catlins Forst Park, nestled in the southeast corner of Te Waipounamu (the south island), is far from the mountains of Fiordland or the heavy rain and glaciers of the West Coast. The eastern plains are generally in a rain shadow of the Southern Alps, since the prevailing weather drops it’s ocean-collected moisture atop the mountains as the air rises and cools.

And yet, inexplicably, this small corner of the island is FULL of waterfalls. It seems that every turn is accompanied by a yellow sign, pointing towards a “falls”.

Because of this it’s basically a landscape photographer’s paradise. As such, this post is going to be a bit more photography-focused. Let’s ‘dive in’!

McLean Falls is the tallest of the bunch, and the first one we hit when driving in from the East. I had been here before in 2015, and even flown my homemade drone above the waterfall (before drone laws were implemented).

This waterfall is a great one to photograph, since the path takes you to a really great spot to shoot it. There’s plenty of foreground interest to find (I chose the smaller cascades in front), and it was dark enough that I could shoot it with a longer shutter speed (around 2 seconds) without needing any ND filters.

We stayed until the sun set and the stars came out, playing around with painting the waterfall with flashlghts.

The hike in is about 2km one way, and it is a nice wide path that’s been nicely graded. Not all of the trails were like this, however; our next ‘falls didn’t even have an official DOC sign, we just spotted a wooden sign by the side of the road!

Didn’t take a photo; Google maps to the rescue!

The path to Koropuku Falls was slippepry, muddy, and wild. We loved it! It seemed like it was maintained by someone who thought a trail should be there, rather than the ‘official’ gravel-lined paths funded by the DOC.

The relatively difficult trail had a huge payout, though! The waterfall at the end was a beautiful, dripping veil, 20 feet tall and probably 8 feet wide! I had to climb up the adjacent slippery forested hill to get a good shot. I made a vertical panorama with my Nikon Z7 in this case–basically, I have the resolution to print this image on the side of a building if I wanted to!

Mid April is the middle of Fall on this side of the Equator, so the water flow through these waterfalls was about as low as it gets. Though I was a little bummed at first, I realized there were silver linings to it:

First, most people try to come during peak flow, so we were seeing it at a time when many don’t. Second, the leaves on the trees had started to change and fall! Though many of the trees here don’t go through a seasonal shedding of leaves, enough of them do to provide some lovely yellow contrast to the greens and blues of waterfall photography!

Matai Falls. The nearby Horseshoe Falls wasn’t running enough for a good photo at the time.
My lens was also a little foggy, which actually gives this shot an ethereal vibe that I like!

The next stop for us is one of the most popular waterfalls in the Catlins, if not New Zealand. It oft adorns waterfall calendars and postcards alike, as it is a wide, multi-tiered flow of beauty. However, Purukanui Falls was very low for us, so I had to get creative to make a photo I was happy with!

The swirling eddies of foam and leaves, hidden during high flows, provided for an amazing foreground! I experimented with different shutter speeds, and found that I really liked the swirling movement afforded with about 1/15th of a second.

As it turns out, the areas that have wet, rocky cliffs necessary for waterfalls are also the perfect location for something else photogenic: glow worms! Any of these waterfalls, when hiked to at night, are surrounded by the tiny spots of light. The small larvae normally like to hang out in caves, but the dark, dank underhangs of cliffs and roots are also favorites for them.

This next set of waterfalls isn’t actually in the Catlins, but to the west of it. We stopped by on our way back to Invercargill.

We had read about the two-tiered Waipohatu Falls, but we were on a tight schedule to get back to town before the bank closed. As such, we decided to trail run the 6km loop to save time!

‘The bride and groom’

As seen in the above instagram post, I had to get creative to find the angle I wanted for this shot. I was probably 15 feet off the ground! Also, did I mention that I was trailrunning with a full-frame camera??

That was the end of our waterfall adventures, but we did plenty more in the Catlins! I figured the waterfalls deserved their own post, so keep an eye out for our other adventures aroun the Catlins next (hint: Cathedral Cave). Thanks for reading!

–Cameron

P.S. I almost forgot, the greatest waterfall of them all: behold, the MIGHTY NIAGARA FALLS!

ironically named ‘Niagara Falls’. That’s all!

Te Araroa: Queenstown Intermission

Date of Adventure: 27 Jan – 23 Feb 2022

Our faithful Campi Schlambi was waiting for us where we left her when we got back to Queenstown! We were excited for a bit of time to rest, relax, and figure out some logistics before heading back out on the trail!

Taxes were first up on the agenda. Though our situation wasn’t particularly complex (no income…yay?), they were certainly unique. We had to figure out the special forms for US->NZ money transfers, it was our first full year married, and we had to learn about NZ taxes as well!

After taxes were sorted, we had to send out some resupply boxes to towns along the way that don’t have regular grocery stores. We went to the Costco equivalent, Pak’n’Save, to get all loaded up!

We spent an evening sorting food, spices, medicine, post cards, maps, and candy into 3 boxes and 1 bag, which we sent out the next day.

Our next task was figuring out any gear changes we wanted to make, since we were back in the van! Over the past few weeks of being on trail, we had come up with a variety of things to swap, ranging from a quick trade to full-on thread ripping the tent!

Here’s a list of all the changes, from simplest to most complex:

  • Larger cups
  • Left trail gaiters behind
  • Left head nets behind
  • Traded a pair of socks out
  • Swapped Kadi’s sleeping pad for a longer and insulated one
  • New underwear, ordered while on trail
  • Bought curved needle for repairs
  • Make drip rig for water filter
  • Repair socks by hand (with curved needle)
  • Repair hole in tent w/ tape
  • Add TVL logo to hat w/ sewing machine
  • Make two new large zipper pouches out of quieter material
  • Make larger hip belt pocket for Cameron’s camera stuff
  • Add door roll-up toggle/bungie to tent
  • Make large, roll-top food bag for dinners, as they are always overflowing
  • Add center shock cord tie outs to each side of inner net tent
  • Seam-rip corner line-locs off each tent corner, and replace ribbon tie-outs with correctly sized webbing
These things are rad

Though any one of those items wasn’t particularly difficult or time-consuming, completing them all took quite a long time! We couldn’t do the tent changes in the van, so we brought the sewing machine into the common area of the holiday park we were staying at. Though we were expecting strange looks, everyone was just interested in what we were doing!

We were staying at a place called ‘Qbox’. We had stayed there right before doing the Routeburn Track last April, and weren’t terribly impressed back then; however, we decided to give it another try and we really enjoyed our time there!

The main facilities blocks are all converted shipping containers, giving it an industrial feel. On the contrary, they’ve painted the interiors all bright colors and have a nice big mural painted on an adjacent wall, giving it a happier feel while you’re actually inside!

Home for a couple weeks!

Our next task was to book flights back home for the (US) summer! New Zealand had just announced their re-opening plan, and we were ecstatic to be able to get home for a few weddings!

Quick backstory: When we first came to NZ, we had to buy three separate sets of tickets; the first ones were through Air Tahiti Nui via Priceline, and were cancelled within two months. The next set were with Fiji Airways, and were cancelled within two weeks! We finally bought AirNZ tickets to get us here.

Of course, airlines don’t give refunds; they just give flight credits. So, we’ve been stuck with nebulous flight credits for a year+, and wanted to use those!

…but because we were more than a year from the original flight date, they had to check with their superior to make sure the credits were valid. Stayed on hold for 45 minutes (costing $0.03/minute to call Tahiti) only for them to tell me they would email me the confirmation when they got it the next day.

Long story short, we were finally able to book flights using flight credits for both legs (NZ->US, then US->NZ)! One with Air Tahiti Nui, and one with Fiji. Huzzah!

Tahiti then closed their borders to travellers that night for the next 4 months.

In the end, we bought Air NZ flights. Maybe someday (Before December 31, 2022 @11:59pm) we will be able to use those Air Tahiti credits.

At some point in this saga, Cameron was waiting for a callback after being on hold for 30+minutes, and had gone outside to stretch. As he heard the phone ringing in the van, he quickly turned around, bent over to get into the van, lifted his leg, twisted to reach the phone on the counter, and pinched a nerve in his back. Though he got the phone, the pinched nerve shot searing pain up and down his back and leg whenever he tried to stand up straight!

This lasted for 10 days. Cameron could hobble back and forth between the bathroom block and the van, and was generally good to cook if he didn’t have to move his back, but getting back on the trail was out of the question!

Saw this rad Corvette in the grocery store carpark!

It was a pretty difficult time for both of us. We were off the trail for a couple weeks already when Cameron hurt his back, so our muscles were atrophying quickly.

We didn’t know how long this would take to heal, so we didn’t want to leave Queenstown, in case it was better and we could leave the next day!

Kadi had to take a larger share of life tasks, since Cameron couldn’t lift much. There’s lots of moving parts when living in a small van!

Overall we just felt stuck, and had quite a few arguments and anger at the situation, directed at each other. Fortunately we discovered we were doing it, but it made for some tough days.

Finally Cameron’s back started to loosen up, affording him a larger and larger range of motion every day! We made plans for starting the trail again, scared and excited at the same time.

To test out Cameron’s back, we went for a walk in a park we’d never been to before. It was a beautiful day, with the sun shining down on the beach!

Creepy statue

On the way back, we drove through a neighborhood with an awesome variety of houses! So fun to see all the neat architecture! Back in the US we are used to pretty standardized houses, not too different from each other.

Not in this place! There were modern houses, stone cottages, A-frames, and even an Arizona style abode right next to each other!

Also before we left, we had a fun game idea! If you’ve ever played the card game ‘Set’, we decided we wanted a 4*4 version. Meet Super Set! We got a 2″ hole punch to cut all these out, and the game is compact enough that we brought it on the trail with us!

To celebrate our trail restart, we headed to a nearby lake to have a picnic. We saw some baby coots (birds), they were super cute!

Pretty soon after that, we were ready to get back on the trail! The next post will be our first couple days back on the trail to Arrowtown!

Old man looking at us
‘Miles Better Pies’ has the best vegetarian pie so far!
Cute breakfast in the van!

Thanks for reading this semi-rambling post, it was a weird time in Queenstown that didn’t have an exact story for us. Back to more story-oriented posts next!

–Cameron and Kadi

South Coast East – to Curio Bay

Dates of Adventure: 8 & 11 April 2021

The South coast east of Invercargill is a rocky, rough coastline. Though it coldn’t quite be described as desolate, it felt like it was only populated by sheep, cows, lighthouses, and vacation homes.

Our first taste of the unprotected waters of the Southern Ocean was at the Waipapa point lighthouse, a hexagonal lighthouse 56km away from Invercargill. Large waves crashed on the shore, highlighting the need for a well situated beacon there.

Heading east, we arrived at Slope Point, the true southern point of the South Island. From a small car park, we traversed across a grazing field, scaring a handful of cows in the path.

In our heads, New Zealand is incredibly far south in the world. This sign highlighted that it’s really not that far, as even the southernmost point is still about equidistant (off by ~5%) from the pole to the equator!

The green fields ran directly off the ocean cliffs, since any attempt to fence the property line would be swept away by the actively eroding coastline.

As the sun set, we wound our way towards the curiosities of Curio Bay. We found an appropriate freedom camping site for the night and checked the tide charts for the next day!

Our first stop in Curio Bay itself was the Petrified forest, since it requires a low tide to explore the large shelf of hardened wood.

You could see the rings and branches of mineralized trees, as well as long slender petrified logs!

We had heard from a local Kiwi that his class would come here as a field trip when he was a kid. He remembers that it used to be much more impressive, but then also said that the teacher would find a large log section, smash it on the ground, and give each kid a small piece to take home!

Across the peninsula is the large Porpoise Bay, a holiday destination during the summer. Unfortunately, it was becoming late in the season this far south, and the water was a little too cold to swim freely in.

Cool patterns in the sand

After our brief walk on the beach, we headed to the peninsula at the end of the bay to look for a New Zealand rarity: Hector’s Dolphins!

The smallest breed of dolphins in the world, Hector’s Dolphins are an endangered species that live around the south island’s east and south coast. We wanted a chance to see these rare mammals!

A pod of these small dolphins lives in the bay, so we stood atop the large bluff overlooking the ocean all around. Sure enough, we soon spotted some fins poking through the surf as a few of them searched for food!

As we were dolphin spotting, an Ultramarathon event was being set up at the Curio Bay campsite just next to where we were parked. Inspiring for both of us, we talked with a few organizers and product reps about our favorite gear!

We next headed inland towards the Catlins, which we will talk about more in our next posts. There were a few old cemetaries we wanted to check out with what remained of the day. One interesting thing about NZ is that most small towns have a memorial to The Great War, World War 1, with names and celebrations of life for all the young servicemen involved from the area.

We returned to the Curio Bay area in the evening, as we wanted to try our luck seeing another rare breed that lives in the area: Yellow Eyed Penguins!

There were some, but they were super far away and even my longest lens had trouble with it. Nonetheless, we saw them!

We returned to the freedom camping spot from the night before to plan out our next few days as we ventured into the Catlins, a large, lush forest in the southeast of the island. Stay tuned for those posts coming up, and thanks for reading!

Te Araroa: Huts

Our first living space together was a two bedroom apartment. Since then, we’ve continued to downsize: first, down to a one bedroom apartment. Next, a brief time in just a hotel room while in quarantine, followed by our time in our small van. Finally, here on Te Araroa, we just have our backpacks and a tent!

Along with the varied terrain, the TA has a variety of different camping options, from tents, to huts, to holiday parks!

Because of all these different possibilities, we won’t have to use our tent every night. All across New Zealand there are nearly 1000 Backcountry huts, meant to be used by the general public for recreation! The trail goes by dozens of them, meaning you can often go entire weeklong sections just staying in these huts.

Huts across the South Island

Some of them are modern, fancy huts, like the ones on the Great Walks. The Routeburn Falls hut or Luxmore hut each accommodate 40+ people and have amenities such as gas cookers and flush toilets!

The entryway of the Routeburn Falls hut

However, the vast majority of the backcountry huts are very simple, one-room shacks that simply give a place to lay your head for the night. If you’re lucky, they might have a table, and you might stretch your luck for a chair or bench. Some of them are old musterer’s (sheep herders) huts that date back to the 1800s, and some were built as recently as 2011.

Bunks with standard mattresses

The Department of Conservation (DOC), the governmental outdoorsy people, have done a terrific job of standardizing almost all of the huts to have 4-8 bunks with foam cushions, and a ‘long drop’ nearby (pit toilet).

Most of the basic Backcountry huts cost a Hut Ticket, which you can buy at any DOC site. However, there is also an annual Backcountry Hut pass which lets you use almost all of the huts for free for the year! We were stoked to start using the hut system we each bought a pass when we first got into the country.

Hiking Te Araroa we will be utilizing these huts extensively! The trail generally follows existing routes, which already had huts on them when the TA was formed.

There are a few private huts along the way that you may have to pay for, but they generally have better features than the standard DOC ones. One even had a shower!

Shower in the private Birchwood cabin

Huts are first come first serve, but we’ve not yet had any problems of securing a bunk for the night (likely due to COVID-19 and less trampers on the trail this year). They’re quite fun to meet other people, since many of the other residents for the night are TA walkers (so far only SOBO) that we can tell about their upcoming track section, or we can exchange stories with.

That’s all the basic info on huts, so I’ll put up a few pictures of some we’ve stayed at so far!

Martin’s hut in the Longwoods was our first Backcountry hut on the TA, and was definitely rustic. Many people say it’s the worst on the TA, but we found it a welcomed cozy shelter! The two ladies who were already there gave us a warm welcome when we got in.

Merriview hut is a private hut, but only $10/person. It had running water and a trash can, and we got to talk to Barry and Dennis all evening!

Birchwood hut is another private hut, but it is definitely worth stopping at. They had a hot shower, full kitchen, clean water, real mattresses and rubbish bins to offload your Farrah’s bag of trash! The nearby tavern would send a shuttle to pick you up if you wanted a hot meal, and would also swing you by the supermarket for supplies!

Spring mattresses!
We did some sink laundry here, and utilized the sun!

Going into the Takitimu mountains, we were right on the heels of some serious rain. Because of this, SOBO hikers likely waited for an extra day or two to start this section, meaning we got a couple nights of huts to ourselves!

Cute, 4-bunk lower Wairaki hut. It had a chair!

Aparima hut actually had two huts at the same site, one a bit more historic than the other. We decided to stay in the newer one!

Many newer huts feature rain water collection systems from the roof, draining into a tank that can be used for drinking water. Sometimes we treat it anyways, especially when there are lots of birds around potentially pooping on the roof.

Older hut
Not too bad

Even though we’re in the backcountry, sometimes there’s still cell reception. I’m currently writing this post in the Princhester hut with the tiniest bit of internet!

Shared this hut with our first American! Naomi was lovely conversation!

We’re only a fraction of the way through our journey, but we’ve seen so many cool huts! Likely we will add Huts: Part 2 & 3 down the line as we see cooler ones. Until then, thanks for reading, and here are a couple more huts along the way!

The Kiwi Burn hut has three rooms! Felt like an old house.
Nice beds!
Though the Taipo hut had a rainwater tank, it had been dry, so it was empty. There’s been a bucket provided to get water from the stream!
The Greenstone hut was very fancy
Two large bunkrooms
Very large communal area!
The flush toilet block was as large as some huts!

–Cameron

Te Araroa: Greenstone

Days on Trail: 20-21 | Date of Adventure: 25 – 26 Jan 2022

After the trek through the Mavora Walkway, Te Araroa heads down into the Greenstone River valley to join up with the Greenstone track.

The Greenstone track is a very popular and relatively easy tramp near Queenstown, meaning the huts are much larger and fancier than our general fare. It also means the path itself is wider and much better maintained, a welcome treat for our feet!

We had heard about the nice new mattresses and the spacious triple-room luxury of the Greenstone hut for about a week, so we were eager to relax in style!

The large Greenstone hut!

When we got to the hut there were only a few people around. We put our hut jandals on and headed in to stake out our bunks for the night. As we entered the first (of two) bunkrooms, a teenage girl sitting on one of the beds said: “Oh, you should probably sleep in the other room…there are 11 more of us coming.”

Welp, I guess we won’t be having a quiet night!

In the end, we shared the hut with two other TA walkers (SOBO) and three families, each with a set of parents and 2-3 raccuous kids, ranging from 9-20 or so.

It had been a relatively dusty and hot section through Mavora, so Kadi and I were hoping to get in to the river when we got to the hut. We had heard there was a wonderful swimming hole!

Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate with us when we arrived at the hut. The sun had been covered by clouds, brought in by a cold wind. Although the conditions weren’t perfect we decided to go bathe anyway! We both found that we have a fear of being too cold, which has often prevented us from getting into other great swimming holes. Time to get over that!

We found a great, slow-moving spot by following a thin winding forest path. The Greenstone river was indeed frigid, so we took brief, invigorating baths and got out feeling cold, a bit cleaner and very refreshed! We even warmed up on the walk back to the hut, proving that our fear is unfounded.

After dinner, the kids played tag outside as the sun set in a spectacular fashion! The parents watched from inside, cleaning up and visiting amongst themselves. It was a wonderful way to see that outdoor adventures can absolutely continue after kids!

In the morning, the family crew stirred to life pretty early, bringing the rest of us with them. After a quick breakfast, they headed out. We took a few minutes to enjoy the hut in solitude before we blazed on, hot on their heels!

Great big tree
Green blue water of the Greenstone river

Before long, we saw the large group lumbering ahead across the valley. I was able to snap a few pictures of them, and we exchanged email addresses as we passed them so I could send the pictures to them.

Rarely spotted in front of the camera
Tree tunnel!

As I would stop to snap photos, the family group leapfrogged us a few times. At some point Kadi made it her goal to not let them pass us again, and that pushed us to our fastest speed on trail yet!

We quickly arrived at the junction where the Caples river flows into the Greenstone from an adjacent valley. The Greenstone-Caples route is often combined, creating a wonderful intermediate 3-4 day trip!

The easy, wide path was a welcome relief after the tussock bashing of the high plains, so we cruised through the final kilometers before arriving at the car park.

Lake Wakatipu, a large lake that Queenstown is built on, is described as a ‘hazard zone’ in the notes, and you’re expected to figure out a way around it, since there are no easy trails. We knew that a shuttle should arrive sometime after noon each day, so we thought maybe we could talk our way onto that.

There was another option, however: As we heard the large family group exclaim in joy when they saw the carpark, we decided to try our luck and ask them if they’d be able to give us a ride!

LotR filming location

They were happy to situate us into one of their 3 cars, and we had a great chat with the two teachers we shared the ride with! They told us how they’d met the other couples, their various adventures across the globe, and we shared highlights of our time in NZ.

They had plans to go to a famous local burger joint afterwards, so we agreed to just get out wherever they parked–they were doing us a huge favor, after all!

After a few minutes of contemplating, we decided we also wanted to try Fergberger. The kids had been talking about it all day, after all!

Kadi got a blue cod burger–so yum!

They were some amazing burgers after many long days of hiking! We also got some gelato afterwards for a perfect end to the section!

We were back in Queenstown after 3 weeks on trail! Cämpi was happily waiting for us to take a break in, and we had lots of logistics to catch up on before we started again (US->NZ taxes, yuck). Our next post will be about our break in Qtown, which ended up being much longer than expected!

Thanks for reading!

–Cameron

Te Araroa: Mavora Walkway

Days on Trail: 17-20 | Date of Adventure: 22 – 25 Jan 2022

Getting a hitch out of Te Anau was actually much more difficult than getting one in to town! It was a Saturday morning, so we figure people must be coming in to the tourist town for their weekend, rather than leaving it.

We waited for over an hour!

We finally got a ride with a lovely farmer who lived along the road, and she even drove us a few extra kilometers up the way to keep us out of the heat!

We were still faced with 21km of gravel road walking in the sun that day, so we both decided to try our luck at hitching up this road as well. We had only walked max 1km before another truck drove by, saw our thumbs outstretched, and offered us a ride!

He took us all the way to the Kiwi Burn trail junction, with our plan to stay at the Kiwi Burn hut that night. He transformed our 21km day to a 3.5km day, and we were feeling great!

We had to hike Southbound on the trail a bit to get to the hut, but when we got there we had plenty of time to enjoy the old house and play some games.

The heaviest luxury item I (Cameron) carry is a plastic Ocarina, and I was able to play it for a couple hours that night. I discovered that the fingerings are very similar to the clarinet that I played for years, so I could play some old familiar songs quite quickly.

Water filter, not an IV

The next day had us trace our steps northbound again back to the Kiwi Burn trail junction, through some flooded fields and fiesty forests.

North of the junction, the forest path narrowed and steepened a bit. The river we were following gradually slowed it’s flow, and suddenly we were faced with the spectacular South Mavora Lake!

The trail continued along it’s shore, as our campground for the night was nestled on the south side of North Mavora Lake.

Our campsite had incredible views of the surrounding area, but it is a popular camping ground on a summer weekend, so we shared them with dozens of campervans and trailers around us.

A thick, low fog rolled in overnight, giving the next morning a cold feel. The morning condensation on our tent wouldn’t go away on its own, so we had to roll it up wet (never fun).

On our way out of the campground, an incredibly friendly dog ran up and sat at Kadi’s feet, expecting pets. She happily obliged!

Afterwards he ran over to me too 🙂

The north Mavora Lake is much longer than the South one, so we were walking along this 4wd road for the rest of the morning and into the afternoon. The cloud base slowly rose, revealing more and more of the surrounding peaks as we walked.

We decided to eat lunch in a hut we passed along the way. The clouds cleared while we were in there, so we were greeted with incredible valley views when we started again!

Still a 4wd road

We came to the hut at the end of the 4wd road early in the afternoon, and had a choice to make: stay here and have an early day, or push on another 13km? We both felt fine and had been cruising so far that day, so we carried on!

Tussocks as tall as Kadi!

As it turns out, high country brush is quite a bit harder to walk through than graded roads. Our pace had slowed, and we were getting a bit testy with each other as the day wore on.

Can you find both Kadi and Cameron in this picture?

Shadows had grown long while we made our way to the next hut, but we still made it before sundown!

Love this shot!
And this one!

The hut’s rain water collection barrel was empty, but the man already at the hut had taken the designated bucket down to the river for water.

Though I had planned to step outside and do some astrophotography that night, I got spooked whenever I woke up to try: The possums outside were walking all over the front porch, sending melodic footsteps through the hut! I decided it was fine in my sleeping bag, and went back to sleep!

Loo with a view
Dilapidated turnstile. Still worked!

The next morning we were due to transition from high plains back to lower elevation beech forests. Though we were sad that the dramatic mountain views were going to go away, the beating sun helped us welcome the shade of the trees.

A few places along the trail we walked through stands of junior beech trees, only as tall as we were. We couldn’t quite figure out why there were sudden dense sections, as there wasn’t any evidence of fire or landslides to take out the older generation.

As the trail descended into the Greenstone valley, we were excited to stay at the next hut–we had heard great things about this 24 bunk hut, one of the largest on the TA! It had new mattresses!

What we got at the hut wasn’t quite what we had hoped for, however… Find out next time, on Te Araroa: Greenstone edition!

Thanks for reading!

–Cameron

Te Araroa: Te Anau

Days on Trail: 15-16 | Date of Adventure: 20-21 Jan 2022

After our hitch-hike in to town, we walked along the beach front of Lake Te Anau to find the backpacker’s lodge we planned to stay at. The YHA, the hostel I had stayed at when I first did the Kepler and Milford in 2015, had just shut it’s doors less than a month ago, so I was a little sad I couldn’t share that experience with Kadi. Darn COVID!

Our American hut-mate at the Princhester hut highly recommended Bao-Now!, a food cart across from the grocery store here in town, so we headed there as soon as we could for a late lunch.

Fried chicken

It was D E L I C I O U S. Nothing like fried food to get your tummy happy!

Crispy tofu

My shoes were starting to bust out the sides in a couple places, so we found a local haberdasher who lent us a curved needle to do some repairs!

I have long hair now
She also lent us the pliers! Super nice!

These shoes had taken me on hundreds of miles of CO trails even before I did all the South Island Great Walks in them, so their time was coming soon! I also repaired a similar problem in Kadi’s shoes!

We took a rest day in Te Anau (2 nights total), so we took the time to do some laundry and photo organizing on top of the standard battery bank/phone charging.

I have a tradition of getting Chinese food from the same restaurant every time I come to Te Anau, including times in 2015, 2017, 2021 and now 2022!

Backpacker’s kitchen was orange!

We headed off the next morning, needing to get another hitch back to where we had left off. But we’ll talk about that in the next post!

That’s all for Te Anau, our next section is the dramatic Mavora Lakes section! Thanks for reading!

Getting inspired (not pregnant)
Hokey pokey squiggle

Te Araroa: Takitimu Mountains

Days on Trail: 12-15 | Date of Adventure: 17-20 Jan 2022

Waking up, we could hear the ever-present plinking on the tent walls; we soon realized it wasn’t rain anymore, but the sandflies trapped in the peak of our tent trying endlessly to escape. Though the inner tent is probably our heaviest single piece of gear, it’s times like these that make it worth the weight.

Sandflies trying to eat us

After a late night, we decided to sleep in to wait out some rain in the morning. The aforementioned sandflies greeted us eagerly, so we packed up camp as quickly as we could and got going!

follow the light

Today’s plan was simple: go up, then go down! It was anything but easy, though, as the hill required navigation through tall grass and shrubs while it rose steeply.

We eventually took the ridgeline, and the morning clouds broke to give us an incredible view all around! We could see all the way to Bluff hill, and each of the places we had hiked before!

Brunel mountain dominated the skyline to our left as we continued along the ridge. The sun was too hot, and we had to shed layers. Luckily the sandflies aren’t so keen about wind, so we were safe!

The path rose and vegetation thinned out a bit. It felt very reminiscent of the top bit of a Colorado 14er, with steep, gravelly sections requiring use of our hands.

As we summited our great peak of the day, we were surprised to see what was just on the other side…

Dense forest! I thought the shrinking vegetation on one side meant that we were rising above the treeline. I was quickly corrected, as we next descended into the beech woods.

These ones were (thankfully) much drier than the Longwoods, but the old trees deposited twisted, poky branches all over the trail that kept tripping us up and scratching our legs! Since I walk a bit faster than Kadi, I walked a bit ahead and took up the task of flinging the peskiest branches as far off trail as I could with my trekking poles.

The first hut of the section appeared before long: the Lower Wairaki hut. Though we had planned to continue to the next hut, it was so inviting after the frustrating 3km of tripping and scratching sticks that we decided to stay!

It had a chair!

We were the only ones there that night, so we played cards, dice, and enjoyed a movie on Kadi’s phone before heading to bed.

The next day was a series of steep creek beds (some wet, some dry) that we descended, then trudged up out of. Though the day looked flat on the elevation profile, the constant elevation change meant it was slow going.

Just go up there somehow

We spotted some native NZ mistletoe flowering in the canopy! You could tell it was above the trail when you were suddenly walking on your very own red carpet of dropped petals. We would stop for a quick smooch each time we saw it, but soon realized that it happened far too often. In the end we blew each other a kiss whenever we noticed it 😉

It was a hot and sunny day, so we were thankful for the shade of the woods. Still plenty sweaty though!

Feeeerrrrnnnsss
A helpful bird marked the way for us!

Near the end of the day, the trail makes its way across a marshland. Since it hadn’t really rained in a couple weeks here, it was generally just soft moss for us. Very gentle on the feet!

Rain was in the forecast for the afternoon though, and we could see it starting to let loose on the mountains we had just come from!

Of course, as soon as it seemed close enough for us to pull out our rain jackets, the sun came out and the rain stayed at bay. I guess that’s why you bring them??

Hard to tell, sun was poking through

We had one last river crossing before our planned hut for the night, but this one had a swing bridge for us! My tent string got caught in the chain link part as I crossed, that was fun to try to figure out on a swing bridge!

We were once again the only ones as the Aparima hut, allowing us to stretch out a bit and relax.

Every hut has an intentions book, also called a hut log, that you’re meant to sign in to as you pass through. Primarily meant as a way to find hikers who may have gone missing (so they know where they’ve passed through), these books can also provide reading and entertainment if you look back at all the comments people have made!

People having fun at the back of this hut log book

Rain was the name of the game for our next day. Though they were just low clouds when we started hiking, they soon started to mist on us before opening up and soaking everything.

This particular day was spent mainly walking through waist to shoulder high tussocks (clumps of tall, stout grasses). The rain held on to the grass, meaning we got wet from both the pouring rain and the path we had to bash through. Fun!

Lunch under the hastily erected tent

Because of the rain my camera got put away early on, and we don’t have pictures of the scenic cliffs we passed on the way. I would love to come back on a better weather day!

After a large, steep hill over princhester saddle, we descended to the lower Princhester hut, where one girl was already staying. It turned out that she was American as well, from Washington state! We were the first Americans she had seen (and vice versa), so we had a great time talking freely with her.

There was a little rain the next morning, but we had an easy walk over gravel roads to get to HWY6, so we took our time.

Our next step was a 20km hitch-hike into Te Anau for our next resupply! Neither of us had ever hitched before (other than to each other), so it was a little nerve-wracking and a bit demoralizing at times.

Eventually, a couple brothers in a rented campervan pulled over, threw a bunch of stuff in the boot, and beckoned for us to come on over! We had a great time chatting with them as they headed for their trip to the Milford Sound.

Next post we will talk about our rest day in Te Anau, one of our favorite little towns! Thanks for reading!

–Cameron