Tramping (Trekking) the Length of New Zealand (MAIN PAGE)

Section I: Cape Farewell to St. Arnaud

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Click here for route data/details for Section I

Section Summary: Section I begins at Cape Farewell at the very top of the South Island. It then follows the coastline south, usually right on the beach or across tidal inlets at low tide. Upon reaching Takaka, the route takes to paved and gravel (metalled) coastal roads to get to the Coastal Track in Abel Tasman National Park, "the easiest major tramp in New Zealand." The route follows the Coastal Track for 35 km to its end (start) at Marahau. From Marahau to St. Arnaud, the route is a combination of rural farm roads, gravel (metalled) roads, forest roads, and highway, through the Nelson region wine and orchard country and the spectacular Golden Downs Forest. A highlight of the road section is the Old Stage Road, which winds 20 km along the ridgetop between Tasman Bay and the Moutere river valley and offers views of both.

Alternate Route Note: Section I is not part of the Te Araroa route, which instead starts at Ship Cove in the Queen Charlotte Sound and goes through the Richmond mountain range to get to St. Arnaud. I chose an alternate route at the last minute for several reasons. (a) I liked the idea of starting again at a "Cape" at the very top of the South Island, similar to the start at Cape Reinga at the top of the North Island, and wasn't inspired by a start in the Queen Charlotte Sound or at Picton. (b) There would be more coastal walking, including the world-famous (or much-hyped, depending no who you talk to) Abel Tasman Coastal Track. (c) Wary from past difficult tracks on the North Island, I was uneasy about crossing the isolated and rugged Richmond range alone, with a few parts of it treacherous and anxiety-provoking in bad weather, particularly a section requiring multiple river crossings and re-crossings, and other cross-country mountain sections. Parts of the Richmond range are not recommended for solo trampers (To be fair, some of the Richmond route is considered quite easy.) (d) The logistics of my alternate route were much easier. And (e) Section J is a popular mountain route that promises to be enjoyable and have other trampers about, and I wanted to be relatively fresh for it. No one factor was decisive, but they all added up. On the other hand, my main reasons for going through the Richmond would have been (a) to remain as faithful to the Te Araroa route as possible; and (b) to prove I could do it. Neither was enough. So my alternate route re-joins Te Araroa at St. Arnaud, the start of Section J. Sorry, Te Araroa!

Section Journal: St. Arnaud, New Zealand, February 1, 2004

Section I was unexpectedly one of my favorite sections so far. After much deliberation I decided to start at Cape Farewell and ended up being very happy with my choice. The walking was either coastal beaches and tidal inlets, coastal tracks (in Abel Tasman National Park), closed forest roads with no cars at all, or minor paved (sealed) roads that had very little traffic. The walking was enjoyable and easy with consistently nice views throughout. There were enough towns, food and lodging along the way that I could carry a very light oversized day pack--with water bottle, a bit of food, clothing, a sleeping bag and bivy bag for camping if needed, and other small items--and wear running shoes.

The South Island walking didn't start until later than I expecetd--January 21. In Wellington after finishing the North Island, I decided to take a small "vacation" and went sea-kayaking for a few days in the Queen Charlotte Sound. I also wrote a journal paper I had been invited to submit on short notice and which I had then promised for January. Also, a newspaper reporter for the Dominion Post, Wellington's newspaper, decided to interview me and wrote an article that appeared in the paper with a rather nice photo of me tramping through a parking lot in the middle of Wellington! ("Reduced to Tears by the Tararuas", Dominion Post, January 14, 2004, page A5.) Then there were all the logistics to sort out for the South Island. (Before leaving Wellington, I ended up mailing most of my supplies to Hokitika on the west coast, for retrieval after Section J). And I did get to see Lord of the Rings!

On the day I crossed the Cook Strait by ferry from Wellington to start the South Island half of the trek, the weather had been fierce around Wellington, with gale-force winds and 10m (28 foot) swells in the Strait. I was lucky to get across, as many cancellations and delays ensued over the next few days. In fact, the Lynx, the physically smaller of two ferry services, was cancelled for two days and the ferry I took was delayed by hours. It was quite unusual for this to happen in the summer, I was told.

Tragically, that same storm claimed the life of a tramper in the Tararua mountains, near Waiopehu Hut, where I was myself just two weeks earlier. She died of exposure in a fierce quickly-arriving storm, before being able to get down to less exposed ground, but had made it down to just 200 meters from the hut, probably without knowing how close the hut was. Her partner had to abandon her, after feeling no pulse, to save himself. Hypothermia can be a quick killer.

The massive ferry ship (big enough to load railroad trains several cars long and dozens of trucks into the bottom decks) was tossed about. In the forward lounge where I sat, we all experienced a continuous roller-coaster ride for a few hours as the bow pitched steeply up and down, sending water sprays up all around us, blocking visibility through windows even high above the water. It took a day for my stomach to recover from the ride! When we arrived, the bus was still waiting for us, even though we were two hours late. "You've had enough trouble without also missing your bus" the driver explained.

The South Island half of the trek and Section I started at the Pillar Point lighthouse, which isn't as large or impressive as the lighthouse at Cape Reinga, but still offers spectacular views from high atop the coastal ridge. A track winds along the ridgetop and meets up with the road at Puponga after a few kilometers. I thought I would have to take the road south from Puponga to Collingwood this first day, but to my delight I could take to the beach and tidal coastline and walked the entire distance to Collingwood along the shoreline, mostly sandy beaches, passing through a few vacation-home settlements along the shoreline. The road was mostly nearby if there was any problem with the coastline, but I only used a road bridge once to cross a small river.

And there was no fence between the road and the shoreline! I must say that the most unpleasant part of walking in New Zealand has been the pervaisiveness of fencing. Everything is fenced, whether it needs to be or not. I guess this comes from a farm/livestock culture (and, I would add, a seeming national obsession with property rights and boundaries that dates back to the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840). But even tree planations, vinyards and crops are fenced! So the absence of fences, mostly just in the forest parks and national parks, is always notable and noted.

The adventure of the day was crossing the vast Ruataniwha tidal inlet just before getting to Collingwood. It was about 1.5 km across, and most of it was exposed sand at low tide, with a few water channels winding their way through. I was 2-3 km from solid (non-tidal) land to the west as I crossed the inlet, but I decided to try going directly across to Collingwood. I managed very well, with some knee-deep channels to cross, until just a few hundred meters from the town, when I ran into the Aorere River, flowing through a deep channel across the tidal inlet. The river was big! So I walked 1.5 km west along the riverbank to the road bridge and came around to the town on the road. The detour took about an hour, as opposed to a 3-minute crossing of the river (a boat would have been handy). At one point as I folowed the riverbank, a secondary channel of the river needed to be crossed. A moment of fright ensued as I thought that if I couldn't cross that channel, I would have to retrace my steps of the past hour entirely, back out into the inlet, courting rising water levels as the tide came back in. Happily, the channel was only knee-deep at that time.

At Collingwood that evening, the staff of the Old Post Office Backpackers cooked us all dinner--unusual for a backpackers and quite delicious. My fellow lodgers were French, German, Israeli, and Scotish, with one of the hosts an Italian working in NZ for a year. Welcome to the South Island, where foreign tourists outnumber locals during the summer!

The second day from Collingwood to Pohara was much the same--mostly coastline walking on beaches and broad tidal flats at low tide. Wearing running shoes, I didn't worry at all about walking through water wherever and whenever, as they didn't retain the "soaked" feeling I get with hiking boots, and they dried quickly. Some road walking brought me to Takaka for dinner in the cafe, after which I carried on to the campground at Pohara, where the manager allowed me to camp on the narrow "reserve" strip above the beach, with just barely enough room on the grass amongst the bush to lay down my sleeping bag bivy sack. But it was a starry evening and a delight to fall asleep with the surf at high tide.

The next day it was time to start the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, and once on it, I must have passed someone at least every 15 minutes for the rest of the afternoon and all the next day. For awhile, it seemed like every other group of hikers I passed were German! It seemed like many of the people I encountered were only there for a day hike, coming into the middle of the track via one of the many water taxi services, or perhaps hiking in and taking the water taxi out, or vice-versa. Only a minority of people had full multi-day tramping gear. Water taxis even ferried kayaks into and out of the central parts of the track. Then there were many pleasure boats on the water. The track itself was very easy--wide smooth dirt the entire way--and I enjoyed having all these fellow hikers around. But I also felt the presence of the elaborate tourist industry that served many of the people I saw. "We've been too successful in promoting tourism in Abel Tasman" said a local later on, to the detriment and balanced usage of other areas.

I stayed in the town of Motueka for 3-1/2 days to finish the unfinished writing and computer work from Wellington. The Motueka Cyber Center consisted of about 20 computers in a large pleasant room, was open 9am-9pm even Sunday, and for high-volume users like me cost NZ$3.90/hour, so that my 35 hours on the computer over the 3-1/2 days there cost NZ$135, or about US$80. It was worthwhile--I finished revising the journal paper I wrote in Wellington after receiving peer review comments while I was out hiking the first four days of Section I, finshed revising an earlier paper based on peer review comments (both papers have now been accepted for publication in the last week), and finally, wrote a peer review of someone else's paper that I had promised to do. Plus I drafted the Section I photos and journal for the route as far as Motueka and managed to shrink my in-box to almost nothing. So it was quite productive! Motueka also features a small reperatory theater with couch/easy-chair seating and I enjoyed a 1949 Orson Wells classic while there. Amazingly, it turns out the theater was founded by the owners of the Golden Downs Lodge mentioned below--a coincidence I discovered while staying in their lodge, 2 days and 60 kilometers of southward walking after Motueka!

Motueka is an interesting town. There is an "alternative" sub-culture in the background here, with a bohemian/hippie crowd. A favorite meeting place is Hot Mama's Cafe, a wonderful place with tasty meals and all manner of flavorful salads. But the locals don't seem to tolerate the "alternative" crowd too much (one eating establishment even went as far as to post a sign refusing service to those not wearing shoes--a familiar sign from 30 years ago in the U.S.). In the nearby settlement of Woodstock out in the Motueka river valley, a couple wanted to start an "eco-village" with arts/crafts space. But the local land board recently turned down the request because neighbors feared the incursion of "alternative types" into the area.

The walk from Motueka was also more pleasant than I expected. At least half of it was on gravel/dirt (metalled) road--the "Old Coach Road" that wound along the ridgetop between Tasman Bay and the Moutere river valley. It was a flat ridgetop route for perhaps 20km, then went through the settlement of Mahana, onto a main highway for 3km, then off onto closed forest roads (dirt roads) for about 6km into Pigeon Valley (beautiful), before getting to Wakefield. Much of the Old Coach Road had absolutely no traffic over it, although some sections are now being developed into expensive ridgetop homes/estates (called "lifestyle blocks" here in NZ).

At the Mahana School I stopped to refill my water bottle and eat lunch on their outdoor picnic tables in the shade, just as the school children were being picked up or boarding their bus. The teachers were interested in my trek and even brought over a few of the kids who wanted to hear about it and ask a few questions.

From Manaha, a quiet walk along closed forest roads for a few hours, complete with active/maintained beehives in several clearings along the forest road (look like several piles of colorful file boxes stacked four-high, but happily the bees showed no interest in me), I descended out of the forest on a much-rutted forest road into someone's backyard (still on legal road, however), and carried on into Wakefield.

From Wakefield, a quiet walk for 15km along the paved Eighty Eight Valley Road but virtually no traffic along the entire length (maybe one car every 20 minutes), then 10 km along a busier but still pleasant road to Golden Downs. The Golden Downs Lodge was a very peaceful and comfortable stay--actually my favorite lodging for the entire trek so far, of both North and South Islands. Piano, library, affectionate cat, lush green surroundings, outdoor porch, polished wood floors, delicious meals, and good company and conversation. Thanks, Willy and Rewa!

From Golden Downs it was one final day to St. Arnaud, along paved (sealed) road the entire way, but the road was quiet--perhaps one car every 10 or 15 minutes. And the route through the Golden Downs Forest is absolutely stunning. It's a beautiful forest, with different sections in various stages of plantation--from just-clear-cut to fully mature to seedlings, and winding valleys and ridges. It appears that one can take some of the forest roads as alternatives to the main road. I considered Blue Glen Road, but it was an extra 4km from the road route and I was enjoying the road enough, and the day was going to be 35km already. However, later on I did try to take one alternative forest road--Bullock Track--that the topo map showed did go through to re-join the road. But after 3km on the forest road--dead end at a round-about! There was simply no way to keep going. All traces of the past road were covered by ultra-thick bush and brambles that were simply impossible to get through (maybe with a machete and smooth clothing it would be slow going). So I had to retrace those 3km back to the road! So it ended up being a 40-km day anyway. Later on, someone said Blue Glen Road didn't go through anymore either, so that would have been an extra 10-15 km wasted if I had decided to take that one. Beware dead-end forest roads and check with locals! By the end of the day, it was raining hard and I donned Gortex parka, put on some high-energy disco music (Chic and Earth, Wind and Fire), and enjoyed singing in the rain along the road to St. Arnaud, where Section I ended at the famous Yellow House backpackers/hostel.

Other Notes/Observations:

1. In constrast to the road network on North Island, where the minor roads usually don't go through, but simply dead-end, meaning that a through-route must follow the main highways, the South Island seems to offer minor roads that actully link into a network that allows one to bypass main highways. That is, North Island roads are more like tree branches, while South Island roads are more like a grid.

2. In Section C, I mentioned that NZ drivers seemed to drive much faster than cars in the U.S. on comparable types of roads. Maybe it comes from having less traffic overall, but many of these roads have tight blind turns and go through and around rugged terrain. South Island drivers seem even worse. Many drivers seem to feel that they MUST drive at least 100-120 km/h (60-75 mph), no matter what type of road or terrain, even if they have to routinely use both sides of the road. They drive like they are taking a woman in labor to the hospital! Even the large trucks go fast. At one point, I passed two sows and their many piglets crossing the road unsupervised at a farm, and also hanging around the roadside, and huge trucks and cars were barreling around the turn towards them at must have been over 100 km/h.

3. Cars sometimes stop to offer me rides, even though I walk on the side of the road facing oncoming traffic and with body language of purposeful walking. A few cars have stopped a hundred meters ahead of me and waited for me to catch up so they could offer a ride! A few have even turned around and come back to ask me. I used to just say "no, thanks, I'm enjoying walking." Then I invented "no, thanks, I'm walking--its a project of mine" so I wouldn't have to go into a long explaination but still not leave them wondering why I had turned them down (on some of the roads there would appear to be no possible explaination as to why someone would walk rather than accept a ride, other than a rejection of the specific driver.) Now, someone suggested, I should simply say "no, thanks, I'm walking to Bluff." I'm close enough to the end that it becomes a more and more reasonable statement--and people can understand walking the length of the South Island.

4. I decided to hike Section I with a small pack (no waist belt), carrying just the basics--sleeping bag and bivy sack, a miniscule foam pad, rain parka, fleece jacket, polypro shirt, pair of extra socks, water bottle, a bit of lunch food, camera, maps, and a few other odds and ends. This all probably weighed less than 5 kg (11 lbs.). I did camp out one night on the beach, but otherwise stayed in New Zealand's always-everywhere "backpackers" accomodations, which are mostly just beds-for-hire with attached common kitchens and lounges. Many of these Backpackers were quite pleasant, and special mention goes to the Old Post Office Backpackers in Collingwood and Baker's Lodge in Motueka, both really wonderful places. And I found enough food in stores and cafes along the way, even in Abel Tasman National Park, where the Awaroa Lodge cafe along the Coastal Track serves meals.

5. The light-pack arrangement worked so well that I hope to use it again elsewhere on the South Island (not, however, for the extended wilderness sections, like upcoming Section J, where I'll have to carry a full tramping pack with 8-days food, emergency gear, and plenty of warm clothing). The light pack would have worked for parts of the North Island as well--it retrospect, it was silly to hike on roads with a heavy pack and items not needed along the way, even though the logistical problems of moving gear around from place to place are increased. (I did hike a few days of the North Island route with an even smaller daypack, shuttling back and forth with public transit or car from a fixed base where the heavy gear stayed, but the Section I arrangement was better because it allowed a continuous through-hike of the section with no shuttling.)

6. Logistical note: Switching gear to accommodate different "modes" of walking can get complicated. In this section, as I passed through the town of Nelson on the bus on my way to Cape Farewell, I left my heavy tramping pack with some friends-of-friends in Nelson. I then returned to collect the pack prior to starting Section J, and then mailed the light pack, running shoes, etc., to a post office at the end of Section J. Even better than what I did would have been to leave my heavy pack at a backpackers in Nelson (Palace backpackers in Nelson was very nice to me), and arrange for Nelson Lakes Shuttles (03-521-1900, to collect it from Nelson on one its regular runs and store it for me in St. Arnaud until I arrived. This is a good logistical scheme that I hadn't thought about before but may work later on in other areas of South Island as well.


It has been called to my attention that the "bulls" I encountered in Section G were probably steers, and therefore more curious than dangerous. At the time, I didn't know the difference! Steers are castrated bulls; hard to believe that growing up and living in cities all one's life can hide basic facts such as this.

Also, a correction from Section A's journal: a "paper road" is not simply a dirt road (dirt roads here are called just that--dirt roads--or maybe "four-wheel-drive tracks"). A paper road is a legal route (at least on paper) that may or may not exist in reality.

And the Herekino Forest Track in Section B *does* have some steps built in the beginning, which were quite nice, contrary to my earlier statement lamenting the lack of steps!

Page updated February 1, 2004