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

Section J (Part 2): Lewis Pass (Windy Point) to Arthurs Pass (Aickens)

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Section Summary: Starting near Lewis Pass, Section J-2 enters Lake Sumner Forest Park, following beech forest and cattle flats along the Hope River valley. From the head of the Hope River, the route passes over forested Kiwi Saddle to Lake Sumner and the Hurunui River valley, which it follows up to forested/bush Harper Pass. From Harper Pass, the route drops down to the Taramakau River valley, which it follows to the Otira River, emerging at Aickens near Arthurs Pass. The route includes numerous river and stream crossings, and was historically called the "Kiwi Pack Track", used by gold diggers heading for the west coast in during the 1860s gold rush, before the road over Arthur's Pass was built. The route was also used by Maori to visit the West Coast to trade in greenstone.

Sequence Note: Section J-2 was postponed rather than hiked immediately after Section J-1. Although generally easy walking, Section J-2 has several river and stream crossings towards the end that can be hazardous in bad weather and was reported to be poorly marked over part of its length. At the end of Section J-1, I decided I no longer wanted to do anxiety-provoking and poorly marked routes alone, particularly as the 5-day weather forecast called for a "deep low" to come in just as I would be getting to the part of the route requiring the water crossings, potentially leaving me stranded with no way to get out. A 50-year storm hit New Zealand later that week, with bridges and whole towns washed away by flooded rivers, so my decision to postpone was fortunate. Hiked with others later, the route was great fun and not stressful at all.

Section Journal: Christchurch, New Zealand, March 31, 2004

The long-awaited hike from Lewis Pass to Arthurs Pass finally happened! After postponing this section due to weather last month, I now had three tramping companions with me: Tomo Tanaka from Japan, and Geoff Chapple and Kim Ollivier from Auckland. This was the first time in New Zealand that I had hiked as part of a pre-organized group, and it was wonderful. This is the way tramping should be done! The whole section was very enjoyable--probably the most enjoyable part of the whole trek. The kilometers just rolled along, and there was no feeling of exhaustion that I've started to get while hiking alone. The Hope, Hunurui, and Taramakau river valleys were spectacular terrain--open grassy flats, dry rocky river beds, dense native bush, and beech forest. The tracks and routes were well-marked with the classic orange triangles virtually the entire way. (Contrary to published route descriptions, which said the entire route west of Harpers Pass was poorly marked, we found the markings very good, with the exception of the 1-2 km west of the Otehake River, so the markings must have been upgraded recently; thanks, DOC!)

A published route description says "not an all-weather route by any means, with plenty of river crossings and opportunities to get stuck by flooded creeks." We had good weather, and the many river crossings, which I had feared in wet weather, were manageable with little trouble, and because I was not alone, the crossings were not at all stressful or worrying. We crossed the Taramakau back and forth perhaps 4-5 times, and then the Otehake. The water levels were never more than thigh-deep, mostly knee-deep, although the water was flowing fast and was quite forceful. I never felt in danger of being swept away, although careful, conscious stepping and balance against the force of the water was needed at all crossings.

The very last river crossing, of the Otira River, just 300 meters before the very end of the section, was the swiftest and most formidable of the entire section. Another route description says the river is "swift and may be over waist deep, even in dry conditions." After crossing first one and then a second shallow channel of the Otira River, I thought that was it. Not bad! But just before you climb up the bank towards the road, there is the fast-moving third channel! Like most tramps in NZ, surprises await the tramper, and the tracks won't let you finish without extracting some last concession beyond your original expectations! Tomo and I crossed the Otira together, arms around each other's waist holding on to the opposite side each other's packs. This created a very stable four-legged double-weight beast that allowed us to cross quite safely, facing the opposite bank, with the current against my left side in profile. There were always at least two feet on the riverbed at any one time as we crossed, and it was quite a stable configuration. Trampers early-on learn this technique, but it was my first time trying it.

All of the river crossings would have been OK by myself, in dry weather, with the exception of the Otira. I would not have liked to tackle any of them alone in wet weather. Had I come to the Otira alone, in dry weather, I would either have spent considerable time trying to find the absolute best place to cross, or might have opted for the long 3-hour slog along an overgrown track to an elaborate and beautiful "flood bridge." (What good is a flood bridge if it is inaccessible? DOC, please clean up that track access to the flood bridge so more will use it!) Had I come to any of the crossings (besides the Otira) in wet weather, I would have been forced to camp out for perhaps days, until the rain stopped and the river levels went back down. (Note: the draft Te Araroa route does not require fording the Otira, but rather continues up the flood track, passing by the flood bridge, where one could go to the highway to resupply, before continuing up the Deception River. Another reason to upgrade the flood track!)

Going over Harper Pass was one of the highlights of the trip. The track up to it from the east is steep and overgrown, and perhaps the most difficult part of the route. At the top, one could see all the way down the Taramakau River valley. Coming down the other (west) side, the track is very steep down a gully, but mostly over loose gravel in a smooth-surfaced winding track--the kind I like because you can take continuous small steps rather than having to climb down and around large steps of roots and rocks, as is common in so much bush tramping in New Zealand. Still, the gravel was very slippery underfoot because of the steepness and I slipped onto my back a few times. We made it down the other side to a flat grassy area beside the river just as it was getting dark (about half an hour before reaching Locke Stream Hut), and enjoyed a peaceful night camped by the river under the stars.

As we headed down the Taramakau River, the walking was alternately in the forest, along grassy river flats, and along dry rocky river beds, which were the most difficult of all, as the large irregular rocks made for irregular and boot-crunching walking. At one point we saw a white helicopter making repeated passes up and down the valley. As we got closer, we saw it was a Department of Conservation helicopter spraying a herbicide over the non-native Gorse bushes that were taking root in the valley. The helicopter would hover over and spray each individual bush in tern, looking something like a honeybee pollinating flowers. The bushes are nasty if one has to walk through them, but it appeared to be a losing battle, as further down the valley, the valley floor was infested with large tracts of the plant, and the poor grazing cattle had to wind their way through the stuff. Later, the route became a faint road (called a "4-wheel-drive track" in New Zealand for the last few hours to the highway).

Although four of us set out together from Lewis Pass, unfortunately only Tomo and I went through all the way to Arthurs Pass. Part-way through the section, Kim developed knee problems and he and Geoff decided to walk back to Lewis Pass (still enjoying a different route on the return journey), rather than risk the much more difficult terrain of the second half of the section. This was disappointing to all of us, but we still enjoyed tramping together for half the route. Thanks, Geoff, Kim, and Tomo, for being such great tramping companions! And thanks, Miriam, for being there at the end of the section and taking such good care of us!

Te Araroa Points

In the Hope-Kiwi Hut the very first night, Geoff, Kim and I discussed the emerging Te Araroa route and my New Zealand trek. An idea surfaced from our discussion that might help promote the Te Araroa idea, and provide an interesting and fun way for others to hike all or parts of the emerging route. This was the idea of having "Te Araroa points." One Te Araroa point is one kilometer walked of an "available" piece of Te Araroa. The kilometers may be walked in any direction and in any order, but only one point can be earned for each kilometer; walking the same kilometer multiple times does not increase the points.

The idea of Te Araroa points arose partly from my experience that walking highways, connecting roads, and tramping-track access roads was really no fun, and sometimes just seemed silly. (Although some highway walking, like that in Sections K and L, was quite OK and even enjoyable.) Even sillier was carrying a fully loaded tramping pack on the access or connecting roads, so I would have to switch gear back and forth and somehow get my full-tramping gear to the road-end (trailhead) when I was ready to start on a given track. Although many like to walk a continuous "every step of the way" trail, like the Appalaichian Trail in the United States, the idea of a continuous route just doesn't make sense for Te Araroa yet, and probably won't for several years. If I had to do the trek over, I would simply hike the available pieces in sequence, skipping from one to the next via bus or car. I think this might take only 2-3 months to do, something more people could manage, and would be much more fun than dutifully walking along roads to connect one piece to the next.

After walking all the available pieces, one would have collected all available Te Araroa points as of that date--the maximum possible points as of that date. As new pieces become available, one could walk those new pieces to remain at the maximum points available (and this would tend to generate higher traffic volumes sooner on newly available pieces as they are completed).

The only question is, what constitutes an "available" piece of Te Araroa? Here is my proposed definition, for consideration and discussion. With the average tourist-oriented tramper or weekend tramper in mind, I do not consider unmarked routes that are suitable for experienced trampers only to be "available." These pieces should await upgrades to formal tracks, or at least navigable route markings, before being designated as available. I would also exclude all sealed (paved) roads and metalled (gravel) roads that are open to normal traffic. The average tourist-oriented tramper isn't going to want to walk these roads. That is, only closed forest roads and other minor dirt roads not normally travelled should be considered "available." Roads need not be marked, as long as the route is clear, as map and compass/GPS should suffice. But these roads should be confirmed; that is, all negotiations with relevant land-owners/guardians, whether public or private, should have been completed to a high degree of certainty that the road will be part of the final route. Similarly, all tracks, marked routes, and beaches (even if unmarked) that are designated by Te Araroa Trust as confirmed or very likely to be confirmed as part of the future official Te Araroa route, should be considered "available." (As of now, there is no official Te Araroa route at all.) This applies even if no Te Araroa signs are in place. So for example, the Tongariro Crossing track should be considered available now, even if it is not yet signed specifically for Te Araroa.

In my next journal entry, from Bluff next week at the end of the entire trek, I am going to document what I consider to be the "available" pieces of Te Araroa, and thus exactly how many "points" are currently possible. (My version may differ from what the Te Araroa Trust considers "available"--so I recommend the Trust come up with an "official" set of available pieces.) I am also going to document how many points I have accumulated from my trek. (As a wild guess, without careful study of the available material, I would venture something like 1000-1400 points are available, and I have accumulated around 800.) As an epilogue to my trek, I am going to walk a few more Te Araroa pieces that I missed along the way, due to my different parallel route (my "self-invented diversions" as the last Te Araroa newsletter put it), so that I leave New Zealand with as high a point total as possible!

Finally, I am going to challenge anyone else to beat my second-place point total! (Geoff Chapple himself, of course, retains first place in points for the indefinite future.) I may have to return to New Zealand regularly to hike newly available pieces and retain my second-place status!

Disclaimer: the above description of Te Araroa points is my interpretation of our discussion and my own proposals for the idea; it does not imply any formal endorsement of the idea by the Te Araroa Trust.

Page updated March 31, 2004