Here's the chipper, clean-shaven pilgrims at the trailhead.
Unfortunately we found out pretty quickly that "trail" is a loose term. The Te Araroa is really more like established treks with rough, rough connectors between them. And by "rough connector" I mean rough:
After a few miles, we abandoned the trail in favor of the Mavora Lakes Road a few hundred feet away; better views (and less Italian Thistle!) quickly followed.
After nearly twenty miles on the gravel road, a friendly nurse from Invercargill gave us a lift to the Kiwi Burn Bridge, our first of many awesome cable bridges in New Zealand. Not for Acrophobics.
And finally, after nine hours of hiking, we came to lovely Kiwi Burn Hut, one of around 900 huts scattered around the South Island of New Zealand. They range in size from two to eighty bunks and in amenities from nothing to wood stoves, solar-powered lights, gas burners, and flush toilets. We availed ourselves of the drying rack after a swampy day of bushwhacking.
Day two dawned gray as well, and being the optimistic whipper snappers that we are, we opted for the longer scenic route. Hindsight is 20/20.
Late in the day we finally arrived at the first of the Mavora Lakes.
A prolonged rain shower (and the late hour) encouraged a retreat to the tent (one of our few nights in the tent), where we also discovered the scourge of the sand fly: a "flying, biting, blood-sucking" fly encountered
in sandy area everywhere on the South Island of New Zealand. We probably lost pints of blood over the course of seven weeks in New Zealand.
The next morning dawned gray and rainy (sensing a theme?), so we decided on a short-day, around eight miles, to Careys Hut. We followed the lakeshore to the hut, where...
a grand drying-out ensued. Hiking in the rain is surprisingly bearable when you know that you get to arrive at a hut with a drying rack and a mattress at the end of the day (see earlier PCT posts for what happens when there aren't huts...)
Day 4 was a double: up the wide Mavora Valley past Boundary Hut to Taipo Hut, perhaps our favorite hut of the trip. As a pleasant surprise, we got to see the sun!
Although the day wasn't entirely obstacle free...
Taipo Hut was scenically perched above a river canyon, and we arrived around 6 PM, where we met a friendly Frenchman, Theo, a southbound Te Araroa-er; the first of many awesome people we met hiking. In case you're wondering, the hut is surrounded by barbed wire to keep bulls out (we learned...). What a fortunate invention!
Surprise! The next morning dawned rainy. We also encountered the first of many amusingly unhelpful signs:
Oh good! I'm glad to have arrived at "the Track."
Around noon we cleared a pass (only about 850 meters above sea level) and dropped into the Greenstone River Valley and the Greenstone Hut, a very nice 20-bunk hut (no photos, sorry), where we had our first "social hut experience." We met a friendly Aussie couple, Damon and Roxy, who had biked the Continental Divide Trail and lived in Vancouver for a year, Flo and Anna, two recent high school grads from Germany who wanted to see the world, and a friendly pharmacist couple from Dunedin who gave us a lift to Glenorchy the next morning.
The hut system means that backpacking is a much, much more social endeavor in New Zealand (with lower barriers to entry). I won't directly compare it to backpacking in the States-- it's different, but awesome in its own way.
The next morning we hiked to the Greenstone Trailhead on Lake Wakatipu, where Jared fished while we waited on the friendly Dunedin couple.
From there, it was an hour drive to tiny Glenorchy where we spent the night and resupplied for our next trek. We only came out to pick up more food-- it's amazing how much better shape you stay in physically with huts-- i.e. no sleeping on the ground (and we had a backpacking shower).
Six days in and we already had the first and second major plan changes (of many) for the trip:
1) Starting on the Mossburn-Te Anau Highway instead of Invercargill
2) Forgoing through-hiking the Te Araroa in favor of seeing highlights instead.
Both good choices. And a beautiful first trek, in spite of the rain.
Much, much more to come!!!