TA Day 100, Royal Hut to after Washdyke Stream, 26 km

Stag Saddle above Lake Tekapo in the Southern Alps is the highest point on the Te Araroa.
Stag Saddle above Lake Tekapo in the Southern Alps is the highest point on the Te Araroa.

Contrary to Alan from Dunedin’s prediction, the day opens crystal clear, ready for our eyes to take in some of the Te Araroa’s best views. There are two late arrivals, one claiming a top bunk – thankfully, quietly – and the other setting a tent – pounding in what seemed to be ten or fifteen stakes, but things settle down soon enough as we all hope to get an early start.

The deep folds of tussock-covered land hiding the rushing rivers I followed up to the saddle on the Two Thumb Track.
The deep folds of tussock-covered land hiding the rushing rivers I followed up to the saddle on the Two Thumb Track.
Tough alpine plants clinging to tiny patches of dirt beneath the rocks at the saddle.
Tough alpine plants clinging to tiny patches of dirt beneath the rocks at the saddle.
Heading towards Beuzenberg Peak, a pile of loose stone and scree requiring route finding to summit.
Heading towards Beuzenberg Peak, a pile of loose stone and scree requiring route finding to summit.

Such a gift of a beautiful day, but the gods are keeping it real with Ms. Top-Bunk switching on an operating theater light she seems to need to fix her porridge. When I ask for a dimmer setting, just basic hut manners, she gets huffy and snatches her food away. Oh dear, I hadn’t realized she only had one setting – ‘me.’

I’m out the door quickly and into the chill. I need to purify water before heading up and I practically freeze my fingers in the rushing stream. When Tom catches me, he hurtles past saying speed is his only way to stay warm.

The trail meanders up the same stream, making many crossings still in shade for a long time. The climb is gradual at first as the saddle comes into view 600 meters above.

Soon, I split off from the stream and crack straight up. The sun is on me now, and I love that SOBO’s get sun mainly at their back. As I crest this saddle and walk on a flat, squishy meadow, I realize I am likely going to hit many ‘false’ saddles. And I do just that – steep up through tussock, onto a flat bit with water running beneath, then back up again.

The loose stone at my feet made a tinkling sound as I crossed it.
The loose stone at my feet made a tinkling sound as I crossed it.
The glorious view towards Mount Cook from the peak. In spite of what the unpleasant Kiwi said, we had perfect weather.
The glorious view towards Mount Cook from the peak. In spite of what the unpleasant Kiwi said, we had perfect weather.
Mountains upon mountains and a mirror lake.
Mountains upon mountains and a mirror lake.
A huge contrast in mood to the previous day and feeling strong. All typical ups and downs of thru-hiking.
A huge contrast in mood to the previous day and feeling strong. All typical ups and downs of thru-hiking.

But soon I see clouds moving fast above me and know I’m on the last pull before I reach Stag Saddle, at 1925 meters, the highest point on the Te Araroa.

Tom and I take a few pictures and marvel at the extraordinary color of Lake Tekapo, a kind of glacial silt blue, before we decide to go ahead and climb the peak above the saddle.

Everyone recommends walking down the ridge even though it’s not the official route, because the views towards Mount Cook and that entire range are spectacular. Beuzenberg Peak at 2070 meters, adds one more dimension to the view we’re seeing now – 360 degrees.

To get there, we have to climb up a scree slope of slate, slate that makes a pingy, almost high-pitched metallic sound when I step on it. The slope is steep, but the rocks bunch around my feet when I kick in and, for the most part, hold me steady.

I punch-kick up to firmer towers, then climb them more confidently until I reach a small ridge where I can walk upright towards the summit for my reward.

A panorama from the summit. Tomaš spoke on the phone to his sister while we took in the view.
A panorama from the summit. Tomaš spoke on the phone to his sister while we took in the view.
One of the most spectacular places I have ever been, and we had it all to ourselves, watching most hikers skip the high peak.
One of the most spectacular places I have ever been, and we had it all to ourselves, watching most hikers skip the high peak.
A tiny any of a person far below at the saddle.
A tiny any of a person far below at the saddle.
The shifting clouds created a shadow drama but never formed into rain clouds.
The shifting clouds created a shadow drama but never formed into rain clouds.

I have service so send a note to Richard and post one picture, sorry that it’s not quite enough to post my hiking diary. Tom talks to his sister while I kick back with this view on a blessed warm day of little wind and no bugs. Thunder rumbles menacingly over the distant mountains on the other side of the divide as clouds build and a rainbow – more a rain-bar – appears in the cleft between Cook and a lesser peak. I gobble up most of the food left in my pack, looking forward to reaching a town tomorrow. It’s hard to leave this special place, imprinted on my heart and mind forever.

All good things must come to an end to make room for more good things. We work our way down the easy side of the peak on an actual trail. It stays right on the spine of the ridge, the view following me all the way down. I meet three NOBO’s and we share beta on camp spots and huts before going our separate ways.

I am moving well on this splendid trail, the kind I long for most days walking the TA, and of course it veers right when I need to veer left. But I am confused when I see an orange pole ahead, so follow it – up and off course. I go up a ways before checking my map and realizing my mistake, contouring down humpy tussock and sharp spear grass towards Camp stream.

Where I see no sign of a trail or poles, just more tussock and spear grass, along with thorn bushes and rock fields.

Tom on the long ridge walk. We followed it for miles, but then dropped into a wet, marshy "Pure New Zealand" area.
Tom on the long ridge walk. We followed it for miles, but then dropped into a wet, marshy “Pure New Zealand” area.
A snap taken by a northbounder catching what I must have looked like most of the time on the trail.
A snap taken by a northbounder catching what I must have looked like most of the time on the trail.
Steep and deeply eroded mountains of New Zealand's Southern Alps.
Steep and deeply eroded mountains of New Zealand’s Southern Alps.
Tom appears dressed to match Lake Tekapo. This was his last section of the South Island before he flew to Wellington and walked the North Island.
Tom appears dressed to match Lake Tekapo. This was his last section of the South Island before he flew to Wellington and walked the North Island.

I know I need to follow the stream so push ahead, the spear grass spearing me, thorns joining in for a little blood sport. Water is not confined to the stream as I hit bright green mossy wetlands, sinking into one up to my knees, and myriad rushing water courses hidden beneath grass. It’s not far, but far enough to send me into a tailspin of upset, unable to find any trace a foot has stepped here before.

Then, out of the blue, there’s an orange pole. No path or subsequent pole, but at least this is ‘a’ way to go. Ahead I see Tom striding along to an obvious path up a hill, but for me to get there is through an obstacle course of sharp grass, muddy lumps and rocky drops.

When I find him at last, he’s making noodles at a hut from the 1800s – with mattresses black from mold looking like they might need an update. It’s a sweet place, if old, but far too early to stop, so I do likewise, cooking up some noodles and planning another few hours walk to find a camp spot.

I leave on trail that seems well looked after, even the thorns have been hacked back. But I lose it crossing a stream – or maybe I’m just so used to only a suggestion of trail – that I fling myself right back into the thick of it, picking my way through a hellish mix of shrubs. Just when I start to scream for mercy, the trail appears under my feet – solid, clear, well-trodden – and off I go.

The land of massive jabby things - Speargrass amongst tussock and wetlands.
The land of massive jabby things – Speargrass amongst tussock and wetlands.
Brown and blue, the soft colors of the South Island.
Brown and blue, the soft colors of the South Island.
The well stocked Camp Stream hut where we had lunch. Many huts are private and ask that money be left in the collection pole.
The well stocked Camp Stream hut where we had lunch. Many huts are private and ask that money be left in the collection pole.
Mountains receding as we get closer to Tekapo.
Mountains receding as we get closer to Tekapo.

This area is beautiful with soft grass and a rushing stream, but it’s still too early to stop, so I carry on, lulled – like life sometimes – into believing the trail will continue on this way to the lake.

Just ahead an orange pole indicates to go up, I follow it with my eyes and see myriad poles shrinking in size as they climb steeply back up the ridge. Ah well, back to work – and besides, down here by the stream I lost all my views, surely they’ll return after a good sweat.

And indeed they do, Mount Cook’s huge glacier gleaming in the sunlight. The trail is wonderful, like an American trail, and I glide along every so often stopping to admire the mountains above the lake, fed by snaky streams of snow melt.

The wind is high and I fear finding a calm place for the alicoop, but I stumble right into the ideal location, tucked away from sight and the heaving wind and also right next to a tiny brook, the meadow-grass a glorious mattress.

Looking for a campsite along the wide expanse.
Looking for a campsite along the wide expanse.
St. John's Wort and mountains.
St. John’s Wort and mountains.
Tents in the tussock. There was a rushing stream nearby and utter solitude.
Tents in the tussock. There was a rushing stream nearby and utter solitude.
Wind, clouds, mountains and a huge smile.
Wind, clouds, mountains and a huge smile.

Again, at only 8:00, I’m tucked in absolutely exhausted but so pleased to have had this spectacular day. I feel especially satisfied I climbed the peak above the saddle for the physical, mental and spiritual exhilaration it gave me. The small frustrating pieces balanced the day and made the glorious pieces even more so. I have enjoyed hut life, but when there are no bugs, nothing beats the snugness of the alicoop, where at the moment it is absolutely quiet and peaceful.

Topping it off, the sky glows a yellowy-orange-pink at sunset and the peaks are out of the clouds. The goddess with her watercolor brush creating magic – and now the lake is violet. The final mauve fades to blue-gray against pale yellow, as I look for this night’s first star.

A brilliant ending to the day.
A brilliant ending to the day.
Even the lake turned pink.
Even the lake turned pink.

Published by alison young

Alison Young is the Blissful Hiker, a voice artist and sometime saunterer. 📣🐥👣🎒

Reader Comments

  1. Oh my, Alison, these are such beautiful photos! Your journey encompasses so many different things: courage, fortitude, endurance, strength, natural beauty, your artistic eye, powerful self-discovery, the list goes on. I’m so proud of you and your accomplishment. Keep it up! You are an inspiration to many.

    1. Thank you so much, Michele! I am surprised by how difficult this is and how much I’m discovering in ways I never imagined!

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