There are sections of the Te Araroa that I've thought of doing, but the entire trail doesn't really interest me. Since the TA's main goal is to take you from the north to the south of the country, it doesn't afford the luxury of including tracks that don't go from north to south. There are still fairly large segments that involve walking alongside roads, some of them major highways, in order to link up with another track. That doesn't rock my boat either. But there are certainly parts of the route that are well worth traversing.
The Motatapu Track links Wanaka with Arrowtown and was made possible about 15 years ago due to the land being purchased by an overseas investor, who was required to provide access for the TA through his land. The track built was somewhat controversial, as it avoids the river valley completely, but has three superb huts in stunning locations.
The track begins at the Fernburn carpark, a short distance up the road from Glendhu Bay, which can be reached by walking along the lakeshore from Wanaka on the Millennium Track. In theory I could have walked all the way, on walking tracks, from my home in Alberttown, but instead my flatmate Karen kindly drove me out to the carpark at lunchtime on Monday.
Rain was forecast for the afternoon, but that didn't bother me, as it was only a 3-4 hour walk to Fernburn Hut, and the following days were forecast sunny and clear, so any wet clothes would quickly dry. By the time the rain began I was in the beech forest, where I stayed relatively protected. For pictures of the first section, check out my walk up the Fern Burn earlier in the year.
Once out of the forest I encountered steady drizzle for less than an hour before it cleared, and the sun even made an appearance. Fernburn Hut is situated about half way up the valley on a tussock terrace above the stream. With the tap on the water tank broken, access to water was either via lowering a bucket into the tank from the top, or dropping down to the nearby stream. I was alone in the hut overnight, but a returning walker told me there was a couple walking through to the next hut who would be staying there two nights.
It was clear overnight yet nice and warm in the well insulated hut. I left just before 9 with a steady uphill sidle above the burn which got steeper as it climbed to the saddle. The views were awesome, in front of me across the Motatapu were the Harris Mountains, still covered with snow, but behind me I could see down to Lake Wanaka.
From Jack's Saddle the track followed a narrow ridgeline on a steep descent to cross a creek. I stopped there for lunch before crossing the creek, climbing over a smaller ridge, across a second creek then an easy sidle around a second ridge to Highland Creek Hut. Aside from goats I saw no other sign of life. Just as I arrived a met a TA tramper, Matt, continuing on to Fern Burn Hut, having walked from Roses Hut that morning. He believed it would only take him another 3 hours, it took me five!
Soon after I arrived at the hut I was joined by a second TA walker, Kim, who had also walked from Roses in about 6 hours, but was taking a more leisurely approach and staying the night. The hut is situated in a glorious alpine meadow, and we were treated to a paraglider soaring the thermals above us, and a view of Treble Cone ski field out the front windows.
Later in the afternoon two others arrived, Robyn and Greg, who had walked in from the carpark the day before, then done a day walk over to Roses and back that day. They were heading back out in the morning.
For some inexplicable reason, instead of staying high, the track then descends steeply down this second ridge into a nice beech forest with a burbling stream. It's a great place to stop for lunch, and refill water supplies, because it's the only shade all day. My timing was spot on, arriving just after twelve to sit on a well situated log and refuel before the next climb of the day.
Once across the creek the track climbed steeply out of the beech forest and began a gruelling ascent of the southwest flank of Knuckle Peak. Halfway up there is another stile to climb over, and here I was swooped relentlessly by a territorial magpie. There were no trees so the nest must have been in rocks. The others had warned me about this pesky Aussie bird, so I was well prepared with Akubra, sunglasses, and a walking stick above my head.
At last the ridge was climbed and I could look down on the Golspie Valley, all private land inaccessible to the mere public. Down in the valley was a perfectly useable farm track and there were views again back to Lake Wanaka. Not for us a gentle wander down a wide river valley, but an arduous triple ascent and descent to avoid disturbing the rich overseas landowners. The views certainly made up for it though.
The river had to be crossed, at a ford where the station track traversed the valley. I took my boots off and waded that stream twice. First I took my boots across, and then I returned for my pack. Oh my gosh my feet enjoyed that! The short walk up to the hut was bliss, my feet felt fabulous.
The others again left before me, I left at 9:20. Although a long slow climb to Roses Saddle it was considerably easier going. This portion of the track had once been part of an old pack track linking the gold fields at Macetown and Arrowtown with Lake Wanaka, so the track had many switchbacks, in comparison to the more direct line of the previous two days. I stopped for a muesli bar at the saddle enjoying new views to the west, including Walter Peak way off in the distance.
The track down from the saddle was long, and there were many more weeds, like gorse, bracken and briar, on this side. I stopped for lunch when I got to the river, taking my boots off to enjoy another icy immersion in a stream. This was the junction between the high route, sidling above the Arrow River, or the low route, following the stream bed with numerous crossings. Karl had taken the low route, and said the river was still quite high and flowing strongly at some places, and he was well over a foot taller than me! So the high route it was.
The high route was tough, with some dodgy scrambles across slips and some precarious sidling. There was lots of gorse and bracken and with few people having been through over the winter months the track wasn't always easy to follow. Not only did it actually resemble a goat track, I even saw one goat having a sleep in the middle of the track, but she got out of my way as I approached.
In the end it took me about 6 hours to get to Macetown, where I wandered around looking for a suitable campsite. There are no facilities besides two simple drop toilets, not even picnic benches. There are a couple of restored stone cottages, with bars to stop people using them or otherwise damaging them, and there are lots of signs asking 4WD users to keep to marked tracks due to a history of misuse and abuse.
I set up my tent not too far from one of the toilets, near a log I could sit on and use for wind protection when cooking. There was a nearby stream to collect water, and it was a warm evening so I had a leisurely dinner before climbing in to my sleeping bag for a refreshing sleep.
I woke to a dawn chorus, though mostly magpies. I had a lazy breakfast then headed up the Rich Burn to check out Homeward Bound Battery. The valley narrows very quickly, but there is the old mining track to follow though there are lots of river crossings at the start. Homeward Bound Battery is pretty special as the ore bins are still intact and you can even see the ore race bearers that would have carried the ore down to the stamper. On the way back I found a nice spot by the river for lunch and a bracing swim, then dried out in the sun reading my book for an hour or so.
The walk up to Big Hill Saddle took an hour and then it was a longer descent to Arrowtown. I passed lots of day trampers, including a group from the local Wanaka based tramping club, whom I recognised. I got into Arrowtown about 1:30, and celebrated with a double scoop of ice cream from Patagonia Chocolates.