2017 – Two Thumb Track: Snow and Sun on the Te Araroa

Moa Hunters on this trip: Paul, Magnus, Richard, Chris, Lewis, Logan

This year a more benign trip this year was scheduled, mainly due to time constraints, and foundation Moa Hunt member Adam being absent due to a ruptured Achilles.  His quick wit was missed, but this did not detract from the overall enjoyment of the trip.

The Two Thumb track is a small portion of the increasingly popular Te Araroa trail, so we expected to enjoy the camaraderie of more tourists and trampers than in previous Moa Hunts.

The plan was fairly straight forward:

Day 1: Road trip to Mesopotamia, walk to Crooked spur Hut. 9km / 4hr
Day 2: Crooked spur hut to Stone hut. 9.5km / 5hr
Day 3: Morning Hunting, Stone Hut to Royal Hut in afternoon. 6km / 2hr
Day 4: Royal hut to Rex Simpson Hut. 14km / 6hr
Day 5: Rex Simpson hut to Road and home

Topomap of our route

Google Map of our route

For this adventure, we all converged in Christchurch on Friday 20th January, a whole month ahead of the standard Moa Hunting schedule, as our main food man Chris could not make the usual March Schedule.  Everyone knows a good Moa hunt marches on its stomach!

To negate any weather holdups, Richard, Lewis and Magnus had all flown in on the Friday afternoon. Sampling the local brews, and devouring “shark and tatie” in the name of carbo-loading helped to fill in the time before departure the next morning.

Day 1

Saturday 21st January – Mesopotamia to Crooked Spur hut
Nice spread, where’s your head at?

All on time, we converged at Adams place, as he had generously given his time to help transport us to the start of the track this year. As there were 6 of us, Paul’s dad Alan also helped with transport. Without further ado we packed and drove to Mesopotamia station, where breakfast number two (for some) was prepared. The ritual Moa Hunter enormous, gourmet breakfast of bacon, eggs, hash browns and lots of mushrooms was expertly fried up by Paul and Adam.

We start out as seven…

Once we had all got our gear sorted, we had an obligatory group photo, then set off in overcast, calm conditions. The track started on a scrubby river terrace across a road into Bush stream river valley, all fairly innocuous stuff. The first river crossing arrived about 40 minutes in – always the tester as it will be the deepest after recent rains. It turned out to be swift but manageably shallow,  keeping the ‘tackle’ dry – thankfully!

As we were progressing up stream, the expectation was that the flow would reduce… This proved correct with relatively easy crossings for the rest of the day. The second crossing was just over an hour in. Paul’s father Alan (who had joined us for the first part of the trip) decided this was his turning point, but not before crossing for a snack! Good effort and thanks for the company, Alan.  We’ll see you in four days on the far side!

We continued on, following Bush stream until the track rose abruptly to avoid a gorge over a small saddle, in a short but well formed grunt uphill.

First grunt! Nice track…

We arrived at Crooked Spur hut about 3pm, taking little over the posted 4 hours and still feeling pretty fresh.  Despite the light day we all were looking forward to the traditional first up steak dinner, which Paul gladly prepared, pleased to not have to carry it any further!

Crooked hut is a delightfully rustic musterers hut with rough-sawn timber framing seemingly being held up by the bunk frames, clad in 3rd hand corrugated iron peppered with nail holes. It is in a magic spot, with a great view down the valley through one small grimy window. The floor is a very rough concrete, and not pleasant on bare feet.

Crooked Spur Hut

Around 4pmish, two very fast Te Araroa walkers motored into view. Blair was lucky to stop without overshooting, Marten was hot on his heels. Blair was on his 84th day on the trail, with very few rest days since departing Cape Reinga! They made Crooked Spur in 2 hours 20 minutes and weren’t sticking around. Traveling light, with poles they swore by, they looked in peak fitness. A quick yarn uncovered they had stocked up earlier that day and were heading to either Stone or Royal hut that night. We checked out their gear and setup, compared notes, discovered Blair used to travel like us, but had been transformed by the Te Araroa trail experience into a super light (or is that Ultra-light?) tramper. They had seen Alan heading back near the start, and two other trampers removing their shoes at the first crossing (rookies) when they blasted by! Without further dilly-dally, they were off, trying to beat the weather and light to Royal hut.

(I later read Blair’s account of the snow, and wonder if it was the only time they needed to turn back on their entire trip.)

Dinner was expertly fried by Paul, and as always, was a superb warming feed, and one we were going to need if the weather forecast of snow was accurate! During the process we discovered that the white Spirits brought for fuel had a too high flash point to work on either of the cookers. Magnus spent a good 30 minutes trying to get the fuel to work in his museum piece (sorry Magnus, it was entertaining!)

Paul’s Whisperlite, with a pre-heating coil battled and produced a black sooty flame. Who are the rookies? Luckily Paul had filled up on Fuel Lite which we decided to nurse through the trip. The cooker fuel was to become a fixation for Chris who could never quite figure out how to use it!

Dishes time produced “The Glove”!  A trial device designed to make back-country dish washing a whole lot easier, and entertaining(!) eh Logan?

The ultra-modern glove welded by Logan with a rustic framing backdrop.

Two Belgian youngsters – Yannick and Aline appeared after dinner, just as it started to rain. They were absolute beginner trampers on holiday in NZ. Carrying a lot they didn’t need, they were a little damp, but in good spirits. They were learning a hell of a lot, and were to be our companions on and off for the next 4 days of quite frankly grotty and great weather.  Welcome to tramping in New Zealand! These guys were great company and we hope the trail didn’t put them off tramping for life.

That night it poured down.  The swiss-cheese iron roof of the old hut afforded us an unpleasant damp night. It wasn’t just wet, but cold too. The lack of insulation meaning we made full use of our warm sleeping bags!

Day 2

Sunday 22nd January – Crooked Spur hut to Stone hut

Dawn was cold and damp, with breath showing in the hut. A quick glance out of the window told us the snow level was not far above us. It sounded like steady heavy rain outside, but the noise can be deceiving in a tin hut. As usual Paul was first up and cranking out a billy load of porridge, which was scoffed down with liberal dollops of brown sugar, the staple start to any Moa hunt.

Chris and Paul discussing the plan of attack – note the dusting of snow on the hills behind.

In rather quick time we were ready to depart by 8.40am, eager to hit the trail and check out the conditions. Yannick and Aline we much less keen, only just starting to stir as we departed.  Their choice turned out to be the better one…

The team ready to depart, one of us is wearing no pants…

We bid farewell to Crooked Spur hut in persistent, but not heavy rain. Climbing steadily up a lovely gradient kept us warm for the next 30 minutes. Around this point the ground was becoming a little slushy, the temperature significantly colder, and the rain was getting a little harder.  We decided to don some warmer gear.  Twenty minutes further on, we were walking through steady snow with a good inch underfoot. We kept fairly warm on the climb, apart from wet chilled hands and feet. Those of us with wind proof gloves fared better.

At the top we stopped briefly to get the lay of the land and snap the odd photo, but conditions were brutal and we didn’t linger. Apparently we were at 1500m in high summer – could have fooled us! Lewis was finding his choice of a light jacket less than adequate, but he has always had a high threshold for coping with cold conditions.

Paul looking toasty warm, not far from the unnamed saddle

Fortunately, Chris had been on this track in better conditions and was able to point out the way forward down the right side of the valley. So, in a mixture of glissading and walking, we high-tailed it down, noting very quickly that the lack of exertion in descent was not so warming.  This was especially the case for Logan. He quickly started to shiver and wasn’t keen to stick around. The lack of water-proofing in his jacket proving to be his undoing.  He was also not wearing all of his warm underlayers, having chosen to keep it in his pack as a dry reserve. We persuaded him to stop, and gave him another polypropylene top to put on. For a brief moment his torso was pretty exposed to the elements, but a dry first-layer helped keep some body heat in when he was fully dressed again.

Chris proving shorts are for all seasons.

Once out of the heavy snow, we stopped briefly by the first stream crossing for a nutritious scroggin energy hit. We decided those who were cold should push on fast to keep warm and get to shelter. It was still raining hard. The next section was a steady climbing sidle to the right of another saddle. In the end Logan and Richard pressed on while the rest were distracted by the locals (Tahr) who seemed to be quite numerous. At this point Chris, who had packed his hunting bow, became fairly excited. He began planning a couple of hunting excursions immediately!

We arrived at Stone Hut about 12.30pm, just in time for lunch. Conditions had improved.  It was a little breezy with the odd smatter of drizzle between welcome sunny patches. The Hut offered dilapidated but usable camp chairs for outdoor use. There were a couple of trampers enjoying the sun on these when we arrived, looking to head to Crooked Spur hut in improving conditions.

Stone hut was of a similar construction to Spur Hut, with the exception of a large stone wall on the south west end.  The corrugated iron seemed only 2nd hand rather than 3rd hand, with far less holes! It featured a largely useless open fire place, and the available fuel was no more than scrub.  That didn’t stop us trying to get a warming blaze going though.  It was going to be a chilly night…

After lunch Paul and Chris set off on a hunting expedition that would prove to be a learning experience. The rest of us pottered about taking in the serenity and wildness of the central south. The hunters returned empty handed but with tales of seeing Tahr either too high or too far away across rivers. Plans were conceived to have another go tomorrow.

Magnus and Lewis taking in the last of the summer wine.

By 6pm the snow had gone from the pass and our Belgian friends had arrived, having had a better time crossing the saddle than us.

Another option for using the stubborn white spirits –blackening Billies!

Patience (or tardiness) had paid off. Dinner at Stone hut was a magnificent affair featuring fabulous nachos incorporating home-made dehydrated beans, full of flavour.  The sour cream was a little dodgy, but overall, the meal was judged a great success…

Surprise!! Happy 50th, Richard.

A big surprise was the second dessert (always a good thing) of birthday cake complete with candles! You only turn fifty once, Richard!!

We cranked up the fire, which did a good job of drawing cool air into the hut for the hour it was burning! It gave off little heat but provided some entertainment, in a black-humour sort of way. We all hit the sack once the entertainment had subsided to embers.  With all the bunks full and two on the floor, any night movement was tricky.

Day 3

Sunday 23rd January – Stone hut to Royal hut

Dawn broke after a windy and wet night, but temperatures had risen meaning no more snow. Today was the short day with only two hours walking to Royal Hut. The plan first thing was for Chris to venture down Bush stream on the true right, using his learnings from the previous day to bag us some dinner with his bow! The rest of us big stompy footed noisy trampers agreed to move in the opposite direction, meandering up the nearest gentle slope in search of snow and a good view. The weather was cool but clearing for what looked like a great day.

Stunning conditions…
Some of the locals…

On the climb we counted 24 Tahr moving up scree, obviously expecting improving weather. They were too far away for bow hunting, the only shots taken were with cameras. We made the top of the lump we were climbing in now fairly blustery conditions. Magnus’s well-loved hat got caught in a gust and vanished over the side at a fair rate of knots. Paul, forever the innovator, immediately setup a direction indicator so we knew which way to search.

What a view – Stone hut way down below by the stream.

We took off in the direction the hat had vanished, discussing the rather slim possibility of finding a stone coloured hat on a mountain of stones! The search proved a long one with us losing the direction because of the steepness of the slope and the swirling nature of the wind in the hills. Some of the scree proved to be quite a lot of fun, with frequent stops to scan for the hat. Having given up of reuniting Magnus with his hat, it miraculously appeared on the edge of the scree at least one kilometre away from where it had first taken flight. Magnus’s sharp eyes picking it out!

Magnus on right with Hat – well chuffed!

The remaining descent was uneventful, but the spectacular scenery made for an enjoyable walk. We arrived back at Stone not long before Chris, having not been able to spot him on the other side of the valley. He found Tahr. Unfortunately they also found him. Chris had fired an arrow in their direction, but had to settle with hitting the rock beside one. After a spectacularly sunny lunch at Stone hut we assembled our gear from all points of the hut, posed for a photo and left for Royal Hut.

Well posed, beautiful close-up of the grass.

With sun block and hats slapped on, we set off, steeling ourselves for the first chilly stream crossing. After a few minutes of debate we decided to sidle around on the true right of the stream. It was a bit of a clamber but certainly the dryer and safer option! This turned out to look like a well-trodden route and relatively easy. We did venture into the water briefly, but no further than a metre from the bank. Doing this missed two crossings and the higher we got the less flow there was in the ever present Bush steam. Logan seemed the only one disappointed as he continued to carry a large wooden pole for the purpose of propping against in fast water.

Lewis taking a close look at the river.

When we finally got to the point making a crossing was unavoidable, we were actually rather keen for a dip as it was now quite warm. The stream was still swift and around high thigh deep, made more difficult by the large slippery boulders. Richard, Paul and Logan were the first there and linked up to get across. Paul couldn’t understand our difficulties on foot placement until he realised he has polarised sunglasses making the water far more transparent. Note to self – get some!  Chris, Lewis and Magnus soon followed with Lewis taking an unplanned refreshing dip.

From there the track became quite well formed on the true left of Bush stream and was a pleasant amble. For a while we watched a Tahr family higher up on the other side of the stream. They were moving slowly in the same direction as us and were really hard to spot amongst the grass. Eventually we re-crossed Bush stream, now a much smaller version of its former self.

Easy walking.

We then came to Forest Creek track and turned right to stroll up to Royal Hut in a very open valley with a flat base. This was high country now, with snow on the tops it seemed like late winter early spring, not mid–summer! The scenery seemed to get more spectacular, helped by the superb weather conditions.

As Royal hut came into view it looked like there was a party going on! We knew Yannick and Aline were ahead of us but there seemed quite a crowd sitting out in the sun. As we got closer the numbers reduced as we realised some of what we thought were people were in fact, packs. But there was a great get together, fellow walkers being full of chat about their experiences of Te Araroa and the various obstacles, highs and lows. We sat down for a good chin wag, getting the tourist point of view, and giving our local take on the experience.

Lewis enjoying the scenery.
A party going on!

A couple of the most amiable people we have met were Matt and Jo who were well through their Te Araroa trip and were loving it at day 6o something! All had learned along the way and refined their kit to be efficient and very fit walkers. They certainly made good pace as we were to find out. Royal hut is situated in a very pleasant river valley devoid of trees, which just serves to enhance the stark beauty of the spot. The sunset was spectacular with a few trying to get some shots – here’s my take with a sunglass filter!

Sun Ray(Ban)s…

The evening saw us retreat into the hut and the party followed. There were two tramping chaps unable to move due to snow blindness. They had been bunked up all day waiting for it to subside, which it did, but not before significant headaches and very little vision. One had tried to move off in the morning but found it impossible to see the track. This was a warning to us to use our sunglasses on the pass, which we all luckily carried. Yannick did not have any but Chris offered an ingenious solution……. Again the dinner formed the entertainment and conversation!

Ambrosia – Fab food.

After a jolly evening, we folded ourselves into the 8 bunk hut with some difficulty… Four on the floor with Matt and Jo topping and tailing, content with having experienced an enjoyable, easy day of variety and scenery.

Day 4

Monday 24th January – Royal hut to Rex Simpson hut
A Royal Hut with light frost and a Central Otago feel!

We woke to a late January, mid-summer frost! The unexpectedness of the temperature helped to highlight the snowy mountain tops and general scenery. A bowl of steaming porridge put us in great shape to tackle Stag pass. There was much chatter as we got our stuff assembled and took the obligatory photos.

Team photo – note the last remaining mushroom and sunnies.

Yannick and Aline were first out the door, we weren’t far behind intending to catch them before making it into the snow. The first task was crossing Bush stream for a final time before heading up a side valley. The track was a steady climb following a stream that was crossed with regularity. Before long we had warmed to our task. Matt and Jo caught us at our first scroggin break.

The start of the real climb to Stag Saddle!

They were cruising effortlessly up the climb, showing off the conditioning they had built over their many weeks on the Te Araroa trail. Not to be outdone, we Moa hunters tagged along making conversation like it was easy! Lucky there was 6 of us so we could rotate the talk while others got their breath back.

Before long the track left the stream to ascend the left side of the valley, initially quite steeply, before settling back into a steady climb. After about 45 minutes we caught Yannick and Aline on a plateau amongst scattered snow, stunning views and wispy cloud. We stopped to make and don sunglasses.

Yannick donning Chris’s inventive “back to the future” pinhole sunnies!

From here the  steady climb continued, following a snowy boot channel track to the highest point of the Te Araroa trail, Stag Saddle. The abrupt view from the top was breathtaking, with a sweeping vista of nearly all of Lake Tekapo. There was a small DOC sign on the saddle proclaiming it to be at 1925m.

A happy bunch at the top – mostly downhill from here.

It was fairly breezy on the saddle, the view only spoiled by an annoying ridge to the North West hiding what had to be a view of Mount Cook! After a quick lunch we traversed to the ridge to find the promised view and what looked like an easier ramble down to the hut for the night. On reaching the ridge, sure enough Mt Cook was there to see, plus other outstanding snow covered peaks.

Looking up the ridge, Beuzenberg Peak beckoned… in fact it demanded to be climbed! So we ambled up to the 2066m peak and took in the 360deg views from Tekapo through to the headwaters and the mountains beyond. We lingered for a time on the peak not wanting to leave such a magical spot. Logan planted his walking pole into the pile of rocks on the peak which looked a fitting place. But when the time came to leave he took it with him, the attachment too great to leave behind. The descent was very straight forward, follow the ridge all the way down on a constant decline. The trail seemed well trodden and clean, with the perspective of the view morphing as we descended. We caught up with Matt & Jo, Yannick & Aline about half way down the ridge towards Rex Simpson hut.

Magnus nearly at the top struggling with the view.
Hello Mt Cook!

After fond goodbyes we parted company above the Rex Simpson Hut. They were heading to Camp Hut, probably to sleep on the floor.  In the space of three and a half days we had forged strong connections with strangers as is often the case in the back country. Good times, shared experiences and a lot of laughs; must be all the fresh air! We were stopping at the Alpine Recreation Rex Simpson hut, which we were very lucky to get the use of. It is a far more modern affair compared to other huts on the Two Thumb track, built on a strong semi A-frame design, to take the strong winds its exposed position would subject it to. It has tremendous views, a wooden floor and even insulation! The only drawback being the water supply was a fair trek away.

Alan Stevens greeted us as we arrived. He had camped up near the hut for two hours waiting for us, obviously making good time up from the carpark having driven from Christchurch. Around an hour after we arrived a couple of extreme cross country mountain bikers appeared looking for a place to stay. We had no room (the floor space is minimal) but there was an outside access snug on the hut designed for shelter which they decided to use. Richard took time out to discuss their bikes, turning slightly green with envy! They were heading to Queenstown and had traversed the Two Thumb track, obviously very fit as pushing those bikes through that sort of country would not be easy.

Sun setting on the edge of the Rex Simpson hut – spectacular vista.

Day 5

Tuesday 25 January – Rex Simpson hut to road end

After a very blustery night and what sounded like horizontal rain, Paul was first up as usual to get the porridge on the go. During the usual pack and clean up and after a first class coffee and porridge, three girls arrived on the Te Araroa trail. Two through walkers and one in and out, keen for advice on central Otago trails. It’s safe to say she was in the right place for advice on that area and left keen on paradise! We hope she found it.

Alan hit the trail while we gave the hut an extra going over and re-stocked water supplies to make sure it was as pristine as we found it. The walk out was pretty straight forward, downhill through farm land but with views of the upper Tekapo area a constant. We were surprised to see a wallaby bounce through the scrub. From there it was a gentle stroll down to the car park where Alan and John Bowers were waiting with vehicles for the trip home.

Leaving that place for home, we all reflected on the incredible country right on our doorstep. The scenery was so unexpected, and made more striking by the hugely changeable weather we experienced.

Of course the hot pies bought in Fairlie on the way home were great too!

Another excellent Moa Hunt completed.