Te Araroa Trail – Richmond Ranges – Maitai dam to Browning hut
This week’s adventure brought me back onto Te Araroa Trail, nine months after I left it. If you followed my Te Araroa trail journey over the 2017/18 season you’ll remember that I skipped the Richmond ranges twice due to bad weather and, if I’m honest a case of the heebie jeebies.
Knowing it would be one of the most difficult parts of the trail, with high mountains over 1500m, big drops, some scrambling and technical terrain, I got a bit of a bee in my bonnet about wanting to do it in perfect weather.
This time I was back with +2000 Kms more hiking and backcountry experience, better gear, a lighter pack, and an urge to get up those mountains like never before.
Blair had been over the Richmond ranges as part of his Te Araroa trail journey back in the 16/17 season, so he knew what to expect. He took 5 days to go through back then, but I wasn’t entirely sure if my recent training had been enough, so we took 8 days worth of food with us, just in case.
Last year I walked as far as Rocks hut, so this is where I wanted to start from. We parked the van in Nelson and a friend kindly dropped us off at Maitai dam, to walk the part of the Dun mountain trail from Maitai dam to Coopermine Saddle. From here it was about 12.5kms up to Rocks hut with an elevation gain of around 700m. This was our intended stop for the night.
There was a very fine drizzle falling when we started at 9.30am. The track started off gently, with a nice walk by the side of the South branch of the Maitai river.
It continued like this for a few Kms before becoming steeper and entering a rocky belt along the flank of the Dun Mountain. The drizzle turned into light rain which turned into steady rain, but because it was too warm when we started, we hadn’t bothered with our raincoats. We were drenched.
This wasn’t too much of a problem as we trudged up the steep zigzag part of the walking/biking track at Windtrap Gully, but as we came out into the more windy, cold and exposed area over the Dun saddle around 12pm we got really cold. We knew it was only a few Kms to the hut, so we upped our pace and raced to the hut.
As we got closer to Rocks hut, the rain turned the trail into a stream.. it wasn’t fun.
We reached Rocks hut at 1pm absolutely drenched and wasted no time in stripping off our wet clothes and undies. We wrung them all out and got dressed into our merino nightwear and puffa jackets. Thankfully we had brought cup-a soups with us, and we boiled the pan and were overjoyed with our warm lunch accompaniment.
As we were eating, a German couple Annika and Malte arrived. (I didn’t realise this until days later, but I’d been following their photos on Instagram @hikinghoneymoon). We talked about staying at the hut tonight rather than walking out in the rain again this afternoon, but there was no wood for the fire and it was a big 18 bed hut. General consesnus was, that we should get to the next hut (Browning hut) which was smaller, so at least our bodies would heat up the hut if there was no fire.
The rain stopped for around 10 minutes, so we took it as our opportunity to leave around 2.30pm.
Rocks hut to Browning hut
The afternoon was better. It was around 10 Kms or so to Browning hut, and downhill most of the way apart from a few undulations. It was mostly through beautiful forest carpeted with ferns.
We walked through an area of downed trees which looked like some kind of apocalyptic scene from a movie.
With only a couple of Kms to go the track changed into a steep, slippery, eroded nightmare of a trail and we very carefully picked our way down. I didn’t want to break an ankle this early into the trail and took things very slowly.
This horror of a section then turned into a dream when we reach the bottom, and became wide and flat before bringing us out into a little clearing where Browning hut sat.
When we arrived at 6pm there were a couple of people already there who had lit a nice fire and warmed the place up. It turns out they were DoC (Department of Conservation) workers going for a tramp on their day off. We got into our dry clothes, hung up our wet gear and settled in. Annika and Malte arrived a while later and we all got dinner going.
The DoC couple made the most amazing hut dinner I’ve ever seen (think fresh veggies, garlic, squeeze of lime etc..). We were teensy bit jealous, but as we’d been so cold for most of the day our Mac n cheese dinner with spicy sausage, followed by a couple of ginger nut biscuits… went down a treat 😍.