Te Araroa Trail Freehold Creek to Birchwood Road
Over the Saddle to the Ahuriri River
I enjoyed a magnificent sleep from 8.30pm to 6.30am. I woke up to a wonderful, misty beech forest… the type that you’ll think about if you’re a Lord of the Rings fan. I had a tiny black and white tomtit visit me while I had a leisurely breakfast. I got on Te Araroa trail and started with a climb another 500m in elevation. This took me up and over a saddle before the Ahuriri River East branch.
I was walking in the cloud, and visibility was only about 80m. I’d dreaded this scenario! The route was poled out of the trees, but poles were very few and far between and with the very limited visibility I looked out for stone cairns too (piles of stones showing the way between poles or at a tricky section).
I took the route marked in very faint pen on a pole ‘new- shorter’ as there appeared to be a worn path that way. I got my first taste of ‘spear grass’ (it makes you bleed) and another thorny bush which from now on is known as just that… yikes! I crossed the first stream of about 25 river and stream crossings today, all good.
The path was just about identifiable, sometimes I had to wait for a gust of wind to clear the cloud, or I moved to higher ground and scan what I could around me. Lots of concentration was required – sometimes the path went to nothing, a boulder field or a bog, so I had to wing it and look around for footprints, an alternative path, flattened foliage or slightly differently coloured earth. I heaved a sigh of relief each time I saw the next pole. I consistently looked back to check I knew where I’d come from and if possible kept the last pole in sight.
The clouds cleared from ground level at 9am. When there was a short break in the cloud I glimpsed the Ohau mountains towering on either side of me.
Ahuriri River East Branch
I descended into the East Ahuriri river valley, which I sidled along for most of the day. There were patches of boulders, scree, huge tussocks and bog, and initially it was slow going. Following the poled route I crossed the river numerous times.
It was a nice route and I only got lost once, through a low patch of scrub/bog. As the river valley descended and widened the sun finally came out over the Diadem ranges opposite. Wildlife-wise, I saw lots of rabbits and about 4 skinks today.
The route eventually ended up at the Ahuriri River, the largest non-bridged river on the South island of Te Araroa trail. I stopped a while beforehand and re-read the trail notes, and notes I’d downloaded from previous TA walkers. There was a bridge 5km away if I couldn’t cross the river here.
The Ahuriri River
When I got to the Ahuriri river at 3pm I felt a little nervous. It was in a HUGE gorge in the flood plain, which it had carved out over the years. From what I could see, there was one large main channel leading to a braided section, then rejoining as one main channel again. I descended the steep slope into the gorge and walked beside the river.
I saw the marker on the other side, so knew where I would need to come back to when I found a safe crossing point. I walked downstream and tried a couple of times to cross. The water was fast flowing and the river was quite deep in places – too swift/deep for a solo tiny tramper. I walked downstream about 500m to the braided section. The water was still fast, but not quite so deep, as the two sections were wider. There was a large sloping bank of stone in the middle, which made a good exit/re-entry point.
Crossing the river
I set out and crossed the first river braid. I took care to walk with poles upstream, and walked in a diaganol, downstream direction – making things easier by not having to fight to go straight across the water. It wasn’t too bad. The water was over knee height but not too fast. I planted my foot firmly between the slippery rocks before taking each next step. I reached the stone bank and took a look at the 2nd stretch – shorter but deeper. I walked downstream again to find a good place to cross. This time it came up to bottom height, but I stayed calm, and repeated as before. I knew it was do-able if I could maintain my balance and solid footings. Once I got out the other side my whole body was racing with adrenaline!
I followed the track back up the bank and noticed that it was now brilliant sunshine! The mountains all around revealed themselves in all their glory. I was so excited about the river crossing and the sun coming out, that I forgot to check the map and followed a 4-wheel drive track the wrong way for 1.5kms.
I changed out of my wet clothes and hung them on my pack to dry, then walked in the right direction to the Birchwood Road car park.
I’d forgotten to get water from the river for tonight, so I pushed on another couple of Kms to a small river and nice flat spot, where I made camp for the night.
What a day! Achievements-wise this was the best day so far. I’d overcome the cloudy navigating scenario plus all the river crossings. I’m going to sleep well tonight! And with that I say goodbye to the Canterbury region today and hello to Otago tomorrow.