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October 2014 Issue
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Classic high country

Descending Snake Ridge to Lake Tekapo. Photo: Jingyi Tan
3-4 days
Crooked Spur Hut, 8 bunks; Stone Hut, 8 bunks; Royal Hut, 8 bunks
Mesopotamia Station
on Rangitata Gorge Road
BX18, BX17, BY17
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Snake Ridge (gpx, yo 27 KB)
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Snake Ridge, Te Kahui Kaupeka Conservation Park / Moderate

Passing through the beautiful high country of Canterbury and finishing at the picture perfect Lake Tekapo with its startlingly turquoise waters, the section of the Te Araroa Trail that passes through Mesopotamia Station is a highlight.

A late start on the walk up Bush Stream Track had me wondering if I would be able to reach it to Crooked Spur Hut before nightfall. The terrain was rather slow-going as well, since the trail is made up of loose rock. With rain further upstream, I had also noticed the water level rising as I criss-crossed the stream.

At 7pm I was still about 3km from the hut and judging by the terrain ahead, I decided to hang up my new hammock and make camp. I had a quick dinner, then beat a hasty retreat into the safety of my hammock to get away from the sandflies.

I woke to the sound of sandflies landing on the rainfly of my hammock. I was glad to have made the decision to stop and camp where I did. The track was rough and the trail markers infrequent, and there was a big climb to get around a gorged section. The track then rejoined Bush Stream before climbing steeply up Crooked Spur.

Crooked Spur Hut is an old shepherd’s hut, one of the few that I’ve come across in relatively good condition. It had bags of charm, and had a commanding view over the valley below. I filled up on water, made myself a brew while enjoying the views of the valley below, before pushing on towards Stone Hut, some five hours away. The track climbed steadily again from Crooked Spur Hut, up to a saddle, before slowly edging its way down back towards Bush Stream. Along the way, I spotted a herd of tahr climbing the slopes and wished for a better zoom lens on my camera.

The trail markers were few and far between, and I often had to guess where the next marker was. Eventually, I lost sight of them completely, but no matter, Stone Hut had finally come into sight and I simply made my way to it down the tussock-covered hills.

It was 5pm and Royal Hut was only another two hours away, so despite the light rain that had begun to fall, I decided to press on so I could have a slightly shorter day the next day.

I had stayed in Royal Hut two years previously, but had arrived there by another route, and back then I had pack horses to help carry my gear. I had such good memories of the hut that I looked forward to re-visiting it. The track had joined Bush Stream again, and I followed it upstream, crossing and re-crossing the stream at various points. Although the track was by no means difficult, I was getting exhausted and it was a good two hours before Royal Hut came into view.

The temperatures plummeted during the night, and it was a struggle to stay warm in my down quilt. At least the rain had finally stopped, and it was shaping up to be a beautiful morning.

Sometimes, it can be a bit difficult walking a trail that you have previously walked, as you look back on memories with rose-tinted glasses, blanking out the long torturous climbs and remembering only the good bits. It was a little like that as I started the climb to Stag Saddle. Was it really this steep the last time I was here?

But I forgot all of that the moment I reached the saddle – the stunning views of Lake Tekapo below and the mountains all around just took my breath away. After a brief lunch break, I sidled across the rocky slopes to Snake Ridge to begin the descent to the lake.

With the lake below and majestic Southern Alps at its head, it was a fitting finale to a great tramp.

– Jingyi Tan