Dan, the co-founder of Bedrock Sandals, writes about his experiences with Naresh Kumar along New Zealand's long distance trail - the Te Araroa. For more stories and photos follow Dan - @specialopz - on instagram.
Naresh’s phone call interrupted what otherwise would be a forgettable summer weekday night below deck on my sailboat. I used to live and travel in an ‘86 Subaru Powered VW Vanagon which I sold to buy my sailboat - it has been my small humble home since January 2014.
Naresh and I had been talking for the past few months about his plan to quit his software job in California. He wanted to move to New Zealand, buy a van there, and use that as his base camp for travels and mountain training. This had been the plan until that night - when Naresh first mentioned the words Te Araroa - New Zealand’s crazy tough long distance trail spanning the length of both North and South Islands. Immediately I wanted to get involved, at first, for a couple weeks as the trail wound through the Southern Alps. By the end of the conversation I decided I would attempt the entire trail with Naresh and document the biggest Bedrock Sandals adventure yet.
Flash forward several months and 2,000km into our journey. This story is about one of my favorite sections along the TA.
The Two Thumb Track, a rugged 2-3 day section of the Te Araroa Begins at the Rangitata River and Ends at Lake Tekapo. The trail winds through a remote section of the Canterbury Highlands, skirting the edge of the Southern alps with massive glacial peaks and mineral blue lakes. This section crosses through a historic area known as Mesopotamia that inspired Samuel Butler’s Fantasy Novel, Erewhon. The Kiwi Families who historically mustered sheep in this high country are complete trail ninjas. We met an old land owner in a hut who got massively stoked on us hiking in our Bedrock Gabbro Sandals. In his words…”It’s not about how fancy the boots you wear, but where you place your feet that matters.”
Most South Bound (SOBO) thru-hikers are able to cross the large braided Rangitata river and carry on hiking through onto the beginning of Two Thumbs Track. We reached this point on the trail 2 months earlier than most thru-trampers and experienced spring flood levels too high to safely ford the river. New Zealand experiences a ton of deaths from trampers crossing swollen rivers - having experienced our own flash flood death scare in the North Island we decided to start Two Thumbs on the south side of the river. There are both advantages and disadvantages of tramping early in the season - uncrossable swollen rivers come with the territory of tramping early. The upsides: empty trails + huts, snow, fewer sandflies, and ample water availability. Also when it is cold you sweat less and require much less drinking water throughout the day - this can be a big weight saver.
Naresh and I started at the trailhead mid-day with the goal of spending the night at the first or second hut on trail. In the South Island, we literally walked and lived hut to hut. New Zealand has a mind blowing (seriously) amount and variety of huts in the back country. Kiwis built most of these huts to originally serve professional hunters and sheep musterers. Traditionally the NZ Forest Service painted all of them bright orange for safety and practicality - some older huts are still orange! The Department of Conservation (DOC) converted many of these traditional huts to shelter trampers. After hiking in NZ you realize these huts are absolute life savers - weather changes crazy fast in exposed trail sections here. As the Kiwi saying goes….4 seasons in one day.
The Two Thumb's Track trail began in a river valley traveling upstream with orange pole markers every couple hundred meters. These sections of trail on the TA typically aren't actual formed pathways. The objective is to progress along the river bank with necessary river crossings every few hundred meters - you make your own trail. We found our Bedrock Syncline and Gabbro Sandals amazing during these sections. Our new footbed grips up really nicely in water, plus unlike in shoes, it’s easy to swipe rocks out of your sandals after a crossing. I have found Bedrock’s as an ideal river crossing footwear, even for those hiking in trail runners or boots.
The trail climbed steeply up and down river branches until one final ascent up to Crooked Spur Hut, our home for the night. Massive amounts of trail magic greeted us in this hut. Packets of instant coffee, powdered milk, alcohol fuel, and toasted granola! Crooked Spur Hut, like many others in Canterbury, is a historic Sheep Musterer's Hut that the DOC converted with bunkbeds for trampers. We called it early, collected wood, and took full advantage of the fireplace. Naresh moved his mattress to the floor next to the fireplace and assumed his duty as nighttime fire stoker.
We woke up with the sun the next morning and made tea/coffee. Soaking in the morning rays outside the hut, gripping a steaming cup of coffee with both hands, trying to live in those moments of awe and gratefulness. We bagged two passes that day including the highest point on the TA, Stag’s Saddle (1925m). That night we crashed in the historic Camp Stream hut - equipped with a rad little wood burner and a massive stockpile of dried firewood outside. We descended Stag’s Saddle through 80+ KM/hr winds on no formed ground trail covered with tussock, underground streams, and scree. Firing up that wood-burner made for an incredible reward for all the times we ate it that day in tussock and streams. Half an hour after we got the wood-burner going the snow started coming down. We kept the fire rolling that night and cozied up in the 4 man Campstream Hut.
We wore our new Gabbro Trail Sandals for much of the South Island. Naresh is still wearing this pair to date after the trail!
I poked my head outside the hut in the AM to find a few inches of fresh snow on the ground. Bright blue skies accompanied the cold Southern Alps air. The next day we finished the section with some of the best views of the glacial Lake Tekapo and the Southern Alps we saw all trail. Undulating hills traversed by single track all the way down to Lake Tekapo. Its hard to even care about being wet and tired with glacial views like these :)
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