Tag Archives: Hike

Aotea Track, Great Barrier Island, New Zealand

Great Barrier Island is 100km North East of Auckland Central, and sits between the Hauraki Gulf and the Pacific Ocean just to the north of the Coromandel Penninsula. More than half of the island is a nature reserve, and the 1000+ residents live off the grid.


I first visited Great Barrier 25 years ago, and have been trying to get back to do a hike for months now. I’ ha’d planned it as a warm up hike before my Southern Alps crossing, but it wasn’t to be. First, a downpour flooded Auckland, including the airport, so I couldn’t fly out, then the Island was closed down due to the Cyclone Gabrielle. Now, a month after completing my Southern Alps crossing, and I finally made it.

Day 1: Whangaparapara Road to Mt Heale Hut – 8.2 km – 3.5 hours – Red Track

I’d tossed around catching the car ferry over, but with the extra costs associated with it, flying was only a little more expensive. So, after a quick 30 minute flight in a 12 seater Cessna aircraft, I arrived on the island.


I’d arranged to be collected from the airport and delivered to the trailhead by a local transport. I arrived at 2:10 pm, and with an estimated 4 hours walk, I set out along a wide track beside a stream. As daylight savings ended last night, sunset was going to be just after 6, so I was going to be close.


Along the trail I got my first look across the grasslands, with views of the short mountains beyond.


The trail was flat and the smell of sulphur in the air heralded in my arrival at the ‘hot springs’. The springs themselves were more of a luck warm stream with pools along it. I might have gone in if I hadn’t been pressed for time, although as they weren’t quite hot, they lost their appeal.


Not long after the hot springs, I arrived at the Tramline trail where Kauri Trees were logged more than 100 years ago. A view out over the grasslands to Kaitoke and Medlands Beaches.


The Tramline track was also flat until it headed up Peach Tree Trail, which began a crazy amount of steps. This would be a reccuring theme on the island.


Starting near sea level, I climbed towards the the hut at 412m. The lack of breeze ensured that my climb felt more like I was swimming up the mountains in my own sweat. But the views were worth the energy.


And I got a better look back to Kaitoke and Medlands Beaches as I got higher. The trees gave way to low scrub giving an almost alpine feel on a mix of dirt path and stairs.


At the 400m altitude mark, I saw the sign to the Hut stating 5 min and 200 m. I arrived soon after and found a family group of 4 already there. I went in, claimed a bunk, had a quick hiker’s shower before going out to watch the sunset. Then while chatting to the family members, I cooked a Chef Corso Trail Meal, Macaroni with Bacon and Blue Cheese.


Day 2: Mt Heale Hut to Kaiaraara Hut via Mt Hobson Lookout and Port Fitzroy – 16.9km – 4.75 hours – Pink Track

After a fitful night’s sleep, I arose and got ready for today’s walk. First, I climbed past Mt Heale to the summit of Mt Hobson, the tallest mountain on the island, at 627m. I was to have climbed past Mt Hobson and along the ridgeline to the next hut, but due to a slip the trail that was was closed. So I’d left my pack at the hut.


I knew there was going to be a lot of steps, as others in the hut had complained about the sheer number. I didn’t bother counting on the way up, concentrating on the climbing until I reached the summit platform with almost 360 degree views. This over Whangapoua Bay…


and this over Port Fitzroy with Kaikoura Island, in the centre, and Little Barrier Island, in the distance.


I counted 1016 stairs on the way back to the hut where I picked up my pack and headed straight off again. A sign at the top of the South Fork Track said an hour to the Forest Road, not far from the hut. So it was going to be a short day. The trail headed down slowly, crossing a wire bridge as it went.


The trail was wide and an easy descent. Along the way I passed a pair of woman, the only two people I’d see on the track today.


The trail crossed a stream several times, and was easy to avoid getting my boots wet, although the trail was a little muddy and slippery at times. I finally came out at the Forest Road after an hour and a half. Not sure where they got an hour from as I wasn’t walking slowly. The Forest Road is rocky road though the nature reserve, and the sign said 30 minutes to the hut, but it only took 10 minutes.


At the hut I ran into one of the ladies from the hut last night. It was early, so we decided to walk the 5km into Port Fitzroy. I’d heard there was a burger place, which turned out to be closed, so we continued walking to the Boat Club, hoping for a burger, but that was also closed. We did manage to persuade the owner to sell us a beer though. Afterwards, we stopped at the shop on the way back. That evening we discovered there were mice under the hut, as my hutmate had left a bag outside with a chocolate bar in it. The mice enjoyed that. Thankfully they couldn’t get inside.

Day 3: Kaiaraara Hut to Green Campsite via Mt Maungapiko – 17km – 4 hours – Green Track

Today would be the longest day, although most of it would be spent walking along the Forest Road. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much of a view most of the time, so I took whatever photos I could.


Then a short side trail with a bunch of stairs led down 50m to a pair of large Kauri Trees. After the logging a century ago, there were few of the ancient giants left, and with Kauri Dieback Disease, there are likely to be few others living to such greatness.


30 minutes later, I came to the turn off to Mt Maungapiko, a 280m peak with good views. It was the only climb off the Forest Road, and in time for lunch, so I took the opportunity, and climbed the rough rock to the top where there’s a wooden bench.


I stopped for lunch, taking photos of the near 360 degree views.


And back the way I’d come.


Back on the Forest Road, I headed down to a stream, the climbed for the final time before finally reaching the South Tramline Track. The actual metal tramline had been removed many years ago, leaving just a steep descent. About halfway down I came to the turnoff to the Kauri Falls, and stopped to have a look.


Then it was a fairly easy walk, crossing numerous streams via wooden bridges, before I came out near Whangaparapara, then a 7 minute walk to the Green Campsite, opposite the village. I set up my tent, then went for a short walk along the main road of Whangaparapara hoping to find a beer at the lodge, but it was closed. So, I just chilled, reading in the sun.


The next morning, I packed and had breakfast, before I met the trail transport guy who dropped me off at the airport for my 30 minute flight home.


The hike was a fairly easy walk over three days, and would have made the perfect warmup hike had it not been for the weather events. I enjoyed my time there in relative quiet.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Southern Alps Crossing – New Zealand – Days 1 to 3

In Late Summer 2023, I set out on a mission to cross New Zealand’s Southern Alps over 13 days.

After a summer of fairly consistent rain in the North Island, and plentiful sun in the South Island, I flew to Christchurch, then caught an InterCity bus north to Hanmer Springs, a small mountain town near where I would begin my walk.

I split the 13 day walk into two parts with a stop in the middle at a village on highway 73. The first 6 days turned out to be easier and busy with walkers, while the second 6 was hard with very few walkers.

Day 1 – Windy Point to Hope Kiwi Lodge – 17km – 5 hours – Red

On a hazy morning in Hanmer Springs, I was driven the 45km to Windy Point, the trailhead of my walk. When I arrived, it began to rain, and I hovered in a nearby shelter. When ready to head out, I climbed the steps beside the gate, and walked along a road past some students from a Christian camp.


I skirted past the camp and up a slight hill to a wire bridge and crossed to the mound on the other side, where the trail met the Te Araroa Trail coming south from Boyle Village. I’d only met a handful of TA walkers on other routes to date, but that was about to change.


I followed the trail through a wood grove and over the mound as the rain came down heavier. It then stopped for a bit, so I took off my pack and jacket, but it wasn’t long before it began again.


The moderate rain quickly caused my feet to be soaked in my boots, I followed the trail along the upper portion of a flat area 100-150m above the river plain.


The sign at the trailhead had said the Hope Halfway Hut was 2 hours along, but cold and fed up with the rain, I passed the two hour mark with no sign of the Hut. Another hour along, and I finally saw it as I came over a rise. I hustled towards it and inside. It was a fairly nice small hut with no heating. I got out of my wet boots and jacket, and ate some lunch. A pair of fisherman stopped in for a few minutes, before heading off again.


The rain had not let up when I left and the trail headed down onto the river plain covered with yellow grass.


I came down near the river and crossed via another wire bridge.


In many places, the trail running through the grass was filled with water, so I walked along beside it.


Then I spied the hut at the edge of thick wood. Of course, the trail led me through the woods and when I eventually came out to the hut, I found five people already inside. Two had just chilled for the day in the hut to avoid the rain, while the other 3 had arrived earlier. Thankfully the fire was already lit so I could get out of my wet gear and get it drying. Another 9 people would arrive during the evening. While there was plenty of room, it was my first introduction to a busy hut because of TA walkers.


Day 2 – Hope Kiwi Lodge to Hurunui Hut – 16.1 km – 6 hours – Green

The next morning, while much of my clothes were dry, my boots weren’t entirely. It wouldn’t matter, as while the rain had toned down, it hadn’t stopped. I set out across the grassy fields which stretched into the distance, crossing a deep stream on the way.


After more than an hour, the trail crashed into the forest and began climbing towards the Kiwi Saddle. For the first somewhat major climb of the walk, it wasn’t intense, and thankfully, the forest blocked much of the rain.


If it wasn’t for a sign, I would have barely noticed the saddle deep in the forest. Near the saddle, another short trail climbed to a lookout where I got my first partial view of Lake Sumner.


The trail descended and I passed a half dozen people all solo walkers except one couple. The descent was gentle but again with no real view of the lake. I crossed Three Mile Stream on a wire bridge and on into the forest.


I finally came out close to the lake and walked along the trail with views for a brief time.


I crossed a grassy field to a gate, which gave me two options separated by a fence: across the field for several kilometres in the light rain, or dive into the forest for the same length to avoid it.


The uninhibited views across the lake were worth the momentary stop in the rain.


But I chose to head into the forest. I would come to regret this decision as the following 3 km pushed me through a hectic medley of downed trees, jagged roots and wet bushes on a thin trail that got me covered in water anyway.


Glad to be out of the trees, I again cross the fields towards a wire bridge then once across it, I turned back and took a photo.


Another 10 minutes or so along the trail I came to the Hurunui hut. When I arrived, no-one was there, so I set about changing and thought about lighting the fire when a trio from the Hope Kiwi Hut arrived. More and more TA walkers would arrive from the other way, including an annoying group who had been playing cards in the next hut for hours burning all the wood. Just when it was dark outside and most of us had climbed into out sleeping bags they arrived, making a bunch of noise cooking and eating.


Day 3 – Hurunui Hut to Hurunui No. 3 Hut – 9.91 km – 3 hours – Yellow

Checking my daily walking timeframes, I discovered my plans were wrong. Today, I had myself walking for at least 6 hours, but from talking to others it was only going to be two and a half to three. The rain had mostly stopped, but that didn’t mean that the grass was dry, so wet boots again. This was annoying as my boots were finally dry. I set out from the hut down onto the grasslands near the river.


Much of my day would be wandering alongside the river. Sometimes I just ignored the trail and followed the flat grassland anyway.


Only heading up the bank when the river got too close to this side, dropping down to the grasslands again when the river moved away.


I came to a sign that said 1.5 hours back to Hurunui Hut and 1.5 hours to Hurunui 3 hut. Weird, as I’d only been walking 45 minutes from Hurunui.


Everyone’s favourite spot on today’s section was the hot pool. Hot water flows down from the side of the mountain leaving a two tone algae on the rocks. It drops into a pool, which likely had been hollowed out for the purpose, then overflows 15 metres down to the river. I arrived just as another walker was leaving, so I stripped off and got in. It was a little dirty and a sign said not to submerge my head. Another tube had been set up to feed cold water into the pool should it get too heat, but I left that out.


I got ouot after 30 minutes, quickly dried and dressed to get away from the sandflies, and got on my way once more. The trio following me since Hope Kiwi Lodge said they’d spent more than 2 hours in the pool.


The trail stayed in the bush for a short time before emerging onto grassy plained until I eventually came out at Hurunui No 3 Hut. On arrival, I checked the wood, and wasn’t sure it would last. So I went hunting around for some. I wasn’t sure I’d find much due to the rain of the previous couple of days. But with an axe from the wood house, I located and cut a long dead branch. I dragged it back to the wood house and cut it into bits. But as I was dragging it, my leg got caught in some spiky plants and scratched it to hell. So, once I had the fire going, I bandaged my leg. Hurunui No 3 Hut has two sets of triple bunks and a pair of double bunks. Overall, a good hut again.


Next, Days 4 – 6 of my Southern Alps Crossing.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Southern Alps Crossing – New Zealand – Days 4 – 6

In late February 2023 I embarked on my longest walk in New Zealand, 13 days across the Southern Alps of the South Island. Go back to Days 1 – 3.

Day 4 – Hurunui No. 3 Hut to Locke Stream Hut – 15 km – 6 hours – Pink

Thankfully the sun came out today as it will be the hardest day so far, taking me over Harpers Pass at 967m. I headed out along thee grassy plains feeling pleased that the rain had passed for the time being, although that didn’t mean the grass wasn’t wet from dew.


The trail headed into the forest for a while, with laid out tree stumps covering the muddy patches. Good, but still slippery.


I soon came to the three wire bridge and crossed, pushing uphill a little in the woods.


Until once more coming out onto the flat via a rocky landscape before arriving at a small hut called Cameron’s Hut, which has only one workable bunk. I’d planned to stay here last night, but a walker the night before had persuaded me not to.


I marched on up the trail as it steadily began to climb, planning to stop at the Harper Pass Bivvy for lunch near the top.


I got to the bivvy an hour later, and stopped for lunch with two people there. And as they left, the three that had been following me since day 2 arrived. I ate my lunch in the sun with them, then letting them go first, I headed up the final climb to the top of the pass.


The trail down the other side was steep and rocky, and I’d been warned I’d be getting wet feet. I finally got a good view down onto the valley I’d be walking into and continued down the very steep trail, slipping a handful of times, but nothing serious.


I eventually came to another three wire bridge and crossed into a rocky riverbed where I rock hopped all the way down, scrambling up the bank in a couple of cases to get away from the water.


The rocky river continued, as I climbed one of the banks and walked in the woods for a bit, then back to rock hopping.


I came around the corner to spy people in the river. I climbed the bank to find the Lock Stream Hut where I’d be staying for the night. It was warm enough that there was no need for a fire, which was good as we couldn’t find any. With the only water that from the river, I topped up from there trying to avoid the sandflies that were eagerly waiting for me. I also did some washing in the river and laid it out to dry, then sat reading my book in the sun, or at least trying to, as again the sandflies swarmed us all, even covered in repellant.


Day 5 – Locke Stream Hut to Kiwi Hut – 8.4 km – 2.25 hours – Red

Again, my preplanning had stated a fairly long day today, but in revision, it turned out to be little more than 2 hours. But as my following day was a firm booking at a backpackers, I didn’t want to turn up a day early. I headed out from the hut and across some rugged landscape.


The trail lead me across the river, and I spent some time walking back and forth trying to find the best location to ensure I wouldn’t get my boots wet. I eventually found it and headed across into the grassy plains.


The trail rambled through the red rocks fairly common along this route, but staying on the true right of the river.


Most of it was along a grassy plain beside the river, with forest on the right.


I followed the trail on, seeing no-one else as I walked, the weather becoming better.


After a while I came to a sign to Kiwi Hut, pointing into the forest. I headed in, following the trail through to a large grassy paddock and up a bank. It was warm and before lunch when I arrived. I scouted for some wood and dragged it back to the wood shed, but felt there would be no need to start a fire, so didn’t bother cutting it up. A couple arrived and stopped for lunch. I brewed coffee and chatted with them before they left.


I then changed, cleaned the hut, checked the water and just chilled for a few hours until a large group of TA walkers arrived. More people would arrive during the day until all 7 beds were full and there were three tents out on the grassy patch.


Day 6 – Kiwi Hut to Rata Lodge Backpackers Otira – 21.45 km – 6 hours – Green

I headed out the next day looking forward to having a hot shower and staying in a real bed. Soon after heading out, I crossed the river which had split in two on the river plain. The first I found a way to rock hop across, but the second was not so easy. I finally had to remove my boots and wade over without them.


Then over the course of the next handful of hours, I walked along the grassy field slowly making my way towards where I guessed the road would be. I came to a large gorse forest and was forced along an old river bed to avoid it. This cut me through some forest, back to the river bed, through a small portion of gorse, before I finally exited down a bank to the grassy plains.


The plains widened and I followed a 4 x 4 trail across it. As I walked I began to hear the occasional vehicle in the distance. My hopes of keeping my boots dry, however, died quickly as the trail crossed many brooks with few other means to cross than to wade through or remove them. After the first couple I gave up and just let me boots get wet.


I trailed across the grassy plains, finally making it to the rivers, of which there were again two. By that stage, I’d all but given up trying to stay dry and just waded straight in. Then with soggy boots, I was up a bank and crossing a farm paddock toward the road.


I stopped briefly for lunch, but sandflies… So I picked up my pack and headed off along the road towards Otira and the backpackers. I thought it was only 6 or 7 km, but I have since learned it was closer to 11. I also decided to not thumb a lift, but should someone offer a ride I’d take them up on it. Several km along the road I came to the Morrison Foot Bridge spanning the river and railway tracks. TA walkers commonly camp on the other side of the bridge, or arrive here and hitch a lift to Otira or Arthur’s Pass Village. This is the last location I’d be encountering walkers from the Te Araroa. From here it was going to be much quieter.


I walked a further 3km, and next to the location where I’d be beginning my walk tomorrow, a car stopped and a pair of women picked me up. They’d been hiking in the mountains in the area too. They drove me the remaining 3km to the the backpackers where I checked in, had a hot shower, then headed along the road to the cafe for a hot meal. Unfortunately, as I was not staying at his establishment, the owner wouldn’t sell me a beer. I’d just have to wait another week until I arrived in Hokitika.


Next, Days 7 – 8 of my Southern Alps Crossing.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Southern Alps Crossing – New Zealand – Days 7 – 8

In late February 2023 I embarked on my longest walk in New Zealand, 13 days across the Southern Alps of the South Island. Go back to Days 4 – 6 or the beginning Days 1 – 3.

Day 7 – Rata Lodge Backpackers Otira to Dillon Hut – 14 km – 8 hours – Yellow

After a breakfast down at the local cafe, I packed and was delivered to the start point by the owner of the Backpackers. I’d originally planned to stop at Carroll Hut at the top of today’s climb, but after finding there was no heating there I decided to walk further. In the carpark I took my obligatory selfies to prove I was on the walk, then set off up the trail into the forest. I was barely 10 metres when a man emerged with pack on. He would be the last person I’d see for more than 24 hours.


The climb was by no means difficult but no easy fair either. I pushed on step by step and was rewarded by the occasional view out across the mountains. For the first steep climb of the walk, I finally got a good sweat on.


The good weather continued as I climbed out of the forest, passing the short stubby trees towards the top as I always seem to. I stopped and got another good shot along the range with Otira and Authur’s Pass in the distance.


The top two hundred metres the trail grew more rocky, feeling more exposed and dangerous.


But I finally crossed onto the tussock covered top and Carroll Hut came into view. At the hut I stopped for 30 minutes for lunch and to dry my sweaty clothes.


From here the trail was marked with posts, but the trail was not as well defined as before. This was fine atop the range which felt more like rolling hilltops than craggy mountain peaks.


As long as I could see the next pole, it didn’t matter that there were a meander of little trails leading to it. I go my first views down the other side where I’d eventually be descending to the river valley below.


The poles continued as did the suggested routes, which were fairly obvious due to the short vegetation. However, the mapping software I’d used to plot my course only listed the huts I’d planned to stay at, but as I’d decided to stay at a different one, I was forced to guess exactly where it was. Today was fairly easy, but later in my walk it would be more of an issue.


As the trail disappeared beneath the longer vegetation I was forced to bush bash from post to post. This was the beginning of my scratched legs woes, and my regret at not bringing full length gators.


The trail grew more prominent as I crossed into the tree line, with the usual orange triangles marking the route. At the top I easily descended 200m quickly before the trail got a little more precarious, but nothing too dangerous.


I came out atop a slip giving good views down. Then, near the base the trail lead through a rocky passage with a lone tree in the centre then popped out onto a rocky creek.


The creek was raging in places, and after a long day, I wanted to find the huts less than a kilometre away and rest. I skirted along the lower bank beside the creek, but couldn’t get past. So, trying to ensure my boots remained dry, I skirted back again looking for a place to cross. I found one, and jumped over, but I think my sunglasses came off my pack here, as I didn’t see them again. I walked along the other side, and found a place to cross.


Then it was up the bank and along a 4 x 4 track. I quickly saw the Dillon Homestead Hut and stopped to check it out. The homestead hut has been around since 1945 and has a lot of character in it. I could have stayed here and I’m not sure why I didn’t, but I chose to push on to the nearby Dillon hut, a far newer Department of Conservation hut. I wasn’t disappointed and as I had it to myself I got set up for my first night alone on this trek. And as it had been a warm day, I didn’t bother with a fire.


Day 8 – Dillon Hut to Mid Taipo Hut – 8.9km – 3 hours – Pink

Because yesterday was long day, and tomorrow will be too, I chose a more chilled walk today along the Taipo River. I’d planned to climb to the Dunn Creek Hut at the end of the day, but had read that it wasn’t in the best of shape and being rebuilt. Again my map didn’t have the alternative huts marked, so I was guessing by the end of the day. I headed out from Dillon Hut in an overcast sky.


As the river was wide and deep in places, I stayed on the left bank waiting for a three cable crossing I knew was further along.


To get to the crossing, I had to climb the side of a high rocky outcrop, then follow the path and a super steep descent where a ladder had been installed to help.


I crossed the bridge over a raging river, and on the other side, had a hard climb almost straight up the dirt bank that seemed endlessly.


It eventually flattened out before an easier descent down the side to pop out near the river, which had split in two.


I then followed vague trails along the river bank and grassy flats.


…before running into two guys who’d come from a hut further up the river. From a few minute chat, one suggested that if I was going up to Dunn Creek Hut to go up the creek instead of the trail further around as it was less steep. I’d originally planned to do that, but as I was no longer going to that hut tonight, I might have to be satisfied with the more difficult route up.


The river gully became quite tight with no way to walk along the side, so I was forced to push up the side of the bank on a forest trail. It was by no means a easy walk, and cemented in my mind that I wouldn’t be coming back to climb Dunn Creek.


I finally popped out at the Mid Taipo Hut having passed the less than obvious junction to tomorrow’s climb. There were bits of sun and it was warm. I decided to wash my sweaty clothes, so I stripped down tossed my clothes in a waterproof bag with some special organic cleaner and headed out to the river to do the washing. In my naked state, I kept an eye out should someone pop out of the wilderness, but no-one did. I took my washing back to the hut and hung it up outside, then went back to the river and bathed. The water was pretty icy, but I got it done and returned to the hut to chill out as it began to rain. I lit the fire to help dry the clothes and got on with my afternoon.


Next, Days 9 – 10 of my Southern Alps Crossing.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Southern Alps Crossing – New Zealand – Days 9 – 10

In late February 2023 I embarked on my longest walk in New Zealand, 13 days across the Southern Alps of the South Island. Go back to Days 7 – 8 or to the beginning Days 1 – 3.

Day 9 – Mid Taipo Hut to Newton Creek Hut – 6.9 km – 11 hours – Red

It had rained a little overnight and as today would be a long difficult day, I wasn’t pleased that everything would be wet. Clouds hung atop the ridges, and I hoped they’d blow over. In the hut were instructions to get to the beginning of today’s climb, so I followed them back to the turn off and easily found the trail leading up the mountain.


While I’d been told the trail would be steep, it wasn’t as bad as expected. I’d imagined the climb from yesterday after the three war cableway, just much longer. But it turned out to be a moderate climb, fairly constant up rocks and roots only damp from the overnight rain.


And, after 90 minutes I popped out at the top amidst the mist.


The sign at the bottom had said 2 hours to the Dunn Creek Hut, but it took another hour to make my way through wet flax and vegetation.


A couple of wet stream crossings and I crossed a marshy, grassy mud patch leading up to hut. It was in better shape than I’d expected, but the heating had been removed and I’m glad I’d decided not to stay there. I took my boots off, brewed a coffee and ate some lunch.


Half an hour later, I headed out again across the boggy grasslands following the trail markers.


Much of the climb to Newton Saddle was up Dunn Creek, and it was pretty lively as I went. The trail pushed up the centre of the creek over wet rocks and wasn’t very pleasant as it was slippery and slow as I tried to ensure each step was stable. Thankfully over the hours I climbed, the creek grew thinner. At one point I must have climbed up the wrong rocky gully as lost sight of the regular orange markers. My GPS confirmed I was off track and I was forced to bush whack my way across the grassy mountain slope until I saw the correct creek with the markers. Going down would have cost me extra time.


I was mostly dry as I walked, but the occasional gust of cold wind from across the saddle was pretty miserable. I saw the markers go up the very steep side of the grassy bank away from the creek, and I knew this was the final climb to the saddle. It was hard going. I couldn’t use my poles, so let them dangle from my wrists with the straps. Each step was finding a footing and dragging myself up by the grass, bit by bit until I got 30 metres from the top when I could again use my poles. I finally got over the top and looked down to regard where I came from…


The hundred or so metres across the saddle was fairly flat and it felt good to not have to climb. I stopped at the top of the descent and looked down.


The climb down was the opposite of the ascent. It was easy going at the top, trickles of water in the rocks, but as I went it got thicker and heavier the trail going down the centre of the Newton Creek. I descended into the mist which grew bright from the occasional ray of the sun, only to fade again. With several other water flows joining the creek it got heavier and the rocks larger. I slipped several times, catching myself on my poles, bending them slightly under the strain. Sometimes I had to let go of them and catch myself on my arms in the water. I don’t remember bashing my ribs, but perhaps coming down hard on my arms caused bruising on my left side. It didn’t affect my walking, or carrying, only turning over at night. I had scratches and bruises down much of my legs and again wished I’d brought the full length gators.


The day was getting on and I realised I wasn’t going to make it to the hut I’d originally planned to stay in. There was another, closer one, so I decided to walk there. But again, because I hadn’t preplanned it on my digital map, I had to guess where it was. And at 7:30 pm, I was also starting to worry that I was losing daylight. Based on where I thought the hut was, I’d likely be walking in the semi dark with my head lamp. Thankfully I train for endurance, so even though I’d been going for more than 10 hours, I still had more in me. Another large creek joined the Newton Creek, making it just too wild to be rock hoping in a raging river. Thankfully the trail finally cut along the side for the first time during this descent. Then, as I followed the trail, I came out onto a grassy patch and looked over to see a hut. I wondered about there being another hut not shown on the map, but went over to it and it turned out to be the hut I was looking for and hour earlier than I predicted. The sense of relief was unimaginable. I set about getting out of my wet gear, having a wet wipe ‘hikers’ shower and getting into warm clothing. I topped up my water for the next day from the river, set out all my gear before getting the fire going. I cooked some dinner and just stared into the fire for what felt like hours.


Day 10 – Newton Creek Hut to Mudflats Hut – 5.1 km – 3.5 hours – Green

After belting myself around yesterday, I woke somewhat refreshed and ready to continue my trek. I packed up and headed out into the wet morning grass. The trail continued through the woods beside the raging river and it wasn’t long before I arrived at the 200m descent I’d been expecting last night. I’m glad I didn’t have to do it in the twilight or the dark, the slippery roots and steep trail was slow going as I had to be careful of every step. Half way down there was a grove of thin trees giving me something to hang onto as I descended.


I finally got to the bottom after an hour and came out at the Arahura River, which I stood little chance of crossing. But, according to the map, around the corner was a triple wire crossing, so I began rock hoping along, careful on the slippery boulders. Then, it began to spit, heralding in the rain.


There was a small climb up to the wire bridge, but according to the map the other side was going to be a bit of a bush whack as I climbed to a trail. But, I found that the trail had changed, and straight from the end of the bridge it began to climb. It wasn’t as steep as the earlier descent, and got my blood pumping. At the top of the climb the trail went both ways and was quite wide.


I figured this would be a brief patch of wide trail, but was pleasantly surprised. For several kilometres, the trail stayed wide and flat. Perhaps this was part of an old settlers trail and had been around for many decades, maybe even from the 1800s, with only the occasional stream crossing that was a little rocky. It continued to rain, but there was a fair covering, so I wasn’t affected too much. I also got views of the grassy river plains below.


Then came the descent along a small stream heading towards the hut, and while I’d planned to walk further today, the constant rain was bugging me, so I decided after the extreme day yesterday, I’d get to the Mudflats Hut and call it a day.


The trail down wasn’t hard and I emerged at the base of the mountain on the wet grassy plains in the rain. I crossed a long wire bridge and crossed more grassy lands before I was forced up a steep climb where I came out at the hut. The rain was still coming down, so I ducked inside and got prepared for the night, a hiker’s shower, a change of clothes, collecting for firewood etc. I’d been there two hours in the ongoing rain when I heard footsteps outside and a slight German girl appeared at the door. She’d come along the river I was heading up tomorrow. We chatted for a couple of hours as I lit the fire before I got on with my evening.


Next, the final part, Days 11 – 13 of my Southern Alps Crossing.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Southern Alps Crossing – New Zealand – Days 11 – 13

In late February 2023 I embarked on my longest walk in New Zealand, 13 days across the Southern Alps of the South Island. Go back to Days 9 – 10 or the beginning Days 1 – 3.

Day 11 – Mudflats Hut to Mid Styx Hut – 12.38 km – 6 hours – Yellow

My German hut mate for the night left in the dark to walk out along the trail I’d come in on yesterday, so when I awoke, I did my usual breakfast and pack up routine before heading out. The rain had stopped early this morning, but the grasses would no doubt be wet. The sky in the direction I was heading looked promising.


I crossed the river via the wire bridge and followed the trail along the grassland alongside the river. Not far along, it began to climb, but not high, perhaps 100m in elevation before levelling out in a wide flat trail similar to the one coming around the mountain yesterday. The trail continued for several kilometres, crossing many small streams, creeks and rock slides, but staying wide and flat, although edging higher as it went. The views along the river continued with Harman Hut, where the German girl had come from yesterday, somewhere down that way.


But I wasn’t going that far as my trail came to a T junction, the third trail heading over the Styx saddle, a low pass compared to many in the area. It wasn’t a difficult climb, more annoying as it was through tall grasses with little streams running across it, not to mention bogs here and there. I got wet as I crossed it, both boots and body due to the still wet grass, some of which were taller than me. I followed the trail markers towards the edge of the saddle hidden in mist. I passed a memorial of several people who’d died in a plane crash in the area in 1979.


The way down was more thick grasses and thin trees along small streams but the mist cleared and I could see the descent ahead.


It was fairly gentle for the most part, dropping more than 100m to the grassy river plains below.


It didn’t take me long, crossing the occasional wide creek before popping out on the grassy plains.


One more creek and I arrived at the Grassy Flat Hut. This is where I’d intended to walk to yesterday if it hadn’t been for the rain. I stopped, boots off and went inside to make a coffee and have lunch. I also checked the routes to the next hut. Over the wet winter, the heavy rains had washed away a section of the trail meaning that all walkers had to follow the trail to the Mid Styx Hut instead of just following the trail along the Styx River to the carpark. This meant I’d have to do a major river crossing at some point.


I headed out again after lunch, crossing some river flats, through grasses taller than myself, finding a way across a deep stream and then across the river to the far bank. From here I’d walk for an hour looking for the sign telling me where to cross the river, all the while watching the river grow deeper and wider.


I almost missed the sign, but headed down the bank to the river. There was no hope I was going to keep my boots dry here, so I ensured nothing was in my pockets and waded on it, using my poles to help stabilise me against the flow of the river. The water at its highest didn’t quite reach my crotch thankfully, and I made it without much of an issue. I then headed up a thin trail into the woods that climbed somewhat steeply at points, but eventually levelled out through the thin trees. I passed the point on my GPS map and kept walking to eventually come out at a little hut. This one had an old style fireplace and no toilet. So I set about getting ready for the evening, getting wood in ready for a fire. There were plenty of tools in the hut, so I got a spade and found a nice place to dig a hole away from the trail, for tomorrow morning’s business. Then I settled in, got the fire going and chilled out for the evening.


Day 12 – Mid Styx Hut to Hans Bay Campsite – 17.7 km – 6 hours – Pink

I awoke the next morning feeling good and ready for my final day in the wilderness, as tomorrow will be mostly a road walk from the DOC campsite to Hokitika. I was lying in bed thinking about getting up when it began to rain, so I got moving. I’d seen warnings that after heavy rain the Tyndall Creek and Styx River are dangerous to cross, and the first part of my day would be walking along Tyndall Creek. Halfway though getting ready it began to pour which disheartened me and I lay back in my bed considering staying in the hut for the day. Then I heard footsteps outside and opened the door to find two guys wet from the rain. They were just passing through and headed on along the trail. This pushed me to get moving and I packed, did my morning ablutions and headed out 30 minutes later. I weaved quickly through the forest along the trail for a kilometre until it began descending steeply, eventually coming out at Tyndall Creek.


After the warnings, I was nervous about following the creek as I was expecting to spend a lot of time climbing over the rocks in the raging creek as I’d done down Newton Creek. But I found much of the trail was on either side, through the trees and bushes, crossing it several times.


After 45 minutes, I emerged at the Styx River, crossed Tyndall Creek one last time before heading along the top of the bank on the true left side of the river – the left side in the direction it is flowing. I wandered through the forest at the top of the bank for 500m before climbing down a small creek to grassy plains.


I followed the plains for a kilometre and a half, occasionally diving into the forest. At the last hut there had been a map telling me where I was to cross the Styx river safely and it was near where I’d planned to begin climbing to Brown Hut. But due to the on-the-fly changes I’d made to my walk, along with the weather, I decided to skip this final climb and walk to the car park instead. I found the location the map had said and crossed the river without difficulty, again using my poles to stabilise me. On the other side I found the original trail and walked for less than 100m before the trail ended at a massive rock slide. This forced me to cross the river again. And again, it wasn’t difficult. Then another kilometre along, I saw a marker on the far side of the river so crossed a third time and found a 4 x 4 track.


I followed this for nearly a kilometre before finally emerging at the carpark. I knew if I stopped for any length of time the sand flies would feed, so I began the walk to my campsite hopeful that I might be randomly picked up like I had been on my road walk on day 6. The walk along Dorothy Falls Road to the campsite was about 6 km.


The road tracked through the forest for a bit, climbing here and there before passing the falls.


It rained on and off but not heavily as I passed some grazing fields with views of the mountains. I was passed by about a dozen vehicles from cars to large RVs, but no-one offered me a ride. Note, I wasn’t trying to hitch, just wondering if anyone would kindly offer me one.


My first sighting of the lake was half way along, a narrow gap of water with mountains on the far side.


The road the road weaved through more forest to emerge beside the lake. I walked the final couple kilometres as the road turned from the stones to tar seal and I knew the campsite was near when I rounded a corner to see a large cell tower.
I found the camp and walked around looking for a spot away from the RVs, of which there were plenty, and pitched my tent. This was the first I’d used it in the 12 days I’d spent walking. While it’s only light, the items I’d carried only to use on this particular night would come to 2.5 kilos more than 10% of my pack weight. When set up, I relaxed in the sun, drying clothes and boots while reading and catching up on everything I’d missed online over the past 6 days.


Day 13 – Hans Bay Campsite to Hokitika Central – 21 km – 1 hours – Red

I shouldn’t really include this day in my walk, as I decided not to walk the three hour trail along the ridge, instead trying to hitch a lift into Hokitika. It was a little cold over night in my tent as I’d gotten used to sleeping in huts with a fire. After having breakfast and packing, I set out along the road, putting my thumb out for the first time. I worked out it would take me 5 hours to walk the 21 km to Hokitika and was more than happy to walk if no-one picked me up. A handful of cars passed me before the end of the lake.


I then headed along Lake Kaniere Road – which sounds like you are saying Lake Canary – and had walked a total of 3 kilometres before a van pulled over to pick me up. A tour operator had just dropped a host of people off near the lake to ride bicycles back to Hokitika. We chatted the 20 minutes to the town, but as it was too early to book into my accommodation, he took me on a tour of the town.


Afterwards he dropping me off at a laundrette that he owned where I did all my washing and lay me tent out to dry in the glorious sun. When all was dry, I headed into town for lunch and then to my accommodation.


The thirteen day walk was different than I expected. I didn’t expect the first 6 days to be so flat along the Harper Pass, or that there would be so many TA walkers, but it was a good build up to being on a long term hike. In turn, I was expecting the second part to be more rugged and peaceful with big climbs and long descents, but it was more brutal than I expected. I’m glad I chose to take an emergency beacon this time just in case although thankfully I didn’t need it. I enjoyed my walk, but the overall most exhausting part was the rain, which overall made the trek less fun.

I do chalk it up as an achievement, crossing the large set of mountains in the country I grew up in, and marks the end of a year of walking in New Zealand.

Until next time,

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Karangahake Gorge Loop Day Walk, Coromandel – New Zealand

Instead of putting together a multi-day hike in the Coromandel, I decided to do two different walks, a day walk and an overnight walk. For the day walk, I decided to head to the Karangahake Gorge and figure out what to do when I got there.

There were plentiful cars in the various carparks when I arrived, so I parked up, threw on my day pack and headed out. I crossed a bridge and picked a walk from the sign, found it on my AllTrails app and headed out on the 14.4km Karangahake Gorge Loop.

Apparently, there’s a trail called the Windows Walk, but it was closed, so I headed along the other side of the gorge, following a flat path cut out of the gorge wall with a guard rail.

At a bridge, I crossed to the other side where a gate blocked off a cave into an old gold mine.

Across from it, on the side of the gorge I’d just come from was another opening into a large set of mines. According to the sign before me, the mines go quite far back into the mountain.

I continued along the now dirt trail without a hand guard following an old pipe that had been chained to the rock.

The trail wound its way along the gorge for a handful kilometres before coming to the Dickey Flat Waterfall. While the falls are not huge, they are split, with one part running through an old minding tunnel, delivering the water into the river.

Beside the waterfall, the trail entered a similar mine tunnel. I broke out my head torch and headed in and was glad I did, as I wouldn’t have been able to avoid the plentiful puddles without it. At times the tunnel was quite low for my height, but nothing too short. I passed a girl coming the other way and exited through the far end.

Another kilometre on and I crossed the river and walked past the Dickey Flat Campsite and onto a dirt road.

From here, the trail led up the dirt road for another kilometre before arriving at a sealed road, then on for a handful more kilometres, crossing a hill before coming past the Owharoa Falls.

A minute further on and I arrived back at the Karangahake Gorge. From here the trail followed it for 3 kilometres along a wide flat dirt path shared by cyclists and walkers, with the cars streaming along the gorge road opposite.

At one point a small trail leads off to another small waterfall at the base of Dubbo Stream.

Three kilometres along the gorge and a wide rail bridge led into an 1100m railway tunnel, with dim lights spaced along the way. I put on my head torch again to give me a better look at the walls and walked on. At the far end I crossed a bridge and walked for another 500m back to the carpark.

The Karangahake was a nice day walk with plenty of history based around the old gold mining industry. After my walk I headed to the coastal town of Thames to prepare for the overnight hike to the Pinnacles tomorrow.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Tour du Mont Blanc – Switzerland/France – Days 9 & 10

In the Coronavirus infested summer of 2020, I walked the 10-day Tour du Mont Blanc. Here describes days 9 & 10.
Back to days 7 & 8.

Day 9 – La Peuty to Tré la Champ – Switzerland to France – 12km


After the storm overnight, the morning was fresh but everything outside was wet. This means I’ll be carrying at least an extra kilogram or more of rainwater as I won’t be able to dry the tent. After breakfast, and with a heavy feeling pack, I set out from the campground and following the sign, began the climb up the hill. My legs feel fine, even after the hard downhill yesterday. The trail soon cut up into the forest with steep switchbacks and the occasional view back to La Peuty.


After more than 20 switchbacks, I emerged from the forest to see Chalet du Col de Balme above me marking the border with France and the return of my phone coverage. I slogged on up the hill towards the 2200m height that would be the ceiling for today’s climbs. I came over the crest to the chalet and the brilliant views. Switzerland has plenty of views, but it’s not until you see the massif that you remember what you’ve been missing.


At the chalet, I took the opportunity to drop the pack and ordered a crepe and a soft drink. The only way to dry things after a stormy night is to hang it from my pack. So, I took out my still sopping tent and slung part of it over my pack before setting out again.


In the sun, I walked down the hill on grassy switchbacks to Col des Posettes then climbed again the 200m of elevation to Aiguillette des Posettes.


The second peak was made of layered ridges of rock and jagged outcrops, a different kind of rock to that seen anywhere else on this trip. The wind picked up, and I climbed carefully, not wanting the breeze to catch my tent and drag me off. When I reached the top I found a large flat grassy area and 360º views. I dropped my pack and took some photos.


I then unpacked my tent and lay it out in the sun to fully dry. I also took the opportunity to get out of my boots. When everything was dry, I packed and began my descent.


I followed the trail to the end of the flat area before the climb down grew steeper with several switchbacks and wooden stairs. I stopped at a large rock for a view down into the valley and a small hamlet under a glacier.


The rest of the descent was in the forest. An hour later, I emerged then a short walk to Tré le Champ and the campground. The 2 Dutch couples were there, along with the Dutch guy and Dutch girl, although we had separate sittings for dinner, so didn’t hang out. After dinner, the rain continued and I dove into my tent to sleep.

Day 10 – Tré le Champ to Chamonix – France – 12km


The forecast for today was not good and when I awoke the clouds were down to near ground level.


Climbing in the mountains is not advised in the rain, or even a deep cloud cover such as this. I decided to have breakfast and wait to see if any changes were coming. But when more rain came, I decided not to risk the mountain and instead walk the 12km low route direct to my hostel in Chamonix. The route I mapped had very minimal climbing, indeed, a 350m descent over the course of the walk. When the rain stopped, I headed out, following a dirt trail beside a stream.


I followed it for a couple of kilometres until it came to the township of Argentiere where I stopped for a morning snack. I pushed on at a march alongside the river with cyclists and day walkers enjoying the walk before the rain.


After about 9km I walked alongside a golf course, crossing through it at one point to a Les Praz de Chamonix. But with 2km to go, it began to pour. I found a tree and stood under it waiting for the rain to pass, but it just kept on falling. After 30 minutes, I set out again and thirty minutes later, dry inside my waterproof jacket, I arrived at the hostel. I showered and set out my tent to dry in the dining room before heading down into town for a drink and some lunch. Later I would have dinner and drinks with many of the people I’d met over the last few days, The British couple, the 2 American couples, the 2 Dutch couples, the Dutch guy and the Dutch girl. Even the Polish girl from the 2nd day of the hike made an appearance. It was a fitting end to a great hike which turned out to be more than just a walk in some rather tall mountains.


Overall Impression on the Tour du Mont Blanc
While I’ve had harder days on other hikes, overall, the TMB was the most difficult hike I’ve completed. It started out as just one of my hikes for the year and became something I’ll always remember. The landscape and the massif itself is up there in the most beautiful regions on earth I’ve experienced. As I walked this hike during Coronavirus infested 2020 there were far fewer people than normal, but it still turned out for the best. Maybe better because of less crowds.


And, while I began alone as always, I didn’t finish that way. Part of the hike was the people I met and shared this experience with, thanks to those people for being part of this experience. And, as always, this hike wasn’t just an external experience, but an internal one. During the long meditative days, great insights into my life were had. I hope to see them come to fruition in the future.


Would I suggest others do this walk? Definitely, but it will take courage, good health and a certain level of fitness.

Next, my adventures take me to another part of Europe I’ve yet to visit – Portugal and Spain, for a partial Camino de Santiago.

Until then,
The Lone Trail Wanderer.

Tour du Mont Blanc – Switzerland – Days 7 & 8

In the Coronavirus infested summer of 2020, I walked the 10-day Tour du Mont Blanc. Here describes days 7 & 8.
Back to days 5 & 6.

Day 7 – La Fouly to Champex – Switzerland – 14km


After a conversation with yet another Dutch couple at the campground, I discovered the last part of today’s leg will be a bit of a slog. The wife walked it alone last year, and so they are planning to skip the last half of the day by catching the bus from Issert. I certainly wasn’t going to take the bus, but I took note. I walked out of the campground and headed along an open field towards the woods where I would follow an easy slowly descending trail. It was still warm, even early in the day, so I was glad for the shade for the first few kilometres.


While the views from the Swiss portion are not as good as the other sides, the mountains are still beautiful.


After a brief climb, the trail hugged the lower slopes of the mountain on a thin path, and one section even had a chain to hold onto, just in case. The trail then headed through the forest, and it felt as if I was walking along a long thin tree-lined avenue – a 1.5km long section of very straight trail with only two bends.


When I came out, the trail headed onto grassy fields past a Swiss hamlet. It then worked its way towards the village of Praz-de-Fort where I went looking for a cafe and a cold drink. I found the Dutch guy at one also having a drink, so I stopped for a chat.


I headed off a few minutes after him and came around onto another road with a quaint village ahead where I stopped to retrieve my lunch from my pack. I was preparing to leave when the Dutch girl came along after me. We walked together for a bit, but she stopped in the next village for a break, while I pushed on to Issert.


A hundred metres after the village the trail cut up a hill made more difficult by the summer heat. Issert sits at 1040m above sea level and my target Champex is at 1500m, not a huge climb compared to other days. The trail went into the forest for shade, but forests have their own humidity, so it is warm either way. As I had been warned, the climb was a slog, with little along the way to see. Someone, however, had carved various animals into tree stumps to give us something to see. There’s a viewpoint along the route, and well worth the wait.


And another 20m further on there is a water fountain, something common along the trail, with potable water and another view.


Four kilometres after Issert, I came out of the forest and climbed around the streets of Champex until I found myself above Lac de Champex. I walked to and along it for a kilometre until I reached my campground.


After pitching my tent, I headed back to the lake, where I ran into the Dutch guy. We found the English couple and the young Dutch couple from the night before, along with (yet) another Dutch couple, the girls from each Dutch couple being sisters. Yes, the Dutch invaded my TMB, but no complaints from me. A large portion of walkers are French who speak various levels of English. The few Italians along the way were similar. The Dutch I met, to a person, were fluent in English, which made it easy to connect with them. Later, after eating with the Dutch guy, everyone got together to play cards, along with an American couple — all good company.

Day 8 – Champex to La Peuty – Switzerland – 14.5km


The official route today via Alp Bovine is supposed to be a forest walk with some spectacular views. However, there’s a variant, more challenging and with a climb above 2600m, the highest point of my TMB, with unmatched views. Leaving the campground, I followed a path away from the road then turned sharply and followed an irrigation channel. The trail climbed into the forest-covered valley for 1.5km until it came out at the chalets of Relain d’Arpette where I ran into the British couple from the past two evenings. I walked with them for a short time as we slowly climbed through wildflower meadows. They were faster walkers that I, so I wished them well and set my own pace into the grand view ahead.


After 2km, the trail grew flatter, and I followed the line of mountains up the valley. I eventually saw the point I would be climbing to, the lowest point of the mountainscape to the right of the photo’s centre.


The trail turned steeper and rockier, and I clicked back into the pace I had perfected over the past 8 days. With my legs used to the effort, the steep climb seemed fairly easy, although the sweat continued to drip from me. Looking back the way I’d come…


The climb is quite varied, and after a time the trail cut through a massive boulder field. Bouldering is fun, trying to balance while skipping from one to the next. Some find it hard, but it didn’t take me long to work my way past it. There were some snow patches on the mountain and one right on the trail. On the far side a very steep zigzagging path to the crossing point – Fenêtre d’Arpette.


This last part of the climb was the most difficult, and I stopped after each short zigzag to catch my breath. But still, it didn’t take me long to make it to the top and cast my eye back.


And of course, the sight you wait for while climbing… the other side. At 2665m, I sat to eat lunch and enjoy the view.


The greatest problem with climbing something tall is climbing back down again. The trail was quite thin, and after my break, I headed down, slowly. While my legs seemed used to climbing up, they still hadn’t gotten used to the down part. I descended beside the Glacier du Trient, the slick rock below it having once been covered by the glacier. As I continued down, my knees starting letting me know how much fun they were having. And, again annoying to see trail runners bounding down these slopes like they’re running down a short hill.


The trail hugged the edge of the mountain for a time on a thin trail before zig-zagging down the centre. I continued down for an hour before reaching an old hut where some people had stopped. The person before me was trying the water fountain, but it was only running warm, so I pushed on. Thankfully I found a glacial stream and drank my fill of the sweet cool water. I continued my descent for some time before the trail cut into the forest where I got a good view back up the mountain to the glacier.


Another hour and I came out at a cafe where several trails met and ran into the American couple from last night. As I’d just run out of my water, I bought a couple of soft drinks and sat with them for a chat. Then with dark clouds looming I headed off. The trail was now flat and had been purposely cut around the side of the mountain as a tourist walk. After 1.5km, I came to a downslope and to the annoyance of my legs, followed it down a zigzag path. Halfway down, I heard thunder and it began to rain lightly. I made it to the campground at La Peuty, not too wet, and ran into some of the others. In the gentle rain, I put up my tent with their help. After a shower, I booked dinner and ended up with the whole group again – British couple, 2 Dutch couples, the Dutch guy and the Dutch girl sitting around the table in a large teepee, eating burgers and drinking whiskey.

Tomorrow I head back into France where I will finish this epic trek. Tour du Mont Blanc – Switzerland/France – Days 9 & 10.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Tour du Mont Blanc – France/Italy – Days 3 & 4

In the Coronavirus infested summer of 2020, I walked the 10-day Tour du Mont Blanc. Here describes days 3 & 4.
Back to days 1 & 2.

Day 3 – Les Chapieux to Rifugio Elisabetta – France to Italy – 13.5km


Today I cross the mountain border into Italy, and the bonjours will change to Buongiornos. From Les Chapieux there’s a bus that cuts out the first 1.5 hours flat walk to La Ville des Glaciers, a small hamlet just before the first climb. My companions from yesterday afternoon went with this option, and that was the last I saw of them. I decided to walk, but before I left, I ran into someone who seemed familiar… the Dutch girl from the beginning of the first day. She was walking with a Polish girl and invited me to tag along.


The initial part of the trail was only flat for some of the way, but it was fresh walking in the shade of the mountains. From time to time as we walked, we watched a bus running along the road above as it carried people to La Ville des Glaciers.


About a kilometre past the hamlet the climbing began with many steep switchbacks. We were part way up when we heard an orchestra of bells on the slopes opposite. We watched a herd of cows trotting along the road to the farm as a bus tried to get past. Our climb continued, not as steep as before, but hot under the beating sun. The three of us took several breaks, stopping to drink from glacial springs whenever they appeared. It’s best to drink at higher altitudes, where it hasn’t been polluted by cow dung. The water was fresh, cool and rather moreish.


We crossed the border at Col de la Seigne (2515m), taking but a short break in the cool breeze, before setting off down the other side, where small patches of snow still clung to the ground.


The trail down was not painful or strenuous, and we took our time. We passed what appeared to be a museum of sorts, but didn’t stop.


The gentle slope continued for another hour down to 2165m, where the valley flattened out with tall peaks to either side. The beauty and magnificence is everywhere, all to the soundtrack from the Sound of Music. After a kilometre and a half, we walked past a ruin to see Refugio Elisabetta hung on the mountain above and climbed to it. While this was my stop for the night, the girls stopped for refreshments, but were continuing on.


Once they’d departed, I showering and hung out in the common room where I got talking to a Dutch guy….

Day 4 – Rifugio Elisabetta to Courmayeur – Italy – 18km

TMB Stage 4

With no huge climb today, I was hopeful of an easier day. After breakfast and coffee with the Dutch guy, the entire Refugio packed up and cleared out like an exodus. We picked our way down the path to the dirt road that would lead us out of the valley. While it was early, the beating sun caused a sweat even though it was a slow descent along the 2.5km of the valley.


At the end of the valley, we found the path to the first and only climb of the day. Refugio Elisabetta is around 2200mm, with a dip down to 1950m at the end of the valley. The climb would take us up to about 2400m. The trail began steeply but became steadily more gentle as we went. After days of climbing, the muscles in the legs had grown used to the effort. This, along with muscle memory from years of hiking, and the climb didn’t seem so difficult.


My Dutch companion and I climbed on before taking a rest at a hut. While we were there, I noted a lone figure climbing along the trail behind us and recognised her walk… the Dutch girl. Little did I know, but this was the beginning of the Dutch invasion of my TMB, not that I minded. We had a brief chat before heading off. It didn’t take us long to reach the high point of the trail and standing on the top of the small peak the view along the valley was amazing.


After a brief rest, we again headed off. For the first hour, the trail followed an easy slope along the side of the mountains. We came to a green area overlooking a small lake and stopped for lunch. From here I thought it would be an easy descent into Courmayeur for the rest of the day. But I was wrong, very wrong.


After lunch, our little group split, with the Dutch guy taking a different route, and the Dutch girl catching a ski lift. I climbed around past a pair of rifugios, before beginning my descent down the grassy ski fields. With the first sign of rain threatening since I began four days ago, I cut past the top of a ski lift with views of the town below.


With the mountain behind me blocking the slight wind, the temperature went up, and as I cut into the forest, it grew muggy. I zigzagged down through the trees for the next 2 hours on a steep, dry and dusty path. When the rain finally came, it was glorious, for all of the minute it lasted. With aching knees, I finally reached the bottom a minute or two after the Dutch guy and stopped for a quick drink with him before heading off across Courmayeur to my Airbnb.


I was thankful to arrive and chatted to my host’s son who could speak English. After the hot day, I drank buckets of water and was able to take a soaking bath. In the evening, I went down into the town for dinner – pizza, of course – and a beer.

Next, after one more day in Italy, I head into Switzerland. Tour du Mont Blanc – Italy/Switzerland – Days 5 & 6.

The Lone Trail Wanderer