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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Hayden

Top of the Bottom (A New Year '24)

As I write this introduction, contouring further into the sand beneath with every shift, my mind wanders.

My body is tired but at rest.

On this, my last day in Nelson, I reflect much like sun on the outgoing tide.


Tahunanui Beach has become somewhat of a home to me this past week, I'm a beach bum whenever I'm not in the hills.

Nelson itself reminds me of a younger Tauranga, maybe that's why I feel so comfortable here.

Or just maybe, this feeling is a biproduct of the discomfort I've pushed through.


Though this leg of the trip has come to an end, I am far from finished.

My most ambitious mountain to date awaits,

I just want to sit with this feeling a little longer.


 

I'll start with some honourable mentions, people I got to know along the way that have made this long-anticipated adventure memorable.


First, to the girl I met in Picton over breakfast.

I'm not one to approach people unprompted, but something inside me was drawn to you.

Your short blonde hair, that rainbow streak through the centre, scribbling in your tiny little notebooks.

You piqued my interest and I needed to know more,

I found kindred spirit in you and

I wish you all the best in your travels through this country I'm proud to call home.


Second to Flea, bassist for the Red-Hot Chili Peppers whose book "Acid for the children" an autobiography, has accompanied me through the Tasman thus far.


Last but not least, to the girl who approached me on this very beach just days ago.

I enjoyed your company, though short lived.

It was plain to see that you were going through a hard time and I'm sorry I left you.

I thought I was doing the right thing by myself, in retrospect I may have done wrong by you, for that I apologize.


 

The drive up here was a long one, I spent a night in Punakaiki at the Te Nikau Retreat, just a short walk from Te Miko beach.

This pit stop was an unexpected highlight,

In that moment, this was the best place in the world.

I made a mental note to remember this moment in the weeks ahead, remember just how good things can be when you take that next step.



Bluffs enclosing caves and waterfalls created a sanctuary that needed exploring.

For those more visually stimulated here's a video montage of my time between Punakaiki and my first hike up Mt Owen:




It was a four-hour drive from The Nikau to the trailhead of Mt Owen, the highest peak in Kahurangi National Park.


I was on my feet around one o'clock in the afternoon.

A late start, walking into a clouded over mountain range left me with an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach.


Even so, I knew I had to get a move on,

and made my way through the thicket,

early on I had my first encounter with one of our native birds, the Weka.

These mischievous little guys seemed unconcerned with my presence and made many appearances throughout the trip, one even stole my dish sponge 😅


Check out this chick ⏬



Just over an hour into my walk the raincoat came out, the feeling of unease persisted but so did I.

A brief glimpse atop the ridge left much to be desired, I just wanted a look 👀


I say brief and I mean brief; I had fifteen minutes of freedom before heading down to the neighbouring valley into more trees 😮‍💨


From there I followed markers leading through a stream, hopping rocks and successful in keeping my boots dry. I'd reached Homebase, Granity Pass Hut in four and a half hours.



I woke on New Year's Day in the company of strangers, in a place I'd never been before.

That might sound strange, even uncomfortable but it's exactly what I wanted.


The family of five I'd shared the hut with climbed Mt Owen the previous day and said it's roughly four hours up and back (Wildly different from DOC's eight-hour allotment 😂)


I set off bright and early, basking in whatever sunlight the clouds allowed me.

Before long the obscured base of Owen was at my feet.


 

Patches of blue shed light on the path ahead but I was less than optimistic on how much I'd actually able to see up there.


I really enjoyed climbing around the rocky, once glacial terrain.

Jumping crevasses trying to capture footage for my video.



I'm guilty of recreating the same cliche shot, I couldn't help but set up my tripod and walk this rock 😂⏫


Above 1600m Owen was frozen over, I knew it rained last night but I didn't think it was that cold 🤷🏻‍♂️

I slept snug back at the hut.


Up here at 1875m visibility was low,

flowers were frozen solid; rocks were iced over and the wind was blowing a cooool breeze with force.

Strong enough to clear the clouds, permitting a peak at the beautiful beyond👌🏽



I hung around for longer than the circulation in my hands before making my way back to the hut to collect my pack then my car.


Something in the distance stood out, is that... Mt Arthur 🤔 💭



From here I had only an hours drive to my room at the Tapawera Hotel, I've got clothes to wash and a bag to pack for the second leg of this trip.


 

The Travers-Sabine circuit.


I've romanticized this trip for a while now but no part of it more than this multi-day through the Nelson Lakes National Park.

I haven't done anything this long before and had planned to do it solo.


A change of plans freed up my friend Billy's schedule, he would be meeting me at the end of day two 👌🏻


Day one began under the bush line, climbing to the wide-open Robert Ridge.



The first day set the bar unbelievably high🫢


Day one drew to a close as I set up my tent next to Lake Angelus.


 
 

This tent from Intents Outdoors is a wicked piece of kit, weighing in at 800g including the carbon fibre pole. It's as sturdy as they come and I can't recommend it enough.

Perfect size and weight for solo adventures.


 

I toyed with the idea of summiting Angelus Peak in the morning but ultimately decided I had a big enough itinerary. Regret is a strong word but it's not out of place here 😕




Up and over the ridge, I savoured the last of the alpine environment.

I ran into a few people after leaving Angelus, all of them heading in the opposite direction.

All of them having just experienced the steep climb I was about to descend.



Tomorrow I'll be heading all the way to the end of this valley ⏫⏫


Today I just have to make it to the valley floor, roughly 1000m below is Sabine Hut.

Billy is on route to meet me there this afternoon.


In theory, this is an easy day.

In reality this may have been the toughest part of the circuit 😅

Though there is a track, at times, it isn't much of a track.

The bush separating me from the hut made for a few good falls 😆

Walking up hills is hard but sometimes getting down is harder.


Sabine Hut was a sandfly sanctuary, but Billy and I found solace on the Jetty of Lake Rotorua.



Talking shit outside the hut later that night, we were confronted by a disgruntled man in his underwear asking us to keep it down by "Standing closer together."


Part of me wanted to bite 😅

I could've commented on how I didn't appreciate the advances of a near naked man, asking my friend and I to be more intimate, but he had a point.

In our defence it was still daylight 🤷🏽‍♂️


 

Day three was a tough one,

Consider now that it's really day five for me as I came straight from Owen.

I hit a wall by mid day,

The walk to West Sabine Hut really dragged on, though I'd packed more food than usual, I only had so much room in my pack.

It was starting to feel pretty heavy, so were my feet.


Billy had a bright idea to drop any unnecessary weight at West Sabine before heading on to Blue Lake.

Shedding a couple of KG's made a huge difference and I needed all the help I could get, we had to double back tomorrow anyway 🤷🏿‍♂️



The mountains ahead reinvigorated my spirit, I'm not a big fan of bush walks.

I like to see what's around (and above) me.

I like to feel the sun on my skin and while I appreciate cover on my terms, morale takes a hit when I'm under it all day 😅


Blue Lake is said to contain the clearest water in the world, however,

the lake is considered sacred and for the sake of preserving it, no one is allowed to get in and have a look 🧐

I call this "Pride Rock" ⏬



Parts of the Travers-Sabine intercept

with the Te Araroa Trail, where crazy folk walk the full length of New Zealand 😵


I met a few of them along the way, one encounter in particular stuck with me.

I was talking to a young couple; I had just told them about my gritty third day.

I then asked where they were headed, they were on day 58 of the T.A, Bluff bound 😂


It was then I knew I needed to harden the fuck up.



Day four held our last big climb, over Travers Saddle to Upper Travers Hut.

I encountered a lot of people, again, going the opposite direction.

Everyone stressed the climb ahead of us having just come down it, one bloke in particular pissed me of a little.

I can't remember what he said, but I got the impression he thought me in over my head.


Unbeknownst to him, I've built a life being in over my head.

I was going to charge up this hill, with no rest breaks just to spite him.


I did just that, maintaining a steady pace, I hauled my ass up that hill right into the clouds 😅


Travers Saddle couldn't have cared less for my effort, it showed no love 😂

We didn't see shit at 1800m,

but I showed that hill who's boss before legging it down to the hut to dry off.


 

The fifth day was supposed to be from Upper Travers to Coldwater Hut,

This would've made for an easy day six back to the car.

However... Billy and I had entertained the idea of blowing out day five with the promise of a cooked meal and a hot shower on the other side, this plan was sounding better by the minute 😅



We reached a packed-out Coldwater hut late afternoon and walked lakeside back to the car.

Changing clothes and coating ourselves in deodorant in some attempt to look and smell presentable.


The St Arnaud Alpine Lodge had no issues seating us, when asked how the food was I responded " the best I'd had in a week" 👌🏻


Here's a montage of my time along the Travers-Sabine:



Getting out a day early was a pleasant surprise, I was able to crash on Billy's couch in Blenheim that night.

(Classy establishment, would recommend)


The next day I had but one task; check into my backpackers over in Nelson.

The scenic route through Picton had come recommended and I was starving.

A seat overlooking the Marlborough Sounds and a big breakfast ? Absolutely essential.


This is when I met the girl I'll just refer to as Em, my favourite hitchhiker ☺️

I was happy to drop her in Blenheim after our chat before continuing on to Nelson.

The scenic route could wait, I was right where I was supposed to be.


I checked into the Tasman Bay Backpackers and felt right at home,

despite being so far from it.

I had a room to myself for the next couple of days.

I'd just spent a week in crowded, bunkrooms, I deserved a little space 😅


I will admit I lived lavishly in Nelson, going out for breakfast, lunch and dinner 🤭

More often than not I was eating fish and chips, back in Central Otago they're hard to find.

I grew up next to the ocean, now in Cromwell it's at least three hours in either direction.

I make the most of every opportunity for a seafood basket.


The next day after breakfast I headed straight to the beach, I wanted to try find Mt Arthur on the horizon.

Which I did 😚

Follow the footprints, it's right under that cloud.



I was just about to leave when I was approached by my other honourable mention, let's call her Cee.


Cee had driven all the way from Christchurch, she was going through a hard time and wanted to get away.

I think I was the first person she'd met in Nelson.

Seeing as we were both here alone, we might as well hang out 🤷🏼‍♀️

We walked, talked and got along really well.

Unfortunately I didn't trust her, or myself for that matter.

Though company for the night was tempting, I saw it in my best interests we part ways.


I left, got some snacks, and ciders then headed back to Tasman Bay.

The snacks and ciders were an offering, I placed them on a BBQ table in the common area to socialise, I invited people to share them with me.

This was, at it's core, self serving.

I wanted to distract myself, I didn't feel good about leaving Cee, especially after the way she opened up to me about her headspace.


This attempt at social interaction was short lived, no one in the vicinity acknowledged my offering.

In fact, two people got up and walked off 🤷🏼‍♂️


I was stumped, no one gave a fuck, I thought backpackers were social places.

I'd witnessed this behaviour, but apparently I was exempt from it.


I ate all the snacks, had a few drinks and kept thinking; fuck, I should check up on her.


However, I know how my mind works after a few drinks, I do dumb shit.

I needed to know if I was going back for her sake, or whether I had alterior motives...

So I jerked off.

I needed post nut clarity 😂

I'd know once I'd finished if I was going back in some attempt to get laid.


Sure enough I still felt the urge to check on her, so I did.

I went back to that parking lot, looking for her or her car.

I found neither, she was gone.

If nothing else I'd eased my conscience,

Some part of me felt a responsiblity for this girl.


 

I'm here for the mountains, make no mistake, but Mt Arthur isn't actually the main attraction this time.


I'm in this particular area for a rock, a rock bivouac to be precise.

I've developed a fascination with sleeping under rocks, the Tableland Circuit in Kahurangi National Park is home to the most impressive rock biv I've seen.

The Lower Gridiron Shelter

Boasts a mezzanine floor overlooking the kitchen/living area, kitted out with a table and chairs plus an open fire 👌

What more could I ask for ?



The landscape of Arthur is remarkably similar to that of Owen, at just over 30km's away it's likely I was looking at it earlier.

I didn't get pictures, but right behind this are two peaks known as "The Twins" which are very distinctive in my earlier photo.


Arthur is also home to the deepest known cave in the southern hemisphere, the Ellis Basin Cave System.

Which, had I known at the time would've taken up most of my day 😅


Atop the ridge I reached a fork seperating the Mt Arthur track from the Tableland Circuit and dropped weight, taking just my day pack to the summit.



The ridgeline was clear, the path was simple.

The path was a little too simple for me actually.

I climbed up to the neighbouring Winter Peak along the way.


 

After reaching the summit I had to get a move on, back to my bag then onto Gordon's Pyramid.

The DOC sign said an hour and a half which was actually accurate this time 👌🏿


 

From here it was a two hours of easy walking to the Lower Gridiron Shelter



I'd heard earlier a family of six planned on spending the night here 😬

I'd also heard I'd want to get a bug net to keep the sandflies off me through the night.


Neither of these concerns came to fruition and I had the place to myself for the night, accompanied only by the sound of the river as I drifted off to sleep.


 

The following day I had a two hour walk back to the car and bank statements for two seafood baskets 😂

I may have been staying at backpackers but I was living the life 👌🏼


Back at Tasman Bay, I had a bunk for the night and some hot chocolate pudding. Served (with ice cream) for its guests every night 🤤


I needed all the calories I could get, especially with what I had planned next...

 

Tapuwae-o-Uenuku

Or Tappy, to friends, is the tallest thing on the horizon, Tappy is the Top of the bottom.


Taller than the whole North island,

the tallest mountain outside of the Southern Alps.

Taller than fifteen hundred six foot tall dudes somehow standing on each other's shoulders 😂


Tappy's a big fucking mountain.



The drive into Awatere Valley is beautiful, it definitely feels like wine country.

The vineyards eventually give way to a landscape I'm all to familiar with, take me to the tussock 😎


The Camden Cookshop is wild place, it's fifteen minutes from the trailhead and serves as the perfect pit stop for hikers and travellers alike.

We were greeted by two horses on arrival followed by a dog and chicken for breakfast

(Friends not food 😂)


The track to Homebase, Hodder Huts, crosses private land and I'd been trying to get in touch with the farmer for weeks, leaving multiple messages in regards to permission and I'd not been able to get through to anyone 🤷🏻‍♂️


Fuck it, I didn't come all this way just to say I've come this far.

I was a little on edge for the first half hour or so, until we cleared the farmland and slipped into crocs for what was about to be the riveriest day of my life.


I didn't count how many times I crossed the Hodder River, I've heards it's upwards of seventy each way and that seems about right.

Most people stressed this, but in the crocs, under the hot summer sun, these crossings were the best part of the day.



There was a rather steep section climbing the bank that definitely warranted boots, but as the saying goes, pride comes before the fall...


I didn't want to change shoes, if only so I could say I didn't change shoes. Incredibly irresponsible, but it worked 😅

I sure wasn't gonna test my luck on the way back though.



I'd gotten so accustomed the river that I missed a turn off somewhere, Billy was following my lead and by the time I clicked it was easier just to continue.

What's a few more crossings 🤷🏽


 

Dinner was an exciting time, I'd found a way to step up my dehydrated butter chicken...

Wrapping a Garlic Naan in tinfoil and roasting it over my cooker 🤌🏼


I was quite happy with myself 😌

I may be skinny but I'm a fat cunt at heart.


We scoured the scree slopes after dinner for rocks to roll downhill, it's quite satisfying when one of those bad boys catches momentum 👌🏼


 

Five a.m 😳

Our alarms sounded in unison, two very different ringtones harmonised violently, I was up.

Making sure I used the toilet before we left was item number one, and two 😅


Time was of the essence today, we had fifteen hours ahead of us and did not want to be crossing rivers in the dark later.


Cairns led the way into the basin, Mt Alarm towering above,

Tappy still out of sight.


 

The crampons were a little unnecessary, I could've just rock climbed but I didn't carry them all this way for nothing 😆


Snow isn't designed for these kinds of days and this summer has had its fair share.

You know you're in the high country when it's thirty degrees out and the ground is frozen over.


 
 

I embrace the fanny pack,

I go wherever the wind takes me, unless it's blowing over the edge 🤞🏾

Not much further now 😌




We're higher than the whole North island here.

( No drugs this time 😅 )

Speaking of which, take a look on the horizon, somewhere under that cloud is our nation's capital.

This journey began when I crossed that straight, when I started looking for more.

I had no idea when I moved south just how much more I'd find.

From up here there's nothing more to ask for, other than some salted caramel dusted chocolate coated cashews 😏


Billy, you're a top bloke.

Thanks for being part of this adventure, and for introducing me to said cashews.

Real mountain food.


As much as I'd have loved to stay up here we had a big day ahead of us, nine hours hiking left at midday 😅

We better get back down to that river, time to ski some skree 🤙🏻


It felt good to get back into the crocs,

The river was medicine to my well worn feet.

I couldn't wait to get my boots off after that sketchy section of valley wall.


I was on the look-out for a particular tree on the way back, that tree marked our entrance back to the farmland.

Utterly convinced that I'd found it, I slipped back into my boots, told Billy we'd made it and realised I was a little premature 😅


I didn't look at the map, we still had half a dozen more crossings to go...

I sacrificed the boots 😆

I soaked them, undoing my best efforts over the last two days.

Fuck it , I was only gonna wear em for another half hour.


Blenheims around the clock McDonald's came filled a gap with some much needed calories before I hit Billy's couch one last time.



 

I didn't want it to be over

but there was no putting off the long drive home, I couldn't stay on Billy's couch forever.

Despite being constantly on the move for two weeks, I felt right at home.

Maybe there's a little gypsy in me 🤷🏻‍♂️


 

This trip was very ambitious,

It wasn't a holiday,

It was push.

Even with the mountains behind me I wasn't ready to ease up,

It's a nine hour drive from Blenheim back to Cromwell, and a big day seemed an appropriate way to end this adventure.


Just past Kaikoura I spotted a hitchhiker headed the same way,

We chatted for a while before I eventually ran out of conversation and turned to the stereo to save me 😅

I dropped him in Rolleston,

Fuelled up and gave my windscreen a thorough scrub.

It'd accumulated an overwhelming amount of bugs recently.

Bugs from the first leg of the trip,

I wore them like a badge of honour around the south island 😆


I looked forward to what in my opinion is the best corner in New Zealand roading.

The part of state highway 8

Where Lake Pukaki and Mt Cook National Park come in full view.

Unfortunately they had other plans, but

a little rain was the least of my worries, I was in the home stretch 🙌🏼


The grey skies lightened closer to Cromwell,

It was a warm welcome home.

A sense of relief came over me with the sight of Mt Pisa, my cornerstone.

Young Simba has returned to the pride lands 😌



This blog post has taken me a long time to write, it's now the end of January and I finally feel as though I have unpacked from my epic adventure.

I enjoy finding the words but I must admit, with so many of them, it's been a bit of a chore 😅


Expressing myself has always been challenging.

I can talk shit, and I try to make a joke out of almost everything, but getting down to the Nitty gritty is difficult.

Every now and then I manage to find something real among my layers of bullshit, in those moments all of the frustration and hours rewriting feel worthwhile.

If you made it this far I'd like to thank you,

I never really expected anyone to read this.


A New Year 23' was just a taste of the south,

that taste was so good I piled up my plate this time around.

Hundreds of kilometres and thousands of vertical metres, not to mention the travel in between.

I've seen so much of this country, and there's still so much more.


For now at least, I'm signing out.

You can bet I'll be back in the hills again soon though.













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