Muddy Hikes and Bird Heaven in Orari Gorge

Wow, it feels like a long time since we have done New Zealand’s most popular activity, hiking! 25 days to be precise! That’s not to say there hasn’t been the opportunity to hike, but man, there has been a huge variety of activities between that day we hiked to Tunnel Beach in Dunedin and now. Oamaru offered us Victorian-themed events and steampunk museums, the Waitaki Valley has crazy rock formations to explore, Lake Ohau had the world-famous Alp2Ocean bike trail, we even tried curling for the first time in Naseby. We biked between Alexandra and Clyde, golfed, jet boated and raced in a MacLaren around a race track in Cromwell. We visited Middle-earth and ate cheese in Twizel, heli-hiked on a glacier and flew around Aoraki Mt Cook and landed on a glacier in a ski plane. When we got to Lake Tekapo, we relaxed in hot pools, stargazed in an International Dark Sky Reserve, and flew around the Southern Alps. Fairlie offered us the best pies in New Zealand, we watched sheep shearing and working dogs on Morelea Farm. We spent the day with our hostel host in Timaru spear fishing and watching little blue penguins. Yesterday, we hit the grade 5 rapids when white water rafting on the Rangitata River. Phewwwww, and that’s not even all of it! It’s fair to say that New Zealand is one action-packed country.

A good old classic hike in New Zealand

But, today, we are getting back to our backpacking roots – using our own two feet to explore the landscapes of New Zealand. Today, our adventure begins in the Rawhiti Backpackers, Geraldine. There are heaps of hikes around all within a 20-minute drive, so our decision on which hike to choose is simply decided by the name: the Orari Gorge Track. Yeah, we fancy hiking along a river gorge – sounds awesome. However, never judge a hike by its name…

Who's this sunglasses-bearing cool kid in the forest? Who's this sunglasses-bearing cool kid in the forest?
A proud fantail with its catch A proud fantail with its catch
Yep, we told you it was muddy Yep, we told you it was muddy
What the hell is this thing and why is it looking at us? What the hell is this thing and why is it looking at us?

A muddy start (middle and end)

We park up at the Orari Gorge Campsite, just outside the track. Beside us is a mountain and a forest, but no sign of a river just yet. As we begin walking, it feels like a river has been through here recently. The track is thick with mud! We pursue nonetheless, climbing short uphill sections until we find some dry patches to walk on.

The further up the hill we go on this loop track, the denser the forest gets and the more we realise this is not going to be a walk along a river gorge as we envisioned. This is a deep forest walk, hopefully to some sort of summit, considering there is a lot of steep gradients to power up.

Watching the acrobatic fantails

The sun breaks through any gaps it can find through the trees, casting shadows and lighting up bugs and flies. Where there are bugs, flies and dense forest, there are fantails! These native New Zealand birds are like acrobats with their fan-like tail helping them do loops in mid-air. They’re amazing to watch but a pain to take photos of. They just won’t keep still and their movements are so hard to predict! After keeping still ourselves for a while, one fantail proudly sits on a branch with some moth wings sticking out of its beak. It is not spooked by us whatsoever as we get super close to it – the product of evolution without the threat of humans.

The dark and dense forest of Orari GOrge

David Attenborough moments

While staying still in the forest, we notice something else. What seems to be a twig floats in the middle of the walking track. It is suspended by a thin line that, when getting a closer look, is being created by an insect. The twig is its cocoon! It’s disgusting yet fascinating to watch all at the same time.

Now that we have had our David Attenborough moment,  we continue on the rough track navigating muddy patches, crossing short bridges over streams, and stepping over tree roots.

Reaching the summit

The last stint up the hill is the hardest. We’re huffing and puffing, but it’s worse if we stop! Finally, we see daylight through the tree trunks. We reach a small open area and the summit of whatever mountain we are on right now! Views of forested rolling hills go off into the distance getting higher as they go, until, inevitably they will reach the Southern Alps.

We rest on a lonely mountain bench for about two minutes, feeling the burning heat of the New Zealand sun on us. It’s the fact that we don’t have sunscreen that sends us quickly back into the forest to complete the loop track.

If it's not mud, it's tree roots If it's not mud, it's tree roots
Wildlife galore today! Wildlife galore today!
A quick rest at the summmit A quick rest at the summmit

Slipping, sliding and more bird life

The other side of the mountain is just as steep and muddy as on the way up so we try our best to not build up too much momentum that will send us slipping down the hill – pretty hard with backpacks full of heavy cameras.

But, we finally make it to a flat section where we can stop stumbling around, walk quieter, and watch more birds flutter around us. We don’t know what these yellow birds are with dark blue feathers on their head, but they’re just as quick and crazy as the fantails.

The track eventually loops back to the beginning of the track with a sign saying “Carpark 5 min”. We cross a family of walkers in their bright pink trainers warning them that those shoes are not going to stay pink for long…

The feel-good factor

It has felt awesome to do a hike today. It wasn’t the most easy-going one to do after 25 days of no hiking, but nothing beats the self-fulfillment of getting yourself to a summit and seeing a fascinating landscape on your own two feet.

But, since this trip of 365 Days: 365 Activities is all about variety, we are mixing it up tomorrow, exploring a landscape on four legs! Join us tomorrow, when we go horse trekking through the Peel Forest!

Laura and Robin

Emerging on the green hills of the Orari Gorge Reserve
Emerging on the green hills of the Orari Gorge Reserve Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Want more?

Have you read the yesterday’s post about white water rafting on grade 5 rapids? How about these articles:

Until tomorrow’s blog post, check us out on the HerePin app to meet other travellers in your area. We also post travel tips for New Zealand on Facebook, as well as our adventure on Instagram. Join the Facebook Group to find people to travel with, ask us questions, and buy/sell.

See you tomorrow!

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