Caroline ONeil Sk Valley 2018

Amongst my haphazard kind of a training plan I decided it was time to give these valleys a shot. I had been interested ever since the conception of the Route and being a  mere mortal I figured it was the one SK I had a chance of completing.  I had attempted half of it a year ago and had covered most of the tracks, by doing various loops over the last couple of years, so it was just a matter of stringing them all together, right? I had managed to maintain my fitness since ROF in April and then with the delight of finishing the A100 without injury early November I was feeling pretty confident.. However the weather gods were not coming to the party and it looked like it was never, ever, going to stop raining in the Tararuas. Then there it was two days of fine weather on the horizon, and it was a weekend. What’s your luck! Maree who I had got to know recently through some previous events including the A100 was also keen to give it a crack! Once the date was set the logistics came together like clockwork and with the generosity of Roel and his Wagon wheels we were off on our journey with Al & Dave the A team, Maree and I the B team along with our very own Guardian of the Trails “Seanoa”


                               Photo credit – Roel V                Off to Putara


After a pretty decent few hours sleep, snug as a bug at Putara Base Camp we woke to a clear, surprisingly mild morning. With the traditional photo shot over with at the DOC sign we headed into the enchanted forest at 3.30am.

Photo credit – Roel V            We’re going on an adventure



I always enjoy starting out in the dark, it seems to add an element of wonder.

My body takes about an hour to really warm into the moment so with no real rhythm and a lot of huffing and puffing the first climb was somehow adventually behind us and we settled into the downhill. By the time we reached Roaring Stag the birds were out of bed and the daylight was upon us ready for the river travel. Perfect timing.

The Ruamahanga River Ramblers

Photo Credit – Seanoa I


The A Team, Dave & Al soon caught us up in the river section and they disappeared around the corner as quickly as they had appeared both in great spirits enjoying the stunning river valley in the early morning light as well.

Although the water was beautiful and crystal clear it still had a little punch of strength and depth at times. In a couple of places when I found myself struggling to keep my feet on the bottom the Guardian of the Deep would grab me by the scruff of the neck and toss me to the safety of the riverbank (in the nicest way possible of course) 🙂

   The Guardian of the Deep


I was so thankful to have both Maree and Rambo by my side for this stage. My hat goes off to those who choose to do this Solo you are all truly incredible people. After a short compulsory swim for us all, it was nice to see the sun on the hilltops promising a warm day ahead. After leaving the river we scrambled our way up what seemed to be the steepest exit we could possibly find to join the track to Cow Creek Saddle. We happily kept moving after a very brief break hoping to keep warm and dry off as we moved along. As I tripped and slid on everything I could possibly find to slip and trip on, I decided rather than curse, to laugh at my own clumsiness and resign to the fact it was just going to be one of those days. Strangely after this was established in my mind I don’t remember many more incidents happening.


Smoko at Cow Creek Hut


After a quick snack and smoko stop at the Hut we hit the track towards our next milestone Mitre Flats. This section was interspersed with gurgling white foaming streams which were a pleasure to witness in contrast to the muddy bogs and roots. The tree fall was surprisingly minimal and we reached Mitre Flats without too much mishap well apart from the dreaded Slippery Plank! After hearing a heavy thud out front and a mutter of words, Seanoa, once composed again, kindly pointed it out to us. (Luckily no harm done) The funny thing was he had been looking out for it but it had snuck up on him anyway Lol 🙂

Seanoa making it look easy


Reaching Mitre Flats Hut I felt we were chipping away quite nicely at our mission. The sun was lovely and warm now and we sat and ate some of our culinary delights and refilled our water bottles in readiness for the next slog up and over to Baldy Junction.  Sometime into the climb I became aware that I didn’t quite feel right. My legs became extremely heavy and sore from top to bottom and my head was feeling pretty spaced out. I pulled out a Pure gel containing caffeine and guzzled down a lot of electrolyte. After cooling my head off with water from the next couple of creeks I started to feel much better. Maree experienced a dizzy spell too further along this stretch and with a brief lie down and a sugar hit she was soon up and away again. Both of these incidents point out how you need to be prepared to listen to your body and have some knowledge on what it maybe needing to balance things out again.


      Atiwhakatu Hut


I was pretty stoked to finally get to Atiwhakatu Hut as Maree and I had earlier agreed to have a decent rest here. It felt like heaven lying on the bench seat in the sun. But then our sub-conscience came into play and told us not to fall asleep and to get up, oh no that’s right, it was the Guardian of the Land of Nod “ Seanoa” reminding us we had somewhere to be! Feeling quite refreshed we saddled up and trotted off down the highway. It was really good to be running on a groomed track and I was enjoying the familiarity of my home turf. I was looking forward to getting up River Ridge and beyond feeling like we had broken the Valleys back. Approaching one of the many bridges along this section we were greeted by an extremely enthusiastic Chris Martin bearing gifts of coke and chippees.

Party Time

Photo credit -Chris M


At the junction to River Ridge we said our goodbyes to our Guardian Angel Seanoa who was heading out via Holdsworth now that his Caromaree Mission had been completed.

Chris joined us up River Ridge and we learnt of his morning drama and how the steering on Max’s car had gone on their way over the Rimatuka Hill and how Chris had hitched a ride back to the Hutt, got the train home to get his own car and then drive back over in the hope to catch up with us. Such a massive effort. The coke & chips were very much appreciated, cheers Martini.


Pigs Flat

Photo credit -Chris M


After arriving at Pigs Flat it was time to check in with family and advise that thunderbirds were all go! A quick goodbye to Chris at the Junction and we were soon weaving our way down towards Totara Flats. After the downhill, the track is pretty and soft underfoot and this section went relatively fast arriving at Totara Flats Hut around 5pm just in time for dinner and drinks. Well a sausage and some replace.

After spending a little time here with legs up the wall, rejuvenating the blood supply to the feet we willingly set off again hoping to tackle Cone Saddle in the light of day. The trip across the grassy flats was a lovely change of scenery.

Totara Flats


It was that pleasant time of day when things had cooled down a little. We made great progress along this stretch reaching the Waiohine/Cone junction in good time. I apologise for my lack of splits and finer details in this report but I tend not to dwell on how fast I’m going but concentrate on the next milestone ahead, that way the pressure comes off, allowing time to enjoy the moments and not overstraining the body. With the hope of getting to Cone Hut before dark we plodded on up to the Saddle. With daylight dimming the birds became more silent and the shadows more prominent. As usual in the Tararuas everything takes a little bit longer than expected but we reached Cone Hut right before dark at 8.55pm. I remember this time precisely as we had a laugh about being 5 minutes up on Maree’s prediction.

Cone Hut


With head torches adorned and another layer of clothing we set off for the Valley of Tauherenikau and the homeward straight. It was peaceful along the track apart from the occasional Morepork calling in the distance. The night air was still and the sky was becoming pin pricked with bright stars. Along this stretch Maree got a glimpse of a hind but it had skipped away before I got to see it. I was very thankful to have Maree up front navigating at this stage. The track was very familiar to Maree but even so we would momentarily lose it as it took some random turn. I must admit I had been blasé about this section thinking it would be a piece of cake but in the shroud of the darkness the trail criss-crossed between the creeks and grasses creating a labyrinth of different paths. At one stage I pfaffed around for ages trying to find where I had put my spare batteries for my torch. My brain was struggling to stay alert and I applaud you Maree for your patience. About 40 minutes from the Tutuwai Sign we came across a couple laying at the side of the track in sleeping bags. They explained they were travelling with a young child and the hut had been too far away so they decided to dos down there. Luckily for them the night was dry and mild.

We marched on mainly in silence as weiriness started to creep in willing the legs to move faster. Then in the distance we saw a couple of headlamps. Hallelujah!! It was AJ & Max they had come in to escort us out to the end. This was a great boost to the energy levels and we continued on, chatting about each other’s day trials & tribulations with a renewed spring in the step (well at least it felt like it) After sometime we finally made it to the bridge and behold there was another person! It turned out to be my husband Brady who was still a little hungover from his work Christmas Party the night before. He had been lying down on the bridge waiting for us Lol 🙂 He came armed with a flask of tea which was like liquid gold to the lips and muchly appreciated. After a quick guzzle we resumed our positions and continued the march towards the infamous Puffer.  We witnessed an amazing sized Puriri moth which seemed reluctant to leave us and our torch lights.

Puriri Moth (not actual)


Eventually the Puffer was upon us. To quote Maree “let’s make the most of the last climb of the day”. So with that attitude we gritted our teeth and embraced each upward step trying not to slip and slide on the greasy clay trenches.

With a glimpse of some lights down in the distance it was now a reality that this adventure was going to come to an end in the near future.

The carpark sneaked up on me without realising. Wow, we had done it 21 hours and 54 minutes later, we could now stop.

                                                      The T-Shirt                


                                                                  Team Caromaree




A huge “Thank You” to our support crew