A Tappy kind of tale – ‘The foot of the rainbow.’ New Zealand.


Mt Tapuae-o-Uenuku is like your great aunt. She must be treated with respect at all times, there’s no point in arguing with her, she’s moody, she knows lots and has been around a while. And she doesn’t always give you what you want. But when you’ve had a great day together…… wow you know you’ve earned it.

 Mt Tappy as she’s fondly called, is the highest peak outside the Southern Alps, sitting at 2885m in the Inland Kaikoura Ranges of the South Island. Our dear Kiwi mate Sir Edmund Hillary claimed it as a special place, climbing it in the mid 1940s while in the RNZAF, and ultimately it was part of his training for summiting Mt Everest.

Some people make pretty short work of this peak; smashing out the 176 river crossings up and down the Hodder River, and the constant navigation of screes, technical tracks, tree root grabbing ascents and steep underfoot crumbling descents, including views to grin about, in around eight hours.

But for us mortals, it’s a great one or two night adventure. Either way, it’s one hell of a brilliant adventure.

 Reaching the summit last summer, amongst a crew of seven, involved a ‘third time lucky’ kind of happiness for me. I could put to bed the previous two failed attempts, and thoroughly enjoy the moment this summit stomp created.

 We set off at midday on the February Friday, an immaculate day. The Hodder was flowing kindly, we skipped through the 80-odd crossings with relative ease, with just a few technical navigations before reaching the scree-perched hut just before sunset. As the sun dipped and the air temperature dropped quickly, there was a chuffed vibe in the air amongst us. A sunrise departure the following day was the opening scene for a solid morning of screes, boulder hopping, constant navigation eyeing up the next rock cairn, and calculated foot placement. As we crept higher and the air thinned, the excitement built. The Richmond Ranges began to shrink in the distance, and over the other side, the Clarence River and valleys opened up, as did the  South Pacific Ocean. The top saddle was the final quick stop destination, then it was onwards and upwards, we knew what was next.

Some of the most used muscles that day were those in my face. Ok, and my brain, because you had to concentrate for every step. But upon reaching the summit, we cracked smiles on a scale that almost broke our faces in half. It’s actually impossible to describe the view from the top; mountains and valleys and ocean and rivers and.. and…. and…

We sat for a while, had lunch with the best view ever, and at a click or two past midday we headed back for the hut. Stoked to pieces. But the hard work still wasn’t over; a return journey of steep scree, big boulders, a couple of river crossings. Back at the hut late afternoon it was a mood of massive content as we sat our tired bodies and legs down, and held huge respect for the environment that was hosting us.

 The third day on the job was a return down the Hodder River and the 80-odd crossings, then a few short kilometres of farm track walking to stretch the legs out before we reached the bridge on Awatere Valley Rd where our vehicles were waiting. The brilliant weekend was topped off supremely with one of the crew’s culinary wives whipping up some pumpkin soup and fresh bread for a late lunch. It’s moments like this you think ‘I’m nailing it.’

 My first attempt in December 2013 with long time friend Bids was brought to an abrupt end two-thirds up the Hodder River, as we reached the upper gorge. Snow melt in December means high water levels, and when the gorge narrows and the force builds, there’s no joking around. The water had been high since we started, with the lowest level still knee deep, an area of the river which we learned later is ankle deep or non existent during the later summer months. Ah well, so our 5am start and our overnight adventure didn’t quite go to plan, but it was a fun and challenging 11 hour return trip on foot on the river, we learned lots, and we got back to the nearby delightful Upcot Station shearers’ quarters safe and sound for a solid rest and sleep. Because swollen rivers can’t be argued with.

Attempt number two was mid summer 2017 and delivered perfect conditions for my adventure buddy Skeets and I, we thought we’d try and bang it out in a day. Began well with a Sunday 4am start, got up the Hodder without too many dramas, reached the hut late morning, then we pressed on for the summit. But it’s mighty big country up on those screes. The rock cairns you follow carefully, but they can be few and far between when you start to get into the thinner air and for every step forward is two back with the scramble of tiny rocks underneath. Long story short, we navigated the wrong gully, subsequently adding another couple of hours onto our summit attempt. The heartbreak kicked in at the saddle which was not much more than a skip and a hop from the summit – we were out of water and had minimal food, and the option to push on was not really there; a quick bit of maths had us with a result that we would have been about three hours without water (back down to the nearest waterfall). As for the food, yes well not ideal because we needed to keep some for the hike home. In these mountains when you’re knocking on the door of 3000m elevation, there’s no room for risk, and fuel is key. We turned back for the hut for an unplanned night, arriving there around 10pm. Happy to have our survival blankets and a few extra layers on board, and a smile still on our faces and a twinkle in our eyes because afterall this was one mighty adventure. An early start the following morning for a six hour hike down the river. Ah well, still not a bad effort, win some lose some. And still managed to get back to work for early afternoon on the Monday, and a pretty good story for the late arrival….

 So the greatly respected ‘great Aunt’ of Mount Tapuae-o-Uenuku has finally received its summit tick. But I think I’ll be back for another visit.

 According to www.theprow.org.nz, Mount Tapuae-o-Uenuku, is the sacred mountain of the Kurahaupo tribes of Marlborough, stories of its origins dating back to AD825 when two chiefs, Makautere and Tapuae-o-Uenuku, were searching for food-gathering places along the Kaikoura coast and inland.  The Waiau-Toa and Waiau-Uwha Rivers reminded Tapuae-o-Uenuku of the tears of his wife, left behind in Hawaiki. The mountain near where the two rivers meet during the spring thaw bears the chief’s name.

 Marlborough’s Rangitane also have a tradition that an earthly chief sought his spiritual wife and child by climbing up to heaven via the rainbow of their ancestor, Uenuku, a tribal war god. Nga Tapu Wae O Uenuku are ‘the sacred steps of Uenuku’.


Mt Tappy, attempt #1. (Tapuae-o-Uenuku). Marlborough, New Zealand.

December 2013 – Never under-estimate a river. Mt Tapuae-o-Uenuku, New Zealand’s highest peak outside the Southern Alps. Standing at 2800m, its grandeur can be seen from all over Marlborough. A best bud Bridget and I decided we’d conqour it one early December weekend. Many have climbed it, we knew it was tough, but surely we’d make it? Turns out the Hodder River had different ideas. Although we took off pre dawn and into a great-weathered day, snow melt meant this auld waterway was hurling through at one heck of a force. Snow melt and steep terrain means an eventual uncrossable river. We made it two thirds of the way up the gorge, then reached a point that was impossible to cross. We’d already stretched out limits and bravery plenty of times that day, and after about six hours of hiking, we were toast. So we took a cup of cement, swallowed our pride, and turned around. Homeward bound. Yes we felt a defeated and gutted. But that’s the humbling nature of Mother Nature and rivers; they will win at the end of the day. Nearly 12 hours after set off we got back to the shearer’s quarters we’d spent the previous night in, sat down and had a cuppa, and thought to ourselves ‘Well that was a cool day river adventuring the mighty Hodder, navigating around 70 river crossings! Lucky us!’ Mt Tappy won’t be going anyway, so let’s pencil it in for another day. 

Parachute Rocks, Nelson Lakes. NEW ZEALAND

February 2019 – Nelson Lakes, especially Lake Rotoiti, is one of those picture postcard places that people pilgrim to from all corners of NZ, and from all over the world. It is instantly identifiable in a photo, the ‘ah THAT wharf’ moment. Parachute Rocks shadows this place, and my mate Pos and I had a grand auld time hauling ourselves up the steep climb to the ridge line, where we spent a great few hours along the tops and popping over the other side to the tarns nestled in the tussock grass. If we’d carried on we’d have ended up at Rainbow Ski Field, (sadly the pending gale force winds kept us a little conservative on this day). These mountains are amazing, that feeling of just walking forever.

Mt Robertson, North Canterbury. NEW ZEALAND

January 2020 – Where do you take a mate from Botswana and a mate from South Africa exploring, when they’ve just mountain biked from Auckland to Christchurch? Your back yard… of course! A fun hike/run up Mt Richardson, one of the cool peaks around the Oxford Okuku area of North Canterbury. ‘Hey let’s make a video of us running downhill fast,” is something a chic will only ever hear when she’s adventuring with her male friends….! Thanks Mark and Zane, an entertaining morning.

Very Vivolicious. NEW ZEALAND

January 2020 – Colourful shorts are fun. Loud shorts are fun. Being loud and colourful is…. fun. I stashed a few pairs of Vivolicious tech shorts in my bag when I returned from South Africa last month. My kiwi adventure buddy Hannah and I took off to a few fun spots around the Port Hills near Christchurch and tried them out on some kiwi dust, grassland, hills and bush. We were not disappointed. #vivolicious_za

No elephants in Maun. BOTSWANA

December 2019.

WORDS FROM MY MAUN BUDDY MARK- thanks mate!!!! 😁🤙🏼

@markvanzyl A change of scene from last nights 38 degree high humidity run, this mornings trot was more forgiving towards the “the Kiwi” who is having a blast checking out my home town of Maun for a couple of days! In true Bella style she face planted on the actual final step of this morning’s wilderness adventure #noelephants but the search continues! GO BOTSWANA YOU BEAUTY!  Ps. I had help writing this 😂

***Arriving at Maun airport this morning wearing grubby mountain biking gear covered in sand, sweat, dirt and a spec or two of blood –  subsequent to thorny bushes and one fall- (too busy looking at the donkeys and crashed into Mark..who had forgotten his helmet..🙈😬) is an authentic perfectly themed end to an action-packed couple of days with my mate from Maun who was chuffed to bits to show me around his back yard.

I never did see the elephants he assured I’d see roaming the streets. But I did see elephant poo.

Mark did make me run in the searing evening heat and humidity. Minus the

The Makgadikgadi Pans this time.

And he did make me run a 9km speed session the following morning in the drizzle.

But I’ll offer forgiveness because we ran amongst zebras, impalas and baboons. We rode horses amongst giraffes, eland, wildebeests, and we mountain biked amongst donkeys, cows, and elephant poo.

The flight from Kasane International Airport to Maun a couple of days ago was a fun one; the little MackAir Cessna stopping at three safari camps in various delicious spots of Botswana along the way. A good way to test stomach robustness.

Navigating around Maun is good fun, there’s always a pot holed dirt road to rip down to avoid the main roads. Even though traffic is never that hectic because the goats, donkeys  and cows tend to stick to their grass verges. I’m sure the elephants are equally courteous.

So cheers Mark, legend couple of days in your playground!! Enjoy your kiwi mountain biking adventure next month, I’ll be back on home turf by then so will feed you up on some top notch NZ lamb when you’re done. #noelephants 🐘🙄