What a section! Once again, this trip is full of surprises and this last section hasn't exactly gone the way I would have liked. Despite the mental and physical challenge (due to another injury!) over the past few days, the tracks I've walked have taken me through some spectacular valleys.
The morning that I left Lake Coleridge was another slow one. I was set to go by 10am but had a lengthy chat with Toni from the Lake Coleridge Lodge about the trail and didn't start walking until 11:30am. Once away, I briefly ascended through a conifer collection featuring two thirds of the world's pine species. I was told I could get phone reception while standing on a cow stop at the top of a hill. I made contact with Trevor Macauley to confirm he had received my itinerary for the next few days, and discovered that you only get reception while standing on the cow stop, as it cut out when I stepped off. After following a dirt road I came to the Lake Hill track. This track gets a special mention because the trail takes you directly through two bogs while there is a 4WD track that leads around them. I understand this is because of an unreasonable private property owner, but for 30 metres of 4WD track? Come on! A few metres after I walked around (uh oh!) the bogs I met a couple of TA SOBO's which was convenient as I saved them from wet feet. The rest of the day was on gravel road until I got to the start of the Harper River track. I set up camp in a Trust Power freedom camping site: New Zealand's worst camping area. It was full of rocks and unsheltered from wind. So unsheltered that the wind gushing through there snapped my tent pole...finally the gaffa tape that I put on my trekking poles has a use!
The next day on the start of the Harper River track wasn't overly exciting. For 10km I followed 4WD track through Glenthorne Station, I met a few SOBO trampers along the way whose best advice was to get fish 'n' chips in Arthur's Pass. As I neared the Avoca River which was my first crossing for the day, I saw a marker pole and thought it would lead the rest of the way. Instead, it was actually meant for 4WD users and took me about 500m off of the trail. Rather than backtracking I wanted to ford the Avoca River in a diagonal fashion across mostly shingle and river rocks with a few tiny braids of water. To make it interesting I had to get through about 300m of wetlands on the far side of the river. I figured there wouldn't be too much water in it judging by how low the river was. It was the ultimate tussock bashing experience as I weaved my way through 2m high plants. The going was slow and took about 15 minutes to travel through it, but I was happy that my boots were still dry, for the moment. Soon after I rejoined the trail I passed the Pinnacles which were the highlight for the day. What a cool formation. The rest of the day was mostly on river rocks and occasionally forded the Harper River until I got to Hamilton hut.
The following day I was on the trail by 8am. I briefly walked with a very quiet southbound TA tramper and directed him in the right direction when he started going back the way he came from. The trail took me through a variety of landscapes and terrain as I climbed through beech forest and over river boulders towards Lagoon Saddle. Once at the top I had brilliant panoramic views of the Waimakariri River valley before I descended through tussock and then some more beautiful beech forest that took me to Bealey hut. I arrived just before 1pm and the hut wasn't appealing enough to justify staying, so I knocked out the 10km of windy state highway walking that afternoon. I managed to get a ride for the last 5km off the trail which took me into Arthur's Pass Village. I checked into the Mountain House YHA and the owner Bob gave me one night for free because of an error at a different YHA, cheers!
I was a day ahead, so to make some plans line up, I took a rest day while some rain came through. It was a great opportunity to get ahead on my itineraries for the upcoming longer sections and laugh at the rain while I was cosy and warm inside.
The next morning I met up with Trevor (whom I mentioned in the last blog) and his mate Andy. They were keen on joining me for part of the Mingha River track as a day walk. The trail was nicely marked and very clear. We noticed that there were a few people on the track, when I realised that it was a sunny Saturday and all these people could be heading for the same hut. After dawdling a bit while trying to keep our feet dry on some river crossings (unsuccessfully), we picked up the pace and overtook a larger group of trampers. We made it to Mingha Bivvy in 2.5 hours which was surprising. Andy gave me an apple and some pasta salad as his food supply was more than adequate for a day trip lunch. Thanks Andy! I left the guys and continued on my own towards Goat Pass hut. I was there before anyone else and reserved myself the bunk of choice. When a group of 7 arrived they informed me they were going to camp at Lake Mavis, which sits about 500m above Goat Pass up a scree slope. I thought it might be cool to check it out for the afternoon. The group's leader said it takes about 2 hours to get up to the lake. I was only taking a few essentials in the top compartment of my pack so hoped it would be a bit less than that. Feeling like a feather without my pack I was at the lake 40 minutes later. This climb was worth it for 3 reasons: 1. I TOUCHED SNOW FOR THE FIRST TIME! 2. The lake was stunning. 3. On the way back down I used a natural escalator, meaning I ran 300m down a huge scree slope. Land skiing at it's finest! In the evening I was accompanied by Kaitlin and Elaine, the American-ultralight TA machines and 3 funny ladies who gave me their extra food, some (birthday) cake and whiskey! Everything about this day was great, and I partially wish this was my birthday.
March 2nd: ..... birthday to me! It was a cold morning and I knew the Deception track would be slow going, but I had the information that it wouldn't take anywhere near 8-9 hours (like the trail notes recommended) and I was in great spirits. The trail quickly descended down over boulders through a stream to the Deception River. As I made my way towards Upper Deception hut the track was a combination of freshly cut ground trail on the side of the river and boulder climbing/hopping. I passed the apparently rat infested Upper Deception hut and the track markers diminished. A couple kilometres passed the hut my day made a turn for the worse when I went to take a picture, and discovered that my camera, in a soft case with a carabiner attached to my hip belt was no longer there! I threw down my pack and started backtracking with a severe sense of worry considering how many times I had forded the river. After I walked about a kilometre up the valley to where I thought I last took a picture, I started to lose hope. I tracked every footstep that I made all the way back to my pack while scanning the surrounding area, but it was no where. It wasn't so much the camera, but the fact that I'd lost over a week's worth of photos because I wasn't able to back up in Arthur's Pass that made me feel kind of ill. A few moments of staring at my hip belt and wishing the camera would just reappear, I realised I needed to keep moving and get out of the river valley in case the looming rain really started to come in. For about an hour my mind was focused on the camera and what I was going to do without it, which led to finding myself in some precarious situations. I seemed to be losing the route and ended up on the wrong side of the river. The first scenario I found myself on top of a boulder the size of a small truck, sliding down and aiming to land on a much smaller boulder with a rapid on one side and a deep pool of water on the other. In the next situation, I climbed over another boulder to discover there was a ledge on the other side. It was about a 2m drop, but there was nothing very stable or flat to land on, and I didn't want a broken ankle. I dropped my pack down and managed to lower myself between two boulders until the drop was about a metre. From there, I decided that I needed to focus on my immediate situation and stop letting one problem create more problems. I met Peter shortly after. He was also celebrating his birthday on the Deception River, but seemed to be having a better time than I was, and promised to keep a look out for the camera. I had one other unfortunate event during the day: while fording the river in waist deep water, my left foot slipped on a large boulder and ended up wedged between two boulders. It took around about a minute to carefully get my foot unstuck as I stood on the slippery boulder with my right foot. The rest of the Deception track was easier going and I was at the end of it after 5 hours. Overall, this track wasn't nearly as hard as what it was made out to be, and truly beautiful. If only I could have captured more of it! As for the people who run it during the Coast to Coast race: what makes you hate your ankles so much?!
From the end of the Deception track I crossed the Morrison footbridge and walked on the SH73 to then rejoin the trail after fording the Otira River. The last 10km to Kiwi hut was mostly on river rocks which became quite painful in my left Achilles' tendon after the slipping incident. I made it to the hut by 6pm completely soaked from rain and river crossings all day. I was glad to see a large pile of firewood in the wood shed. I woke up to soggy everything the next morning. It was slow going just to get out of the hut. Once underway I followed the Taramakau River along more river rocks and shingle with a few fords. I was glad that it hadn't rained enough to make the river impassable. I got to Locke Stream hut by midday and the moment that I walked into the hut a hail storm rolled in. That was a good excuse to stay in the hut for the rest of the day and attempt to keep a fire going with wet wood. At 7pm Lance showed up. It was nice to hear someone else's bad puns for a change. At 8:30pm Pat and Sue arrived and we shared trail advice while huddled around the last burning coals of the fire.
I prepared myself for a fairly long day and was out of the hut at 8am with frost on the ground. Definitely the coldest morning I've experienced over here. My hands went numb within a few minutes of walking. The trail leading up to Harpers Pass was an interesting combination of stream crossings, mud, forest, good old river rocks and a new plant that I haven't come across before, which latches onto my legs as I brush past and feels like it's pulling out my leg hair, one. strand. at. a. time! Over the pass the trail was overgrown in places and not very well marked for a couple of kilometres until I got into the ever awesome beech forest. I was at the mansion Hurunui No. 3 hut by 2pm for a quick lunch stop. It was tempting to stay and wait out more rain, but not knowing when or if it was going to end made me do another 10km to Hurunui hut and hope it was just as nice. Along the way I came across a natural hot pool that was mentioned in the trail notes. It was very warm, but the 1 billion (I may have rounded up a little) sand flies kept me from wanting to stay for more than 30 seconds. I arrived at the even nicer Hurunui hut sooner than I expected at 4pm and got a fire blazing in the stove. Odin a Norwegian dude with the biggest pack I've ever seen who was out on a fishing tramp shared the hut with me that evening.
Rain came in hard overnight and continued into the morning. I had 19km to do that day, so figured I could wait for the rain to settle down. I left just after midday during a short break in the rain. This section of the Harper Pass track was a highlight for me. It was mostly through the nicest beech forest I've been in. I had a brief encounter with a curious Robin that took a real interest in my boots, and a Hedgehog no bigger than my fist that didn't seem to be enjoying the rain very much. I loved this walk all the way to Hope Kiwi Lodge, another mansion which only I occupied for the evening.
The final day for this section started with another frosty morning, there was fog all through the valley, but there was blue sky for the first time in days, and the sun was out early to start thawing everything out, myself included. While I was cruising through some beech forest I heard a strange roaring sound which I can only assume were a pack of Orcs nearby. I made my way through steamy wet beech forest for 16km and exited the Lake Sumner Forest Park to the state highway for the final 11km to Boyle Village. The road walk was a bit of a mental slog, but it was over in under 2 hours. I caught a ride with Jackie and Chris who were happy to take me almost all the way to Christchurch so I could do a food resupply, but more importantly buy a new camera. I managed to get phone reception as we passed Hanmer Springs (where I originally intended to resupply from) and received a Facebook notification that Peter had found my camera! It was a bit wet but apparently still works fine. Stoked! With no real reason to go to Christchurch anymore, I asked to be dropped off at the turn off to Hanmer Springs.
I'm currently hanging out in this little touristy town doing some tough days prunin' up in the hot pools until my camera gets mailed back to me.
While there have been a few excellent moments over the past couple of weeks, I'm hoping that I can get a bit of better luck for the rest of the South Island, or maybe even the rest of New Zealand (but I won't push it).
Onwards I walk...