Under the cover of darkness, I arose to go sit at the hut forms and table to watch the sunrise over the Richmond Ranges trail.
An opportunity to just reflect on what had been.
In between Pip snoring.
Night faded into morning.
One by one, others awoke.
And then a new end day began.
We followed the 5.5km four-wheel vehicle track down to an old cob cottage, then it was further 1km forest track to a car park.
Our return to this section of the Te Araroa Trail was complete.
Emotions of pure elation felt.
The minds, bodies and souls stretched as far as they were going to be.
Back on tar seal with thumbs out, we hitched a ride into St Arnaud. It’s where our third bedroom was waiting for us. And fresh clothes.
The Alpine Lodge allowed us to get cleaned up before we met up with Iain from IT who had walked out the day before.
Jane and Pip had arrived by then. They too had managed to catch a hitch hike.
We exchanged stories from the trail and heard about Iain’s solo bit after he left us at Mid Wairoa Hut.
All three of them were resting up for another day or two at St Arnaud in preparation for the next part of the TA, the Sabine-Traverse Saddle. We had to start the return drive back towards Christchurch.
Our hesitation to leave was more because of jealousy that they were continuing, and our adventure had come to an end.
However, we had already tramped the Sabine-Traverse Saddle ourselves. It was our training in readiness to knock off the Richmond Ranges. Over Christmas of 2019 and New Year of 2020.
We knew exactly what they were in for. As well as up for.
We will pick up the next section of the Te Araroa Trail possibly later this year.
Farewell hugs were given, and then we were on our way. And home to Christchurch.
To recover as quickly as we can.
The first week of March, we set off to walk the Old Ghost Road Trail on the West Coast. Five days, four nights. Chaperoning seven others who when we put it out there, climbed on board to join us.
Yep, a new Ruru adventure on the radar.
And with the word ‘ghost’ in the trail name “Old Ghost Road” …
It wasn’t too far until we were scrambling over more open boulder fields as we arced around the mountainside leading up to the first saddle. And although the trail veered down ahead of us, it was a best guess as to which compass direction it would take in the valley. There were heaps of options.
It wasn’t long either before apparel was peeled off as the sun’s brightness shrunk shadows on the opposite valleys to then be upon us radiating the solar rays. Sunblock was applied.
The contrasts in terrain were dramatic. Erosion had new track markers skirt gaps where old trails had existed. But were now open spaces. And the never-ending undulation tested stamina. Body weariness appeared early which was expected. This was day eight and we knew we had a heap of kilometrage to walk this day.
Jane and Pip caught up to us at Porters Hut where we had stopped for an early lunch stop and water filtering refill. We left them to it to as we embarked on the final 10.5kms. Trail notes indicated that it would take us another 5 hours. That was generous.
From another saddle, we could make out the trail as far as the eye could see. It straddled the Motueka River Right Branch and looked rather straight. But it was lumpy. Which equated to more stubbing boot toes. It included us having to climb up nigh on a sheer vertical cliff part, 6-8 metres in altitude. BClaire went up first as I stood there with arms outstretched to catch her if a mishap. I probably would have put my whole body on the line to cushion the bounce after I worked out that trying to catch her would have been fruitless. Steady and yep, no problems. I mirrored her steps.
Further along, I twinged the knee to excruciating heights. It felt like bone was rubbing on bone. And had me doubting if I was actually going to finish the section. If there was down, I was fine. It was lifting the left knee stepping up that was the issue. It reminded us that at our age, we are managing deterioration. Only standing still the couple of times it happened to allow the pain to subside was it okay to carry on. No point in abusing the knee. I own them. Sweet talking to them was the better mental attitude.
Coming off the straight bit had us at a confluence river crossing. It was deeper than the other crossings further back down the trail. We picked our line and went for it. Jeez the water felt good. Washed all the grime off up the lover parts of the body. And numbed the knee somewhat.
Nearly the top half too with pack. I was about to step up out of the thing and this huge monster spider came out to meet me as if protecting its territorial rock. From under the bloody thing on the water’s edge. I squealed, BClaire too. Well, I think she squealed. Or was it more like screamed shriek of abuse at me as I nearly arsed up backwards into her. I changed direction and exited the flow a metre to the right. Then BClaire saw the thing and was right on my tail. Never heard an apology either.
We paced off to leave it be, only to have to climb some more. It was a steep gradient to a height that when we looked back down the valley, we could follow the trail in reverse all the way back to the saddle at the other end. We paused to try and spot the others. Katie was first, then the movement from Jane and Pip further behind.
The trail then sidled the contours of the hillside for what seemed like forever. We eventually came up onto a flattened-out piece of topography that had marram type beach grass clump. Except it was no beach. There was no mention of this in any trail notes and an unwelcomed surprise. Following the orange route markers, we had to hop, skip, and jump the stuff for as far as the eye could see. A metre either side and you could have ended up to your knee in boggy water.
There was light at the end of the pasture, that being the hut.
To finally arrive at Red Hills Hut was welcomed. And it would be fair to write, there was some exhaustion as we dropped the packs, gave each other a hug, inspected the lodgings which were brilliant and then kept pace at getting starkers to bath before the others arrived.
Some kind person had left a block of soap. The brand, Pears. And boy did it smell divine. Lathering up and washing down was just magic. We ponged nice for a change and just in time for Jane and Pip as they arrived. Shortly after that, Katie too. They each followed the cleansing routine.
This was the day of exhaustion.
A culmination of all that had gone on before, and some.
And, the longest day on the trail distance wise.
Spurred on by us reminding ourselves to suck it up buttercups.
And how special it was that we were able to make it happen. And did. And some more.
The nightly routine was followed, meaning that the hut was silent as 2021 transitioned into 2022.
What a last day of an old year.
Our last sleepover on the Richmond Ranges section of the TA Trail too.
Could a mountain top seriously have collapsed or eroded so much to scatter its debris in piles of rock further down the slope like it was?
Boulder hopping took poise, elegance and certainly balance as we climbed away from the hut towards the next saddle at 1,374m.
A misplaced footing to fall over onto the rugged boulder scree would have grazed, snapped, or convulsed, requiring first aid administration.
But the boulders were fascinating with a kaleidoscope red, crimson, brown or shit stain colours.
Beanies to protect the ears from the extreme gusty southerly were donned on just before a picture taken once summited the saddle. It was enough to chill the bones. And enough to detach BClaire’s pack cover to have one chase it like an Ostrich and retrieve before it was blown all the way to Nelson. Only metres to spare before the edge abyss.
And although it was head down following the orange route markers head on into the wind, when we lifted to take in the view, we could see last nights hut down one side of the mountain and, make out Hunters Hut from the moon landscape we were treading, way down and out across the other side.
We separated from Jane and Pip to each walk at our own paces. It wasn’t intentional, it just happened after the summit and negotiating the gale velocity.
The last river crossing before a short sharp ascent to the hut, had a piece of tin debris tangled in an embankment tree trunk. Another further down.
We wondered if it was the remains of Bush Edge hut that was swept away in a flash flood during February 1995. Two Dept of Conservation workers were staying in the hut at the time and sadly, both were killed.
One body was found. One with his dog wasn’t.
Which when Jane and Pip arrived and settled into hut routines, had us conversing if the ghost encounter experienced at the last hut, was the lost DOC workers spirit still wandering the trail.
A 1,000-piece puzzle at the hut kept us entertained as we hunted out edges and corners and flipped all the pieces right side up and then started constructing. Like eating potato chips or scorched almonds, once you start it’s hard to desist not eating more, puzzles are like that too. Once you start, just one more piece becomes ten! As we clumped colours and picture images together. Wasn’t the same once the light faded and head torch came out.
Nigh on turning in for the night and still sitting at the hut table, an apparition flew passed the hut window.
Scared the be-Jesus out of me as I only caught a glimpse of it out of the corner of my eye. I’m sure my scream spooked the others who jumped. The hut door opened; the whites of our eyes were at full beam.
To our delight, in walked Katie.
She certainly was beaming after her day of missing Top Wairoa Hut to take on the extra section as well and make Hunters.
Heart palpitations still took a bit to return to normal as we shared our ghost encounter. And then seeing an apparition float passed the window. Katie had one of her own sharing the Mid Wairoa Hut with a fellow tramper when a noise like the sound of a paper book hitting a table thudded in their hut.
One more puzzle piece was placed and then shut eye.
The final thought, man, a scorched almond would have been nice.
The sky was still overcast for our departure from Mid Wairoa Hut. Rain jackets were worn in readiness for being rained on. It’s always a balance between not wanting to get drenched externally or becoming sopped internally under the jacket from one’s own perspiration.
I had swapped out BClaire’s panties for my own undies. A chaffing decision!
We had decided the evening before to walk with Jane and Pip on this next section to Top Wairoa Hut together because of the trail notes.
“The track from Mid Wairoa Hut follows the river. It involves a lot of sidling, at times on steep terrain, and eight river crossings. In some areas, erosion on the track present slippery and/or narrow footholds and extreme care should be taken through here. Some trampers will find this section challenging. It should not be attempted during periods of heavy rain as the river can rise quickly.”
A photo of Heuy, Lewy and Dewey (the names I gave whilst taking the pictures) outside the hut before departure. They were pissing themselves with laughter as they took their first steps into the bush undergrowth where Iain from IT had disappeared into yesterday. Not at Iain’s expense, but at mine. BClaire thought it funny to call me Poohy from my personal situation at some ungodly early hours of the morning. So, there we were, Heuy, Lewy, Dewey and Poohy. I wasn’t laughing.
By the time they reached the first sidling, they weren’t neither. And the trail notes weren’t kidding about narrowness where clutching onto embankment and leaning in was just a matter of slow as you go. This was the approach each and every time.
Jackets came off as bursts of the sun’s rays filtered through the canopy. The flora and fauna looked crisp and sharp, and it was just beautiful. Ya gotta love this country for its diversity.
The first river crossing was just like the approach to the sidling’s, taking it slow as you go. It’s a great way to build up confidence through being careful about foot placement, balance, and supporting one another ford the river flow safely. There was only one of the crossings that we had to lift shorts up to nigh a wedgy because of the depth.
Everyone came to a stand still when a yell from the opposite bank was heard. There were looks of “what the hell was that?” thinking someone had shouted out for help. No body moved. The only sound was the river below. Nor could we see anything from our position.
Shit. It certainly echoed like someone was deliriously calling for help. Jeez, we all thought it was Iain. Again, we were trying to pinpoint where it had come from.
The third time, everyone shook their heads and started laughing.
A fkn goat was responsible for pumping up the heart rate. And nearly causing a PLB to be set off for a helicopter extraction. That is not what one wants to be remembered for – Search and Rescue coming to the rescue of a goat! That we instigated.
But that wasn’t the ghostly encounter incident.
Arriving at the Top Wairoa Hut and reading the hut logbook to see Iain had made it was a relief. He had had a fire as the smoky smell still lingered. Another wander down to the river for the hut drinking water and because we still had daylight hours left, a body wash dip. The temperature of the water doesn’t allow for one to muck around. But it was welcomed.
Sophie from Brazil arrived. She was walking the trail in the opposite direction and passed on a salutation from Iain to us. Turns were taken sharing more conversations, everyone settled and turned in early. Tomorrow was a longer distance that included a hump up and gradient down.
The hut toilet was some 20-30 metres back along the track. A radiant orange colour with a magic view if one sits there with the door open contemplating life. A deep sleep had me think I had dacked myself again so got up and under torch light, went to the toilet. Nup, just a dream. BClaire clambered down off the top bunk and exited the hut shortly after me to return and clamber back up. Time, about 1.30am in the early hours.
The hut door had a slide metal door handle. You had to use a little force right to open and left to close. From outside coming in, the opposite.
The noise of it being forced open, then shut, then open, then shut from the outside as if someone was entering the hut woke everyone up with a fright. It was loud, forced and then nothing. Pip asked the question, “what the hell was that?”. We all had eyes on the door, expecting someone to walk through and no one did. I ducked under my sleeping bag a little as I’m sure others did scared shitless.
“Brent, go check it out” came from a top bunk.
“Why me?” I responded.
“I’m a firm advocate for equality nowadays, women’s rights and all” I followed up with.
We all still laid there waiting.
Pip eventually did.
There was no one.
It wasn’t the wind. And no way a goat or deer could have attempted to open and shut the metal door handle. It had us completed baffled and certainly awake.
It was 4am.
Everyone tried to regain unconsciousness as best as they could until the streaks of morning light appeared.
It became a conversational topic time and time again over the remainder of the trail.
And still does today.
Perhaps a reason for such a ghostly encounter was evident at the next hut we walked to.
A heavy fall battered the hut roof. Blocked out Iain’s snoring.
It was short, sharp and to the point.
Whenever the heavens above cry, we prey to the gods that it’s not for long because it could make the difference between being able to cross a river, or not. And we knew there was a day of crossings on the radar.
We departed Tarn Hut with rain jackets on. Tree canopy still gravitated droplets to soak one through to the skin, even if the air vapour was mist. A shower or three reminded us of who was in control and extra care had to be taken underfoot over the terrain. Tree roots can become a banana skin peel in the bush.
A single lane swing bridge was negotiated over the Wairoa River that looked crossable. Tomorrow’s overthinking.
Distance was again on our side, and we covered it in 4 hours so a welcome undress of wet clothes and into the dry ones you carry.
Except for Iain from IT. He had arranged to meet friends in St Arnaud to see 2021 cross over into 2022 and at some stage, had to do a skip a hut and do a double day walk in one. He stayed in his wet clothes and after a bite, we watch him depart into the bush behind the hut after our farewell hug. Shaking hands are for sissies.
Naturally, inward sadness to see him leave us because even though we had only known him for a couple of days, the experiences shared had made it feel like a lifetime. The TA Trail does that. Give a deep sense of connection. So, another FB friend to visit in the future. Or do more off the beaten trails in the land of the long white cloud together.
The hut was quiet for a bit. Until Jane and Pip arrived. In good spirits too even if drenched. Wearing $6.00 ponchos from the Warehouse that they swear by. Added to our list of things to have for next time.
There are usually water tanks at each hut that should be boiled before consumption. Mid Wairoa didn’t have one. Instead, you had to take a bucket and go down to the river and fill up. It didn’t look too swelled from the rain so should be okay for Iain’s crossing that he would have been encountering somewhere up the thing.
The sun broke through and then it didn’t and then it did.
Gear was put out to try and dry. And then they were brought in so as not to get more wet.
A little bit of up, down, up, down. But nothing compared to what Iain was forging on with no doubt.
Huts have bunk beds so it too is one up and one down.
The key is to certainly hydrate, but only just enough not to have to get up in the night for a pee.
Only heard BClaire get down once from up above which woke me. There we were outside away from the hut looking up at the stars together, urinating. Very romantic in pitch black darkness under starlight.
A misfired fart didn’t go too well.
Let’s just write that the dehyd food and Ibuprofen combination caused an accidental stain.
Which was a shit when you only carry one spare pair of dacks. And one of the pair was hanging from a clothesline in the hut trying to dry.
BClaire, laughing – which wasn’t necessary at the time when one was exposed because I just knew that it wasn’t going to be a personal kept incident during hut banter, luckily carried a third pair of panties.
I should have worn them arse about face, just saying.
And certainly, dosing so as not to have a repeat.
So all you lot who commented on our toilet paper photo of gear carried before we defarted, now you know why.
Our arrival to Mt Rintoul Hut yesterday included new greeting introductions to Jane and Pip who were also walking the South Island TA Trail.
They had arrived earlier in the day after ticking off the Rintoul’s as well.
Except, they had started their day from Old Man Hut.
They affirmed our decision yesterday that to keep going was a good one from the descriptive language they used to illustrate the climb up from Old Man Hut. Pips grimace though was short lived when it was replaced with a grin.
On day 2’s climb up to Starveall Hut, I picked up a sandal lying on the trail that had obviously been lost off someone’s pack. A note in the hut boot mentioned a phone number for it’s return and so was going the right thing to carry it out and get it returned. It was Pip’s and I immediately knew. She had the other on and wearing just a sock on the other so as much as I was happy to lose the 100grams of weight, she was happier to be finally able to stop hopping one foot around huts and to the toilet.
Jane and Pip were first out the hut door bound for Tarn Hut. Iain from IT and us weren’t too far behind, Katie decided to have a down day and do some washing.
There were more up’s, a-longs, downs, exiting bush, entering bush, boulder hopping, outer shells put on, outer shells taken off and to our surprise, no sign of Jane and Pip ahead. Either they had taken a wrong track when there wasn’t a wrong one to take, had fallen off a ridge ledge or were a heap fitter than they let on and cracked on at a pace.
Before we went over a brow, we took one last pause and glance back at Mt Rintoul Hut and the towering mountain behind. It gave us a greater perspective of just how steep the last descent was. I was reminded more so as the knee pain became constant when lifting the knee to step up.
More drugs provided some abatement.
We eventually caught up and passed Jane and Pip. They were certainly cranking on. A couple more ridgeline undulations with the sun bake rising the mercury had the forest in places humming. Wasps were massed, doing their thing. At one point, we kept the mouths shut so there was no swallow mishap. Bait traps were empty and needed re-setting.
It was another down hill before we saw the tarn itself. Quite a large body of water too.
The hut appeared.
A much shorter day than yesterday by a long shot. Jane and Pip soon arrived too and it just happened that we all decided to take a dip in the tarn collectively. There was discreetness as best as could be when one by one, we striped off to bath. Bums faced in whilst drying off and redressing had a no looking agreement. I looked. Pip’s shriek is probably still echoing around the tundra!
Clothes were hung to dry and air as we were able to just sit for a couple of hours and chit chat. Iain whittled a miniature samurai sword as he sat there – very clever.
Shadows appeared, another de-hydration meal consumed, last pee, then assuming the horizontal position, the hut became silent.
Until Iain from IT started snoring. The pitch up there with Pip’s naked shriek mountain echo.
“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
And so there we were, all four of us standing, at the signpost that was supposed to be our left turn and with noses pointed in the direction of Old Man Hut, begin the descent waaaaaaaay the hell down.
It wasn’t beauty staring us in the face. But bloody ugly.
On reflection, no hanging a left and continuing also looked ugly.
And it was more hesitation versus procrastination that had us second guessing the night before decision to only go as far as this hut.
Taking packs off, we plonked ourselves down and had a crisis meeting right there on the trail. Hell, might as well have some scroggin. Eating is a great escape when stress levels are shooting through the veins.
A recalibration discussion to entertain the thought of pushing onwards called for physical body condition checks. All good. Then we started doing maths as to how much we would progress going horizontal on the trail versus vertical, and then vertical again in the morning. Katie applied sunblock.
Even when the apprehension fear as to the technical aspect of the next part surfaced had the damn pro’s outweighing the damn con’s for pushing on. More scroggin was eaten. BClaire then applied sunblock.
We lifted our packs back onto our body frames and in our circle, all put the hands into the middle and raised them with a combined cheer. We can do this. Then waited patiently for the first of us to take the next step to knock the Rintoul’s off.
No one moved. Everyone laughed. Iain from IT led off. We followed.
Six hours later, BClaire & I wandered out of the bush at a clearing to arrive at Mt Rintoul Hut.
Iain and Katie perhaps ten minutes earlier after all keeping together until the last couple of hundred metres of final descent. Katie was sprawled out on the seat of a picnic table. Iain seated with bare feet only just having discarded his boots. They got up. We all hugged and praised each other with smiles of elation.
With a code of silence that we had all each done the thing we thought we could not do from the night before. Whatever the fear apprehension was had evaporated. There was no need to over think anymore. Or so we thought further down the trail.
The trail from the Old Man Hut signpost to Mt Rintoul Hut is just like trail notes and those who have gone before us blog posts described. Physically and mentally gruelling. However, so worth the blood, sweat and tears. Not that there was much blood or tears.
The topography was unimaginably remarkable. And hopefully the photos taken and shared does it the justice it deserves. The respect one must give it as it is not to be underestimated. Don’t attempt in shit weather. Buddy up where you can. Carry a PLB that can be easily accessible. And a camera so that you can snap a bunch of moments in time to reflect on time and time again.
And you will. We have.
Taking a fall in the last hundred metres birthed an injury under the left knee cap. There was no swelling or excruciating pain, but a mild intermittent dull ache when lifting the knee to step up. With the hope a well-deserved night’s sleep would send it packing. Along with Ibuprofen and Panadol medication.
Take that too. You just never know when you must rely on it.
I certainly found out.
This post’s last words are dedicated to Katie and Iain from IT – cheers you two for sticking with us this day. For lifting our spirits when needed. Assisting to navigate the technical parts. To banter well. To wait for us to catch up.
It can cause the brain matter to swirl in circles when one is trying to quieten the mind, to reach a decision.
All four of us were doing it the evening before.
After all the Christmas cake had been consumed and getting ready to hit the fart sack. Or bed if you didn’t know what a fart sack was!
Should we only go as far as Old Man Hut tomorrow, and if so, suck up the steep decent down to the hut that’s off the beaten track? It would mean having to climb back up the 1,000 metres the following morning and pick up where we left off the day before, to start that day’s distance.
Or should we not go down to Old Man Hut tomorrow and keep going, to knock off both Rintoul’s as well in the same day. Old Man Hut to Mt Rintoul Hut was our highest point of this trail section. It is also the most extreme technical underfoot to navigate, the drop offs were real and uninviting.
Whatever Iain from IT said, we had to ask him to repeat it – remembering he’s a Scotsman with an accent!
Notwithstanding, overthinking is a bitch.
Reading previous fellow TA walker blogs was perhaps a mistake before setting off because some of the descriptive language used escalated more of the overthinking it.
And all four of us were doing it!
By the time people faded into noddy land, we had all agreed to go as far as Old Man Hut tomorrow. And a second motion to stick together to scale up and over both Rintoul’s the following day.
And then the tomorrow arrived, which was Boxing Day everywhere else in New Zealand.
Iain from IT was first to get onto the trail, we weren’t too far behind, and we knew Katie would eventually catch up.
As we sidled upward to reach the first ridge, again the panoramic views were just phenomenal. It also gave us our first look at the Rintoul’s to the south. Overthinking apprehension stirred.
We caught up with Iain from IT and gas bagging whilst trekking the Ada Flat allowed us to clock over the undulating ridgeline kilometres. Some negotiation of a narrow ridgeline before a climb up to Old Man summit had us view Katie powering the ridgeline we’d already trodden back over yonder.
Then we hit more technical clambering that slowed us up, taking a cautious approach so as not to need our PLB (Personal Location Beacon). The views to the Kaikoura Ranges were crisp and clear. It wasn’t too much longer when Katie was upon us for us to become a team of four.
TA walkers coming in the opposite direction were looking trail weary. But chit chat swapping trail conditions lifted the spirits on the face of it. However underneath, deep down, overthinking apprehension still stirred. Rintoul’s were directly out to the front of us now, and still some ways off.
We were scooting through some ridgeline low tree bush when all of a sudden, we happened upon the signage that indicated the left turn we needed to take to Old Man Hut. And the 60% gradient downward slope.
The looks on everyone’s faces were one of Holy Fk!
And a simultaneous collaborative thinking it over meeting had.
Thinking whether our best laid plans from the evening before of only going as far as Old Man Hut, were the best plans when faced with the damn hut looking back up at us in reality. From waaaaaaaaaaaay down there.
The closest thing to a Christmas stocking this day was putting on a sock worn the day before.
Two of them. Still fresh too, bonus.
Merry salutations were exchanged accompanied with a hug. And thoughts of loved ones back beyond the trail start. No ham and croissants this festive morning. Only a brew and heartening breakfast of muesli with powdered milk – just add water to the plastic bag sized portion and with a spork, eat straight from the bag and thus, only dirtying a spork and cup.
Packs were sealed up and re-positioned onto the backs as we bid a safe day tramping to Katie before we departed Hacket Hut to step out and up.
The trail followed Hacket Creek. It wasn’t too far before we engaged in a little zig zagging with getting the boots, socks and feet moist from crossing the cascading flow of water. Positioning feet below the surface is important so as not to arse up and refreshing your entire dress wardrobe worn. It was also good practice for what was ahead of us. The crossing encounters were going to have to be more tactful when encountering the faster deeper flows further along the trail. Especially if the rain forecasted lifted the high tide levels.
And then it was a right turn. And up. And a 900m climb which didn’t muck around with the leg burn, brow sweat, increase in water consumption, and the odd curse or three. Rest stops from the grind became frequent and the odd view beyond the canopy were gratified distractions.
Just keep going … just keep going … just keep going (from the Nemo movie) was on repeat until we rounded a bit of a heightened bend to expose an opening up in the bush line. Starveall Hut appeared in front of us. You bloody beauty.
Packs, boots and socks came off simultaneously as lunch out – wraps, salami and cheese. It wasn’t long before another fellow tramper arrived, Iain. Iain from Auckland who was walking the whole South Island section of the TA so had started way further back up the island at Ships Cove on the Queen Charlotte. He was Scottish so we had to keep asking him to repeat himself when he spoke. Working in the IT industry, it wasn’t long before we were calling him “Iain from IT”. A title that stuck over the next few days.
Katie appeared shortly after. She made short work of catching us up. Youth on your side has that ability.
There was a sense of accomplishment having reached Starveall. You do have mental ups and downs when tramping and unbeknown to us, the next bit between Starveall Hut and our days destination Slaty Hut, had just that. Up and down physically. And up and down mentally.
But we were above the bush line following orange route markers for some of it. The views as far as the eyes could see were spectacular.
“Just keep going” played some more between the ears until we rounded another bend and sighted Slaty Hut. The distance from Starveall when we finally stopped outside the hut door, another 5.5kms. Iain from IT and Katie were already there for our welcome.
It was a second portion of carried home-made Mac Cheese for the dinner meal. Tomorrow, the dehydration meals kicked in.
And then Iain from IT pulled out tin foil containing Christmas cake that his partner had made especially. Enough to be shared. Enough for the pallet to absorb some attachment to Christmas Day trimmings.
With a look to the distant horizon as the sun sunk below the curvature and one last mutter under the breath before we retired to inside the hut walls … “wherever you are, whatever you are doing, with whom you are doing it with – Merry Christmas everyone, from us Ruru’s”.
“OMG, you would not believe what happened to me when I stuck out my thumb to catch a hitch to the start of the Hacket Track” was American Katie’s elevator pitch to us as part of the first introductions, after she arrived at Hacket Hut, dumped her pack, and sat on the floor – red as a beetroot (or is that root beet in the US language?)
We had been dropped off at the same spot only hours early by Cameron (our son) who was then going onto Nelson for a mate catch up. We’d driven through from Murchison to St Arnaud and parked up the third bedroom for its holiday without us. For nine or ten days.
Our initial simultaneous reaction was to think Cameron had picked her up. He was going to head south again after the mate catch up.
Instead, it was Katies old boyfriend and his new girlfriend!
Hitching is a gamble, and a lift is a lift when one is betting on a pickup. What were the possibilities? Didn’t matter, she was in good company now to share our hut this Christmas Eve.
As we got to know her over the next couple of days shared on the trail, we often reflected how cool it would have been if it had of been Cameron that had given her the lift, as Katie’s character and persona were so much in tune with his – “No point in mowing lawns as every overgrown weed flower feed bee’s.” Yup!
Hacket Hut was approx. 7 km from our drop off. It was just enough to fall in love with the weights of the packs, get into a stepping rhythm, adjust the weights of the packs, be teased by some up-hill gradient, discuss what we can lose to reduce the weight of the packs, be excited to reach the first hut, scramble to dismount the packs too when we arrived.
Possibly looking like beet root as well as it was mighty hot temperature wise. Tis always good to start out how you mean to go on, sweaty and sunblock/insect repellent grimy. The splash of water in the nearby stream freshened and cooled us off.
Lying on the hut bunk looking at the roof, sticking plaster had been affixed to the apex which had us wondering WTF?
It wasn’t until a frantic wasp appeared at the window on the inside of the hut wanting to escape that it had become apparent. No sooner had I let the thing out, another appeared. Then another. There was a wasp nest in the roof of the hut and a hole further along from the plasters was their escape route. Except into the bloody hut instead of out.
Not only was there indecision as to who should be brave enough to clamber up to the heights and stuff another sticky over – arrrrr, no one; there was further chit chat about whether to have the hut windows open or closed.
Let the wasps out. Or the damn sandflies in!
We gambled to keep letting the wasps out knowing that when the sunset shade appears, wasps too go to sleep.
All those sandflies do, is turn into ruddy mosquitos.
And those mongrels most certainly do leave love bite beet root marks.