We have been so spoilt recently. After our Aroaki/Mt Cook adventure we decided to take a short detour to Christchurch to meet a lovely hiker who offered to show us around, but absolutely best of all, offered to cook a bloody roast dinner, that’s an offer we couldn’t refuse, literally my dream!
We were shown the sights and sounds of the city, went to a shopping mall to buy new underwear (what a treat!) and matching windbreaker coats, we’ve been a bit cold in the mountains, we would like New Zealand to turn the heating up a bit please. It actually felt totally overwhelming and I couldn’t wait to get outside again. The cure is nearly always hiking so up a coast path we went and back down for an ocean dip, we let the waves crash over us until someone thought they spotted a fin and we were up the beach like lightning. With faces like salty sea dogs we lay around in the afternoon sun, laughing with new friends and lounged long and hard on a sofa in a house. We’ve stayed in nice places, not that many that we love more than our tent, but being in a real home, with furniture and pictures on the walls is really soothing.
We managed to convince our new friend Claire to come hiking with us for a couple of days before we got back on the trail. She took us to see some big rocks and a cave on the way. Now, to most this may not sound terrific, but we LOVE big rocks and caves and had a great exploring afternoon.
Avalanche Peak, 10 miles.
We headed to a place called Arthur’s Pass, back when we were in Auckland we sent ourselves a food parcel to resupply with. Very disappointing when we opened it, apparently we hated our future selves, no snacks, no chocolate, boring pasta, we are going to be hungry on this next section.
We had one day to spare before starting our next trail section to do an amazing day hike before saying goodbye to Claire and the relative home comforts like a car and plates and cheese that she has brought to our little hiking party. A sheer 1300 meter climb up a mountain called Avalanche Peak with views a plenty promised at the top and it did not disappoint. The climb was a total slog, hand over hand climbing up rock faces and boulders, sheer drops to our left and right and a side wind we could have done without. We loved it, back to what we love best, I’m always so proud when I look around, we are women who climb mountains.
What wasn’t fun was the down, in the same fashion as the up it was a slog, it went on for just a little bit too long to be enjoyable, we could see the road for hours but it never seemed to get any nearer until suddenly we popped out on it and staggered down it with slightly more years on our knees than before. The great thing was the road led to pub, which led to a cold pint of cider, what a dream.
Day 17 Te Araroa, Morrisons Bridge to Locke Stream Hut. 17 miles.
There was no more putting it off, we had to put the luxury behind us and get back on the trail. It was harder for me for some reason than Willow, she was her usual chirpy self but I think I may have started with a bad attitude that grew within the first 2 miles to absolute rage. Within 100 steps we were thigh deep in a river, not my favourite but we knew this section had river crossings so we were prepared to embrace it.
We followed the markers and they took us into the forest, the elevation profile was mostly flat but what it didn’t show was the continuous steep up for 20 meters followed by steep down for 20 meters on a bush whacking, scrub bashing semi trail. The cicadas were so loud it was deafening, I had to shout to willow who was only 10m behind me. We love the bird life in New Zealand, we think this was our first Weka sighting, who like the Kea are a cheeky menace of a bird. We also love the little South Island Robins, they are so flirty, and dance around you almost landing on you.
It took about 2 hours to walk 1.7 miles when disaster struck, I shoved my pole into a hole by accident then slid knees first down the bank snapping another god damn pole. I could barely even say words, I didn’t even stop, I lobbed it into the bush and stomped on with utter fury. I felt like I was having a lot of feelings, and they were being expressed as anger but we actually realised we have pretty much been hiking for 2 months now, missing people, feeling homesick and exhausted, with no good food to look forward to and now back to Sophie one pole was a tipping point. I just turned around to Willow and said, I’m not having a nice time right now. She was so good natured to not laugh at me being ridiculous. What was ridiculous was when we popped out of the woods we could still see the start of the trail in a direct straight line up the dry river bed maybe half a mile away but we had been slogging in the woods for over 2 hours. I did a lot of silent and not so silent head shaking, this day was not my day already.
We decided to stay out of the woods and walk the river bed, it was rocky and uneven and a luminous shade of orange, prompting a rendition of follow the yellow brick road loud and proud, but better than the woods which were rocky and uneven, devoid of light, dirty and moist and very up and down. It definitely got better than the morning but there wasn’t much to remark on to be honest, this feels like it’s going to be a head down and hike few days.
We were planning on stopping at the first hut to have a short first day, we were exhausted and had soaking wet feet from fording the same river 15 times, but when we got there it was a tiny little shed, already full of hikers and absolutely no tents spots. For the first time on this trip we had to cook our dinner, wolf it down and carry on hiking another 6 miles well into the evening to the next hut. It was hard and repetitive, we weaved in and out of the river and then on the rocky banks, but we slammed the miles in just over 2 hours and arrived at Locke Stream Hut just before 8pm. Choice well made, there were only 3 nice older hiker guys there and there were 2 bedroom areas so we had our own wing, getting in so late, we were happy to not have to do tent chores.
Day 18 Locke Stream Hut to Hot Pools Campsite.
Another New Zealand first, in the night I woke up to my bed shaking, in my sleep delirium I thought it was the wind which in hindsight was ridiculous because it was actually an earthquake!!
Willow got herself into a predicament within a mile of hiking, she tried to bum slide down a scree slope but got pinned by a tree branch and was just dangling half way. I had to careen down the other bank so I was below her so I could help. I really wanted to laugh but she genuinely had a look of sheer terror on her face so I kept it in. She had to unclip her pack and slide out of it to me at the bottom. Don’t worry I laughed once she was down!
Our only major climb of this whole section was in this morning section, for once we were glad to be going north, the slippery scree and loose rocks would have been a nightmare to go down. There was a mediocre view from the top. I both hate a love that we are view snobs, we try and appreciate everything but it’s because we’ve seen such magical things, some things can’t compare.
A very unremarkable afternoon trail, it was pretty flat, sometimes in the woods, sometimes in a field, sometimes in the river. We’ve taken to choosing our own adventure and not following the markers, the trail has a bad habit of choosing the very worst of the terrain. It’s a game of risk that so far we believe has paid off, or perhaps not, we’ll never know. For some reason the miles did not slip by, they were slow going, even though I was walking to my absolute leg capacity. Whenever I eat something I beg the energy to go to my short little leg stumps, but they are always so fatigued. We had to cross several swinging bridges which, as hard as I try and be, freak me right out.
We arrived at our campsite, a flat piece of grass next to the river. About 20 meters up the bank was the reason we decided to stop at this random spot, a thermal hot pool. We tried to keep our expectations low, but the rumours were true, there was a hot hot pool, we clambered in the eggy smelling water and scalded our aching bodies for approximately 3 minutes before being under full attack of the sandflies. We immediately ran down the bank and jumped straight into the icy glacial river, basically a grubby spa treatment, if you’re willing to suffer to get there. I’d happily swap it for the tiny Nepalese woman who gave me a savage massage in Katmandu, that woman was small but mighty and just what my shoulders need right now, especially since I’m a one pole hiker now, I’m very Quasimodo, feels like my muscles need to be pressed back onto my skeleton. We had to zip into our tents immediately, genuinely the worst sandfly experience to date, literally thousands. You have to get in the tent and lie really still and wait for them all to land, then go on a murdering spree.
Day 19 Hot Pools Campsite to Hope Kiwi Hut. 15 miles.
Straight up and out, no messing, no breakfast to get as far away from the sandflies as we could. The clouds were low on the valley, but for the first time on this section hike I started to see some beauty. Feeling a lot more positive helps and the miles churned under our wet feet slightly easier than the day before.
We again chose to choose our own adventure to try and save miles, our legs and our sanity. We did not want to go into the thick bush rollercoaster so instead we took a straight line across farmland. It was genuinely a great decision, the grass was spongy and flat and the sky was open above us. It became a slightly less ideal situation when we found ourselves trapped in a field of mummy and baby cows by an electric fence. I felt like I had been training for this my whole life (thanks Rach and Sarah) I used my excellent cow herding skills and we kept to the edge of the field with the exit in sight but a trekking pole out and a rock in hand. About halfway through we looked to our left and I’m joking you not, the most enormous bull I have ever seen in my life was staring me right in the eyes maybe 20 meters away, it started roaring or whatever a bull does and without hesitation we threw our bags over the electric fence, slid under and got out of dodge, fear laughing as we went, I’d take the electric fence over the bull anyday, it continued its warning for miles after we had gone.
This hike has just felt a bit tedious, the afternoon dragged on as the heavens opened and soaked us to the bone, the trail sent us through thick face height scrub that was dripping wet, sending water down the back of your neck, like when the first wave crashes over you and the water goes down your wetsuit for the first time. We chose poorly about a mile from the hut, we could see it in the distance but the trail went wiggly around so we ploughed in a direct line only to find ourselves in neck deep tussocks, the trail always wins in the end. We arrived at the hut and the sun came out just enough for us to dry off and sit with our faces burning, bringing us back to life.
As the evening came, the sky closed in, thunder and lightning rang out up the valley. A storm blew in with harsh winds and rain. We have found ourselves in the middle of a southbound hiker bubble, we aren’t used to having to share the trail or huts with so many people, over 15 hikers at the hut turned up from the other direction. I looked at Willow and said people or rain? She chose the right answer, we pitched our tents outside, my endurance for rain is far superior to that of people.
If you don’t want to see what a foot that’s been wet for 3 days looks like, look away now. My skin is literally tearing off the bottom of my poor little feets.
Day 20. Hope Kiwi Hut to Windy Point. 13 miles.
It’s amazing what the motivation of a hot shower and garlic bread (not together obvs, although if someone wants to bring me garlic bread while I’m soaking in a tub I wouldn’t bat their hand away) can do to our trail speed. We absolutely crushed our miles in record time. It was mostly flat with short steep sections through the woods, loads of bogs that were unhopable which was annoying, I can cope with clean river water but bog juice just smells bad and feels slimy between your toes. The woods were baffling, the tree trunks and branches were jet black, and there was a low buzzing all around like we were going to get swarmed by bees at any moment. At first I thought there had been a fire in the past but it was actually some sort of fungus invading everything, it smelt like vinegar and the buzzing was thousands of wasps feeding on the black matter. It was creepy and dark and spurred us on faster than ever trying not to slip over the black snake roots.
By midday we had made it out, feeling relieved to have nailed this 70 mile section, slightly deflated because it wasn’t the most exhilarating hike and definitely exhausted from the lack of food. We had a hard hitchhike into town, but got picked up by the sweetest Chinese couple who drove us directly to our campsite for the night feeling so embarrassed at our aroma filling their clean car. As we got dropped off we were walking into the campsite when a car pulled right up to us and the driver shouted, are you hungry? I’m not sure how she could tell that we were ravenous but she opened her boot to all the leftovers from a corporate event, and told us to fill our boots. I whipped out my pot and with my filthy hands grabbed roast lamb, potato salad, fresh bread and salad, I am confident she changed the pathway of our day. I think it’s perfect that this blog post starts and ends with food.
We are in a town called Hanmer Springs for a few days. We are taking a rest day, visiting the thermal pools, and of course eating garlic bread!