Waiau Pass anxiety

I’m so anxious about this walk. The last 2 days have been super easy. Tomorrow is supposed to be just as easy. And then super hard up over the pass. For some reason I was dreading this whole section as though the whole thing would be as hard as the pass. But really it’s just distance. The pass itself is tough. There’s another tough section just before blue lake hut. But the rest is straightforward.

I have been anticipating this for so long and it’s nearly here. I even remember thinking to myself it was crazy that I needed 8 days worth of food for this section! And now I’m carrying all this food and it’s not even a big deal. The next section, 10 days of food. Nervous about that. But even then that’s probably not going to be that bad. The next section is definitely harder. Way harder. But I feel less anxiety about that than I do about this pass.

I think some of the emotions I’m feeling right now are a not wanting this to end. That after it is over I’ll think back about all of the things I regret about how I did, or worrying that I went too fast and didn’t take it in enough. I’m really glad I have this blog to look back at, despite the posts getting a bit more boring lately. Honestly this last week or so I’ve been kinda on autopilot. I’m a bit discouraged about the skipping bits thing, despite it being the right thing to do, I feel like I missed some things or wasn’t complete enough. My inner purist is coming out, methinks.

Day 38: Boyle Flats hut to Anne hut

Lovely day today. Got up early, rolled out after a decent breakfast, had a nice walk.

Part of the way in to today was a pass, Anne Saddle, which I took quite a bit faster than I expected. I was quite surprised when I got to the top of the hill.

Anne hut is super nice. The surrounding area is just beautiful. There’s a nice wood heater with plenty of chopped wood, lots of counter and seating space, huge windows with screens to take in the view, and a radio I can use to call for weather reports.

Which I’ll need to do. A couple of hours after I got here it started absolutely pouring rain outside. There were 2 people behind me and they were taking a long time so I was a little worried since it was raining so hard. A southbounder showed up soaking wet and said there were 4 more behind him. We lit the fire and got it roaring and it’s nice and toasty in here and everyone’s wet clothing is hanging up to dry.

In an ideal world, I’d be up and over Waiau pass the day after tomorrow. But I’ve been told, and plan to do, go over the pass only if it’s clear. The views are amazing, and in rain it can be rather sketchy since a good portion of the climb is very nearly mountain climbing more than hiking. So in the morning I’ll be using the radio to get a weather report and if it looks good I’ll move on, otherwise I’ll be hanging out here for another day. I’m not optimistic about the weather so I only had one dinner tonight, opting to preserve some of my food in case I’m here for an extra day or 2. I have plenty of food, but no reason to eat too much of it!

Lots of pretty mountains today.

Day 37: Hanmer Springs to Boyle Flats hut

Pretty uneventful day. Bumped into Christian again but he was going to stay at Boyle village for the night, he’d been sick in Hanmer Springs and was still recovering. Met a couple of other northbounders and walked with them for a bit but they camped a bit farther down the trail and only briefly stopped at the hut.

It was a short day, only 3.5 or so hours. The next hut is about 6 hours away but I had to do some stuff before I left town this morning and then of course had to hitch out to the trail so wasn’t planning on going all the way. It was a fairly easy walk, especially with company. River crossings were all bridged.

The hut is nice but the water tank is broken. So we’ve been taking turns filling up a bucket with water from the nearby stream and using that. Not the greatest system but it works.

Day 36: Hope-Kiwi Lodge to Hanmer Springs

Wet. Stinky. Sand flies. Those are today’s themes. I woke up this morning and it had been raining most of the night. It was still raining when I got out of bed, but stopped as I was packing up. There were still people sleeping in the kitchen (and I just remembered now I meant to get more pictures of the hut and didn’t, I’m sorry 😐) so I had a cold breakfast and headed out onto the trail.

And then turned around almost immediately. I’d forgotten about the fallen trees, and man they weren’t kidding. So I started my way around the tree line. Since this was so recent there wasn’t much of a track. And since it had been raining, and it was all grass, it was wet. And often squishy. My poor poor shoes. After a while I came across a marker that led me back into the forest but it was still bad.

Seriously like the whole forest was already standing dead trees and the cyclone came through and just toppled it all over. I wonder if they’ll just reroute the trail, so many fallen trees would take a super long time to cut a trail through.

Ok, coming back to this post hours later and much happier and I’ll change the tone a bit!

The rest of the day was fairly uneventful. I made it to a crazy swing bridge, crossed it, and braved it a second time to get some pictures. Enjoy.

Shortly after that I arrived at the carpark which would be the end of my walking for the day. I quick changed from my horrifying clothes into my slightly less horrifying clothes, walked out to the road and stuck out my thumb.

After a bit a kiwi couple from the north island in a big RV picked me up and took me to the turnoff for Hanmer Springs. Funny enough, as they pulled up to drop me off, another hitchhiker was there trying to hitch, so she got a bit of a surprise as I got out and she got in. It’s like they were driving a bus!

A bit later got my second hitch the rest of the way into town. First impressions: I like this place. Beautiful setting, lots of amenities, and not loads of people. It’s kinda chill and relaxed here. The Main Street through town has a big park separating the 2 sides and is totally lined with RVs and campervans. Craziness.

Got into the hostel and took a shower and did some MUCH needed laundry. Oh, and this hostel puts hikers in room number 3, since our packs generally smell so bad. I’d heard about this on the way up from some folks and was happy to find out it was true. I now want to open a hostel somewhere on a thru hiking route called room number 3.

Met up with Greg again. He’s apparently been about half a day ahead of me this whole section. We went out and got really really good steaks at a local place. There’s supposed to be amazing pizza here too and the burger shack is supposed to be pretty great.

Anywho, Greg sent me this picture he took of me crossing the Otira river a few days ago.

Sketchy.

This place is beautiful. I hope the weather clears up a bit tomorrow so I can get some good scenery in. Though even in cloud and rainy it’s still pretty great.

Tomorrow is a zero day. Not because I need the rest, but because I need to resupply and I need to ship off a box full of food to St. Arnaud to get me through the Richmond ranges. Since that is 10 days of food it’ll take me a bit to get everything sorted. I’ll also be hitting up the hot springs and meandering around town a bit. Should be fun!

Day 35: Hurunui No. 3 hut to Hope-Kiwi Cottage

Today was a trying day. It was going to be a long day no matter what, but some things added to the frustration.

First off, there was a hot spring along the route which was highly recommended by a lot of people to go have a rest in. I totally could have used this. Sadly, I never saw the sign to turn off to it. There was a place where the forest section went down to the river bed and then the trail disappeared, so I kept going along there and never found the trail. I had to backtrack a bit until I found a small trail to take me back up. But because of this I missed a bit of the forest, and perhaps the turnoff for the trail.

I did see a hot spring at the top of a waterfall, but since I hadn’t seen any indication that it was the one I was after, and didn’t see any obvious way to get up to it, I assumed it was just a different one than the one I was looking for. So no hot spring for me today.

Next up I’d heard about a forest section ahead that was particularly hard because of storm damage and I’d be better off going along the tree line. So I did. And the trail ran out. There was a little trail leading up a hill but it didn’t seem at all reasonable. I tried a couple of other ways but all ended in terribleness. Eventually I went back up the first bit and ended up bushwhacking through fallen trees, dead branches, all sorts of nastiness, for about 30 minutes trying to get back to the trail. I eventually did though and things went a lot better from there.

Until I caught my foot on a branch. It would have been fine. I stub my toes on things all the time, I stumble a bit and keep going. This time though the branch decided to follow my foot, meaning it wasn’t going to let me go without a fight. It won. I ended up face first on the ground. I felt like just staying right there.

Eventually though I ended up at the hut. It’s huge. And super fancy. And as far as I can tell, rat free. Though the sand fly situation is pretty awful. Fortunately it’s not too hot so the fact that we can’t open any windows isn’t that big of a deal.

Pictures.

I had a nice meal for dinner. Pretty happy about that. If it rains tomorrow I may just stay here. I have plenty of food, and this place is pretty swank. I’ll try to get some pictures in the morning.

Day 34: Locke Stream hut to Hurunui Hut No. 3

Rats.

No, really. Rats. They didn’t get into my food because I hung it up but they were all over the counter and table and everything else all night. Little turds everywhere. Gross. They also stole my bar of soap. I didn’t know rats ate soap. Now I do.

I decided to just have a bar for breakfast rather than try to cook anything. This also had the benefit of getting me out the door a bit quicker than I otherwise might have. It had rained most of the night and seemed to have stopped but who knew how long that might last. Out the door I went.

Nothing to eventful until the summit over Harper Pass. Nice view from the top though.

Along the way I was making friends with these little birds who seemed to be curious about me. I was trying to get one to perch on my finger but they wouldn’t. But they would circle around me and look at me trying to figure me out. This was nice a bit later because I walked under a low tree branch and absolutely clocked myself. So hard I feel like every bone in my neck cracked. It knocked me flat on the ground and I just laid there for a few minutes recovering from the shock of it all. One of those little birds came up to check on me and see if I was ok. It still wouldn’t perch on my finger but it did perch on my trekking pole. Hooray!

Didn’t get a picture of it actually on the pole because it’s like a cat, any time they’re doing something cute you don’t have your camera ready.

I passed a couple more huts along the way, stopped in and had a little break at one before heading on. About halfway between the last 2 huts I encountered my first 3 wire bridge.

These are a lot like swing bridges but instead of having a place to put your feet there’s just another wire. And this thing swings around all over the place. Slowly but surely I made my way across. But I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit worried until I got safely to the other side. I probably could have just gone through the river, but despite the scariness, this was probably a safer bet.

Tonight’s hut is much nicer, hopefully with less rats. It also has a wood burning heater and lots of firewood. It’s nice and toasty in here right now. I’m not alone, but it’s just me and a German southbounder, in this 16 person hut. He was one of a big group that had gotten backed up at St. Arnaud because of the cyclone. Telling me about how they’d be in 32 bed huts and totally full. But I think this means I’m about half way through that group and that’s probably the last of the big pack of southbounders. With that and the large huts coming on the next section I feel like I shouldn’t have much trouble getting a bed at huts anymore. Phew! Still going to take my tent and such though, just in case.

Tomorrow I’ll make a push to get to Hope-Kiwi Lodge and then it should be a short day from there to get to the highway and hitch a ride into Hanmer Springs. I don’t feel like I really need a rest day just yet but I have a big resupply and a big food box (10 days!) to send off, as well as wanting to check out the town and such, so I plan to have a zero day there. Hopefully I can find a bed!

Day 33: Arthur’s Pass to Locke Stream hut

Another northbounder named Greg was at the hostel with me for the past couple of days. This morning we left and stood out by the road hoping to get a ride for a bit. Finally we got one, from a guy who was driving from Christchurch to Greymouth for a meeting! Eek!

We knew our first task on the trail today was going to be to cross the Otira River. We also knew that it was probably still going to be fairly high due to the rain from the past few days. And boy, was it. We crossed, and where we crossed didn’t look so bad, but very clear water has a tendency to be deceptively deep, and this was. About half way across it was over my waist and while I was able to get secure footing, it was tough going, and there were a couple of times I had to stop and rest, waist deep in fast flowing water. Greg got some pictures of me but I don’t have them yet. Hopefully he’ll send them to me later, as I’d be very curious to see what I looked like.

Knowing we had the worst crossing of the day over with, we ambled along. At one point a group of southbounders came up and we traded info about the river crossings. We still had 2 major ones ahead of us, and potentially quite a few more minor ones, so we wanted to get an idea of conditions. When I said the water was waist deep one joked that that wasn’t very deep. I dunno. Felt pretty damn deep to me! One other thing they mentioned was that they’d crossed below the confluence of the Taramakau and Otehake rivers, which were our next major crossings. The notes mention that in high water it might be safer to cross one, then the other, but these folks did it in one go.

So did we. But it too was fairly sketchy. Another place where the river forks and there’s a huge bar, but it wasn’t too terrible so we tried crossing all in one go. Greg made it. I was further upstream from him and hit some really deep water, nearly lost my footing and decided to go back to the bar. Since the bar was behind me I walked backward downstream for a while and ended up crossing the rest of the way in knee deep water. Much better.

Not much farther up the trail we got to the turnoff for Kiwi hut. It was a bit off of the track so we didn’t go up there, but there was a nice sitting log under some trees we stopped and took a break at. I ended up staying a bit longer and told Greg not to wait up for me. He was thinking about going up to Harper Pass bivvy so I knew he needed more time than I did. I was definitely feeling the extra weight of the food in my pack and the trail after being off for 5 of the last 8 days.

A while later I passed another group and they passed a message that Greg wasn’t stopping, bummer! Oh well.

More time later I arrive at the hut. It’s pretty nice. 18 bunks, all triple decker in 2 big bedrooms separate from the kitchen. Apparently has quite the rat problem. I can attest to that, I hear them running around. Eek.

So far though I have the place to myself. I’m starting to wonder if I might actually be past the bulk of the southbounders. Especially now that I’ve skipped ahead about 5 days of trail. That could be nice, better chances of having a bed in huts. It also means that right now I think the closest person to me is something like 10km. Pretty sure this is the farthest I’ve ever been from another person!

Didn’t get a lot of pictures today because they don’t do the difficulty of river crossings justice and there really wasn’t that much to see anyways.

Pretty sure that’s Harper pass in the distance. It seems so close, but it actually like 400m higher than where I am, so it’s actually pretty far. Probably another 3 or 4 hours tomorrow!

For now, just hanging out with my new rat friends!

Arthur’s Pass rain delay

Sigh. More delays due to rain. This time not because the storm was all that huge, though it did cause some problems. What it did for me was raise the levels of rivers I’d need to interact with to leave here to levels unsafe to cross. So, aside from leaving by road or train, I’m pretty much stuck here for a bit.

My original plan was 5 days from Methven. The first 3 days would get me to within range of Arthur’s Pass, and the next 2 days would take me up and over Goat Pass and down the Deception River, past Arthur’s Pass, and back to the highway on the other side. Arthur’s Pass is basically at the end of day 3 of a 10 day stretch, but you can get back to the road on the other side making it 2 5 day stretches. This would make it easier to resupply as my food box would have time to arrive, and would only have to have 5 days worth of food in it.

But rain came in really hard yesterday and put a stop to that. I had one option yesterday which would have been to skip the Goat Pass section and proceed up the river, hopefully getting to Locke Stream Hut before the river came up too much, after which I’d be fine. But it was starting to get later in the day when I had to make my decision and I still needed to unpack my food drop and get it into my pack. The forecast didn’t look promising to be able to deal with the rivers very soon, so I was kinda stuck. I dropped into the YHA and got a bed for the night, where I met another northbounder who was having the same dilemma.

This morning, I went to DOC and talked about river levels and weather, and it’s looking like by this afternoon I should be able to cross the rivers and get up to Goat Pass, but I’d prefer to wait a little longer for the river to drop more, especially since it rained a bit more this morning.

It’s supposed to rain a bit on Thursday and rain really hard on Friday, so if I leave tomorrow (Tuesday) I can get up to Goat Pass, down the Deception River Wednesday, (or, if that turns out to be a bad idea, back down the way I came up), and up the Taramakau river to Locke Stream Hut Thursday before the big rain hits on Friday. I’ll have some extra food with me in case I need to camp out at Locke Stream for a day or 2, but the river past there is much more manageable so even with heavy rain I should be able to get up and over Harper Pass without too much difficulty. That’s the plan anyways. Right now the rain has stopped and the sun is out but of course the rivers are still up or I’d hit the trail today.

One downside is there is very little to do in Arthur’s Pass village. There’s a cafe. And another one across the street. And that’s about it. But the WiFi at the hostel is fantastic, so rainy movie day it is!

One cool thing is the surrounding area is really beautiful. There’s a big waterfall about 5 minutes walk from the center of town. There are numerous waterfalls up on the mountains around, you can hear them, it’s cool. And there are Kea, which are an endangered species of Parrot and are rather large birds. They’re cheeky birds in wilder areas, here they mostly just beg for food from people who don’t heed the signs everywhere saying not to feed them. They have a distinctive call and are quite pretty and relatively approachable, so I’ll spend a little time trying to get some good photos of them.

Meanwhile here’s some of the area.

Ok, got a good one of some hanging out at the cafe.

Lots of people around taking photos. You can tell they know exactly what they’re doing.

Update: talked to DOC again and it looks like the weather won’t work out to do both, so sadly I’m skipping the Goat Pass section and heading straight to the Taramakau river tomorrow. If I can safely get across, it should be fine the rest of the way up, and past Locke Stream hut and up over the pass and beyond isn’t vulnerable to weather issues. Sad, but at least I’ll be leaving here tomorrow!

For now while the weather is nice I’m going to head up to Punchbowl Falls which is another waterfall real close to town here!

And here it is!

Now back to the hostel to read, watch some movies, and take a shower.

New posts!

If you’ve been following along, you’ve probably noticed that there haven’t been any posts for a while. And then suddenly today there’s a bunch. Well, the bug I reported to WordPress seems to have been fixed and I can now copy paste with photos into the app and it seems to work as expected! So exciting!

This means more timely updates as I get into areas with WiFi and am able to publish things. On the flip side, my next 3 sections are 7, 7, and 10 days on the trail, so there will be delays anyways! But due to some weather right now I’m not even sure when I’ll be able to hit the trail again. Oh well.

Since I’m stuck in Arthur’s Pass today, I’ll probably write up a quick post about how I do offline composition of posts despite the fact that the WordPress app doesn’t actually do that, at least not if you add media. Meanwhile, enjoy all the new backlog posts!

Also, sorry for that last 3 days in one post. Due to the time off and then WordPress weirdness my urge to write at all was pretty minimal, but now I have more desire to!

And obligatory picture attached to post, here’s a cat I met in Methven.

The belly was NOT a trap.

Days 30-32: Methven to Arthur’s Pass

Finally back on the trail! And lovely weather! Keaton and I hopped on a shuttle from town to the start of the trail where we were greeted with amazing views of Lake Coleridge.

We missed our turn onto the trail and kept following the road, a very recurring theme in my travels. Oddly, the road ended at a trailhead which we walked down until we bumped into a couple of private huts right on the lake. Oops! The occupants were wondering where we were headed and let us know we’d missed our turn. Fortunately they were kind enough to let us pass through and pointed us at a trail that would get us back to where we were supposed to be. In my opinion, this was a better route in terms of view, but I imagine we weren’t really supposed to be there so having a bunch of people go through all the time wouldn’t be overly welcome.

Afterward we forded some more sheep, and reached the gravel road we’d be walking on for the remainder of the day.

Fortunately there were some decent spots along the road for breaks, complete with very insistent no camping signs, which are probably quite necessary given how lovely the spots were. We stopped for a nice break and both busted out books to read next to Lake Selfe. Of course, I can’t help but read that as Lake Selfie, so I did the obligatory Lake Selfe selfie.

On down the road I went. Keaton felt like staying longer, I felt like getting into camp, so I moved on. The campsite was pretty crappy, but it was flat, dry, had a toilet and a water spigot (untreated) and most importantly free, so it worked.

The next day was supposed to be a short day, so I didn’t hurry to get up in the morning. After a leisurely breakfast I left around 9am to start walking up the river.

Further up the river I reached the fence, which was clearly brand new and not yet finished. Polite but stern signs said that TA walkers had to keep to one side of the fence. Markers had been placed accordingly. However, zombie walking brain had me keep following the fence and markers, not paying much attention to my surroundings. When the fence ran out, I fell back on “keep the river to my right” and kept going. Eventually I arrived at a fence I had to go under, after some fairly crappy and not well formed trail. Eventually my brain decided to inform me that something wasn’t right so I checked my map. And realized I was actually meant to cross the river that was on my right now, as I’d come to a confluence. Oops. Of course, where I was there was no real way to cross, so I had to backtrack. Because of this mistake I lost an hour or 2. Oops. Crossing the river was quite challenging. Due to the course of the river through rocky land, the water was very cloudy. Also, due to the heavy rains of the previous days, it was still running a little high, or so it seemed. So finding safe places to cross was difficult. My first attempt had me in waist deep water flowing very hard and I aborted and got back out. However the actual crossings were still often crotch deep and flowing fast, so it was pretty sketchy.

At one point I found a place where 2 sections of the river came together briefly and then split again, but the larger part seemed to cross over, which left a nice big bar between the two that I could cross by first crossing the small portion, walking down the bar, and then crossing the other side which was now smaller. I leveled up a bit in river crossings right there. Hooray!

Eventually I made it fully across. I knew I had because the water I was crossing was now clear, which indicated a different stream was what I was crossing. Where these joined was pretty cool.

Further up the river I had to make a bunch more crossings, some of which were just as sketchy as the other. There was in fact one place I crossed with waist deep water and high current. Scary. Cloudy rivers look about the same if they’re knee deep or neck deep and the current was high everywhere so it was really hard to find places.

I stayed on one side of the river for a while but was getting swarmed, absolutely swarmed by flying ants. I thought they were sand flies at first so if I just kept moving they would leave me alone, but they kept piling on. I’d look at my legs and they’d be covered in little black spots. Ugh. They’d swarm around my head and I’d wave my hands through the air trying to get them to go away, which seemed to work briefly and then they’d be back. On this went for what seemed like forever but was probably more like 30 minutes. Eventually they left me alone.

More river crossings and finally, the sign I wanted to see, Hamilton Hut 15 minutes. I’d been hearing a lot about this hut. “The Hamilton Hilton”. And it lived up to its name. 20 person hut. Huge stone fireplace in the center. Triple level bunks. Lots of table space. Huge porch, though sandflies made that mostly unusable. And best of all, only 4 people.

Keaton had passed through earlier and started on the puzzle that was there. When I arrived 2 people were working on it. By the end of the night I’d spent a lot of time on it, made some good progress, and only quit because I literally couldn’t see anymore. In the morning I woke up and spent some more time on it over breakfast, and half contemplated staying another night just to work on the puzzle!

I left and made my way up the hill to Lagoon Saddle. Along the way there were some neat waterfalls and a strange … thing.

And of course the view was just incredible.

After another episode of “you’re not done until you’re in the doorway of the hut”, which was about 3 hours long, I made it to the bottom of the hill and out to the road. Before I left I made friends with some sheep. Seriously, they walked up to me and one let me give it scritches. I don’t know why I didn’t get a picture of it. But I did get a picture of the view.

I made my way to the Arthur’s Pass Eco Lodge, which the trail notes led me to believe was a backpacker but ended up being actually a pretty schmancy bed and breakfast. So, I kinda blew some cash to stay there, but the proprietor was super super amazing, the house was super super amazing, and overall it was really nice.

Let me just geek out for a minute. This place is totally off grid. Solar power. Everything in the house runs off 12 volt, which is super cool. There’s propane for hot water and cooking. A big fireplace for heat. And huge rain collection system for water supply. The rain barrel thing (they just call them “tanks” here) is actually super common away from towns. Which makes sense. Sparsely populated country, very rocky ground, makes it really hard to lay water or sewage pipes. Plus it rains enough that collecting water from your roof means you can usually easily satisfy your water needs. Most of the huts in the backcountry have them, but even residential properties have them. Hers tasted a bit like wood smoke because her chimney had deposited some flavor on the roof that made it into the tank, but didn’t affect the safety of the water. Also, she had a composting toilet. I’ve never used one of these before but it has 2 strategically placed receptacles, one for liquids and one for solids. I didn’t ask what happens afterward, but it was pretty neat. And of course the view was just unbelievable. This is from the deck which was directly outside my huge picture window.

Amazing.

In the morning was breakfast and then the owner took me into Arthur’s Pass to pick up my food box which she’d called ahead to check on to see if it was there yet. The weather for today is rain. Rain is high rivers. And from here it’s pretty much all rivers to get back on the trail. Sadness. I had an option of striking out and trying to get up river, skipping another section in the Arthur’s Pass area, but even that wasn’t a sure thing, and it would be a fairly long day in pretty steady rain. And who knows if the hut will be full or what. After much hemming and hawing, I’ve decided to stay in Arthur’s Pass at least for tonight, and figure out what I want to do tomorrow. What I even can do tomorrow. I might be here for a few more days even. I might bus down to Greymouth tomorrow and take a day there. I don’t know. For now, I’m warm, dry, and have WiFi 😉