Colac Bay to Merrivale

Day 85 (Fri 12 Feb): Colac Bay to Longwood Forest

Started 7.10am, finished 6.10pm, 29k.

Pain in the head status: I woke with a migraine around 4.30am which caused me some puzzlement. What had triggered this one? Had I eaten too much dairy- not that this usually is an issue but I had had two hot chocolates and pavlova with cream and ice cream – was this excessive? Or too much sugar? The aforementioned was undoubtedly excessive with respect to sugar but not unusual when we were fuelling ourselves for the trail ahead. Maybe it was because I hadn’t done any exercise? I’m not sure what exercise I could have done in yesterday’s weather but maybe my head was objecting to too much rest and relaxation? I don’t know – the migraine foxed me once more. But the good news was that it petered out sometime in the afternoon, and did not recur in the evening.

Word of the day: Flyblown, rundown, foul.

Tony let me sleep in til 6.30am even though we’d planned to get up at 6am, with a long day ahead of us. But he took pity on my dreaming self – that extra half hour made up for a bit of the lost sleep the migraine stole from me. I was feeling surprisingly enthusiastic despite the pain in the head – I was looking forward to this section. Maybe it was because we’d get into the wild-er-NESS for the first time on the South Island. Or maybe I was curious about the mud that all the TA walkers complain so much about.

Mud? What mud?

After an hour or so along SH99 and another road, we reached the entrance to Longwood Forest, which told us about the history of the area. There is gold in them hills – but difficult to extract due to the terrain. The European gold miners mostly gave it up but the Chinese persevered, building water races, dams and establishing a small settlement.

The track through the first part of the forest took us past two ‘heritage’ huts (read ‘derelict’ and ‘flyblown’), Turnbull’s and Martin’s, built in the early 1900s for maintenance workers (working to keep the water races open) by mining companies that followed on from the Chinese. Poor blokes. It must have been cold, wet and lonely work.

But the walk up for us on this day was easy, powered by yesterday’s burgers and pavlova. The bush reminded me of the Tararuas, but with scatterings of pinkish-red rata flower needles on the ground. We saw titipounamu. I was attacked by bush lawyer but made it through. At lunchtime, at Martin’s hut, we decided to push on over the tops, which might take another five hours, but we felt strong and up for the challenge.

I love being in forests and I love being on top of mountains, although this was only a ‘hill’. But we could see out to the coast, towards Invercargill on one side and Tuatapere on the other, and the tops themselves were a beautiful vista, with curly soft tussock, bright green mosses and lichens beaded with red berries and tiny star-like flowers – and mud. Yes, there was mud. It didn’t bother me much though, maybe because I had high expectations for a mud quota, and have a lot of past experience with mud on backcountry tracks, so it wasn’t surprising. Our boots and gaiters kept us mostly protected. The gaiters were another source of excitement for the day – this was the first time we’d worn them on the TA, and they were well and truly mudded.

Up on the tops, we were passed by six TA SOBO walkers, in increasing states of exhaustion and complaint about the mud, and all contemplating how six bodies would fit into the near-uninhabitable four-bunk Martin’s hut. We were glad we had moved on.

Must have been a big storm to get this buoy up the hill

The pavlova power started to fade around 4pm, but then Tony pulled out a secret weapon – a packet of BBQ shapes we’d bought at Colac Bay pub but hadn’t been hungry enough to eat. We were hungry now and the cracker fuel got us down to the end of the track, to an old quarry which was now inhabited by an unidentifiable burnt out car. The miracle that had kept my legs going without pain up to this point failed somewhat as we had to walk a kilometre up a gravel road to find a place to camp (up being the adverb that caused my legs distress). But I was astonished at how well I still felt at the end of the day. I was tired but not shattered. I still had energy to wash, help get dinner ready and put up the tent (although Tony got the task of mattress-inflation). Am I turning into a true seasoned through-walker, who blitzes 29k, 11- hour days without batting an eyelid? I’ve never walked for this length of time in a day before. Am I becoming an Amazon? But only a few days ago, the walk from Bluff to Invercargill rendered me immobile. What does this mean? Time will tell…

Song of the day: The miracle of food, takes my pain away, the miracle of food, helps me walk again.

Modified from the Eurythmics The Miracle of Love. The lyrics of this song are ripe for transformation into a tramping anthem. Second chorus would substitute ‘food’ with ‘sleep’. Love is beautiful and essential, of course,  but it doesn’t take my tramping pains away.

Where cars come to die in Southland

Day 86 (Sat 13 Feb): Longwood Forest to Merrivale (Merriview Hut)

Started 9.05am, finished around 2.30pm, 16k.

Pain in the head status: Head clear and pain free.

Word of the day: Obscurantism, the practice of preventing the facts/full details of something from being known.

After yesterday’s effort, Tony may cease from obscurantism, where he doesn’t reveal to me the actual distance we are walking until after we’ve walked it, so as not to freak me out. For example, I thought the walk from Bluff to Invercargill was 34k, which was awful but the right side of 30, but in fact it was the wrong side- a bit over 37k. It doesn’t sound much, but when a number is closer to 40 than 30 and you have to walk that number, you get anxious. Or I do. I’m hoping by the end of the TA, these anxieties will subside and no obscurantism will be necessary.

But no anxieties today, as it was a relatively short walk so could recover from yesterday’s effort. Although I needed a lolly to get me up to the viewpoint at Baldy Hill, the first destination of the day. If I’d had pavlova and ice cream for dessert last night, no doubt I’d have been flying up the hill.

It was a grand view and we hung out there for a while to admire it, despite the cold wind that had whipped up. The Takitimu range was sharply in focus and the Southern Alps behind, a rugged and pointy spine. The flat tops reminded me of the tablelands and plateaus of Kahurangi National Park; and of Stewart Island, which is also legendary for the depth, suckiness and proportionality of its mud (by suckiness I mean the propensity to suck a boot from your foot but others may have alternative interpretations). We did encounter more mud today, and maybe it was worth writing home about, but more impressive to me was the stunted beech forest, cloaked with mosses, strewn with perfect beech bonsai trees. We encountered two other TA walkers on the trail, a couple from Wellington who were in such contrast to the other recent SOBOs we’d come across it was truly refreshing – they were so relaxed, blasé about the mud, and enjoying the trail rather than rushing headlong to the end of it.

Still, today’s mud gave me more opportunities to hone the advanced tramping athletics I’d practised yesterday – the tree-hugging pirouettes, the mud track side to side step and the tramping pole vault. Not bad for a girl who got C grades for sport at school.

We stayed the night at Merriview hut, which was a tidy 5-bunker provided by a local family in Merrivale, far superior to the heritage huts of yesterday. I am especially grateful for this type of accommodation, set up by private individuals in response to desperate TA walkers having nowhere to stay. We were also able to buy eggs, so we had a protein boost with dinner and some more for tomorrow. I love these unexpected food bonuses.

View from Merriview hut, a very merry view

First NOBO walker we’ve met – Julian, French plumber from Queenstown, shared Merrivale hut with us. He is only doing the section to Queenstown, having already completed most of the TA except this one due to injury. Non-typical additions to his pack: fishing rod, Speights beer and a pipe for smoking…stuff.

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