Day 87 (Sun 14 Feb): Merrivale to Birchwood Station
Started 7.45am, finished 3.55pm, 26k.
Pain in the head status: No pain, even after disturbed sleep from Julian’s snoring – the joys of hut living.
Word of the day: Amative, pertaining to love, amorous.
Tramping is not an amative activity, hence Valentine’s day was only celebrated by having half a dozen boiled eggs. I spent the morning in a state of disorientation, as we seemed to walk around in circles, according to my imperfect sense of direction, past curious, smelly then underfed cows along the road, through a forestry block, then farmland. Tony did confirm that we were walking southward at one point.
But then we hit Woodlaw Forest, which was a nice bit of native bush with a track that felt like it was taking us the right way, finally, although via a hill that fully engaged my gluteal muscles. Flocks of brown creepers squeaked and twittered in the tree tops.
We emerged at a high point overlooking Birchwood Station, with spectacular views over the mountains. We sat amongst the granite boulders and dried up rabbit poop to admire them. Then it was a toe-crushing descent down a steep grassy slope and a meander over paddocks to the road that led to the Station buildings, which included an old shearer’s lodging, now converted into TA lodgings. We had watched huge flocks of sheep being herded off the slopes down into holding paddocks by the road, flowing like a wandering white stream, and learnt that 7,000 ewes had been gathered for crutching tomorrow. We had to walk through a few thousand of them to reach the house. This was quickly filled, and over-filled, by a large group of SOBOs, but we had claimed our bunks and even had had a warm shower. Most of this group took the opportunity to take a shuttle to the nearest pub for dinner, so the evening was relatively quiet.
Hazards of trail walking: While we were enjoying the view at the top of Birchwood, we saw Julian emerge from the forest and wander off on the ridge line in the wrong direction. He’d missed the trail markers and to add to the confusion, the route has changed but this has not been updated on the TA or Guthook apps. Just another day on the TA.
Day 88 (Mon 15 Feb): Birchwood Station through Linton Station to Telford campsite
Started 7.35am, finished 4.55pm, 28k.
Pain in the head status: Another delightful day of no headache.
Word of the day: Larceny, theft of personal property.
Somewhere in the night, we regretted staying in the house and not putting up the tent, not because it was overcrowded or noisy (astonishingly there was no snoring) but because of the onslaught of mosquitoes. There may have been no snoring because everyone was kept awake by the mind-bending mosquito whine, coming in waves as the Birchwood Mosquito Army mustered all their troops for attack. It was also stiflingly hot so all we had for protection was our silk liners. It was not conducive for a good night’s sleep.
In a typical weather transformation, after the hot sunny Sunday, today was cold, drizzly and misty. The whole day was spent walking through one of New Zealand’s largest farms, Mt Linton Station. The owners of this station are notoriously antagonistic to TA walkers and only allow the trail to pass through the farm under great sufferance. There were large trespass warnings at regular intervals. One of the reasons for these was that a private hut on the station was apparently broken into by a TA walker, who also thieved food. As a consequence of this, a substantial track diversion has been instated, taking TAers up and over a ridge for an extra few kilometers, to keep walkers out of sight of the hut. The diversion also meant we had to splash across the Wairaki river and then the Telford burn. At the second crossing, which was just before Telford campsite where we stopped for the night, I was feeling unreasonably grumpy about the whole day, and the anti-social idiot whose larceny meant that I now had to get cold wet feet. But it turned out my bad mood was mostly hunger-related and once I had a the brown lentil vegetable rice mash up that was dinner, I was fully appreciating the beauty of the surroundings, especially as the rain had obligingly stopped just as we wanted to set up the tent. We were on the edge of the Takitimu ranges, getting glimpses of the jagged peaks as the clouds drifted.
We had been warned by a flood of SOBO walkers that the sandflies at Telford campsite were unusually voracious and vicious. Indeed, there were many and they lingered longingly at the entrance of the tent, darting in at the slightest invitation. I personally eliminated 26 from inside the tent when we clambered back in after dinner. But it could have been worse – at a campsite at Mt Owen a few years back, the sandflies were hurling themselves at the tent in such quantities that it sounded like rain.
Julian’s highlight of the day: He caught two fish in the Wairaki river. We watched him reel one in from a distance and thought he would be eating fish for dinner, but he is a true sport fisherman – catch and release only.
Farm highlights of the day: The cow bellowing competition that was underway. The cattle with seriously scary bovine resting bitch face who startled away like timid mice when you talked to them. The sheep sprinting across the paddocks like Olympians, for no apparent reason.