Day 115 (Sun 14 March): Mt Potts campsite to Paddle hill creek camp
Started 9.05am, finished 2.50pm, 15k.
Pain in the head status: No pain today. Had over an hour of lying awake from about 1.30am, but caught up on some podcasts and eventually drifted back to sleep. The poor sleep did make me lethargic and fuzzy in the head by the afternoon, but it didn’t amount to anything.
Word of the day: Peregrination, travel/wanderings from place to place.
In our peregrinations, we have passed near several locations in the The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies. This morning, the sun shone down on Mt Sunday a few kilometres from our campsite – the setting for Edoras in The Two Towers. It looked much smaller and less significant than in the movie, making me appreciate Peter Jackson’s vision as a director to see how this little pimple on the landscape could transform into Rohan’s seat of power.
We were doing this next section to the Rakaia river slowly over four days so there was no need to get up early or rush. The first point of interest was a sign at the start of the track, aimed at the SOBOs coming towards the Rangitata river. This warned they would be trespassing if they attempted to cross the river and, in fine New Zealand hunting tradition, which is known to disregard the mandate to ‘identify your target’ in cases of inebriation, inexperience or over-excitement, they may be inadvertently shot.
Pleased to have escaped both being trespassed and hunted, we set out to enjoy a leisurely day, taking lots of long breaks to sit and admire the views. We were close to Lake Clearwater, which had an unexpectedly large settlement, predominantly holiday homes, all off grid – but no cafe, sadly. The sky was pale blue and cloudless and lots of people were out day walking, hiking, cycling, even running; flying kites on the lake edge.
Then that was behind us and we were on an old farm track from the times when this area was Hakatere station. It has been conservation land since 2007 and the tussock is starting to regenerate – more so than on the Clearwater side, where our shuttle driver Wayne pointed out land that had had no stock on it for ten years but still looked like a barren brown desert.
We found a lovely campsite by a burbling creek, tucking the tent into a flat spot fenced by spiky matagouri. We spotted a hawk overhead, scouting for prey, and silvereyes diving through the matagouri. It was remarkably free of sandflies (although they discovered us the next morning).
Musical interlude: Across the Motatapu track, which was created by Shania Twain and her husband as a condition of their land purchase, I avoided an ear worm of That don’t impress me much or Man I feel like a woman; past Royal hut, I did not think about Lorde, but here, in the sweeping expanse of tussock surrounded by craggy wild peaks, it seemed fitting to plug in to the soundtrack of The Lord of the Rings. The haunting melodies combined with the awesome scenery made my throat ache.
Day 116 (Mon 15 March): Paddle hill creek camp to Double hut
Started 8.15am, finished 1.50pm, 24k.
Pain in the head status: A bit headachey overnight thanks to a disturbed sleep from the wind whipping around the tent, but feeling fine by morning.
Word of the day: Mount weasel, false geographic feature on a map to prevent copyright infringements.
We woke to a glorious sunrise, with the clouds and hills painted bright orange, rose and gold. It was the best background to my morning toileting ever.
We were motivated to walk quickly today due to the weather forecast of heavy rain from the afternoon and 90k/h winds at 1000m (we ended up around 900m). Fortunately, it was a fast easy track, mostly on old farm tracks or back roads, but the wind did its best to slow us down. It whipped into our faces so I was almost bent double, pushing forward on my poles, then blasted us from the side, so I would stagger around like a drunk.
At Maori/Ashburton lakes, a notice board informed us that this used to be a place for harvesting tuna (eels), kaka, kereru and other birds. Today, there is nothing for the birds – nothing to eat, nowhere to shelter, no native tree in sight, just a barren wasteland (except where irrigation has allowed some fields to grow stock feed). I would love to see how this area looked before it was burnt off for farming.
We had lunch at Manuka hut, a welcome respite from the wind and another cute ex-musterer’s lodging, then pressed on for another hour and a half to Double hut. This is notable for a bit of graffiti on the wall that may or may not be from New Zealand’s most famous mountaineer – clearly also a man of few words if this is all he could be bothered to write.
The most unpleasant aspect of the hut was that it had a mirror, which was a horrible shock. I really didn’t want to know what my hair looked like after so many days without a wash or a brush.
The promised rain arrived later in the afternoon, along with two other TA walkers, Mark and Tim, two hardy southern men who entertained us with Canterbury tales. In the interest of helping Mark to lighten his pack, we ate two of his BIG gingernuts, which made the Griffins version we’d picked up in Mt Somers as an afternoon tea treat look like baby biscuits.
Puzzle of the day: The Te Araroa online trail notes only occasionally offer advice about water sources but there was a special bullet pointed note for SOBOs that the next reliable water source from Manuka hut was 17.3k away (at the creek we camped beside). This caused me much bemusement. In between the campsite and Manuka hut, we crossed over a major river on Buicks bridge, a minor stream on another bridge, walked alongside another stream lined with willows and passed by several lakes. It was hard to fathom how none of these could be reliable water sources. The only explanation I could muster was that this nonsense piece of advice was like a mount weasel of the trail notes, but the reason why eluded me.