Harper Pass track – part 1

Day 124 (Tues 23 March): Morrison footbridge to Locke Stream hut

Started 8.30am, finished 4.10pm, 23k.

Pain in the head status: The migraine hiatus seems to have ended as I woke up feeling headachey and nauseous. I tried out a new anti-nausea pill (not ‘new’ as in a recent invention; an old one I haven’t used before) along with my standard anti-headache artillery and it worked – migraine resolved and migraine pill avoided. Migraine is like the rat problem we have in Aotearoa, you pull out all the stops to eradicate them but they just come back, more determined than ever to make their home with you.

Word of the day: Stipule, outgrowth on the base of a leaf stalk characteristic of coprosma.

In summary, today I was tired. Tired of river crossings and squelching along in wet boots, tired of rocks tripping me up and slipping underfoot, tired of unmarked routes and washed out tracks. The braided rivers in Aotearoa may be unique and special but they are a plague on trampers who just want a nice clear path that doesn’t change every time a storm comes through.

But after a rough morning, the track did improve, to an actual path along grassy flats, only occasionally throwing us back into the river or across a spit of gravel. The morning mist cleared and we could see mountains. I passed a plant and a botanical thought came to me – those leaves have domatia and the leaf stems have stipules, so it must be a coprosma. That’s as far as my plant identification went, but I was pleased to remember something from the plant books I lugged around the North Island.

As well as tired, I was sore. My shoulders ached – the front of the shoulder where the bicep tendon runs over the ball of the joint. It was discombobulating and almost funny how a new and unexplained pain could take up all my attention, diminishing the old familiar pains. Why had this suddenly developed? What did it mean? When would it go away? What should I do about it? How would I sleep tonight with two painful shoulders?

It was a relief to get to our home for the night, Locke Stream hut, rather pungent inside from a recent successful rat poisoning mission, but large and warm and of historic significance, built in 1940 from hand-hewn timber. It was almost a relief to find that something smelled worse than our boots, even if this was a mixture of dead rat and old rat’s nest. We were reunited with Duncan from Auckland, who had skipped the section between the Rangitata and Rakaia rivers and had caught up with us. He had stories to tell – buying a walking pole and losing it down a river, falling into another river, losing toenails, spending two extra days at Top Timaru hut because of bad weather. He was having a great time.

Passing by Kiwi hut

Disappointment of the day: The boot sole strap on one of my new gaiters broke, rendering it useless. My old gaiters never let me down like this. Now, not only is one tender leg exposed to the hazards of gorse and hook grass, my gaiter tan line will be more pronounced on one side than the other, looking doubly ridiculous.

Day 125 (Wed 24 March): Locke Stream hut to Hurunui No 3 hut

Started 8.30am, finished 3.15pm, 15k.

Pain in the head status: The first full-blown migraine I’ve had for a long time came on in the night. A migraine tablet was needed and again in the morning. But the tablets worked and by the time we were on the trail, the pain was mostly gone, leaving me a bit dopey and weak for an hour or so. Maybe yesterday’s tiredness was partly a migraine prodrome.

Word of the day: Piffle, talk, writing or action regarded as inconsequential or nonsensical.

Yesterday’s crises were passing fancies today – my shoulders felt inexplicably better and Tony, ever practical, suggested a remedy for my broken gaiter – remove the boot strap entirely. This worked so well I wondered why there was a boot strap at all.

View from Harper Pass

We climbed over the Harper Pass/Taramakau saddle this morning. This route was upgraded and huts built along it in the 1930s, when it was proposed to be a popular hike in the vein of the Milford Track. It never succeeded, which is hardly surprising since it ends (or begins, depending on which way you walk it) on a river on the West Coast which is frequently impassable.

This western side of the track was a little rough – no namby pamby bulldozed ex-farm track or boardwalk to this saddle. It was in true TA style – a couple of slips, overgrown, a bit of windfall. But once on the other side, past the tiny but tidy Harper Pass Bivouac, the track improved significantly, mostly an easy stroll through forest and grass flats near the river.

Harper Pass Bivouac

There have been so many rivers in the last few days, I was having difficulty remembering which one I’m walking in, or beside, or over. Yesterday, we crossed the Otira to walk up the valley of the Taramakau river (and went through that one many times). This morning we passed over the headwaters of the Taramakau and picked up the Hurunui river on the other side. This afternoon, we slid across Cameron stream on our first three-wire bridge of the trip. So much fun.

We trod through some dried up cow pats and horse poo and I started thinking about all the research activities I could have done if I’d thought of them at the beginning of the trip. A bovine scatological survey could have been interesting, noting all the different textures, fluidity and content of cow pats throughout the country – I could have done an observational study of the sun safety habits of walkers. I have been horrified by the number of people with beet red burnt faces walking under a blazing sun with no hat on. But I’ve only now realised what an opportunity I’ve missed in not interviewing all the men we’ve come across to see if any would be a suitable husband for a friend in Wellington. All this piffle about me and my migraines when I could have been doing something useful for someone else. There’ll be slim pickings over the next few weeks – the number of walkers is declining.

Cameron hut

False hope of the day: When I took my boots and gaiters off, I thought I saw calf muscle definition in my lower leg. I was just about to crow excitedly about it to Tony when I realised it was just the line left from the elastic in my sock, which I’d pulled up higher than usual today. So disappointing.

Hurunui No 3 hut

2 thoughts on “Harper Pass track – part 1

  1. I have been pondering if there was any pattern to your migraines and obviously there is stress that you’ve mentioned. But the biggest difference compared to the North Island is that your are not near roads – they add stress with road walking but maybe you are also sensitive to the chemicals in car/truck exhaust? I was just about to ditch that conclusion when I read that you had a migraine on this day but then I saw the picture of the road (and then went back to the map and saw the “73”).


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