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

Mingha Deception track

Day 122 (Sun 21 March): Klondyke corner to Goat Pass hut

Started 8.20am, finished 1.50pm, 12k.

Pain in the head status: Not quite 100% today. Left side of head sore when I woke up and had that dragging migrainous tiredness. I took some simple analgesia with breakfast (and the possibly-placebo-but-no-harm-done ginger tablet) and slowly improved during the day. Successfully avoided taking a migraine tablet – love that. If I had been using them as frequently as I did in the North Island, I would have had to get a repeat prescription by now, but I still have oodles in reserve.

Word of the day: Pertinacious, stubbornly or perversely persistent.

A cold misty morning was not enough to deter the pertinacious sandflies at Klondyke corner so it was a relief to get moving and pick a way along the Bealey river, which sort-of-but-not-really had a track to take us to a bridge where the Bealey joined the Mingha river. Not a bridge for us though – we had to cross the river, the first of many crossings, and the start of another wet feet day.

We were on the route of the annual 2 day multisport Coast to Coast race; the mountain run section which takes participants up the Deception river, over the Goat Pass and down the Mingha river. We were doing it in reverse, up the Mingha and down Deception, and over two days. The fastest Coast to Coast runners do it in three hours. Although, they aren’t carrying eight day’s food (plus extra muesli bars – Tony’s food bag is bulging) and their homes on their backs. Some TAers do walk or run this in a day, leaving their packs at Arthur’s pass (blue haired Tasha did this, no sweat for her after the 100k in 24 hour challenge she did in the North Island – walking from Whanganui to Palmerston North). We did consider it, but it was too much trouble to organise. And we had an excess of food so needed to take it slowly in order to eat it all.

Mingha bivouac

And it turned out to be a glorious day to go over the pass. In the morning, the low cloud lent a mysterious, cloaked atmosphere to the river and forest, but by lunchtime at Mingha bivouac, the sun was winning.

Approaching the pass, the Alps revealed themselves – if Aoraki is the heart of the Southern Alps/Tiritiri o te Moana, then these mountains of Arthur’s pass must be a solid piece of intestines. It felt like we were deep in the bowels of the ranges.

We’d heard lots of complaints about this track, how it was difficult and slow with too many river crossings, so it was a pleasant surprise to find it was just a regular backcountry track. I kept having visions of the Coast to Coast runners bounding over river boulders, skipping across tree roots, skating down gravelly flats and pounding down the board walks. Yes, board walks. The sign of a high quality tramping track. It’s been so long since I’ve seen a board walk I became overexcited and took far too many board walk photos.

It was early in the day when we reached Goat Pass hut, but we stopped anyway, so we could start lightening our packs by eating. There could be worse places than this to spend a lazy afternoon.

Goat pass hut

The blog that could have been: Getting out in the wilderness brings one back to the essentials of life – eating, sleeping, pooping. Get these things sorted and your body is happy. This blog has focused on how tramping affected my migraines, and vice versa, but it could have been called tramping with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which is another issue I have – part of the ‘irritable body’ cluster of conditions that includes migraine. I could have provided a daily update on my gastrointestinal state (frequency, consistency etc), but I’m guessing most people wouldn’t want to read about that. Let me provide a potted summary of my tramping with IBS experience – out in the wilderness, with a strictly controlled and un-triggering diet, the bowel runs smooth and regular. Out in towns, eating anything, everything and then some, trouble occurs. The pattern is consistent; the moral is clear. Towns are bad for bowels.

View from Goat Pass hut

Day 123 (Mon 22 March): Goat Pass hut to Morrison footbridge

Started 8.20am, finished 3.30pm, 15k.

Pain in the head status: No headache today; woke up refreshed after a sound sleep, eager to start.

Word of the day: Moxie, nerve, determination, courage, verve, spirit.

After today, I can kind of understand why this track attracts so much hate from some TA walkers – there was a lot of very slow boulder scrambling, stream crossings and those going uphill would have to add a lot of huffing and puffing on the steep sections  – but all downhill for us.

But although it was tiring and hard (and not recommended for people with dodgy knees or ankles, or dodgy anything), I enjoyed it. The Deception river was mostly bluster and froth and wasn’t difficult to cross – only one rushing channel before a small cascade made me temporarily lose my moxie. The steep bouldery bits could be navigated in a variety of ways depending on the gradient, slipperiness and assessment of risk of smashing something if you fell off – the usual two-pole approach, or poles in one hand and other hand used to brace on a rock closer to the ground, and finally, the bum slide. Or front slide, as another variant. These were quite fun. It was a bit like rock climbing- using four points of contact and balance/counter balance to shimmy down the side of the river. The smooth solid stones were comforting to touch.

The flora and fauna were also distracting. Such a diversity – Dracophyllum, olearia and ribbonwood still flowering. Bellbirds, kea and kereru. On the flats before the road, podocarps, kanuka, horopito, red beech. I’ve forgotten the last time I saw a totara.

And some way down the river, there was a pungent sulphurous smell that for once wasn’t due to Tony’s intestines reacting to a muesli bar. A thermal hot spring was marked on the map. We kept checking for hot water but didn’t find it.

Finally, we reached the Morrison footbridge by SH73, where we set up camp for the night. The wet feet could be dried off – but very quickly, as the sandflies latched onto any exposed bit of flesh like locusts on a corn field. We watched the trains chug by – one of them hauling 30 coal carriages. Before we went to sleep, we heard a kereru crash through the trees then coo contentedly when it found a roost, heard ruru hooting and lots of kiwi calling out to each other – I’m awake; here I am; where are you?

First graffiti of the trip: At Upper Deception hut, a small hut an hour and a half from Goat Pass hut, people had scrawled quotes from the Lord of the Rings movies on the wall. There were none from my favourite character, so that had to be rectified.

Are you frightened? Not frightened enough! (Strider/Aragorn)

Bellbird checking out my whistling

Methven to Arthur’s Pass

Day 119 (Thurs 18 March): Methven

Pain in the head status: Woke up with a slightly stabbing headache after a long luscious sleep but it came right with breakfast and a dose of ginger and Nurofen. There might be something in these ginger tablets after all.

Word of the day: Edacious, having to do with eating or fond of eating.

Our stay in Methven was primarily taken up with edacious pursuits and checking the weather- all looking good for the next week or so. We ate hot cross buns and Lindt chocolate bunnies so we don’t miss out on Easter treats. Eating a bunny felt both juvenile and vengeful against all the rabbits we’ve seen running riot on conservation land.

Day 120 (Fri 19 March): Methven to Hamilton hut (via Lake Coleridge and Harper Village)

Started 11.15am, finished 4.15pm, 18k.

Pain in the head status: Head feeling good.

Word of the day: Peripeteia, sudden reversal of fortune.

From Methven, we had to find a way over the Rakaia river to Lake Coleridge, where the trail started again. Transport options were limited but the accommodation owner kindly dropped us at the start of the road to Lake Coleridge, besides a fancy golf course. Here we stood and waited for an hour or so, trying to hitch a ride, getting despondent as the cars rolled past us.

View from the other side of the Rakaia river

Our peripeteia came in the form of Andrea, who was on a mission to detoxify from electromagnetic energy by spending the day at Lake Coleridge. She checked us out, decided we looked trustworthy, and offered us a lift to the far end of the lake, at Harper Village, which meant we could skip a day of walking on gravel dusty road and hop straight onto the Harper river track. This was an unexpected and delightful bonus. We told Andrea stories about Te Araroa and she shared her knowledge of the area and maybe the satisfaction of helping out a couple of strangers will have enhanced her detox experience.

Harper River

To add to our good fortune, it was a stunning cloudless day, just the weather to be walking up a valley with a multitude of river crossings. The trail was mostly following a 4WD track so was pretty easy although my legs grumbled as they always seem to do after a day off. It was a pleasant change to see some different vegetation- toi toi, mountain beech, ferns – alongside the ubiquitous briar rose and matagouri. And see more birds- black shag, fantail, robin, grey warbler, tomtit.

Roses

Our hut for the night was Hamilton hut, which was palatial and luxurious compared to the musterer’s huts we’d been staying at. A new wide deck, wood panel floor, sandfly-proof door, an inside water tap and sink, 20 bunks. And only one other person to share it with – blue-haired TA walker Tasha.

Joy of the day: Some DOC workers had been doing hut maintenance (they passed us going out in two 4WD vehicles early afternoon) and wrote in the hut book that hungry TA walkers could help themselves to the food they’d left behind. We definitely qualified so immediately consumed the half loaf of Burgen bread with blackcurrant jam, transformed our dinner with the fresh tomatoes, added the muesli to tomorrow’s breakfast ration and squirrelled away the box of crackers. I feel sure there will be a day in our near future where these will be exactly what is needed.

Hamilton hut

Day 121 (Sat 20 March): Hamilton hut to Arthur’s pass (Klondyke corner)

Started 8.20am, finished 5pm, 23k.

Pain in the head status: Migraine remission continues.

Word of the day: Montane, of inhabiting or growing in mountain areas.

The morning was misty and a little drizzly but we were mostly walking in montane beech forest so protected from the damp. We were on the Cass Lagoon circuit today (although only doing the Lagoon half of it), quite a popular weekend tramp with locals so it was fortuitous we missed being at Hamilton hut on this Saturday night.

It was an excellent day of hut bagging, if we ever wanted to make a goal of visiting all 900 or so backcountry huts in NZ. On our way up to Lagoon Saddle, we had morning tea at West Harper hut, with canvas bunks and canvas looped over the ceiling, suggesting a leaky roof; we had lunch at Lagoon Saddle shelter, another A-frame hut but not as warm as the one in Hakatere conservation park; then checked out the unnamed hut over the creek, that DOC recommended staying at, but it was even colder and not as attractive as the A-frame one.

There wasn’t a great view from Lagoon Saddle, with the clouds drooping over Arthur’s pass, but we bagged one more hut on the way down to the road (Bealey hut). Then, by the time we got to Bealey hotel (a few kilometres from the track end on SH73) the sun was finally making an appearance. We had a food parcel at the hotel, which filled our packs to capacity, but there was no room at the inn (except overpriced backpacker rooms that had a 2 night minimum charge – utter rort) so we elected to keep walking SH73 to Klondyke corner campsite.

Sprinting across the Bealey bridge with a full pack was a jarring experience but meant I could take a nice photo of the Waimakariri river at the passing bay in the middle of the bridge, where we stopped for a breather.

Unique road side trash of Arthur’s pass:  Wet wipes, scattered generously over the kerbside vegetation. Strangest trash was the leg of a Barbie doll and a large grey faux mink blanket.

Double hut to Rakaia river and Methven

Day 117 (Tues 16 March): Double hut to Comyns hut

Started 8.25am, finished 3pm, 16k.

Pain in the head status: No pain.

Word of the day: Epigore, inferior imitation.

The day dawned fine and clear, the wind and rain having disappeared in the night. It was a steady climb for three hours, climbing up and over folds in the earth, with the usual thrashing about in tussock, ripping our way through matagouri and scanning the land for the next marker pole. The dead speargrass flowers sometimes fooled me – sticking straight up like a waratah, but a misleading epigore.

After crossing three easy scree slopes, we reached Clent Hills saddle (1480m). We could look back across to where we had come from and marvel at how long it takes to walk this country. Looking down to where we were headed, we could see the earth creating clouds – vats of steam rising from the river valleys, being sucked up into the air to form huge wafts of cumulus.

The cicadas were clacking loudly, as if applauding the sun, and the crickets were leaping wildly, celebrating the warmth. We sat in the sun on the saddle, until a chill wind drove us down the other side, to the Round hill creek, then the north branch of the Ashburton river. I’d read that there were over 40 river crossings in this section, with wet feet guaranteed. Our boot-gaiter defences kept our feet dry until the Ashburton river, then it was gumboot-slosh time, but the crossings were easy and it was a sweet beautiful wander down a gorge, sheer rocky outcrops fringed with greenery, mountain peaks peeking out through the clouds.

We arrived at Comyns hut, a tin can of a shelter, to find it already occupied by Dennis, a TA section walker from Auckland, who had the latest results from the America Cup, that neither of us cared about. We set about wringing out socks and boots and gaiters, ready to get wet again tomorrow.

27 river crossings to go

Reflection of the day was on the marvel of skin; how it is completely waterproof, unlike my wet weather gear, how every time a scratch or bruise heals is a small miracle, how it quietly spits out thorns from under its surface. I also pondered why the skin on my legs was as dry and scaly as a shedding lizard whereas Tony’s legs were perfectly smooth as if he’s been following some secret moisturizing routine.

Comyns hut

Day 118 (Wed 17 March): Comyns hut to Glenrock Stream carpark (Rakaia river) and Methven

Started 8.25am, finished 2.55pm, 16k.

Pain in the head status: No pain again.

Word of the day: Oneiric, of or pertaining to dreams.

A light frost on the ground this morning explained why it was so cold in the tin can overnight. It was the first time I’ve walked with my down jacket on for the first half hour or so, until my fingers and toes regained some feeling. We felt sorry for Dennis, starting out the day with 40+ frigid stream crossings, with no sun until at least 10am, then wet feet all day. This section is better walked NOBO – we only had wet feet for an hour yesterday. Points to us.

Once we warmed up, we had another nice rambly slow day, with lots of sitting down to enjoy our last muesli bars, wraps and plastic cheese. At A-Frame hut, we sat in the sun and read the hut book; at Turtons saddle, we watched the karearea soar across the hills, one of them sweeping down to eyeball us, so close we could see the flecked pattern of its feathers. The view down to the plaits of the milky pale blue Rakaia river and the alps was spectacular.

A huge pack of day walkers passed by, willing to give us a lift to Methven, but we had booked a pick up on the school bus at 4pm at the Glenrock stream carpark – hence the lazy  approach to the day. One of them even told us where she lived in case we needed a place to stay. People can be very generous.

Just before the car park, we passed another TA walking bus – seven SOBOs, five of whom we’d met in the North Island. After much mutual congratulations and discussion of the trail ahead, they began their trudge up the saddle and we ended our saunter down in the car park, where the wind was so fierce we huddled behind the DOC track sign, as the only shelter. It was pretty exciting to see some native trees though – kowhai and ti kouka/cabbage trees – the first native trees we’ve seen for days.

It was 4.30pm before the school bus disgorged its load of children and picked us up, and an hour to Methven, during which I dreamed of a hot shower and undehydrated food. The last few nights, my oneiric sleep has been dominated by random images of food – Boston buns with pink icing, slabs of chocolate, platters of cheese, lamb shanks (ew). As soon as we were clean, we beelined for the Indian restaurant for dinner (guaranteed to be highly calorific) and then the Four Square for breakfast supplies.  

Tramping lesson from this section: Water from streams with didymo taste disgusting, like dirt, even after filtering. Boo to didymo. I hope my insides don’t grow brown snot like these south island waterways.

Mt Potts carpark to Double hut

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.

Spot Edoras -the little lump above the line of trees

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.

Love seeing those cows in the river

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.

Lake Clearwater

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.

One Tree Ridge

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.

Maori lakes

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.

Stone hut to Mt Potts car park (Rangitata River)

Day 113 (Fri 12 March): Stone hut to camp by Bush Stream roadend (near Rangitata river)

Started 7.55am, finished 3.50pm, 16k.

Pain in the head status: No headache today.

Word of the day: Blepharospasm, eyelid twitch.

For the first time in ages, I didn’t sleep very well, thanks in large part to a shooting pain in my hip that decided to visit in the night, after being quiescent for months. So I was tired when we got up, which manifested as an intermittent blepharospasm of my left eyelid, usually a sign that my eyes wanted some more time being closed. But the trail notes said we had nine hours of walking ahead of us, so I was unable to oblige them.

When we left the hut, the world was layered in mist, which persisted while we dropped in and out of streams, sought out the infrequent track waratahs to find the wandering track through the tussock and climbed over a 1500m saddle from which we could see still more mist, hiding the 2000m peaks we knew were around us.

Two kea flew over to check us out, screaming wildly, which could have been: ‘Greetings! Welcome to our world!’ or ‘You stink! We can smell you from here!’ and later, we heard them overheard, probably yelling disbelief at how little we had travelled in the intervening hours.

Still, we reached Crooked Spur hut for an early lunch, described in the online TA notes as ‘tired’. It certainly wasn’t as pleasant and spacious as Stone hut. Pipits peeped and clattered over the roof but I was glad to leave as it was cold. The other wildlife sightings were of enormous hares, which bounded away then stopped and stared down their noses at us as if to say, ‘You can’t catch me!’

Rangitata river misted over in the distance

It was a steep drop down to Bush Stream, which was the waterway which marked our route out. The TA notes states the stream ‘crossings are straightforward in normal flows but can be tricky after rain or during spring when the stream is fed by snow melt. Take extreme care at these times.’ It’s difficult to know how any kind of care will get you across a swollen stream. Of all the indecipherable track advice in the online TA notes, this might take the cake.

The first crossing was stronger and more challenging than the Ahuriri River, although that river was bigger and wider, which didn’t bode well. We took a diversion track over a ridge to avoid a gorged section, and met two trampers coming the other way who alerted us to the difficulty of the crossings ahead. We soon understood why their legs were scratched and bleeding as the track marched us through thickets of matagouri and finished blindly at an impenetrable wall of intertwined coprosma.

Bush stream from above

The next two crossings were right at the limit of what was possible for me to pass, with the current so strong it took all my strength and concentration to inch my feet across. At another section, I couldn’t cross and ended up executing an utterly stupid rock climb and dirt crawl above the swirling stream, the sort of idiocy I would scoff at in other people. I did find evidence of other idiots having done a similar climb though, with broken tree branches and scuffed ground, but it took a long sit down, a muesli bar and a cuddle for the hyperventilating to pass.

After this, the crossings were easier, with the stream breaking up as it spread through the gravelly valley. We passed another nine people trying their luck on the stream – and then a tenth, a hunter, who popped up out of nowhere at around 5.30pm, just as I had finished my afternoon stream wash and was changing into my ‘clean’ clothes. It always seems to be that way. You are alone in the wilderness, having not seen a soul for days, but the moment you take your top off, or drop your pants for a wee, some stranger will immediately come around the corner.

Camping out at Bush stream

The sun had pushed through the clouds by the time we got to the stream so once all the crossings were behind us, we camped out on a flat sandy patch among the river rock. It was calm and warm and just what we needed after the afternoon drama. We squeezed the water from our boots and propped them up to dry and ate every bit of chocolate we had left.

Day 114 (Sat 13 March): Bush Stream roadend to Mt Potts car park (Rangitata River diversion)

Almost a zero day, as our only trail walking was from our camp by Bush Stream to the car park, where we were picked up at 10.30am, 3k. Dropped off at Mt Potts carpark and campsite at around 5pm.

The big Rangitata river diversion

Pain in the head status: Slow burning migraine over the course of the day, eventually aborted with a migraine tablet. Just as well we weren’t doing much. Probably a consequence of yesterday’s panic attack. My head doesn’t like emotional stress.

Word of the day: Pecuniary, pertaining to money.

Wayne from alps2ocean shuttled us from the southern to the northern side of the Rangitata river, one of the two large braided river systems in Canterbury that we have to dodge. We drove through Mesopotamia station, so we could remind ourselves what sheep and cows looked like, in case we’d forgotten. We had a few hours in Mt Somers, mostly spent making pecuniary transactions at the general store, first for supplies for the next section, then lunch and ice cream, then afternoon tea.

Wayne told us stories about Bush Stream – how a French hiker had camped in the toilet at the road end for three nights because he didn’t have a tent but was desperate to follow every step of Te Araroa, even through flooded rivers; how Wayne had fished out three packs from the stream and discovered they were from a group that had tried to get up to Crooked Spur a few weeks before but had taken off their packs to cross the stream and the packs had been washed away. He pointed out an alternative route that led up to Stag Saddle – if I would do this again, I’d definitely go that other way.

After Wayne dropped us off at Mt Potts carpark, we set up camp and admired the sun on the mountains, slapping at the occasional sandfly. Mt D’Archiac made a snowy triangle on the horizon, which feeds Godley river that drains into Lake Tekapo. It was sobering to reflect that it had taken three days of walking to get around to the other side of it. In bed by 8.30pm – another Saturday night on the trail.

Potts river looks so clean

Drinking issues: I drank some water from Potts river before I realised there were cattle wandering freely along the banks. I hope the bovine ablutions don’t upset my stomach.

Woohoo- signage!

Roundhill ski area to Stone hut

Day 111 (Wed 10 March): Roundhill ski area camp to Camp Stream hut

Started 8.20am, finished 10.20am, 7k.

Pain in the head status: The hiatus continued- until the afternoon. I had just calculated that it was almost a fortnight since the last migraine and was reflecting that I hadn’t had a break like this since…I don’t remember. Maybe years. Then a weary heaviness came over me and a dull throb began over one side of the forehead. At least I got to try out the ginger tablet- alongside the usual ibuprofen. It did lift after a lay down but the weariness persisted. Hoping for a decent night’s sleep. It was so mild I’d like to discount it, but it should probably still qualify as a migraine of sorts.

Word of the day: Subfusc, subdued colours.

Sadly, the weather forecast was correct and we woke to rain. The clouds made for a subfusc landscape, the bright golds, greens and deep browns of the tussock, flowering grasses and earth muted by the mist.

The rain was light but enough to saturate everything it could get into in the short time it took to reach our refuge for the day, Camp Stream hut. Tony soon cranked up the fireplace and we spread our wet gear over every possible hook and beam to dry out. This was a private hut, built in 1898, but with an excellent supply of firewood, relics of nights warmed by alcohol and a mousetrap. Considering how much wood we burnt, a bargain at $10 each.

A quiet nero day of waiting – for the next meal, for our clothes to dry, for any other trampers to turn up, for the weather to change. The meals came and went, the clothes dried, two other trampers turned up (Mark and Ken) and the weather cleared and brightened by early evening, unexpectedly as a cold front was forecast until; but it closed darkly in again a few hours later. There was nothing to do but wait and see what the morning brought.

Idiot prize of the day: Awarded to me, for burning the sleeve of my down jacket against the flue of the fire. Patched up, I’m really starting to look like a HOBO.

Mouse trap tally: three mice, one finger.

Day 112 (Thurs 11 March): Camp Stream hut to Stone hut (Two Thumb Range)

Started 8.05am, finished 4pm, 20k.

Pain in the head status: No pain today, slept away the remnants of yesterday’s headache.

Word of the day: Bellwether, leader of a movement or activity.

It was worth the wait for the weather. Cold clear skies greeted us as we left the hut, to start the climb to Stag saddle, the highest point of Te Araroa (1925m). There was no rain and no wind and it was easy going apart from one sweaty slog up a rocky peak. We were rewarded with magnificent views across to Aoraki and the Southern Alps and down to Lake Tekapo.

Mark from last night’s hut had told us there was a group of eight or so SOBOs to come – which he disparagingly described as the ‘walking bus’, a collection of individual SOBOs who had spontaneously banded together. We heard them before we saw them, hooting and cooing from the saddle and from the crest of a high point just off the trail.

By this time, we had ascended into cloud which cut off our alpen views and were scooting along a scree slope on a very obvious and fast path. We were surprised to find trampers emerging from the mist above us, where there was no path, picking their way painfully and cautiously over the loose rock. Maybe they had not seen the very clear cut path in the cloud? Maybe they were on a scree sidling challenge? Maybe the bellwether of the group didn’t know where he was going and the rest blindly followed? They passed us by without much comment, concentrating on their footing.

After lunch at the saddle, we dropped down sharply to Bush Stream, which started as a placid gurgle we could step across to a knee deep boot wetting flow. We passed by Royal hut, so named after Prince Charles and Princess Anne flew in for a visit and a cuppa back when they were young things.

On the throne at Royal hut, wearing my buff crown

We ate our afternoon muesli bar inside and were glad to be leaving, with all the scampering about in the ceiling. It was nearly two hours on to our night’s lodging – Stone hut, another old musterer’s hut with a stone side wall and fireplace (but no wood).

Stone hut

The track had been tough going for the end of the day, buried in tussock which hid deep, ankle-twisting holes and sought to trip you up by tangling its long leaves like tentacles around your boots. My legs, surprisingly, had not begun complaining by the time we reached Stone hut, but my mind was fatigued from the constant vigilance in finding a safe place to plant my feet. The dry bristling rustle of brushing past tussock may yet become the sound of nightmares.

We were all alone at the hut tonight. Not even a mouse for company. I liked the quiet and the cute hut, which was first built in 1862. This was destroyed by an avalanche and replaced – rather oddly, in the same place. Oddly, because there were rocks from a landslide just metres from the hut door. I wouldn’t want to be here in winter.

Tahr heads at Stone hut

Scary thigh award goes to the blond deadlocked German who camped out on Stag Saddle overnight so he could watch the sunrise over the Alps. He was so thin he looked like an anorexic model with calves wider than thighs. It was a wonder he was still standing, and so cheerfully.

Lake Tekapo to camp near Roundhill ski area

Day 109 (Mon 8 March): Lake Tekapo

We spent the morning planning how and when to get across the Rangitata and Rakaia rivers, both large braided river systems that Te Araroa does not cross, designating them as ‘hazard zones’ and leaving hikers with the quandary of how bespoke get around them, as the nearest bridges are miles and miles and miles away. Many people do ford the Rangitata, but there was a lot of rain forecast in the headwaters so we decided not to bother trying. We’ll support the local transport operator instead.

We also found an outdoor store in Lake Tekapo, only three weeks old and so new it wasn’t even listed on Google. They had a lovely long sleeved icebreaker to replace the one I left at Lake Ohau – a little heavier and warmer than my old one, which might be a blessing in a few days if the weather forecast is accurate.

Chores done, we enjoyed the almost tourist-free ambience and managed to photograph the Church of the Good Shepherd and the sheepdog statue without any other bodies present. This is definitely the time for a quiet tour of Aotearoa.

Another parting: My feet and my orthotics are no longer able to cohabit within my boots without conflict. My feet swell so much that the orthotics squash my toes and wedge up painfully against my instep. Since my feet are essential, the orthotics were posted back home where hopefully they can still be used in other footwear, when I’m not walking hours each day and getting foot spread.

Day 110 (Tues 9 March): Lake Tekapo to camp near Roundhill ski area

Started 7.55am, finished 3.20pm, 27k.

Pain in the head status: Still no headache. Tried some hiker’s wool under the balls of my feet to try and cushion them against the pounding on the road- it seemed to help. A useful tip from a tramper we met on the Motatapu track.

Word of the day: Sussuration, the indistinct sound of whispering/rustling.

We had a spot of road walking to contend with today, which was quite a novelty. For about three hours we skirted around the eastern side of Lake Tekapo on a walking track, then a tarsealed road, then a gravel road, and got to do some roadkill inspections. We spotted rabbit, hare, hawk and wallaby. It was much more interesting to road walk when there were majestic mountains to look at, rather than craven cows.

The next three hours or so we were back on a proper tramping track, through a desert-like landscape where tiny streams revealed themselves by the clustering of reeds and greenery around their banks. The track was laid out like a farmer puts in a fence – sight a line and cut it straight, regardless of terrain. The sudden transition to vertical uphills was a shock to the legs, which had had three days without being weighted down by a backpack, and this one was heavy with food. It took a while for the tramping legs to kick back into life and get used to the slower pace of walking.

We decided to camp out and leave a few kilometres to walk on to a hut tomorrow, where we were planning to spend the day and wait out some rain and freezing weather. The clouds over the alps layered into pancakes and then coalesced into milky blankness. It was strangely quiet except for the sussuration of the wind through the tent fly. No birdsong, and the softest of watersong (our water source was a small water channel through a piece of wetland) – even the flies that had pestered us during the heat of the day had disappeared.

But we knew other people were out there. A couple we’d met in Auckland were camping only a kilometre or so downstream (I didn’t recognise them – he’d got so hairy and she’d got so skinny). We’d passed two other SOBOs – both of them generic young men with beards. So many of these have passed us, and they all look the same to me- it could actually be the same person walking rings around us and I doubt I’d notice.

Wildlife encounters: Lots of bumblebees today. They would circle, hum around my head, sniff at my arms, decide I did not smell like a flower, and bumble away.

Luxury lunch: For lunch today we had a wrap with cheese (Tekapo Four Square had no peanut butter slugs), boiled egg and cherry tomatoes (we eat these like lollies whenever we’re in a town and had some left over). It was almost like a cafe lunch. Minus the muffin and cappuccino.

Lake Ruataniwha to Lake Tekapo

Day 107 (Sat 6 March): Lake Ohau to Lake Ruataniwha

Started sometime around 9.30am, finished sometime around 1.30pm, 35k (by bike).

Pain in the head status: Nothing – hallelujah!

Word of the day: Bespoke, made to order.

By the time we got going, yesterday’s rain had retreated from Lake Ohau, and the dense clouds lifted to reveal a topping of snow on the mountains. No wonder we had needed the heater on all night to keep warm.

We had elected to cycle the next section on the Alps to Ocean cycle track, from Lake Ohau to Lake Tekapo, which is recommended by Te Araroa trail notes. This saves a couple of very long days of walking. The section from Twizel to Lake Tekapo is particularly gruelling, with no accommodation and no freedom camping allowed, meaning you have to walk 58k in a day. Not something I’m up for trying. We talked to one woman who did it – she said she was in so much pain at the end that she cried, and when she reached her room for the night she was unable to move, even to eat or have a shower.

Snow on the mountains we had come from

We engaged the services of BeSpoke Bike Tours, as they were able to deliver bikes to Lake Ohau Lodge and transport our packs to Lake Tekapo (and the pun is funny). We were going against the tide of the usual biking flow, by cycling towards the Alps and away from the Ocean, and not many bike hire companies would cater for this. But Annie, from BeSpoke, was very accommodating, if rather scarily disorganised.

Fire-damage closed the campground at Lake Middleton

Tony took the bulk of our gear in two panniers, in an attempt to slow him down, but for me it was still like being in the Tour de France futilely chasing the yellow jersey (yellow high viz vest in this case). Once I had mastered the gears on my bike (which Tony couldn’t bear to watch), it was an easy day along roads, gravelled cycle paths and finally alongside the Ohau and Pukaki canals, part of the huge Waitaki hydroelectric power scheme that channels water from the region’s lakes into dams which are remotely controlled from Huntly in the North Island.

The only part I was uncomfortable with was around the shoreline of Lake Ohau, with a narrow and twisting cycle path that looked very one-way to me. When other cyclists came barrelling along in the other direction, I was obliged to stop and crowd up against the matagouri to give them space to pass. Whoever made this trail probably did not anticipate the existence of northbound TA walkers-temporary-cyclists.

Confluence of Ohau and Pukaki canals

Otherwise, it was a fun ride and did much to heal the trauma from the Timber Trail in the North Island. My confidence in riding a bike started to be restored.

Lake Ruataniwha

We stayed the night at Lake Ruataniwha campground (in a cabin so we didn’t have to lug sleeping bags and the tent on the bikes). This was an enormous campground that pretty much needed a bike to traverse. The adjacent rowing facility was closed due to the recent shift to Covid-19 level 2, and ironically was the reason we were staying at the lake and not in Twizel, since at the time we looked (pre-level 2), accommodation was scarce due to the rowing events and the cavalcade. So we had a 4k cycle into Twizel for dinner, against a punishing headwind, but we compensated by eating an enormous amount of food – a second lunch at the bakery, ice cream, then Indian curries and naan bread. In the light of cancelled events, Twizel was scarily quiet, but then it seems like a place where nothing much happens at the best of times. Built to house the dam construction workers, it was slated to be dismantled but the residents mounted a resistance and the town was left to be the star of the Mackenzie district it is today.

Obligated to visit this place

Annoyance of the day: At the campsite I realised I’d left my long sleeved merino top back at Lake Ohau Lodge. And the  outdoor shops in the bustling metropolis of Twizel were only open for limited hours on the weekend. Here’s hoping Lake Tekapo can rustle up a replacement for me.

Day 108 (Sun 7 March): Lake Ruataniwha to Lake Tekapo

Started 8.50am, finished 2.40pm, 58k (by bike).

Pain in the head status: Still nothing. Feels like some kind of celebration is in order.

Word of the day: Cyanic, blue, azure.

Stunning. That summed up today, with the snow-draped alps filling up our eyes as we rode across the arid plains from Twizel to Lake Pukaki, then along the canals with brilliant, almost luminescent cyanic and turquoise water. What with near perfect weather, this was a highlight of the trail so far, and the relative ease and speed of our travel only added to my appreciation.

Although my buttocks suffered some torture from the bike seat, the exclamations of amazement at the scenery were interspersed with sighs of thanks that my feet were being spared the monotonous pounding of the roads. I’ll take a saddle-sore butt over throbbing feet.

There was only one challenging part, where we had to cycle up the road from Lake Pukaki to the canals, which was so steep there was even a warning sign for cars. It did momentarily defeat me, as I had to take a short break half way up, but cyclists speeding down the other way cheered encouragement (or ridicule for us going the wrong way, it can be hard to tell) and then of course we had to keep going or would have felt like lame ducks. Tellingly, there was a wide cycle lane going down the road, but not one going up, because who would be silly enough to use that?

Cars being warned of steep road gradient

On the canals, we were mostly able to cruise along in top gear, except for one or two bumpy gravel sections. Lots of people were trying their luck fishing but we saw more fish leaping out of the water than being reeled in on a rod.

Another dam on the network

On the last few kilometres before Lake Tekapo my thighs went on strike and we had to walk up the final small hill after the Tekapo dam, but then it was a glorious fly down into the town. We exchanged bikes for backpacks again and it was weirdly comfortable to have my Osprey pack strapped on again. The last couple of days I’ve been constantly thinking I’m missing something – and realising it’s my pack.  

Lake Tekapo

We stayed at the new YHA in Lake Tekapo which has outstanding views from its lounge and kitchen, and not many clientele to enjoy them.

Views from the YHA. Five star.

Wildlife encounter of the day: I saw my first ferret, dashing across one of the canal roads to dive down into the canal bank. I stopped briefly, thinking… what – to chase it down? Throw a rock at it? I didn’t even have my walking poles with me. So I carried on and hoped that at least it was eating a lot of rabbits.

Top Timaru hut to Lake Ohau

Day 105 (Thurs 4 March): Top Timaru hut to East Ahuriri hut

Started 7.50am, finished 6.25pm, 34k.

Pain in the head status: No pain. Unreal.

Word of the day: Rhapsodic, enthusiastic or ecstatic expression of feeling.

All the trampers we saw today had a singular focus – getting across the Ahuriri River, the largest unbridged river on Te Araroa – although there is a bridge downstream but that adds 10k onto the walk. A southerly front with a heap of rain was forecast for tomorrow so everyone was trying to get across today before it became impassable.

But before the River, we had a solid steady climb up to Martha saddle, zig zagging across a huge stony mountain face, on a wide easy track that had been bulldozed up and over the saddle back in the farming days.

On the other side of the saddle, we had lunch at Tin hut, a private hut with a classic open air toilet and a resident mouse population, one of which had met its demise in a trap by the door. Then it was another 10k or so down to the river, which ended up being crossable without wetting the underwear (for any reason).

After this, we had to decide whether to camp out in the lower East Ahuriri valley or push on for another couple of hours to East Ahuriri hut, which was described by DOC as ‘derelict’ but by other accounts was a basic but comfortable accommodation. It was nearly 4pm and to get to the hut would be another two and a half hours of walking. I consulted my legs – they were not happy, but my mind overruled them. I really wanted to visit this hut, and this would mean we’d be sheltered from any rain in the night, and could possibly get over the next saddle and out of the valley tomorrow before the worst of the wintry blast hit us.

The dreaded Ahuriri River – turned out to be a kitten not a tiger

So this was how we ended the day – trudging up the Easy Ahuriri through tussock and matagouri, skipping over deep narrow water channels hidden in the grass. As much as the ups and downs of the terrain, it was a day of emotional rollercoasting for me. I’m usually on a fairly even keel but today I started on a low, struggling to find the energy to plod up Martha’s saddle. For the first time, I plugged in some music – which I’d been holding back for a desperate occasion. Music is like a superpower – it induced a rhapsodic state that got me charging up the hill, singing out the lyrics whenever I had breath. The magic wore off when I twisted my ankle on some rocks downhill, but I was grateful for my poles that meant I could hobble on until the pain subsided. Then my mood crashed after lunch, probably coinciding with a sugar low, and despite my sincere desire to knock out 34k, I has to mainline Werther’s cream candies to get me through the last 6k.

East Ahuriri hut

I was hugely grateful to get to the hut, which was built in the 1890s but has had some TLC since then, with a tiled floor and the construction of bunks from raw tree branches. The bunks were strung with wire mesh to create a type of hammock, with mattresses on top. I got the best hammock, which was surprisingly comfortable, but Tony was squashed up in his and didn’t have the best night. Still, we were out of the wind, which woke us up occasionally as it rattled through the tin walls, and the mice didn’t bother us, even though I almost trod on one in a nightly visit to the tussock toilet.

Legends of the day: At around 7.30pm, a French couple appeared at East Ahuriri hut. They had walked all the way from Twizel, over 50k away, and still looked chipper and cheerful. They decided to press on towards the river. Unbelievable. I decided it was all in the legs – they were wearing tiny shorts that barely covered their bottoms so I could see they both had thighs like barrels, unlike mine which are still squidgy and flaccid. I can’t seem to stop myself from routinely checking out the legs of trampers we come across. I look at the tree-trunk, overtly muscular legs with envy and longing. If I had legs like that, I might do 50k in a day as well. But I don’t. And won’t. No 50k days for me.

Day 106 (Fri 5 March): East Ahuriri hut to Lake Ohau

Started 8.05am, finished 2.15pm, 17k.

Pain in the head status: No pain still. I thought I was getting a night time headache but it turned out that my buff, which I’d been using as a buffer against the terrifying stench of our wet socks and boots, had crunched up where my head pressed against the pillow. Once that was rectified, I was back to blissful snoring, ignorant of the earthquakes and tsunami warnings shaking up the rest of Aotearoa.

Speargrass, tramper’s bane

Word of the day: Cavalcade, a company of riders, a trail ride usually more than one day long.

We left Otago at the edge of the Ahuriri river and are now tramping in Canterbury. Along the trail from Top Timaru hut, we noticed the occasional horse hoof print and horse poop, and at East Ahuriri hut, we discovered the reason. A 27-large group of riders had passed through yesterday, as part of the annual Otago Goldfields Cavalcade. This event has taken place since 1991 and traces routes and explores the history of the Otago gold rushes. This year is the first time they have ventured into Canterbury, ending up in Twizel. As well as horse riders, there are walking and mountain biking options and the opportunity to ride in horse-drawn wagons and buggies. For anyone who loves horses, history and human company, this would be a dream adventure.

But back to Te Araroa adventure. We were up in time to see the sunrise stain the clouds pink, gold and peach and light the tops of the western mountains with an orange glow. The forecast rain had yet to eventuate but as we motored up the valley as fast as we could, the clouds foamed and darkened in the west. For most part, it was a kind track up to the long flat saddle that took us out from East Ahuriri to Lake Ohau, with shallow stream crossings and a firm path, but it was surprisingly easy to lose the foot trail, bash through grasses or stumble over rocks, then find it again looking so incredibly obvious and innocent that you wondered how you lost it.

The fragility of the mountains created the main obstacles – huge boulder fields and sheets of gravelly scree from slips that cast stones and rock from the tops to the valley floor. We scooted past all this and over the saddle, down through a patch of beech forest, with only an occasional fierce gust of wind pelting us with raindrops, and then tear-shaped mountain beech leaves. We got half-way to Lake Ohau Lodge along the Alps to Ocean cycle way, before the bad weather finally caught us. The deluge sorely tested the adequacy of our wet weather gear, but it was only for an hour or less, and was much better than what we’d been anticipating, which was foul weather all day.

At the lodge we judiciously elected to take a budget room rather than camp and made good use of the drying room. The rain only worsened and the wind was bitterly cold – I  was overwhelmingly glad to be safe and warm in the lodge with its fire-lit lounge. At 4pm, the kitchen started serving nachos, and we were the first to order. It was $15 for a two-person serve. So many TAers had talked about these nachos, once again showing how different people have different perceptions of the same phenomenon. Unlike others, we did not find the plate so huge we couldn’t finish it (not at all), it was definitely vegetarian (one couple we talked to was convinced it was meat, proving the vagaries of memory and how easy it is to be inattentive to one’s meal) and it was very average, not worth a rave, unless you crave a mass of corn chips with a modest scoop of beans, melted cheese on the bottom of the plate and a mound of jalapeno peppers.

Disaster tourism experience: We walked through the aftermath of the large wildfire that torched over 5000 hectares around Lake Ohau in October 2020. We passed black tree skeletons and carbonised matagouri but the pestilent rose bushes survived, sporting bright green new leaves and oval orange and red rosehips. These rose bushes have been a laceration hazard since Arrowtown and look set to take over the world.