We stayed at a motor park in Hokitika to have a rest day and apparently looked so worn and haggard that the owner offered us a free soak in the hot pools. Then Nick and I went to the grocery store to look for some good and easy food and came out with 2 frozen pizzas, 2 cases of beer, and 2 liters of ice cream. I've never felt like such a bachelor in a checkout line before, but man was that a good night. March 1
We drove to Christchurch and found it busier and more chaotic than expected. A lot of people were off from work because of the earthquake so they seemed to be milling around town more than would be typical on a weekday. We also felt a 4.6 magnitude quake tonight just before bed. My first earthquake and a little bit unnerving. March 2
After finding enough stores that were open in order to do our errands today, we drove south to Lake Clearwater where we found an awesome campsite by the lake with no one else around. There is a film site from one of the Lord of
the Rings movies near here and the Arkis boys wanted to see it. We're on a 4-day rest period per Nick's request (and probably well earned after the last tramp) so we figured that spending a day doing a little sight seeing would be a nice way to spend the day. March 3
We stopped to see Mount Sunday, the film location, and after looking at it for about 5 minutes we drove the hour back down the road back to the highway. From here, we took a scenic route through the mountains to Arthur's Pass village, a tiny settlement deep in the mountains where we plan to tramp for the next week. Our friends Mel and Morgan that we met a month ago on Stewart Island live here and offered for us to stay with them. They both work for DoC managing bird and plant conservation and are very knowledgeable about interesting stuff. March 4
We were all jolted awake this morning when Mel and Morgan's phone rang just after sun-up. They lead the search and rescue teams in the park and get called into action frequently. This morning was one of those times. A
55-year old guy had gone missing yesterday and there had been a ground search already during the night in the rain and howling wind. Mel and Morgan were set to go up in a chopper, but were called off just before leaving the house as the guy had been found. He'd come down some very steep bluffs the wrong way off the mountain overnight and was found not more than half a km from the village, alive and lucky. A good start to today.
I checked the weather and it looked like the rain that started yesterday would continue through tomorrow with a brief 8-hr window this afternoon. Not wanting to spend another night in town, we took advantage and set out up the Waimakariri River valley just after lunch.
The valley is huge, very wide with many braids of water to cross as you move up it. Normally the water crossing pose the biggest problems, but today the wind was the worst part. It was a headwind and I'd sometimes be leaning forward 45 degrees into it and still it would hold me up. And since the valley is so wide, when it's in flood the water
deposits large quantities of sand and silt on the rocky banks. Add to that some 80mph+ wind coming down the valley and you have a very efficient way of moving that sand through the air, blasting everything in it's path... like us for example.
On one occasion I looked up ahead and saw nothing but a wall of brown/gray dust racing towards us. I tried to yell "get down, it's a big one" to Nick and Andrew, but they did not hear me. So I turned my backpack to the wind and sat down, crouching and tucking away any exposed skin on my arms and legs to avoid the flying sand as best as possible, which was pretty painful at those speeds. Turning around not only saved me from being hit, but it also gave me front row seating for the pain show-featuring Nick and Andrew, who were about 15 feet behind me. I watched in dismay as they danced around in vain, trying desperately to cover their arms, knees, and faces from the sand, but to no avail. This process was repeated several times over the next hour.
Eventually we made it further up the river to
where it narrowed and we were in the shelter of the trees. And shortly after that we made it to Carrington hut where we will base ourselves for the next few days. March 6
Rest stayed in the hut all day yesterday as it poured outside, but this morning the clouds parted and things looked to be turning good, so we went exploring. We went up a narrow river gorge towards Harman Pass, alternating between climbing scree slopes and boulders, and many time in the river itself. I had been here last year at the beginning of summer and we had turned back halfway up the gorge due to massive avalanche debris blocking the way. This time, with it being later in the season, I marvelled at how different the river looked. We passed a seemingly endless series of waterfalls that crashed down beside us from unseen heights above. It all echoes off the cliffs on both sides of us. Everything about this place was loud and beautiful.
Soon we were at the Pass where we had lunch. Whitehorn Pass was another 1500ft above where we were, and I was able to convince Andrew to come along,
so we headed up further. When we got near the top, we reached the permanent snowfield that sits in the narrow gulley. At the base of the snowfield a cave is cut by the melt water, which gradually gets bigger as temperatures rise. At this point in the summer it was about 30ft high at the mouth, and despite common sense and our better judgement, we were compelled to go inside.
Inside and under the glacier, the water rushed past our feet while snow and ice formed a ceiling overhead. It gave us both an eerie feeling, so we stayed only long enough for pictures before coming back out into the sunshine.
From there, we descended back down to meet Nick and then all back together down the gorge to Carrington hut, our home for the past 3 nights. March 7
We intended to go up to Barker hut today, but with a party of 5 heading there already we decided to go up another valley to Waimakariri Falls hut instead so we wouldn't have to share a hut with them. It was only 3-4 hours away so we got a noon start, which has been
a trend on this particular tramp.
The route was easy, following a beautiful blue river up a gentle slope. After a few kilometers we rounded a bend and came to the first major waterfall. You can hear and feel it before you see it, but when we did, it was awesome. Crashing down from 150ft up it was quite a sight, and since we were following the river, it meant that there was steep uphill climbing ahead.
We climbed around this one and around another one ever larger (250ft) afterwards, and soon found ourselves high up in the valley with long views over where we'd come up from. Within half an hour we arrived at the hut, which sits no more than 20 feet from the edge of a very steep gorge. Steel cables attach it to the ground to prevent wind and avalanches from moving it, but hopefully we will have to contend with neither of those things tonight.
I also realized that this it the 100th hut that I've visited in New Zealand over my 3 trips here. It's kind of amazing, the amount of places I've been fortunate enough to tramp to in this
awesome country. Each hut has been unique and memorable in its own way, and there has usually been a great story to go along with most of them. (This particular hut's memorable moment was Nick standing in the doorway with pajama pants tucked into his socks, while also wearing sandals and singing "Uptown Girl") High up here in this mountain valley with amazing views and waterfalls everywhere, this is a pretty cool spot for hut number 100. March 8
We started early (for us) at 8:45 and climbed up to Waimakariri Col within a couple hours. At the top, we had breathtaking views over the whole range, where clouds covered the valleys in a thick white blanket with the occasional peaking sticking through it. The air was completely still, which is rare up here, and we were able to yell out and play with the echoes off the surrounding peaks. It was an awesome place.
Then we descended down the other side for a long time until the river become bigger and began to gorge in the narrowing valley. We stopped for lunch, not knowing that the second half of the day would get much more difficult.
From that point, we crossed several scree slopes and landslide paths that cut downward at extremely steep angles. They had looked so much easier from a long way off, but were anything but easy when on top of them. The ground was like concrete poured at a 45 degree slope, with almost no places to get grips. It made for slow progress. But eventually we made it across and down to the river where we forest-bashed and river-bashed until we reached the road end at 7:30pm. I had to promise Nick and Andrew that we wouldn't have any more 10+ hour days for the rest of the trip.
Then I hitch-hiked the 20 minutes back to the village where our car was parked. With only a car about every 5 minutes on this lonely stretch of highway, I was glad to get a ride from a truck driver. Unfortunately the toughest part of my day was trying to appear interested in a conversation with him as I wanted to just get to the car, go back to get the guys, and get back to Arthur's Pass village to make some dinner. Another long day through some beautiful country,
but all part of the adventure. March 10
This morning I went to the only place in town with internet access to type out a blog update to this point, only realizing after typing it all that there was no way to upload pictures. I figured that 99% of people viewing this blog are only looking at the pictures anyway and would be severely disappointed with an entire page of text only, so I decided to save the update for later when pics can be added. (If you're reading this and you're not part of my immediate family, thanks... and wow.)
So I went back to Mel and Morgan's place, got the guys, dropped them off at the trailhead 5km away, came back to Mel and Morgan's to park the car, and began an attempt to hitch-hike back to the trailhead. (All this was done to avoid leaving the car at the carpark due to recent break-ins and car thefts.)
Then hitch-hiking... I realized I've become spoiled by having a car at our disposal because I was quite impatient while waiting for a ride. I even wrote a sign saying "Only 5km" on it hoping to
tempt someone into picking up a hitch-hiker knowing I'd only be in their car for a few minutes. The wind kept blowing my sign around though, so no one probably read it, or they didn't care. Either way it seemed not to be working.
Cursing all the cars that didn't stop for the first half hour, I was finally saved by an Italian dude that stopped. So we began the actual hiking at 2pm, and we made good progress since the river was low and we could avoid taking the flood tracks. It was a beautiful walk up the Edwards valley for 3 hours until we arrived at the hut, which we had to ourselves. I can tell that summer is coming to an end as the sun it going down noticeably earlier each night and the temps are really starting to dip at night. March 11
The wet socks and boots felt like ice when I slipped them on this morning. Normally my feet warm up quickly, but today the toes were numb slightly longer than usual.
I was excited about today's hiking because it had beautiful views and I had my camera with me
this time. (I was in this area last year, but have no photos from it since my camera was waterlogged and non-functioning during that time.) So I was kind of worried when I looked up the valley and saw clouds hanging over the peaks. "Maybe they'll lift" I thought. They wouldn't.
We got up to Falling Mountain (which gets its name from the fact that it is an entire half of a mountain that fell off in an earthquake 80 years ago) and were enveloped in fog. It cut the visibility to 50ft and gave us few views for the day. So nature has yet again conspired to keep me from taking pictures of these valleys.
It was still a nice trek though, climbing a total of 3 passes for the day, doing some easy river-bashing and bush-bashing, and coming down into the pretty and wide-open Hawdon Valley. The last hour of the walk I decided to go on ahead of Nick and Andrew in an attempt to maybe see some wildlife. I find that when hiking with Nick, you are unlikely to see most form of wildlife since they have ears and can hear the non-stop movie
quoting as we approach. So I went ahead and enjoyed some quiet solitude, but didn't see anything other than a few birds.
Then at the hut we built a roaring fire to dry things out and warm us up. I think we overdid it though as it was almost too warm to sleep at night. March 12
The walk down the river to the highway was easy and relatively uninteresting. The interesting part came when I hitch-hiked back to the village to get our car.
About the 5th car to come by me stopped, and I could tell by the looks of things that it would be a good ride. It was a station wagon packed with stuff in the trunk, and already seated in it were 4 guys wearing leather jackets looking like they were ready to go to a rock concert. The best part was that each of them (except for the driver) had a 24-pack of beer on their lap, which they were very quickly drinking their ways through. There was a little room in the middle of the backseat, so I thought "Sure, what the heck."
I got in and was
once again happily surprised by the random experiences you can have when hitch-hiking. The inside of the car sounded like a recycling truck with the amount of glass bottles clinking around. I soon had a beer of my own in my hand, and was informed that the game was to drink when we passed a rest-stop, and to guzzle the entire time while the car was on a bridge. There's quite a few bridges in this area.
The guys were very nice and through some conversation I learned that they were students and typically much more responsible than their current appearance would indicate. They were headed to a music/food festival on the west coast.
Soon we arrived in Arthur's Pass village and they dropped me off near the car. I told them "thanks for the experience," and that just driving with an open container of alcohol in the US could land you in serious trouble so this would truly be a unique experience for me. They said that was no problem in New Zealand as long as the driver is below the legal limit, and the guy driving seemed fairly confident that he was within it. But as
they drove off I had my suspicions that at the pace they were going, they would all soon be well over whatever the limits might be.
So I got the car, got Nick and Andrew, and we drove back to Christchurch. We are done with the major tramping in the South Island and will be returning the car to Jim and Helen before heading to the North Island to spend our final 2 weeks. Wow, has time flown over these past two and a half months!
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