Now that our journey to Bluff has become under a 1000km long, an optimistic mood set in. Only a few mountains, a couple of valleys here and there, a river or two to deal with, we’ll be there in no time! Yet we feel that our bodies are tired, and our heads too.
There is never a real break from the trail. Even though we take it easy, there is always the next trail, the next hut, the next town. A drumming vibe keeps pushing us forward, tells us to keep on going, not to dread around too long in towns, tired or not. It’s exhausting, yet probably for the good. If we get too comfortable now and lose the rhythm, it may take us a while to get going again.
In the spree of optimism and as a kind courtesy to our bodies we wanted more food. It all started with bacon. On the next track, there MUST be bacon! The thought haunted us since we found a bag of bacon in the Upper Travers Hut and believed it belonged to a couple out paragliding – only to find out later that its rightful owners had left it behind. Such sorrow and grievance!
We threw all the principles we picked up on ultra-light hiking overboard for now, we just wanted to eat. Didn’t mind carrying it, as long as we could eat it. Our packs became heavier than long loaded with bacon, over a kilo of cheese, wraps, Nutella, chocolate blocks, and for PJ a snackbag worth 5kg. Eat more carry less echoed through the woods soon after, and there was much rejoice.
When we left Hanmer Springs an ‘are we in Bluff yet’ vibe was in the air. It vanished as we reached the quiet of the Hope Kiwi Hut, the first hut in a long time we had to ourselves. I love reaching a hut after a town: it’s so peaceful and calm, no distractions, just sit and read a book. After a beautiful sunset PJ and I fell asleep like babies – Patrick was kept up by mice running through the night. It’s a beech mast year, a rare year when the beech trees lose plenty of seeds encouraging the rat and mice populations. Lucky us.
The huts have upgraded our comfort considerably and we’ve happily been making use of them. After all it’s the only long-distance track that has such an extensive amount of them so no matter where we go in the future, we’ll never get the chance again. So why not? We’ve been in all kinds of huts: cramped 2 person bivvies, charming old wooden-built huts, modern DOC huts, the bright orange cabanas from the forestry service days, and the very old ones with well, let’s say a historic character. It’s a piece of heritage and many of them come with a good story.
In the cool morning air of the following day we were fully in the mood again. We kept an easy pace on the Harper Pass Track. We’d arrive at the huts early and spent the rest of our day relaxing and enjoying the scenery. We walk, we eat, we sleep. Life is simple, life is good.
We had a short but welcome soak in the hot pool alongside the track. The water was so hot we couldn’t stay inside for more than 15 minutes, and once out the legendary amount of sand flies quickly drove us away. It’s hard to take even a snack break without becoming a snack these days. Yet the hot pool was really nice, even if our stay there was shorter than we planned.
And finally, the forest filled up once more with birdsong. Bellbirds sang their beautiful melodies, robins and pipits flew around, the place was filled with life. We even saw some kea, New Zealand’s threatened alpine parrots. It created a joyful mood amongst us and brought back many memories on the bush up north, where a full orchestra of tui would wake us up at dawn. We have a deep appreciation for these places, even if it was hard to realise this when we were struggling through them.
Marylene caught up with us along the way and we spent the following days with her and Patrick. At a certain point she asked me if I also had the feeling of being overwhelmed by it all sometimes, or if she was just being overly sensitive. I told her that I did too, that this feeling is my main reason for going out hiking, and that is why I like not to rush – because in the rush the time to be overwhelmed by and appreciate the beauty and greatness of it all disappears.
The only rush we had on this track was to escape the sand flies after camping by the start of he Deception Route. Omnipresent and bloodthirsty as never before an army of them attacked, after which our packing happened at record speed. The Route was a blast up towards Goat Pass with lots of river wading and rock scrambling. Our dry boot days seem counted! It was good fun.
Feeling all zen we came to Arthur’s Pass, thinking about spending a day there to rest before making our way straight to Tekapo. Rest seemed hard to find between the tourist masses, trucking through to the highlights on the west coast, feeding the kea in spite of the signs reading ‘a fed kea is a dead kea’. Soon we looked to each other, and we were all on the same page. Tomorrow we move on: back into the peace and quiet of the mountains, far away from the madness.