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  • Writer's picturejffrybrnrdn

Manuka, Mud and Marriage

This is my Gabrielle Hamilton inspired title for a memoir.. just testing it out on this post. ;)

1/17 Despite the forecast of good weather we'd received, our tent was still wet from the clouds above and the morning had that lingering chill as we packed camp from our muddy outpost. We were surprisingly greeted by another pair of hunters who intended to follow us up the track... Although we probably scared any deer they might have been after as we passed before them. The climb was minimal but muddy, as we'd heard. Once again we had flashbacks to the wet north island and our trip seemed to be coming full circle that much more. The trail led to a few tussock filled peaks that were suppose to have stunning views out over Bluff and the tip of the southern island, unfortunately- not in the fog. Yet as we reached the last km of alpine track, the sky began to clear and our shadows appeared on the ground. Beneath a veil of white, we could just make out the conic tip of Bluff in the distance and it was a poignant moment to see the place we'd been walking toward for nearly three months now. Shortly after, we ran into a French couple who were heading north bound. They seemed surprised by the constant wet weather and we wished we could have given them good news, that it might get better, but as a tiny island country New Zealand weather is fickle and unpredictable. We bid them adieu, telling them to stop in Ohai for the hospitality at Taylor's lodge. We then slogged through more mud and arrived at Martins hut, the last hut on the trail. The log book was filled with good-byes and parting words. We added our commentary and gave the hut a hug before leaving. After the hut came an extremely monotonous and lengthy forest walk. I guess they call this the Longwood forest for a reason. Yet, as the crow flies we could have made it out in about 6 km, but the Ports Water Course took us on a winding 16 km tramp that twist and turned around fallen trees and treacherous gaps. Slippery footholds led down and up steep falls throughout the course and we both fell subject to gravity numerous times while making our way through. Covered in mud, but happy to see the sun shining, we paused at the end of our last forest walk to dry out the tent and rest our legs. Then it was another 6 km into Colac Bay where we awkwardly declined the 28$ camping rate at the hopping local bar/holiday park and wandered down the street to a small public park for dinner and a free campsite right near the beach. Bluff is right around the corner and we'll be savoring these last few moments on the trail. 1/16 The prospect of a warm cup of coffee got our slightly hung over bodies out of bed by 6:30. We had a quick breakfast and a chipper Dave (despite having downed a bottle of Jim Beam last night) was up and ready to shuttle us back to the trail. Picking up right where we left off, we headed to the next farm station as the clouds overhead cleared. It was a steel climb through pastures, then a lovely walk through pine and beech forest. We made good time and marveled at the difference 24 hours can make in New Zealand. A brief road walk linked is got eh next 4K station, the Island Bush track, and then down Merrivale Road. We stopped for lunch in the beautiful but windy afternoon before entering Longwood Forest our final forest on the trail. The road ended at a wet bush track that reminded us of the North Island. Things seemed to be coming full circle in multiple ways. Making our way through the mud, we met Audrey from Scotland, who was even more covered than we were and gave us an idea of what lay ahead. She was the 11th NOBO we've encountered. We headed up to Bald Hill catching one glimpse of the patchwork farms below, before a cloud blew in and lingered just over he peaks for the rest of the afternoon. We headed along a gravel road for another 4K before ending at at dirt bikers paradise; a giant bowl carved into the rocky mud. We camped on the flattest surface we could find and has a warm meal before turning in for another cold night. 1/15 We awoke to the odd feeling of being in our tent inside a shelter; it felt like being a kid again inside a fortress of pillows and blankets, only this time born of the necessity of not getting eaten by sand flies in the night. We had breakfast and 'struck camp' just in time to hear the clatter of rain on the roof of the hut. While the corrugated steel always makes the precipitation sound worse than it really is, it is always an unwelcome sound. We started off with a moderate climb, both of us remarking on how warm it felt for once, but as usual this did not last. Within just a few hundred meters of ascent, the temperature dropped dramatically and the wind picked up... just as we began an exposed ridge walk. Luckily it was relatively well marked and not too long, so we plowed ahead and down towards the Telford Burn campsite below. When we arrived at the camp, which was little more than a privy next to a river, we made the awkward choice of having our first snack of the day inside. Together. The two of us crammed into the tiny (and fortunately, clean smelling) long-drop to avoid the incessant rain. When our break time was over, we braved the wet once more and forded the river to a better track along a farm road. This eventually led up and into the hills, into the heart of the rain and the clouds. As the cold once again shook our bones, so we sought shelter in an unused fertilizer silo, despite the no trespassing signs warning of toxic substances; sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures. We decided to call the Taylor Lodge in Ohai, a small town near a road junction some 10K distant from our ignominious surroundings, and were happy to hear they had room available. We practically ran the lest leg of the day along yet another farm track, herding cattle in front of us as we made our way, and passing yet another northbounder in the meantime. When we arrived at the road, Dave, the lodge's owner, picked us up and shuttled us into town for a shower and a warm bed. The lodge was in his home in the small farming and mining community, where he lives with his wife Monica and son Fraze, and we felt immediately welcome. They seem to practically run the place, with people coming and going at all times, in addition to hosting people. We took a quick ride to the neighboring town of Nightcaps to pick up some dinner before returning to belly up at the local bar, located in the town volunteer fire department. And of course Dave was the bartender as well. We got to meet some of the locals, as well as two other northbounders who were brought in for the night. After a few rounds of drinks (and many handfuls of Doritos) we passed out, glad for yet another roof over our heads. 1/14 The morning seemed a bit darker from our corner of the Lower Princhester Hut and we breakfast in our top bunk before heading out to glimpses of rising sun through the beech trees. The first section of trail took us up to a saddle nestled between Mt. Hamilton and Mt Clare. The trail was a bit technical with lots of drops and climbs amongst root beds and dusted with the tiny leaves of the beech tree. After the saddle, the trail broke into multiple sections of alternating forest and open tussock. The tussock fields were much higher than usual, with their spindly fronds reaching well above our shoulders and the ground below a mystery until you took the next tentative step. Take the right instead of the left around one of these giant, grassy plants and you could find yourself knee deep in a hidden stream. To say the least, this made for some slower tramping, but excitement loomed ahead. "Beware the Falcon!" Phish out of water had told us- and beware we did! Almost on cue in the section he had forecasted the birds presence, we heard a haunting call and out from the trees flew the notorious falcon. He swooped down across the valley and perched on the other side, eyeing us as we progressed through his territory. He made one more pass at us before we left him in our wake, but not without a couple of pictures to document the experience. We hit Aparima hut in late morning and stopped to sunscreen up and headed out once again towards Lower Wairaki Hut. We'd been warned this was an annoying section of trail, and it lived up to its reputation. Luckily, the weather was nice enough to compliment the constant ups and downs over poorly maintained track, full of beech debris and some muddy portions. Our day was brightened as well, as we met two north bound couples, one from Texas and the other from Canada. It's crazy to meet people who are a week to ten days into their hike, knowing how little we have to go and how much they still have to experience. We got to Wairaki hut and had been warned the sand flies were bad at the campsite ahead, so we opted to take advantage of the last DOC hut on the trail and have yet another cozy night on a mattress. 1/13 After a night of heavy rain and wind, we awoke to a blissfully quiet yet cold morning, with frigid mist clinging to the hilltops around our creek side campsite. Our first hurdle of the day was a ford of the Mararoa River, which turned out to be easy despite the night's precipitation (and the spongy vegetation growing on the rocks underfoot), but left us with cold boots from the get go. After struggling with a poorly marked trail through soaking tussock for half an hour, we decided to cut across a pasture to walk the road that ran parallel down the valley. The open terrain left us vulnerable to the cold wind that whipped past, and with little to take our minds off the dampness, it was a fairly miserable morning. We did have one bit of excitement in the form of a northbounder by the trail name of 'Phish out of Water', who gave us the low down on the trail ahead. He had only been out for 9 days, giving us and idea of how long we had left to our journey, and warned us of an impending falcon attack in the coming miles ahead. We parted ways and made the last few kilometers to highway 94, where we immediately got a hitch from a Kiwi named Grant. He was down from Auckland to hike several tracks with his children and a group of 30 people, and dropped us off at he post office where we finally received our bounce box after it's misadventures. The women working there were corpulescent hags who offered little help, but with some persistence we were able to get things sorted and send it on its way to the Auckland airport for future pickup. We had some coffee in a cafe in the meantime and surprisingly ran into Peter from several nights ago. He was staying at the backpackers, while we were planning on heading back to the trail, so it is doubtful we will see him before Bluff again. We did a quick resupply, then hit the library, where we booked our flights back to the north island, and Kate completed her application for the teaching job she hoped to get back in Amesbury. With all our chores done in just a matter of hours,we felt very accomplished and thumbed it back to the trail with Andrew (?), a San Franciscan by way of Honolulu who was visiting to hike the Great Walks down this way. We finished our day with a last 6K of gravel road walking to Princhester Hut, where ------, an amiable Latvian was settled in. We enjoyed some good conversation before having dinner and turning in ourselves. 1/12 Taipo Hut to Kiwi Burn Confluence We woke a bit later than usual (5:56 instead of 5:30) and had our breakfast in our deluxe bunk quietly while Peter, our German bunk mate, slept below. We packed and hit the trail to overcast but clearing skies. Walking down the side of the valley, it took the sun a bit longer than usual to poke its head over the peaks on our left. 12 km into our morning, we reached Boundary Hut via a swing bridge and decided it was a good spot for morning snack. We signed the intensions book, a Log book that's kept in every hut to keep track of its users, and then head out once again. The trail followed a heavily used 4WDrive track that had curves with tire cuts that were 8 grooves wide. It looked like a mario kart race course. We followed the track along the east bank of the Mavora lake and ran into some fellow trampers on the way. Gail and her husband had spent the night up at Boundary hut and were heading back to their camper at the Campground on the base of the lake. Gail informed us that on New Year's Eve there had been 3,000 campers there. That's 3% of the population of the entire South Island! Kiwis love their camping. We meandered down to the campground, passing them, and continued heading south around the west side of Little Mavora lake. The trail made its way up into the woods on a nice and easy path that kept us happily moving throughout the afternoon. It was even more fun because someone had arranged a photo scavenger hunt for children by clipping notecards to bushes and trees. Jeff and I enjoyed reading the prompts as we passed... and taking a bit of the chocolate they'd left out... The trail stayed nice for most of our walk until we hit a poorly maintained section with a lot of blow downs and debris on the trail. This frustratingly slowed our progress, but only for a few km's until it opened up again and we settled in at the Kiwi Burn confluence. We'll have a river fording in the morning, but for now it was a whole day with dry, new boots. Gotta count your blessings when ya can. Falling asleep to our own private noise maker, featuring the sounds of the river.

Just that phone booth in the middle of no where with a rotary dial

Last summit.. in the fog :/

Looking out over Riverton

South Island bush and some mining debris

Martin's hut- our last on the trail

The end of the Earth

"Get off our land"- cows

This camper van company would have my business. If we bothered to drive anywhere

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