The stars did not disappoint. I checked often through the night, the nearly full moon lighting up this wild landscape. Only after it set, did twinkling commence.
I’m a bit in between now – longing for my own bed and big bathtub, but I don’t want this hike to end. And that’s definitely true for this beautiful section shared with such lovely people. It is so nice to be with considerate and kind people. We don’t walk with each other and we’re here for our own reasons, but there is a gentle caring and looking out for each other that is so refreshing.
Where I walk is still in shadow when I set off, cirrus clouds lend a flat, moodiness to the day, but my fingers are cold and I wear my coat up the steep climb directly out the huts front door.
Of course going up is exhausting, but on a track this obvious and worn, it feels easy – as long as I stay right on the edge of getting out of breath. I rise fast and look down to the valley I crossed yesterday, the sweet hut below. In time, I reach Roses saddle, serene and windswept. I only linger a moment still feeling chilly. Below me is a narrow ridge of golden grass extending ahead with a steep drop on each side to rivers below, whooshing in stereo. I walk out on the edge, eventually going down and down to the left seeing a bright turquoise earth mover, presumably helping find gold.
I was told to start using the river as a trail as soon as I reach it but I’m not entirely sure if this is the place. Funny how people seem to appear just when I need them as a young man emerges from the willows telling me he thought the river was too deep, but that this spot is the place to enter.
Fortunately, my hut mates just walked it yesterday and used the magic words – walk in the river or it’s sidling. Argh! I hate sidling, which also means huge ups and downs, so in I go into the icy, pure New Zealand river, rapids, green and orange rocks in all sorts of shapes and all sorts of markings and its continuous roar and pressure nudging at my legs.
There’s no ‘way,’ per se, just follow the river to the old mining ghost town. So I have to determine which side is best, crossing multiple times, sometimes seeing a worn area where I can take my frozen feet onto the terrace. Other times, I crawl along the bank on shattered layers of slate pressed and lifted. A pink plastic ribbon indicates an opening in a thorn tunnel that takes me across a bench when the river makes a loop almost coiling over on itself.
I love being in this river, feeling like I’m a kid exploring, playing. Nothing is dangerous, but there are definitely better choices than others as I step into a pool up to my navel.
My feet are blocks of ice and I walk like Frankenstein’s bride, still giggling as I try and figure out how to get past a huge, smooth boulder. Up and over, it seems, then splash over to the other side and stay near the edge before ducking into that tussocky area with an aim to avoid the speargrass.
After several big turns, I’m spit out onto a four-wheel drive track and come upon a campsite, all guys – three men and a youngster, plus two dogs. I ask, “What’s for breakfast?” and they immediately get out the kettle. My kind of guys! A chair is offered by a fire for my frozen feet and I even have a little Jack Russell to nuzzle. The men are Scottish Kiwis with thick accents and tattooed biceps, spending a weekend camping and panning for gold. They set their phone by me with some Scottish rock playing as they pack up. A lovely pause.
The others come by and tea is shared and I thank them before heading off to see Macetown, where cottages have been restored including Tily’s, the large man with a large heart who owned the general store and extended credit to help the struggling community. It’s a beautiful place on a beautiful day, but there are signs asking for any information on recent vandalism. It breaks my heart people are so thoughtless.
Trucks drive up with one couple asking me about my walk. I catch the Quebecois and they decide to skip the last big hill, aptly named Big Hill. They are so complimentary of my urge to walk all this trail, even a hill I could easily skip. I feel good when I head up through a forest of lupine, seed pods rattling as I pass. Again, I pace my climb and go into a kind of trance, not feeling the effort as I slowly float up. At the top is something white, a hut? It appears to be a Monopoly house, but I can’t go faster to see if I’m right. Like life, I let it unfold in its own time, slowly.
It’s beaten down grasses the entire climb, up a ravine with water pouring down in a river underneath. I finally reach a last rise and see it’s not a house, but a giant sign. My side is desolate and wild, the other is a track from a popular tourist town, with runners touching the saddle before heading back.
It’s my last view of this steep, pointy and rugged section and I look back to see two of the summits I climb before heading down to Arrowtown.
A runner passes me and a NOBO who sadly climbed the wrong hill this morning. A man with a red face and red backpack, a saw sticking out, explains he’s cutting back wilding pines – another experiment gone awry as invasive trees take over the hillside.
As I get closer, the accents are American and the trail steep and dusty. I pass a restored cottage, now purveying gifts, cafe and gold, then buy a beef pie and a Bundaberg in the cute little ex-mining town before heading to the holiday park where David sets us four up in a private bunk room. A hot shower, a beer, a call home and a look in the shop windows before I’m in my bunk ready to let this wonderful day go. Tomorrow, we split up and it’s anyone’s guess how things will end up, but I am step-by-step, allowing the trail to do its magic and simply coming along – and savoring – the ride.