It’s a night shared with smokers, door slammers and snorers, but it turns out to be pretty fun in a new, large hut – replete with flush toilets – filled at capacity with trampers, though not a single TA hiker but me. Good conversation and energy.
The sky is clear and even as it gets light, one star still winks at me. I have tea with an Aussie wreck diver then head out for a long, mostly flat, walk on roots, rocks and lots of water – lots and lots. The Greenstone river is roiling, but so are all the creeks feeding it while crossing the trail. In fact, the trail itself is now a creek and frankly, any low spot is pooling. Loads of boots were drying by the fire last night which now seems utterly pointless. This is an environment where your feet will be wet most of the time. It’s best to wear quick-drying shoes – like trail runners – and just plunge right through, which is what I do all day.
The mountains rise around me in this narrow valley. I look longingly back at the Routeburn and wonder if I should have waited a day to hike it for this crystal clear one. It wasn’t entirely convenient to do so, and the weather is always a question. Like so many things, it’s a ‘coulda, shoulda woulda’ that I try to talk myself out of or I’ll be filled with sadness and miss the miracle of today.
The truth is the hike was thrilling in mist. Not every view was sharply clear, but there was a drama in seeing that countryside open up amidst less ideal weather. A nature writer I admire named Melissa Harrison states about her own country of England which is often shrouded in mist, “If we walk only in fine weather and never foul, we’re telling only half the story.”
I recall how nervous and uncertain I was waking up in rain, and seeing the stream next to my tent grow huge and change color. I felt excitement hearing the wind and seeing the drizzle blowing in long sheets over the narrow canyon. I bundled up tight in my rain gear and put myself into its teeth, the green of the moss glowing in the darkness, the rock shiny as I gingerly climbed on it, the views opening up just enough for a glimpse to savor, the wildness even more in its natural state – dangerous, cold and forbidding.
I also challenged my comfort zone walking the pass, fearful I’d get cold and knowing I needed to push through. Seeing the little French girl in a trash bag rain coat walking what I walked made me feel brave and full of joy taking in what was handed to me.
Yes, I suppose a clear day may have made better pictures, but my day was an experience I wouldn’t trade and today is a new day, cows appearing on the river terrace, a sign telling me to please avoid stock disturbance, though it doesn’t keep me from a friendly ‘moo.’
I meet another ranger named Eiji, who asks to see my hut pass and takes notes on where I’ve been. He takes a photo of my hiking app which suggests camping in an off limits area, then wishes me a good rest of the hike, a little over 300 kilometers left.
I move on to a forest before arriving at another beautiful large hut and run into Cheeseman – a lover of cheese named Bernd, but no one seems to manage to pronounce his name correctly. I lay out my tent and mattress, rain gear and anything else still wet on the grassy lawn and make some tea, just as three people arrive from the last hut, a trio I slept next to on the top bunk. They’re friends from walking the Pacific Crest Trail and catching up in New Zealand for another hiker couple’s wedding. We talk trails and our awful trail diet – usually includes too much sugar – before Cheeseman and I set off together, warned of a tricky stream crossing ahead.
The trail heads uphill to an open area with a sweet smell like the high country in Wyoming, but soon it’s back in beech forest, the track quality deteriorating to hard to navigate piles of windfall, mud and deep pools of water on the trail and baby beech crowding the way.
The stream crossing is nothing worse then we’ve encountered but I choose a deep spot to enter, actually delightfully cooling as the afternoon heats up.
I linger behind, but Cheeseman looks out for me. I don’t need him to, but there is a sweetness in the gesture, especially from a man who likes to time himself. I’m tired from yesterday and love taking it slow, laughing at the deep mud in an instant washed off in deep water, then right back in mud. Nothing is difficult today with only short uphills in a mostly flat valley.
The forest opens up finally onto a wide valley of dry brown mountains and humps of golden grasses. But this does not mean the ground is dry as I walk on a kind of fen, squishy moss mounds making a ‘splorsh’ sound with each step.
The orange poles are far apart and the trail disappears as we weave through the grass pillars looking for where to place our feet so as not to sink to mid-calf.
The tiny hut appears with four people already arrived and hanging wet clothes on the fence – three Aussies and an older Kiwi gentleman. I set the alicoop outside after one tells me it’s a supermoon tonight.
Dinner is made, I rinse in the river and cuddle in to relax and avoid the sandflies plastered to the alicoop’s netting. The night is ideal for a celestial happening, maybe the most ideal in this wide-open space under a big sky. I planned my days just right.