TA Day 81, Top Wairoa Hut to Red Hills Hut, 29 km

I awake with a jolt from nightmares. I’d gone home trying to explain what I’m doing and then had one of those dreams where your house has extra rooms you didn’t know about. Those are always a challenge for me as though I’m not tapping into my resources fully.

I also was stirred up seeing a weird note from Chloe in the DOC Intentions book – meant to keep track that people have paid for their hut stay and to know where they’ve been and where they’re headed should they go missing. It’s about escaping people who smell bad. Surely it’s a joke, but I found her so harsh and self centered, it strikes a chord in me and feels off-putting to read in this official book.

But I try and shake it off and prepare for another beautiful day on the Richmond Alpine Crossing. The Czechs – who carry my same pack so call us the ‘Granite Gear Gang’ – are up and impressed I just throw on my clothes, pack Olive Oyl and head out. It’s not a particularly honed skill, just how I am, preferring to get going while the light is good.

And boy is it. I am now in the red hills and it’s a world transformed from verdant to desert. In the morning light, the color is more an orange gold. I go straight up from the hut to start, rock hopping on a massive boulder slide. The rock is grippy shaped like layers of baby fat or as though sharpened by hundreds of dull knives.

Up and up I go as the sun bakes hotter and hotter. I sidle Mt. Ellis, the street Richard grew up on and the name of his publishing company, then drop down and down into a deep river canyon.

My friend Alison told me that it took her a few days, on a recent backpack trip in Colorado, to find her rhythm. That’s true for thru-hiking too. The days in Nelson and Abel Tasman were exquisite, but returning to the trail had me wondering if all the kilometers I’d walked before had simply been some sort of lucky streak and maybe I don’t really know what I’m doing. I loved all my days on this range, but it’s taken me time to feel like I do today – relaxed, going with the flow, taking as many breaks as I want and studying all that’s around me, from impressive views to the rocks at my feet. It helps to have fantastic weather, but I love finding my groove, especially on this moonscape of scree followed by humps of thick grass.

It’s dry, but there’s water everywhere including this gorgeous stream of faded aqua on brown stone. I cross it, then walk up and down along it, then cross again and crack straight uphill to a beautiful hut. “Hunters hut” replaced one destroyed in a flash flood, and honors the two hunters who died on that terrible night.

The hut is built with a porch that shades the sun and I stay for nearly an hour eating and enjoying the spectacular view.

But soon I move on to the next hut where I plan to stay, though I know it’s not nearly as lovely.

The trail shoots steeply down before going right back up again, eventually taking me past streams, streams-as-trail, and mud-as-trail before opening onto a mysterious saddle of burnt ochre and sparkly green seams.

The look is so reminiscent of the desert, I expect snakes, pests thankfully never introduced to this island. I mince step on very slippery scree made of tiny stones eroding over steep precipices. The manuka trees have one living branch in full bloom next to dried, gray dead branches reaching to the sky.

At the springs, I fill my hat with water and dump it over my head. SOBO’s (south bounders) have the advantage that the sun is mostly at our backs. My eye lashes stay damp and matted for many steps before drying and want more cold water on my head. My drinking water is now hot.

As I begin descending, I see I’ve crossed the 1900 km mark. I am feeling so good, I forget about speed, I forget about bad experiences, I forget about ‘getting there’ and just enjoy the ride.

And then I hear voices. It’s the Czechs just as we’re coming upon Porters Creek hut. I have every intention of calling it a day, but it’s such a nice one and they are a bit on the fence about maybe continuing to the next hut, some twelve hard kilometers away, with an expected walk time of five hours. The problem is if I stay here, it would be very long getting out to St. Arnauds, the little alpine town where my resupply awaits. The trail notes make it sound as though it’s just 8 km from the next hut, but added to that is a road walk also of 8 km. The advice usually is if you have the energy, daylight and the weather is good, try to get some distance to position yourself for the next day.

I tell the two I have the energy, but only if they stay with me and don’t leave me to walk it alone. And they promise they will! So we go for it. Kačka leads and Kuba pulls up the rear with me in the middle for an adventure that becomes one of the most memorable of the trip.

We first head down on extra slippery small rocks to a massive river bed of boulders. A tiny trickle now compared to what created this canyon snakes around and around and we cross it over and over, rock hopping before a big climb in forest.

I keep up with these kids, flying up high to a spectacular new valley with mountains of green trees, soft folds upon folds. We begin a balcony view walk that shows us where we’re headed, the path clear for many kilometer. It’s down and down to the river, with numerous crossings of boulder filled side creeks then enormous climbs up and out.

We get wet, muddy, out of breath, exhausted, but finally come to this beautiful new hut in an extraordinary setting after four hours and change. It’s still light and there are exactly three bunks waiting for us.

Rob turns up again from Captain Creek so many days ago. Justin is heading north and Charley walks nearly 30 km per day, so this is the first I’ve seen him. I make dinner and scarf it down. Everyone is already cuddled into their spaces, and mine awaits my very tired – but very happy – body.

Published by alison young

Alison Young is the Blissful Hiker, a voice artist and sometime saunterer. 📣🐥👣🎒

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