Day 99 to 107 – A City Escape then Back to Business
Wednesday 23 January – Thursday 31 January
Christchurch to Harper River Camping Area
Day: 99 – 107
Cumulative Km’s: 2,207km / 3,000km
In this post we have a week off in Christchurch, taking in the sights, replacing worn out gear and catching up with old friends.
Heading back out on trail we get straight back to business tackling the Deception River on the Goat Pass route.
Days 99 to 103 – Wednesday 23rd to Sunday 27th January
We enjoyed a leisurely week off in Christchurch, enjoying the city’s street art, replacing extremely worn out shoes and shirts and cruising around on the very convenient lime electric scooters.
Our time in Christchurch was lucky enough to coincide with our good friends, Lance and Claud’s visit. They were on a short holiday with Claud’s mum and flew into Christchurch. We spent a day with them, visiting the botanic gardens and art gallery and eating. We had a blast.
We also caught up with an old family friend, Robbie who lives just south of the city. It was lovely to meet his family and catch up over lunch. I think the last time I had seen him I was probably in school myself.
We had a bit of planning to do so we spent a great deal of time at the library there. It had only recently opened and became a bit of a haven with free wifi and an incredible cafe on the bottom floor.
We had lots of eating to catch up on and there was no shortage of great cafes and food options.
We did some sightseeing in town, visiting Quake City, the memorial and the cathedral. With reminders of the devastation the earth quakes caused ever present around the city.
It was a refreshing week off trail, allowing us to rest, reset and head back out on trail renewed.
Day 104 – Monday 28th January
Christchurch to Arthur’s Pass
There was one more cafe that I wanted to try in Christchurch before we headed bush so we packed our bags, dropped the bounce box off at the post office, jumped on some scooters and headed out to Hello Monday. It didn’t disappoint. I had a delicious bircher while Adam enjoyed a tasty shakshuka.
I had ordered a couple of Lifeproof phone cases during the week and whilst the postage was speedy it turned out the courier company would not deliver Post Resante (this is a service the NZ post offers where they hold your parcels for you to collect). This meant we had to get a cab out to the airport to the Fedex office to pick them up directly. Luckily we were able to change our shuttle to Arthur’s Pass to an airport pickup.
We had half an hour to kill before heading to Fedex (they were only open for pickups from 2pm) so we headed back to the library to play some oversized Connect 4. I had set down my pack and placed my sun glasses safely on top so they wouldn’t be scratched. While we were playing my bag fell over, on top of my glasses, snapping the arm. This makes the tally TA:2, Sunnies:0. There was a gift shop close by so I ducked in to have a look. As my luck would have it, they stocked the exact same pair of glasses as I had just broken. It was too good to be true.
Eye wear in hand we jumped in a taxi, picked up our package and jumped on the shuttle back to Arthur’s Pass.
We arrived back in Arthur’s Pass late afternoon, enough daylight to do a short walk so we headed out to the Devil’s Punchbowl. It was a short walk through beech forest up to a spectacular long drop waterfall.
It was a good little warm up before we head back out on trail tomorrow.
Day 105 – Tuesday 29th January, 14km
Arthur’s Pass to Goat Pass Hut
After 8 days off trail I was worried about today being physically difficult, a shock to the system after having such a long break but by the end of the day our legs were back into the rhythm of things and the worry turned out to be completely unnecessary.
When we arrived back in Arthur’s Pass yesterday we learnt that it had rained there for the entire week we were in Christchurch. As a result the river was still flooded when we called into the local DOC office. It had barely rained yesterday and with a dry forecast for the next 2 days we decided to give the Deception River track a try, the first river crossing was only a few km’s in so we could easily turned back if the river was still too high.
We were up and out on the road, looking for a hitch by 8.30am. It was a weekday and the traffic was quiet. There weren’t many cars on the road but we were determined. It was 22km of road back to the trailhead so there was no way we were walking it. After an hour of waiting I was keen to have a break and head into the general store for a cheese scone. Adam wanted to push on so we compromised. I went into the store and got us pastries while he waited on the road side. Despite the cheese scone boosting my morale it was still a brutally long 2 hour wait for a ride. In that time we were joined by a guy training for the Coast to Coast. The Coast to Coast is a ridiculous 200km+ run, paddle & bike from Greymouth to Christchurch (yup kiwis are both very fit and very crazy). The section of trail we would be hiking today forms part of the Coast to Coast route. It would take us 1.5 days to walk it with packs on. A fit coast to coast competitor will run it in 3 hours!
During our we were also briefly joined by an inquisitive Kea. Kea are the worlds only alpine parrot, they are native to New Zealand and are incredibly smart. They know how to get food off tourists, intentionally picking their unsuspecting targets. As we stood by the road waiting for a lift a Kea flew down to check out our packs. They are destructive with powerful beaks so not wanting my pack torn open I tried to chase the bird away. It wasn’t at all scared by me and turned on me, I was the one being chased away. In the end it took both Adam and I chasing this bird to get it away from our packs.
After our exciting morning the 3 of us were eventually picked up by a lovely woman who had stopped in town after shuttling her parents across to Christchurch for medical treatment. She had a long drive home and was keen for some company so she very generously gave all 3 of us a lift down to the trailhead. We had a lovely drive getting to know our new companions.
After being dropped off at the Morrison Foot Bridge we got our things in order and headed over the river. We were happy with how the river looked, it was slightly cloudy but nowhere near as high or angry as the last time we had seen it.
The Deception Valley Track is less of a track and more of a route up the river through the valley. It involves numerous river crossings, rock hopping and scrambling. It is a lot of fun and is absolutely beautiful, I am so glad we were able to wait out the rain and had the chance to walk it.
We spent all day in and out of the river, crossing from one bank to another as we made our way up the valley. It was forecast to be over 30 degrees on account of the heatwave NZ is currently experiencing but the icy mountain water helped cool us down from the toes up.
Walking in the river bed can be tough going, you have to constantly watch your step and the rock hoping means you move slower than normal but there is something special about walking up a river in the back country. The river is clear and its water doesn’t need filtering so you don’t need to carry water, we simply stopped to drink from the river as we hiked.
Both Adam and I needed to replace our shoes in Christchurch. My previous shoes were boots with considerable ankle support. I was hoping to get something a little lighter but still with ankle support. Unfortunately I couldn’t find anything with ankle support to fit my feet so I ended up with a pair of very light trail runners. To make the change even more dramatic the best fit for my fat feet ended up being a pair of Altras which have zero drop. It is pretty much the most dramatic change in foot wear one could have on a thru hike. My heals and arches weren’t too happy about the sudden change so they felt strained about half way through the day. We had plenty of breaks throughout the day so it was manageable. I am hoping that my feet adapt quickly and it isn’t too much strain on them. On the upside the new shoes went very well through the apparently 30 plus river crossings we had throughout the day though. They drain well and are SO much lighter which means less strain on legs and hips.
About 5 hours into our walk we made it to Upper Deception Hut. Arriving after 5.30pm, we startled the one person who was spending the night there, Rick, a Kiwi. Given the time he likely thought no one else was coming through that evening. When we approached the hut he was having a bath in the stream out front. One thing I didn’t expect on this trail was so much nudity but at this stage of the game am unfazed by it. Rick was also seemingly unfazed and offered to make us a tea before we continued on our hike. It was very kind of him but we were worried about getting into Goat Pass Hut late and pushed on.
It was a 2 hour climb from Deception Hut to Goat Pass Hut, where we would be spending the night. We had a little bouldering and climbing to do but as the river narrowed we were largely walking up a waterfall to the hut. It was cold on the toes but beautiful and fun!
It felt good to be out on the trail again. Despite being nervous about having so much time off in hindsight it was definitely needed. I came back to the trail feeling refreshed and better able to take in the experience and absorb the beauty we are seeing. I was feeling tired in the week before we had our break and without knowing it at the time, it was starting to impact on my enjoyment of the trail.
Day 106 – Wednesday 30th January, 20km
Goat Pass Hut to Lagoon Saddle A Frame
Over breakfast Adam told me that he believes a duck he spotted on our walk up the river yesterday was in fact the rare Whio or Blue Duck. It was sheltering under a large boulder when Adam spotted it. I completely missed it and had to back track to see it. The Whio is so rare that DOC ask that sightings are reported to them. Adam is going to do this when we next find reception. I am eager to hear their response. Adam was very excited. He may be turning into a twitter or tweeter or whatever bird spotters are called.
Goat Pass Hut has incredible views out over the mountains. As we left the hut this morning we climbed over Goat Pass and into the valley. It was a beautiful morning with stunning views and great long stretches of boardwalk beneath our feet. Bliss!
The trail eventually dropped back down into the tree line and we spent a few hours walking through lush green forests. Although we were no longer walking in the river bed there was still plenty of water along the trail. We crossed numerous streams and waterfalls which fed into the larger river.
The trail descend gradually for most of the morning but there were a few places in the trail where we had to scramble down steep drops. At one of these super steep sections a group of runners training for the Coast to Coast came through. I was half way down the climb when they appeared at the top. Adam had a quick chat to them before they ran down the steep slope in an incredible display of agility. I stood at the bottom, mouth agape, watching them in awe.
After some time in the forest the trail took us once again, back into the riverbed for more ankle twisting, rock hopping. We had almost reached the road, the end of this section of track so stopped for lunch break. The next section involved 8km of road walking so we thought a riverside lunch break would be nicer than a roadside lunch break.
After lunch we reached the road and conveniently, a turning bay. The sun had finally burnt through the morning cloud and it was scorching so we decided to try for a hitch to the next trail head rather than walk along the hot tar seal.
It was mid afternoon so I was worried we may have missed peak hour for people driving through Arthur’s Pass but after about 15 minutes we struck it lucky! A lovely guy living near Methven had been surfing over near Christchurch and was on his way home so he stopped to give us a ride. It was a short car ride but we had a good chat. We were extremely thankful for the ride as it saved us 2 hours road walking on baking hot road.
The junction to the trailhead was at Arthur’s Pass Wilderness Lodge. We walked up their long, thankfully shaded drive way and began our climb up to Lagoon Saddle.
About 10 minutes into our climb we passed Bealey Hut. I had a tight shoulders and a terrible headache so it was tempting to stay put rather than walk another 3 hours up a big hill in the heat of the day but we had a deadline to make. In 2 days time we will be getting a shuttle around the Rakaia River and without phone reception along the trail, had organised the pick up time before leaving Arthur’s Pass. So we filled up water, signed the intentions book and pressed on.
Under the shade of beech and pine the temperature dropped a little. Although we sweated our way up the hill I think it was cooler on the track than it would have been sitting in Bealey Hut.
After over an hour of climbing under the beautiful canopy we popped out of the tree line. We had views of the river and valley below us. As we walked we climbed higher through golden grasses, our view getting more spectacular the higher we climbed. At one point I could even see down to the train line with a cargo train moving steadily along the tracks towards Christchurch.
We crossed over a few small streams along our walk to the shelter where we would be spending the night. Stopping for a drink was a welcome break under the strong sun. As we were taking in the views a dragonfly landed on Adam’s pack. The dragonflies in NZ are huge, with wingspans 8 or 10 cm across they are incredible. The little hitchhiker stayed put for about 15 minutes, not seeming too bothered by the bouncing around of Adam’s pack as he walked.
It was a long days walking and I was exhausted by the time we reached the shelter. No matter how much water I drank throughout the day my headache didn’t seem to shift so it was early dinner and early bed tonight.
Day 107 – Thursday 31st January, 28km
Lagoon Saddle A Frame to Harper River Camping Area
We were woken just after 5am this morning by 2 inquisitive Kea. We had left our shoes and hiking poles outside the shelter overnight. At hearing the first shriek of the Kea I was out of bed and out the door in a flash to rescue our shoes from imminent destruction.
I got back into bed and snoozed for another hour. We slept on and off to the sound of the kea above us, screeching overhead, landing on the roof, messing with our hiking poles which were still out on the deck. At 6am we finally got up and by 7am we were on the trail. The Kea were still hanging about when we left. Sadly I think they were after food. I really hope other hikers haven’t been feeding them but I’m not so sure.
It was forecast to be a 36 degree day so we wanted to get up and moving earlyish to avoid some of the heat. The trail was shaded for a good portion of the morning, undulating along the ridge line in a beech wood forest. It was a beautiful start to the morning.
We walked upon a section of track where a slip of scree had fallen over the trail. We sidled across it, not too happy about being back on scree again but it was short lived. After this point the trail took us down into the valley where we spent the remainder of the morning walking along the banks of the Harper River.
We had spectacular views of the mountains ahead of us as we crossed back and forth over the river. We eventually left the river and re-entered the forest, climbing our way up to West Harper Hut.
West Harper Hut was more a look at history than a hut you would want to sleep in. It was built in 1957 and looked to be in original condition with canvas bunks, a dirt floor and a roof which appeared to be disintegrating from the inside out. Never the less it would provide great shelter in need. We had a morning tea break around the fire pit. It was a little more pleasant outside the hut than inside the hut.
After our break we continued on through the forest. We had a few stream crossings ahead of us. They were only small, no technical fording skills needed. Perhaps it was because they were easy crossings that I had let my guard down and on one such crossing slipped on a large rock while I was making my way across the river. One foot stayed put in the river bed, the other foot slipped on a large rock and struggling to keep my balance, I fell backwards. I had fallen downstream with a leg on either side of this large rock, my feet above my butt. I was awkwardly pinned down by the rushing water and the weight of my pack. I hadn’t hurt myself and was in no real danger but you don’t realise how much your pack weighs you down until you fall over with it on and can’t get up. I flailed for a minute or two before Adam came walking up the trail behind me. He tried to pull me up but I was too badly stuck and he ended up needing to take my pack from me so I could roll sideways and get my balance.
Everything from my waist down had a good rinse in the stream. It proved an effective way to cool off on such a hot day. After a good laugh we continued on and I was dry within 20 minutes.
It wasn’t far until our next rest stop of the day, Hamilton Hut. It was a pleasant walk there, again in and out of beautiful beech forest and beside the river. We crossed a couple of suspension bridges en route and the morning went by quickly. Before we knew it we were at the turn off to the hut.
We had considered taking a long lunch break at the hut, to walk in the cooler afternoon rather than the heat of the day but we had arrived a little earlier than expected. It was only 11am. We decided for a quick but early lunch in the shade at the junction and continued on. The sun wasn’t too bad at that point and we had a pleasant breeze making its way up the valley.
The track notes indicated we had a 5 or 6 hour walk ahead of us to the Harper River Campsite. We continued on in the shade of the trees for only a short distance until we were ejected in the mid day heat of the valley.
The views were magnificent, as we walked along the river the Pinnacles came into view, it felt like a reward for long hours walking in the hot sun.
We followed an old FWD track along the bank, crossing back and forth over the river. The many river crossings meant for lots of opportunities to re-hydrate and cool off in cool water.
We eventually left the river for a proper trail along side a farm. It was a welcome relief to be able to walk on flat trail at a decent pace once again. Leaving the river did however mean we left the cooling river water. It was in sight for most of the afternoon, tempting, teasing. Eventually the trail wound near to the stream once again. At the first opportunity I jumped in fully clothed. The difference in temperature took my breath away but it did the job in keeping me cool. It only took about 20 minutes for my clothes to become bone dry again.
The afternoon felt like it was dragging on. With my phone low on battery I had to turn off my audio book to save battery. It made the remaining few kms into camp feel like a marathon. The incredible views spurred us on however and we made it into camp a little sun damaged but in one piece.
Harper River Camping Area is land owned by the local power company. They maintain the campsite for anyone to use freely. It is the only option for camping before the next town 22km away so it is a space much appreciated by hikers.
In our next installment we navigate our way around the Rakaia and Rangitata Rivers, ‘hazard zones’ as they would be dealt with by the TA.