Friday, December 7, 2007

The Richmond Range: big mountains and naked hiking

Well, not totally naked, but almost. And no, we haven't run off to join the nudist movement but we did have to negotiate a waist high river. But more on that soon.

The Richmond Range. We'd been talking about this section for ages because we knew it would potentially be the most difficult section of our trip. And it was so far, but nothing we couldn't handle. We had some long days, steep climbs up loose gravelly rock faces, tired legs but also stunning views and great feelings of accomplishment. It was our favourite section yet. You need a few challenges along the way or else everything blends together.

There were so many huts through this section, we didn't use our tent the whole week. In fact, there were enough huts we could spend the night, and stop for lunch in one each day. They were also some of our favourite huts; small, cosy and in beautiful locations. I think Porter's Hut was the best - it was a tiny 4 bed hut with a door so small you had to stoop to go through it. We saw one other person the whole time we were in the Ranges. We met Graeme on our first night when we were staying at the Roebuck Hut. He knew of a shortcut up the river and over a spur that would cut out a chunk of trail. He'd never done it but someone had written an account of the unmarked route in the hut book so there were details of where to go. We were feeling adventurous so decided to give it a go.

Things didn't start off that great. We were crossing the Pelorus River right outside the hut, I slipped off a rock and submerged both my boots into the river. I'm not a big fan of walking in wet boots because of the blisters, so I had to spend the rest of the day changing socks every break. Oh well, what can you do? We continued up the river along the banks until we couldn't stay dry any longer. We changed into our 'frogs' (The Warehouse brand of crocs) and started wading. Only a minute into it the water was up to my short line, "Retreat, retreat". We stripped off our lower half of clothing and continued on. It was a pretty funny sight. Full packs, t-shirt, trekking poles and frogs. Luckily it was an isolated spot otherwise we might have scared the locals. The river never got higher than hip height so we didn't have to strip off anymore, the water was freezing.

We started up the spur just after the confluence of the Pelorus River and Mates Creek, possibly the most gorgeous spot we've come across so far. (If anyone is planning on doing this section you need to start from the Mates Creek side, there are cliffs on the Pelorus River side.) It was an easy bushwack, the trees were spaced apart and the undergrowth wasn't out of control. It was a cool feeling, we were in an isolated Range where there were very few people and the tracks weren't beaten in, and on a spur with no trail where even less people had been. Pretty incredible.

We followed the ridge line up, and up, and up. That day our elevation started at below 200m, we worked our way up to over 1500m with many saddles in between. It was pretty slow going at times, we found ourselves billygoating around cliff tops and sometimes fighting our way through small spiky trees but eventually we linked up with the trail. We were exhausted and starving at this point. We cooked up one of our emergency meals that Dennis had been carrying since Auckland. We put too much water into our instant cheese mashed potato mix so it was more a baby food type soup than potatoes but I swear nothing has ever tasted so good. I was instantly revived to head on for another two hours to Old Man's Hut. We didn't arrive there until 9:30 at night, walking down the steep track to the hut in the dark but it was worth it. We were two huts ahead of where we would have been if we'd done a big day on the trails.

The next day we continued on our uphill mission. We were above the treeline for most of the day, getting up to over 1700m in a very barren rocky landscape. We came across all types of rocks - scree fields you could run down, 'treadmill' gravel where you had to keep moving to stop sliding back down the hill, rough boulders and also lots of tussock. Our boot soles definitely wore down on this section. We'd stand on one peak and see the next one about 2km away. Then you'd look down, and down, and know that you'd have to descend 300m, then climb 400m to get to it. Our thighs got a workout that day, but it was a lot of fun.

So the big mountains, endless river valleys and stunning views kept up all week. We are already in love with the South Island, the rest of the trip has a lot to live up to. The bush is quite different and its not as muddy which is a huge novelty. But there are sandflies which form a constant buzz around you whenever you stop.

Dennis had his first equipment casualty this section. He slipped off a rock about a metre high onto more rocks. I looked around to see him lying on his side on the rocks and instantly had visions of a broken something and me running out to get help. He was fine, his trekking pole was not. It snapped as he fell. We've become big advocates of trekking poles, they make the uphills easier and take a lot of the stress off your body. He didn't like one pole, he was like a bird with a wounded wing, not knowing what to do with his other arm. Luckily we've found a replacement end for him which we should have by the next town.

Well, I've been rambling so I'll leave this here. We're enjoying staying with Jean and Chris Richards in St Arnaud at the moment. Thank you so much for having us.


Alice wading into the Pelorus River
Bushwack ridge
Us on the summit of Mt. Rintoul
Dennis on the summit of Mt. Ellis
Maitland Creek River Valley

The South Island, the first 2 days

So we've finally made it to the South Island. We started our nine day section with our heaviest packs yet, mine weighed 18.4kg and Dennis' weighed 20.8kg. They felt fine though, not nearly the insane burden that I was imagining it to be. We must be getting in shape!

We had a bit of a rough ferry ride from Wellington to Picton, Dennis spent half the time wandering around the windy decks trying to focus on keeping his breakfast down but we made it in one piece. We actually ended up having one of our longest days distance wise that day, making it 37km to Havelock and we didn't even start until 12:30. It was the promise of really good fish and chips at the Havelock Hotel for dinner that kept us motivated. We knew the kitchen was open until 8:30, we made it soon after 7.

It helped that the scenery was amazing, we were walking along a coastal road looking at the islands of the Sounds all afternoon. It was weird thinking that we were soon to be leaving the coast, and wouldn't come back to it until the bottom of the island, just before the finish.

We spent our second road day walking along the Pelorus River, a beautiful river that we actually followed right into the bush in the Richmond Range. It was probably the clearest river I've seen, with deep emerald green pools, waterfalls and cool boulders and rock canyons. We treated ourselves to an ice-cream at Pelorus Bridge, our last bit of civilisation before heading into the wilderness for a week... or so we thought.

On our way to the trailhead we met an American couple who lived at the end of the road, and another family who were staying with them. After chatting for a while about what we were doing we were offered a place to stay for the night. A comfy bed sounded way better than our tent so we accepted. And it got better, it wasn't just a comfy bed, it was a comfy bed in a treehouse! The treehouse was so cool, it was a big room way up in the air with huge tree branches coming through the middle of the room and a stairway leading up to it. Thank you so much to Dennis and Sharon Capell for your generous hospitality. We had a great evening with you all.


Sounds with ferry
Capell family tree stump
Coolest tree house ever
Pelorus River