Thursday, December 13, 2007

A day in the life, part two - Hut Life

Hut Life

We thought it was time for another installment of our everyday life series. This time its about life in backcountry huts. New Zealand has a system of backcountry huts through a lot of the trails here, especially in the South Island. There are different categories of huts, some are free, others are $5-10 a night. They also come in varying sizes. We've stayed in everything from a 2 bed to a 34 bed hut. We've got an annual pass which makes it easier because we don't have to buy tickets when we're in towns. They're mainly pretty basic - bunks with a table and benches and often a water tank, but they are far superior to our tents. There have been so many down in the South Island that we've only spent two nights in our tents since arriving here two weeks ago.

The joy of having a hut is the 'modern day' comforts they provide. For example, we can write in our journals and eat dinner sitting at a table or on a bench rather than perched on a rock or branch, we can get water straight from a rainwater tank instead of crouching by a stream filtering it, fireplaces to dry our wet gear and, best of all, we can escape the sand flies.

Theres often things to read too, people leave books and magazines that they've finished with that we devour when we can. The other day Dennis was reading a National Geographic from 1983 about 'new' satellite technology. They're normally a little more up to date than that.

We like reading the hut books too. Every hut has a hut book to record who comes through. This information is used in search and rescue situations, but you can also write general comments as well. Some are funny but others feel it is a complaint forum too - 'track needs more boardwalk', 'times posted are too fast/too slow', 'take me back to the city to real food!'. In the Richmond Range there were books that dated back to the mid 1980s which were really interesting to read - we were preschoolers! In the more popular huts, like the ones through Nelson Lakes National Park, all the books are new from this year.

Alice and Dennis eating breakfast - Old Man Hut - Richmond Range
Alice outside Porters Hut - Richmond Range
Dennis writing in journal inside the Red Hills Hut - Richmond Range
Downes Hut - Wanganui River
Dennis chopping wood - Whakapapaiti Hut - Mt. Ruapehu

Speed Racers

We started off on a track on the shores of Lake Rotoiti, Destination: Lake Head Hut. Not a terribly long day, but we got a bit of a late start. Little did we know it was a huge hut, 32 bunks. It being a Friday night it was quite full. We had the pleasure of sharing the hut with 25+ people. It was a bit overwhelming, until this point we have shared huts with only 3 people. This hut was quite accessible compared to most we have been in, only three hours hike from St. Arnaud. There was even a jetty at the end of the lake which cut the actual hike down to 15 minutes. Let me tell ya, I got a bit envious off the spreads of food people were pulling out. Plus they all had huge gas stoves and lanterns. They had all the stuff that we don't carry. But its great because we come across people with pack envy. They all wonder how it is possible to carry so little, to last so long. It gets easy to cut out the excess when its all on your back. Really makes me glad that Alice and I spent so much time researching ultra light gear. We decided to have a quick look over the maps to plan out where we would be sleeping the next bunch of nights. Wait, do we have enough food? I know your thinking, didn't he just talk about how light the packs were? Yeah I did, but people with light packs sometimes don't bring enough food. oops. We underestimated by a day or so. Well, I guess we'll do a bit more each day. We ended up finishing a 6 day section in 4.5 days. We didn't cut off any of the hike time, just had a few longer days. We are backpacking machines! Completing large sections hours under the estimated signs even passing other hikers along the way. Being so far south, we are able to hike for longer, it stays light here until 9:30 at night. This means if we walk fast, don't eat lunch until 4pm, we can fit in a lot of kilometers in a day. And these were not by any means flat days. We went over two relatively high passes including Waiau Pass at 1870 meters, our highest point in the South Island so far. We even got to see snow again!! It made me feel as if I was right at home in the northern hemisphere. Pretty fun descending down fairly steep pitches in sneakers with a full pack, I got a bit wet. There were no shortage of river crossings, over 75 in this section alone. You don't get wet in all those, some you can boulder hop across. Others require gritting your teeth and walking through the icy cold snow melt water. Al and I have worked out an agreement, because she constantly has her heels taped up due to her still un-callused feet, I tend to help her get across the deeper rivers with out getting wet. How? Well 2 ways: 1.) The Pack Horse - I make three trips across, one with both the packs, a second to return to the other side and a third with al on my back. 2.) The Sack of Potatoes - I, with my full pack on, sling Al over one shoulder with her pack still on and cross. Still not sure what I get out of the arrangement? It may be hard to believe, but this section was even more stunning than the Richmond Range. The South Island seems to get better end better, except for the sand flies Well, we are now having a rest day in Hanmer Springs, even Backpacking Machines need a rest. A college friend of mine has joined us here to hike with us for a while. David Gibb, or just Gibb to most, is coming fresh from a desk job looking for a bit of a lifestyle change, we don't think that will be a problem. Al and I have decided we'll slow the pace a bit to ease him into it.


Mt. Travers and the Travers River
Us at Travers Saddle
Al near top of Waiau Pass with Lake Constance in the background
St. James Walkway