Thursday, December 20, 2007

And it rained, and it rained, and it rained

We've been feeling terrible smug about the weather on our journey so far, whenever anyone asks we were always able to reply, "Oh no, we've been really lucky. We've never had to set up or take down our tents in the rain, and any time its rained during the day we've been coming into a town where we can dry out our stuff."

Not anymore. It started raining while we were camping in Hanmer Springs and it didn't really stop. Mother Nature forced us to turn back from a river crossing for the first time in our almost three months of hiking. All down the South Island people have been telling us that it hasn't rained in over a month, now it changed to heavy rain warnings and flood danger. We quickly grew accustomed to the feel of squelchy, sodden boots.

The Taramakau River, in between Harpers Pass and Aickens, was the one we were standing next to. The entire river valley was full of grey, foaming water that had some serious current. I wasn't feeling good about it, this was the kind of situation where we'd end up on the news as the latest impatient trampers who wouldn't wait a day and drowned. We had only come a few kilometres from the Kiwi Hut, our lunch stop, so we turned around and decided to give it a shot the next day. Going back to a fire, bed and a dry hut wasn't all bad.

What a difference a day makes. It was like a whole different scene when we walked back to the valley the next day. I was surprised, it sounded like it had kept raining throughout the night but there was less than half of the water of the previous day, and it was clear rather than ominous grey. The crossing still wasn't easy. We ended up having to walk about a kilometre or two upstream from the hut where it was braided enough to cross safely, and the water was still up to the hip belts of our packs.

We thought the easy part of our day was over at this point, but there was another tributary river that we had to negotiate. The downside with this one, the Otehake River, was that we had to go upstream a way to find a safe crossing spot, but this meant that also put us upstream of a cliff band that we then had to climb up and bushwack past fallen trees, rotting logs and all sorts of other foliage before we could get back to the riverbank. Four hours had gone by, and we were only about one and a half kilometres, as the crow flies, from the hut we'd stayed in the night before. Gibb joined us for the flattest section, but one with the most challenging rivers so far. A little different from a day in the office in Philadelphia.

On more established trails, or less volatile rivers, DOC (NZ's Department of Conservation) puts up suspension or swing bridges which makes the whole river crossing process a little easier. Back in May, when we were planning our route, we noticed there was a walkwire marked on the map over Cameron Stream. Dennis got very excited about this and even marked it on our Memory Map software with a skull and crossbones as something to look out for. A walkwire is a single wire to walk on with two higher wires for your hands, as opposed to the other bridges that have a base for you to walk on and wire mesh on the sides up to the cable handrails. We'd been thinking about this walkwire for a while because it seems that often things like this get taken out in favour of a 'safer' alternative. To our delight, the walkwire was still there. I actually found it more stable that some of the swingbriges we'd been over. It's awesome that there are still things like walkwires around, don't take them out DOC. It was fun.

We're having a rest day in Arthur's Pass at the moment. I've been suffering from a mild stomach bug for the last few days which tends to sap my fun and energy levels. Because of this we opted yesterday to walk the road section from Aicken to Arthur's Pass rather than the trail up a river valley over Goat Pass. We're normally unimpressed to be back on the roads but this was the coolest road section yet. The dramatic mountain scenery (we're close to the Southern Alps) and the crazy, steep road that was originally built back in 1864 helped take my mind off my not so good stomach.

We've got a big section coming up next, 265km to Lake Tekapo. Everyone has been asking what we are doing for Christmas, we'll be between Methven and Mt Somers somewhere. I don't imagine there'll be room in our packs for a ham or Christmas turkey so make sure you all eat a little extra for us, and have a Merry Christmas wherever you are. It also looks like we'll be rocking out our New Year on the top of the Two Thumb range on a mountainous spot somewhere so have a drink for us too.


Rainbow after the rain
Dennis on the walkwire
Gibb crossing one of the many rivers
Alice, silhouetted with the Taramakau River
Sunset on our last night