Linton Station and Friends of Friends, Day 106

2-14-18

Across the volcanic ridge.

Today was another day of flying down trail, 12 hours of walking without a stop and it felt great. My legs just love these long days. Today ended up being 24 miles of hard hiking, beginning with a stiff climb from the Lower Wairaki Hut to a Saddle in the Takitimu Forest, then across an exposed volcanic ridge to a campground on the edge of the Linton Station, read Linton Ranch if it was back home.

Our before the dawn.

From the campground I was on private land for the next 17 miles and we’d had lots of warnings that the owners were incredibly uptight about hikers straying off the official track through the station, yet just at this point, the TA became very stingy with its trail markings. All through this station and the next, it was nearly impossible at times to know whether or not I was actually on trail. This was infuriating to say the least for a hiker who wants to do the right thing. In forests where the trail was obvious, we had trail markers every few feet, often several in view at a time, but here, where it really mattered, I’d often find myself walking great distances not knowing if I was on trail or not. No markers! And to make matters worse, even my Guthook GPS App. was wrong a times. I’d follow it when I couldn’t find markers, and find after hiking a 1/4 mile along the Guthook, that I could now see the markers along a different fence line than the app was following. A few hundred more markers over the next few stations are desperately needed if the DOC wants to keep us on course across this sensitive private land.

Morning mists just before the climb.

In spite of the frustration with the trail through the Linton Station, it was beautiful country, lovely rivers cutting through rugged, rolling hills, patches of forest and old dirt roads that topped out to magnificent views, and pastures as far as the eye could see. Sheep, there were lots of sheep everywhere.

It was a sheep day.

Eventually the trail bottomed out at Birchwood, more a crossing than a town, and I found my way to the old Birchwood Lodge, a funky set of buildings that was clearly a working farm and had been at one time a bit of a dude ranch for city folk wanting to experience the country. Now the old bunk house was filled with Backpackers and other hardscrabble travelers from all over the world.

We hiked right through fields. These are turnips and those sheep are being rounded up by a couple of well trained dogs and their master.

I heard an American accent in the crowd and struck up a conversation with Elizabeth Morton, who was just finishing up a big section of the TA. Turns out she knows my good friends Nancy “Why Not” Huber, Erin “Wired” Saver, and Coyote! She lives part time in NZ and partly in the States and is a Triple Crown hiker who helped Nancy out while Nancy was hiking the TA 2 years ago and then went on to hike the Great Divide Trail in Canada with Wired. She’s an ice core driller who spends time at MacMurdo Base in Antarctica, so of course I asked if she knew Coyote, and she answered, “You mean Yote?” What a small world! There is such a tiny bunch of long distance hikers, and yet we meet each other all over the world, and it happens over and over again. These are very long trails we hike, but they’re extremely narrow.

Birchwood Lodge.

I met a number of other really nice folks during the evening as well. Such an interesting bunch!

Oh, and there were mushrooms today, all day. I picked so many I couldn’t carry anymore. I had real mushroom soup for dinner, and my backpacker meal was filled with the little delights.

Another lovely day in this beautiful country.

I Lost My Crackers! Day 105

2-13-18

I lost my crackers! At noon today I discovered that my two boxes of whole grain crackers I expected to lunch on for the next 5 or 6 days are just not here. It had been a really tough trail all morning, 10 miles to the Aparima Huts, that was like being back in the Raetaea forest we started with months ago, tree swinging, root grabbing, shoe sucking mud. Add to that some of the tallest tussock grass sections so far, and it was hard! At several points the trail markers were completely lost in the tussocks that were taller than me. I pushed through, stepped in mud holes and small invisible streams and fell down several times. You can’t hike fast through the tussocks or you’ll break a leg stepping into stuff you can’t see. So it was slow going.

Daniel in the forest.

But it was actually nice to be back in a thick forest with all its rooty impediments. It’s fun and a challenge and I’ve grown fond of them. They’re quite beautiful in spite of all their difficulties, nostalgia for the start of the trail, 3 1/2 months ago. It seems a lot longer than that.

Super tall tussocks. My feet are invisible in the pictures

I made it to the Aparima hut by noon and that’s when I discovered that my planned for lunches were not going to work. But I inventoried my goodies and found enough for light lunches and I just hoped I could keep up the grueling pace I needed for these tough trails. I didn’t want to bonk while scaling a cliff or something equally crazy, and you just don’t know what the TA is going to throw at you next.

Daniel from Hungary has been hiking with Anton and me today and he and Anton made it to the hut just as I was getting ready to hit trail again. Anton had been conscientious enough to start later so that he could call a Lodge we’ll need to stay in tomorrow as we’ll be hiking for 30 to 40 miles through private land with no camping allowed. You can’t just free camp the TA, the way you do on the long trails in the US.

A bit of muddy trail.

I took off in great shape and with more energy than I’ve had in a long time. In spite of a false start, I headed off on the wrong trail for about a 1/2 mile before I realized I was wrong, I was just flying. The whole afternoon was in dense beech forest with some significant climbs and descents, but I was feeling so good I did a lot of trail running with my seriously heavy, 6 days of provisions, pack.

A bit more mud.

The forest was mossy, it was ferny, it was steep, and it was muddy, and at times I had to scramble on all fours; and I just loved it. My shoes were covered and filled with mud, but as I neared the end of the day I came to a stream that had to be waded, just in time. I splashed and sloshed my shoes and legs and watched the mud float away. By the time I reached the Lower Wairaki Hut, I was drenched in sweat and exhausted. But man I felt good. I’d done a 6 to 8 hour stretch, according to the DOC signs, in just over 3 hours! My trail fitness is finally here.

Only the finest mud will do. Yes, that is the Trail.

No one was at the hut and I just stripped off my shorts and shirt and washed myself and my clothes. Then I started dinner and Anton made it in. He’s one hell of a fast walker and I’ve never beat him to any hut so far, so this was of geezer significance. It just does the old bones proud when they work like they did today. Daniel, who is much younger than either of us arrived several hours later.

At dinner I mentioned my missing crackers and Anton offered me his surplus of crackers. He couldn’t figure out how he’d gotten so many extra boxes of crackers on his resupply. When we looked at the two boxes of identical crackers, in identical bags, we realized he’d picked up my bag by accident while we were waiting for the shuttle yesterday, and had been carrying them for a day and a half. No wonder he was slower than me today. I think I’ll slip them back into his pack when he’s not looking so I’ll have a chance of keeping up with him tomorrow. It’s really been nice hiking with him the past few weeks as he’s into healthy eating and shares quite a few of the ideas of Michael Pollen, about food and the planet.

A light rain has started to fall, but this old full on fireplace hut is cosy and warm. The huts in NZ are really terrific. 19 mile day at speed!

Mavora Lakes and Te Anau, Day 104

2-12-18

North Mavora Lake

I had the hut all to myself last night so I slept in till 6:20. What a treat! After breakfast I was on trail by 7 and found myself on an easy old four wheel track along the Mararoa River and later along North and South Mavora Lakes. The official trail branches away at the south end of the first lake, but as the trail notes indicated that some of the track was unhikeable, and if you stayed over there, you would have to come back across the river without a bridge later on, I just stayed with the dirt track and enjoyed not having to struggle with the roots and ruts.

Mavora River led to the lakes.

The trail consisted of a lovely walk through a beech forest and the actual shoreline of the long glacial lake. A large and very dispersed campground is at the far end and it will be one of the places I come back to with Katie in March. It was just beautiful and I’m sure the swimming is wonderful. I didn’t want to stop today as I had a potentially long walk to the highway before a hitch into the town of Te Anau, a jumping off place for all kinds of Fiordland fun. Yesterday I hiked over the border from Otago to Southland.

North Mavora Lake.

It was just under 10 miles from the Boundary Hut to the campground; and then I walked approximately 10 miles beyond that when a car finally approached from the right direction and I stuck out my thumb. They stopped and I hopped in. Within a short distance I saw Anton on the road and told the driver he was a friend. He pulled over and Anton jumped in. They took us to the main road and we had a second hitch from there to Te Anau, where I had lunch and then resupplied at the local supermarket.

More of North Mavora Lake and the beech forest on its shoreline.

We couldn’t find lodging, so we paid $20 for a shuttle back to the trailhead. In the late afternoon we hiked the 4 miles to the Lower Princhester Hut, a very old 4 bunk hut, where we met Daniel and Balazs, both from Hungary. Both had hiked the trail from the start, but Balazs was injured and planned to zero at the hut the next day.

Princhester Hut and Balazs pondering his injury.

It was a 24 mile hike today with more miles hitched and shuttled and we resupplied, so this was at least 2 days in 1. It felt great and bedtime was not long in coming.

Boundary Hut Nero, Day 103

2-11-18

Sunset

I got up at my usual pre dawn time and began packing up, only to hear the first drops of rain on the roof of Taipo Hut, where I’d spent the night. The young Scottish couple had opted to tent, so the hut was quiet except for the soft sounds of the rain. Rather than hike in the weather, I unpacked my sleeping bag and fell fast asleep again.

Morning hike in the rain.

I woke up a second time and the rain had stopped, so I had breakfast and packed up for real, heading out at 8:45, one of my really late starts. My hope for a dry hike however ended about a half hour later when it started to rain again. I popped my umbrella and marched on through bog and field, hillside and of course tussocks. These were tussocks with a difference however as they were laced with beautiful, sparkling drops of rain. As much as I’d beat them with my hiking poles, I still got a thorough sprinkler effect from both sides as I walked through.

Mushrooms were fruiting all throughout a long meadow, and I got out a bag and began collecting agaricus campestrus, the common meadow mushroom, nearly identical to the common button mushroom we buy in the store. I’d have mushroom soup for lunch and mushrooms in my dehydrated backpacker’s dinner.

It was a short and easy 7 miles to the Boundary Hut, where I found Julie from Seattle, waiting out the rain. We had a great lunch and early afternoon and talked and shared trail stories, and when the rain finally stopped, she set out to get one hut further today. This left me again with a hut all to myself, such a treat. I napped and repaired a torn pack pocket and just took it slow. If the weather stays nice, I’ll knock out miles tomorrow. I only have about 170 miles to go and I’m not in too much of a hurry at this stage. I’m anticipating the end and am a bit sad for it. The good part is that Katie will be joining me in March and I get to have a whole new adventure with her.

Boundary Hut in the middle of nowhere, just where you want it.

About 5pm, a young German couple stopped by to get water and we had a nice connection, but they were headed off to the next hut, three miles down track, which had a wood stove. I’ve heard it also has lots of mice and is usually full of people because of the stove. As it’s not cold in the least, I’ll just stay here and enjoy my one person hut as long as it lasts.

A nero by the way is a near zero day, a short hike.

Sunset was gorgeous!

Greenstone Track, Day 102

2-10-18

Waterfall on the Greenstone Track.

I was awakened at 6am by Anton’s red beam headlight shining directly into my face. I pulled out my ear plugs and heard, “Shroomer, if we get up quick, I think we can catch the 6:30 bus to Queenstown and be there in enough time to catch the 8:30 shuttle to the Greenstone Track.” Queenstown is one of those places on the TA where the map track just stops and the official direction is, “find your own way across the lake” or river. In this case, Lake Wakatipu, a huge glacial lake, that is so big it would probably take several days to get around it on foot, but for $55 you can catch a shuttle. I was out of my bag like a shot and the two of us were packed up and out of the Holiday Park in 20 minutes.

Waiting for the bus and driving around the lake.

The bus dropped us in downtown Queenstown with time to spare, so Anton did a quick resupply, and I cooled my jets on a city bench that was ground zero for all the excursion busses and smaller transports taking folks bungee jumping, glacier hiking, jet boat racing and us, on our way to the trailhead to begin the last 200 miles of the South Island. We’re getting close.

Me, Anton and Chris ready to start the Greenstone Track.

As I was waiting, I saw a familiar face in the crowd, Chris, the wonderful German fellow who had paddled the Whanganui river with us on the North Island, what seems like ages ago. It was old home week on the spot, we were both astonished to see each other again. He’d been biking down the West Coast of the South Island and was now going to the same trailhead. He was making a 5 day loop trip out of the Routeburn Great Walk, by adding several days on the Greenstone Track, which happens to be the start of the TA as well. Great trail synchronicity. He’d had lots of trail magic happen to him over the past few months, and this was just another example.

Red beech forest and an ent.

The bus driver was such a typically friendly Kiwi that he gave us a nature lesson all the way to the trailhead. I learned that New Zealand has 5 endemic species of birch, and I’d be walking through a forest made up of silver and red birch. The red birches can live over 1,000 years. There are no tree ferns in this part of the country, but there was a solid carpet of lower growing ferns that made the forest we drove through look just like a coastal redwood forest back home, lush and beautiful.

We hit trail at 10am, a late start, but the ease of the trail made it all worthwhile. For the first 6 or 7 miles, we had the nicest, most well groomed trail I’ve seen in NZ. On trail, I got talking to Christine, the only other person on the shuttle with us. She’s a professor of Aerospace tech at the university in Canberra, Australia. She was fascinating and loves hiking in NZ.

Beautiful trail all day.

Lunch was at the lovely new, 24 bed, Greenstone Hut, with Chris and Christine, after which I headed down trail only to find the usual mess of a TA Track, lots of blowdowns to climb over, roots, mud and soggy marshes; but at least it wasn’t steep. We have a few mountains to get over in the next 200 miles, but nothing like what we’ve just come through.

On a swing bridge across a chasm.

The trail rose gradually, in its own torturous TA way, to a low slung saddle and then just as gradually brought me to the Taipo Hut, a new 4 bed hut nestled in the tussock grass plain, with one of the nicest swimming holes just under the bridge I’ll need to cross tomorrow. Anton was the only one here. He’d just had an early dinner and was off to hike to the next hut. He’s flying! I on the other hand, called it a day and set up a bunk for myself. I swam in the warm, late afternoon sun and got all the sweat of the day washed away, and then settled in for a quiet evening. No one else is here. My first time alone in a hut, and it’s a nice one. With the possibility of rain overnight and into the morning, it’s great to have such a nice place to weather the storm. Fourteen mile day, it’s nice to take it easy.

My swimming hole and hut for the night.

Just as I was falling asleep, I heard voices outside and was soon introduced to Melody and Mnkongmoteh, a young couple from Scotland; and that name is not Scottish, it’s Cameroonian. They are hiking the TA northbound on the South Island and then will pick and choose what they want to hike on the North Island. Great folks. And time for bed

Big hills to Arrowtown, Day 101

2-9-18

Early morning near the hut.

Today was going to be long and hard, with more vertical than any other so far. We were up by 5:30. Anton and English Chris and Kay and I all headed out long before the sun. There were 4 great hills to be gotten over, with only a relatively level section between the 3rd and 4th, which would come late in the day. The elevation profile looks a bit like the sharply pointed teeth of a saw, but each point represents a climb of several thousand feet, over 6 or 7,000 for the day.

Old hobnail boots hung on a fence

I held the lead for the first hour or so, but then I was passed by Anton, and later by a woman, an ultra marathoner, who was training today by running the full distance from Lake Wanaka to Arrowtown. We hoped to spend the night there before hitting Queenstown, where it is almost impossible to find lodging. I didn’t get her name, but she told me when and where to bail off the official track in order to join one of the best river walks in the area. It turns out that the relatively level section is actually tortuously up and down and in and out of canyons, and is only used when the river is in flood. Today the river would be perfect.

All day, I climbed up and up and all the more upper I could get, using the tussock grass and anything at hand to pull myself skyward, and as soon as I’d reach a summit, I found myself going just as steeply down. Tussock grass, spear grass, thorny bushes and super steep terrain made for some of the hardest hiking of the summer. The views from the top were spectacular to say the least, and the feeling of relief at having one less to climb was equally so. At this point on the TA, I’ve got enough umph in my legs to make it actually fun, hard as hell fun, but fun. I pity the folks just starting northbound as these will be their first big climbs and they may not have the legs just yet.

The river walk was tons of fun, crystal clear water and beautiful colored stone.

Coming down the third big bump, as I neared the river, I began looking for the old mining equipment the ultra runner had told me would be the point at which I should join the river, and leave the official TA trail, and there it was, a big old turquoise bucket truck parked haphazardly across the river from me. This whole area experienced a major gold rush over a hundred years ago with some of the richest seams in the world right along this stream. When I got into the water, I could see the rocks we’re riddled with large quartz intrusions, the same kind of rock often indicates gold bearing seams in the Sierra Nevada. They stood out against the natural greens and blues of much of the stone. Now I knew why the rivers always look so blue from above, the rock is actually that color.

Macetown bakery and Livio and So Jung.

The next several miles were really fun, walking in and out of the crystal clear water with such colorful rocks making for a really beautiful stretch of river. I met a young German woman going the same way and we walked a bit together into Macetown, an old mining ghost town. Not much is left but the bakery, which was a small, squat stone building. At an historic plaque, I met, Livio of Switzerland and his girlfriend, So Jung or South Korea. They’d met years before while studying English in New Zealand. I got to talk about Kimchi and everything Korean I still love, as we walked out of the backcountry toward Arrowtown, our next resupply point not far from Queenstown. Although we could have opted for a fourth big hill on our way out, which is the official TA, we all took the more gradual, if longer, four wheel track.

Arrowtown.

About 2 miles from town, I met a few guys who were exploring some of the mining ruins and yogied a ride into town for the last bit. They took me right to the Holiday Park, where I met up with Anton, who had taken the fourth hill. He’s one hell of a hiker. The two of us are going to try and get in and out of Queenstown tomorrow and onto the next section, as accommodations in Queenstown are hard to get and expensive. At Queenstown the TA officially just ends at Lake Wakatipu. The directions are to get to the other side, somehow, anyhow, anyway you can do it. As it would be a several day road walk, everyone chooses to hitch or pay for a shuttle. We’ll try for a shuttle.

Arrowtown looks like a cute little place that will be nice to come back to. In the meantime, we’re camping at a Holiday Park in town and dead tired after the big bumps today.

Motatapu Track, Day 100

2-8-18

I was out of my nice, Wanaka, YHA room at 6am, cooked up a big breakfast and headed out at 7am. I hitched the first 7 miles to Motatapu road and then turned left for a walk up a dirt road to the trailhead. I’m not roadwalking anything I can get a hitch on! The start of the Motatapu track led through pasture land, but soon I was walking in a remnant beech forest along a rushing stream and it was beautiful. Great rock formations rose up on either side, and the beeches seemed to find a way to hold on and grow out of every crack.

Road out of town and Motatapu Road.

The trail grew steeper and stayed that way, up and down for the rest of the day. When I broke out of the forest, the sun sparkled on the surface of waterfalls and rapids far below. The water is a crystalline blue that looked painted into the rocky gorge far below the trail, which wove its course through the hills and ridges. Tussock grass and speargrass bordered each side, and a false step, or a thoughtless swing of my arms, was painful. The little pricks kept me awake and centered on not falling, no matter what. Rolling into speargrass would be bloody awful, in fact quite bloody.

Beech forest track was quite nice.

I took a lunch break at the Fern Burn Hut and needed the break as the weather was hot. I began to splash my face and clothes every time I crossed a stream. A few northbounders had met Roman while tramping closer to Bluff, and each has said this is the first real stretch of mountains they’d encountered. That means this is the last of the real tough trail I’ll have to hike before getting to the finish at Bluff. I’ll miss the mountains, but I’m tired and welcome a bit of easier track.

Up and up the trail went and eventually topped out at Jack Hall’s Saddle, and a stunning view in all directions. Then it was down, down, down on a foot wide, knifes edge track on just a bit of flattened ridge. On one side was a steep face and on the other a cliff. Every time I looked up at the stunning scenery, I risked life and limb, so I mostly focused on my feet.

View from Jack Hall’s Saddle.

I reached the lovely, new Highland Creek Hut about 4 pm and just as I was walking up the steps, I heard Anton’s voice just behind me calling “Shroomer.” Our timing was perfect. He’d caught up just at the end. It had been a Short 10 mile day, but with an over 4,000 vertical foot climb, and a full resupply pack, that was just about all I wanted to do.

Highland Creek Hut, our home for the night.

We’re sharing the hut with Chris and his girlfriend Kay, from the UK, who I haven’t seen since the Tararuas on the North Island, and have met Steph, a young German woman hiking the TA NOBO, and two older Kiwi hikers, Andrew and Steve. Everyone was in bed before 7:30! God I love hiker hours!