Pelorus Bridge (km1839) – Rocks Hut (km1871)
It was a great day where I really felt my energy levels high. It probably just had to do with the temps being so much cooler. When I woke up, I actually put my down puffy on. It was hard to strip to my hiking clothes…and this was in town. The mountains may reach the single digits…celsius. That is into the 40’s…cold. What was I just saying about not needing my warmer quilt?
I set off to get a ride back to the Pelorus bridge around 8:30 am. I waited about 10 minutes as there wasn’t much traffic. I started working up my positive thinking. Today it would be a grey car. Then another couple of travellers walked down the road and set up shop hitching about 50 meters ahead of me, which I thought was kind of crappy. They were going to poach my grey car before it could get to me. But I was strategically across from the gas station and had the advantage of the cars stopped there having time to think it over. Just as I was getting a little miffed at the competition, a grey car rolled out of the gas station and gave me a lift. Thanks Michael from Blenheim!
At the bridge, I couldn’t but help duck into the little cafe for some last minute real food. I got a cheese scone, which came with 2 tabs of butter…I smothered it all on. It was good but I liked the scones with cream and jam better.
I began a 14 km road walk, mostly gravel, to the trailhead. It was nice weather, partly cloudy. The road passed through farm and forestry land. There were many different animals but no petting opportunities presented themselves. A guy in a ute offered a ride all the way, which would have saved me 12 km. I declined. Only 1 other car passed, and it was going the other way.
I began seeing 3 backpackers up ahead of me. When I caught up to them, they were amazed at the size of my pack. I was amazed by theirs, too. They said they were carrying 14 days worth of food. It was a Dutch couple, Asther and Maarten, along with a french woman…didn’t catch her name. They started the TA just on the SI. There are nearly twice as many TA walkers now, with the addition of these SI walkers. I am also starting to encounter several NOBO SI walkers. The guy was really breathing hard when we went up a rise on the road, so I wonder how they are going to fare in these steep mountains. It’s tough to be so new to this and almost immediately be thrown into one of the most difficult stretches. I’m glad for my experince and trail legs from doing the NI.
I pretty quickly left them behind on the road (I’m a pro at road walking, after all:), but then thought they passed me by in a car just before the trailhead. It turned out to be Kirsten, Hannah, Simon, and Justin. Dan was there to, and I thought he had also gotten a ride but learned later that he had started early and walked instead. I couldn’t figure out how the 5 of them could have fit in that small car! We all just happened to get there at the same time. Dan actually thought I had come in the car too. They were lucky to get a ride, given the lack of traffic.
We all set off along a nice riverside path. It did a lot of little climbs and skinny sidling, as watercourse trails will do. We came to the Emerald pools, where I took a lunch break. It was tempting to go for a swim in the lovely pool but it was still a bit chilly and not very sunny. I just got water instead. The sandflies then discovered us, so we moved on.
Sandflies are biting gnats, bigger than noseeums, kind of like black flies. They come out during the day and are highly prevalent around water. They leave an itchy welt that lasts for days. Just one layer of clothing can stop them, so the trick is to cover up. They also won’t get you as long as you are moving.
It was clear that Dan and I were moving much faster than the rest. Dan just started the SI but has the experince of doing the NI last year and is a hardened kiwi. He works at the Whangarei port, loading all those logs onto ships. He’s a pretty big guy, as in muscular, with a fair sized pack, but agile in the forest. He has been travelling all along with his mate Tom. But Tom injured his leg and had to take this section off. Dan is for the first time solo, going into these tough mountains and understandably a bit sad about it. He’s not alone, as there were probably around 15 TA walkers setting out on this day.
We passed the first hut, shooting for the second. That was Dan’s goal for the day but I was aiming for Rocks hut, a 16 bunk hut with flush toilets. It also happens to be at the top of a big climb. When we got to the second hut, a 6 bunk, we found it nearly full. There was a group of 5 packrafters going to raft down the river the next day. The sandflies were also horrible, so all that made the decision to move on an easy one.
It was 4:45 and only 4.5 kms to Rocks hut. I’d read that the gradient of the climb wasn’t bad. We crossed the river on a swingbridge for the last time (one of about 5 scary-fun swingbridges that day).
Then the climb…which was pretty easy, at least for me. The trail was great, no mud and just lots of roots. It was the kind of trail I remembered of the SI and it felt great to be back in the beech forests. I started to feel a little shaky, which was easily overcome by forcing food. By the end, my energy levels were soaring and I was in a great mood. I pulled ahead of Dan and got to the hut to find it warm and cozy. An older couple from Scotland, Andrew and Cathrine, were the only ones there and had started a fire. Good thing as it was cold and starting to drizzle.
We had a great night eating dinner, chatting, and getting a good night’s rest. I was too warm in my sleeping bag, despite the chilly temps. The huts add a lot of warmth. This one also had flush toilets and a separate cooking and dining area. Water is fed from a stream nearby. So flash!