Buicks bridge, Hakatere Heron rd. (km2329) – Potts River Bridge (km2350)
Mileage: 13mi/21km plus a whole lotta hitching.
We had a big goal for today and it didn’t involve much hiking. We just needed to get past the Rangitata River, a huge braided river similar to the Rakaia. The TA once again dead-ends at the river, requiring a difficult 100 mile hitch down to the only bridge and back up the other side. When river flows are less than 80 cubics, the river can be forded. On this day, the river was flowing at 130 cubics (it reached 300 after the storm) and very much still the color of chocolate milk. It was not a day for crossing, it was a day for hitching. A dense fog covered the valley in the morning, ensuring a wet tent. But it lifted quickly and the sun shone bright. The walk to the river and end point was very pleasant. It was just like walking through the plains or steppes of Colorado, with mountains that rival the Rockies rearing up everywhere in the background. Most describe this section as desert-like, as it is often dry and hot. But after the big storm, water was flowing from everywhere and the daytime highs were only in the 60’s or low 70’s. The brownish prairie seemed to be coming quite alive with wildflowers and mushrooms. Plus, the snowy peaks didn’t really make me think desert so much as great, high plains. This is where many of the Rohan scenes from the Lord of the Rings were shot. I can see why, since I could look out for miles and see no signs of modern civilization. Mt. Sunday sits just up the river from where the trail ends. It is only a little hill, like countless others we hiked right over, but it was used for filming the site of Edoras, capitol city of Rohan. It is now a major tourist attraction, which worked in our favor, as the gravel road to nowhere is also heavily traveled.
We got to the carpark, where I proceeded to set up shop for a slow hitch. I needed to dry my tent and to charge my phone. A number of cars passed but being mostly tourists, none stopped. Then a car pulled into the carpark for 10 minutes, and when about to leave, asked if we needed a ride. They could only take us so far, a Kiwi couple that were scoping out sections of the TA. But it was less than 5 minutes to get the next ride, this time taking us all the way to the river bridge. Leslie, our ride, is a vet in Geraldine and out for a weekend hike with her friend. She dropped us just off the highway, on the way to Peel Forest, but not before we had a great pit stop at a cafe. I scored a delicious lamb meat pie.
We walked about 1 km before another couple picked us up and drove us the short distance to the Peel Forest Cafe. I had another meat pie, a lemon bar, iced coffee and ice cream cone. I was a little short on food for this long, complicated section, so these were great supplements to my diet. We might have missed a ride opportunity, but it was worth it. We also saw J and Klaus go by in a car. They had caught up to us, given all our cafe stops. They were going 1 km up the road to camp at a farm-stay.
Now we hit the hard part. There is virtually no traffic going the 30 some miles to the trailhead on the south side of the Rangitata. There is only a small farm station there. Some walkers try for a whole day or more to get a ride, eventually just having to hire a $40 shuttle. We decided to chance it, walking down past a campground. Immediately, a campervan happened to be going our way and stopped to pick us up! It was a nice couple from Alaska. The lady was just getting back from her stint at McMurdo Antarctica station. Christchurch is the hub for that route, so many tour NZ before or afterwards. They drove for quite a ways but their rental agreement says no gravel roads. It was also already late in the day. They needed to turn around so we got out at a place called Boundary stream, which had a nice row of pines and a creek, perfect for camping. With some 20 miles still yet to go, we hoped tomorrow would bring us more luck. Otherwise, it would be a long walk.