Escape before Lockdown...
Updated: Jan 8
I think the events of the past few weeks have been anything but what we imagined they would be. Fraser and I came out of the bush from a 4 day hike on Friday March 6th, to find New Zealand had just announced it's first confirmed case of the novel corona-virus. Now that was a little nerve racking to find out about - we joked about staying in the bush, but I don't think we thought there might be a bit more serious re-consideration of if we should've stayed in the South Island 2 weeks after getting back home.
Re-wind to February 21st when Fraser and I are spending our Friday night furiously packing. The attempt was to make sure we wouldn't forget any essentials for the few weeks we were away to look after my godfather's lodge. I manage to get all the right hiking gear together, but I don't end up remembering my vitamins - which is a bummer, but not a biggie. Fraser brings his portable water colour paint pallet set so he can paint while we're walking along whatever track we decide to do.
After about a week of playing host to guests (and feeling quite exhausted from being"on" 24/7 - at the beck and call of anyone's given needs) we decided on the Caples - Greenstone valley trails.
By the way, you hospo workers who are going through a real time of uncertainty right now - I feel for you and hope you know how much respect and praise you deserve. The work you do is amazing! After a speed session of cooking some scones, a bacon and egg pie and stock piling ready-made hiking food (because we weren't bringing gas or a cooker), we made the 2 hour drive to an air BnB at Arthur's Point. This was so the next day would only be a 1.5 hour drive... rather than 4 hours. I could finally really test out the walking poles Fraser bought me for my last birthday, and we didn't have to do a hike as hard as the walk to Liverpool hut we'd done about 2 years before (or so we thought!).
We picked up a couple on the Te Araroa (not sure if they were meant to hitch-hike while doing that but "meh"), and after they set off, we followed. After a few hours in, the bag straps were really digging into my collar bones more than I'd remembered any bag do so before - but we soldiered on. The DOC website and signs advised us the first day of walking was 2-3 hours, so we looked forward to a start that would ease us into the rhythm of some full day hikes. It was late afternoon when we made it to the Mid - Caples hut - it had taken us about 3.5 hours I'd say. We weren't necessarily "happy" with that, but it seemed alright - I do have some injuries that can slow us down and we'd been a bit out of practice walking. We spent the afternoon painting (Fraser) and (attempting) drawing (me) - and enjoyed the beautiful view of the mountains and stars as the sun disappeared.
A view of one of the valleys.
And then... a bunch of late arrivals entered into the hut as all the walkers had started to fall asleep. It was a big pain, not gonna lie, but not as much of a pain as the lady lying next to Fraser. Who was the only thing between me and her freight train of a snore-fest (he bore the brunt of it though). Feeling very tired the next morning, we set off, eager for the rhythm of the walk to push us through.
30 minutes in - I nearly thought I was done. My pack was continuously rubbing on the collar-bone bruising from the previous day AND I'd not only managed to step right into a mud bath that not even my merino socks could save me from (I also wore very breathable, summer hiking boots - big mistake), but I also spectacularly tripped on my left foot and was a few millimetres away from a full sprain. My right foot was already throbbing from a contusion I'd managed to gain when dropping a weight on my foot at the gym (don't worry, I'm aware that I'm accident prone, don't need reminding). Not to mention my fat-pad impingement syndrome which I managed to score from a previous trip a few years back. I was in for a hell of a walk and I knew it, but it seemed so silly to turn around when we'd set ourselves up for 4 days of walking.
A moment we'd managed to find with a view on the trail. Can you see the pain behind the smile? LOL
We chugged along - the second day of walking was going to be a 6-7 hour day. There were some absolutely beautiful scenes, but I was so sore and quite tired, I found enjoying "every minute" of it hard to do. We'd been hoping the regular pace we'd set up would put us a bit ahead of time, but unfortunately, it seemed to take us "7 hours or more." I was spent, but extremely happy for rest and shelter when we got to the McKellar hut. The hut warden, Eiji, was very nice and told us the next day took most people 5 - 6 hours. The DOC indications said "4.5 hours - 6.5 hours." We hoped Eiji was right!
Had to walk through quite a few fresh rock clips - as well as aged ones!
We took off, yet again, with the hope that if we made an early start, we might be able to get through the walk in 5hrs and add another 3-5hrs to get all the way back to the car park... and sleep in a real bed. McKellar hut was nice but Fraser hadn't managed to get a good sleep the second night. We pushed along and were in it for the long haul. Some beautiful waterfalls and streams were seen - and although we were sore and tired - we did manage to enjoy some small moments. There were bird songs, jumping rabbits, and the beaming sun to fight off any chills from the Fiordland rain and wind. We crossed into the Greenstone valley from the Caples and walked through some pretty magnificent rock slips that had occurred from a recent severe storm (the same storm that closed and partially damaged the Routeburn track).
Of course, we'd let hope, sweat and tears push us through, but there was no way we were going to make it back to the car park in one day. It hit about 5pm, and I knew we'd be still walking around to get out of the valley by 10:30pm if we pushed past the Greenstone hut. We were going to have to stay one last night. In the end, I'm glad we did. We had some lovely chats with a Scottish traveler, Irish hiker and Israeli couple. Only then did I truly realise the number of people attempting the Te Araroa. An American hiker doing the "TA" said the drop-out rate for the walk was higher than the amount of people who actually made it all the way through. Interesting. I think I could potentially be one of those people. There are some walks I probably wouldn't be sure are "worth it" to do, but on the whole I'm someone who tries to stick to a plan. If I set out to do it, maybe the fear or failure would get me through - you never know.
Slightly delirious by the third day of walking!
We had been outside chatting to the Scottish lad we met on our final night in the wilderness, when the light disappeared swiftly and we decided to go to bed. We were the last few to head in for sleep, so we tried to be quick about it. Just before Fraser came to join on our top double bunk, a pair of "fishermen" arrived, banging and stumbling around the hut. They shuffled-shuffled-shuffled around to get any free bunk there was left, and ripped their sleeping bags from the cases - creating a heap of disruption and frustration in the process. Not only were they loud, annoying and flashing their lights around in the bedrooms when everyone was trying to fall asleep - they also started clanging around the kitchen to cook up the fish they'd caught. Great. I for one, found it seriously inconsiderate, but at least we could sleep once they were done...
One of the fishermen-not-hiker-idjits had claimed the hut up top next to Fraser and I... and he snored truly like something alien. That has got to have been ultimately the most HORRENDOUS snoring I have ever experienced. I think Fraser would agree. We did what we knew we should've done the first night - we dragged a mattress out into the lounge and slept there the rest of the night.
Guess who was up at first light to cook, pack and set off for the day before any other hiker in the hut.
You know who - those friggen fish-men. I'm not even sure they paid the hut fee you're meant to pay to stay in the DOC huts for the night. They F'd me off, what can I say - but the final day of walking was upon us! We'd see the car today. Fraser said he thought it would be the most relieved he'd ever be to get back to a car after a walk. And that he'd stick to day walks until he found a reliable way of cancelling snoring sounds when sharing huts with others. I don't blame him - that mans snoring on the last night was a bit of a life changing experience.
Happy - because of how close we are to getting home.
We pushed on for the final day of walking, having what I'd call a morning tea and afternoon tea stop, with lunch in between. We stopped a few more times when I got sore or we were both feeling tired. But after walking through quite a few more rock slips...
We finally made it.
I knew I probably shouldn't have been walking on my twisted ankle for that entire final day - my feet hadn't improved much over the course of the walk, not even the rest in the huts each day could do much. My knees, quads and hip flexors were baring a fair brunt of the compensation pain from my feet and they never let up much - even for a few days after the walk they felt a bit loose. But we made it. 61kms later and we got out of there. My knee didn't cause me that much pain really - that was the main part of my body we were concerned about "caving in." Turns out I just need to pay a little more attention and avoid any twisted ankles in order to make a multi-day walk a whole lot easier for myself.
Very proud of ourselves for making it out of there... got a rewarding view of Lake Wakatipu all the way home.
In hindsight, there's nothing better I could've asked for than such a challenge while out in nature. Now that we're having to remain indoors a lot more while juggling remote work, looking after our health (mental and physical), and trying to help those around us that might not have quite the same fortune - I am grateful. That walk has got to be the hardest thing I've done in recent times, but it has definitely helped me with my personal resilience. If I can get through that, there's a lot more challenges out there I can come out the other side of. I just hope everyone else who might be struggling can see that they're going to be able to make it out the other side of this challenge we're facing together, too. The only way out of this, is through it (kind of like when I got halfway through the walk and it dawned on me that the only way I was going home was if I kept going!).
Any person who might be reading this that works in Arts, Hospo, Entertainment, Events or any of the struggling industries right now - you might've already heard this. But know that your value in these times is the thing starting to be realised by people around the world. We'd be so much more unsatisfied if we couldn't read right now. If we couldn't sing or play music right now. If we couldn't watch movies, dance in our rooms or eat some of our favourite food right now. When the world slowly gets put back together again, I hope we will appreciate the lives we live so much more. And see how much of an impact our kindness can really have on those that are around us.