Thursday, 25 February 2021

It's a long way to Kohaihai

Early morning from James MacKay Hut, looking down to Heaphy Hut

Heaphy Track, Brown River Carpark to Kohaihai
Kahurangi National Park
02 - 05 February 2021

Team: Me, Marion, Ange, Jaana

 An adventure more than 12 months in the making, Marion had picked up the Heaphy Track brochure from the DoC Office in Oban as we walked towards the wharf, finishing the Rakiura Track in October 2019. It was never going to be on the agenda for 2020, because we wanted to do it early in the year, and were not going to be ready for February 2020.

With Marion and Ange locked in, we looked at all the travel options - shuttles, flights, car transfer - and decided on car transfer, since that offered the most flexibility and the least weather reliance. Plus, by the time there were three of us, even with the ferry, it was about the same cost. Doing this also meant we had a spare space in the car, so I put the call out among friends and Jaana jumped up to say she was interested.

It's a lot of travel to get to either end of this track - and the ends are both a long way from anywhere. We ended up staying the night before at Kaiteriteri, which was heavenly. A swim before dinner, burgers with a view of the beach, an evening stroll through the campground. Several of us genuinely discussed just staying put and pretending we'd walked the track it was so nice.

We knew that there weren't many places to stop on the walk up the hill to Perry Saddle Hut, so we aimed to hit the carpark at Brown River about lunchtime and eat before we started. As per the theme of the trip, being stationary outside meant two things: Sandflies and Weka.

This encouraged us to get going, so I put up all the sun shades in the car, popped the key in the lockbox, and we shouldered packs to head off. A very brief stop at Brown Hut for the toilet and the uphill started. And it just never stopped. It got hot really quickly, despite being fully in the shade, and we slowed down with our full packs. We stopped at Aorere Shelter for toilets, and the lookout at Flanagans Corner, and just kept moving towards the hut. We were about the last people in for the night.

Sunset was pretty, the guided group were doing very loud yoga in the main area that echoed through the whole hut while others tried to sleep, and I was awake before dawn. The toilets at Perry Saddle Hut were revolting, but best in the morning when the bugs were still asleep. 

We were up and out of the hut as everyone else started to stir as we knew we had a long way to go and my ankle was a bit iffy still from an injury in August. Our first fantastic moment was spotting a Takahe crossing the track as we stepped off the deck, so that was pretty magic.

We enjoyed the peace and coolness of the still dim bush section in our early morning, arriving at Gouland Downs Hut in time for morning tea hot already from the exposed section we'd already walked through. The whole rest of the day was largely like this, with small sections covered by trees, so it was super hot going for 24 long kilometers. While here, we met a couple and their three kids (all under 5!) who were walking the track over about 11 days - stopping all over the place and having multiple rest days.

Lunch at Saxon Hut saw most of us take our boots off for a rest, which felt amazing and allowed our feet to cool down a bit. The rest of the afternoon for me was a bit of a loss as my ankle became unbearably painful - every step hurt, and the pain spread through my whole body, leading me to a total mental collapse just under 1km from James MacKay Hut when Ange came back to offer to take my pack off me. I was entirely broken. And we were only just over half way there.

While Ange took my pack into the hut, I stumbled down the hill to the "Mountain Spa" to soak my feet. I spent a full 30 minutes with my feet in that ice-cold water and it was heavenly. Back at the hut, I took some painkillers and anti-inflammatories and lay down to rest while they kicked in, before enjoying dinner in the sun-drenched living space. In addition to the ankle, my overheated feet had developed deep blisters on my little toes, so I also tended to these as well as possible before hitting bed for an early night.

I realised the next morning that I probably wasn't eating enough. I had no salty snacks (I'd forgotten crackers or pretzels) and desperately needed them. But I also wasn't hungry - I was caught in that bind I sometimes have when tramping of not eating enough, then losing my appetite to go with it. I've decided that when I replace my current pack, the new one will have pockets I can reach while wearing it, so I can pack snacks in them.

From here our day was mostly down hill. My ankle had eased overnight and with a small amount of painkillers on board (plus a stretchy bandage) seemed to holding up. Marions knee decided it wanted to play up going down the hill instead, so we both took it super slow and gentle. We heard the daytime kiwi below James Mackay hut, but didn't see it.

This day was gorgeous. The bulk of the stretch down to Lewis was gentle gradient and all in the shade. After lunch at Lewis Hut (to be demolished as its falling over and being undermined by the river), we crossed the massive Heaphy River bridge and headed along the flat to Heaphy hut.

I want to go back and do that section in particular again. The flora is AMAZING. Stupendously enormous trees, really interesting rock formations, just wow. 

I arrived at Heaphy Hut limping a little and definitely uncomfortable, but in far less pain than the day before. Or so I thought, until I tried to climb the ladder into my bunk. I basically couldn't put my left foot on a rung of the ladder at all with any weight on it - if I did, the pain screamed all the way up to my knee like a red-hot poker. Bugger.

I limped down to the river for a swim, where the best way to avoid the sandflies was to go as far into the river as possible. Swimming in a tidal river is a strange sensation, as the water is constantly changing direction, vanishing and surging. But being fully submerged felt amazing.

Our whole bunkroom went to bed early to read, while some of the others went and had a driftwood bonfire on the beach for the evening. I had an absolute rubbish nights sleep and woke in the morning deep in a fug, wanting nothing more than to just stay put, unable to eat from exhaustion, absolutely convinced that the others were wishing I had never come and that I was a stupid burden on them that they didn't deserve.

Eventually I forced down breakfast and some painkillers and managed to get myself packed and ready to head off. I put my earbuds in and started listening to podcasts, because I knew I needed to not walk in my own silence for the day if I wanted to make it out in one piece mentally. It helped so much. Having my poles back from Marion was another great assistance in keeping moving, she had borrowed them the day before for her knee.

We never spotted clear indications of which beaches could be walked on if the tide was low enough (which is was), so we presumed none were suitable / had clear access back onto the track at the other end, and stuck to the track instead. It was amazing watching the coast go very suddenly from soft, light coloured sand, to massive boulder fields. The constant noise of the surf carried through the podcasts on my headphones. We enjoyed several reasonably new bridges, and had fun with the other non-bridged stream crossings.

Eventually we reached a point where we could see what I was pretty certain was the Kohaihai Bluff. While the others stopped for a toilet break at Scotts Beach, I opted to just keep moving, knowing they would catch and overtake me pretty soon. Which they duly did.

Marion and I opted to take the detour to the lookout at the saddle - it was barely 2 minutes each way, and then it was all down hill. Just before we got there we met our first day walkers - a pair of ladies in lovely pretty dresses off to Scotts Beach for a picnic. We hoped they enjoyed the sandflies and the DoC worker mowing the lawn there with his weed whacker. The last section with the loop track and high water detour felt like it was forever, but Ange and Jaana appeared around here to cheer us in to the carpark. If they had caught us earlier, I might have given them my pack, but the signs all said we were super close (we were not that close).

Quick team photo at the sign, collect the key from the box, toilet break, dump gear in the car and we headed off, killing thousands of sandflies that got in with us as we went. We stopped for "lunch" or snacks (salty chips and coke for me, to wash down more painkillers) at Karamea, then at the Pool and Rec centre in Westport for showers (Oh they were amazing).

More food purchases at New World Westport, stops in Murchison and St Arnaud for snacks / toilets, Blenheim for dinner (and to buy me new jandals, I just could *not* manage sneakers), and we finally made it to the Top10 in Picton for the night as the receptionist was doing up late arrival packs.

Despite the exhaustion, I couldn't get to sleep. I was up for the bathroom several times, and then to hunt out safety pins to pop excruciating blisters, before popping a codeine at midnight and finally being out cold (for the all of 5.5 hours I was allowed before we had to be up for our 6:30am ferry check in).

Two weeks later, I've lost one toenail from the blister, my ankle is still an annoyance (and it feels like I may have plantar fasciitis in the other ankle), but oddly, I think I'd do this track again.

I'd got the other way though - the first day with the heavy packs would then be flat, the uphill to James MacKay is nicer than the uphill the other end was, and despite what the DoC altitude map suggests, there's actually heaps of uphill in the southbound direction. Also, I'd overnight at Saxon Hut, and make it a five night trip. That said, I'd also be keen to take Spike, and do 2-3 nights at Heaphy Hut with a daywalk to Lewis Shelter, or up to James MacKay for the night and back. While seeing the wild Takahe was AMAZING, I don't know if I *need* to do the whole track again...

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Race The Dark

Paekakariki Escarpment Track, Paekakariki to Pukerua Bay
14 February 2020
Party: Mark, Me

At late notice, my parents offered to take Spike for a weekend to give Mark and I some time to chill out.
Late afternoon sunshine through the trees
So while they collected him from after school care, we took the train to Porirua together to collect our car, before joining Friday night rush hour traffic to Pukerua Bay, where we parked again to jump on another train to Paekakariki.

The wait at the Beach Road Deli for pizza was about half an hour, but we decided it was worth it, and grabbed a seat in the shade outside to wait, where we enjoyed watching traffic and trains go past.Sheep on a bridge

About 7pm, we finished dinner and were finally ready to start walking. It was gloriously warm, and we were walking in to the sunshine. The best thing about walking at this time of day was that we saw literally no one else the whole time. It was just us, a chance to chat and be together, and a small flock of sheep who kept us entertained.

The views were beautiful, and we got most of the way south towards our car before it got dark enough that we needed to get out our head torches. The experience of Sheep on the edgewalking in the dark with just us, on a track above the road, was different and fun for sure. That said, it was nice to get to the more solid footpath alongside the train track coming in to the old Muri station, and to have some streetlights.

We were just about clear of the railway tracks at the south end of Muri Station, when a freight train came barrelling up the hill and past us. HOLY WOW was it loud, that close to a pair of engines hauling a lot of freight up that large hill. And there were houses literally 10m away from the track at that location.

Arriving back at the car at 10pm was a great feeling. We stopped at McDonalds Jville on our way home for ice creams to enjoy when we got home. This was an amazing adventure, and I’m so glad to have a husband who is as keen on silly adventures as I am.

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Stats and Maps: Rakiura Track

Two solid days of walking, one day with decent tracking and one over-excited tracking (sigh, despite promises from Map My Walk that they are improving accuracy, my iPhone still records about 30% extra distance).

DAY ONE: While a couple of kms only had very small elevation gains, all of them had climb, and some climbs were sizeable - up to 136m at a time. Unsuprisingly, the 136m climb was our slowest split, taking nearly an hour to do 1km (we might have also had a stop or two where I kept tracking). Our fastest section was the start - where we opted to stick to the beach as we knew where it would re-join the track and avoid starting with a solid hump to go up and over.
Fitbit: 30,016 steps
Map My Walk: 13.71km, 366m gain, 34,991 steps while walking, 5879kJ
DoC: 13km

DAY TWO: My tracker was way over excited this day, there are heaps of little bonus loops in the tracking, so while DoC says its 11km from the hut to the road end then 2km in to town (13km total roughly), Map My Walk reckons we did an extra 2km for the day.
No 100m+ climbs this day, thankfully, and our pace stayed pretty steady (even if over-stated by MMW).
Fitbit: 31,116 steps
Map My Walk: 15.01km, 255m gain, 27,338 steps while walking, 5104kJ
DoC: 11km track + 2km back into town

Really need to get around to uninstalling and reinstalling Map My Walk, as I've heard a rumour that's how you stop this happening: