Kiwi Meadow to Hurunui No. 3
We sleep through the alarm, and it is glorious. It is after 6:30 when we wake up, the temperature not cold. It is windy, a gusty wind that is reminiscent of the other day, but not nearly as strong or terrifying. We don’t have far to go today, and there is no panic that we lost some time; this is of course assuming the trail stays improved to faster than one kilometer per hour. Coffee, check, toasted muesli, check (one of the few things I will not miss about NZ). Super Mario and Princess Peach start hiking before us, and we see Bigfoot Mouse walk up as they reach the trail junction from our hidden tree cove. Prana makes one of the ultimate romantic hiking partner gestures, which is to put in the effort of digging a double wide cathole. We finish all the morning things and depart.
The morning mist wreathing the mountains is lovely, and for the short time we are in the meadow, the scenery is pretty. Then we duck into the trees, and things become… underwhelming.
I don’t wish to complain. I don’t wish to be ungrateful. But I am so uninspired by this section, and by today. The trail is occasionally in the river meadow, which is quick and satisfying walking although exposed to the rain-lashed wind; but more often it is just on the edge of the forest, indulging in steep up and downs for no apparent reason. We don’t take many breaks, make that any breaks, as it’s just rainy enough to be uncomfortable. There are a few downed sections of trees to climb through, where we catch up to Mouse. The forest is not aesthetic, simply unimpressive and messy. There is no birdsong. The footing is either in mud or on slippery roots or on small rocks that turn underfoot. I struggle, thinking about all the other things I would rather be doing today than this.
Even though I’m not hungry, I’m looking forward to getting to the hut for lunch, just so I can stop walking and stop thinking about how much I don’t want to be walking. We break free into the meadow and see Mario and Peach at a swing bridge on the other side. The icy rain picks up again, and the wind starts gnashing it’s teeth. The swing bridge is a bouncy one, and when it’s my turn to cross the wind hammers down, swinging the bridge side to side, and when I brace myself and look down to see the dark water racing by below, I feel seasick. When the wind dies down, I make it across, although the nausea hangs on for awhile. At last the hut comes into sight, with its huge glorious covered porch, and I can take off my pack and sit, all out of the rain.
The hut is full of people that are staying put for the day, and the five of us make our lunches and compare notes. Prana is the only one unaffected by the dismalness of yesterday and today. “Even the podcasts are boring,” observes Bigfoot Mouse. “I know!” I agree.
It’s only 10 k to the next hut, and we hope to make it at least there. We pack everything up, and head back out. Mouse and I chat for awhile, trying to figure out the apathy towards the goal that has infected both of us. Eventually we are all spread out in a string again, each battling our own private battles. Occasionally I will come around a corner and find Prana waiting, a sight that always brightens the moment.
There is a hot spring pool on the trail today! I get a whiff of sulfur, then pass over a steaming creek. The trail leads up the embankment, and there is the pool. Unfortunately, the sandflies are abhorrent here, and the pool is only knee deep, not exactly large enough for soaking up to the neck. It was a nice thought while it lasted. Swatting, we hike on.
We take a break on some sawn log rounds that are big enough for comfortable seating. One more push! Finally we hit easy meadow walking again, and there is the hut at the far end of the meadow. There is smoke puffing out of the chimney, and when we arrive, an animated German guy we have met a few times says, “come in, come in, there is plenty of space!”
This hut is so cool. It was built in the 1940s, and has a roof that is tall for its size, which allows for triple bunks on both ends. There is a little entry room with four bunks that is perhaps more reasonable, but Prana good-spiritedly agrees to sleep on the third platform up, which sports its own tiny cobwebbed window looking out on the mountains. The floorboards are old and creaky, and the air is thick with heat in the main room. I ferry a few items up the long ladder, then settle in to relax and soak up some non-walking time. I type in my journal, and listen to conversations from below drift up to my cat-perch.
“You guys are just running through here,” says the German guy to two tall Estonians who had flown past us all on the trail earlier. With that comment, I finally place him from the Queen Charlotte Track. “We like the long days,” they reply. “But how can you really be getting as much out of being in nature if you just hurry the whole time?” the German, Jay, challenges. “It doesn’t feel like hurrying. Look, we don’t complain about hikers that take 6 months to hike, why should they complain that we take only 3? Besides, we are outside at least from 8 am to 8 pm everyday; if someone hiking shorter days spends all their extra time in the huts, who is getting more time in nature?”
I eventually descend to the floor to cook some dinner, and after eating it scale back up for more cozy relaxing. The rain drums and pounds, the wind wails and gusts, and this funky old cabin keeps it all at bay. The few drafts that break in perfectly temper the rising heat from the fireplace, and I exist in a snuggled stupor until I fall asleep.