Peel Forest Farmstay to Crooked Spur Hut
45 k shuttle
9.5 k hiking.
It was a glorious night’s sleep, but much too short. We light the coffee water at 5:20, and start stuffing sleeping quilts and deflating air mattresses. We drink the morning nectar, finish packing our bags, then make our way through the dark to the communal area. Chopper’s eyes gleam quietly in the dark from his bench, as if he never sleeps, and we top off the charges on our phones. Steve, Jenny’s husband, unlocks the kitchen and invites us in, and I accept so I can send a message over the internet to Mario & Peach to stay at this wonderful place. The wood-fired stove is cranking out heat, and I take off my hat and unzip all my layers. While I am typing, Jenny offers me some toasted homemade bread with honey, and it as amazing as it sounds. I go to enlighten Prana of the wonders of the kitchen, and pretty soon he, I, Mouse, and a fourth hiker Laura are being plied with toast, orange juice, fresh hot coffee, fresh hazelnuts, and excellent conversation. Somehow Steve had heard I worked as a river guide, and comparing our home rivers blossoms into a whole range of topics. “How long have you been working this Farmstay?” I ask. “People have been staying for about 15 years, but I grew up on this farm. I was born in the room that I sleep in now,” says Steve. “Some people think that means I’m not very adventurous. I’ve seen the world and a lot of nice places; I just thought this was a nice place too.” And it is.
It is now well over an hour past the departure time that Jenny had set last night, but I can only assume she is unperturbed by the time since she keeps offering coffee. The conversation is wonderful, and I wish it could continue, but we also have some hiking to do today. After bagging up fresh hazelnuts for each of us, Jenny directs us to put our packs on the back of her truck, where she has piled cushions for Laura and Mouse to sit on, then pulls up a canvas covering over the packs and their laps. I run back into the kitchen and look around one last time to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything, then Prana and I get in the cab with Jenny.
She explains a lot of what we are seeing as she drives us the 45 k up the ever deteriorating road. We pass the Mount Peel Forest Park, and several large farms, known as stations. She has little stories about this station or that farm or this neighbor. She used to drive the school bus that picks kids up from this road. She points out the put ins and take outs for different rafting sections on the Rangitata as we parallel its course upriver. She describes a new type of farming that is being implemented, called spray farming, where helicopters spray herbicide to kill all the native plants in the steep hills, then farm forage for cattle by dropping seeds and fertilizer and everything else from the copter; within a few years the ground is infertile and most of the soil is washed away. It seems an incredibly inefficient and destructive way to farm.
She recounts the story of how she and Steve met, and that it had always been a dream of his to have a little place like this farmstay. As we pass a plum tree, she pulls the truck over so we can get out to pick some; she had even packed a plastic bag for us to collect them in. She tells a few other stories from their life as well- they seem like such a content and kind-souled couple. I adore them.
Eventually the truck reaches the trailhead, and we all pile out. The Potts River Valley faces us from directly across the river, a full day’s effort to look 6 measly k across to where we just had been. Even if I regret not attempting to cross the Rangitata, the sheer delight of meeting Jenny and Steve goes a long way to balancing that out. I’m trying to remember where I stowed my headlamp away when we left this morning so I can put it in its proper place now, and Mouse asks if I remembered to grab my fleece hat from the kitchen, which she remembers seeing there. Oh no! I did not see it there, which means it is still there, and that means my headlamp is with it. When I tell Jenny, she kindly asks where she can send it to me up the trail, and I gratefully find an address for her. Jenny wishes us well and gives us each a hug, then drives away.
The wind is still a howling monster today, and we shoulder our packs to try and find a semblance of cover to eat our breakfast granola. We walk to the banks of Bush Stream and tuck in behind some rocks where it is still windy, but at least manageable. Granola eaten, we start walking upstream.
The stream bed is full of cobbles and scenic, the water is bright blue and cold. We work our way up the watercourse, and when I spy a distinct side trail heading up, I take it. It must be a route of some kind, perhaps to what the map labels ‘Sawtooth,’ because it only continues leading upward rather than sidling along the mountainside like I had hoped. The view, however, is worth the detour.
I scramble back down and carry on, enjoying the valley, crossing the creek when need be. I haven’t seen anyone else in awhile, and I luxuriate in the feeling of solitude, taking photos when inspired, stopping to look at minutiae when I please. Eventually I reach the climb out of the streambed, the one I assume will take us to the Crooked Spur, and there Prana is waiting for me.
We labor up the switchbacks together, and at the top find a perfect lunch spot on the roots of a pine which have grown so thick and strictly horizontal and parallel that they have essentially created a bench seat. The breeze is steady but not violent, and our tuna wraps feature avocados and the best tomato I have eaten since my childhood. I feel pleased with our progress, surprised that we are this close to the hut already today. And then I notice across the river valley, the tiny figures of backpackers climbing straight up from the river. I look more closely at the map, and, indeed, we only climbed up here to bypass a gorged section of Bush Stream, and will descend in order to cross it one last time to climb steeply to the hut. Ah well. It’s a fine day in fine scenery.
The way up is steep steep, do-one-short-switchback-and-catch-your-breath steep. But these mountains are fabulous, and the views of the colorful rubble artistically sweeping down from the rocky tops and the tussocks waving and swirling in the wind make light of any effort. I reach the Crooked Spur Hut to find Mouse and Laura taking naps in the sun, and Prana inside.
The hut is old, but cute, with a homey feel, likely due to the 1960s style kitchen table and chairs, the spices and cast iron pans neatly lined up on the unworked sapling trunks that frame the inside of the walls, and the little jar of fresh wildflowers on the table.
We now find ourselves faced with a scheduling conundrum. To proceed as planned puts us in the next town a day before another cyclone is predicted to hit- and there are strict camping rules for the next several days after town. We don’t want to pay to wait it out in town, but we also don’t want to be in our tents for any part of it, and since we are just passing through a chain of towns and campgrounds, there are no huts. Blast. We can either slow way down and wait in one of the huts in this section for three or four extra days (not enough food for that) speed way up to get to the next set of huts before the storm (not likely possible), skip ahead and come back (this sounds especially distasteful on the heels of our just completed bypass) or slow down just enough to hopefully hit the first town exactly on the storm days and at least minimize the cost of waiting it out in a hotel. We go with plan D. Which means we do not have to go any farther today, and my already aching feet rejoice. Which means I have nothing I have to do this afternoon except watch tussock in the sun, and here is the peak I consider all afternoon:
I journal and watch, move from stretching out in the sun to lounging inside and back again. Later in the evening an aloof yet loud couple arrives and moves on through, and then Greg arrives. He is from London England, a really nice guy. The group has great energy chatting over a few different topics, stealth camping success and animosity, trips listed in the Wilderness magazine found here at the hut (10 Scariest Tramps in NZ!), and then I cook dinner and retire to the tent. I had advocated to set it up earlier when Prana had seen mice running unabashedly in the lining on the underside of the roof, and now I am glad to have a quiet place to keep working on my journal- I just can’t help myself from engaging with people I like, and I’ve felt desperately low on alone time lately. The sky darkens and Prana comes to the tent and the temperature drops. I wish for stars, I miss seeing them, but the sky is cloudy for as long as I stay awake.