2/24 Along the Ahuriri

Lake Ohau to East Branch Bush Windbreak

30 k

The sunrise colors this morning are fantastic, the pinks and purples bouncing off the snowy high peaks.

The road wraps around the coast of the lake, flanked by tall stalks of flowering mullen. I only have a few hours left of the audiobook, so the headphones go in, and the kilometers go by.

We pass a lovely set of campsites with an impressive array of styles of campervans, and Prana is waiting for me to to share snacks and chat. We finish our turn around the lakeshore, and the trail takes a sharp hairpin, leaving the last of the serial lakes behind and heading for the high country. We dutifully follow the curving cycle trail across several kilometers of gently inclining grassland.

I finish my book just as we reach the lower edge of the beech forest and a gushing creek. At last! The story complete, I feel both relief and regret that it’s over. Prana and I rinse laundry in the creek, and I work on my journal during the long break in the sun.

Luckily Mouse has read aloud a warning about not missing the fork the Te Araroa takes from the well-maintained trail, because within the next kilometer a narrow path peels off, and I definitely would have missed it. It’s been so long since we’ve been in the forest, that I am delighted to see it again. The narrow flooded path traces a parallel imitation to Freehold Creek, a riotous joyful mess of foaming miniature whitewater. When we gain some dry rocks in the sun, we stop again, for lunch. I carried leftover salad away from Tekapo, thinking it would be great on tuna wraps, and even though it is wilted lump rather than fluffy greens, it’s green, and still good enough in my book. There are no sandflies. It is the perfect temperature. We even find comfortable rocks to sit on.

We resume the climb, and as we break out of the treeline, the head of the pass confronts us, with several dramatic streaming waterfalls. It is spectacular! In one of those magical synchronicities, the perfect album pours music into my headphones, matching the mood of the surroundings. It helps ease the steep long climb.

There is plenty of snow layering the peaks up here. The contrast is visually striking, adding a depth of drama to the scene; it is also melting off in large fast quantities.

Gaining the expansive flat saddle, we find a bog of icy snow melt that re-soaks our feet with each cold step. We stop for a snack and to drink in the views, then work our way down towards the far side, waterfalls tumbling through the rubbly gorges of landslides.

We try to keep our feet dry, but it is comically futile. We try to keep the trail, but lose it again and again in the thick long tussock. When the trail sidles it is overgrown and crumbling, and when it is at creek level (a churning creek that is growing at each turn with the gain of each churning tributary), it crosses without being compelled to, seemingly just because.

A few deceptive steps land me in up to my knees, and when the trail beckons for yet another crossing to leave unhindered passage on our current shore, I refuse. By sidling in the scree, which also has the added benefit of being dry, this side goes. And then the valley starts to widen.

We progress on better and better track, and finally espy an unlabeled hut that appeared on the map, our first potential stopping area for the day. It’s apparent now why it’s unlabeled- one would have to work pretty hard to get there, including crossing the now significant river. Since the valley has widened, the wind has gradually increased, and it is too windy to even cook here, so we press on. The land continues flat and with no sheltering swells or trees, and we top one last ridge before descending to the open plains. A tent is pitched on top already, and since we don’t know what kind of tent Justin and Caroline have, we inquire- “is it you guys?” “Um, no,” responds a somewhat baffled voice.

We drop the back of the ridge and see another tent, a Stevenson design. “That’s them,” Prana asserts, “remember I had that conversation about getting the nude advertising magazine?” I only vaguely remember, and when we reach the tent, Prana teases, “well that looks like a warm and light tent!” “It does, doesn’t it,” answers a female voice that is definitely not Caroline’s. “And big enough for two, but there’s only one in here. I lost my man.” She unzips the tent and pokes her bright-eyed head out, and it turns out to be Kat! Kat from the Rocks Hut, with (now without) Paul the pretend Alabaman. We trade some trail news- Paul is working in Invercargill, after deciding he had had enough of the TA, waiting for Kat to hike there. We had heard a story of a woman who broke her arm on Goat Pass- this is true, and it was Giovanna of Claus and Giovanna, the Italians from the Pelorus Bridge. I want to stay and chat with her some more, but it is not pleasant outside, and I am sure she was cozy, already tucked in for the day, so we head on looking for some kind of windbreak.

The land is barren, and we finally come upon a short line of squatty prickly bushes. We circle them, looking for a spot in the lee of the wind, and decide that they will do. We pitch the tents, and they just fit in the narrow corridor of still, blocked air.

Dinner is a big pot of potatoes, and we watch the moon hide and peek between strips of cloud as the sky darkens for the night.

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