Tui and Sam’s loud morning stretch greet the day, overcast, just how I like it. It’s a different world down here – sprinklers run all night and fire danger is ‘extreme.’
I get to Dalton’s Track where the notes say we must not walk on road, but the industrial sprinklers are running right on the path. I understand farmers don’t want to dodge hikers, but first thing on a long day I don’t want a mud fest. It will take me an hour to walk here and I’m hoping I can just move along without being seen. Not sure why a public road can be off limits.
Crap, that’s because it’s not a public road. Well, I’m already in too deep in. Loads of signs were ignored. Ugh. I really don’t want to be that ugly entitled American hiker.
Aha, a young Samoan heads over on a 4×4 and guides me away from the big herd coming my way. I’m saved! And the field walk is not too bad at all.
I come to forest loud with cicadas, and Pelorus Bridge – although I don’t cross, rather I walk down a long country lane in the sun, alpacas looking on, bored. Someone scrawls 1800 kilometers in the gravel.
I take a break at my half-way point, still early in the day, but never too early for a thru-hiker to eat lunch. A lovely South African Englishman walks by who started just five days ago as he’s only doing the south island. He introduces himself as Pierre and I say ‘ça va?’ to which he says he believes his parents were just making a joke naming him. We’re headed to the same hut, so I feel like I’ll make it.
Funny how things happen just as I feel uncertain. The day felt almost out of reach after two long days, but having a TA walker catch up rid me of that fear as we hopscotch towards Captain Creek.
I come to a stretch of thick pine that reminds me of the Birkie trail in northwest Wisconsin. The river tuns on a bed of white-gray rock, emerald green.
I reach Mt. Richmond Forest park and a sign tells me to listen for rifleman, tit, robin, fantail, bellbird, tui, brown creeper and warbler and that I might see whio. The track is dry and rocky, like trails in the Sierra. Beech leaves are soft underfoot. A cicada buzzes heavy popping briefly into my face.
I dive into one of the pools, getting my clothes off as quick as possible as a cloud of sandflies attack. These nasties are not part of the Pure New Zealand marketing campaign. It’s worth risking their awful bite to get in that water, not at all cold and deliciously refreshing.
Beech forests are so much more open and light than what I walked through on the NI. Ferns and palm along with podocarp give it an ancient, primeval feel.
I climb steeply away from the water, twisting and turning and negotiating roots and rocks. Thankfully – and shockingly – no mud.
Up and down and finally to the hut to meet Kiwi Rob walking the whole TA. It’s hot inside, but safe from bugs. Pierre is close on my heels and we three waver as to whether to stay inside or set our tents.
Best to decide from the cold, clear water. Mud at least seems out for this island, to be replaced by another subject for my nightmares – those epic sandflies. A grand cloud follows me in as I take another dip in what turns out to be even cooler and more refreshing.
I make dinner and crash on a bunk for a brief rest until the sun sets. But it’s absolutely a sauna inside. Only one window has a screen. A Kiwi family of three plus a big sweet black terrier Scotty-Westie mix arrive and set their tent, dealing with the flies nonchalantly as they cook on the picnic table, giving me a dram of whiskey and hut beta.
It is the most beautiful day with views of one crystalline pool after another, the coolness against my skin. I walk 32 kilometers with no pain and happy to stop and rest my body before some huge climbs tomorrow.
I only wish I could sit outside, but the swarm comes even with clothes covering every inch of me. Full on deet? I could, but I’d smell bad. Aggravated, I’m beginning to wonder if this is how it goes on the Te Araroa – one extreme to the other and I’m not sure I have the temperament for it.
So what does one do when life gives you lemons? Make lemonade. We all end up setting up our tents outside to catch whatever breeze might come.
And, I dive into the cool emerald one more time, swatting the sandflies coming and going.
But, oh does that water feel good.