I’ve never been blown uphill on my bike before. Possibly this is because I’m not much of a biker. Never mind. It was awesome.
The glee came from the fact that I was, personally, warm and dry whilst being propelled forward and upward. The valley was being caressed by great white curtains of rain wafting down, but my new Macpac jacket and gortex pants were up to the job. Yesterday afternoon when we biked into the Hurunui was sunny and winter-warm, with a mild breeze in our faces, but the forecast had predicted a change during the night. And for once, the change put the wind at our backs.
The Hurunui valley was chosen for a winter girlie hike because there’s a reputable hot spring on a side stream less than an hour from the hut. Hot water bubbling up from the hot bowels of the earth has a mysterious romantic appeal. If I bathe in one of these magical spots maybe I’ll be transformed into a beautiful water nymph, like the picture I had on a bookmark as a kid. Maybe I’ll grow wings. Maybe I’ll be gifted a nightingale singing voice.
In short, bathing in pristine natural hot spring is on my bucket list. And the bubbling muddy puddles at sand-fly infested Welcome Flats last year fell short of the mark.
We launched out from Christchurch Saturday morning in Bertie, Toyota 4×4 owned by Carrie’s husband.
Shortly after we decided it was. Still, we were glad to lock the bikes to a tree and take to our feet after an hour. Long-distance bikers must build up butt callouses, but our tender tooshies weren’t happy about their bumpy ride, especially with the 15 kg packs weighing them down.
We smelled sulphur and pulled out the map, squinting at the grassy flats on the other side of the river, thinking we must be nearly there. The next stream was warm, and we clamoured up the slope to the little ledge of rocks holding back the pool.
We carefully staged our water bottle filled with wine at pool edge, extracted our “bathing costumes” from our packs, and started to change. The sandflies descended. I think the term “swarm” is a bit mild for these little buggers. Perhaps a “misery of midges,” or a “plague of itchies” would be more appropriate. We hurried into the water, gasping because it was HOT. Our feet fluffed up grimy shreds of detritus as we settled down into the pool.
Steph lasted perhaps 10 minutes. Carrie stuck it out longer. It turns out that my tee-shirt-and-shorts were better suited to thwarting sand flies than their bikinis, and I watched the unlucky ones swirl on the water surface from under the cover of my neck buff, pulled up high to protect my ears and forehead. I anxiously wondered what species of bacteria was busy colonizing the neat slice on the ball of my foot when I stepped carelessly into the pool.
We squished possum poo under our toes—the stream edge was practically carpeted with the fresh little capsules–as we hurriedly dressed.
Manuka bark burns even better than birch bark, I was delighted to discover. I collected extra wood for morning, exchanging pleasantries with a marauding possum, as the stars were being obscured by the first thin clouds.
During the night we could hear the wind becoming rude and pushy, and we were in no hurry to emerge from our sleeping bag cocoons come morning. We peered out at the blowing rain hopefully, thinking now and again that it might be letting up. Still, stepping out into a wet world doesn’t feel so bad under cover of gortex, and I wondered why Kiwis have yet to adopt water-proof trousers. (Say “water-proof pants,” and they think you’re talking about old fashioned plastic diaper covers.)
Our helmets were soggy when we reached the bikes, and we groaned as we settled our sore bums onto the saddles. Why bikes seats don’t come with more padding I’ll never comprehend. As we squelched through creeks and along now-sodden cow pies, the wind pushed us along. My flapping pack cover became a sail, and I had time to admire the watery curtains of rain and the difference a few hours makes to the scenery. Then a particularly good gust shoved our backs and we realized that we didn’t even need to pedal, even going up-hill. Like I said, it was awesome.