Hurunui Hot Springs

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.

 

Yesterday afternoon when we biked into the Hurunui was sunny and winter-warm, with a mild breeze in our faces

Yesterday afternoon when we biked into the Hurunui was sunny and winter-warm, with a mild breeze in our faces

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.

 I began to wonder about the Kiwi definition of a public road as we bumped and jostled along the cratered track, past countless sheep, their fleeces snagged smooth by the thorny matagouri.

I began to wonder about the Kiwi definition of a public road as we bumped and jostled along the cratered track, past countless sheep, their fleeces snagged smooth by the thorny matagouri.

We took heart when we passed the occasional parked vehicle, because it meant someone else had made it through that mud hole, so we could too.

We took heart when we passed the occasional parked vehicle, because it meant someone else had made it through that mud hole, so we could too.

We parked the truck at the locked gate, wondering in a puzzle of greasy chains and sprockets if the bike assembly time would be worth the time saved walking the river flats.

We parked the truck at the locked gate, wondering in a puzzle of greasy chains and sprockets if the bike assembly time would be worth the time saved walking the river flats.

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.

A quick cup tea in the sun on the porch hut and we were off down the trail to the fabled hot springs.

A quick cup tea in the sun on the porch hut and we were off down the trail to the fabled hot springs.

I tried to appreciate the dappled beech forest as we loped along, but discussions of wedding receptions and the merits of diamonds were somewhat distracting.  Steph is engaged, and though the wedding date hasn’t been set, it’s still fully in front of the mind.

I tried to appreciate the dappled beech forest as we loped along, but discussions of wedding receptions and the merits of diamonds were somewhat distracting. Steph is engaged, and though the wedding date hasn’t been set, it’s still fully in front of the mind.

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.

It really was picturesque.  Steam rose up through the branches and through an opening in the trees we could see across the valley to the beech-clad slopes and the snowy tops.

It really was picturesque. Steam rose up through the branches and through an opening in the trees we could see across the valley to the beech-clad slopes and the snowy tops.

 

 Algal slime fluttered in pink shreds in the waterfalls.

Algal slime fluttered in pink shreds in the waterfalls.

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.

There’s a Maori myth about an angry goddess cursing the west coast with sand flies so it wouldn’t be overrun by people.  Too bad the midges didn’t quite stop at the divide.  I thought they’d be somewhat abated during winter, but perhaps this was a special hot springs colony, voraciously breeding in the comfortably warm water all year round.

There’s a Maori myth about an angry goddess cursing the west coast with sand flies so it wouldn’t be overrun by people. Too bad the midges didn’t quite stop at the divide. I thought they’d be somewhat abated during winter, but perhaps this was a special hot springs colony, voraciously breeding in the comfortably warm water all year round.

We squished possum poo under our toes—the stream edge was practically carpeted with the fresh little capsules–as we hurriedly dressed.

I praised Jeremiah’s shopping skills as my excellent German headlamp blazed out a bright path on our walk back to the hut.

I praised Jeremiah’s shopping skills as my excellent German headlamp blazed out a bright path on our walk back to the hut.

“How about you deal with the fire, as you’re the only one from a cold climate,” Carrie suggested.    I’ll happily trade dinner and dishes for fire building any day, and after a wee while there was a comfortable inferno in the ample wood stove.

“How about you deal with the fire, as you’re the only one from a cold climate,” Carrie suggested. I’ll happily trade dinner and dishes for fire building any day, and after a wee while there was a comfortable inferno in the ample wood stove.

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.

Loch Katrine.  In good weather it looks amazing.  The day we left it wasn't so welcoming.

Loch Katrine. In good weather it looks amazing. The day we left it wasn’t so welcoming.

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