The down side about booking a hiking trip that involves plane tickets is that you really must go that weekend, whatever the weather. A couple weekends ago when I flew up to Nelson to meet my friend Laura and hike in the Kahurangi national park the forecast wasn’t pretty, but it wasn’t so bad as to make the trip unsafe. So we chose a route without any unbridged stream crossings and set out to test our rain gear at Mt Arthur Tablelands.
The first bit of our hike was along a wide four-wheel-drive track in the beech forest–not a bad walk in the rain, actually. I soaked up the sparkling greens and abundant waterfalls. NOT literally. The rain gear worked brilliantly. We even saw a pair of whio, the elusive blue ducks of New Zealand streams. “What is your proudest moment?” “What would you do if you could start your life over?” Interesting questions, and we hashed them all out on our rain walk.
Very cool. These bright yellow mushrooms littered the path under a couple beech trees, and I later learned that they’re called “strawberry beech fungus,” Cyttaria gunnai. They were pleasing little yellow spongy balls which we thought at first were growing from the ground, but upon closer inspection were not attached.
A mature beech forest is lovely. The beeches aren’t the same as in North America, but they’re a related family (Nothofagus instead of Fagus) with tiny leaves.
There are a series of neat rock shelters on this track. They’d be more attractive in warm dry weather, but, as Laura pointed out, the sand flies might be out in droves then too.
Our first day walk wasn’t very long, about 4 hours, and our target destination was Salisbury Lodge on the Mt Arthur Tablelands, a curious high-elevation plateau underlain with limestone. Tussocks have a nice life here, and grow to generous proportions.
“You got to the hut at 2:00 and didn’t go out on another walk?” Jeremiah asked, incredulous. Yes. We started the fire, made a cup of coffee, then a bigger cup of tea, then and got out one of the resident puzzles and listened to the rain pelt the roof in perfect contentment. No, we didn’t get bored.
Salisbury Lodge, with the clouds lifting late in the evening. We got a measure of amusement when a giggly chinese student arrived, soggy under his ripped poncho. He came to NZ six years ago and is still working on an IT degree, “but I’m not very good at IT….teeheehee.” I’ve never seen a Chinese person hiking in NZ before, it doesn’t seem to be their thing. But this guy was well kitted out (except for lack of rain gear) and enjoying himself. He cracked me up partially because he seemed to find everything so hilarious, and partly because he was so smelly–not personally, mind you, he was quite tidy and clean. But upon arrival he opened a can of tuna, then smeared his legs with some something like Vicks, then went outside for a smoke. “Teeheehee” People really are the spice of life.
Next morning we skirted the “potholes,” sunken areas of grassy limestone where streams flow underground, on our way up to the tussock tops. I imagine Gollum might have gone underground here.
The hut is down there somewhere at the tree edge on the plateau. After the potholes we went through the “Fire Swamp” forest (gnarled beaches dripping with moss, limestone sink holes scattered about), but somehow I didn’t remember to snap any photos. Above there the tussock started.
Good thing we didn’t get an earlier start–30 minutes prior this peak was covered in cloud.
Glimpses of light under the clouds.
Laura had brothers. I, of course, am missing that essential bit in my education, and would never have thought to spit with the wind, seeing how far the goop would fling.
Doesn’t this plant look like it belongs in Dr. Seuss? Somewhere in “….had to pick a peck of Snide in a dark and gloomy Snide-field that was almost nine miles wide….” I think it’s a dracaena, (asparagus family!) but usually I see them lower down. A random seed got a foot hold up here and is eking out a tenacious living.
Mt Arthur is part of the same limestone formation as Mt Owen, but the rock doesn’t seem to be as exposed, at least near the trail. This was a tidbit of interest.
Mt Arthur Hut was full when we arrived, but the residents cheerfully made room for us. There were a group of four young Irish (well, 3 Irish and 1 Scotch), here on work visas. Every Irish person I’ve met in NZ seems to be bubbly, talkative, and cheerful. If these are representative of their countrymen, then seem to be a happy lot.
The other group in the hut was two five-year-old girls with their parents, and the Irish generously let the girls play their bananagrams game. A few pieces inevitably feel below the decking, to be extracted after a spirited and prolonged process.
Laura’s son Noah lent her his Sharkie stuffed animal for a camping pillow, and he was a hit at the hut. Not only did he get hugs from the Irish, he also got spirited away to woodland hideouts by the little girls.
I REALLY wanted to climb Mt Arthur itself, a 1 hour detour of the main track. We had been here nearly 3 years ago with Milo and weather had been poor, so we skipped the top then. Laura and I passed by the junction on the way to the hut but it was blowing and covered in cloud and we decided to try in the morning. When morning came the cloud was even lower and blowing a gale. We suited up and walked a little ways up the track, knowing we weren’t going to make it to the top. I think it’s the first time I’ve had to walk sideways just to stand up.
No peak meant we had time for a pint at the Hop Federation in Riwaka before heading back to Nelson airport.
“I remember on our last hike being so thrilled to get away from the family responsibilities,” Laura muses. “This time it’s just about enjoying the hike.” I would have to agree. It was about 6 months ago that we did our last tramp at Mt Owen, and I remember the feeling of liberty–no one else’s teeth to brush or food to fix. But the last 6 months have been pretty rich for hiking, and getting away from the family wasn’t the salient memory of this weekend. This hike was more about time with a buddy and the other amusing personalities we brushed shoulders with along the way.