Eerie Jollie’s

“Mmoooo.”  The Herefords stared at me with their white faces, standing in the trail.   “Mmooo,” I answered back.  I have yet to meet a mean cow in New Zealand, but still I detoured around their feeding grounds.  No need to test their mood.   The trail disappeared into the tall broom and I followed the hoof prints.  The cattle had clearly been using the DOC track.  Or maybe I was on their track?  The trail petered out; I pushed through another 100 meters of brush before deciding to turn back.  Damn.

“Mmoooo.” The Herefords stared at me with their white faces, standing in the trail.
“Mmooo,” I answered back. I have yet to meet a mean cow in New Zealand, but still I detoured around their feeding grounds. No need to test their mood.
The trail disappeared into the tall broom and I followed the hoof prints. The cattle had clearly been using the DOC track. Or maybe I was on their track? The trail petered out; I pushed through another 100 meters of brush before deciding to turn back. Damn.

“June 18-19th:  Molly hiking.”  I had marked it on the calendar so I’d get a turn too.  It was to be a loner weekend, just by myself….I need those from time to time. But then as the time had approached I hadn’t known where to go.

I had borrowed “South Island Weekend Tramps” from the library, but it sat unread under the couch.  The trouble is, I hate route planning.  It’s as bad as shopping.  I just want to turn up and walk.

“Have you decided where you’re going yet?”  Jeremiah had nagged gently.  He’s a little edgy about me hiking alone, and I knew he half expected me not to get my act together and to stay home instead.  This knowledge in particular prodded me to pull out the map.

“You might like this one,” Jeremiah had suggested.  The map showed a trail following a stream up to a hut, then looping over a low pass and back to the start via the Hurunui River flats.  “Alright, that sounds do-able,” I had agreed.  The forecast wasn’t so flash, but if I go up the side with the river Saturday, I can take the drier route out in the rain on Sunday.

Now I stood at the stream bank.  This was clearly the ford, but my map showed the trail neatly on my side of the stream, and I had been savouring the idea of dry boots.  And if this was the way up Jollie Brook, then where was that turn off to Gabriel Hut?

Now I stood at the stream bank. This was clearly the ford, but my map showed the trail neatly on my side of the stream, and I had been savouring the idea of dry boots. And if this was the way up Jollie Brook, then where was that turn off to Gabriel Hut?

“Now Molly,” I said to myself, “This is simple.  Just an easy walk up a stream bed.  You can’t possibly be lost.  Walk up stream for four or five hours and it will be impossible not to get there.”  Except for that turn to Gabriel Hut that never appeared….except if the map is old and the hut has burnt down….except if the river crossings get too deep….except if there’s someone unsavoury ahead of me on the trail.  There was one other car in the car park….it didn’t look like a murderer’s car….Darn it! I shouldn’t have listened to that podcast about the Adirondack killer last week.

I’m relieved to find another orange triangle a little way past the ford.  But again the trail disappeared, and I scanned along the opposite stream bank for another one.  Maybe that path there is it?  Or maybe it’s another cattle trail?  I hesitated before plunging into the cold water.  The sun is winter-low, shining in my eyes and glaring off the water so I can’t judge the depth.  This time it came up above my knees and I emerged truly squelching.  I wished Jeremiah was hiking with me.

The golden-dead grasses wave in the brisk breeze being funnelled down the river valley.  I startle a black cow in the bushes and chuckle nervously.  I scan the ground for other boot prints and find the ridges of shoe tread in the mud….they don’t look like murderer’s foot prints.  What do murderer’s foot prints look like?  I decide that if the people ahead of me are unsavoury that I’ll push on to the next hut, even if it’s by torch light.

I lost count of the number of river crossings—a ‘brook’ is a misnomer.  Big river trout dart away from my splashes, and I make a mental note to give Jeremiah a fishing tip.  My toes go numb, then my feet.  This must be what it feels like to walk on hooves.

I lost count of the number of river crossings—a ‘brook’ is a misnomer. Big river trout dart away from my splashes, and I make a mental note to give Jeremiah a fishing tip. My toes go numb, then my feet. This must be what it feels like to walk on hooves.

The valley is in shadow when I tromp through the last crossing and catch sight of an outhouse in the clearing.  A man is bent over beyond chopping wood.  Do murderers wear plaid shirts?  He carried his arm load of wood into the hut without seeing me.

The valley is in shadow when I tromp through the last crossing and catch sight of an outhouse in the clearing. A man is bent over beyond chopping wood. Do murderers wear plaid shirts? He carried his arm load of wood into the hut without seeing me.

I turned the small metal knob and peered around the door.  A young blond woman sits at the table.

“Oh, I’ve seen you before, I met you at a hut!” Relief makes me talkative, and I cudgel my brain trying to remember just where I had seen her.  The other two guys are hunters, but they’re young and clean cut.  They don’t look scary at all.

“We’re going to walk up the ridge before dark,” one says.  “Want to come?”   “Sure!” My feet are completely numb, but climbing the ridge sounds better than squatting in the hut alone.  I squeeze out my boots and ring out the wet socks.  While I fill my water bottle from the creek, one of the hunters hangs my soggy socks on a string above the door.  What a gentleman.

“We’re going to walk up the ridge before dark,” one says. “Want to come?”
“Sure!” My feet are completely numb, but climbing the ridge sounds better than squatting in the hut alone. I squeeze out my boots and ring out the wet socks. While I fill my water bottle from the creek, one of the hunters hangs my soggy socks on a string above the door. What a gentleman.

As it turns out, that one was a medical student.  The girl was an architect, and the boy was an apprentice builder.  They must have been at least a decade younger than I, but I enjoyed their company as they warmed up their canned soup over the wood stove.  Apparently, student flats in Dunedin don’t have any heat, and opening the refrigerator in winter lets out a waft of comparatively warm air.  A morning pee thaws ice in the toilet bowl.  The DOC hut sounds like a luxury apartment now, because we can’t even see our breath.  It’s crazy, but they didn’t seem to mind these conditions.  Southlanders are a tough breed.

The majority of the rain passed over night and by morning the mist was gentle.  Water droplets on the coprosma berries reflected a warped upside-down world, but it didn’t feel sinister like the day before.  A dog’s bark greeted me at Gabriel’s Hut.  Good thing I hadn’t spent the night there with the pig hunters.  They’re a breed unto themselves—let’s leave it at that.

The majority of the rain passed over night and by morning the mist was gentle. Water droplets on the coprosma berries reflected a warped upside-down world, but it didn’t feel sinister like the day before. A dog’s bark greeted me at Gabriel’s Hut. Good thing I hadn’t spent the night there with the pig hunters. They’re a breed unto themselves—let’s leave it at that.

The wide Hurunui river flats opened up with dewy grasses and expansive views, and after a few hours of trudging under the grey skies, I was happy enough to reach the car, ditch the boots, and head home.

The wide Hurunui river flats opened up with dewy grasses and expansive views, and after a few hours of trudging under the grey skies, I was happy enough to reach the car, ditch the boots, and head home.

Jeremiah even had the floor vacuumed and a pulled pork dinner made when I arrived.

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2 thoughts on “Eerie Jollie’s

  1. Looks like it turned out to be a lovely (although not completely) alone weekend tramp. Lucky you. (And the other thing I wish to note – is how nice it is to know folks 1 decade (or more) younger that are a joy to visit with! 😉 )

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