“Yikes, look at that car park! We had better carry that tent!” Carrie counted a dozen cars as we rolled into the muddy paddock that was the start of the Toaroa valley track. And the group just organizing themselves to set off was about 10 college kids debating whether they needed two or three liters of marguarita mix, on top of the Raro and vodka that was already packed.
Of course, it WAS a holiday weekend (God save the Queen! And keep those birthdays rolling), and the east coast forecast was miserable drizzle and cold rain for three days straight. West Coast, uncharacteristically, was meant to be blue skies. We were also headed to a well known hut within 4 hours of the road that was famed for its hot pools. Blue skies + long weekend + accessible hut + good hot pools = popular.
On the way there Carrie and I indulged in some much-needed womanly communion, covering the gamut of husband-dreaded topics (relationships, pregnancy, woman in careers, mama guilt….).
Just before the hut is the longest wiggliest swing bridge I’ve ever crossed. Not that I’m complaining! It sure beats wading the river, and we saw a pair of whio (rare NZ blue ducks) from the vantage point of the bridge.
Much refreshed in mind (though ready for a rest in body), we arrived at the hut just in time for afternoon tea.
The hut residents looked us over and quickly. ‘The hut is FULL!” they declared cheerfully. “Absolutely chocker!”
There’s an old historic hut that sits right next to the modern hut at Cedar Flats, a two-bunker… it had five people already in residence!
We set up our tent in the field, then sipped our tea before strolling up to the hot pools, which were on a side stream above the hut. “People soup!” Carrie chuckled, as we tried to guess how many of our fellow trampers were already thronging the pools. As it turned out, we got a turn in the pools while they were quiet. When we got back, the whole field was covered in tents.
The hot pools really were FANTASTIC. I have been roundly disappointed with natural hot springs many times before. In my imagination they should be like my childhood pop-up book with Japanese macaques calmly poking their heads up and down though the clear steamy water, snow encrusted mountains surrounding the serene pools. In reality all the natural hot pools I’ve visited have been ankle-deep in slime (bacteria like the warm sulfury water) and swarming with ravenous blood-sucking sandflies.
But this spring was more silty than slimy, the water mysteriously satiny with swirling black particles. The sulfur water turned by bracelet from silver to bronze in a matter of minutes–ah, the power of chemistry! It really was good and hot too–steam rose all around us, only slightly obscuring the view of the snowy peaks. It must have been too cold for the majority of the sandflies, and the college kids didn’t pile in until we were finished. The hot water was seeping from a spring on the opposite side of the freezing creek, but with the good hot soak we could bank enough body heat to bolster us during the splash back, rinsing, and reclothing process.
Clear starry skies delivered a hard frost in the morning. The water from our breath had frozen inside our tent, and was snowing down on us by morning. I wore every scrap of clothes that I had, and was warm enough. We crowded into the hut with the rest of the gang for breakfast, then set off for a day-hike quest to find snow. I had carried my snow shoes and was determined to use them.
The trail was a no-nonsense shortest route to the a mountain saddle. Read that as STEEP. When you go straight up it’s amazing how fast you gain altitude.
Low down we crossed this stream that joined another and went through a gorge. Can you see the blue of the water? The color of the water is amazing.
The big trees ended just at the first patches of snow, and Adventure Biv greeted us, cheerfully orange. What a spot! We almost wished we had carried our stuff up the hill last night to be able to perch there. Almost….except the climb was really steep and the water at the bivvy was all frozen. The exit sign on the inside of the door cracked me up….as if you could exit that structure any other way! Government regulations I suppose….
We ate our lunch in the sun, feeling like sultans, then moved up into the snow just as cloud cover obscured the sun. I had really wanted to get to Zit saddle, but the going was slow with the soft snow hiding the path and pockets of air beneath the tussocks. It was still fantastic though; the snow brings back good winter hiking memories from the Adirondacks. In the end we just went a little ways beyond the bivvy, looked at our watches, and decided to play it safe with day light and go back to the hut and the hot pools.
Couldn’t resist trying out this tree perch. A rata tree, I think, that was hosting lots of other species of greenery in its branches.
The next morning on our way out we decided to try the flood route. Most people walk the river bed, as we had done on the way in, but there was a marked (if not as well maintained) trail higher up the bank in case the river is too high to walk. The boulders had been slick and icy on our way in and we decided to try our luck with the flood route on the way back. It was quite vertical! But the tree ferns were amazing, and I kept trying my hand at IDing the big podocarp species NZ is known for–rimu, totara, miro, as well as others like kamahi and rata. If you didn’t know better, this place would look tropical. Certainly exotic, if not warm.
As we drove back over the Alps towards the east coast the clouds got thicker and the roads got wetter. It was still raining, same as when we had left Saturday morning. I’d like to say that we were thinking compassionately of our husbands who had been minding the kids on their own over the long wet weekend, but….