Posted by: Talie Morrison | April 5, 2014

The Weather Gods Finally Smiled On Me!

The weather gods finally smiled on me!   After all the New Zealand rains in December and January – February was good and March was awesome!

Some of you know that one of the bigger tramps that I was hoping to do this time in New Zealand was the Pyke/Big Bay/Hollyford loop – a 10-day backpacking trip. On March 2, I headed back to TeAnau (in the rain) hoping for clearing skies.   I camped at the Gunn’s Camp on the Hollyford Road – it was cold and wet, but I awoke to clearing skies and snow on the peaks right above me!

The first day was good solid track down to Lake Alabaster and the Alabaster Hut – basically a 6 hour hike.   From there the track is not maintained by the Department of Conservation, so it is a bit of a challenge to follow. I worked my way around Lake Alabaster – the first two hours were smooth sailing (on the beach) but the next 2.5 hours had lots of bush bashing to get to the end of the lake.   Then to cross Alabaster Creek, the description said to go on a “sand bar” at the mouth of the creek.   The wind and waves made it impossible to see where the sand bar was – so I inched my way across using my hiking sticks to probe the bottom of the lake in front of me.   I was a bit nervous when the water got to almost waist deep, but I made it across without getting knocked over!

The track follows the valley up the Pyke River crossing several side streams until it reaches “The Black Swamp”.   Now those were three words which had been keeping me awake at nights – and it lived up to it’s name!   It wasn’t as long as I had expected – but it took me almost an hour to get across it: black mud up to mid thigh!   It is hard to move one foot when the other one is stuck in muck also – and poles are no use whatsoever!   I had to grab handfuls of flax leaves to pull myself along.   After a while you just have to laugh at yourself (assuming you haven’t fallen in!).  It wasn’t too much further to get to the Olivine Hut and I was glad to be there -– it was a long day — 11.5 hours with a heavy pack, but it was great to be in a hut all by myself.

I was happy to wake up to another blue-sky day at the Olivine Hut.   My first challenge was to cross the Olivine River on a “flying fox”.   It was great fun and gave me quite an upper body workout getting across.  I was pleasantly surprised to find the track marked (even if not maintained).   Sometimes it was difficult to pay attention to my feet and find the trail at the same time.   There were lots of tussocks, ToiToi, and Flax, which hide all sorts of things: stumps, logs, and holes. They also trip you as you go through! So it was a great challenge to have to pay such close attention to my feet (which I couldn’t see anyway!) and still look for trail markers! There were more streams to cross (no bridges or even 3 wires), more flax fields to work through and occasional trails in the bush (woods). I was so happy to be having such a great stretch of beautiful clear weather!  I would have liked to have made it as far as the Pyke crossing before I camped (no hut for this night), but I ran out of energy before I got there so I camped on a level spot alongside the river.   Me and about 5000 sandflies!!  Just by leaving my tent screen door open for a few minutes while I set it up – there were about 300 sandflies in it!   Oofta!   Even with a head net and lots of insect repellant, it was pretty wild camping in sandfly haven!

The next morning – I did a quick cup of tea and packed up my tent – it was rather wet from the condensation (I had to keep the screen door shut) and the moisture from the river. I tried to get going before the sandflies woke up, but that was not to be the case!   And before I could even drink my tea, they were doing the backstroke in it!  Once you are moving, they aren’t too bad – but once you stop they zero in on you!   The Pyke and Big Bay regions are notorious for the sandflies!

At the crossing of the Pyke River (another part of the track which had me worried),  I was happy to see it wasn’t too deep.   But the second half of it was swift and I lost my footing only to be lying in the water with it going over the top me!   Oops!  Splashing around and trying to get up, I slipped again!   Good Grief!   By the time I got across the Pyke, I was thoroughly drenched!  The sun was pretty high in the sky, so I just decided to “walk myself dry” – and luckily I had put cameras, GPS, etc. in plastic bags before I crossed.

The final section of trail going down to the Big Bay Hut after the Pyke Crossing is an old “cart track” so it was pretty smooth sailing.   There was one more big river crossing at the bottom of the valley – and by the time I got there it was close to high tide. Luckily I found a good spot to cross and it didn’t even get my shorts wet (they were mostly dry by then).   I was SO excited to finally have made it to the Big Bay Hut (a dream I have had for about 10 years!).   There were 4 deer hunters also staying there (they had flown in rather than hiking – which is pretty common in that area).   I decided to take a well-earned rest day and enjoy being at Big Bay!  The next day, since it was my “day off”, I was not concerned when the clouds moved in and we had a little bit of rain.   I was just SO thankful that the weather had smiled on me for the hardest part of the trek!

While I was exploring the Big Bay area, I met some other hunters and fishermen who were staying at one of the private huts.   They invited me to stop by, and even offered me a couple of beers!   YEA!   And to make it even better, they agreed to fly my tent and pad out the next day and drop them off in Christchurch for me!   That totally lightened my pack weight ( for the rest of the trip, I would have huts that I could stay in and wouldn’t need my tent).

After my day off, and with a pack, which was noticeably lighter, I set off for the walk from Big Bay Hut to the Martin’s Bay Hut.   This was the day that I had looked forward to for SO long!   And it was PERFECT!   The day started out a bit cloudy and windless.   Unfortunately “windless” means “lots of sandflies” – so I was actually walking with my head net on!   As the day progressed, the clouds cleared off and the winds picked up.   I was sure that this was “the best day of my entire life”!!! I was one happy camper!   The skies were blue, the ocean beautiful, the waves on the rocks – everything was perfect. Some bits of the route were on beach, but most of it was boulder hopping.   I tried to stay fairly close to the edge of the water because I was enjoying looking into the tidal pools.   It was a lovely day.   Then to make it even more perfect, after I had passed the seal colony and seen the baby seals sunning themselves – I spotted a Fiordland Yellow Crested Penguin.   He let me watch him and take his photo for about 20 minutes before I headed on to the Martin’s Bay Hut.

The Martin’s Bay Hut had lots of people staying there.  It is a beautiful, remote part of Fiordlands; however, it is also accessible by small fixed wing airplanes, helicopters, and boats – so there are lots of people who use other transport to get there. (I have to admit my first time at Martins Bay, I flew in and boated out.)  This time, since I still had extra food, I took another day off at Martins Bay – it also is one of my favorite New Zealand spots!   I swam in the river, lay on the beach, watched the seals, and enjoyed the beauty – it was a really relaxing day!

From Martin’s Bay, the Hollyford Track follows the edge of Lake McKerrow and is called “the Demon Trail”.   However at the Martin’s Bay Hut, I discovered that there were going to be two groups of trampers doing the Demon Trail with me – 10 Kiwis from Hawkes Bay (North Island), and 5 other Kiwis who had flown into Big Bay.   That was going to mean 15 people (plus me) along the way (and any other hikers who showed up) – in huts, which have space for 12. Very full, which usually means some people will be sleeping on the floor.  So I decided to leave early and hike “long” so that I could skip the first hut – that would put me a day ahead of the big groups.   The part of the trail to the first hut (The Hokuri Hut) was relatively easy, but the next segment (another 6 hours) from the Hokuri to the Demon Trail Hut was lots of up and downs, 3 wire bridges, and slippery roots and rocks. – That’s the part of the trail that gives it the name “Demon Trail”!  And, of course, there I was doing it after lunch when I was already tired – making another 11 hour day!  It was worth it not to be in a hut that was overly full.

From the Demon Trail Hut, I hiked out to the Alabaster Hut (having come full circle).   The next day (I’ve still got food in my pack!) instead of going all the way out to the road, I stopped at the Hidden Falls Hut.   That left me with just a 2.5 hour hike for the last (11th) day.   And wouldn’t you know it – the weather finally changed and it rained the whole way out.   I guess the weather gods just wanted to be sure I got a chance to use the rain gear I had with me 🙂




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