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Tramping the Wangapeka

Day 4 and 5

by Pamela Blalock

We quickly came to the high water route, and since I knew what to expect this time, and it was early in the day, it didn't seem as bad as before. We had quite a few crossings where we linked arms to get across, and the track had slipped away in a few places, and some of the narrow ledges were even more so, but we got to the big stream crossing at the end of the high water track much quicker than I expected. John looked around for the best way across, but it was going to be a wade through no matter what. Once across it, we had numerous other smaller crossings, but we also often had a stream running right down the track.

But the sun was out, and it was actually quite pleasant. A couple of hours in, we came to the river crossing. We looked around briefly and then found a lowish wide spot, and waded across. Since the area was open, and sunny, we took a short break for lunch.

We then began the climb up to Chime Creek, where I waded across and John took the three wire bridge, then the scramble over the slip until we reached the Wangapeka Saddle. The descent is not bad, but my knee was giving me trouble again and the footing requires some concentration, so I slowly made my way down. We eventually got to Stone Hut less than 5 hours after leaving Helicopter Flat. (This same section had taken us almost 7 hours 2 days before - the big difference was we didn't waste time trying to keep our feet dry!) We were quite relieved to see an entry from Kate in the log book. She had taken 7 hours the day before and had spent lots of time going upstream to try to get across stuff safely. I can't imagine being out on a track like this alone. But she had lots of experience, and didn't seem too fazed by the conditions.

We kept our stop here short, and pressed on to Cecil King's Hut. One good thing about turning back was at least now we could stay in the hut with character!

The track was still quite wet in places, and we still had a few good streams to leap across, but the footing did get better and better. It was a good thing because my feet and knee were starting to complain, and easier walking was welcome. The sunshine made a tremendous difference both in warmth and enjoyment. Of course that said, it was still chilly enough for me to keep wearing my raingear, hat and gloves.

We also started to see bridges again, and boardwalks over boggy areas. Given the places that didn't have bridges, we were baffled at times how they decided where to put bridges and boardwalks and where not to!

We've also been a bit surprised at the lack of wildlife. I can't believe how much I miss squirrels. There are no squirrels or chipmunks here. And birds are surprisingly less apparent than at home. But when we do see them, they are quite unafraid of us and very curious. We practically had to chase a robin away after a short break.

We did spot as few wild goats crossing the track at one point, and then had a real treat at the hut, where two (rare) blue ducks seem to live under the floor, and a robin actually comes right into the hut, most likely looking for food.

While John headed away to get water (the river wasn't so easy to get to here), I gathered kindling to try to start a fire. Everything was so wet that it was a chore to get a fire going, but I did eventually get one roaring in the fireplace. It was more for atmosphere than heat though. This hut, while full of character, is a bit less weather tight than the modern ones, and was a bit draughty. That said, I was actually able to get a few things dry hanging over the fire!

It rained a bit overnight. It wasn't that bad, but the roof made it sound awful. I guess I'm glad we weren't in this one for a day and a half waiting out the storm and trying to sleep while rain and hail pounded down!

Speaking of rain, it was drizzling again the next morning. It cleared up soon after we started, and at some point I recall even feeling warm enough to take my jacket off, but the weather gods heard my thoughts and cooled it off again for me!

We again were enjoying the nicely benched track and the good footing and bridges and boardwalks. We were still baffled at why part of the track is so nicely maintained while the rest is so rugged. I'm not complaining per se. A rugged track is fine. I just wish the track descriptions had been a bit more accurate about the difficulty!

We were a bit surprised to see a lot of limbs and such down in the track at this end. There were quite a few places where we had to scramble across fallen trees and such, and shortly after we starting noticing more storm damage, we saw what looked like a bike track on the trail. At first we decided it must have been a limb, but then we saw it again, and then two sets quite clearly. I don't imagine it was an enjoyable ride, given how wet it was and how much stuff was blocking the trail.

We were getting fairly close to the end, and I'd hoped to make it all the way to the Rolling River hut for lunch, but my tummy was grumbling and so were my feet. Walking in wet boots for days had taken its toll on my feet, and I did have a few small blisters. I'd put blister pads on that morning, but they seem to have moved. So we stopped for both a lunch break and boot adjustment.

As we were enjoying the last of our sandwich fixings, we saw two day hikers walking towards us. We mentioned that there was lots of storm debris on the track, and they indicated it was the same all the way out. They also mentioned a new slip to scramble around. I asked if they would be out for long, hoping we might be able to get a lift back out to Tapawera. They said they were going to walk for another 3/4 of an hour and turn around, and if we were still around when they got back they would give us a ride. Given how slowly my blistered feet and swollen knee were going at this stage, I worried they would actually beat us back !

We got to the slip, and it was a chore to get around. I'm not sure how the cyclist did it,or more to the point why he kept going!

When we reached the end of the trail, we got water from the river and decided to make the last of our soup while we waited. It was sunny for a short while, but clouds rolled in and soon it started raining again. After a couple of hours, we decided we should call the shuttle, since we didn't have any more food, and I didn't want to get stuck out there for another night without food. I was actually quite worried about the day hikers, since if the shouldn't have been more than 1 1/2 hours behind us. We knew if we called for the shuttle that they'd appear soon afterwards, but if we didn't we could have found ourselves stuck. Sure enough about 20 minutes after we phoned for the shuttle, they appeared. Apparently they weren't watching the clock as closely as I was!

The shuttle arrived a short time later, and soon we were back in Tapawera gobbling down potato wedges at the local grill.

My knee was barely functioning at the end. It was quite swollen and I could neither straighten, nor bend my leg very far. One foot had a small heel and toe blister, and the other had a tender spot of the heel. I've definitely got to break these boots in more, and try to get them stretched. I will definitely enjoying tramping more if I'm not constantly fantasizing about chopping off my little toe! More importantly I've got to figure out why my knee gets so bad, and make that not happen. One theory is I always lead with the same leg on big steps over bolders and logs and such. I should try leading with the other leg some. My back was sore for a couple of more days. But John eventually found the knot with a good massage.

John's knees were a little creaky as well, but overall he fared much better.

We got back to pretty bad weather in Nelson for a day, but then spectacular conditions for the next week. We had been planning to try to ride the Queen Charlotte Track with Simon, Cara and Aria, during Cara's school break, but given how wet it was and the forecast for the coming week, they decided it wouldn't be a good week to do it. Maybe the following one.


Days 2 and 3