I think I must have a sadistic streak. Most trampers probably do too. After a painful few days with excessively heavy packs on the Kepler I was feeling ready for the next adventure. The South Coast Track looked tempting, especially because we wouldn’t have to worry about dying in an avalanche (definite bonus). We actually did some planning for this trip and so our packs were a reasonable weight for our planned 8 days. Our route took us over ‘The Hump’, around to Lake Poteriteri, Paddling down to the Slaughter Burn, then dropping down the Waitutu river to the coast and hopefully Westies Hut with tonnes of kaimoana before walking out down the coast. It would be Jakob and I most of the way, accompanied by Kerry for the trip over the Hump.
We met Kerry in Invers and bunked down there for the night. I think it was the social highlight of the month for him, given the somewhat lackluster reputation the southern city has. The next morning we faffed about and eventually got to the Rarakau carpark where we would leave our car. It was about 9 by the time our boots finally hit the track, a little later than I had hoped for. The beginning of the track meandered aimlessly for a few k’s high above the sea before meeting the beach. We made good time along this highway which was good because we still had a long day ahead of us.
Our route soon took us off the beach and into the bush along an old 4WD track. This cut a path through gentle regenerating forest and we clocked up several more kilometres in great time. This speed came at a cost, both Jakob and I were still feeling the pain from the Kepler, not in any way assisted by the 8 days worth of food we were carrying. The road soon turned from a ‘the rolla could take this’ to a ‘bugger that’ as mud dominated the wheel ruts. A solitary orange triangle was spotted on a tree, suggesting that somewhere in that steep forested hill side behind it there would be a track. I knew this would be where the tramp would really begin. The route climbed steeply, with our altitude having a direct positive relationship with the amount of sweat that was pouring off my face. Worse still, my legs were starting to feel a bit jinky… not a good way to start a week of walking. The pain only intensified as we approached the Hump. Kerry tried to motivate us with a bag of cookies, which in part worked. In the interests of reaching the hut that day, and in some walk-able condition I offloaded my food off on Kerry the mountain goat. Lightened I felt a little better but each step still undermined my confidence in my legs.
When the track’s gradient lessened it was transformed into a mire of shin deep mud. This made for a fun ascent. There were a couple of near face-plants but by some miracle we all avoided that fate. Kerry still not slowed by the counter-weight I had given him decided to get out his trusty silky saw and do a bit of track maintenance whilst we walked. It was a little embarrassing watching him as I hobbled after trying my best to keep up. Jakob, the trooper that he is, didn’t whinge and soldiered on fully ladened behind us. My discomfort began to increase exponentially and I began considering if I had made a terrible mistake. The only distraction was emerging briefly above the bushline and being rewarded with views down the South coast.
This was just a glimpse as we were soon down in the bush and mud again, with one last slog up onto the ‘Hump Ridge’. By this point it was every man for himself. Kerry was wondering what all the fuss was about as I struggled up the hill behind him. On the ridge I collapsed in a heap on my pack, very sure that this had been a big mistake. We called a meeting and several options presented themselves. First option, we could turn around (no one wanted to do that). Second option, we could continue on to Teal Bay Hut and see what happened. Third option, traverse the ridge and stay in Okaka Lodge for the night. The pain in my leg screamed for option three, but the others outvoted me. And so with that I began limping up the hump of humps. Kea circled me like vultures, I shot them glances daring them to try me.
The views made up for my internal misery. Somehow in the midst of a terrible forecast we had 360 degree views around the South. In one corner lay the snow-capped Takitimus; in another were the distant rises of Stewart Island; in yet another were the fortifications of Fiordland. It really was quite a site to behold and somewhat justified the pain, even if I might not have thought it at the time.
The travel along the tops was easier than the battle we had been waging through the bush. The odd pole here and there helped with the nav and soon Lake Hauroko came into view.
Not a moment too soon either as the sun was quickly sinking behind the mountains. Darkness would soon be upon us, hastening our feet. Forest Service jam lids guided us back into the bush and we began our steep descent down through bearded forest.
I steadied myself with Jakob’s pole on the descent. The other he had bent on the way up and so was a little useless for trying to stay upright. We raced the sun down to the lake. As the terrain flattened out we felt our way through the undergrowth for the track. After a close encounter with a possum and several slips and slides we called time on our sensory deprivation. Headtorches somehow made it much easier going (who would have thought??). Soon we emerged out by the lake and followed its shore through the bush to Teal Bay Hut (not before Kerry had tried to make friends with a pig).
Kerry disappeared for quite sometime as Jakob and I lay prone on the bunks, exhausted and hurting. Eventually he returned with a racket pulling half the forest in with him, then setting about sawing and chopping so this would fit in the fire. Once this was completed he set about making Kerry’s classic — deviled sausages (does this man never tire??). I managed to drag myself to the stove and began work gently nurturing a fire. Kerry felt my efforts were unsatisfactory and pushed me out of the way; he proceeded to shove anything flammable into the fire he could before doing his best big bad wolf impression trying to blow the hut down. The resulting inferno quickly warmed the hut and Kerry kept piling the logs in. He refused to let me use ‘dirty’ coal that was sitting in a large sack next to the fire, so I just sat watching the flames feeling a little useless. The deviled sausages we as good as they were all the other times I have been tramping with Kerry, and soon we were all asleep (after cheesecake…) — Jakob and I not having the energy to rebutt Kerry’s ‘killer’ banter.
We had company in the hut that night, in what form we are still not quite sure of. The mouse/rat/possum neglected to join us at the breakfast table when dawn broke. My leg was still hurting so we decided to can the rest of the trip and offload excess weight onto the goat. Kerry was set to venture into the grey outside to get back over the Hump that day to be at work on Monday. Once he left we sat stunned in the hut wondering what to do with ourselves. Our one mission was to eat as much as possible, to lighten any potential load. Jakob, who had scoffed at my bag of carrots, ate most of them for breakfast. The morning was spent collecting firewood and reading. The hut library almost exclusively consisted of hunting magazines which are about as interesting as a dead mouse (unless you’re Aimee I guess).
Just before lunch we started the fire up, just in time to hear the rain start on the roof. Soon the little stove was roaring, helped my a generous handful of coal (sorry Kerry). We used the hotplate to make quesadillas, which went down a treat.
Other highlights of the day included: a flock of 15+ Kereru in flight, which sounds comparable to ‘Nam in the 70’s; the discovery of a solitary National Geographic; hot tea. Dinner that night was tomato pasta, a classic we had perfected on the Kepler that put both of us into food comas.
We listened to our friend run shuttles across the hut floor during the night. I think Jakob was a bit jealous because he did seem a bit coped up. I consoled him by reading extracts from the hutbook referring to the non-existent track to Lake Poteriteri Hut which we were now avoiding. Instead our plan was to use our aquanauts the next day when the forecast was better to paddle around the shore of Lake Harouko to the carpark there, where Kerry would meet us. The rain that day was even heavier than the day before and the National Geographic had been read cover to cover so moral was low.
It was during lunch that the hum of a jet boat could be heard from the hut. Soon we had some humanoid company in the form of dripping wet jetboaters. As they approached the hut I conferred with Jakob — “Should I try get us a lift?”. “Fuck yes”. And so whilst they unsuspectingly ate their lunch I asked if they had any room on the boat. When I explained that we planned to paddle Warehouse inflatables down the lake they thought we were mad. When they finished their sammies they trotted off outside in search of a pig and their dog.
This was our moment. In a flurry we packed up everything, leaving the hut ‘just’ messy enough that it didn’t look too assuming. One of them popped his head in the hut on their return with a pig on his shoulders asking if we still wanted that lift. Hell yes we did. We were out of the hut in a flash. That is how we found ourselves squished onto a three person jetboat with three jetboaters, us two trampers, a dog and a dead pig. The jetboat struggled to leave the bay and so one of the men non-nonchalantly rolled the dead pig off the back of the boat into the lake. We didn’t say a word, after all, it was us or the pig.
I must say this ride was much more relaxing than the aquanauting would have been, especially since some of the waves were substantial. We offloaded at the Harouko jetty, wondering what our next move would be.
Luckily the boaters offered us a lift to Tuatapere. In retrospect this may have been because there is a liquor store there where we could buy them some beers. They then offered us a lift back to the Rarakau carpark where my car was. This was how we found ourselves waving goodbye to a bunch of jetboaters (who were swigging back their beer) after having just hitched out of Teal Bay. They admitted they gave us a lift because they thought we were “bloody mad” and they “didn’t want to see us on the news”.
I knew those aquanauts would come in handy!