Pelorus Bridge Campsite-St. Arnaud Village
Resupply: Food drop in St. Arnaud Village
Day 7: Pelorus Bridge Campsite-Captain Creek Hut (21,5 km, 7 hours)
We grab some coffee and a muffin at the camping cafe. One thing I have realized: never skip an opportunity to grab a coffee. We start walking around 9:00. The first 13km we walk on a dirt road winding through the pastures. Then we reach the Pelorus River Track trail head. We follow it for about 8, 5 km.It undulates through the forest and along the river where apparently they filmed The Hobbit scene with the barrels. Every part of New Zealand has probably featured in a movie. We take a quick stop at the Emerald pools which look really inviting but as it turns out are swarming with sand flies sending me fleeing back to my pack to counter their mass attack with a shitload of DEET. The last 5km seem to take forever but then I reach Captain’s Creek hut, just as it starts to rain.
We walked for a couple of hours to Midy Creek hut where I collect some water from the river while the sand flies have their share of my blood. After a short break we continue up hill to Rocks Hut on the top of the ridge. On the route we cross the Pelorus river a couple of times by means of swing bridges. “Warning: one person at a time” the signs says. The bridge creaks and sways but seems to hold. Around 3pm we arrive at Rocks Hut, just as it starts to rain: so far the timing has been very lucky. We go inside for a break. Outside the wind is howling and it’s still raining. Hard decision: it’s nice and dry in here and the next hut is 4 hours away. We choose to be pussies and call it a day.
We got up at 6am and made some hot oats with chocolate powder and trail mix for breakfast. Around 7:15 we start hiking. From Rocks Hut, this track wanders through a landscape of rock outcrop and hillocks. It then climbs over several high points before beginning its descent towards Totara Saddle. From there it’s a steep descent to Browning hut. We stop to have a lunch break and just as we are in the hut it starts poring (I’m beginning to see a pattern here). But it turns out to be just a short shower and by the time we leave it’s dry again. Perfect timing!
The trail continues alongside the Pelorus river which we have to cross many times. Even though it rained last night the river doesn’t seem that high. The first crossing I hop the rocks, still under the impression I will make it to the end of the day with dry feet but I soon discover that this is an illusion and just wade through the water on the subsequent crossings. The track is very steep and slippery in places and I gracefully fall on my butt on several occasions. It’s a long and steep climb up to Starveall hut and all I can hear is the rhythmic pounding of my heart and the slushing of my soaked boots as I struggle up (I should have done some more runs in Australia when I had the change). Just when I think I could use a break I smell smoke. Yes! Warmth, no wind, a place to dry my socks. The view from the hut is amazing. I quickly take my pictures before the freezing wind drives me inside. As the wind howls around the hut we sit inside by the fire enjoying our noodles and tuna, even added some peas because I think I deserve it. Its a feast! You probably wonder why I mention food so often but when you’ve been walking for hours this is kind of the highlight of the day.
Day 10: Starveall Hut to Rintoul Hut (19,5 km, 10.5 hours)
I wake up at 6am. Somehow I never have to set the alarm because my internal clock is now quite synced up with the sunrise, also the huts have no curtains. It’s a nice and sunny day, which is fortunate because we have a long hike ahead. We will try and make it to Mt. Rintoul hut which the trail notes say will take about 12 hours. The ridge-line is very exposed and we want to make the best of this good weather. We start with a steady climb up and then follow the ridge before dropping down to the first hut for a quick break. Two black mountain goats are hopping around on the rocks. I can see how they are easy to hunt: They just stared at me, unsure what to do next, until I pulled out my camera, then they decided it was time to run. Apparently they are not that easy to shoot as I thought. I follow the ridgeline for a couple of hours up and down and arrive at Old Men hut around 2:30. Time for lunch and a quick toilet break: speed is of the essence here as the sandflies and mosquitoes take advantage of my vulnerable position.
The next section is one of the toughest of the Richmond Alpine Track and best to do in good weather, which we have. I’m quite tired after 7 hours, but I also want to make the most of this day. So I take my secret cocktail of two panadol plus one caffeine pill: that will keep me going for the next five hours. It’s a steep climb up loose gravel to the peak of Little Rintoul mountain. But as the name suggests this is not the highest point yet. We descent down the steep slope. The gravel is so loose you can almost ski on it. Then it’s a second steep scramble up to the actual Mt. Rintoul, one of the highest points on the trail. We do a quick selfie on the top before the freezing wind urges us to keep moving. The descent is steep and rocky and I make a few not so graceful butt slides. Finally we reach the hut. It took us a little less than 11 hours. Time for some Mac and Cheese!
The trail climbs up to Mount Purple top. From there we follow the poles over some loose rocks. After about 4 hours I reach the first hut. The next section is a lot of ups and downs and then a very steep descent to the river. The hut is just across the river. It’s 5pm now and the next section involves a lot of time consuming river crossings, so that will have to wait until tomorrow. I take a quick bath in the river but that also meant I washed of my DEET and immediately the sand flies swarm me. It’s also swarming with bumblebees, they are surprisingly ferocious. They seem to be attracted to blue in particular. Maybe they think it’s water? Good thing I chose a matching blue outfit for this trip.
The track follows the river side and involves a lot of sidling with steep drop-offs at one side. I have to cross the river eight times but manage to keep my feet dry, thanks to some acrobatic rock hopping moves. I’m glad I got my poles. After about four hours I reach the Top Wairoa hut. From there the track climbs up to the saddle at 1374 meters. It involves crossing quite a few boulder fields. The landscape here is very different with the red rocks and dry grass it looks more like a desert. Once on the saddle it starts to hail a bit and dark clouds have gathered.
I quicken my pace in an attempt to make it down before weather turns worse. Luckily it doesn’t and once over the ridge shoulder the track descents into the sheltered forest. From there it veers down to the Motueka river which I cross reach Hunters hut. It’s a relatively new hut and the nicest one so far; it even has some soap and toilet paper! The hut was opened in memorial of two DOC (Department of Conservation) staff members who died when the old hut was swept away by a flash flood. A reminder of how quickly the river can change. Just as I reach the hut it starts to poor again.
The next morning the weather clears up and we head out around 7am. The track undulates and crosses a few open boulder fields before we reach Porters hut, which was actually dropped here by helicopter. While I’m looking at the ground to pick the best places for my feet I notice a lot of different colored rocks. The rain that has fallen earlier brings out the bright green, pink, red and purple. This is because we are walking on the Nelson Mineral Belt. At this spot the earth’s mantle rock is being exposed to the surface. At higher altitudes the rocks are weathered down to a brownish red color. Hence the name of the area “Red Hills”. We continue our trail along the slopes of the Porter ridge and then follow the Motueka river. The river is quite high and I taken of my shoes to wade through and make it across with dry feet, which unfortunately still got wet on the swamp that I had to cross to reach the Red Hills Hut. I still haven’t fully embraced the fact that my feet will get wet no matter what.
We have leisurely morning with some tea before heading out. I feel quite rested but apparently many people in the hut snored which I never realized thanks to my earplugs, an essential item for hikers. From the hut it’s only 5km to the road which we follow down to st Arnaud. It’s a small tourist village which is mainly popular for mountaineering and perhaps skiing in winter. We have a food drop here that we mailed to the Alpine lodge which is right in the center of town. Although everything is, because the center consists of one general store, a cafe and a fish and chips shop (all run by the same lady). We buy a few supplies there but I’m glad we did the food drop as I just spent 16 dollars on milk, cereal and a can of beans. Maybe because it was the only can on the shelve? Supply and demand I guess. Anyway we’ll splurge and stay one night to get cleaned up (after 12 days of no shower), do some laundry and try that fish and chips of course.