25 October 2013

New website

Kia ora brajs, I have a new website at http://www.clintfelmingham.com. You should go there.  Because this won't be here. It is at the moment. But it won't be.  This is exactly like that movie 'Inception'.

12 December 2012


I'm walking the length of the South Island of New Zealand from mid-December 2010 through mid-April 2011.

Once it's all underway, journal updates should appear below roughly every fortnight.

For details on my route, gear and some links, check out the links to the right.

08 March 2012

2012 update

Always meant to come back to this and fill in some details, mostly really minor ones like what happened on the second half of the traverse.  But I am very lazy.

I probably will eventually and I at a guess I'll be back in NZ for the summer season of 12-13 lugging a tiny raft through Fiordland -- lot of time between now and then, but if you're one of the handful of people that thinks that's not the worst idea ever, please drop me a line.

This season, I'm off walking ~4000km from Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail.  Noting that I am useless, going low effort and am going to try my hand at providing updates, photos and poorly spelt sarcasm using a Twitter account:


You should follow it.  Get out there!

30 March 2011

The final countdown

Cold, been a while since I've been this cold.  Hands have stopped working as hands, are more like wooden paddles.  The compass fumbles out of them.  I spin around into the wind and start trying to lever it up with my paddles.  Snow slides off my shell and down through my hair.  I need the stupid bloody compass because the batteries in the GPS have died.  Getting the lithium set out of my pack would require stopping, and stopping doesn't seem like a very good idea.  Bent over digging through the tussock, I see that my legs are bright red -- scrub cuts of the past ten days having been provoked by the cold to bleed a very light fraction of blood, like motorbike oil.  Compass now in hands.  Can't see anything to take a bearing, but anywhere SE will do.  Clear this slip to the left.  Down to the beech until this weather clears.  Out of the wind.  Try again tomorrow.


A wave on top of a wave on top of a wave washes in a lot further than the rest, and drenches my boots.  I don't mind.  Not much left of them for salt water to ruin -- the tread is gone, both soles have huge cracks and the stitching on all but one of the five repair patches are at various stages of rot.  Even the shoelaces are knotted in two places where the gaiter hooks eat at them.

I'm happy, I think, to be on Te Waewae Bay.  Three and a bit months to get here.  Eleven days since I last saw civilisation proper.  But I'm not relieved, which I half expected, sad, or even satisfied.  Just the same feeling as it always is at the end of a leg: what next?  My body is a bit tired, but in a day or two it'll be firing again.  I have a few more weeks.  A few ideas in my head.  Some people who might be keen.


High cloud, low wind, nice temperatures.  I check the topo.  A few k's up the spur and then follow the ridgeline up and down for a few more k's.  I've come up 1300m in about two hours, care of Fiordland's wonderful lack of a coherent scrub band and significant deer pressure on my ascent spur.  Below me, everything is a sea of cloud.  Mountains poke out of it like islands.  I grin.  Damn straight.



13 March 2011

Still alive & still raging

A week is a long time in football.

It follows that six weeks is slightly longer, particularly when you'd given the impression that your tacky little website would have "updates".  Which implies "up to date".

Obviously, things have kinda slipped.

But try spending three months in the backcountry and see how much care you have for schedules, or plans, or the indoors.  When you do get into town, it all comes down to priorities: pizza, resupplies, route info for the next leg.  It's hard to bring yourself to spend hours in an internet cafe, although invariably you end up spending at least two figuring out how to get the viruses on the computers compatible with your digital camera.

I do have the scrawled diary entries though, and photos.  I'll type it all up at some point.

At the moment, I'm in Queenstown having traversed as far as Makarora from the north and circumnavigated Stewart Island in the south.  Some interesting country between Arthur's Pass and Makarora.  Fond memories of fine days on rugged tops in Westland and the generosity of hunters everywhere in the Canterbury alps.  Less fond memories of never ending scree ascents, epic river crossings and those days spent in tents before conceding that the river will never drop.

Anyway, through the poor weather of the season and circumstance I'm going to generously allow myself to include my 2006 traverse from Makarora to The Divide as part of the overall conceit.  So, strictly, the only thing required of me is to cross Fiordland over into Southland by one of (who knows how many) routes.

To everyone that I've crossed paths with so far: you're awesome; to those on Te Araroa: keep going; to friends in ChCh: hope the recovery is going well; to everyone at work: suck sh-t; and to the small set of people who've stitched together their own traverse over the years: you still live on in hut books, and we probably have the same dreams and nightmares.


29 January 2011

A journey to the west (without monkeys)

13 January
Straight up the Deception from the flood bridge.  My pack is heavy with a week's worth of tramping food, and two days of 'town food'.  Going to base myself out of Arthur's Pass and do the Cass/Harper as a two day tramp, then push on to Methven.

Travel is a lot rougher than I'd expected, given that it's part of the Coast to Coast route.  It's easiest to just stay in the riverbed, although I miss the Upper Deception Hut altogether.  Trying to keep my toes dry, I sidle into the bush a few times to avoid deeper crossings of the river.  One sidle takes about 45 minutes to proceed 50m as I'm bluffed out in greasy scrub -- fuck dry feet.

At Goat Pass Hut by 3:45pm -- a great hut, punching well above its standard classification.  Took a short trip up towards Lake Mavis, but took the wrong side of the stream issuing from it and ended up on the ridge to Mt Oates.  Nice views down the Mingha and over to Temple Col.

Westerly wind is now belting -- must be approaching 100km/h over the pass.  One other occupant, a hunter from Timaru.  Played hide and seek with a kea, who's now so worked up that he's carrying on bashing the roof and squawking.  Cloud base lowering.

Goat Pass from the Deception

Moonrise over unnamed AP choss

14 January
The track down the Mingha is just that - a track, in contrast to the Deception - and I make the road in 3.5 hours.  From there, up the Bealey riverbed for another hour and a half to the village.

The forecast for the next few days looks bad -- heavy rain warning for tomorrow and the 17th.  It is generally a poor sign when the prevailing weather has a name, ex-TC 'Vania'.  I'll continue through to the Cass, as it's ~15km east of the divide and should be sheltered from a fair bit of it.

15 January
Shuttled to where SH7 crosses the Cass.  Raining steadily.  I walk up a farm track beside the river for about half an hour until it occurs to me that this is quite shit and that the river is marginal besides.  So I turn around and hitch back to the village.  It takes a while in the rain, but eventually I get a lift from a girl from Outward Bound.

Heading into ChCh tomorrow to do a big resupply while I wait out the weather.  Boots alone need decent replacement shoelaces, someone who can sew leather with something better than dental floss to have a go at fixing some holes in the lining, and a general proofing.  Gaiters are a few weeks away from throw-away, but I'll wait until they totally fall apart before I bother.  Nothing saves them in the scrub.

In more serious news, my dirty facial hair might have a slight ginger tint to it.

Such is life.

It has rained.  And poured.  Then cleared up just in time for it to piss down some more.  It's pretty frustrating, but I'm learning that there's not much I can do about it -- have to take it as it comes, and stuff myself full of bakery products.  My plans have changed again.  I'm reversing my route through central Westland and breaking it into two, which should give me a bit more of a chance with the weather.

Currently in Hokitika, waiting for the rivers to go down so that I can get into the Whitcombe valley.  The forecast looks as good as it gets on the coast -- a few days of drizzle clearing to a few fine ones before the next front comes over.

20 January
The Whitcombe valley is officially the wettest place in New Zealand.  NIWA gauges in its tributaries record 14-18m of rain annually on its steep slopes, and consequentially the rivers move a bit.  Not today, though, with cool sunshine left by dying southwesterlies.

Nicola from Hoki Taxis drops me off at the Hokitika Gorge at 8:15am.  Another half an hour on a farm track and I'm at a sign indicating the start of the track up the Whitcombe.  The river is big and glacial.  It appears to be a theme of the valley that all DOC signage has been vandalised by morons to appease their inadequacy at taking much longer than the stated times.  I don't know what they expect out here.

First adventure of the day is to cross the Whitcombe by cableway.  A cableway (or 'cage') is basically a small box that runs across a single wire suspended across a very big river.  For groups, there's an additional wire 'loop' that allows a party at either end to spin a wheel and carry the person in the cage across.  When you're solo, there's a little jig that allows you to move your little cage 50cm at a time so long as you keep continual pressure on the wire -- otherwise you slide back to the middle.  This one is in good order and I make it across slowly and deliberately, the only challenge being getting out of the thing while maintaining pressure on the jig.  The wire loop on the TL has been pulled clear, so after having awkwardly squirmed out without being propelled into the river upside down -- I reshape it and fix the chain on the cableway so that it reaches.

A quick few minutes to Rapid Creek Hut, and then Rapid Ck itself.  Rapid Ck has a nasty reputation, and it was concern about its fordability that's kept me in town for the past few days.  It still looks pretty bad down near where it runs into the Whitcombe, but there's a good crossing up near where it gorges.  A bit of a clamber over a big boulder followed by a jump onto a gravel bar.  Still, a good fourty-five minutes goes into that problem.

Upstream, the track has slipped away completely.  Unable to get down to the riverbed, I traverse the vegetated terrace for a while.  Fairly slow going through vines, although a line of pink tape shows that I'm not the first.  The terrace eventually slumps back to the riverbed and boulder travel.  As the river starts to gorge, a sidle track emerges, ending at a swingbridge high above the gorge.  The wire bridge is nervously strung - a 'four wire' design with no supports - and is thus more 'fun' than the cableway.  Continuing the adventure, getting off the wire at the other end involves a chain and ladder on grubby rock, and in the process of not falling off I manage to tear a gash in my leg.  Peering at it, I can see white flaky stuff that probably doesn't get to see the outside world too often.  Having cleaned it and closed it, it's pretty high on my leg and out of the muck and I'm not too concerned.  Just as my toe came good -- something else to baby!

I make the junction with the marked route up to Frew Saddle at 1:30pm and have lunch.  As for the vandalised signs: it took me 2 hours to Rapid Creek Hut and then another 3 to Frew, including the sidle.  Your mileage may vary, but that's pretty much what the signs originally said.  Stick to writing up 1080 conspiracies in hutbooks.  The sign marking the Frew route has ben taken to as well and says 7h.  I assume this means it will take about 4.  The route is well marked, and travel is steep but fine although crossing one of the Frew tributaries is pretty shitty.  The upper valley starts to level out around the scrubline and the surroundings turn spectacular.  I have one of the most pleasant afternoons I've ever had in NZ -- splashing up a creek on the tops on a fine day.  At the Frew Saddle Biv by 17:30, making it 3hrs 45 from the junction.

It is very cold up here, with the southerly still blowing strong.  Light snow is falling.  There's a lot of clag hanging around the divide, but by some bizarre reversal it appears to be hanging to the eastern side.  I'm having problems with the new gas cartridge (MSR brand) -- the pin design appears to be incompatible with my stove and has this habit of cutting out.  I'll run the stove fast to try and get the pin down as much as possible, hardly ideal given the temperature and the ~15g of gas I have to burn per day.

[ed - that was horrible to transcribe because the stupid bic clik pen didn't work in the cold]
The mighty Whitcombe in normal flows

Frew Ck

Buttercups in Frew Ck

The infant Hokitika - my route for the next day.

21 January
Slept fitfully for the cold and roaring wind.  The little biv had a tar seal, which didn't keep much out.  There's more fresh snow on the tops

It's a slow descent off the saddle into the head of the Hokitika -- mostly because it's steep and slippery, but partly because of thick patches of spaniards thrown in for sport.  From there, it's easy going in the riverbed.  I surprise a pair of whio by nearly treading on them; they whistle at me and dabble their way downstream, where there's another pair.  None have banding that I can see.

As the Hoki starts to drop into a gorge, I pick up a track on the TL which leads onto a terrace and the new Bluff Hut.  It's a new build in a beautiful location, although the toilet pit hasn't been enclosed properly -- to the great excitement of weka, who appear to enjoy scattering the toilet paper.  3 hours to here.  It's then a pretty grubby drop down to the Hoki/Mungo Confluence -- basically straight down on loose mud and leaf litter.  It keeps clear of bluffs though, and there are plenty of trees for handholds, so all is well.  1 hour 20.

I cross the Hoki on a new bridge and spend the next two hours covering as many kilometres up the Mungo; most of that spent on a few hundred metres of slips.  A few are fairly recent, but none are too big or seem all that active.  There's a definite sulphur smell to the Mungo.

I arrive at Poet Hut in light drizzle.  It's pretty disinterested, so I push on for another two hours up to the Toaroha Saddle Biv.  Another ~9 hour day, so I will make tomorrow shorter and stop at Cedar Flats.

Quite taken by the old bivs -- horribly exposed, brilliant little things.  This one is luxurious -- foil lining, and I can nearly stand up in it.! The wind is still up, but the drizzle has gone.  It should be warmer tonight.

Frew Saddle from the upper Hokitika

Whio (blue duck)

Gorge in the Hokitika

Upper Hoktika, to Steadmans ridge

Peaks of the main divide.  Sir Robert Stream prominent.

Not a bad little biv: Toaroha saddle.

22 January
Biv was nice and cosy and I slept well.  Weather dawned clear, but the peaks are still clouded in -- assume there's an easterly blowing?  No high cloud about to tell.  Still, can't complain.

It takes a while to get off the shoulder of the saddle into the creek draining it.  Not so much steepness this time, but the thickness of the tussock and holes that lurk udnerneath it.  It's picky going in the riverbed, with a few sections of cut track where it gorges.  Top Toaroha Hut is well appointed, and below it the river progressively grows with each side creek.  The track is good, with a bit of slippage requiring care.

There are twelve people at the Cedar Flats Huts (!?) -- more tramping club sorts, weekenders from Timaru.  Most are good sorts, but a few appear totally deranged and nobody does much to reign them in.  I'm not all that impressed by the behaviour of tramping clubs I've seen so far on my traverse.  There's a certain species.

Two more ladies arrive from Wellington, and after a lot of huffing and sighing the club sorts set up one of their tents and clear out the older two-bunk hut (having taken the mattresses out of it, and the spare mattress from the big hut -- so that some of them might have two!) for them.  I chuck my stuff on the floor of the older hut with them.

Most of the afternoon is spent soaking in the hot pools up Wren Creek.  Fifteen minutes of manual labour and I have a good sized pool with two channels leading through the gravel -- one letting in cold water, the other one hot water.  I fashion a 'tap' out of a flat rock and lay back and relax.

Toaroha biv

My leg is still defying attempts to heal

Hot pools in Wren Ck

23 January
Pretty good night's sleep on the floor.  As I'm sitting outside rolling up my mattress quietly, one of the Timaru lot walks up and starts yelling: ARE THOSE GIRLS UP YET?  Um, no.  Shush.  WHY NOT?  IT'S NOT EARLY.  Because they want to sleep?  He then pushes past me into the hut and makes sure that they're awake.  They tell him to piss off.  The three of us stand at the door with bleary eyes, wondering what his problem was.  Maybe it was meant to be a joke, I offer.  A very poor one.

I'm away by 8:30am, out of the bustle and back into the slackcountry.  It's steep going on a good track and I reach Adventure Biv in 1hr 45.  Through the power of dance, I get a weak Voda signal and call Dad to check in and get a forecast.  Fine tomorrow, cloud moving to rain, then rain clearing to showers.  Great news.  If it holds, I've picked an amazing weather window for this part of the world and should get past most of the problematic crossings in reasonable conditions.

Beyond the biv, a sparsely marked route sidles off the ridge and across a few vegetated gullies to another spur.  Straight up this one to the ridgeline north of Zit Saddle.  I'm in no hurry, but am surprised to find it takes me 3 hours.  The views from the top are great -- all the way down to Hokitika town.  I eat lunch and play with five local hooligan kea.

I suspect the track to Top Kokatahi Hut is meant to go down the ridge past the old biv, but not finding any markers I just stick to the main drainage.  2 hours.  The hut is the first proper one I've been in this tramp -- and a nice new one at that.  Cedar Flats might have had 15 last night, but this one has only had 15 in the past two years!

Nice sunset.  Nice weather.  Bloody weka.

The full stretch of the Toaroha and Hokitika, from Zit Saddle

Kea over the Kokatahi

24 January
Up and away by 7:45am.  Weather is great.  The upper Kokatahi is mostly scrub, although a very large recent slip has wiped out about half a kilometre of it.  I ford the river five or six times -- more than the map would suggest is necessary, but the swift flow and bouldery holes aren't much of a worry today.  A tributary cuts in after a little while and the valley widens, allowing riverbed travel.

The smell of sulphur hits and I test the temperature of streams as I cross them.  One runs warm and I follow it up to the mythical Kokatahi hot pools.  They're issuing from a small, one person sized hole that would fit one person nicely.  Co-ordinates below, if anyone's interested.  The river eventually gorges and starts dropping quite steeply, whereupon I pick up a sidle track on the TL and about a million hookgrass seeds.

The cableway across the Kokatahi.  I test the cage by winding it the full length of its journey away from me... crash.  It hits the side of a steep bank on the opposite side.  Towards me... crash.  It hits the bank about 5m below me.  Well, that's the cableway out -- if I did make it in or out of the cage, I'd probably lose an arm.  I find a passable ford upstream of the cableway; deep but slow.

+1 to the weather god.

Pop in to sign the intentions book at Crawford Junction, and then up to Farquharson Ck -- the last big 'barrier' if any rain comes through.  How fortunate I've been on this trip.  Crossed it on easy gravels and had some lunch.  It's another two hours from here to the Top Crawford Hut, first climbing and then sidling, and another one and a half across some new slips to the head of the Crawford valley.

In full sunshine, it's quite hot.  I take to the river and splash straight up.  Once the biv is in sight, I have a quick swim to clean up and wash most of my clothes.  It's a nice little biv, and perhaps apart from the crew who will remove it in a few [ed - week's] time as part of a DOC consolidation -- I am probably the last person to ever stay in it.  Traffic is about 10 people per year.  A pleasant afternoon in the sun.

Will be up early tomorrow to get over Lathrop before the forecast afternoon rain.  Not that the forecast I got off Dad a few days ago is going to be worth much, let alone to an accuracy of twelve hours, but it's as good as anything.  High winds from the NW, although the clouds aren't up to much.

Kokatahi River

Crawford River

Intentions @ Crawford Biv

Crawford biv

25 January
If I stare at the OSM bar, perhaps the world will start to make sense.  Away by 6:30am.  The climb is steep through thick tussock, picking up an occasional marker.  The snowgrass is much easier, and the scree above it is fairly chunky.  There's a marker on the next spur over -- which can only lead onto bluffs further down?  Anyway, my route is fine, and the cloud breaks as I ascend.

The saddle itself is a mini glacial U valley, with a few tarns and a lot of shattered rock.  The Styx side of the saddle is already crapped out with cloud.  I call Dad again to check in and get some more weather.  Fine today, rain tomorrow and the next day.  I'm getting my money's worth.  I let him know that I have enough food left over for a few days in the relative luxury of Grassy Flats, if it comes to that.

Down a very attractive spur in the mist, which breaks to reveal Browning biv sitting on the bushline.  It's a very well kept biv, and I sit around for a few hours reading from its little library.  I'm covered in flax pollen.

At Grassy Flats Hut by 3:00pm.  It's nice down here, and the hut gets more use in a week than those I've been visiting do in a year.  The cloud is building as the light fades -- but I don't really mind.  Another day here might be nice.  I have heaps of food.  Although a beer would go down okay.

Crawford, Kokatahi

26 January
Happy Australia Day, me.  I look for someone foreign to discriminate against, but sadly there are none available.  I'm awake at 6:00am, as my sleeping pattern decrees.  Looking out the window, it's pretty heavy but not raining -- so instead of going back to sleep, I figure I may as well get out and sleep in town.  Away by 7.  The Stx is such ridiculously easy going that I'm at the roadend after three hours.

Right.  Now to get into civilisation, 35km away.

As I trundle up the road, one car passes but doesn't stop.  That's about it for today's traffic.  I get to farmland after about an hour, where a bloke gives me a dink on his bike for a few k's.  He's out checking calves, but there's a bloke around the corner who's probably in his shed.  More road plod.  I wander into the yard of the next house and am greeted by three dogs who proceed to carry on.  I stand there.

Bloke: out of it.  Back! Leave him alone.  I said BACK.
Me: I think I've just been penned
Bloke: They get a bit excited.  Never know if they'll bite but
Me: Yeah.

He's happy to let me use the phone.  A nice guy, and we chat while the taxi arrives.  $60 later, I'm in civilisation.  I collect my junk from storage, find a room for the night and drop in to chat to DOC.

Next?  Well, the forecast is awful.  Pennance for the high that must have sat right above me over the past eight days is that a large system of lows built up behind it, and will lash the west coast for the next little while.  I'd like to go over Popes Pass into the Julia and tie a bow around this part of the traverse; or maybe head up into the mythical shangri-la that is Ivory Lake; but I need a small weather window to even bother.  I might head to AP or Fox to wait for another window, stay in the NZAC lodge and bludge a bit.  Fox, probably.  There are a few small climbs down there that I can cut my teeth on -- I wouldn't mind Mt Adams.

We'll see what happens.  First things first: beer & pizza.

13 January 2011

I have always depended on the madness of strangers

30 December
Thousands of years of evolved human thought, and I'm sitting on top of a cardboard box trying to force it closed using duct tape.  I eventually win the struggle by throwing out some chocolate, and post my resupply gear to Greymouth.

Peter from Nelson Lakes Shuttles picks me up at 11:00am.  He picks up Susan on the way, who's chatty despite me having had a go at Aucklanders within two seconds of meeting her.  She gets off in the village, while I'm dropped off partway up the Roberts Ridge.  I eat my lunch in the carpark with all the campervans and squabbling English tourists.  Lake Rotorori is still very high from that 'Mt Owen' weather event and all the tourists can't go on their boat cruises.  So they're hanging in the carpark.

Away up the steep pinchgut track by 1:30pm.  It's hot, and my pack is heavy with 10 days food and surplus chocolate that begged not to be thrown out.  Too heavy.  Once above the bushline, the track is very well trodden and works its way along eroded tops.  The actual tramp isn't all that spectacular - the views are nice, but overall I don't think it warrants the reputation it seems to have.  It's a lot like Mueller down by Mt Cook, I suppose -- put a track somewhere that you can easily support, concentrate people there to justify a lot of support resources, and you can guarantee an alpine experience to all comers.  The concentration is right, anyway.  Have seen ten times as many people today as I have the rest of my traverse so far.

Lake Angelus Hut by 5:30pm.  There's much less snow around than I thought there'd be.  The hut is brand new and well located, and attracts... well, backpackers.  [ed note: on the original piece of paper, I wrote "awful, noisy fucks" and made light of terrorist events in the Middle East].  A few of them are crying in the bunkrooms or sleeping off the walk in.  Three turn up at 10:30pm to discover that they have no ticketed bunk, no food and no cooker.  They manage to scrounge three soup packets and some pasta from a Czech couple and start eyeing off the wood stove.  I suggest that they not use it.  They start whispering in Hebrew.

I retire to the full bunkroom to enjoy pleasant 200 degree temperatures (the emergency wood) and snoring.

Lake Angelus Hut

31 December
Fine weather again.  Away by 8:30am, dropping down around the outlet of Hanapouri Tarn and then climbing the basins at its head.  I'm on the jumbled weetbix of Sunset Saddle by 11:00am, and on the summit of Mt Angelus not much later.  The views are big, but barren.  It's a labourious descent down boulders onto the lip of the upper hanging valley in Hopeless Creek and a big tussock lead around the cliffs.  Lunch behind a rock, away from the wind.  After a short sidle, it's straight down to the valley floor on tussock and scree fans.  At Hopeless Hut by 2:00pm.  I'd planned to only go this far today, and eat another 800g or so from my heavy pack, but it seems a shame to waste the good weather.

So it's another few hours down the Hopeless into the Travers.  The Travers valley is beautiful, with the river running blue with all the flour brought down in the heavy rains.  The track is very well formed.  I reach John Tait by 4:30pm and decide to call it a day.

There are a few others in the hut, and we play the puzzling 'Monopoly: the Card Game', which I lose horribly despite the Kiwis partaking in quite a few university cigarettes towards the end and getting lax on the rules.  I'm not sure what the resident German Christian girl, Heike, makes of us all.

Confusion reigns.  Nobody sees midnight.

Travers River

1 January
Happy New Year, me.  Up and away by 8:00am, reaching Upper Travers Hut by 10:30am on a track keeping to the beech fringes.  Have a quick chat and handshake with the volunteer warden, who is surprised to have had only two others for company last night.  Party's up at Angelus, I say.  He shakes his head, no.

A quick ascent to Travers saddle, topping out at noon.  I have a long lunch in the cold wind on the saddle, before a surprisingly long descent into the east branch of the Sabine.  The track crosses a nice slot gorge on the way.  Meet a family from Hamilton going the other way at a snail's pace -- the father was carring mum's pack, his own pack, and a child on his shoulders.  He asks how far to the top.  It would be great if I were able to serve up a cheese platter of potential responses and have people pick their favourites, as the truth didn't appear to be what this particular man was after.  He did have until 10:00pm until it gets really dark, though.  Didn't think he'd appreciate that fact, though.

Skipped down to West Sabine Hut by 3:00pm and decided that I may as well continue on to Blue Lake.  I leave my pack at the swingbridge and duck in to sign the hut book, finding a fairly full hut.  Halfway up the west branch, I meet the volunteer warden for the Sabine - Eileen - with the usual workload of no-cooker-broken-boots-i-must-meet-my-shuttle to deal with.  And, like everyone in New Zealand, relatives in Queensland.  She has a forecast off the DOC radio -- isolated showerss with gales rising, rain clearing to showers.  I might push all the way into the Matakataki tomorrow to get over the alpine passes before the weather craps out.  Will be a big day though.  Will see.

Arrive at Blue Lake at 5:45pm or so -- the lake is very beautiful, being as blue as you'd expect and surrounded by rocky tors and flowering manuka bushes.  The hut has a contingent of Jehovas Witnesses from Christchurch (a religious theme is emerging) who appear to have passed on piety and are drinking whisky out of a detergent bottle*.  We play a bit of 500 until the maths all gets rather sinful, abandoning it for some variant of Euchre where there are no losers (except for those who remember the rules).

* This mystery is clarified later.

Mt Franklin, wedged between the Sabine forks

Blue Lake

2 January
Up and out by 7:30am.  I bump into one of the girls camping down by the lake (Norwegians, I thought) who turns out to be named Bernice, is Dutch, speaks better English than I do, and is into lightweight gear.  Would have been great to have a chat, but I'm keen on those passes so we quickly swap e-mails and I toddle off.

It's straightforward travel onto the moraine damming Lake Constance, but I'm soon climbing 200m straight up the side of the valley to get around the bluffs making up the lake's edge.  Disingenuous.  It's then a sidle followed by some ups and downs into incessed guts, eventually bringing me to the lake's edge.  In normal conditions, this is presumably where the bluffs end and it becomes possible to follow the shoreline.  I think that's part of a waratah underwater out there.  The lake might be up a bit.

A lot of shitty traversing of tussock faces interspersed with spaniards, and I make the swampy head of the lake.  After a short splash upstream, it's a steep but well marked ascent straight up to Waiau pass.  Total times 2 hrs 30 mins to the base of the ascent; 1:30 for the ascent itself.  As I climb, the wind starts gusting and visibility flakes out.  Lunch is quick, as is the descent down rock fingers to the upper forks of the Waiau.  The route down is pretty uneventful -- the occasional dropper hopelessly bent by avys offers suggestions, but I just stick to the rib adjacent to a large snow gully draining the TR aspect of the pass and cut into any big crack leading towards it.

From the upper forks, I climb up the stream issuing from Lake Thompson, sticking to the riverbed until it gorges.  Then onto a tussock and gravel ridge on its TR.  Arrive at the lake at 3:30pm.  I set up camp out of the quite bad conditions in a small rock biv and commence wasting a lot of my limited camera battery trying to shoot a video.  My performance is described as "wooden" and "awkward".  The audio solely consists of howling wind.  I drop a few swear words.  Sorry, Nick.  I don't think social media is my thing.

Looking forward to seeing if the weather will pass.  Spending six waking hours in the tent reading is okay, but another sixteen might begin to drag.

The track, Lake Constance.

Spaniard fields forever.  Waiau pass.

3 January
Weather is clearing back down the Waiau.  I wander up to the small notch above the lake facing the D'Urville and see the face of death, so it's back down the Waiau and onto the St James.  I feel a little guilty to be deviating from my preferred route, as I really want to see the Matakataki and Three Tarns Pass. 

To my surprise, there's a cut track all the way down the Waiau from the upper forks to the main forks -- thereafter streambed travel.  Quick and neat.  It looks to have been cut very recently, and I am further surprised to find a Te Araroa marker at Caroline Ck biv.  Good work, DOC.  I wonder how long Waiau will remain on TA's route, though -- the gentler Rainbow valley is now conservation estate, and this pass would be one of few on its route that would be difficult outside of summer.

Glad to not have slept in Caroline Ck Biv, as it's in pretty poor condition.  Going by the beer cans and food scraps, it's popular with hunters.

The weather continues to improve as I head down valley, although the wind continues to rise.  Some gusts nearly throw me off my feet, which makes me feel a bit better about piking out down here.  The upper river gives easy travel on terraces, and I cross it a handful of times to avoid steep banks and matagouri.  Once I'm on the farm track coming from Maling pass, it's a pretty dull forced march through farmland into the Ada valley.  There are quite a lot of brumbies here, and they're a lot tamer than the ones in Kosci.

Arrived at Christopher Hut at 4pm to find three Kiwis in residence: Katie, Duncan and Kirk.  They'd come over the Waiau pass two days before me and are taking a rest day.  Solid citizens all.  An old climber from ChCh, Mike, arrives later and we talk about the local mountaineering scene, my traverse and everything else.  The others talk about the depictions of sexual activity in a Ben Elton novel.  I like them.

Weather has closed to drizzle.

Lake Thompson fork of the Waiau

Upper Waiau

4 January
dassdf, guhdfjhdk wgat tim LET ME WAKE UP BEFORE YOU START SINGING, PLEASE, I BREAK OUT IN FISTS.  I eventually figure out where I am, and open up the birthday card that Mum gave me at the start of my traverse.  Mike gives me a nut bar for a present, which is nice.  All the little gifts (which, in the backcountry, were 'parts of my snacks') were kinda touching.

I catch up with the gang of three Kiwis and walk with them to Ada Pass Hut.  A short day.  There are another two locals in residence, Ryan and Phil, who had come over Three Tarns the day before in the muck.  Got into the Matakataki over David Saddle with the last of the good weather.  It's one of the things about my long traverse, really -- I'm unable to pick the weather windows to do short legs, and can't afford to wait things out because of the distance I have to cover.

I've been having some thoughts about whether I should do the Whitcombe to Mt Cook village leg as planned, as the weather still hasn't settled and I'm beginning to appreciate some of the complexities around my strategy.  Crossing those big rivers solo is within my abilities when they're running low/normal, and the plan was to carry a lot of extra food to cancel out some of the associated risks there.  Hire a mountain radio to mop up some more of the residual, and... well, I'm beginning to suspect that I'd need to carry quite a lot of food and/or push it on some of the crossings.  Maybe I'll just do the Westland leg (which I've always wanted to see) and connect MCV with Arthur's Pass via the Te Araroa route.  Will see.

A pastor and his wife (Helen and Don) from Auckland arrive from the roadend, and a spontaneous birthday party is organised.  Duncan cooks me a birthday pikelet, complete with tea candle.  Helen and Don give me a dried apricot, and Phil and Ryan some OSM bars.  Katie organises a game of celebrity heads, and to my great surprise it turns out that NZ has more celebrities than Dave Dobbyn and that guy who drowned in the sea.  Not many more, but there you go.

I blow out the tea candle.  Happy birthday, me.

Brumbies in front of Faerie Queen
Blowing out my birthday pikelet.

5 January
Three of last night's lot are out early to meet their transport at the highway.  I'm in no hurry, staring at my Sultana Bran in a haze and poking about.  Said goodbye to the Kiwis (note to self: avoid Reefton and all concepts entitled "man-love Mondays") and wandered out by 8:30am.  Reached the highway at 10:45am.  A bit of windfall on the track, but pretty easy going.  Big contingent from the Auckland Tramping Club heading in -- they advise that the weather is packing in, with heavy rain forecast through Friday.  Going by this, I pass up on spending tonight at Brass Monkey Biv and will instead head straight up the Nina where I can more easily retreat from wet weather.  I pick up a lift to the NZDA lodge to save a few k's of highway trudge and walk into the Nina, a typical beech valley with a good sized river.  2.5 hours to the hut.  Although Devil's Den Biv is only another two hours on, I decide to stop here as the hut is brand new and has some leftover food going.  I cook up some coffee packets with sugar that's seen better days and read through the backlog of FMC mags.

The tops are misting over, with cloud above about 1100m.  I see that Brass Monkey is signed from the hut -- I wonder if the route is now cut?  I might come back and see, once the weather is more settled.  Hut is very welcome.

6 January
Two from Christchurch arrived last night, Robbie and Dan.  Good chat.  The wind is still roaring, carrying the occasional pocket of drizzle, but nothing too bad, so I head up and over Devilskin saddle.  There's not much by way of views, but the biv is brand new and pretty awesome.  The saddle itself is thick tussock.  I carry on down the other side to the Doubtful River, and walk more or less right down the middle of the river to avoid matagouri.  I ford the Boyle, which is coming up, and head for the road.  Walking up the highway is probably the most death-defying part of my traverse so far.  The caretaker at Boyle is busy sanding back floors, so rather than interrupt I stash my pack and wander up to the hotpools by the Sylvia.

I soak for two hours in pleasant conditions, the wind keeping the sandflies away.  When I arrive back at Boyle, the guardians are having cups of tea so I pick up my food drop and organise a room for the night. 

Long days and building muscle mass has excited my appetite, and I'm in this cycle of eating everything I can to redress the inevitable caloric defecit I must be running.  It's going to be a problem flicking the switch when I get to a town - it's going to be like gorging myself in Nelson, but worse.  So much energy rich food... so easily attainable?  I think I've just drunk my bodyweight out of the communal milo here, and there's not much chocolate left in the drop.

I feel very sick.  Nine hours of walking today.  According to a Greymouth paper from last week that been left on the table, Queensland is flooding?

Sylvia Flat

7 January
I am very sunburnt on my chest from yesterday's soak in the hot pools.  Sigh.  It'll take ages to get such a ridiculous t-shirt tan happening again.

I wander down the bed of the Boyle this time -- finding it a fair bit slower than the road, but with less intimate experiences with Britz campervans.  It's still windy with pokey rain, so I head into the Hope via Windy Point rather than over the Lake Mann tops.  The track is dull, being mostly beech terraces and cattle flats.  Easy though.

I find the other half of the Auckland Tramping Club camping at Halfway Shelter -- they'd planned on heading onto the Lewis Tops along most of my route, but found the wind too much.  I make the Hope/Kiwi lodge 4.5 hours from the highway.  A nice location and a very well built hut.  There are some more tramping club stragglers here, a stereotypically idiosyncratic lot.

The southwesterly is roaring up the valley, but looks to be clearing all the cloud.  The sun breaks out in parts.  I've felt pretty tired all day -- even though I've been eating well, sleeping for hours and have had a few easier days.  Maybe it's a sugar crash from yesterday, or maybe the days are catching up with me.  I am old now, 26, after all.

Trudgedom up the Poplars Station

8 January
Away by 8:15am.  Walking is easy but monotonous in beech over Kiwi Saddle and down to Lake Sumner.  There are glimpses of the lake through the trees.  The track then breaks out onto the flats at the head of the lake, which I wander along rather than stay on the marked beech terraces.  I cross the valley and cross the Hurunui on a swingbridge, having been told by the AUTC stragglers that the river would be uncrossable all the way up to No 3.  It looks maybe ankle deep.  Sigh.  Auckland.  I out-clever myself on the other side of the bridge and climb through scrub for 10 minutes to regain the track, which pops out at the mid Hurunui hut.  As I sit there, eating my peanut butter and biscuits, a bloke rocks up wearing a loincloth and backpack.  He's in the army, and likes to tramp nude.  I stick to the weather, and the weather alone.  According to the hut book, there's a Japanese tramper a day ahead of me going across Harper pass, so I might have some company down in the Taramakau, which might be good.
I wander another hour and find the hot pools marked on the topo.  A pool has been formed halfway up a steep rocky creek, and the water is hot.  I find a section of hosing running into the bush, and clamber up rock and through scrub to follow it through to a side creek.  Dig it out of the mud, poke a stick about, and organise a bit of a channel for the side stream to flow into -- and tada, a cold tap.  I slide back down to the pool, and arrange a pleasant temperature.  I listen to the MP3 player soaking for two, three hours.

It's another hour through to No 3 hut, straight up the riverbed, crossing as easiest.  I'm currently drying my thermals so I have something to sleep in.  The hut is big, but has mice.  It has small windows too -- strange, given its history as a tourist hut rather than the NZFS designs.  The wind is still pushing southerly, and the days are very clear.  It should hold for the next few days.  Locke Stream hut is only 6 hours away (which means probably 5 or less), so I might go all the way to Kiwi tomorrow and continue on up the Deception to Arthur's Pass the next day.  I have a spare day up my sleeve, plus my two contingency days.

Kiwi Saddle

9 January
Fine weather.  Away by 8:30am, straight up the increasingly bustling Hurunui to Camerons Hut (45 mins).  I kept to the river for a bit, but scrub started closing in, so picked up the track on beech terraces on the TR.  The track is lumpy and has a fair bit of windfall, with one particular puzzle taking 15 minutes to solve.  The bright orange biv up near Harper's Pass is in immaculate condition.  From the biv, it's a quick half hour up to the pass itself -- a small dip just above the scrubline.  The signposted 3hrs to Locke Stream takes me an hour and a half, straight down the streambed most of the way.  I have lunch at the hut, and call AP DoC on the fixed radio for a weather sched.  Fine today, mainly fine with isolated showers tomorrow, cloudy Tuesday.  There's some to-and-fro about river conditions -- AP seem to have a fixation with warnings!  After another few hours of river travel, I see someone coming towards me and stop to say hi.

It's the Japanese guy, Mucho.  He is very happy to see someone.  Has tried to cross the rivers downstream and can't.  Very distressed that there are no track markers.  Can't find a bridge.  Has no map outside of the little cartoon in Lonely Planet.  To his possible credit, faced with all these things, he's decided to backtrack all the way back to Windy Pt.  He has enough food, and by virtue of disorganisation has no intentions form in with anyone, so SAR won't come out anyway.  I'm bemused by all this, and offer to help him get to Aickens.  He is eternally greatful -- literally, perhaps, as he's a Jodo Buddhist monk.  He insists on wiping down surfaces before I sit on them or place my things down, which is a bit awkward.  We chat about the jodo tradition.  He's a nice guy, and DOC in Hamner probably did him no service by encouraging him to undertake activities in reasonably remote areas without any experience.

There's hut food left over from deer cullers, so I mix some special fried rice into my freeze dry and eat like a king.

Harper Pass

10 January
Up and away by 6:30am with Mucho in tow.  He insists on walking in my footsteps, which is a bit off-putting.  Fourteen Duke of Edinburgh students arrived at about 10pm last night, having taken 14 hours coming down Townsend Ck from Lake Minchin.  The instructors look the worst of the lot.  They're so shagged they more or less pass out -- leaving the kids to bump around a bit and set fire to a tent with a trangia. 

A few days ago, I nicked one of my small toes wandering around without shoes on, and put a bit of tape on it to give it a chance to heal.  The tape came off at some point yesterday and has torn a deep hole into the toe beside it.  Bone deep.  Not much I can do about it, so I puff antiseptic into it and try compeed and duct tape as a waterproof seal -- which won't work too well, I don't think.  Only needs to last a few days.

We cross both the Taramakau and Otakhe above their confluence and with no issues.  The Otakhe is discoloured and swift, but barely knee deep with good runout.  The Otira is also fine - shallow gravel in three braids.  Mucho is overcome at the last crossing and has a bit of a teary.  We swap e-mails and I commence a trudge up the highway towards the Deception confluence.  The road walk is maybe 5-10km, and I lazily stick my hand out to cars as they pass.  One stops -- in the middle of the road, for maybe 3 minutes.  Only on the West Coast.  The drivers are Bavarian, and speak worse English than I do German.  What's German for "bridge"?  Or "stop at".  Or anything?  After hand signals fail to bridge the language gap, we agree that I am either being kidnapped or going to Arthur's Pass.  It turns out to be the latter, which is fine.

An easy day today then, 3 hours.

I get the current door code from NZAC head office, let the parents know that I'm alive and relax a bit.  It's always weird being back in civilisation - the easy availability of food, which I've mentioned before, and the strange chemical smell about people.  I've lost a bit of weight, which is okay given that I started the traverse a few kg over where I usually am anyway, but will have to be sorted before I get too lean.  Sadly, the first food on the chopping block is my beloved sultana bran at a miserable 1400kj/100g.  Muscles are all fine.  Body is okay except for the hole in my toe, which a few days will smooth out .  Nothing terribly wrong with my brain, except for a bit of stress over weather.  Have to learn to resign myself to whatever will be.

After engaging in the traditional pizza, chips and beer -- I return to the lodge to find some Americans from Maine and chat for quite a while with them.  My address book is filling up -- I really do like the sort of people you find in the slackcountry.  Greymouth tomorrow for 3 days to resupply.

Mucho crossing the Taramakau

The hole in my toe is growing.