A teenager on a chair above me vomits with such volume and power I worry about errant splatters. I tuck myself deeper into the sleeping bag, willing myself out of existence for the four hour ferry crossing. Going hard-up against a chair stops me rocking with the ship and gains me two hours of precious sleep. I’m one of the last on the 2:30am ferry sailing from Wellington to Picton, 27 Dec 2017.
At 6:30am the ferry disgorges its 150 drowsy drivers for their long journeys on unfamiliar roads. I am heading to Mt Somers to kick things off with a short overnight tramp, and waste no time heading down-country.
I drive the recently re-opened State Highway 1 north of Kaikoura, destroyed by earthquake in 2016. The road only opened three days ago, a christmas present to the nation. There is a celebratory atmosphere from the lollipop people and engineers dotting the route; they did a lot of work to get it open for Christmas!
I visit my families’ graves in Ashburton. I visit the churches again in the hopes they’re open, to steep myself in family history – but alas, shut again.
Popping by the Countdown for some tramping food, I buy a raspberry muffin as part of my lunch. The checkout lady asks ‘Are you going to eat this?’
‘I intended to, yes’ I reply. Her face implies I am the one being stupid.
I drive to the mountains, intending to stay at (or near) Woolshed Creek Hut. It’s a couple of hours walk through the remains of a failed coal mining venture from 1958. There are some wrecked machinery and things to keep things interesting, walking through regenerating black beech forest.
Parties heading the opposite direction inform me of a large family group at the hut; complete with loud toddlers and children. ‘Good luck’ they say. I continue on, glad I brought the tent! The views are wonderful; there’s still some snow on in the distant Alps – how lucky Cantabrians are to have this as their back yard.
Just as the views get so good I decide to keep the camera on me as opposed to in my pack, I spy the hut below me. I scramble down, and hear the shouting, stamping children long before I enter. They are loud and obnoxious. The parents look on, almost apologetic; but not apologetic enough to do anything about it. I boil water for a coffee; one kid throws his socks at me. I throw socks back, pack up the cooker and pitch the tent 50 metres away.
The weather is mercifully clement and I enjoy reading Cloud Atlas. It is a good yarn (pity about the movie). As the evening goes by, the DOC volunteer hut warden visits me. At the popular huts, volunteer wardens can live in residence, with a private living quarters. Tragically, the former warden had slipped and died in the area recently; I sat and reflected on that pointless violence in this beautiful setting – so chaotic and sad. This hut warden was driven out to the hut by 4×4; DOC’s health and safety was under review. She suggested some trips further south, and checked my hut pass (camp within 100 metres of this hut and you need a pass or $5; a few tenters were hidden up the valley to avoid this extravagance).
Dinner was a pasta snack, with half a carrot, an onion and some salami. A tasty and easy tramping dinner. Cuisine is never high in my trip planning; with so many decisions to make, being creative with what to eat is just extra work, so I am happy to stumble onto a winner.
I awake in the morning to find frost on the tent; no wonder I needed more layers during the night!
In the morning I depart via the South face of Mt Somers to come down Rhyolite ridge. Fortune being what it is, I leave as the family take a short trip to the bridge; I get to talking with Dad. ‘Must be peaceful alone’ he says wistfully. The track is a steeper ascent and surprisingly poorly sign-posted for such a popular route. I cross paths with a European motorbike tourer. Letting him go ahead, I end up ahead of him some hours later; he got lost but found his way.
It was a nice and easy overnight tramp, with stunning views. I’d like to do the full loop some day, but not with the camera + tent – one of the days is 9 hrs long.
I lunch at the carpark then head back to the coast, south to Timaru. There’s a huge carnival going on; ‘you’ll have fun by yourself’ I am told. I go to the museum instead. It is not great, but the churches are, and they are plentiful. There are nice churches in Wellington, but they are crowded out by other buildings; in these smaller centres the spires still have their presence. One can more easily picture their importance in the early years. Unfortunately a lot of the churches are not left open (Catholic ones seem more likely to be) so I make do prowling about outside.
The tramp has tired me out; I decide to bail and head inland to the Otaio Gorge DOC campsite.
Arriving, I am met with a wall of people. They are playing cricket, and all stop and stare at me. I am an interloper and indecisive.
A distant man waves me in, and I weave through the players, who quickly get back on with it.
I pitch my car tent (such luxury!) next to the man, who is here with his daughter. They are so friendly and welcoming, it reminds me of family campsites of my youth. I am chuffed and happy to be there. ($8 per adult per night, honour system). The only bugger was some campervanners arriving at 11pm, beaming headlights then head lanterns on everyones tents. They were noisy and annoying until someone told them to be careful with their lights and shut up.
Breakfast is porridge, fruit and coffee; today I shall leave Canterbury behind and enter Otago.