Te Araroa Part 16: The French Nightmare
Warning: this blog post contains mentions of food that may be distressing to French people. You may want to hold someone’s hand, huddle up in a security blanket, and/or munch on a baguette to make sure you reach the end without suffering permanent psychological damage. All good? Allons-y!
The rain poured down all night and we were very happy we were sleeping in a motel room rather than in our tent. The Pensionados on Wheels Tour dropped us off in Arthur’s Pass and wished us happy tramping while they sped off down the west coast, eating fresh food and staying in motels every night. I’m sure we would’ve been jealous if it had still been raining, but it wasn’t so we weren’t. The visitor centre still hadn’t received the package containing my new insoles, but the courier usually only came by in the afternoon so we hung around the cafe, waiting.
Brianne and Yerin were there too, with Marion and Francois. Marion was sitting with her leg up and a bandage around her foot. She just shrugged when we asked what happened. “I broke it”, like it was no big deal. She had injured herself by stepping awkwardly on a piece of wood in the broad flat valley after Waiau Pass. It hurt like hell, apparently, but she kept walking, taking slightly shorter days, and maybe some more breaks. Then in Arthur’s Pass she decided she really needed a doctor. She was asking the visitor centre staff directions to the nearest hospital, when a woman behind her said she was a doctor and would take a look. Turns out Marion had a stress fracture somewhere in her midfoot. It would heal in time, even if she kept walking, but it would hurt. So she decided to just keep walking. And here I was making a fuss about some inflamed tendons...
Also at the cafe was a moustachioed dude who did not have time to introduce himself because we screamed in delight when we saw him, “Omg, you’re Ben from Ohio!” I feel some explanation is required here. Ben from Ohio is an old friend/acquaintance of Brianne’s. She met him in Ohio (surprise, surprise) when she was studying there, and recently found out he was walking the TA NOBO. For several days, she had been waiting to bump into him, hoping that we wouldn't miss each other because we were taking a zero or a detour. Because it had been a few years since she had seen him, Brianne told us all she knew about Ben from Ohio so that we would be able to recognise him too. So we had been rehearsing. Ben from Ohio is from Ohio, but he recently moved to New England. He’s a rock climber who worked at REI, etc, etc. It was like meeting a rock star. He had gone off trail though, and acquired a van. This proved very useful to us, because when it finally became clear that no parcel was being delivered to the visitor centre that day, we needed a ride to the trailhead. With Yerin and Brianne, we piled into Ben from Ohio’s van. He dropped Brianne and Yerin at the Klondyke campsite and me and Jasper a bit further down at the start of the Cass-Lagoon track because we figured we might as well skip 10 km on the road.
We hiked up to Lagoon saddle, on a surprisingly good track. It was through the forest to start with, first native forest and then exotic forest, which in NZ means pine forest. It was a dark, gloomy, brilliant pine forest. The trail continued above the treeline, with views all over the valleys we had come from. As we were taking a snack break and enjoying the view, another hiker passed us. We said hello and asked him where he was going, and he pointed ahead, “That way”. That will be my standard response to that question from now on. We met this guy, an engineering student called Dylan from Auckland, again at Lagoon Saddle, where there was a cute little A-frame hut. It was “choice”, as kiwis would say. He was inside cooking dinner when we entered and exclaimed what a neat little hut it was. “And you know what’s even neater,” he said, “the other hut just across the stream!” Nice try, Dylan from Auckland! The other hut was old and shabby. But the A-frame was a bit small so we decided to camp. We did enter the A-frame to make our dinner, which Dylan seemed to resent until we fed him chocolate chip fudge cookies. Brianne and Yerin showed up too. Brianne, like us, decided to camp, while Yerin chose to share the A-frame with Dylan.
It was a chilly night. We were quite snug in our tent, probably warmer than if we had stayed in the A-frame. While Dylan had snaffled a mattress from the other hut (much to the annoyance of a group of hunters who ended up staying there), Yerin didn’t have a sleeping mat and so she was completely frozen in the morning. We poured some hot chocolate into her and she thawed out sufficiently to put her boots and pack back on. Together with Brianne, the three of us set out into the cold, drizzly morning. The forest provided some welcome shelter, but also plenty of treeroots for Brianne to stumble over. We soon got our feet wet repeatedly crossing the river and streams, but luckily the sun eventually came out. Normally huts make excellent lunch and snack break spots, but the West Harper hut was one of the shabbiest and most sandfly-infested we had seen so we didn’t linger. We also ignored the turnoff to the Hamilton hut. This hut is quite fancy, in fact trampers refer to it as the Hamilton Hilton. But it was about 10 minutes off trail and we didn’t want to waste any time because we still had a long day ahead of us.
We passed the time with some more Dutch lessons. Jasper decided that Yerin had learned enough swear words, so he taught her to beg for lollies instead. She can now also compliment people on their nice legs, saying those legs make her jealous and angry and happy at the same time, because she is a teenager with complicated emotions. Brianne decided she wanted to learn to count in Dutch, and used her newly acquired vocabulary to ask Jasper for eight ice creams (she initially wanted four - one for each of us - but forgot the word for four). The valley opened up as the Dutch lessons progressed. We hit a grassy track that was surprisingly pleasant to walk on, with views of eroded gravel pinnacles on the other side of the valley. The track disappeared too soon, to be replaced by more river crossings. There were occasional marker poles but not nearly enough to keep us on a trail the entire time. We fought our way through gorse and finally found a 4wd track. The surface was rocky and uneven, with stones that slipped as I stepped on them and stabbed me in my already painful feet. But this was unfortunately the trail, and as we were now on private land we would have to follow it for a couple of hours until we reached the Harper River camping area. Yerin and Brianne pushed on ahead and had already pitched their tents when Jasper and I arrived. Courtney was there as well, as were Dan and Liv. Everyone put their tents close to a low hill that acted as a barrier of sorts against the wind. No one wanted to hang around outside to chat, even though the fierce wind meant that for once the sandflies left us alone.
Whoever says that the TA has very little roadwalking on the South Island is a liar. Compared to the North Island, perhaps, but there are still long, disappointing stretches of gravel. One such stretch is from the campsite to Lake Coleridge, on the northern side of the Rakaia river. The Rakaia can’t be safely crossed (at least not where we were and with our limited river crossing experience). The TA officially stops here and then continues again on opposite bank. The trail notes contain some information about shuttle services to get you around, as the nearest bridge is far downstream. We hadn’t booked anything and were counting on hitching out to Methven, the closest town. There were a few people at the campsite with cars and Jasper got talking to a couple who were starting to pack up their tent. Just having a chat with people is often the best way to get a ride. These two were indeed going to Methven that day and willing to take us along, although they would spend the day in the upper Rakaia valley first where they were involved in conservation work. They invited us along, but we declined as we wanted to continue hiking with Yerin and Brianne and instead arranged that they could pick us up further down the road that afternoon. Then we turned around and realised that Yerin and Brianne had just walked off. Oh well. As we had already said goodbye to the conservation couple, this meant we were now walking with just the two of us.
On a gravel road and with my sore feet we had no chance of catching up with Yerin and Brianne. I have found that steep climbs are no problem for my feet but flat, “easy” walking is a disaster. Nevertheless we made good time at first. The landscape was quite nice and a sign had been put up to warn drivers of TA walkers so at least we were unlikely to be run over if a car did come by. About two hours in we took a break, and after that my feet no longer worked. They didn’t want to bend or flex in any way. I staggered along, trying to ignore the pain in my feet, and using my trekking poles like crutches. But with few cars in sight, hitching wasn’t really an option either. The cars we saw were all going in the opposite direction. Around noon we got lucky. A car! Jasper stuck his thumb out and simultaneously took off his fancy Australian hat. This new hitchhiking strategy worked a treat. The couple in the car were only going a few km further down the road to fish at a lake, but every km helps so we hopped in. Yerin and Brianne arrived at the lake at around the same time we did, so we all had lunch together in the shade of the fishing couple’s caravan. They were fishing for trout, and we all remembered something Ben from Ohio had told us, that would help us make friends on the central South Island section of the TA. “We heard there was a record trout caught near here!” the four of us said in unison. It worked. Instant friends. The guy gave us cold drinks and refilled our water bottles while he chatted happily about the record trout. Thanks, Ben from Ohio!
After lunch, Jasper and I had more luck hitching. It took only five minutes for a car to pass us. The driver stopped, and while he was going to Christchurch rather than Methven, he said he would drop us at the junction which was only about 10 km from Methven. We noticed a rod and other fishing gear in the car, so we brought up the record trout again. Disaster! Our driver informed us that the record trout was caught in a canal and he only fishes in lakes. We learned later that those who fish in lakes look down upon those who fish in canals (they’re not real fishermen apparently), because the canals have salmon farms in them. Antibiotics, food and whatnot leak from the farms to the surrounding water, so the trout that hang around there have a very easy life and it’s no wonder they reach record size. So instead of talking about the record trout we talked about the landscape, about which our driver turned out to be very knowledgeable. He pointed out interesting geological features, told us the water flows of just about every single river in NZ, and stopped at Rakaia Gorge so Jasper could take some photos. Then he drove us to Methven instead of dropping us at the junction, which was much appreciated.
Meanwhile, Yerin had managed to hitch to Christchurch so she could buy a sleeping mat (no more cold nights!), while Brianne had made it to Methven too. She had gotten a ride from a woman who ran the Alpenhorn hostel so that made choosing our accommodation easy. It was a really cool hostel too, and we had the place to ourselves. We got gingerbeers and whisky to celebrate crossing the 2200 km and most importantly: 100 days on the trail! I spent most of the evening giggling about the gardening column in the local paper (it included the phrase “Now is a good time to kill your lawn if you are in the mood”).
Yerin showed up the next morning, with a fancy warm sleeping mat, and three packs of halloumi. She’d been talking about the baked halloumi and tomato we had made in Hanmer Springs for days, so when she found cheap halloumi in Christchurch she bought their entire stock. Three packs disappeared almost as quickly as one pack, unfortunately. Courtney arrived from Christchurch too, wearing new boots, while Marion, Francois and Emeric hitched in from Lake Coleridge, along with another French guy called Dylan (not to be confused with Dylan from Auckland). We ended up at the All You Can Eat Thai restaurant. Turns out we can eat a lot. We were full for the first time since eating my cousin Sonia’s mushroom lasagna back in Wellington.
It was hard to move the next morning because we were still so full of food. We had booked the Methven campsite shuttle to the south side of the Rakaia and were dropped off at the trailhead around nine. The track was a 4wd track through farmland, climbing a gentle slope. The other hikers on our shuttle all set off at a fast pace, while I struggled to get my feet working. It was not a pleasant trail to walk on, although the scenery around us was photogenic. There were about twenty different types of clouds in the sky. I’m no meteorologist but I’m pretty sure this is a sign of atmospheric shenanigans. And indeed, when Emeric (who was on the later shuttle) caught up with us as we were having lunch in the cute A-frame hut, he told us the latest weather forecast promised a storm. Suddenly our initial plan seemed foolish. We had thought to do an easy day, continuing for a few hours to Comyns hut and then go over Clent Hills Saddle, the highest point, the next day. But there were many river crossings on the way up and if heavy rain was coming this river might be impassable. We’d better get a move on.
First things first, get to Comyns hut. Yerin set off at a fast pace that I could never hope to match with my feet in their current state. Brianne and Courtney had cruised ahead and were long gone. Jasper waited patiently for me, of course, but with just the two of us there were fewer things to distract me from the pain in my feet. No correcting Brianne’s Dutch grammar or laughing at Yerin’s Kiwi accent. The pain was increasing every minute. The trail was atrocious, a ghastly 4wd track with stones of just the right size to inflict maximum suffering. It was like walking on knives that twisted and rolled as I stepped on them. I was angry at the trail, at the TA, at the entire bloody South Island of NZ, which people had said would be a great wilderness experience. Yet here I was, in agony on a 4wd track trying to avoid cowshit. What a great wilderness. I was in tears by the time we reached Comyns hut. If it hadn’t been for the fact that I would’ve had to walk the same track back again, I would have quit the TA then and there. It was the first time I had ever seriously considered quitting. Sure, there had been times when I had wondered why I was doing this (usually when kneedeep in mud, or on a road with trucks roaring past) but this was the first time I found myself thinking of what I would do during the rest of my holiday if I stopped.
Nobody seemed to want to stay at Comyns hut, except the family from Maine we had met briefly in Northland. They had arrived early and were spending a leisurely afternoon. Everyone who had arrived on the Methven campsite shuttles that morning decided to push on. After a quick look at the maps and trailnotes, Jasper and I decided to do the same. It was 15.30, and according to the sign it would take 7 hours across rough terrain to get to the next hut. It might seem like a bad idea on paper, but I didn’t want to stay at Comyns. If I had, all the walking of that day would have been horrible. By going on, at least I had some river bashing and climbing to make up for the horrors of the 4wd track. So we continued. The first step into the river was bliss as the cold water numbed my sore feet. It was one of those trails without a trail. Just follow the river upstream, walking in the river or on the banks depending on what’s easiest. As all these rivers are prone to flooding, leaving you with nowhere to walk, we do wonder occasionally why there isn’t a real trail. But at least it gave my feet something to do.
As we got further upstream, we began to bump into nasty prickly bushes called matagouri. They’ve got thorns the size of Philip’s flippers and are worse than gorse. Probably the spikes are to deter browsing animals, of which there are currently no native species in NZ. There used to be moa, though. They must’ve been really keen on eating these shrubs to get them to evolve such insane spikes. We acquired new scratches to match the old ones we had from gorse. And when we finally climbed out of the matagouri we bumped into speargrass, which is as nasty as it sounds. This is a plant that stabs you and manages to draw blood at the slightest touch. It was still waaaaay better than that bloody 4wd track.
Next up on our list of “NZ plants that are mean to hikers”: tussock. This is grass that grows in clumps. It’s not prickly and will not stab you, but it makes the ground very lumpy and can hide deep holes. Tussocks twist ankles. Luckily, we are not as stability-challenged as Brianne so we stayed upright and navigated the tussocks without too much difficulty. There wasn’t really a trail, although some optimistic soul had put up marker poles to little effect. On the few occasions we did find one, it was impossible to see the next. They were spaced too far apart, and in some cases they were overgrown by the massive tussocks. We navigated mostly by gps and the simple strategy of “climb that saddle over there, somehow” which worked. There was a final tussock-free climb to the saddle, where we caught up with Yerin and Brianne again.
By now it was getting very late, so we pushed on after only a brief look at the view. We didn’t even waste time taking silly photos of Philip in the two camp chairs someone had carried up to the saddle (no, really, we didn’t). On the other side of the saddle was something I had been looking forward too all day: a scree slope! Hurray! We went across it rather than down or up, but it was still good. After the scree came more tussock, and this time the going was slower because Brianne kept tripping over them. Marion and Francois caught up with us. They had been on the late shuttle with Emeric and had the same idea of getting over the saddle before the storm hit. The sun was beginning to set, and rather than continue in the dusk, Brianne decided to pitch her tent on the river “flats”. The rest of us pushed on. It was only 2 or 3 km to the flat valley floor, and from there a couple more km to the hut. There was now a good trail in front of us and we were quite confident we would make it, until the track disappeared in a thicket of matagouri with some speargrass around for good measure. Random marker poles dotted the slope, with seemingly no relation to any of the weak ground trails that we could find. The light was fading rapidly, and Jasper, Yerin and I decided enough was enough and camped on a reasonably flat spot by the “trail”. Marion and Francois went on, and we later learned that they reached the (full) hut in the darkness, using their headlamps. We put up our tents as quickly as we could, with my trekking poles jammed into the ground and the guylines running through the handles for extra support. The wind was gusting around us and there were some ominous clouds in the sky, but in the end the promised storm never materialised and the worst that happened that night was that I didn’t sleep a wink because there was a bloody tussock poking me in the back.
The next day was no TA highlight but definitely a vast improvement over the 4wd Track of Horrors. I started walking without breakfast because I didn’t feel like eating at all, despite having had only a tiny dinner the night before. It was probably a combination of pain, lack of sleep, and still feeling full from All You Can Eat Thai that made me lose my appetite. After just five minutes of walking we reached a veritable jungle of speargrass that made us extremely thankful for our lumpy campspot. At least we could fight our way through it in daylight. As we reached the flat valley floor, we met the first NOBOs. There would be plenty that day. The track across the valley was straightforward, but at least had no rolling stones so my feet were not complaining too much. Everyone was beginning to overtake us because of my slow pace but I didn’t much care. There was a short, steep climb which was (at least for my feet) the highlight of the day. The other side of the hill was clad in matagouri and speargrass but we dodged most of them. At Lake Emily, the trail became a 4wd track again (sigh) but hordes of NOBOs provided some distraction. We had never seen so many of them, and I don’t just mean in one place. There were more NOBOs walking towards us now than we had met on the entire trail. Apparently they were all walking together and had been pretty much since Bluff.
After the NOBO horde, the track curved and suddenly there were some trees. All this tussock land is very photogenic but it can get uncomfortably hot in the sun. Everyone made the same decision when they reached the trees: it was lunchtime! In the shade, what a luxury! We were all chatting happily as we prepared our usual lunch. I took out the wraps. Jasper spread nutella on it, and added bits of cheese while I handed him some pretzels to use as crunchy topping. Suddenly, a horrified silence fell. Marion was staring in stunned disbelief, shock and outrage written over her face. Francois looked like he didn’t know whether to cry or scream in anger. Emeric looked like his life was in ruins. It was as if we had burned down his house and punched his mum at the same time. It must have been terrible for them. For the first time in their lives, these poor innocent French people saw how dismally the barbarians treat their cheese. To eat it with nutella! The ultimate sacrilege!
Cheese and nutella is a delicious combination. It sounds weird perhaps, but you should try it. The combination of sweet and salty is amazing. It’s like eating a chocolate cheesecake. The French did not want to try it. They wanted us to show that cheese some respect. Did we? Hell no, we added a gummi worm (a lolly/candy/sweet) to freak them out even more. Emeric overcame his disgust and ventured close enough to take a photo because “otherwise no one at home will believe this”. I have to admit, the gummi worm was a bit strange but it did add an interesting texture.
Horrified by our culinary delights, the French walked on, soon followed by Courtney, Yerin and Brianne. Jasper and I took our time to spare my feet a bit. There was a short section of road along some picturesque lakes, then it was back to gentle tussock slopes for an hour or two until we reached a stream where Tent City was springing up. In addition to the usual crowd, we were joined there by a Kiwi woman named Penny. After assuring the French that we would not be doing weird things to cheese for dinner, we were allowed to sit with them. We further won over Francois by sharing some of our remaining whisky. It had been the cheapest whisky in Methven, and for two days now it had been in a plastic bottle on the outside pocket of my pack, in the full sun. It had character (in the same way some of the older huts on the trail have character). Francois declared it was the worst whisky he’d ever had but he drank it anyway.
The final day of this section was short, only about 15 km until we reached the Rangitata river. Like the Rakaia, the Rangitata has a big “Do not attempt to cross” on it in the trail notes. It’s a wide, braided river that can rise rapidly. Due to recent dry weather, it was fairly low and many TA walkers had actually crossed it in the last few weeks. It was fast but the water came no higher than most people’s knees. However, we knew there was rain coming so we had booked a shuttle to get us around it. Good thing too. Apparently some NOBOs had crossed just one or two days earlier, and told Courtney they found it dodgy. The water was already well above the knee that day. As we left Tent City, we could see rain further up in the valley of the Rangitata. We learned later that the Rangitata had risen rapidly the next day, until it was no longer a braided river but one swirling mass of water. If we had tried to cross it, we probably would have been swept away. The crossing (if possible) takes an hour or two, which is the time it took for the river to rise from “tricky but maybe doable” to “certain death”. For this reason we were always going to get the shuttle.
Within two hours of unchallenging but somewhat painful walking, the rest of the inhabitants of Tent City began to overtake us. Slow risers, but fast walkers. The trail was approaching Lake Clearwater. Jasper, Yerin and I decided we might as well go for a swim. We went off trail to reach the lake, which did not really live up to its name. From a distance it was clear enough, but the bottom was murky and silty. It was still a pretty good swim.
According to our map, there would be trail linking the lakeside trail and the TA. There was, but there was also a barbed wire fence in the way. There was no stile so we had to crawl through which we managed after pushing the wire down with our trekking poles. Once back on the trail, we continued walking and I realised again how slow I was. Yerin was cruising ahead, and Courtney had just overtaken us despite having left Tent City several hours after us. I was suddenly sick of being the slowest, sick of my painful feet slowing me down. Every other muscle in my body was screaming at me to go faster, to do something. It has been incredibly frustrating to be so limited by my feet when I feel great otherwise. By this time in the TA, I wanted to be fast and do long days, but instead I was reduced to hobbling before lunchtime every single day.
But as I saw Courtney and Yerin walking ahead I decided I was going to be faster, just for a bit. I increased my speed and then somehow switched off my brain to ignore the pain. I managed, somehow. We joined up with Yerin again and even managed to overtake Courtney, though that was because she took a snack break and/or nap. Just before we reached the carpark where we would be picked up, it began to rain. There was some interesting weather further upstream. We put our packcovers on and Jasper realised he had lost his sunglasses, that he had bought only a few days earlier in Methven. Bloody typical. At the parking lot, the first thing we saw was a tent. Francois and Marion had decided to pitch their fly so they could have lunch somewhere dry.
“You’re welcome to join us,” said Marion.
“You sure? We’re going to have wraps with nutella and cheese.”
I have never seen someone zip up their tent so fast.
Luckily Francois likes dodgy whisky more than he hates disrespectful behaviour towards cheese, so in the end they allowed us in.
The rain didn’t last, so before long we were all sitting outside again. Yerin had originally planned to attempt the Rangitata crossing, but luckily changed her mind when she saw the bad weather. But for this reason she hadn’t booked the shuttle. She managed to hitch a ride from someone. The TA trailend is very close to Mt Potts, known to nerds as the location of the Rohan movie sets from the Lord of the Rings movies. So there is usually a nerd or two driving up that road to to nowhere (or should that be Erewhon, the name of the station?) I was glad that we had booked the shuttle though, because we were such a big group now: me, Jasper, Brianne, Marion, Francois, Dylan from France, Courtney and Emeric, who had disappeared off to who knows where. While we waited for our shuttle, we finished the rest of the whisky and ate our remaining lollies. We hadn’t seen a weka, let alone a wekaweka, for ages so we reckoned it was safe. The shuttle arrived early (and had picked up Emeric along the road somewhere). Wayne from Alps2Ocean drove us all to Geraldine, where we got dodgy takeaways, a tub of Tip Top boysenberry ripple and a bag of spinach. I’ve gotten into the habit of eating an entire bag of spinach whenever we reach a town. So delicious.
The main topic of conversation was what to do next. For some days, tropical cyclone Oma had been threatening to hit New Zealand. In the end, it veered off to Australia, but NZ was still set to get cold, wet weather for some days. If we kept going, we would reach Stag Saddle (the highest point on the TA) in the snow. That is, if the rain didn’t make the rivers uncrossable. All of us decided to wait before starting on the next section, but that meant four days off trail. Courtney, Brianne, Emeric and Dylan decided to skip ahead a bit. They would try to hitch to Tekapo, and then walk or cycle the next part towards Ohau. That section is flat and straight, along the canals, and should be very doable before the worst weather set in. Yerin decided to hitch to Dunedin, where she had a friend, while Francois and Marion decided they wanted to visit Christchurch.
Jasper and I went to Christchurch too. NZ being NZ, there was no public transport to speak of, so we hitched. It was a difficult hitch. Nobody wanted to stop for us even though Jasper took off his hat. Everyone just smiled and waved. After about an hour of this, a linguistics student in a tiny car took pity on us. She was on her way back to Christchurch after visiting her parents, and had the fluffiest dog in the world with her. So we ended up having a great time on the ride. We chatted about the trail and the Rangitata, which her school class would have to cross for their outdoor course although the crossing was postponed several times because of high flow rate. Their teachers apparently explained this to them by equating the flow rate in cubic meters per second to baby elephants per second, “There are 400 baby elephants in the river today, so we can’t cross.” We were dropped off exactly where we needed to be in Christchurch, at Tower Junction where all the outdoor shops are. This was the reason for our trip to Christchurch. We were not there to be tourists, but because I had made a difficult decision. I would retire my comfy, roomy Altra Lone Peak 4 shoes (sob) and buy a pair of hiking boots. Something with arch support and a slightly raised heel. And no doubt room for about three of my toes. But if I was to continue on the TA, I would need something to help my feet along. I tried on every single boot in the Bivouac, but none really fitted me very well. In the one or two that were actually reasonably ok for my toes, my heel slipped so much the boot would not stay on. But a snug heel meant a likewise snug fit for my toes. Hello, boot manufacturers! Please make a boot with room for all my toes! There are five of them on each foot, which should not be an unreasonable number! Argh. I ended up with a Merrell boot which offered the best compromise between heel and toe fit. The bloody things were a woman-specific boot so they had pink laces. For crying out loud! I’m not seven years old! I wished I could strangle the Merrell CEO with the stupid pink laces, and decided that the first chance I got I would get some mud on the things. As my toes where now squished together, I knew they would be sore. They were already quite sore from the plantar fasciitis (or whatever it was that was making my feet hurt). So I got some gel cushion toe spacer things from the pharmacy. These weird things came in packs of three, which makes no sense whatsoever. Again, I have 5 toes on each foot, that means 4 spaces on each, so why not an eight pack, Scholl?
The evening was a lot nicer than this foot-related shopping spree. We had a cool hostel with a hot tub, and Francois and Marion got a bottle of wine. The next day in Christchurch was similarly nice, and involved mainly eating. We spent the evening at a whisky and cocktail bar with Marion and Francois. The quality of the whisky was significantly better than the horror I had carried between the Rakaia and Rangitata and we shared a cheese platter which did not have any nutella whatsoever, to the delight of our French friends. The only sad thing about our visit to Christchurch was that we learned too late that Sarah was there too! It would have been lovely to catch up with her, even though rumour has it she has sent Shackleton home. Philip would never have forgiven her.
After our visit to Christchurch we headed back to Geraldine, where we spent another lazy day hanging around in cafes, while waiting for the weather to improve. The campsite was full of TA hikers. We bumped into Vincent and Dagmar, as well as Valeria and Myriam and a whole crowd of others. A large number of those who had done the Rakaia to Rangitata section just after us had mysteriously fallen ill. As far as I know, no one really knew what it was but people suspected toxic algae in the water. Yikes. Filtering or otherwise treating water is no use against that. I was very glad I didn’t have what effectively is cyanide poisoning to deal with on top of the 4wd Track of Horrors. Luckily no one had suffered any permanent injury.
Once the weather had cleared up, Wayne from Alps2Ocean drove three shuttleloads of TA hikers to the south side of the Rangitata. We went with the late afternoon shuttle, because we were not planning to do any walking until the next day anyway. The mountains had all received a fresh dusting of snow and according to Wayne it looked like June. This confused us northern hemisphere people for a bit until we remembered that’s the start of winter. Ah. Together with Marion, Francois and Penny who we had met in Tent City, Jasper and I had rented a small holiday cottage from Mesopotamia station for the night. This was right by the trail end and had hot showers and comfy beds, so we could get an early start the next morning. Marion cooked us the last non-couscous dinner for a while, while Jasper and I contributed peaches and blue cheese for dessert. The cheese was, very aptly, named Mesopotamia Blue, and there was no nutella in sight. The French breathed a sigh of relief.