Richards Mountains to the Sea - April 2012

Richard’s Mountains to Sea Trek April 19th – April 26th 2012
New Zealand South Island – Mt Cook to the Pacific Ocean

Day 1 - 7km
1pm Ice melt at the Hooker Glacier lake beneath Mount Cook to village

 My Father joined me to trek up to the Hooker Glacier terminal moraine and iceberg lake, a distance of 4.6km to the starting point for my journey.  Clear views of Mount Cook and all surrounding mountains on a hot then cool afternoon as the sun dropped beyond the Southern Alps.  Face refreshed with a wash in a running brook as we wander along well marked DOC trail and over swing bridges. Wrapped up with warm layers of Kathmandu fleece and Macpac Event jacket, beanie and gloves. Energized by the oxygenated air, moving with the flow of the Hooker river on this short section of the trek to the Mt Cook village arriving at 5.50pm, to night over at the YHA.

Day 2   36km
6.53am YHA Mt Cook National Park to Big Rock Steam
Predawn start, minus 2 degrees in a frosty landscape as I head towards Lake Pukaki in the still air of a another classic autumn day. Not a cloud in the sky, not a soul in sight for the first few hours in the presence of towering peaks of snow and ice.  Set a steady pace stopping every two hours to refuel with trail mix while mindful to keep the water/juice levels up as the temperature increase to 18-20 degrees Celsius.    

My constant companions were paradise ducks, hawks, rabbits and merino sheep and ice feed streams that sang their song as they flowed at their own pace towards the Tasman river and Lake Pukaki. Lunch break at Glen Tanner then in good spirits onward past Dead horse creek, Roys creek to bath in the freezing stream, past Petes Lookout to pick up point at 4.15pm. Exceeding expectations for the distance traveled and exhilarated by my travel through sub-alpine terrain.  Twizel house to overnight.

Day 3   33km
6.59am Big Rock Stream to Haldon Boat Harbour
My support crew, Dad, dropped me back on the road, another freezing, calm and clear to the horizon. Used the head light to warn on coming traffic of my presence, quickly getting to a steady walking pace, following the white line on the edge of the road. The stillness of nature early morning was astonishing, not a sound except for the flow of water.Through the wildling pine forest for 10kms, past a lavender trial north of the organic Pukaki Downs station, walking the straight roads to Pukaki Dam and lookout. Numerous bus loads and camper van traffic stopping to bask in the magnificent vista of blue sky and lake (very low   water level), white ice peaks, grey and brown mountain slopes, golden tussock and willows and green patches of forest and irrigated pasture. Reflected on my work at this dam site 37 years ago for the Ministry of Works, soil laboratory. Moved off down the northern side of the Pukaki River bed, following a boulder laden 4x4 track past the chimney remains of a stagecoach hotel , an arid landscape of Matagouri and rosehip vegetation, noting the spent gun shop cartridges and rabbit population .

Increased the pace as pre arranged to meet up with friends at boat harbour. The boulders and rocks were smashing into my trail shoes, cutting toes. Perhaps I should have worn my boots! Moving through dense planted golden willows past riverbeds of Californian poppies, over the iron bridge and south to link with father and friend at the jetty for 5 minute boat trip across to Ohau C boat ramp and return to rest up at Twizel base.

Day 4 - 17km                             
9am Tekapo River Bed, near Haldon Camping ground to Black Forest Station homestead
4X4 drive through three rivers to starting point then walked up to my knees in swift flowing water, along the northeastern shore of Lake Benmore, through dense willow and wetlands, over and around fences and gates. Topo maps proved to be critical to navigating the terrain. Jumped over an electric fence and landed on the edge of my right heel…. bruised and strained. Limped on placing weight on front of foot arriving at the Black Forest Station homestead to request anti –flamm for sore foot.

Stayed the night in lodging at the high country station with a stunning view north to Mt Cook in an idealic part of the high country I had not visited before. Prepared food for a hearty meal, gazing out at the stream and chestnut trees beyond the front deck.

Day 5   38 km
 6.45am Black Forest Station to Otematata township   
Another sub zero morning with tussock rigid with frost and an aching foot that improved with movement. Off up the Black Forest river unsure of if foot would allow me to continue. Decided to give one hour then check…. Okay when placing weight on front of foot, but this produced blisters!

Following the mighty power line that feed the North Island, the next 8 hours were the most challenging up over three mountain passes with lots of will and endeavour. Found stopping every hour during the after noon heat essential to replenish fluids and to snack on organic chocolate with nuts and dried fruit. At best this was my marathon with distant views to lake, deceptively close yet along way off. A trusty stick supported the right leg, with lots of huff and puff over Montys and Sugar Loaf passes. This was a real test of my Auckland pre-trek preparation, of endurance and fitness. The sole person I saw this day was a trapper on a farm bike. My companions were rabbits and a pair of paradise ducks that circled me time and again.

Appreciated the breeze to cool down and the small streams to wash in but not drink the potentially contaminated water. Stunning gold poplars and willow trees were at there best along the edges of the clear calm waters of Lake Benmore. At the dam lookout rested up for the final leg across the dam and down to the lodge stop and a long well earned shower. 9 hours 30 minutes walk time.

Day 6  28km
Otematata to Kurow
7am start along the south side of highway 83 on a warmer morning ,northwest breeze at my back with the Lakes Aviemore and Waitaki visible to the north. The best Autumn on record helped to ripen the wild apples, deposited out of cars during the 1950-1960s along the roadside … surprising good eating. Tossed the cores back into the grass for future apply trees.
Wild apricots, hawthorn berry, pear trees also found along this section of road.  The landscape is in a dry zone with few streams and flora notably around the margins of the lakes. Traffic was a hazard today with the need to get right of the road into the ditch to avoid impact with big trucks and tourist buses. Bumble bees seem to take a liking to my citrine coloured Macpac Event Jacket seeking to pollinate me!     

Booked into Kurow Camping Ground cabin, resting up foot and headed for the towns shops to eat the biggest ice creams you get anywhere, chat with locals and scan the famous second hand collectors store where the operator would rather shoppers not buy his stock…. just browse. Each evening involved a planning and mapping session, packing gear and an early night for the next days trek.      

Day 7 - 33km     
6-58am ANZAC day…. Kurow to 500 metres west of Georgetown
Along the highway oat trees were planted every mile to remember the local soldiers who fought in the First World War, many were brothers.  The long straight roads were a challenge in terms of seeing how far the road stretched into the distance. The best strategy was to aim for a line of trees, a building or ridge to reach, then reset goal for the next feature to focus the mind and body. 

Down into the low land Waitaki river valley past Maori rock drawings, vineyards and into intensive dairy land. Drank 30litres of water and juice on another hot day stopping at Duntroon’s Faulty Towers for a vegetarian lunch and phoned the Oamaru Wednesday Walker group to arrange a roadside pickup near Georgetown at 3.45pm. Rest up in Oamaru, with blistered and aching feet but otherwise eager to get back for the final day to the Pacific ocean.
Day 8 - 25km
8am West of Georgetown to Waitaki river mouth and Pacific Ocean
Moved off highway 83 to Atkinson and Macpherson gravel roads.  Weather remained fine with increasing cloud as the golden spell of weather comes to an end. Notable observations were magpies in full song, dairy machinery on the move feeding out silage to cows, herds of cows crossing the road…yes they will stop and give way to humans.

Over the railway line the last 5 km seemed to take an age with the last section sliding over foreshore shingle bar to the outflow of the Waitaki river into the Pacific ocean at 2.15pm

Washed hands and face in the river mouth, gazing at the torrent of water surging out into the calm sea, looking back over the past eight days by turning to the west in the direction of where I had come from…..and turning back to the river and sea.

A phone call to my brother to collect and return to Oamaru. Distance 217km recorded on Kathmandu padometer

˜  Being adventure smart and safe in the outdoors     
˜  Avoid electric fences!
˜  Feeding off natures energy helped me endure the tough days
˜  Mt Cook commanded the landscape
˜  Oasis of tranquility at Black Forest Station
˜  Taking the high road over the mountain ranges
˜  Weather perfect every day
˜  Travelling down from the mountains as early Maori did with food and Paunamu
˜  Water tells a story in its journey to the sea
˜  Reconnecting with the land once travelled  
˜  Next challenge-Alps to Sea by Mountain bike 2013

Richard Main - May 2012