Thursday, 9 January
Waiopehu Hut to Te Matawai Hut (5.5 km)
Against the slope below the hut, shreds of mist streamed, writhing themselves rapidly into clouds. Behind, the path led deeper into the range. In the distance, the mountains looked like a Shar Pei: hundreds of valley folds with dull green fur, but not at all velvety.
We turned and started walking in alpine vegetation, where the trees, lichens and mosses were very similar to those on the Whakapapa through National Park hike. I kept stopping to admire and stroke the tiny little plants living on the rocks. Hannah sighed a bit. She’s lucky New Zealand doesn’t have chameleons. In South Africa, I used to clasp my hands over my breast and talk doltishly to them.
The path was very eroded and had very steep ups and downs, so we did a great deal of mud slipping and root tripping. Nevertheless, we preferred this section to those of the previous few days. We descended into forest. The trail was marked, but not all the landmarks on it were signposted, so it was difficult to determine where we were at any time. We passed over “Richard’s Knob” without knowing it. I can only hope and trust that Richard was equally oblivious.
The big idea was to get to Dracophyll Hut for the night, but we took five hours to cover the piddling 5.5 km to Te Matawai Hut, at which point Hannah said she did not think she could go on. So we stopped. As we sat on the deck, removing our gunk-caked shoes, we saw the hut had a sign on the door. It said “No junk mail”. I love moments like these. There are hikers who have a fab sense of humour and someone had brought that ridiculous sign all the way up here for our amusement. Mind you, if I were a junk mail postie, and I’d staggered through hell to Te Matewai to deliver a flyer on Mitre 10’s latest super duper must-have customer deal on nails and tile grout, I’d be deeply hurt. I’d go so far as to say I’d be profoundly wounded.
The hut is dedicated to 14 year-old Greg Fischer, who died while climbing in 1974. Thanks to those who loved him, we have this warm and comfortable refuge after a long and rough walk. It is easy to die out here. While I made tea, I received what was to be the last text from home until we returned to civilisation. Marius said a teenager had just drowned near Otaki in floodwaters from the Tararua Range. How do families survive losing children? Within seconds, everything changes and any future joy must now take a different shape.
I had two cups of tea. Ah, what a pleasure at 2.30 pm. And I was seated on a bench at a table with the thrill of a mattress to follow. Oh no… several trips outside to follow. What is it about two cups of tea that generates three point seven litres of wee? We shall never know. However, visiting the DOC composting convenience has its entertainment. I was delighted to find a toilet brush in the loo. I fervently support the purpose of such a civilised accessory, but here, in a facility without a flush…?
About an hour after we had settled in the hut, James the rowing coach arrived. He had set off from Poads Road that morning, and had taken a mere seven hours to cover the distance that took us 11 hours over two days. He is not a human being. He is a machine. (Hi James! If you are reading this, I guess you must be at least in Queenstown by now.) However, he does use a walking stick and we don’t. A stick-deprived tramp and not Utterly Wimpy Womany Wallyhood is the reason why we are so slow. Well, that is my story and I am sticking to it.