This weekend is Waitangi weekend, a long weekend in NZ; and also the date of the annual Dodzy Memorial Enduro. Because of my busted wing, Im not off to Nelson with literally everyone I know… but I have a 4 day weekend too.
I’ve been doing a lot more walking and hiking since my shoulder surgery, and recently been toying with the idea of doing an overnight trip. Ive never been backpacking before (since obviously I skipped my 20’s when its an acceptable time to set life aside and do that instead of have a career…) and to be honest, carrying all my necessities on my back sounds hard.
Nevertheless, I made a decision and just stuck with it before I could talk myself out of it. New Zealand is amazing in that it has hundreds of backcountry huts which are free (or $5-$15 for larger ones with toilets & water). There’s a few within 100km of Christchurch, so I chose one that didnt seem too hard (except for a slight big horrendous climb) and I set off.
First, I got lost on the way there.
I diligently put 29km into my odometer when I turned onto the gravel path leading to the track; but I still passed the path and spent 30 minutes lost just looking for the turn-off. Brilliant start.
Next, I got lost again.
Wait, let me defend myself. Based on these arrows, which way do you think the path is?
Lets zoom in…
I followed the arrows. For 45 minutes I followed the arrows, waiting for the the expected big horrendous climb to happen. I walked along the river, through a paddock, vaguely felt like I was both going in a circle and going towards the road. Finally I stopped and really studied the topography around me and the map on my phone.
Opposite direction. Fantastic.
Just so you know, this is the extremely obvious entrance I should have found:
Ok, theres a small sign just out of the picture. I but I followed the arrows! Because thats what humans do! Turns out there was a motocross event today, and obviously they had set it up ahead of time with no regard for novice backpackers. Two other sets of trampers did what I did.
So I doubled back and 90 minutes later, started my hike. After an hour and 3 river crossings (two unnecessary, thanks for the wet socks moto guys) I got to the big horrendous climb. Note, the boots stay on in river crossings because you cant risk slipping with bare feet when everything youre going to eat/sleep in/change into/take photos with is on your back.
I was afraid that because of my massive detour I would get to the hut a bit late and there might be other hikers there… which would be fine except there’s only four bunks in this hut! And I didnt bring a tent. So I power-walked with at least 15 pounds on my back, up about 1000 metres. I took one photo.
Award winning shot right there.
So a mere 4.5 hours after starting this 3-hour beginner backpacking trip, I made it to the hut.
Which was full.
Four (lovely) older ladies from Christchurch had leisurely climbed the mountain several hours ahead of me, and had been lounging in the hut since 2:30pm.
I could have hiked much slower as I was never going to get a bunk, and then I would be able to walk today.
Because they were prepared to sleep on the floor, they shared their camping mats with me and I made a little bed in the corner where I was least likely to get stepped on by four middle-aged women who surely never have to pee in the night.
I took very few photos as the clouds had really come in, making the scenery both a bit boring and freezing.
That lake is called a “tarn”. A tarn is a mountain lake formed by a glacier. The hut I stayed in was creatively called Tarn Hut.
So lets talk about the fun things I learned about and experienced on my first backpacking adventure:
- Dehydrated food is gross. I got ‘moroccan lamb’. You mix boiling water with ‘food’ that looks like the dust bunnies from under the couch, and 10 minutes later you eat it.
- Dehydrated smoothie mix is kind of delicious. Or I was starving by the morning?
- DONT DIP YOUR USED CUP OR PLATE IN THE TARN: the old ladies will yell at you. Tarns are pretty clean if we dont F them up by putting dirty things in them or ‘doing our business’ near them. (Theres a different ridge for that.)
- Bring more pairs of socks than you think you need. I brought 2 pairs for 2 days. 4 would have been minimally sufficient.
- You can drink out of a tarn (I still boiled it)… but it tastes like minerals. And minerals taste like dirt.
- Sleeping on the floor is terrible. But lets look at the bright side: Im going to sleep like a champ tonight!
- Carrying the backpack didnt hurt my back or neck or stupid shoulder much at all. My hamstrings on the other hand, they beg to differ.
- Bring a physical map. Then you dont go the wrong way for nearly as long… or maybe not at all?
So I survived the night on the floor, the dehydrated smoothie with some actually very lovely porridge and tea… and I stepped outside, grateful to find sun.
After breakfast we set off in our opposite directions – they undertaking a 7 hour mission today and myself just walking back down the hill. I cant wait to actually be tough when I grow up.
It was hot by the time I was finishing the hike, and I was grateful for the final river crossing. After a grand total of four now in my life, I feel like a seasoned pro, and walking in squelchy boots doesnt bother me! Not one bit. Now they dont even need a wash.
So, I survived. My first ‘backpacking’ trip. 1 night. 2 dehydrated meals. 2 times getting lost. 4 unavailable mattresses. 4 river crossings.
On the plus side, my trusty new little Pajero got me out there and back on some pretty bumpy 4WD roads. I left those city cars in the dust!
I’d like to go again. Probably with somebody. 8 hours of hiking is a long time in your own head. Also, somebody else probably wouldnt have gotten slightly lost. Twice.
But I am here to tell the tale. I had my own adventure.
Man I hope I can just be back to racing bikes next year!