I’m unsure who was more excited – Adele to take two novices for an overnight hike (tramp in the local parlance) or Fiona to go on said hike. It assuredly was not me – but I was more than happy to go along for a walk, at the very least there would be a whole lot less cleaning afterwards than after a West Coast winter mountain-bike ride. We set off early Saturday morning east through the Buller Gorge and carried on past Reefton as dawn marched on.
Adele had chosen a route that would take us from the Lewis Pass highway (just short of Maruia Springs), up besides Rough Creek and on to the tops before descending to the overnight hut at Lake Christabel Hut (which is actually a mile short of the lake), before walking out to Palmer Rd. As such, we had to leave a car at the end of our planned walk – we discovered it really was quite cold out, as all the short wooden bridges on this rural road were iced over.
Nonetheless, car shuffle done we set off alongside Rough Creek. Quickly, it became obvious that the creek was not the only rough feature around – the trail was mostly unformed and soon started steeply climbing the hill over a lot of tree roots and moss.
The sun made a brief appearance in the sky – some of its light even filtered through the canopy.
The route flattened out a bit as we walked beside and through/over the river for a while.
While we were still well below the tree line, we started to come across patches of snow – a somewhat worrying sign for walking over the tops.
We made good time to the tree line and started tracking our way through a good half-foot of snow to get a view of where the snow-poles would lead us. Visibility had decreased, but we could make out a few poles in front of us – as it wasn’t windy or miserable we decided to push on. The snow deepened – generally about knee high, occasionally I post-holed to my waist when I was making tracks. We were glad to have a hiking pole each – just as well someone thought to bring those .
There’s a pole! Go over there. About half-way up Adele took the lead through the steeper terrain, I had it easy at the back for a while.
Reaching the saddle (we’d climbed about 900 metres in four kilometres – a bit more than I’m used to), we turned to see cloud filling the valley we’d walked up.
Venturing just over the saddle, Adele suddenly found it very icy and compacted. We were unprepared for such conditions, with no crampons or ice-axes (and Fiona & I have no real experience in using such things). The ice patch was likely not that large, but it wasn’t a risk worth taking – so we turned and headed back down the hill. I’m sure I’ve said before, I loathe prolonged walking downhill – especially with a large pack – it just hurts and there’s no challenge or enjoyment in it. Thankfully we made it back to the car safely – which is no mean feat considering the number of small falls Fiona and I had on the slippery route/roots back down.
So for the second time this year, due to adverse conditions I found myself staying at the rather bizarre Alpine Motor Inn & Cafe at Springs Junction – a place I didn’t even know existed last year. I think I even had the same burger – it was just as large and somewhat weird (probably due to the hash-brown). Grateful for a roof overhead (it was cheaper than huts on the Heaphy) – it was just as well we had our sleeping bags as the only heater in the room shone like a small star, so had to be turned off at night. The provided linen would have been OK, perhaps, in summer. A memorable and perversely fun place to stay, if only for odd reasons – including the mountain stream that the stone-walled building was built into, it reminded me of being in European mountain villages.
Sunday was a much more leisurely day – mostly because we didn’t take loaded overnight packs on a day walk and the terrain and trail was much friendlier. Also, hot pools! Just past Lewis Pass is the northern trailhead of the St James Walkway – a sixty-six, five day hike. We walked the first hour or so until we got a decent view of Cannibal Gorge (a literal name, unfortunately) and then stopped for a snack before returning to the shelter at the start of the trail – where (royal) we cooked and feasted on Pad Thai (meant to be the previous night’s hut-dinner), yum.
A pretty little walk, I don’t think it even rained and considering the snow and ice around – not too cold for wearing shorts either. With all this extra time, we went and soaked in the Maruia Hot Springs. I’ve driven past here a few times in the last few months – considering it’s in the middle of nowhere, it rather odd it is so Japanese-spa themed. Nice all the same.