I got to go for a hike today! Skye and Finn were originally going to come, but then Skye decided with the party in Napier tonight she didn't think she would have the energy to do both. As such, I was the only one who went, but Skye kindly drove me up to St. Andrew's in Waipukurau to meet up with Dan (the leader) at 8am. There were only four of us on the hike in the end; Dan, myself, and two women: Sally (in her 50s), and Chris (in her 30s). (Chris is likely the biggest X-Files fan in all of NZ; she has the stylized "X" tattooed on the small of her back, her licence plate is "1 X-FILE", and she stood in line at the premiere of the second X-Files movie in London and met Gillian Anderson, David Duchovny, and Chris Carter. We got along quite well, as you can imagine....)
Our ultimate destination was the Awatere Hut on the Makaretu River in Eastern Ruahine Forest Park, about a 2.4km, 1 1/2 hour walk from the car park. To get to the car park at the start of the hike was an hour-long drive from Waipukurau down to Kashmir Road, which turns into a rocky dirt path not much better than a tramping track itself! The Ruahine Ranges are not terribly tall, but seeing as they are significantly taller than the flat plains around them, are subjected to fierce winds sweeping across the land. When we climbed up onto our first exposed ridge, the blast of wind nearly sent me flying. At that point I was glad Skye and Finn didn't come along; I fear Skye would have blown off the edge!
The wind was so severe at some places along the ridgeline we had to duck or crawl down a few feet on the sheltered side and wait it out; I could tell several times Dan was contemplating turning back. The wind must have been blowing at at least 70km/hr, as it reminded me of skydiving: so intense the breath is sucked out of your lungs and your eyes feel like they are being pierced with little pinpricks. There was mist being carried on the wind, and I ended up putting an earplug in the ear facing the wind, as it started to experience an unpleasant prickling sensation. It certainly was exhilarating, however: several times I was literally blown off my feet, and other times I could lean all my weight forward into the wind and still be fully supported.
Once we started to descend down off the ridge into the beech forest along the Makaretu River the wind died down considerably, and we were able to breathe again. The Awatere Hutt was on the opposite bank of the river, but since there have been no major rainfalls recently it was fairly easy to traverse its rocky bottom and hop across to the other side.
Awatere Hutt is a Department of Conservation Hutt built in 1960; it is bright orange in colour and has three bedframes with mattresses, two tables, and a fireplace. Pretty spartan conditions, but with a little sweeping (and turning a blind eye to the chicken wire in the roof and some other grime) I could see it being a fun place to camp. We all wrote our names in the DOC Visitor's Logbook (regulation, even if one is not spending the night), and then proceeded to have lunch, even though it was only 10:15am. :-)
After eating Dan took us on a short walk down the riverbed to Black Stag Hut, a derelict shack built in 1936 for the deer cullers who camped in the area in the 1930s and 40s, bringing the large red deer population under control (they had been introduced for game hunting, but with no natural predators other than hunters multiplied rapidly and did extensive damage to the native beech forests). Compared to Black Stag Hut, Awatere Hut is practically Hôtel Ritz; it's a teeny place with just enough room for two narrow canvas cots and a fireplace. Nevertheless, given the choice between sleeping out in the wind, and sleeping in the musty old shack, Black Stag Hut wins!
The 2.4km walk back to the car park took longer than the walk in, mainly because there was a greater amount of steep uphill (climbing back out of the river valley to the top of the ridge). While I found Dan's pace to be quite slow and leisurely ascending the hill, Sally and Chris both needed to stop for "view breaks" several times (I will attribute this to Sally being older, and Chris being a smoker). As we stood on one of the ridges looking out at the view, a granola bar wrapper that I had stuffed into one of the side pockets of my backpack broke free and blew clean out of sight over toward Bald Peak... I'm sorry about the accidental littering, Eastern Ruahine Forest Park.
Having made it safely back to Dan's SUV, we drove back down Kashmir Road "toward civilization" as Chris called it, and headed over to Sally's house, where she graciously brewed us some coffee (tea for me) and we had a little snack of mince pies. It turns out Sally is booked to hike the Heaphy Track in early January, and I may be able to go with her and her family/friends! That would be wonderful, as it would be great to have others that I know to walk and socalise with. She gave me her e-mail address, so I'm sure we'll be in touch.
Sally drove me home, and I am home alone this evening as Skye and Finn have gone to a birthday party celebration in Napier (Skye saw me in my room lying on my bed, assumed I was asleep, and left me a very nice note saying she could see I was very tired and had decided to go without me. I'm more amused than disappointed). I ended up doing laundry, and spending ten minutes getting all the knots out of my hair (thank you, wind) before I could take a bath. Dinner was also fun; I concocted macaroni noodles with sweet chilli sauce and leftover chicken, and made a salad out of cucumber, carrot, chickpeas, avocado, and feta cheese, with balsamic vinegar and olive oil for dressing. I also picked some beans from the garden and stirred a little melted butter into them... yum. Quite passable, if I do say so myself.
Skye and Finn just got home, saying that the gathering was nice but got a little too loud, so I imagine it's going to be another quiet night at home for all three of us. There's a fantastic sunset going on outside right now (owing to all the thunderclouds that have been ominously hanging around all day)... here's hoping I don't get so enthralled I forget to bring the laundry in!