Friday, January 7, 2011

Heaphy Track, Day Five: Heaphy Hut to Kohaihai (16.2km; THE END!)

I am done the Heaphy Track! I am currently situated in Granity, 20km north of Westport, in an actual room with an actual ceiling and actual bed, hot water, electricity, the list goes on... but more about that later. Over the next couple days I will post a blog entry for each day I spent on the track, but for now I'll simply post what I did today.

Waking up this morning was confirmation that the groundsheet and footprint of my tent combined are not waterproof; even though I put a large plastic bag underneath where my hips and shoulders were contacting the ground through my sleeping bag, I still woke up cocooned in a damp sleeping bag, with a damp floor, and rain drizzling on the flysheet over my head. Oh, to be warm and dry! I think everything I own (save for my wallet, passport, and iPod, carefully stored in a plastic bag) was either damp or wet. Combined with the idea of getting up, putting on wet clothes, packing up wet belongings (stuffing a wet sleeping bag into a compression sack and folding up a wet tent in the rain are no fun, I'll have you know), and my ever-suffering feet, I was rather short on enthusiasm this morning.

In the end I couldn't bring myself to put on wet pants; I settled for a wet sports bra, Lynn's fleece, my green windbreaker, and my black leggings (at least the leggings wouldn't drag in the mud like the pants did). I bandaged my feet up as best I could; at this point I knew there was really very little that could be done to help them; walking another 16.2 km certainly was going to aggravate the blisters further, regardless of what I did. I just hoped I would be able to finish the track without crying or permanently damaging anything. One small blessing was Lynn offering to carry my sleeping bag in her pack for me, which both freed up room in my pack for my hiking boots, and lightened my load by four pounds or so.

I left the Heaphy Hut a few minutes after the group around 8am as I walked back up to the hut from the campsite to collect my walking pole, and then five minutes down the trail I realised I had likely forgotten my hat, so I took my pack off and walked back down the track to get it (a wasted trip, as it turns out; it was buried in my clothes bag in my pack). Ah, extra walking, just what my feet needed. I figured I was now fifteen minutes behind the group, and hoped that I would catch up with them just as they were finishing their hourly break, which I did.

The wild, rugged, and beautiful West Coast

Fording a river

Wekakura River cable bridge. It looks
sturdy, but it swings!

It was drizzling when I left the Heaphy River mouth and started my walk down the track along Heaphy Beach, but the weather steadily improved over the course of the day (thank god; I don't think I could have taken another wet day like yesterday). The pounding surf of the Tasman Sea filled my ears all day as I walked through the lush temperate rainforest. If the humidity were higher, I imagine it would almost feel like being on a jungle safari, with all the giant nikau palm trees and dense underbrush. The west coast forest feels like a parallel universe to the temperate rainforests of the west coast of British Columbia, except instead of cedars and hemlocks there are palm, rata, and karaka trees.

A nikau palm forest

Huge fallen nikau palm fronds littering the trail

Another thing the gorgeous west coast has to offer: sandflies. God, how I hate sandflies. When we stopped briefly at Katipo Creek Shelter we were almost eaten alive. I can't believe how quickly they swarm, and how difficult they are to successfully swat! They seemed to particularly love crawling all over my socks; it must be the sweet smell of all the fluid leaking out of my blisters (yes, I know, such a lovely image).

Kaitpo Creek Shelter. With all the sandflies, to camp here
you'd either have to be desperate or out of your mind.

Sandflies swarming all over my socked foot

My feet stayed much drier today, save for a few ill-placed steps at two river crossings; as such, I don't think my blisters ended up being as bad as they could have been if I were walking in sopping wet socks and slipping around in wet shoes. The track, while following the coastline, was mostly up in the woods, and there were only a few sandy places when crossing over dunes. At Crayfish (Koura) Point we had to cross on the beach, which left us somewhat at the mercy of the tides; during high tide and/or rough weather the path becomes impassable. Thankfully for us high tide wasn't until 2:30pm (we went through at 10:30am), and the worst we had to contend with was little traction and boots (or cloggens, in my case), full of sand. Not so for three young lives we saw engraved on a stone memorial; in 1980 three people lost their lives (drowned) at Crayfish Point.

Koura Beach (we crossed well within the low tide window)

As we neared Scotts Beach the weather kept improving, and I took some beautiful shots of the blue ocean, golden sand, and crashing waves. By this point I had removed Lynn's fleece and was walking in just my green windbreaker, which doesn't breathe at all... as a result, the sweat from where my backpack contacts my back was collecting and not evaporating (ugh). Of course, by this point I was getting so used to being constantly wet that it didn't even matter!


The sun comes out, and all of a sudden the West Coast
looks like a tropical island!

The "v" shape in the far mountain is
Kohaihai Saddle; we're nearly there!

Just before Scotts Beach Campground I passed Alastair jogging along the track in the opposite direction; he was heading in to carry out Mary's pack for her (such a nice brother-in-law). After a twenty-minute lunch break at the campground, we were off for the final stretch over the Kohaihai Saddle and down into the Kohaihai River mouth and car park: the end of the Heaphy Track! John, Mark, and I were pushing ourselves hard, setting a quick pace (Mark and I were both suffering from very sore feet). Even though I dearly wanted to be done, I took a detour to Scotts Hill Lookout to take a picture of the coastline we had just walked; once again the clouds had settled over the hills and it looked very misty and mysterious.

Lunch break at Scotts Campground

The view from Scotts Lookout, showing the
coastline we walked today.

The Kohaihai Car Park; the end at last!

I finished the Heaphy Track at almost exactly 1pm; my feet were so happy to not have to support my weight anymore (but less happy about the number of sandflies that immediately swarmed in to "celebrate" my accomplishment). As the rest of the group trickled in, we took pictures of our war-ravaged feet (those of us suffering from blisters), and enjoyed cool beverages from the bus's cooler (beer for most, fruit juice and soda water for me). I changed into my pants and a cotton shirt; putting on wet, cooling clothing - something I loathed to do this morning - never felt so good!

Celebrating our achievement with refreshing cold beverages

Of course, adventure doesn't stop once leaving the Heaphy Track; no, on the contrary, one finds that the rest of the world has been going on while one was in the back country without cell phones, television, or internet. Our first adventure: the bus's battery was dead because Alastair accidentally left the lights on, forcing us to get a jumpstart from a camper's car. The second adventure: stuffing everyone onto the bus, along with their packs, and keeping ourselves amused for the long drive back to Westport (a game of "Eye Spy" was in full swing at one point as the bus twisted and wended its way down the windy highway).

And now for the second part of my adventure: after being dropped off in Granity, and bidding goodbye to everyone on the bus (from the sounds of it they are all going to have showers and then enjoy certain alcoholic beverages while staying at a hostel in Wesport), I texted Mary, my WWOOFing host, to let her know I'd arrived in town. Receiving no response, I fired up my computer and mobile internet key to check my e-mail (my first cell phone network reception in five days)! This was when I discovered Mary's father was not well and she had left for Wellington on the 5th; however, she said I was still welcome to stay at her house, and gave me the phone number of her neighbour, Paul, who could give me the key and show me around. I steeled myself, gathered up all my belongings (now including the gear I had left on the bus), and staggered the 1km down the road to Mary's house, my blistered feet burning and aching every step of the way.

The rest of my evening, however, went well, although I have found myself having to think very hard to even accomplish the simplest things (writing this blog entry has been a real exercise in concentration). After meeting Paul and having him show me around (and introduce me to Mary's two cats, Bella and Sammy), I had a shower (that felt so good), did a load of laundry, and hung my tent and sleeping bag on the line outside to dry. Paul came by with a bowl of stir-fry and rice for me (so nice of him!), as Mary left in a hurry without doing the weekly shop, so there isn't a lot of food in the house (and one has to take the bus into Westport to get more... there isn't a grocery store here in Granity).

I'm also sad and worried this evening because I just found out Fay had a stroke and Stefan is flying down here to be with Frank as she isn't supposed to last the week. I think I am in shock and haven't processed this properly... I was just there, staying with them, less than a week ago. I am going to keep in contact with Stefan and maybe fly up to Napier in a few days.

Now it is nearly 11pm and I must be off to bed; tomorrow's exciting tasks will be cleaning my hiking backpack of dirt and writing more blog entries about the track. I can't wait to sleep in an actual bed... goodnight!


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