As we hike to the beautiful, emerald waters of the Pelorus River, Tom makes a hike-changing decision.
Jump into the refreshing waters of the Pelorus River with me!
DAY 56 – Davies Bay Campsite to Pelorus Bridge
It was 5:30am when I decided to get up. It was bright outside and the birds were chirping. I had camped next to the beach in the Marlborough Sounds while Tom had camped somewhere back up the trail and I did not know his whereabouts.
I set off at 6am, following the coast on an easy grade for a short while. I met the road in the small village of Anakiwa. This was the official end of the Queen Charlotte Track. There weren’t any stores in the town and they definitely wouldn’t have been open this early. No breakfast for me.
Through the town I followed the road until I picked up the Link Pathway, a walking/cycle route linking several of the towns in the Marlborough Sounds, though incomplete. I followed this and sometimes the highway until I passed the tiny town of Linkwater. The gas station wasn’t open yet and a cafe that had “open” flags along the road was also closed.
My phone battery was dangerously low and I was in a rush today. I wanted to make it to camp at Pelorus Bridge early enough to have time to swim in the river. And also, I needed to charge my phone; I didn’t want to use my battery pack. The next week on the trail would be remote and so I needed everything fully charged for the coming days.
Past Linkwater the highway continued until the Link Pathway started following alongside it. The road and path were winding now as we skirted the coast of one of the Sounds. My feet were already tired from the previous day and it wasn’t even lunchtime. I ate some Sour Patch Kids to give me an energy boost. Though the terrain was easy, I was feeling the fatigue.
At one point the path was closed due to a rock-slip, meaning I was back on the road. The road was much more winding than the path according to my map. But the deviation meant I avoided a big climb. It was hot out and I do not hike well in heat.
The views were beautiful, looking out into the Marlborough Sounds. I’d been on this road before so I didn’t pause too much; I had a river to get to!
Eventually I rejoined the path after the closed section. A cyclist came flying around a curve and had to slam on her brakes to avoid colliding with me. I was so startled I had simply froze. The path was too narrow in that section for me to jump out of the way; a rock wall on one side and a drop off on the other. It was a close call.
The track descended down to sea level and into the town of Havelock, billed as the “green-shell mussel capital of the world.” I’d been here before and I walked down the street looking for a good cafe to charge my phone. First I resupplied at the grocery store; I had a lot of food already but I wouldn’t be in a town again for a week perhaps.
I sat at a cafe and had fish and chips for lunch. My phone took longer than I’d like to charge but I got it up to 91%. I still had a lot of kilometers ahead before Pelorus Bridge.
From town the trail took me along the highway and then onto a farm road. It was extremely boring. The surrounding mountains were beautiful but I think it was too much of a good thing. The last few days have been stunning and it was hard to appreciate it all.
The farm road proved exhausting. It was hot and there was no shade. It was so hot in fact, that the tar was oozing out of the pavement and sticking to my shoes and trekking poles. Two trucks kept passing me, full of grass clippings in one direction and empty in the other. It blew up a whole dust storm every time they went by.
Eventually I reached the Dalton Track, a brand new track that followed Dalton Road. It was nice to see them making progress at reducing the amount of road walks…until it wasn’t nice. The Dalton Track wasn’t a track, but rather a farm field that I was directed across. There was no worn trail, only grass that was starting to get overgrown. The ground was trampled by cows and so it was uneven and tempted one to twist an ankle. And at one point the farmer was irrigating the section of trail, as if I needed another obstacle. I had to constantly climb stiles over electric fences. At one point I was so fed up I cut over and started walking on the road, even though the notes said do not under any circumstances use the road.
I hopped back onto the Dalton Track just before it ended and then entered the woods. I was exhausted and in a zombie state. My legs could barely carry me and my overweight pack. I wound my way through a pleasant forest and crossed a swing bridge over the Pelorus River. I was almost there!
Soon enough I was at Pelorus Bridge, a one-way bridge over a narrow gorge where the river runs deep. It was a popular swimming spot and people were all about basking in its clear, emerald waters. This was my favorite place to swim back when I was living in Blenheim and also a filming location for Lord of the Rings.
I walked to the cafe which had just closed; I’d missed it by ten minutes. The camp registration was attached and the man told me how the main campground was full (Saturday after Christmas) but the TA campground was actually cheaper but with less amenities. Fine by me, $8 vs $20.
The TA campground was a bit of a walk but not too bad. I think it just seemed far because I was about to collapse. When I reached the campground, it was a wide open field overlooking the river. No one else had set up yet so I picked the best spot. A few cyclists showed up later and set up tents.
At last I was able to enjoy the river. I headed back to the bridge where I knew the best swimming hole. I jumped off the rocks into the deep water. It was colder than I remembered but so refreshing. I was disgustingly sweaty and dirty from the day and it was so nice to swim around.
The sand flies were insane if I stood outside the water too long. They bit me many times so I kept jumping in the water to avoid them. I would have swam longer but the temperature was getting to me. I was shivering in the summer sun. Maybe I’d lost too much weight on this trail.
Back at my tent I was still shivering even though it was nice and warm outside. I ate dinner in my tent to avoid the swarms of sand flies. It sounded like rain on my tent, listening to them banging into my tent fly. Dinner was the usual noodle mash (ramen and instant potatoes) followed by some cheese and then KitKats dipped in peanut butter.
While I ate dinner and watched the river flowing by so peacefully, my body ached. I wondered what I was doing out here. This hike, what does it mean to me and why was I doing it? I couldn’t really answer that. But I was here, more than halfway along. I guess it seemed like this was the final chapter in my New Zealand story and it was a bit sad. I had come to love the Pelorus River and it was now so familiar to me. It was strange to think how I’ll be leaving this country I’ve called home for the last year. It felt much longer than a year.
Sometimes I wonder if things really sink in. What did I learn in this last year? What have I learned about myself on this hike? I didn’t have an answer. I do so many things and am always moving and doing, I never have time to reflect. And then when I hike, the mind wanders to very simple thoughts because my body is tired. I need a vacation from this vacation!
After dinner I went for a wander to the main campground to see if maybe Tom had made it and hadn’t known to camp in my area. Man, was that place full and everyone was stacked on top of each other. I was so glad to be camping in my beautiful spot. No sign of Tom. We had talked of meeting at the cafe in the morning if he didn’t make it to camp tonight.
The old boy was slowing down but I don’t blame him. It’s been a long and hot few days. I just hope we don’t miss each other in the morning since cell reception is null and will probably remain so for the next week. The trail in the coming days will be very remote and challenging.
Day’s Distance: 42km (26.1mi)
Total Distance: 1,804km (1,122.1mi)
Distance Remaining: 1,196km (743.3mi)
DAY 57 – Pelorus Bridge to Rocks Hut
I slept in for a few hours. The cafe Tom and I were to meet at didn’t open until 9am. I headed over there around 8am and lo and behold, Tom was there waiting on a bench. He said two words to me, “I’m done.”
I asked if he was quitting or just skipping a section. He went on to explain how his body aches everyday and it’s miserable. He isn’t enjoying the hike and his body isn’t improving, even with the days off. It wasn’t the news I wanted to hear but it made sense. He had been struggling for some time and the coming week was only going to get harder.
I was saddened by the news but it didn’t really sink in. We’d separated before on the trail for a spell here and there but this was it. The cafe opened and we had breakfast and coffee. Tom told me his potential plan of renting a camper van for his remaining time in New Zealand and seeing the sights. He had already booked a bus ticket into town and it would pick him up later in the day (I would later learn he missed the bus and had to hike to town).
It didn’t feel real, leaving him for the last time. He gave me a block of chocolate and some granola bars for my journey. And with that I walked away from my hiking buddy.
The first 14km of my day was a dull road walk through farmland in the hot sun. The road followed the Pelorus River, though I’d driven this road before so it felt less than interesting.
The road eventually entered the bush and continued alongside the Pelorus River. There were beautiful glimpses of the clear, green waters.
At last the road ended and the Pelorus River Track began. I’d walked this first section before so it was familiar. High above the river I hiked along, passing over a few tributary streams.
Eventually the track went down to the river to the Emerald Pools picnic area. It was a swimming hole, although I never understood why one had to hike so far to reach a swimming spot. There were heaps of amazing places to swim on the river that I’d passed. The Emerald Pools didn’t seem that special considering the river is emerald colored and has deep pools all over.
A few families were enjoying the river but they must have had bug spray because the sand flies were insane. I left without going for a dip.
The track continued on steeply up the walls of the gorge. I was drenched in sweat.
I thought about Tom now that he’s off the trail for good. I know our pace was much too fast and unsustainable for him. But the irony was that we were going along at the pace his schedule demanded. When we first discussed this hike and the deadline he had, I remember telling him it was like he was setting us up to fail. I wondered if we hadn’t pushed so hard things would’ve turned out differently. Looking back at the distances we hiked each day on this trail compared to the AT, its a miracle my body hasn’t given out, too! Nevertheless, I wished it had worked out and he was still hiking with me. But he had talked about possibly joining me for a few sections later on.
The track took me down to the river to the Captain Creek Hut. It was deserted and I stopped for a break. I ate chunks of the chocolate Tom gifted me. From there I crossed a few swing bridges and continued along the river.
The views were always beautiful of the Pelorus River. Perhaps the prettiest river I’ve ever seen. And I was really out in the bush, with pure wilderness surrounding me. I wish Tom could’ve been here; the trail was finally getting good.
I didn’t stop at the next hut but crossed the river for the last time on a swing bridge. From here it was a nonstop climb up to the final hut for the day. With barely any water left I began the ascent.
I had been drinking water whenever I saw a creek but now as the trail ascended a ridge, there were no more streams to cross. I was slightly worried as I sweat buckets. I’m sure I’d be fine; I forgot to take enough water on my hike up Mount Sunday and Mount Riley and survived. I wondered if I’d see those peaks as they were part of the Richmond Range I’d soon be hiking.
Without Tom and his schedule to stick to, technically I could have stopped earlier at one of the huts and gone swimming and relaxed. I’m in no rush now. There’s no time limit now and I’ve got nowhere to be. But then my restless nature kicked in and I felt like I need to push and keep going. I don’t know how to sit still for very long. It always seems like people who thru-hike are either running from something or to something, but running nonetheless…or hiking. I would say I fall in the latter, but what it is on the horizon I’m after remains to be seen. Life is so short, it feels like there is more to explore so I shouldn’t dawdle. Maybe I do get a thrill at challenging myself and being competitive.
And so I continued on my ridiculous climb up into the mountains. I don’t think most TA hikers would be attempting the distance I’d set out to accomplish. I hadn’t even left Tom and the cafe until 11am! And now I was hiking 32km on difficult terrain. There’s that competitive side.
The going was tough. The terrain was full of roots and rocks to slow me down. I had to stop many times for mini breaks and to sip the remaining water I had left. Dehydration brought about a nice headache.
It was a 600m (1,968ft) elevation gain in only 5km (3.1mi). I felt like I must be nearing the end when I came across a stream; the trail provides! I drank its refreshing water but it didn’t feel like enough.
At last I reached the Rocks Hut. There were six or seven other hikers but I don’t think any were TA hikers. On the AT I never felt like an expert hiker. I didn’t know what I was doing and was just giving it a go. Though I came to realize I was pretty fast, there were always faster hikers. On the TA though, I have yet to come across any hikers that come close to my pace. I definitely feel like a hiking badass when I encounter other hikers out here and they are always surprised by how far I’ve gone that day. Stubborn or badassery…it’s at least one of those.
A sign at the hut said there was a lookout ten minutes away. I set off to see it before the sun went down. It felt more like fifteen minutes as the path wound through the bush and followed some cairns and a fairly inconspicuous route.
Finally I reached an area above tree line with views all around. It was a beautiful panorama of mountains and even the Tasman Sea. I climbed up on some rocks to get a better view. I even got cell reception and sat there a moment to send a message to Tom.
When I went to head down, I couldn’t find the trail. The ground all looked the same: a mixture of scrub and rocks. There were many false trails and goat tracks leading in all directions. I followed several to no avail. Unable to find the rock cairns, I opened my GPS to see where the hut was located. I headed off in that direction.
It was a ridiculous endeavour as I bush-bashed through scrub and beech trees. Luckily at this altitude the trees were stunted and most were dead. I crashed through the trees getting scraped, stuck, and stabbed by branches. Eventually I stumbled onto the TA track just before the hut. My legs were bloodied and my rain jacket torn up. The view was not worth all that. But I felt like a true mountain man, able to find my way back, bandage my wounds, and keep on surviving.
Everyone in the hut was heading to bed though the sun hadn’t yet set. I made a dinner of cheese wraps and noodle mash. I realized I hadn’t eaten lunch today, only Tom’s chocolate. The dehydration had kept my hunger at bay. As darkness fell I finished my dinner and went to bed.
Day’s Distance: 32km (19.9mi)
Total Distance: 1,836km (1,141.1mi)
Distance Remaining: 1,164km (723.4mi)
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