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Battling the fears and exhilerating tramping Part II

End of Jan and early Feb

all seasons in one day 20 °C
View First time round the world on Dani girl's travel map.

Well I have found out that the max word count for any one blog entry is 3,200 and I exceeded it by so much in this entry that I’ve been forced to divide the entry into two. That’s longer than a university essay. If you are still reading this, then truly, thank you, you must love me or else you are very bored at work.

Anyway, my next date with the New Zealand great outdoors would be the Abel Tasman coastal track, a 51km walk over three days in the very north of the South Island. I spent my time in Wellington getting properly geared up. First purchase, waterproof trousers. Indispensable I now realised. I nearly bought a new waterproof jacket being disgusted with my own but the kind man at Kathmandu suggested I try washing mine first and to be fair this did seem to do the trick..I crossed the Cook Strait again for the third time (no problems, phew) and made my way to Nelson where I made some last minute purchases; stove, gas, dehydrated (vegetarian) meals, pack liner, plastic cutlery, crockery, cooking pot (billy). I would have to carry all this on my back along with my sleeping bag, changes of clothes, first aid kit etc etc...


I took another shuttle to the starting point of the track. This time the weather was just glorious and although I had packed all my wet-weather gear to be on the safe side the beautiful weather held out the hold time I was on the track. This time my problem would be being too hot. As I strode off down the coastal track (a significantly easier tramp than the crossing, though of course much longer) I felt fantastic. Day hikers kept stopping me and marvelling at my skills of being so small yet able to carry such a big pack. I say they kept stopping me but really there were surprisingly few people on this popular track. The definition of 'crowded' to kiwis seems to mean meeting someone ever half an hour.... I felt the calmness and joy of being at one with nature. After about 2 hours, my pack started to feel very heavy though and my back began to ache. I walked along an exposed section of the track..I was baking...but when I made it to my first stop, Anchorage, I knew it was all worthwhile. I walked along a beautiful beach before discovering my little trampers' hut at the end.

Tramper's huts are basically exactly that. Huts that hikers can use to sleep overnight in and cook in while they are on hikes that are over a day long. The sleeping quarters consist of mixed sex bunkrooms and then there is a general kitchen come dining area where you can cook and eat. Kitchen facilities may be glorifying the position somewhat. There is a metal top on which you can set up your gas and stove and cook and then there is one drinking water tap from which you can top up supplies. After dumping my gear, staking a bunk and having a short plunge in the sea, I set about preparing to rehydrate my pasta vegetariano...or in other words I had to boil water for 10mins and then pour it into the food bag...easy...and not entirely disgusting...I was pleasantly surprised. There is such a nice camaraderie in the huts...remember the weather was good...and it was great to meet a mix of people for a change...it can get a bit tiring meeting other backpackers all the time...there were older couples, and younger couples, families, friends and people hiking solo...

I rose at dawn the next day. I had a long hike to get through - over 20km and two tidal crossings to traverse. I would have to get my timings spot on. I reached the first tidal crossing after walking for about 15mins...shit..there was still water in the estuary....I looked about and copied everyone else..i.e. I took my shoes off and stripped down to my pants and just waded through the water. I quickly thought better of walking barefoot..my feet were being shredded by barnacles and the like so I put my flip flops on. After about 20mins I had crossed the water..I felt quite excited and grown up and carried on. By lunchtime I'd nearly reached the halfway point for the day so I was pretty happy...happy that is until I noticed the millions of sandflies which were to become the bane of my existence..they make mosquitoes feel like your best friends! I wolfed down my peanut butter sandwiches and made tracks.

The second half of the day was tough going...I Knew I needed to get to the second tidal crossing before 3 so I pressed on....the track wasn't as flat as it had been earlier..I had some steepish sections to climb but my back was coping with the demands placed upon it surprisingly well. I got to the second crossing around 2:30 so no problem..the rest of the day went surprisingly well until the last half hour which involved tramping across a beach..after 5 and 1/2 hours of walking with a heavy pack, spending half an hour walking through sand feels like a slap in the face...but I made it...and the timing was perfect..no sooner than I had arrived, the heavens opened and we had torrential downpours for the rest of the night. Thankfully I was safe and snug in my second hikers' hut in Awaroa.

I was greeted by a new sea of faces. I had supposedly done two days worth of walking in one so I met a new set of people. I spent a wonderful evening playing cards with two Italians (mother and son) and two kiwi friends...and entertaining two girls 8 and 10 who decided I was their new best friend...but it was so nice and homely! The next day's tramping began with a tidal crossing and so we all had to sit on the steps of the hut until about midday for low tide...but the tide never really went out that much. The poor small girls had to get into swimmers and swim through the crossing while their parents carried their bags for them...yes, these two 8 and 10 year old girls were carrying their own stuff...I took my shoes off again and stripped down once again to pants and waded across.

As I dried myself off on the other side of the estuary I was met with a disturbing sight/sound. A group of lads...that wasn't disturbing in itself but the music blaring out of one of their backpacks was. I dawdled for ages in order to let them get ahead but I caught them up...so I overtook them but then they caught me up...rage...'we seem to be playing cat and mouse' one of them shouted to me...bigger rage....now we were getting into conversation I was bound to get stuck with them.....but actually they were quite a hilarious group of Israelis...they told me that hiking with speakers in your backpack was a big tradition back in Israel...I wasn't so sure...the Israelis I hiked with in Tongariro had not mentioned this nor had the Israeli I hiked with in Yosemite partaken in this activity. Anyway, they were only going as far as Totaranui which is where most people finish the track. We sat down and had lunch together and I bumped into a nice middle-aged lady I had got talking to in Nelson. I started explaining about the music (she looked as confused by this as I was) but smilingly said, 'oh good idea, drowns out the sound of the birds'..the Israelis nodded in serious agreement....I chuckled to myself.....they then lept up to catch their water taxi home. Leaving us their tea as a parting gift...it was presented to us in two halves of a 1 litre water bottle sawn off by a knife in the middle...I made an effort to drink from my serrated drinking vessel without cutting my mouth open...the sweet tea was peculiar but strangely delicious..

I carried on with the hike.....the hike suddenly felt much more isolated..I hadn't seen anyone for hours...but I was going so well for time that I decided to add an hour detour to see a seal colony. I became increasingly fixated by the raw isolation...no one would know if I got murdered and dumped out at sea...I must have got myself on edge because when I heard footsteps behind me I turned around and screamed...but it was only the Italian guy...I sighed a huge sigh of relief and then followed his lead which practically involved running for me. After another hour we made it to our last hut of the tramp, Wharawharangi. Wh is pronounced 'f'. I prepared my last rehydrated meal and got talking to a young French couple who had the exact same meal...I was excited by this opportunity to bond...the girl looked over and smiled and then sighed, 'it's ok for you', she said in complete earnestness, 'you're english so you're used to bad food...we're French and we're not'...she obviously thinks we have not advanced beyond dripping and meat pies..

The final day involved a one hour walk to the point at which I had arranged for the shuttle to pick me up. The scenery on the final descent to Golden Bay had been fabulous. I said goodbye to the Italian who I had promised to look up when I reached Australia. On the journey back to Nelson I reflected on the last 3 to 4 days...I had had such an amazing time....seen some incredibly beautiful scenery (thanks for the tip Marc!) and met some amazing people...I had felt so happy and calm walking alone...but most of all I had pushed out of the comfort zone again and completed another challenge..wahoo!!!!

I had arranged to spend the final 9 days of my time in New Zealand on a camping/hiking and cycling tour. It sounded so much like the Green Tortoise so I was very excited. I met my first fellow tourer, an American whilst we were both waiting for the bus. I liked him instantly. We ended up laughing together for the whole nine days. The tour bus made its way down to Kaikoura. This would be my second attempt at swimming with dolphins. We were booked on the early morning session so had to get up at 4:30am...we dragged ourselves irritably out of our tents but as soon as the sun began to rise, around 5am, our moods improved...to this day I think it is truly the most incredible sunrise I've ever seen. I was totally moved. We were kitted out with wetsuits and then taken out to sea until a pod of dolphins were spotted. We were told to just jump right in and play about...if we swum in circles and duck dived, the dolphins would come to us we were told...and it was the most amazing thing...the dolphins would just swim round and round you in circles maintaining eye contact the whole time...sometimes you could have four or five round you..sometimes you could see them swimming right at you but they never touched you..it was like they were smiling at you the whole time..I loved them...

From there we made our way to Rangitata gorge. We were told we could jump off and cycle the last 20km to the campsite...ahh 20km...a cinch I thought to myself...I was the only girl to get off the bus but the American guy promised to keep me company which was both lucky and very good of him because I lost sight of the other cyclists after about 30 seconds..and we were on a long, straight road. After about 1km..my thighs and butt ached like crazy....crap I thought...this was really not good...I forgot that I hadn't cycled since I was 12 but I cursed my yogic muscles for not being up to the task....I struggled on..and it really was struggling...pushing the bike up hills etc...we had no idea how far the campsite was so I phoned the driver in desperation...I felt pretty pathetic, this was only the second day of the tour..'I'll come and get you', he said....we were saved!! the bus was coming to pick us up...about 20mins later I saw the driver, but not on a bus, he was on a bike..with horror I realised I would have to keep cycling....'only 2kms more', he shouted...at least that was something..we made it to the campsite...

Over the next few days, we hiked around some incredible scenery..Aoraki/Mt Cook, Lake Pukaki, Lake Tekapo, the Catlins, Kepler Track, Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound via Christchurch and Dunedin. We visited a penguin reserve and were lucky enough not only to see the little baby penguins eagerly awaiting the return of their parents who were out fishing at sea but also the return of one of those parents. It waddled up the beach quite majestically and managed a respectable waddling pace when it spotted a sea lion in the distance...a penguin is to a sea lion, much llike sushi is to me (thanks for the introduction Clare)...In Christchurch, the American guy and I decided to go shopping for some last minute provisions for our upcoming multi-day tramp, the Routeburn Track. We discovered the wonders of merino wool (I just had to make a mention of the amazing Merino, Lenny!) and ate lunch at a yoga cafe...yum..


The Routeburn track was to be my last tramp in NZ before jetting off to Oz. At 32km it was significantly shorter than the Abel Tasman track but the terrain was much more rugged as the tramp was through the mountains. To make matters more taxing, I had booked late meaning I wouldn't be able to stay at the normal huts and would have to walk 22km on the second day. I knew I would be slower than the other guys (as they were all men bar one German girl who was with her husband) but an aussie guy offered to stick with me as he had an injured knee and knew he wouldn't be able to go too fast. We only had an hour to walk on the first day but it took me nearly 2 hours. It was so so hot, I kept feeling I was going to pass out. By the time I reached the first hut after a mere 4km, I was very worried. I cheered up when I saw the view from the first hut which opened up to a clearing, with a clear blue lake and mountains in the background. I dumped my bag, put my bikini on and jumped into the lake. 'Shit, it was freezing'...I jumped straight back out...in the time it took me to put my towel around me, hundreds of sandflies had descended on me, munching on any part of me they spotted flesh...which was most of me in a bikini...I cursed these nasty creatures..their bites are so unbearably itchy and remain that way for 4-5 days..during which time you really just have to suffer through them...good practice for yogic peace of mind...

The following morning the Aussie and I decided to start walking at 6am but when we woke it was still dark and we could see there was still a lot of fog about so eventually we left around 7am. When I tried to put on my right shoe I realised I had a huge red swelling on the back of my ankle...'shit, that sandfly bite looks nasty', I thought. It crossed my mind that it might be infected but I realised there wasn't much I could do about it right now. By 10am we had reached our first milestone, Lake Mackenzie where the ascent into the mountains would begin. It was already baking hot by this point and as we ascended above the tree line there was no longer any respite of shade. The climb with a heavy bag was tough and I drank a lot of water. We had filled up at the hut at Lake Mackenzie but supplies were dwindling fast. At least we could fill up again at Harris Saddle, the summit of the tramp. Despite the blistering conditions, we were rewarded with some of the most amazing scenery I have ever seen. So, it was totally worth it. It was so hot though that I had to keep stopping just to try and cool down...I felt I was overheating..then I noticed I was getting sunburnt too. In the end the aussie had to carry on without me.

After about another 3 hours I made it to Harris Saddle. I had run out of water about 10mins ago so the timing was perfect. I looked around for a tap in the shelter. Ok, there wasn't one inside...I looked outside...there wasn't one there either. I frowned. I spotted a sink and a tap in the locked building next door. It appeared to belong to a tour company. I noticed there was a window open right by the tap though...thank god I thought. However, my attempt at water theft was angrily spotted. 'Go and fill up at a stream', I was told. I was given directions to the stream which involved backtracking about 20mins..I dumped my bag and set off. The water looked clear enough but I didn't feel entirely confident about drinking mountain water so I treated it with water purification tablets. Which was fine, except that I would have to wait 30 mins for the Iodine to take effect. I couldn't walk I was so thirsty so I sat for 30mins until I could drink again. When I got back to Harris Saddle, the Aussie, the American and another Swiss guy who had all kindly waited for me said they were going to take a side trip up Conical Hill, the real summit for 360 degree views of the area. I couldn't not go. We dumped our bags and ascended. I almost immediately regretted my decision. It was so steep I was basically rock-climbing. The one hour return trip took us nearly 2 hours. We did spend a good half hour at the top absorbing the incredible mountain scenery. For the first time that day I noticed my ankle again, it was swollen red, blistered and itching like crazy. By this time my knees were also in agony. Every time I stepped, a jolt of pain shot up my body. We still had 3 more hours to go until we would reach the hut.

The final three hours that day were all downhill but I cried practically the whole way. My knees were so sore and the terrain was rugged and rocky and I had become quite weak and was finding it increasingly hard to stay balanced. I kept trying to rest but the Aussie was strict....I harboured a silent resentment towards him but I knew he was right, we had to get off the mountain by twilight. It was already late afternoon. The side trip and my backtracking had cost us. Finally at 8pm we reached the hut, some 13 hours after we had set off. We were greeted by the three others from our trip staying at the same hut. The German couple sat me down and made my dinner for me, rice and vegetables and the English guy made me a nice cup of tea...I felt overwhelmed by the kindness of people. I collapsed into bed.

The following morning we discovered our remaining food had been munched by mice. Lucky we only had another two hours to go to the finish where we would be met by a shuttle taking us to Queenstown. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that my knees were absolutely fine. It took me longer to pack up than the boys (of course!) and I didn't end up setting off until 8:15am. It suddenly occurred to me that I was in a bit of a rush so I picked up my pace. I was cruising along practically running at points but I was fine. The terrain had really leveled and I was now basically walking along a forested footpath. After two days of climbing up and downhill, it was easy...but of course I had become complacent, no sooner had I congratulated myself, than I slipped on the side of the rock and went over on my ankle. As I fell the whole weight of my pack fell on top of me. Waves of pain were shooting through my ankle. I had felt that particular pain many times before but never since Gersh massaged my foot about 4 years ago and magically seemed to heal it. I knew that the throbbing would ease off shortly and I would be able to hobble to the end. Once the pain died down I noticed that my left knee was also sore. I looked down and saw that I had cut my knee open and had ripped my trousers. It looked like the kind of injury you get when you're a child..and I realised I hadn't cut myself like that in years...it was full of grit and mud...maybe I just haven't been taking enough risks, I thought to myself..

I hobbled along to the end of the track. A victory photo was taken but I barely raised a smile...As we waited for the bus, I lifted my trousers and attempted to clean my wound but the dirt was really ingrained. I had lifted one trouser leg for barely a couple of minutes but to my horror about another 100 sandflies were biting me all over. I lost it. I was so totally enraged with them..it was the final straw and I sulked for the entire bus journey to Queenstown. Once we got to Queenstown I accepted that my priorities would now not be the multitude of adrenalin-filled adventure activities that Queenstown has to offer but the sorting out of my injuries. I prioritised. I needed ice for my ankle. Then I needed something to get the dirt out of my knee and to disinfect it and then I needed someone to look at my sandfly bite to tell me whether it was infected. My ankle had now turned black and was very blistered so I was a little concerned. I asked at the holiday park, no ice there. Then the cafe over the road. They couldn't spare ice just for an ankle. The pharmacy was next door. I changed my priorities to address injuries 2 and 3. I was given saline solution and antiseptic for my knee. The pharmacist then looked at my ankle. 'That's not a sandfly bite', she said, 'that's a spider bite'....had I heard correctly? I felt a distinct sense of disquiet, 'a spider bite?' I repeated. 'yes, a white-tailed spider bite', she said, not offering any more elaboration on my prognosis. She must have read the anxiety in my face because she then added, 'oh it's ok as long as the infection doesn't spread'..'then you need to get yourself to a doctor immediately'. I went to a second pharmacist for a second opinion but was offered the same diagnosis.

I hobbled into the nearest cafe, thoroughly depressed and still with an uncommonly long-lasting black mood but someone was looking out for me, because I stumbled just into the right place. The guy behind the counter looked incredibly concerned the moment I walked in. He sat me down, got me ice and a free cup of tea and then chatted away to me. He was so kind and good to me that my blackness just evaporated. It was a timely reminder of all the goodness in the world...blah de blah...

Needless to say I spent my final few days in New Zealand (Queenstown) resting up and taking it easy....As for the spider bite...well it continued to turn blacker and eventually I let Lenny pop my two blisters (on the advice of the pharmacist) but thankfully the infection never spread and after about 10 days you would hardly have known it had ever been there. My final month in NZ had certainly be something...so many highs, so many lows but never a dull moment...I felt I was ready to take on Australia...

Posted by Dani girl 03:54 Archived in New Zealand Tagged round_the_world

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