Strawberries and Cream with the Men in Black

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No faffing on this trip

We all finally met in the vehicle line-up at the ferry car park. The trip leader had waited the previous half hour sunbathing and enjoying the perfect still evening air, watching the ironing board flat sea and the growing number of various shades of pink in the sky. An idyllic ferry crossing passed with pleasant light conversation and snoozing.

The three-day forecast for the weekend was for perfect weather Friday, heavy rain Saturday morning, clearing later in the day and back to sunshine on Sunday. This sent shudders into the medium trip plan for 1,000 Acres Plateau, and also the realisation that our trip would mean a very long Friday if we wanted to stay in a hut overnight to escape the wind and rain.
The medium trip decided to change plans and come to our drop-off road end, hence negating the need for us to use the Nelson Shuttle Bus. As we were not planning to change our trip, the medium trip later drove to the Matriri road end to pick us up – kind souls that they were.

A thud on the Rolling Junction road-end shelter at 4.55 am announced that light was creeping across the sky by a possum or rat wishing to inform of this fact – probably in retaliation for waking him/her at our 1.30 am arrival. With a heady 3½ hours of horizontal sleep the brew billy was on and then we were away by 5.30 am in the cool of the day. The Wangapeka Valley was a delight in the early morning, with wild strawberries by the side of the track to munch. We passed 15 trampers coming out of Kings Hut, and the historic Cecil’s Hut with all its implements. We warned them they might meet the medium trip at their next hut, and they may have changed their destination as a result.

With Steve and Tony wearing the fashionable Wellingtonian attire of black shirts, black shorts, black gaiters, we stopped at Stone Hut for a brew in the sun. Over brunch on the veranda the latest news provided by the Solid Coal Energy and DOC laminated newsletter was discussed – the pest eradication programme and the presence of hunters in the area over the summer. Will having less pests mean more native trees will grow and the carbon dioxide soak-up effect be greater?

Sweating in the heat we meandered up the well-marked trail to Wangapeka Saddle. The climb to the open tops was a good example of an honest hill, straight up and steep. We welcomed the fresh breeze above the bushline, which then grew stronger during the afternoon and which provided us with a few whiffs of cloud by the end of the day when we followed the poled role from point 1442 to Hurricane Hut. The ridge gave grand views all around, Mount Patriarch to the north looking particularly stunning. Spritely Steve chose to walk the full skyline over the top of peaks while the more senior members took the goat tracks around the side – sometimes actually overtaking him. We were laughed at by a couple of keas, who then simply jumped vertically into the air and spread their wings to catch the strong wind across the ridge for takeoff.

On the ridge to Hurricane Hut
On the ridge to Hurricane Hut

Hurricane Hut was a well maintained, but well underused hut, with a grand total of 19 bed nights in 2008. We were the first people to visit since the end of February 2009 and were pleased to find it vermin free, clean and tidy and with a couple of billies and lids. The additional solitary pot lid fitted neither of the hut billies but did fit our team’s billy which until then had only a precariously perched lid. We later wrote to DOC about our hut inspection and to thank them for the maintenance.

The rain started after the last dish was washed after dinner, and we all settled in for a 12 hour sleep after our 14 hour day’s walk. The heavy rain didn’t stir the punters, either there was soundproofing batts in the roof, or the rising stream nearby drowned out any sound of rain. The morning was whiled away reading, sleeping, yoga practice or writing. The rain clouds were slow to lift, so why should we go over The Haystack? We had all climbed it from the other side and none of us felt like bush-bashing up a hill to meet only wind and cloud. An afternoon wandering a red line down the valley to McConchies Hut was a more desirable option, none of us having walked the Matiri River Valley before.

The track had been remarked in 2008 by DOC, and was generally easy to follow, but slow going with boulders and tree roots. Seven paraphanta snail shells were found, but all had been damaged by birds. Five hours later, at the freshly painted McConchies Hut, with only 19 people visiting in the last 9 months, including a few from Wellington, we had another brew and the much anticipated marshmallow creams. Finding it hard to sleep, after so much the previous night, we only managed 9 hours before waking with the dawn chorus at 5 am.

View from Matiri Hut
View from Matiri Hut

The trip leader finally admitted to her new boots being a half size too small, with the heel blisters supporting this fact. For sale – one pair of full leather Scarpa boots size 42, would best fit a 41 size foot. Three first aid kits provided ample padding and the day’s mission was to keep boots dry so the strapping would not slide off the blister packs. This was achieved by delicate ballerina jumps across the streams and pirouettes on rocks with an extra steadying hand for balance.

A leisurely four-hour stroll down to Lake Matiri and a morning tea brew for an hour at the lake edge. No wasps, no sandflies of note, no mozzies, a great time to sit in the sun and admire the fields of buttercups turning their yellow faces to the sun. Steve dared to expose his flesh to the sun and wade into the lake, although swimming was reserved until later at Lake Rotoiti. Another sunbathing session at Lake Matiri Hut, where we all reminded ourselves about the wasps on previous trips – and the hasty departures.

The bush track broke into blackberry scrub and farmland. Dry hard cattle ruts of uneven length gave way to a 4 wheel drive road that we followed to the farmhouse where we lay dosing in the sun for the club van to arrive to take us to our much deserved ice cream stop.

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