Lets do sunrise at the top of the pass, I think that’s what Beth said last night. The 5.30am alarm and headlamps lighting up the hut served to wake the two other hikers. I forced the oats and coffee into my mouth. I was still full from the previous nights dinner.
The first light of dawn filtered through the clouds when we left the hut. We missed sunrise. My heart was beating faster than the drums at a Music Festival during the 550m climb. Despite the cold we lingered long enough to enjoy the views at Rose’s Saddle. Tussock grasses shone golden in the early morning light, dancing in the gentle breeze. The clouds above displayed every shade of gray with occasional hues of pink in the early morning light. Waking early to climb a mountain is such a simple pleasure. And simple pleasures are all I seem to need in my life.
It was a fast descent through a well worn path to the distant stream below. We had an option. Follow the marked trail as it followed the temperamental contours of the land, or take the direct route along the cold fast flowing river. Apparently, if the river is low, and it was low today, it is both faster and more scenic.
My first steps into the water has me cursing words that rhymed with it. The air temperature was cold, but the water temperature was colder than a penguins toenail. Due to the steep riverbanks and spikey shrubs there was little escape from crossing the river or using it as the only way to travel. Often we would walk several minutes in the ice cold water.
My feet went numb, then I lost all feeling, then I was unable to wiggle my toes. I struggle with cold at the best of times, this was beyond what my body was capable of. The first rays of sun penetrated the deep valley floor and I was able to take off my shoes and socks. My feet started to burn as feeling returned.
With the sun starting to warm the valley I was able to continue in the river to the former town of Macetown. With a population of zero it was a former gold mining town. Nothing was left but a few derelict buildings and mining machinery. Most of the places worth exploring seemed to be off the main trail so we raced through. It seemed to be a popular campspot for local 4wd enthusiasts. Numerous campsites sprawled out along the valley, not to mention the countless vehicles we saw while hiking. Today was a public holiday in New Zealand, Waitangi Day, so locals were out enjoying the day of rest.
Rather than follow the trail which was said to be poorly marked we took the slightly longer, but arguably easier 4wd road. It was a dirt road that led to the tourist town of Arrowtown. Trinket shops in English and Chinese lined the narrow main street.
I bid farewell to Beth as she’s off to meet her boyfriend. I settled for a pub meal and a night camping at the local holiday park. Accommodation in nearby Queenstown was fully booked and the logistics of the next section of trail will be tricky. I’m planning something crazy, I’m not even sure of its possible but I think I’ll give it a go.