Off to a good (albeit damp and shaky) start

 The team atop The Needle with #1 supporter Ingrid.

The team atop The Needle with #1 supporter Ingrid.

Alexis:

I'm writing from my phone, which is getting on and is increasingly sclerotic and boneheaded, so I'll keep it brief. 

Writing from Murchison, where we spent the night after biking down the Matiri Valley yesterday afternoon in the first fine weather in a week. On wheels with the wind in our backs, we felt like we were flying. More biking today to get us to the Matakitaki road end, but uphill for a for part and in rain and stroppy wind, so it'll be a bit less of a Swiss sound of music idyll. 

The trip is going great so far. Spirits are high, the mood is generally silly, and we are taking real pleasure despite the less than ideal wtx we've been dished up so far. But we checked the wtx maps last night and Lo! It looks like we'll get a few days of sun down around the Spenser range. Before then, some snow down to 1000m and a shiversome s'thly. That's the way that it goes...

The Kahurangi NP is a real treasure. It is the largest continuous area that has been 1080ed since the beginning of the programme in 2007 and the bush and birdlife are among the healthiest I've seen. It is also the most biodiverse NP in the country. Highlights included powelliphanta (the giant carnivorous native snail), Dr Seuss' truffula tree look alike maroon dracophyllum with paper bark (with leaves like a pine apple if you missed the ref), and some majestic ancient matai, rimu and red beech. And don't get me started on the geology....such a cool area. I daresay I've been raving at my companions. 

The Karamea and Matiri valleys follow the fault line that ruptured in the 1929 Murchison earthquake. There are huge slips and lakes that formed as a result of rockfall all along the two valleys. The Matiri in particular is choked with sediment from the quake, and there are standing dead trees scattered all along the valley, drowned in sediment and in the lakes that formed post-quake. 


So earthquakes were very much on our minds as we travelled through landscapes that everywhere bore the scars of that near century old cataclysm. I calculated that we faced around a 1 in 400 chance of the Alpine fault going off during our trip, based on recent papers that calculate a 50% chance of a rupture in the next 50 years. 

So it was more than a little uncanny when we were roused by our rocking bunks a little after midnight on Monday morning. We were in Hurricane hut (a rheumatic old dog box with mildewed mattress and a fire that puts out plenty of smoke but no heat), in the head of the Matiri Valley, c.150km northwest of the epicentre, so the shaking was not particularly violent but we knew from the duration of the shaking that it was a Big One. We were all a bit unnerved. Could it be the Alpine Fault? Wellington? I lay awake and could not banish anxious thoughts of my family and friends in Wellington (particularly my niece for some reason), so we texted Mark on the InReach around 1am to check if all was well. Earthquakes in the bush are uniquely chilling. We are cut off from all news of the outside world, both good and bad (and there's been a bit of news over the last couple of weeks...). But earthquakes send a pulse of energy out in all directions, that reaches even those who have otherwise escaped from the clutch of Big Data. So you lie there, darkness literal and metaphoric, with only the knowledge that somewhere people's lives have been turned upside down and inside out, that scores of people might have died in the moments before the pulse, now dampened to a gentle roll, reached you. 

What a relief to find that the human toll wasn't worse. Material damage is not immaterial, but it is infinitely more replaceable than lives. But how minuscule and transient, and how powerless, we all are. Mere farts, popping and winking in the mortal bath as Fry and Laurie put it in one of their sketches. 

But back to more mundane matters. 

Some stats from the trip this far: 14 days in; circa 200km travelled; 85 hours of walking; 10,000m of vertical gain; and 21 huts, including Lonely Lake, Fenella, Chaffey, Balloon, Stone and McConchies huts which deserve special mention. Lonely Lake is one of Geoff Spearpoint's adoptions and is proudly painted in Otago gold and blue. The tiny interior is immaculate, with simple but thoughtful finishings. There is even a picnic table outside, with a view to reckoned with down Baggoo valley. Fenella hut is named after Fenella Bruce, who died along with two others in 1975 (or 76?), when Three Johns hut was blown off Barron Saddle is a northwest storm. Chaffeys is a hand hewn and milled beaut', first established in 1957 by a local looking for some peace away from the maddening crowds. I could go on...

We had a rare fine day when we were on the Tablelands peneplain above the Cobb and made a daytrip up Mt Arthur. The day dawned clear and cold, and Arthur and the splendorous Twins looked beautiful with a dusting of snow in the steel blue light of the morn. The view over Tasman Bay from the flanks of the mountain are breathtakingly grand and sweeping. A must for all Tasman district residents. 

 Reaching the summit of Mt Arthur

Reaching the summit of Mt Arthur

 Descending the ridge on Mt Arthur. Tasman Bay in the background.

Descending the ridge on Mt Arthur. Tasman Bay in the background.

The Karamea is a majestic river. It runs deep and tannic brown over pale granite boulders, with countless swimming holes that would have been more inviting had it not been for the rain, which never left us. We had a strange evening in Crow Hut with a guided grump of fly fishers. We had already grown accustomed to having huts to ourselves, and, though we enjoyed it, we were all left exhausted and slightly ruffled by the experience of socialising with people from another world (one of whom was a staunch republican, and this was the eve of the US election). 

After sitting out some particularly bad weather which turned out to be not nearly as bad a forecast (a pattern so far) at Trevor Carter Hut, and making a short hop over Biggs Tops to Stone Hut on the Wangapeka, we made for the Matiri Tops on the only day all week with a forecast that wasn't utterly foreboding (partly cloudy it said: we had sun for about 15mins, and patchy rain, misty tops and cold winds for most of the day). The cloud base did lift in the afternoon so we caught some most impressive views of these remote and often unsung mountains under a brooding and broiling sky. 

The long heralded biblical rains finally came when we were cosily ensconced in McConchies hut. We walked out alongside and in a raging foaming roaring brown torrent that filled the valley wall to wall in many places. We waded more than walked, but we were thrilled by the power of the river and spirits were high as the sun shine upon us for the first time in a week. 

 The route down the Matiri Valley required sections of ad lib-ing as the track was under water much of the time.

The route down the Matiri Valley required sections of ad lib-ing as the track was under water much of the time.

And now it's high time we high tailed it. South! 

Catch you all in a couple of weeks!