Well, we are now well and truly into the traverse! It’s been a very ziggy and zaggy few weeks, heading generally south, but with a lot of east and west too. A brief summary so far: starting from Wharariki beach, we walked through some private property with permission, had a cup of tea with the land owners, then scooted south on coastal roads to get to the Kaituna route.
Coastal scooting – benefits include beachside tea breaks.
The Kaituna route was a hard scramble up and over hills with the bonus of some excellent mountain bike track scooting. Then we scooted along roads to the Heaphy track, which rather than bushwalking, we ‘pushwalked’, aka pushed the scooters with the packs on the front of them. After a few days on that great track, we had our first tiny taste of rafting, on the Heaphy river, and were lucky enough to run into a ranger, Richard Rossiter, who was also a professional photographer! So he took some sweet photos of us on the river.
Setting off on the Heaphy – photo credit to Richard Rossiter.
Then blissfully fast coastal road scooting dead south to Karamea, a rest day there, where we were interviewed by the local radio station about the scooters, and did some repairs using a ham bag (more on that below). Then another road scoot to the Wangapeka track, a tough slog at first through a cyclone-destroyed route, then beautiful walking up and over a saddle until we got to a ridgeline which headed due south. Our original plan was to follow it south, but a combination of bad weather and terrifying hundred-meter drops either side of the ridge meant that we decided instead to walk out east, then do a 70km road scoot detour along back country roads and a little bit of a state highway.
Sunny back road scooting.
After a tyre blew out, we patched it four times in 50 km, replaced the tube, duct taped the tyre, and even stuffed it with grass when the tube was no longer useful! But eventually we hitched the final 20km into Murchison to arrive in town in style and proceeded to eat 2L of chocolate icecream in less than 24 hours.
Now that that summary is written, here are a few of the highlights and challenges:
Huts! Bad weather becomes just weather when you stay in huts! NZ is blessed with a fantastic hut system, most wooden and equipped with stoves and mattresses, and so when we faced five days of rain it was not an issue. Starting out the morning in a warm hut, walking through the beautiful hobgoblin beech forests featuring trees covered in moss, and finishing out the evening drying boots by a fire and sleeping on comfy mattresses is a vastly different experience to soggily topping and tailing the day in a tent. We’re fans.
Matiri Ridge: Ah, Matiri Ridge. Our desire and our bane! The ridge line looks beautiful, and it’s definitely possible to traverse, as some people have done it before. But – there are a plethora of excuses why we didn’t/couldn’t. Bad visibility didn’t help with navigating a route, heavy packs meant that slight winds threatened to topple us off, the wet mist meant that both stone and roots were not safe but instead slippery places to put feet – but at the end of the day, probably other people could have/would have done the route in those conditions. Certainly it would have made our trip faster, simpler, and easier. But with a dizzying drop on each side, the consequences of making a mistake were high, if not fatal, and neither Jeremy and I want that level of risk on our trip. We are not mountaineers, and this trip isn’t worth dying for. So although it was hard to turn back, not least of all because we faced a big detour and it was emotionally uncomfortable to take an ‘easy’ option, we decided to and it brought into mind a lot of questions about why we are doing this trip anyway. Is the goal to get south as fast as possible? No. Which leads onto…
The very beginning of Matiri Ridge. Confronted with a narrower and narrower ridgeline, we attempted to head to the left and hook up again with the saddle visible behind this knob. Unfortunately, three hours and 600 m of hard travel later, we returned to the same spot…
Hitching! Also an activity which causes a lot of questions about the purpose of the trip and why we are travelling. So, we hitched the last 30 km into Murchison from Lake Rotoroa (an detour which unsuccessfully sought food). As mentioned above, we had a tyre blow out near Tadmor. With the exception of a 3km lift down the road, we limped a further 50 km to Lake Rotoroa, utilising every bit of McGyvering we could! The most hilarious fix was definitely a trick picked up from the iconic Australian show Bush Mechanics back in 2006, stuffing a tyre with grass. Never did I think I would actually use that fix… Anyway, after all this fixing, using up all our patches, duct taping the tyre, using boat repair fabric on the inside, we were well and truly out of food and limping along the highway, which with no shoulder was a very dangerous place to be. Possibly more dangerous than Matiri Ridge. It was fairly easy to ask ourselves, “Is this fun, or challenging in a way that will develop us?” and answer ‘No’.So although hitching means the end of a claim to be entirely self-propelled, the positive feedback we’ve been getting from everyone when they hear how we are getting around means that neither of us is too sad about it.
Scooter repairs – thank you Bush Mechanics!
More scooter fixes!
Photo credit to Richard Rossiter. Wilderwheels‘ latest mechanic. If you can, zoom in on the right and notice the swarm of black dots – each one a maddening sandfly seeking blood from Constance’s exposed hands.
Responses: People LOVE the scooters. People literally pull over when they are driving to ask about them and us. We’ve been given sandwiches, brownies, Red Bulls and lots of smiles solely because of them. It is very satisfying to see Jeremy’s hard work from the past few years being appreciated and admired. Seems like there is a big market for Wilderwheels in NZ! Check out the radio interview we did about them in Karamea:
Nature: Ah, beautiful nature. Everywhere is beautiful. We have made many friends with the robins/toutouwai which are curious, cheeky birds, coming up close, always checking out the scooters, often jumping onto a pole as they would a tree and being surprised at how their feet fail to grip on the carbon and they slide off. We have had many a laugh at them sliding off the scooter and then pretending to be unconcerned. They are small, fat, black and white fluffballs with long spindly legs which are excellent at gripping onto any tree, no matter how vertical. And huge old trees, on the Kaituna route a forest of pukatea and rima trees covered in tiny pink orchids, big orange dinner plate mushrooms, and ferns up the wazoo, and on the Heaphy a rata tree which was one of the most impressive trees I’ve ever seen – a whole ecosystem to itself, supporting kea, spiders, all the plants you can imagine. Beautiful trees. We’ve seen rivers where you can see the colour of every stone on the bottom, and big green pools which make you just want to jump right in. We do, but the water is freezing, so we jump out just as fast!
Beautiful hobgoblin forest. When this landscape is wet, the leaves drip, the ground squidges, the moss leaks, my skin is damp and my lungs breathe in cool wet air. I feel like a happy frog in a quiet green pond.
Yum! Snacking on the descent from Matiri Ridge.
Photo credit to Richard Rossiter. Happy days in the boat, and looking forward to more coming up on this section! Once again a big thanks to Geoff from PACKRAFT for providing us with the yellow boat 🙂
So, now we are heading off on the next few weeks, which will involve a lot more rafting, probably less scooting, and the NZ packraft meetup at the end. We’ve had a wonderful time in Murchison but can’t wait to head out again tomorrow!
Constance, on behalf of us both.