Day 141 Long Shadows
Saturday 29 February Bealey Hotel to campsite between West Haper and Hamilton Huts Start 9.15am Finish 5.05pm Distance 17m Total 2,196km Steps 28,380 Elevation: up 700m, down 400m
Weather: fine with some cloud I was ready to leave the Bealey Hotel this morning. As lovely as it was I was itching to get back on the trail. That is tinged with a strong desire for this walk to never end. The Waimakariri River was definitely high as I started the day, and it was running very cloudy. The plan was to just see how the Harper River was when I got there, and if needed, camp up and wait for it to go down. It was an initial 4km road walk, and when I arrived at the carpark at the beginning of Lagoon Track it was disconcerting to see 10 cars there. I then remembered it was the weekend. I decided at that point I would definitely camp in my tent somewhere away from the huts tonight. The track turned out to be bliss. More of a path than a track. It was understandably wet underfoot, but it was well formed and mostly even. There was an initial climb of about 700m but even that was well benched and zig zagged up the hill rather than the usual straight up and over. Initially it was beech forest, then 3/4 of the way up this vista opened up...
There is nothing more I really need to say about that. Despite the heavy rain yesterday and overnight the river crossings on Harper River were never more than mid shin deep. I wasn't in any hurry today as the availability of places to camp for the next two nights is incredibly limited as freedom camping is not permitted. So my distances are predetermined with the exception of today. I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to photograph a piwakawaka, without success, but it was entertaining watching it. There were several tributaries to the river gouged out of valleys full of shingle and whole hillsides were collapsed into the river. The power of nature is frightening at times.
Despite the sunshine today, there was a chill in the air. I'm aware that for part of the day I was over 1300m in altitude, but it had a real autumnal feel to it. Today was the first time I noticed how long the shadows were at 5pm. It is the last day of summer and I quite like the idea of seeing the landscape change with the season. I might be less eager as it gets colder further south.
I momentarily considered staying at West Harper Hut. It was built in 1956 and would be most kindly described as having character. It is held down by stakes and wire, has a dirt floor and canvas bunks. I was pretty sure no one else would stay there and I would have it all to myself. I had however already decided the criteria for my campsite. I was looking for a view of mountains from my tent. They needed to be facing so the setting sun would bath them in evening light, and they also had to be sort of south so the milky way would appear over them. Next to the river and a semi flat site would be handy. No sandflies would be ideal but I wasn't expecting miracles. Despite my long list of expectations, at just after 5pm I found the perfect spot. With the exception of the sandfly requirement that is. I am looking out over the barren scree slopes of the mountains of Craigieburn Range. I have set up my camera on the tripod and taking a photo every half hour or so as the shadows fill the valleys, crevices and cliffs, and the sun sets.
The view from my tent
The sandflies are insane. There are hundreds. Each time I go out to press the shutter on the camera I spend the next 15 minutes killing all the ones that got into the tent. But it is a price worth paying, and also a great incentive to work out how to make my phone a remote control for the camera. I know it's possible. I wonder if the sandflies disappear as the weather gets colder and I go south. Another good reason to welcome autumn.
I would sum up my mood today as feeling absolutely content. I appreciate how lucky I am to live in New Zealand, to have this beauty on my doorstep, and have the opportunity to immerse myself in it like I am. I don't need to know the meaning of life - either this is it for me or I no longer care.