After a couple of days in Craigieburn we went back over Arthur's pass to a small town on the west coast, Hokitika. After searching around for a proper camping spot we found this unique place on a bluff over looking the ocean. It certainly was not wilderness, but as it turned out, it was an ex-mental hospital complete with extensive grounds, staff housing, and of course, the main wing of the hospital. It was bought on the cheap by a New Zealand couple who had the idea of turning it into a resort. Well, resort would be a stretch, but they did turn it into a backpackers hangout. The place was fairly run down, but no matter, it was full of young people from all over. Some were staying inside in small rooms that had been part of the hospital, while others were camped out on the main lawn. A few had campers like ours which were spread throughout the grounds.
A portion of the main hospital building
Campers on the lawn overlooking the ocean
There was a large kitchen where we cooked our dinner, and yes, hot showers to our everlasting delight. Shortly after we arrived a cold rain had already started and it got harder as the night wore on.
It was still raining the next morning, but seemed to be letting up as we ate breakfast in the main dining hall. The forecast was for improving weather so we decided to head on to our next hike, maybe an hour away. This was the Toaroha Valley Tramp as they say in Kiwi. We were told about it by the ranger at Arthur's pass as a place with possible hot springs and very few people. When we arrived at the trail head it was still drizzling, so we sat in the van for a while hoping for the best. Eventually the sun did come out. This was to be two day venture into the Cedar Flats hut, a 3 or 4 hour hike, or so we thought. Because of all the rain, sections of the trail were flooded and we had to ford numerous streams. Not wanting to get our boots wet, we stopped often to take them off and wade across in our sandals. All of this took a lot of time. After an hour or so, we came to a juncture that indicated a high water trail that went up higher in the forest. Since it was so wet down below, we figured this to be our best bet. It turned out to be a highly rugged path that was poorly marked, but slowly we persevered, seeing no one. In spots it was also damn slippery and muddy as it went up and down the steep hillsides of the canyon, staying away from to Kokataki River down below us. In the late afternoon we got to a spot where the trail just seemed to disappear. No markers could be seen, although there was a small cliff leading down from where we stood. Bill got out his gps app and we tried to figure it out. Surely it couldn't lead down that cliff. We must have been there 10 or 15 minutes when a family came by. There were two teenage boys and a couple that looked to be in their 40's. We chatted with them as they seemed to know what they were doing, especially George who was a helicopter pilot with the conservation department. He laughed when we told him that it seemed much more than 3 or 4 hours to the hut especially because of all the time we wasted taking off our boots.
"You don't take them off. Just wade on through. They're going to get wet anyway."
He seemed to think the trail did indeed lead down the cliff, and scrambled down to take a look. Sure enough, there was a marker down below hidden in the trees. We helped each other down with some difficulty, and then hiked together for a while until it became apparent that Bill and I couldn't keep up. We said we'd meet them in the hut in a couple of hours. Unfortunately that was not to be.
Despite not taking off our boots again, we made slow progress through the steep and dense terrain where route finding was a continual issue. True, we didn't start hiking until about 1:30 PM, but figured that gave us plenty of time because it didn't get dark until close to 9. Well now the light was already beginning to fade in the dense forest and we seemed to be nowhere near the hut, but we plodded along. There were more streams to cross despite being on the high route, and we didn't stop to take our boots off. As the light continued to fade we both wondered where the hell the hut could be. How much further? And then, suddenly, or so it seemed, the light went out entirely. We had already put on our headlamps, but unfortunately I had lost my good one on Mt. Cook, and only had a very small one that was practically useless. Bill would go ahead 10 or 20 yards and shine his lamp back towards me so I didn't slip on the boulders and wet ground. Once again the trail seemed to disappear into one of the numerous streams. We got out the gps to try and figure out the way, but that slowed us down even more. Both of us began to think we might have to spend the night out. Yes, we would probably survive without a tent, but it was starting to get cold and it would be damned uncomfortable. Every time Bill got out the gps I worried that we were wasting more time since it was still very difficult to find the trail, but I kept my mouth shut. Whatever we had to do, we certainly had to stick together. By now it was close to 10:30 and we were both feeling somewhat desperate. Above all, we didn't want George to have to come out looking for us as he probably would if we didn't show up. Finally, wading down another stream, we saw a trail marker, and then in he distance a narrow suspension bridge leading across the river to Cedar Flats and the hut. Crossing the bridge was the coup de grace. It was a one person bridge, extremely narrow and shaky, dangling some 20 or 20 feet across the raging river. Bill went first and then shined his light back so I could cross. And just so you know, I am actually afraid of heights so this was not an easy crossing for me and I had to take it slow because of how shaky and slippery the bridge was. Obviously, I did eventually make it ,and the hut was right there as we stumbled in, exhausted. Our 3 to 4 hour hike was more like 8 or 9, almost two hours of which was in the dark. George and his family seemed quite relieved to see us.
Just another Bill and Jon adventure.
Bill crossing back over the bridge the next morning. It doesn't look particularly threatening in the light of day
The water levels looked to be much lower the next day, and so we decided to take the low route back. Route finding was still quite difficult, as was all the boulder hopping we had to do to stay out of the water. It didn't take quite as long as the previous day, but it still wasn't easy.
[i]An example of the rugged terrain[i]