Day 1, Sunday the 20th
After a brief stay in Totaranui, we hiked through the last part of Abel Tasman National Park to Wainui Bay. The hike lasted five hours and took us through some of the least used parts of the entire park. Wainui Bay was another great example of an estuarine ecosystem that we walked through in the park. We also saw some mussel farming in the far corner of the bay. After the walk, we drove to Tukurua to prepare for the Heaphy Track. Our guides from Bush and Beyond gave us a target weight of 30 lbs each to carry in our backpacks. After a killer dinner of sloppy joes and broccoli by group chef Tru Khalifa (aka Truman), the group retired to our rooms and experienced a minor earthquake to finish the day.
Day 2, Monday the 21st
Today we began the Heaphy track, New Zealand’s longest great walk. Our first day we spent climbing more than 900m through some of the best preserved forest in the county. This portion of the track included mountain beech forest, mountain and sub alpine environments. We stayed at the Perry Saddle Hut and watched a killer sunset. The difficulty took many of us by surprise, especially those who were new to backpacking. We also enjoyed a snore-free night that turned out to be the best sleep of the trip.
Day 3, Tuesday the 22nd
7:00 AM wakeup. Gruel breakfast. Track by 8:15 AM. At 24.5 km, this was the longest hike of the trip. We walked through the Kahurangi National park through the Gouland Downs and into a place called the Enchanted Forest. One of our awesome guides, Maggie, explained that the high prevalence of lichen in the Enchanted Forest was an indicator of the excellent air quality found there, which is some of the purest air in the world. We crossed several rivers using swing bridges where we walked across one by one before going into a period of solo hiking. We spent about an hour wandering independently down the trail, hearing the variety of birds and seeing magnificent vistas as we went. We reached our destination around four and quickly began preparing a tasty second diner of cashew stir-fry. Tonight’s sleep would not prove to be as rejuvenating as the night before due to several loud snorers in the bunkroom, but we all made it through to the next morning.
Day 4, Wednesday the 23rd
Our third day on the track was filled with occasional showers, Nīkau Palms, Giant Rata, and sandflies. We woke up at 6:00 AM to try and avoid the rain, and we were out of the hut by seven. As we left the hut, we were met by the sound of what we thought were Kāka, but turned out to be the rare mountainous parrot called the Kea. A pair of the birds swooped around and around the hut and called out to us as we snapped pictures of their morning flight. It was a picturesque view just as the sun rose, and the birders in our group could not have been happier. The hike was a little lighter on the distance side than Tuesday, coming in at 20.5k, but it was a little lighter on the feet and less uphill, so that gave us all a little hope. Many of us were really beginning to feel the aches and pains of the trail, from blisters to full on knee destruction, we had it all but we marched on. The Kea were not the only native animals we saw on the trail today. We saw two Ruru, numerous fantail, and handful of Tomtits, and even a few giant carnivorous snails along the track. We hiked through more Nikau palms and over more swinging bridges, and for the most part we avoided the rain. Unfortunately, the rain began to pour just as we reached the hut, and we had to set up camp in the rain and wind. Many of us arrived around two, leaving plenty of time to hang out in the hut, dry out our bodies, and play a few games Durock before Truman, Malia, and Alex made a heaping batch of Gado Gado (peanut noodles) for dinner. Tonight proved itself to be the worst sleep by far, as it poured most of the night and the high winds blew around our cramped tents.
Day 5, Thursday the 24th
We finished up the Heaphy track hiking through gentle showers and the carnage from the powerful storm the day before. We conquered several obstacles including swollen streams, mudslides, and the treacherous sand flies. Our last day was incredibly beautiful. The Heaphy embodied how dynamic New Zealand’s west coast rainforests truly are. We hiked through misty mountains and heard the ocean pull boulders down the beach creating thunderous cacophony reminiscent of a mid-west lightning storm.
After five hours of hiking, we loaded up into some vans and drove directly to the Rough and Tumble Lodge near West Port. After a savory pizza dinner and brief yet uplifting check in, the group retired to the most comfortable beds we’ve had the luxury of sleeping in.
Day 6, Friday the 25th
The group enjoyed a free day at Rough and Tumble. Many of us enjoyed the opportunity to sleep in, while others took the chance to wake early. Many students took the opportunity to do some laundry and catch up on some reading for class. The day concluded with scary stories and a walk at night to find glow worms.
Day 7, Saturday the 26th
Today we went on a tour of the Stockton coal mine. We were picked up at Rough and Tumble by the most gigantic tour bus we have had by a long shot. The “bus” was a military vehicle that was converted into a tour bus equipped to handle to rugged terrain of the coal mine roads. Our guide, Micky, had previously been employed by the mine and shared his knowledge and past experience with us as we rumbled around the site. We saw the biggest bulldozer in the world, whose wheel was taller than even our tallest compatriots on the trip. The machine burns a whopping 240 liters of diesel per hour, making it’s hourly cost of operations upwards of 1,100 NZD an hour. Crazy! The mine puts a lot of effort into reforesting land after coal has been extracted through a process called vegetation direct transfer. We learned about the various grades of coal and got some insight as to how large scale open cast coal mining operates here in New Zealand. We settled in after the mine tour for a nice evening of swimming in the river, delicious stirfry, and Jay’s class to round off our stay at Rough and Tumble. Tomorrow we’re off to Christchurch!
Nathan and Glynnis