It was hard to believe that we had left a record dry spell behind in Kerikeri. The wind and rain were hammering the south of the country as we arrived at the ferry terminal for our trip across Cook Strait. As we boarded the ferry we heard that the wind, that was rocking the car around, was gusting up to 145km and, furthermore, our proposed route to the West Coast was closed by flooding as were all other possible routes west and south. The Trump inauguration was starting to look like the dawning of an era of hope compared to the weather situation we were facing.
What a difference a few hours can make. By the time the ferry had reached its mid-point in the journey south the weather had cleared and brilliant sunshine gave us hope that the flooded roads would be passable by the time we reached the trouble spots about four hours later. We decided to ‘wing it’ and in the end only had to negotiate one flooded section of road. A couple of young tourists were not so lucky and chose the ‘deep-end’ when trying to negotiate the water. Ruth asked if they were ok, well as ok as you can be when your car motor is under water.
Our first outing on ‘The Coast’ was up the Charming Creek Walkway. An old coal mining railway line that has been reclaimed by nature in the sixty years since it was closed. After nearly a half of meter of rain in 24 hours, the ‘creek’ resembled something that I would expect to see tumbling out of the Himalayas. There was not a cloud in the sky but the water cascading off the vertical rock-faces also reflected the recent drenching. We experienced everything from light drizzle to heavy rain. It was a stunning 10.5km walk with the many waterfalls cascading down into the gorge all pumping at full volume.
By the time we got back to our ‘cosy beachfront cottage’ the temperatures were doing a reasonably good job of impersonating summer. We had seen evidence on the deck of the cottage of interesting stones and rocks that had come from the beach. Ruth was eager to see what was on offer. She was not disappointed and it was only when I told her that we were going to need to trade the car for a truck that she started to ease up on the rock-hounding.
Alas, we have had our one dry day and now faced another few wet ones. We wanted to spend a day walking the coastal section of the Heaphy Track. Given the weather forecast, we needed an early start in order to drive the 60km north and maybe get four hours of walking before the rain arrived. The drive north over the mountains to Karamea left us in little doubt that attempting to get back to home base after it started raining would be tempting fate. There were many slippages on the road that a slight drizzle would probably set in motion again. However, in the spirit of a good adventure we pushed on to the end of the West Coast Road where the Heaphy track starts.
The weather was still dry as we headed off. A young girl laden with pack and camping gear asked which way Karamea was, I was a little perplexed as to the question as there was only one narrow dirt road visible on the narrow coastal strip of land. I pointed at the obvious adding that it was a walk of about 15km.
The track surface was good, the scenery great and then we rounded a bend to be faced with a Weka staring at us from a huge pile of porridge like mud. A slip had come down and made about 20 meters of the track impassable, well impassable to our day walking gear. The ooze would have been at least knee deep. “What is plan b” chirped Ruth. “Whatever it is, it should be on the other side of that mountain road” said Cliff very sagely.
The young girl who had sought directions to Karamea was still a good 10-or11km from the village as we returned along the road so we gave her a lift the rest of the way. She was from Quebec and had been in the country a week. Said she did not mind traveling on her own although she got a bit scared when the storm struck while on the Heaphy Track. She wanted to find some internet coverage so that she could tell the folks back home that she was ok.
We ended up completing our daily exercise with short walk up ‘The Old Ghost Road’ which was on the ‘home’ side of the dodgy hill. That walk also came to an abrupt end as we struck an unbridged river. With the threat of rain and an already soaked landscape, there was a high risk of getting cut off by a flooded torrent. This scenario was outside of our ‘acceptable risks’, especially given the wilderness that we were in.
The owner of “the cosy little cottage’ had given us a specific earthquake / tsunami briefing when we checked into the accommodation. “If it shakes, grab some food, water and blankets and meet me in your car across the road, I will then lead you to an appropriate ‘bolt hole’ up the mountain”. At 4:30am a very wide-eyed Ruth shook me awake. “An alarm is sounding” she yelled (I do not sleep with my hearing aids on). I popped my hearing aids on but could hear no alarm. “It was a siren” she said bolting towards the door. “What sort of siren?” “One long blast.” “That is a fire siren.” “Oh I thought…” We decided that having a plan for our entire time in the south is probably prudent. Ruth has had a refresher course on how many blasts signify ‘head for higher ground’.
Our last day was largely a washout. Our planned walk up to the nearby plateau was just not going to be practical. We discussed the options, there were no board games, we were over our books and needed to do something. The weather showed signs of improving so we decided to head south and walk around Cape Foulwind to the seal colony. We arrived to see eels swimming around the car park but the rain had at least stopped, it was just very misty. An 8km walk along the cliff tops looked feasible so off we set. About 1km into the walk the rain returned, at the 2km mark a gale sprung up which was driving the rain with such force that it was what I would imagine being water blasted would feel like. Being the softies we are, a soggy white flag was waved and we got blown back to the car.
If we have learn t one thing on our brief detour west, it is that humans are the short term tenants in this wild land. Nature has evicted many and works very hard, every day, to evict those hardy souls that remain.
Our preferred detour out to Christchurch is still closed so we are looking at a plan c; a third detour around the second detour which was around the original route. Let’s hope the summer we left behind is skulking around one of those detours.