“Slow down, you move to fast, you got to make the morning last…”
One of my life lessons to learn is to slow down. It’s something that can be quite difficult for me as my mind is always onto something else; my body is generally always in constant motion. Someone’s on the phone; there’s an email to be read; there’s an event to attend. My life in New Zealand is really not that much different than it was in San Francisco when it comes to having too much to do.
What I particularly enjoy doing for relaxation is hiking and tramping. I’ve been quite remiss in making time for this very important leisure activity and had recently made a vow to myself that I’d devote more effort into getting out into the bush.
There is a host of wonderful three to four day private walking tracks in New Zealand. These are the ‘cush’ tramps on private land, ones where your backpacks and chilli bins (coolers/food) are ported for you and all you need do is carry a daypack. The hut accommodations are quite nice, complete with hot showers, and often stocked with goodies such as wine, beer, and various sundries for purchase. It’s easy tramping. Wally Hirsh has done the 25+ private tracks and has compiled all the information into one handy website. I want to do them all!
We’d done two of the four local tracks already: Banks Peninsula Track in 2005 with Darek (before we moved to New Zealand), and The Kaikoura Coast Track in February 2008 also with Darek and friends Mary and Kelly. Next on the list was the Hurunui High Country track with just me and Bruce.
Located only 90 minutes from Christchurch, we set off for our leisurely drive to Hurunui on Saturday afternoon. We started our little holiday by stopping at the Hurunui Hotel for a quintessential New Zealand pub meal: burgers (complete with beetroot and fried egg) & fries and a couple of beers. Then onwards to the Station.
Dan and Mandy Shand, a young 30-something couple, run the 71,000-acre station. The land has been in the family since 1928. After doing their OE (overseas experience), they came back to New Zealand with plans to settle and carry on with the farm. Apparently, however, farming this station is not economically viable and so they have branched out by getting into tourism and into honey production, having over 600 hives producing the New Zealand popular manuka honey. Dan and Mandy are an extremely together couple and they laboured for three years to create the track through 30 kilometres of the most scenic parts of their land. Their attention to detail and thoughtfulness in providing guests with all the creature comforts really made this an exceptional tramp.
Our first night was spent in the old shearers quarters – The Cook House — where we had a comfortable twin private room. Mandy ran the evening ‘briefing’ meeting where we got the low down on the tramp and we got to meet the other guests. They can accommodate up to ten people per day and we were fortunate to only be six. We met Paul & Jane and Philip & Jocelyn, older couples from Christchurch with whom we’d be sharing the next two evenings.
Day 1: The longest day, tramping 14.6 km with 350-metre elevation change. It was a beautiful day, a bit overcast with a nice breeze. We set off by 10:30, meandering through the valley following along the river and through parts of a neighboring government-owned pine forest before making the slow ascent to the 750-metre summit lookout point where we stopped for lunch. We’d been given maps and a little brochure pointing out some of the highlights of the land. It was a relatively easy hike and we took our time, pausing quite often for snacks and a rest and a chance to just look around. Though the vistas were quite stunning, it was easy to see that the land was not that fertile, with much of it supporting alpine vegetation which is not enough fodder for stock animals. Though Mandy & Dan have approximately 350 cattle and 1000 sheep on the land, this apparently is a low stock-to-land ratio and is a reason why farming here is not totally viable.
About three-quarters of the way, after we summited and made our descent, we were greeted at the Gill’s Block Day Hut by a lovely and most welcome surprise. I can’t say what it was but let’s just say we were happy despite battling the sand flies!
We finally got to Valley Camp around 4:30. The others had already arrived and settled into the hut which would have easily accommodated all of us. However, there was a smaller former hunters hut just a short distance away and Bruce & I decided to bunk in there for the evening. Another surprise awaited us all – two bottles of champagne that the six of us delighted in over our evening meal.
Day 2: The hardest day, tramping 8.2 km with several ups and downs. Another nice day of overcast skies. We started by heading straight up along an old pack track. The terrain was dry and sparse; once to the summit though, the terrain changed and we got more into bush and forestry as we made our way down to Bush Hut. Again, we took our time, pausing often to take in the scenery. We sang songs, we ate, and we relaxed! After 4 ½ hours we arrived at camp. Bush Hut was nestled in a beautiful forested basin, tucked in the trees, close to the river. The main hut had bunks for eight, plus there were three 2-person tent/cabins that the other couples opted for so Bruce & I took the spacious hut. The kitchen was located in separate 10×10’ building and was tiny!!! And the separate shower room was awesome – funky, artsy, and functional! Nothing like a piping hot shower after a day of tramping. We had a lovely afternoon of napping and ready and then spent a fun evening with the others, drinking and chatting and playing scrabble.
Day 3: The easiest day, tramping 7 km with some small elevation changes. We totally took our time partially because we didn’t have much distance to cover and partially because my knee started giving me trouble. This was my least favorite part of the track as a good portion of it was on open dirt road. The highlights though were the walk by the small lagoon and through the black beech forest. Oh, and the friendly llamas! We were back at base camp by 2:30 where Mandy greeted us with hot coffee & tea and baked treats. A wonderful end to a lovely three days!