My goal for the day was to scrape any remaining fat from my emaciated frame and burn it. I would do this by walking out from the hut to Pelorus Bridge - a walk of 24ks that we would split into three eight kilometre chunks. It seemed very doable.
Our path was tough going but we moved through the misty dark forest quickly. The track was in poor condition with slips and more pig damage...a lot more pig damage.
We only had a few scraps of food left to chew on but our resupply at Saint Arnaud all those days ago had been perfect. For all my whinging about being hungry I think Whiona got the mix just right. It had been the longest stretch of the trip and we'd been worried that we wouldn't be able to carry all the food we needed - however in the end we were fine.
We were coming out fit and tired...but not starving.
Having said that, food was at the front of our minds. We strode along the track with one of the country's prettiest rivers meandering metres away and my camera hung almost unused at my side. I wasn't the slightest bit interested in taking the time to find the perfect Pelorus shot.
Looking back it was a pity...but my stomach won out that day. Or was I just scared of the sandflies that waited below with their fangs and blood lust?
As we left the bush and hit the road-end we met Troy coming the other way.
Bearded, slightly disheveled, and lugging a large pack with a sleeping mat he seemed like the archetypal Te Araroan.
But no...Troy was a kind of local. He'd been staying with a friend who worked at the Pelorus Cafe and she'd dropped him down the road a bit on her way to work.
He didn't know where he was going or for how long - he just wanted to walk in the mountains for a few days. Until he met us he'd never really thought about walking TeA, but I've got the feeling he will be now.
He had what looked like a big hicky on his neck...we wondered what his "friend" thought of his "plans".
As we talked, a vanload of Germans pulled up. Wetsuits were donned as several large inner tubes bounced out the back of their vehicle. They were a bit more goal-focused than Troy and planned to walk up the track then float back down to the carpark.
It sounded like they were in for an amazing trip - but all I could think about were the sandflies that would be waiting for them. It was going to be a bloodbath.
ON WE WALKED. Forest became farmland. Beech trees lost out to cattle, sheep and pine.
This is what I'd been dreading. We were waking up from our back-country dream.
As we walked the gravel road it started to rain. The Pelorus ambled below and we marched on. A meal at the bridge reeling us in.
Arriving at the cafe and campground in an excited mood, we planned to stay the night, eat at the cafe, and buy supplies for dinner and breakfast the next morning. But as we sat there inhaling our muffins and drinking a pot of tea we did the maths. On top of paying for a tent site (in the rain), the food was expensive and so limited we decided to aim for Havelock, a backpackers and a Four Square. We'd be buggered...but our bank balance wouldn't be.
This miserly plan involved a seven k walk across farmland and a hitch into town. We'd make our way back to our hitching point the next day to avoid feeling like cheats.
We relaxed a bit and readied ourselves for what lay ahead with a coffee that Troy's friend brought out to us. When she heard that we'd met her buddy her response made it clear that she was genuinely worried about him.
"Did he say where he was going or how long he was going to be?"
We didn't know and failed to calm her when we told her that he didn't seem to know either.
I only made things worse when I let it be known that he'd shown some interest in doing Te Araroa. This news just made her look genuinely sad.
"Oh no. There goes my friend."
After it was suggested that she could go with him she just looked confused.
Perhaps they were just trying to get rid of us before we broke their workmate - but when the ladies behind the counter heard that we were moving on, they gave us four Double Chocolate Muffins for our journey. We felt guilty about our stingy decision not to stay, but pocketed them and said our farewells.
It was about three o'clock and still drizzling when we left. We walked back over the bridge and through a heavily trapped bush reserve. There's a colony of bats living around the bridge...a colony that's no-doubt vulnerable to stoats and rats.
The reserve and signs of conservation work lifted my spirits slightly but the pot of tea hadn't cured my "back to civilisation blues"...for that I probably needed fish'n'chips.
The reserve finished all too soon and our seven kilometre farm walk started. As did my ambivalence.
I'll get the compliment out of the way.
Daltons Track is a good thing. It's a track through a piece of farmland that would otherwise be a road walk. The farm owners and walking groups have come to an agreement that makes the trek to Havelock a whole lot more safer than it would otherwise be. Excellent.
There. That was easy.
Now for the hard bits.
We aren't too sure how happy the farmers are with this arrangement. We've heard a couple of stories about some quite serious intimidation from farm staff directed toward walkers in the area. The trail makes its way right through working fields without any separation. There is a gravel road that runs parallel to the trail, but for obvious health and safety reasons, signs tell walkers to STAY AWAY and stick to the poled route. Which is where the inevitable problems seem to be arising.
What happens if a walker is scared of the animals? What happens if a walker misunderstands the signs? Most walkers we've met have a pretty good grasp of English. Some not so. Most walkers try their best to look out for signs, but sometimes they make a mistake and miss them.
Trail Whispers, like Chinese Whispers, can be a pretty unreliable source of news, but the two incidents of farmer/walker conflict we've heard of on this section of the trail are unpleasant enough to make us think twice about using this section of TeA again.
Then there was the shit.
We'd walked out of the Richmond ranges along the banks of a clear and clean Pelorus River. Looking down from the Pelorus Bridge the river looked healthy and still had the clean turquoise hue of many of the South Island rivers we'd travelled with over the previous months.
Within a kilometre or two of the bridge the river looked brown and troubled. The rocks were coated in the same scum that smothers the gravel of the near-dead Manawatu River...our river. Froth lapped at the edges of the stagnant flow.
We had left Lalaland. A place we'd fallen in love with, and lived in, for twelve weeks. A place where we could drink from, and swim in, rivers and lakes. A place where even in a fierce drought we had access to the clean water that oozed from its mountains.
True...we'd walked through and drunk from rivers choked with the awful Didymo...but this seemed worse. Didymo was a stuff-up...an accidental infection. Cow shit in our lowland rivers is a calculated environmental disaster...and it stinks.
As we made our way to Havelock we walked past pumps and thick pipes that sucked water from the river. Water we assumed is used to irrigate fields and clean milking sheds before getting filtered back through the turd covered fields to the river below.
We had been living in a dream and had woken in some sort of agri-industrial nightmare of our own making. Cheese, butter, milk, yoghurt. They're all so nice.
Something that can't be said about the lower Pelorus anymore.
AFTER SEVEN KILOMETRES of 100% Pure New Zealand Pollution, the unsuccessful hitch to Havelock was light relief. As cars flew by we walked through what seemed like an agricultural museum. Wild hops grew alongside and onto the road. Several apple trees laden with bitter and old-fashioned fruit teased us with their delicious-looking decorations. An old vineyard sat full of weeds and unfashionable grapes.
Our stomachs grumbled.
After three k's of tarseal and ditch-walking we stopped outside a school on the outskirts of the ominously named Canvastown. Were we going to have to pitch our tents?
Teachers seemed to be finishing a meeting, but as we stood with our thumbs out, looking as pleasant as we could, they got into their cars...averted their gazes...and buggered off home to their ovens, fridges, pantries, G and T's, and biscuit tins.
It was still raining. We were ten kilometres from Havelock on the outskirts of a town that looked like it wasn't a town at all, arguing about our hitching strategy. Should we stay here at the school or walk over the small rise and around the corner to the next straight? It was joined by another road, which implied more cars. More chances.
Theoretical maths won out and on we walked.
And there it was. Just sitting there. The glorious Trout Hotel.
For tea we had vegetarian burgers with chips that smelt like they were cooked in lard. We painted our plates in tomato sauce and washed the lot down with cider and dark beer. A five-star meal for sure.
Pudding was even better. We took a pack of Squiggle Tops back to our huge motel unit and watched the telly disbelief as Winston Peters - New Zealand's only surviving ACTUAL politician - won a seat in Northland.
While we'd been away, it transpired that the sitting politician, who used to be a cop as well as an anti-drug entrepreneur (whatever that is), had had to stand down after possibly being charged with XXXXXXXX his XXXXXX and his XXXXXXX and perhaps even his XXXXXXX. Winston seemed VERY happy about all this.
We were happy too.
We were comfortable. Warm. Clean. Dry. Full. And entertained.
Perhaps reality wasn't going to be that bad after-all.