The Otira Pub | just another day on the Te Araroa Trail
Te Araroa is a 2996km long backcountry trail that was opened in 2011 to link Cape Reinga, the North Island’s most northerly point with the end of Highway 1 in Bluff, close to the most southerly point in the South Island of New Zealand.
Somehow I’d come up with the idea to fit in a separate trip in addition to the official Te Araroa Trail. I had to return to where I had started hitching when I had left the track for food re-supply in Greymouth, so might as well have a look at parts of Arthurs Pass National Park that I hadn’t yet visited. It was the height of summer, there would never be a better time, well, without considerable effort.
And that was how I came to spend four days walking south for a change, ie, walking away from home. Here are thoughts from Day 45 . . .
TA Day 45 | to Carroll Hut, Arthurs Pass National Park
After recent go slow hitchhiking experiences I didn’t want to fluff around for hours on the side of the road getting the short distance from Greymouth up to Otira. Jumping on the bus would mean starting the track by morning tea time and I would have almost a full day to get over to the Taipo Valley.
Perhaps. Sometimes life doesn’t always turn out the way you planned.
Somehow I failed to see my highway turnoff location and ended up getting off in Otira. About 20 years ago a couple had bought the entire town, consisting of a hotel, school, fire station, town hall, 18 houses and the swimming baths, for the grand total of $80,000. There might have been a railway station thrown in for free as well, but I’m not sure it was such a bargain. The local council is not too keen on people living there due to the flooding and earthquake hazards, and the Department of Conservation is also less than enthusiastic due to the town being in the middle of Arthurs Pass National Park.
When you get to that wholly wacky location, ie, the Otira pub, I thought I might as well have a cup of coffee, and saw they did a decent breakfast, why not, it certainly was great value and those calories would be useful in the next 11 days.
Then it was time to peruse the crazily packed interior, full of detritus from the 19th century: old photos; large stag’s heads, plural; stuffed birds, some now possibly extinct; a possum that had suffered a similar taxidermic fate; a huge ornamental fireplace, the mantelpiece of which was similarly covered; several pairs of gold scales of different sizes, no gold though; top hats in worn condition, more than one pile; an assortment of butter churns; a pianola covered in old magazines and more stuffed animals; large model boats; a yoke for an ox, well used judging by the staining; hand-painted saws of the major kind used in hand milling timber, the paintings depicting delicate scenes of oxen teams; large faded prints of groups of steam engines with chimneys puffing smoke, and of clumpy horses working a stone threshing mill; flags of various persuasions, I recognised Namibia in the mix; the dartboard, of course, and a pockmarked surrounding wall; an Indiana Jones pinball machine, currently out of order; other paintings stacked up against the wall three deep; a real Wurlitzer in full working order, although I failed to check the music selection, it would have been the original issue; an old timber snow sled; a ghetto blaster, plastic 1980s style, hanging in a cage above where customers could easily reach; clocks including a large pendulum variety that was currently stationary, no chimes today; a full-sized carved timber leaping dolphin, quite a long way from the sea; last year’s Christmas tree, plastic, must be this year’s as well, although a little early for appropriate use; glass cabinets with the oddest collection of random items, ie, an old pair of framed glasses, old medicine bottles, a selection of medals from either the First World War or the Boer War, a ladies handbag that looked rather more recent in origin, perhaps someone at put it down and had been unable to find it once again; various contraptions that did something or other that were probably no longer needed; a stuffed hawk with a stuffed rabbit in its talons, suspended from the ceiling at eye level; old mirrors with advertisements for either Cuban cigars or rum, it was hard to tell; a full size billiard table with crimson felt but with hardly sufficient room to swing a cue, the cues in various stages of destruction scattered around in odd places; overstuffed leather lounge suites of the Chesterfield type and some other ill-matching furniture; whatever, the greater part of the drinking space was entirely unneeded by patrons these days.
You kind of get the picture because I haven’t covered much of the first 1% of the inventory, it was the full Gothic horror show. Your imagination could freely wander.
Outside was a full sized stagecoach, Cobb & Co style, and a number of drays and carriages, horse-drawn, and stacks of old antlers, one pair was a 24 pointer by my count, not so many of those enormous sized antlers on the deer around these days. And on the corner of the building, just past the old dog that had been tied up, was a larger than life-sized painted plaster pig, looking extremely belligerent.
It might have been an early start, the morning was mostly gone by the time I emerged, but following my huge second breakfast lunch was entirely unneeded. I still had a short wander back down the highway from the pub at Otira to where the track I was intending walking started at Kellys Creek.
For some reason DOC hadn’t seemed to have marked the start of the track along the highway, or in any case I didn’t see it. There was, however, a huge sign 200m up the creek. That was a relief to confirm I was heading in the right direction.
I was lugging enough food to make it to Boyle Village, 11 days away, where I had sent another 10kg lump of a food parcel. The itinerary from there to St Arnaud called for loading another 11 days food aboard.
So, plenty of weight on my shoulders once again. I wasn’t exactly running up the slope.
I noted a major profusion of botany down in the valley, maybe something to do with the 5000mm of rain in your average year. Huge rata trees were in flower towards the bushline, big dracophyllum trees, the ones that look like that been lifted from a Dr Seuss book, Mount Cook lilies in flower, which are of course not lilies all, rather the world’s largest buttercup, and a variety of mountain daisies, which are indeed daisies.
With the weather looking decidedly murky at high level, and much of the morning spent not doing much to make progress, it seemed sensible just to make it to the first hut, the weather was supposed to be clearing in the next days, there was an hour or so zipping over the tops required after the hut, fairly exposed, and visibility would be useful.
Carroll Hut was actually relatively close to the highway, but a vertical challenge, 1000m to climb roughly, man, the track ascended in a hurry, it was real steep in places. At the bushline the clouds were around my ears, whizzing between my legs, almost, visibility was indeed quite low, but the track was clear enough on the ground and it was just a short hop to the empty hut through the tussock.
The ten bunk hut didn’t stay that way for long, a group of eight trampers wandered in through the fog from the other direction. They had just negotiated the Harman Pass route which I was about to traverse, and being their last night of five were already thinking about tomorrow and the return to the routines and To Do lists of home. Well, if they had ever left them behind.
I found there was actually two groups, the couple who were not a couple, just opportunistically tramping together, and a group of six friends on their annual trip together. They had walked the Heaphy last year with its mountain bikeable track surface and 5 Star accommodation. I wasn’t sure how they had decided on this particular outing, it was considerably more demanding.
There was a range of personality types as you find in any group: there seemed to be two decision-makers, the one who thought he was the boss, and the other, a consensus taker, a negotiator who seemed to have more influence in reality; a photographer who spent a lot of time outside, was up early to catch the various shades of sunrise, from pitch black to full sunlight in 30 second increments on his Go Pro; the joker who I warmed to, he told some funny stories without ever becoming a bore, well, I hadn’t heard them but his companions showed less interest, perhaps they had; a somewhat self-obsessed perfectionist who spent three times as long as anyone else fussing about in his preparations for dinner, they all did their own thing, commandeering most of the free bench space, then shovelled it down just as quickly as the rest, you sense he annoyed me significantly; a healer type who tended to the others’ battle wounds, although I discovered they were all doctors back in their real world; the guy who preferred to lie up on the top bunk reading The Hobbit, I guess he doesn’t really want to be there, not wanting to immerse himself in this particularly exciting reality that was just revealing itself outside as the clouds dissipated.
In the way that surprising things happen in the New Zealand mountains before dark the low cloud completely lifted, there were almost clear skies and a tremendous view over the Otira Valley was revealed. At the top of the valley there was the actual Arthurs Pass quite clearly, you could see the highway crossing the slope on a steep angle, even the glint of a truck if you used your imagination.
Wow! In fact, super wow.
My world had gone from just seeing things close at hand, the last of the summer alpine flowers in some profusion, the track a few metres ahead, I hadn’t been able to make out the hut until 20 m away, to the full I-was-right-in-the-heart-of-the-mountains immersion. The steep slopes across the Otira Valley were visible in total clarity with the sun setting over my shoulder, it was generally amazing what some elevation can do for a view.
This was the first larger group I have stumbled on since the lot down with the reluctant novice at Doughboy, they have a hugely different dynamic from your average solo tramper, or even self-contained couple. Unlike when you travel alone and have considerable silence around, with them every moment was filled, talking, planning, reminiscing, jotting down stuff in their diary, joking much of the time, you’d have to say just bonding in general, certainly not much in the way of personal time except when they took the long solitary trip out to the toilet.
I’d usually be in my tent to avoid all this but, for once, I was in the melee, it was seriously inclement outside, overly damp underfoot and quite cool now the cloud cover had removed itself to other parts. I couldn’t be bothered with getting my now dry tent soaked so soon, there would always be plenty of time for that later. In any case at 1120m it was fully tussock country, it would be hard to find any clear flat space large enough to pop the tent up.
Anyway with the older crew I guessed, correctly I later found out, I wouldn’t be the only, or loudest, snorer, so no worries. That was the voice of experience.
Looked like it would be a lively evening.
This is an extract from the book I am currently working on called, err,
100 Days of Tramping Te Araroa
I recount my thoughts and experiences when I walked the South Island section of Te Araroa, from Bluff to Ships Cove in the Summer of 2015. Oh, and there were 16 days getting as far south as is sensible to walk in New Zealand, down on Stewart Island/Rakiura, as a pre-amble.
The book is based on a blog found on my tramping New Zealand website.