Zen On Dirt

Humpridge Track Tramping and Faux-Luxury

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I ran out of energy points today. I guess, really, it shouldn’t have been a surprise given the last three days of tramping on the Hump Ridge track…but I guess I was hoping that I actually had more energy than what it felt like I had.

I didn’t.

Today, on the ride from Tuatapere to Otuatua, I suffered. There was not a lot of joy to be had in pedaling my bike. Luckily, it was only 29km, and it was paved with no big climbs. And the weather was good. All that, and it was still miserable.

Three days ago, I was feeling pretty good about energy levels. Good enough that when we got to Tuatapere and found that there was a good weather window for doing the three-day Humpridge Track, I convinced Scott that we should go for it. There had been some hemming and hawing about taking a rest day before embarking on the 60km track.

But good weather in New Zealand is not to be wasted, so the following morning, loaded down with three days and two nights of food, we pedaled the 20km out to the trailhead. As usual, what looks flat on a map was far from, and then when we had to go into the northerly gale…ouch.

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But we made it, stashed our bikes in the bush, and started walking.

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The Humpridge is a funny track. It’s managed by a Trust in the area, was built by volunteers in the area, is on DoC land, and requires that you book the two huts to use it. (They technically want you to book both huts, but their second hut is next door to a DoC hut, which we have a pass for, and even if we didn’t, would still cost $70 per person less than staying in the official Humpridge hut. Or Lodge, sorry, they call them lodges.)

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Comforting

So it’s a little weird. Half the track is built specifically for the Humpridge Track, and the other half is shared with the South Coast Track. They charge more than the Great Walks huts, but the feed you breakfast, have couches in the huts, and give you an actual mattress, bottom sheet, and pillow. It’s advertised all over the place as ‘Less people, more wilderness.’

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It’s like semi-luxury for a semi-outrageous price. Still less than motels in the States, less than a motel in Queenstown, but 30% more than a Great Walks hut.

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We were curious enough to book a single hut and stay at the DoC hut the second night.

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The track itself first was a long beach walk, which was awesome, and then once we turned onto the Humpridge proper, turned into the long boardwalk I’ve ever seen. I’m talking miles. Steps up, steps down, left, right, through the trees, all on meticulously built, elevated boardwalk. I’m not really sure what they were thinking…besides avoiding muck. I could see that.

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Quality water gettin’ system

And then when it was time to climb for real, it went straight up on rooty trail, steep enough in spots where hand use was definitely needed. Bipolar trail if there ever was one.

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Keas! Keeeee-aaaaaa!

After a massive climb of 3,000+ feet, we saw the hut perched just below the ridge in the distance. It was huge! With an even bigger view.

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And there were four of us in it. A dad and daughter, who was 10 years old and rocking the hiking, from Oz, and us. They had a private room, we had the entire bunk house to ourselves. The place sleeps 44…so I’m not really sure about the claim of massively less people than the Great Walks huts that sleep 55. Clearly, they aren’t quite turning a profit…after 13 years.. One might suggest that they lower their prices…but what do I know.

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Rainbows over the Okaka Hut. I mean Lodge.

The propane fireplace was nice. The couches were nice. A quiet hut was nice. The pillows were heavenly, and I was about to start thinking that the $87 per person was almost worth it when I went into the main room in the morning to find it freezing.

‘Can we turn that fire back on?’ I asked the hut caretaker who was making oatmeal for us. She was French, and new to the job.

‘No, we don’t turn the fire on in the morning.’

So we all ate our rapidly cooling porridge in all of our layers, freezing. I was a little annoyed. Surely for the price and the marketing of luxury, they could turn the damn fireplace on for 45 minutes while we eat.

It snowed outside while we packed up, but cleared just long enough for us to do a quick jaunt around their boardwalked (of course) trail through the tops. They definitely foound themselves a good spot for their hut.

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It pretty much rained for our entire descent down, but we felt pretty lucky to have seen the views the day before and earlier in the morning. And rain makes the bush a lot neater than when it’s dry.

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We pulled up to the DoC hut at Port Craig, an old milling town that had been disassembled. The hut was converted from an old school house, which was the only building in the company town that hadn’t been owned by the milling company, it was owned by the NZ department of education. When the entire operation went belly up after only a few years, all of the company buildings were salvaged, but the school stayed.

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There was already a family of five there, an old timer there by himself, and then shortly after, a youth group showed up with 12. That made for 20. Full hut. Oh boy.

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We made the most of an afternoon fine spell to go down to the ocean to watch the waves, and we even got to see a pod of Hector dolphins playing. These guys are apparently pretty rare and were hanging out right near the shore.

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The hut chaos was actually pretty under control. The youth group had a PG version of Cards Against Humanity that they were playing, and while CAH can get raucous, often fueled by alcohol, the group was pretty quiet, all things considered. And there were no loud snorers, which is miraculous with that many people.

It was raining in the morning. It likes to rain in New Zealand.

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But we walked, and soon the track deposited us on Blow Hole Beach. The waves were HUGE! I couldn’t say for sure, but they seemed larger than what would be considered normal. We watched in awe as they broke over the rocks sending plumes of spray skyward.

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It was one of the most impressive displays of ocean might I’ve ever seen.

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We continued to walk, opting to take the low tide route along the final section of beach, even though high tide was less than 2 hours away. With the waves crashing, we were leaping for the bush and high ground on occasion to escape the incoming water. I definitely had visions of a ‘Two dumb tourists swept out to sea’ as the Southland Times headline the following morning. It was a massive amount of water rushing in and out, huge pieces of driftwood being thrown around like twigs, wave after wave after wave.

We made it through, exhilarated, and made short work of the walk back to the bikes.

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Cooking shop was set up in a shelter in the parking lot, and while we were making oats (the last of our food) and coffee, the old timer walked in.

‘Those were some of the biggest waves I’ve ever seen out there,’ he said. ‘The Supermoon can really pull a big high tide.’

‘I saw your footprints on the sand,’ he continued, ‘I started on the beach, but had to turn back. The water was too high. I was hoping you two made it through.’

It turned out that he lived just down the road from the track and spent a lot of time out at the school house hut. He thought the Humpridge private track was silly, but it was good for the community because, while the Trust that administered the huts hadn’t turned a profit in 13 years, the track brought people into town, and people spend money. We both agreed with him, knowing that the Last Light Holiday Park was going to get our business once again that night.

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These bridges…

The Australian father/daughter were out next. She wanted to know how much we had beat them by and was happy that we were going to stay at the Last Light again since that’s where they were going. Then as we were leaving, the family of 5 came out. It was a funny little temporary community that we’d all built with each other over the course of 24 hours.

Tailwind assisted, we made it back to Tuatapere in record time and headed straight to the cafe. We were asleep by 9:30, awake from the roosters at 4:30, and completely exhausted in the morning.

Hindsight 20/20? We probably should have stayed there another night to recover. But that’s okay. We’ve got a nice little free campsite at an Arboretum outside of Otautau, half a bottle of wine left over from last night, and a weather forecast that calls for rain for the next twelve hours. We’re two hours in. Ready, rain.

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