Wharariki to Nelson Lakes

Trip Start Nov 10, 2013
Trip End Apr 02, 2014

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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Thursday, December 12, 2013

Almost immediately after coming off the Heaphy Track, we found a place to stay in the nearby town of Collingwood.  The campground that we ended up staying at was owned by this friendly, personable old couple, who told us that there was a beautiful beach just a short drive north of the town.  And well, I'm a sucker for nice beaches, so we hopped in the car and followed the pavement all the way to the northern tip of New Zealand's South Island.

We arrived at a place called Farewell Spit.  This huge, 35 km long crescent-shaped spit of beach was not the nice beach we'd been told about, but I had read about this area a little bit.  The wind was absolutely howling here (a regular occurrence, I guess) causing the sand dunes to constantly shift, and unfortunately the tide was coming up, so there wasn't a whole lot to see, other than the spray of the waves crashing on the beach and blowing right across the narrow spit of land.  But apparently, as the tide drops, an extra 8 kms of wetland is exposed, which offers prime feasting opportunities for the local bird populations.

As the day wore on, we followed a few gravel roads and made our way to Wharariki Beach.    Note that in New Zealand, Maori names and words that start with a "Wh" are not pronounced like you may think (e.g. "wha" as in the word what).  Rather, these letters together create an "ef" sound... think: letter "F".  So this beach is pronounced "Fare-reekee (I've also noticed that Kiwi's also often slur the pronunciation of words to make them shorter and easier to say).  But I digress...

Wharariki Beach featured light and dark grey-colored sand that, like Farewell Spit, would blow like crazy, creating ever-changing sand dunes!  The sand itself was incredibly soft to the touch  and it was neat to walk through the shifting dunes and turn around and watch your footprints disappear within seconds.

Having just finished the Heaphy Track, we decided to splurge and go out for a decent meal, so the brothers and I stopped at this highway-side brewpub called the Mussel Inn.  This cool tavern-like venue was basically a local favorite micro-brew.  While they offered nearly a dozen of their own different beers, there was barely that number of food items on the menu.  Despite that, the majority of the dishes were seafood based and did not disappoint.  Between the four brothers, I think we tried and shared 6 different local brews (a dark "Springbok", the "Manuka Cooker" red ale, the "Dark Horse" ale and Mike's favorite, the Crazy Monkey - a beer that was 10%!  We washed these delicious beers down with a few plates of nachos, a fish burger, a mussel chowder, and a huge bowl of fresh, steamed, New Zealand Mussels!  

With full bellies, it was off to nearby Nelson Lakes National Park - the first destination that I had visited here in NZ, that started to remind me of home: Waterton Park.  The mountains here, while not nearly as high as back home, are tall enough to support a definitive treeline, and they show evidence of past glacial activity.  The main lake which we set up camp alongside (and which we would spend the day hiking above) is Lake Rotoiti.  I would guess it to be about 8 km long; it is home to shortfin eels; and according to Kris, it isn't as cold as Upper Waterton Lake.

The hike we ended up doing was a 1-day return trip to Angelus Hut.  We ended up covering just over 25 km in a day - hence the reason that this trek is normally accomplished over the course of 2-3 days, with overnight stays at Angelus Hut.  However, we were tired of lugging our big trekking packs everywhere, so we decided to go light and make a day-trip of it.  This course of action was all the more appealing considering that once again, the weather forecast was slightly ominous-looking.

We began tramping at 06:30 am, and the track began by switchbacking very steeply up the Punchgut track to the top of Mt. Robert Ridge (1,421 meters).  While a cool, crisp morning, the sun broke the horizon, just as we reached the ridgetop and it quickly became a rather beautiful morning.  We then followed a pole-marked route along the ridge, stopping at one point to bag Julius Summit (1,794 meters).

As we got closer to our destination, the weather began to misbehave.  The clouds quickly rolled in around the ridge top and mountain peaks above us; the temperature dropped; and visibility was reduced to almost nothing at times.  Fortunately, we only had to hike through a drizzle for about 10 minutes, before arriving at Angelus Hut at 10 am!  With the weather not improving, we decided to cut our stay short, scarf down some lunch and then begin our return trip (via a different route).

This alternate track saw us quickly drop a lot of elevation and then follow the valley floor for the remainder of the day.  This train was very wet, but wound its way through some very cool rainforest terrain.

Having completed the trek and returned to camp by 14:00, we got caught up on laundry, dinner making and beer drinking, before calling it a night in preparation to make the long haul to the bottom of the south island - and ultimately, Stewart Island - over the coming days.  
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