I didn’t make it to my car from Aspiring hut until noon, and I still had 5 hours of driving and 7 hours of hiking to do that day. Theoretically, that means I wouldn’t make it to my destination until midnight, but hiking in the dark sucks. Luckily I had a solution–just go really really fast.
3 hours and 45 minutes later I was at the start of the Copland Valley track, which is up the West coast from Wanaka. I threw supplies in my bag and ran out of the car park–not because I was in a hurry, but because I was being attacked by hundreds of my new least favorite insect: sandflies. They are more evil than mosquitoes and attack en masse. Luckily, as soon as I forded the first stream they left me alone. It was 4pm and there were 17km between me and Welcome Flat hut. The sign at the start of the track claimed it would take me 7 hours to get up there, but I only had 5 hours until dark.
The track wound through temperate rainforest and along riverbanks, with an “active landslide section” (don’t stop here), and many streams to ford along the way. At one point there was even a sketchy cable swing bridge over a river that was pretty awesome. I also encountered my new least favorite plant: hookgrass–it has seeds with little hooks that grab your leg hair and hang on relentlessly. At 8:30pm, Welcome Flat hut came into view. This was good, as I had just run out of water and was absolutely STARVING.
I stumbled into the hut sweaty, thirsty, hungry, and tired. It occurred to me that my plan of two days of hiking up river valleys being easy didn’t quite work if I hiked two river valleys in one day and essentially ran for 4.5 hours up the second one. The hut warden came over to tell me that the hot springs were really nice starting around 9pm (because the sandflies dissappear at dark), so I started making dinner with the plan to head out to the hot springs as soon as I was done eating. The hot water would feel great on my sore legs. The hut warden called back to me, “Oh yea, don’t put your head under water. If water gets into your nasal cavity then amoeba can crawl into your cranial cavity and give you amoebic meningitis. It’s a risk with all hot springs in NZ.” Great. Well, I guess I just wouldn’t put my head under water.
30 minutes later I was relaxing in a 101F hot pool. It was pretty much perfect. The clouds were clearing up as I watched the sun set over the valley, and soon the stars came out between the few clouds left in the sky. I leaned back and watched the meteors fall over the mountains. It was gorgeous. It also happened to be Valentines day and I was in the most romantic spot I’d been in a long time–all I was missing was a date. (You hear that all you slacker guys who didn’t come to NZ with me? You fail.)
Eventually I got out of the hot pools and put on some dry clothes. Just as I was getting back to the hut, the hut warden came out and asked, “Have you ever seen glowworms?” I said I hadn’t, so he walked me over to an overhanging rock and instructed me to turn out my light and look up. There were hundreds of tiny little dots of light hanging on the rock. When I turned my light back on, I saw that each glowworm was hanging from a little strand and looked like a miniature string of pearls. It was pretty nifty.
The next morning, I hiked out (much more slowly) and took the time to enjoy the rainforest I was walking through. I was amazed at the diversity of moss and lichen that grew on the tree trunks and rocks. Every surface that could possibly grow moss was completely coated. Eventually I got to my car and started driving up the west coast to Arthur’s Pass, where I would be finishing out my hiking adventures.