After a night in the little town of Methven, we met up with Wayne from Alps2Ocean. Wayne shuttles cyclists and trampers all around this part of New Zealand and he offered to take us back to the trail on the south side of the Rakaia River. We met Wayne at the Primo Cafe, which felt like sitting in someone’s living room. Small towns have the most interesting and unexpected shops.
Back on the trail, we were instantly immersed in a world of long golden grass and large dark brown cows.
Looking back to Rakaia gave a sense of where we’d come from, just the day before. The other side of the river is only a short distance but, with no bridge, the only practical option is to hitch hike or shuttle around. Many hikers skip this section as a result. Another shuttle is required at the end to get around the Rangitata River, unless you’re lucky enough to have low water levels and good weather to cross by foot.
As well as golden grass, we also met some other native New Zealand plants, namely Spear Grass. This spiky plant has long tough leaves with needle-sharp tips. If you’re not careful, they’ll jab you as you pass by, puncturing your skin. It’s rather unpleasant. Perish the thought that you might fall on one.
Unlike spear grass, the mountains here feel very soft and welcoming. From a distance, their grey scree slopes give them a gentle, benign character.
Below these big scree slopes are endless fields of tussock grass. Sometimes there’s a pretty clear trail but at other times, you can barely make out where to put the next foot. I often found myself stepping on long strands of grass with one foot and the next foot getting tripped up, nearly making me do a face plant into strategically hidden spear grass.
The forecast was for three days of good weather followed by strong wind and rain. We decided to push hard to beat the weather, allowing us to cross the Rangitata River.
We made good time but as we neared the Rangitata, we could see high winds pushing a storm front right for us.
In good conditions, the Rangitata is straight forward to cross. It can be nothing more than knee deep if you choose your path wisely. The problem lies in how wide it is. New Zealand’s rivers are often highly branched and the Rangitata requires around 9km of walking to cross. That can easily take 3 hours. Yet, the river has been known to transform itself from dozens of channels to one powerful torrent in just one hour. You could be midway across and suddenly find yourself in big trouble.
With rain falling in the mountains upstream and a strong wind making walking difficult, we went with the safe option. Nearly all our fellow walkers made the same decision. Here we are waiting under a tree, out of the wind, for Wayne to come rescue us all.
Two people did decide to cross the river and they were safe but later that night, water levels rose dangerously high. Sometimes it’s best to save the adventure for another day.