Pest is a word reserved in New Zealand for introduced animals that cause havoc with native species. Deer, goats, possums, mice, stoats: all these and many more did not evolve here and their subsequent arrival has been harmful and much regretted. However the exclusive use of the word for non-natives would suggest that NZ has no native creatures with undesirable qualities. This is not quite the case.
Exhibit 1: the sandfly.
The sandfly spoils many a peaceful morning, night or rest stop on the Te Araroa trail. The sandflies greeted us warmly when we arrived at Aspiring Hut, after a glorious day admiring Rob Roy glacier.
Our hopes of a relaxing dinner enjoying the dramatic setting underneath Mt Aspiring were quickly dashed. The sandfly is the bastard child that would result if a midge and a mosquito were to breed. They hunt in huge packs, and they have a fierce bite that leaves a lingering itchy spot. The only real preventative measure available for sandfly bites is to keep moving. Easier said than done when trying to cook. A nightly sandfly massacre in the tent before bed is unfortunately the only way a camper can prevent them feeding on him/her all night. The true depths of this diptericide only become clear when you come to clear up your tent after a week away. Hundreds of bodies litter the floor.
In the morning, after dancing through breakfast to keep from becoming breakfast, we climbed up to the Pylon and then on to Cascade Saddle itself. This route is generally considered one of the more difficult marked tramps in NZ. It is only possible in good weather, because there are steep slopes adjacent to and above bluffs that become highly treacherous when wet, snowy or icy. It is not on the Te Araroa route but I have wanted to do this trip for ages and finally I had time, superb weather and a willing crew to join me. The first 750m of ascent are in the forest, so the shade kept the heat down and the tree roots provided decent sturdy footsteps for the most part. Beyond that is another 450m of steep climbing on low tussock and rock. That section required constant concentration and I was grateful for my climbing experience for the sections of exposed rock scrambling. But there’s nothing quite like seven weeks of tramping to take the sting out of an ascent so all in all it wasn’t too bad considering. The reward is glorious views of the Aspiring Range and the Dart Glacier.
We decided to camp between the Pylon and Cascade Saddle so we could enjoy the glacier view for a few more hours. We had the most unreal afternoon, listening for avalanches and drinking tea in the hot sun, then watching the sun set behind Mt Aspiring. It seemed too good to be true.
Alas, the kea is a veritable menace. They steal food and chew gear to pieces. We heard word that earlier that day they had taken a camera bag from one unsuspecting tramper, extra lenses and all, and dropped it 800m over a cliff in front of their eyes. The birds circled our camp, laughing with delight, like the flying monkeys from the Wizard of Oz. I reassured my companions that they would not bother us in our tents. How wrong I was. Instead of a peaceful night under the stars, we spent the whole night trying to defend our turf from the lurking kea. In Geors’ words, it was like a night-long game of grandmothers’ footsteps. We were thoroughly trounced: the kea pecked holes in all three of our tents and through the lid of my pack.
With a meagre five hours’ broken sleep in me thanks to spending most of the night shooing away the pecking birds, and a slightly sore ego from having lost the battle, the following day was a challenge. ‘Not only do I have to carry the tent, now I have to carry the holes as well’, said Robert. But it was astounding walking so we soon got over it: passing up close to the Dart Glacier, really getting a sense of the movement of glaciers and how they shape the landscape. After that we travelled up Snowy Creek, over the Rees Saddle and down to Shelter Rock Hut. It’s a glorious piece of track, with some narrow exposed tracks and a bit of scrambling, but in great condition. At Shelter Rock I darned my pack and brought every item I owned into the hut. No more risks will be taken around those crowing birds.
Our walk out down the Rees Valley was, to our legs’ relief, mainly flat. Given the steep sides and high peaks above, the valley is avalanche terrain for much of the year so I was glad to be here in a snowless season, though the views would be spectacular no doubt with a bit more snow on them hills.
Our journey ended with a shuttle to Glenorchy, one of my favourite places in NZ, from where we took a ‘recovery’ walk up to old mining huts on Mt Judah while admiring Mt Earnslaw and the surrounding ranges. And most importantly, enjoyed two pest-free nights’ sleep.
Note to immigration services: no kea were hurt in the making of this post. Can’t quite say the same about the sandflies. Please don’t cancel my residency.
STATS OF THE TRACK
Kea 3: trampers 0
Items lost: one small bottle of sunscreen (theft by kea)
Cheese levels: high (thanks Robert)
Number of times Frances said ‘wow check out that mountain’: 54
HOW WE SPENT OUR DAYS
52 Raspberry Creek car park to Aspiring Hut via Rob Roy glacier view track 17km 500m ascent 6hrs
53 Aspiring Hut to Cascade Saddle 1500m ascent 6km 7 hours
54 Cascade Saddle to Shelter Rock Hut 20km 600m ascent 10.25 hrs
55 Shelter Rock Hut to Muddy Creek car park 6hr30 19km
56 Mt Judas track up to Bonnie Jean hut 12km 750m ascent 5 hours