Wet boots and grey mouse

Thursday 8th February is a zero day in Hanmer Springs (meaning a zero kilometers day, in other words, we rested), between laundry, vegetables, fruits and hot pools. We met Arne again, but he has a bad pain to his leg, so bad that he actually decided to stop and rest for a while. One of the American girls, Maria, also have to stop for a health problem. The trail is sometimes a real strain for our bodies... 
On Friday, we leave our hostel early morning. After 2 hours of hitchhiking, someone eventually stops. We reach the trailhead, from where we cross a river on a swing bridge before starting to walk in a wide open valley.
 At the first hut on the trail, we have a look at the hut book where we find a message for us: our friends, Sergio and Coyote, left it for us because we kind of missed each other in the Richmond range. They were hiking northbound for this stretch while we were going southbound, but we somehow managed to miss each other : we were at the Old Man Hut, that is situated à little outside from the trail, while Coyote and Sergio passed above us on the trail. It's a nice feeling to read such a message nearly 10 days later. 💗
As we keep on hiking, we reach a place where the trees fell on the path in such a way that we can't go through. It's happened a few days ago, during the storm of the 1st February. In some places, so many trees fell on each other that we would have to climb as high as a rooftop if we wanted to go through. Instead of risking our lives or at least our bones on the trunks, we decide to go around, through the bush. Just a few hundred meters after, we reach Kiwi Lodge hut, where we'll spend our night.
At 7:15, we leave the hut in the morning mist that lies in the valley, while the sun already illuminates the mountains surrounding us.
We follow the advice that 2 nice French people gave us yesterday and stay near the river to avoid the fallen trees on the official path. It saves us a lot of time and, cherry on the cake, the views on the Lake Sumner and the mountains are better from here.
By early afternoon, we pass near a natural hot pool where we indulge ourselves for a while, before a swim in the cold river downhill.
Clouds get thicker hour after hour. The bad weather scheduled for tomorrow is on its way...
During the night, Marie-Laure wakes me up: she heard a sound in the plastic bags where we stock our food. I switch on the headlamp and move one of the bags. The poor frightened grey mouse that was hiding under hit jumps immediately in the opposite direction...on Marie-Laure's bed. She consequently screams in a very funny way considering the size of the animal, before laughing when she realizes the disproportion of her reaction. We laugh together for a while before going together to the pit toilets, located outside the hut. The rain didn't start yet.
When we wake up on Sunday morning, the rain welcomes us. Still, we decide to hike, as the trail notes does not mention any dangerous river crossing in case of rain. The only large river we need to cross today is bridged. 
Till the pass, we're wet but it's ok. The path is now a small stream and our boots are soaked, but there is a bridge over the main river. 
Things become complicated à little later, when the path makes us go through the riverbed... The river being quite high does not allow us to hike there anymore. We have to cross some streams and to scramble up the scree slopes to find a route that leads us down the valley. 
I can't show you pictures of what we had to go through: our camera and the phone were deep down in our backpack, in order to avoid soaking them. But just imagine rushing rivers and shitty paths, boulders and bush, and no place where we could camp, every inch of floor being flooded.  What a relief it was when we reached Locke Stream hut, where Elliot, the 'French Canadian hiker', had lighten a fire. We spent our afternoon and evening together, playing games and telling stories. Elliot also wrote us a small guidebook with all the places we should visit in May and June when we'll be in Canada. 
A friendly bird that entertained us at least 20', hopping around us and even sometimes on us. 
Monday 12th February. We leave the hut à bit after Elliot, around 10 AM. It's quite late but we want to give time to the rivers to lower before crossing them. It should be an easy day : the trail notes say 6 to 8 hours for 23 kilometers.
But the reality is different. After a few kilometers, the trail becomes unmarked and sometimes even inexistent. We crawl through the bush (sometimes gorse), walk on the boulders of the riverbed and have to cross numerous rivers.
My back started hurting yesterday during a river crossing and the heavy boots, full of water, don't really help me. The trail can sometimes be really frustrating. By 5 PM, we reach a place from where we can try to cross a moderately wide river and join the road.
By now, we are used to the way of marking the trail: it's sometimes marked, sometimes not, without any apparent logic. For example, there would be markers every 20 meters during 1 km. There would be a last marker accross the river and then, nothing anymore.
Here, there are markers in the forest, but as soon as we reach the Otira riverbed, we don't see any of them anymore. So we find our way through the boulders and the river forks and we somehow eventually manage to cross it and climb in the field on the other side.
 From the road, we hitchhike to Arthur's Pass. My back is really painful so we decide to take a break.
After one night there, we buy a bus ticket to Christchurch for the next day. I also arrange an appointment with an osteopath in Christchurch, Arthur's Pass being a very small touristic village with only a few houses. 
The next day's, we spent our time visiting Christchurch. The city was destroyed by an earthquake in 2011 that killed hundreds of people. They are now rebuilding it. It's a bit weird, but we learn to appreciate the place and the creativity deployed in the spaces left empty by the collapsed building : open air art, exhibitions, playgrounds,... 
On Sunday, after 2 appointments with the osteopath and a back somewhat less painful, we go hiking in the Bank's Peninsula. That's a 25 kilometers hike with a 900 meters climb to reach Mount Herbert. Marie-Laure carries the backpack for the 2 of us which makes it easier for me.
The views on the coast till Kaikoura and on the Alps are stunning. After the walk, we hitchhike back to the harbour from where there is a ferry back to Lyttleton, near Christchurch. A couple and their daughter stop for us. They live in a house above the harbour and as the next ferry is in an hour, they invite us for a tea and offer us delicious apples from their garden. We spend a wonderful moment with them before leaving with the ferry.
My back is slowly getting better but a cyclone is coming. Instead of rushing back to the mountains and getting stuck in a hut, we decide to stay around Christchurch till next Friday. It will also allow me to arrange another appointment with the osteopath and to rest a little more before hitting the trail again. We'll start from after the Rangitata river : snow is expected in the mountains and the rivers won't be crossable for a while in Arthur's Pass National Park. The situation should be better in the south, as the cyclone will hit those regions less severely than here. We'll come back for the Arthur's Pass - Rangitata sections later if we can.


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