Whether to Whinge or Whistle

Greenstone River
The Beautiful Greenstone River, NZ

[Greenstone/Caples Walk, Day 4]

Somewhere towards the end of multi-day walks, I usually find fatigue and fitness intersecting. They are uneasy acquaintences, eyeing each other with ill-disguised suspicion. Each perches on a shoulder, leans into an ear, makes its case.

Fatigue is a whinger, whining at me to simply stop walking; to take off my pack, get myself clean, eat some yummy food, sleep in a comfy bed. The whinger, in short, is telling me it’s time to be a normal, sensible human again. And walking for several hours a day, through rugged terrain in all weathers, carrying everything on your back, is neither normal nor sensible.

Fitness whistles a happier tune, telling me how great I feel, willing me to ignore minor aches and pains, suggesting I consider other wondrous things I can do now that my body is attuned to hard work. The whistler wants to show me that it’s possible to transcend the ordinary; that mere walking can take me to great heights, literally as well as metaphorically.

At the start of our final day on the Greenstone/Caples Track, the whinger was well and truly on the back foot. We’d had a brilliant time in the Greenstone Hut, literally basking in the glow of the afternoon and evening sun. And then the stars – one, a few, a multitude – had come out to remind us we’re not alone. And when the morning began fine and clear, and our packs went on lighter and more easily than on any other day, we were close to whistling.

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Blissfully Bored

[Greenstone/Caples Walk, Day 3]

Leaving a hut is very different from arriving at one. Huts, like summits, rarely sneak up on you. The road to a hut is more often marked by long anticipation, false hopes, spurious sightings and even the odd tear.

It had certainly been like that with McKellar Hut. We’d arrived tired and sore in body and mind, ready to raise a hallelujah, if only a faint one. But leaving the hut next morning we had no equivalent sense of occasion. A couple of dozen steps, across the bridge, turn right, and we were out of sight, back into beech forest, back into our walking rhythm.

But McKellar Hut had done its job. We’d been refreshed by food and wine, good company and a welcome rest. We’d traded stories and laughter, exchanged track information, and then gone our separate ways. Oddly (to us) we were the only ones headed for Greenstone Hut, the others scattering in various directions. Opinion on the day’s walk ahead of us was divided. On the positive side we heard “easy”; on the negative “long”. The opinion we found odd was from a Kiwi tramper, who thought it “boring”.

Crossing scree, Greenstone Valley

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Of Long Days and Mattresses

[Greenstone/Caples Walk, Day 2]

We learned years ago that for Australians bushwalking in New Zealand, overnighting in huts is the easiest option. Certainly you can take a tent – thousands do – but why would you bother? Even in remote areas, there are often huts. Most of them are wonderful homes away from home, cosy, comfortable, and great for meeting people from all over the world. They add a special feel and flavour to New Zealand tramping.

View from Mid Caples Hut

View from Mid Caples Hut

Exactly why huts are so plentiful in New Zealand is a long story. Let’s just say that it’s down to Kiwi history: a response over time to the needs of trampers, foresters and hunters in remote places. We could also add that the often fierce weather and terrain make safe and solid shelters a sensible option. What we should NEVER say is that it has anything to do with New Zealanders being a softer breed. That suggestion from an Australian would be taken as an underarm delivery*, even if we could point out that there are such fripperies as mattresses, inside taps and sinks, and even flushing toilets in some tramping huts!

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Against the Flow

[Greenstone/Caples Walk, New Zealand - Day 1]

The walking life is a pared down life. Major issues are few, and usually surround necessities like navigation, food, weather, shelter, bodily fitness and function, and the avoidance of hazards. When most of those are humming along, then you can begin to take in the beauty. You might even get philosophical about walking. For instance, whether you prefer to walk upstream or downstream.

Idyllic walking beside the Caples River, New Zealand

On day one of New Zealand’s Greenstone/Caples Track, things are going well enough for us to make that a topic of discussion. We’ve got away in a leisurely fashion, and are happily easing our way upstream along the beautiful Caples River towards Mid Caples Hut, only three or so hours away.

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