[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”.
We carried that word with us all day, looking for any way the walk might deserve that description. We looked in vain. Instead one or other of us would stop from time to time, explaining that we had to get a photo of this “boring” bit of forest; or marvel at that “ordinary” bird; or gawk at a “very average” mountain; or rest along a “particularly dull” piece of river flat.
The further we walked the more we concluded our former hut companion was either a Grinch, or someone with an extraordinarily high beauty tolerance. Yes, there are more spectacular walks in New Zealand, ones with grander, higher peaks, and even glaciers. Still, for us this was a superb day’s walk. It helped that we had an brilliantly blue day; that we truly had our walking legs; and that Lynne’s boot issues were dealt with (joggers on, boots in pack). But however we looked at it, if this day was boring, we were blissfully bored!
As if to reinforce that things were going our way, when we stopped for lunch and a brew, and discovered that our lighter was out of fuel, a couple of other hikers – the first we’d seen in three hours – happened by and lit our gas for us! And if the walk ever threatened to get a bit, well, boring, we always seemed to come across something fascinating. Like a pair of damselflies locked in a mating flight.
Most easily distinguished from dragonflies by their ability to fold their wings right back (unlike the perpendicular fold of dragonflies), damselflies are swift, often strikingly-coloured hunters. We spotted an electric blue pair mating, first in flight and then on a bush. The male had grasped the female mid-flight first with his legs, and then with the claspers on the tip of his “tail” (abdomen). Receptive, she had allowed herself to be carried in flight, before looping the tip of her abdomen up to the male’s genital pouch and transferring his sperm to her body.
We watched them in the so-called “wheel position” – in this case more an inverted heart – for some minutes before they flew off. Apparently they can stay attached for an hour or more, even while the female backs into the water to lay her eggs on the stem of an aquatic plant.
The day ended at the Greenstone Hut. I’d been trying not to build up my hopes too much, having read opinions that rated this one of the best huts in New Zealand. Towards the (inevitably) long final push to the hut, I’d confided this opinion to Lynne. It was meant as a kind of carrot, although she seemed to be finishing more strongly than me.
We made it to the beautifully situated hut by mid-afternoon, and we were not disappointed. All afternoon the sun streamed into the new (2003) hut, which was completely encircled by beautiful mountains: the Livingstone, Ailsa and Humboldt Mountains.
Amazingly we were the hut’s only occupants (it can sleep 24), although we did share the larger site with the hut warden. And after dinner he asked us in for coffee and freshly-baked cakes. We were polite, of course, and accepted. We didn’t want to appear boring!