On my way up the West Coast there was one more walk I wanted to do: the Copland Track as far as Welcome Flat. Here there are natural hot pools to soak in, which I gladly did until dizzy from the heat, and another cosy mountain hut. The surroundings were spectacular and I regretted not being able to explore further up the valley. With only enough food for the overnight trip it wasn’t an option so I headed back out to the road, marking the fifth day of walking at least 20 kilometres and feeling like every single one was absolutely worth it.
There are so few roads in the South Island that a lot of the best scenery is only accessible on foot. Because of this it stays remarkably unspoiled. There must be increasingly few wild places that are so easy to access yet so similar to how they would have been thousands of years ago.
After the Copland track I continued up the coast as far north as Punakaiki. I had some bad weather here which luckily coincided with my plan to camp at a hostel. It was only supposed to be for one night but, thanks to some good people in good accommodation in a beautiful location, I was glad that the rain forced me into a second.
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I crossed from the West Coast to the East via Arthur’s Pass. On a recommendation and a whim I did one more overnight walk, climbing Avalanche Peak and looping back to the road via the Crow River.
It was one of the more rugged walks I’d done. A lot of the time there was no track, navigating meant following a ridgeline or a river and there was a 600m scree slope to descend. Here it really sunk in how much I was going to miss these wildernesses. When I finished it felt like I could have carried on indefinitely. But at the same time I was pleased to have left Queenstown with a plan and to have completed it—a marked contrast to my first few weeks in New Zealand.
Hitchiking, or the view from the near side rear seat
I travelled the whole of this section of the trip by standing beside the road and sticking my thumb out. At most I waited an hour for someone to stop; generally it took less than ten minutes and a couple of times less than one. Many thanks to the following people:
- Australian newlyweds on their honeymoon. She was called Crystal and it was Valentine’s Day. (Raspberry Creek car park to Blue Pools via Wanaka, 121km)
- A couple from Belarus and the Ukraine. He was a software developer working on an offline mapping app for travelling when abroad. (Blue Pools to Monro Beach via Haast, 104km)
- A retired couple from The Netherlands in their hired campervan who fastidiously compared notes with me on the countries I’d visited and those I hadn’t but should. (Monro Beach to Copland Track, 62km)
- A young German couple who were searching for freedom in an estate car filled to the roof with stuff. (Copland Track to Fox Glacier access road, 24km)
- An English physiotherapist and her accountant friend who was booked on the exact same flight as me out of Christchurch. (Fox Glacier access road to Fox Glacier town via a walk to the glacier viewpoint, 9km)
- A German couple who played German music and didn’t say a lot. (Fox Glacier to Franz Josef, 24km)
- A German daughter who spoke English and her mother who required some translating, but who still enjoyed listening to Take That. (Franz Josef to Hokitika, 134km)
- A dairy farmer on the way to a meeting with the electricity company. Printed in colour on a sheet of A4 and taped to the centre console, just out of the corner of his vision, was a picture of his wife underscored with the year of her birth and the year of her death (2012). I imagine he spent a lot of time driving. (Hokitika to Greymouth, 39km)
- A retired Kiwi couple who’d lived in the area their whole working lives. She mourned the decline of the local industries and said that the sense of community was in danger of going with it. (Greymouth to Punakaki, 45km)
- A hostel owner making his weekly trip into town for supplies. As I got out of the car he told me to remember that it was about the journey, not the destination. (Punakaiki to Greymouth, 45km).
- A new father heading home from the hospital to fetch some things for his wife. He unwrapped and ate an egg sandwich with his left hand and changed gear with his right. A blue cocktail umbrella was pierced into the trim above the glovebox. (Greymouth to Kumara Junction, 16km).
- A former radio DJ who now made his living giving presentations to hotel owners about how to better market their businesses. He emphasised how he could party just as hard past the age of forty and talked about (occasionally) smoking weed with all the awkward pride of fourteen. As I shook his hand goodbye I noticed a cartoonishly-shaped silver cross hanging where the top two buttons of his shirt were left undone. (Kumara Junction to Arthurs Pass, 78km)
- Two English guys and a Kiwi on their way back from a surfing trip. One of the former was from the same town as me, had gone to the same university and was soon leaving New Zealand. He’d be flying west, I’d be flying east. (Klondyke Corner to Riccarton, Christchurch, 134km)