“Three, two, one!!”
We get out the car armed with various essential oils and fumble frantically to get our boots on.
The sandflies are coming.
Within minutes, a black swarm has descended around our ankles and bare arms. Urgh, the nightmare! The only way to stop these horrible bastards from biting is to keep moving.
So we do. Locking the car and grabbing enough gear and food for two nights trekking, we set off towards the first (and only major) river crossing of the Copland Track.
Relieved to have gotten this part of the track out of the way, we head on, saving wet boots for later by wading through the shin-deep chilly water with bare feet.
The track is really well maintained with bridges for the other river crossings. Back in the day I presume people had to cross without these, which could have resulted in undesirable circumstances if the rivers were high after rainfall. We were nervous for the return journey as the beautiful sunny weather was said to take a turn for the worse, which can make the river crossings dangerous and impassable.
A lesson learned first-hand for one of our members of three-girls-one-car earlier in the season, one we all didn’t want to repeat. A lesson for all readers here to take note of too: check weather beforehand, prepare to change plans if weather deteriorates, DON’T cross when rivers are too high.
Speaking of rivers, this one was BEAUTIFUL. The gentle track follows the valley next to this turquoise blue glacial river the whole way along, so you can enjoy it’s beauty for almost 7 hours.
The track itself is probably my favourite. The first 3 hour leg to the Architect Hut starts with a muddy romp through forest, then gently winds through green pastures, starts to turn into a valley-side trail next to tropical jungle, and opens out to a boulder mission next to this aquamarine river.
The second half after a tea-break at Architect Hut is… still FUN!!…. but starts to climb and become a little more of a challenge. Meeting scary swing bridges over clear-coloured cascading rivers and slippery boulder scrambles was what you’re in for if you decide to climb on to the Welcome Flats.
The last part of the hike is a killer, excited that there is only one more nearby bridge to go before we can throw our boots off and tend to our swollen blistered feet and aching shoulders, we tramp on.
…AN HOUR of pain later we reach it.
I am so glad we hiked together as Alex and I kept each others spirits up at the end of this mission. What helped in the last hour was seeing an avalanche cracking and waterfalling over the mountains close to us, on the other side of the valley, keeping our minds off of the searing foot-pain.
Seeing the sign for “Welcome Flat Hut – 2 min” made us run with enthusiasm to the finish line! Home run!!
Dropping the gear in what looked like a basic but fancy clean wooden hotel, we headed for the steaming natural hot pools and sunk into the hot green mud.
It was glorious.
Chatting philosophy with the other relieved hikers, we joked about how New Zealand is super small and you will run into people you know all the time…
…when Mel and Katie walk out of the bushes and appear at the side of the pools! What a coincidence! The Ohau crew is reunited!
In the romantic light of a citronella candle warding away the not-forgotten bloodsucking menaces, nutritious dinners were eaten from packets and tipsy laughter was heard throughout the cozy Welcome Flats Hut. I retreated to some yin yoga to stretch the aching muscles as the group’s laughter faded away towards the hot pools for a late night skinny-dip.
Crashing hard, sleeping on a mattress for the first time in two weeks was the best. Ever.
Eyes fluttering open to the morning sunlight I caught a glimpse of my two travelling adventure babes beside me, and realised something was wrong… In the blurriness of my failed eyesight I made out a massive band aid over Lauren’s eye. Hmm.
Prying, I was informed:
“I got into a fight with a Kia…”
I highly recommend booking two nights stay at the Welcome Flats Hut, having a day to R&R and let the feet recover from their 7-hour ordeal was a smart move. Our roommates had to slip their soggy tired boots back on today and head down.
The sun was strong so we took advantage of the effect they have on sandflies and spent the day sleeping, reading, eating, yoga-ing and bathing in the hot pools.
The next morning we woke up early to the sound of rain. It came early. Lauren was uneasily pacing the kitchen at breakfast and ready to go before Alex and I who were squeezing our gear back into our food-free backpacks. We knew that the rain was coming and we had to get out of there before the river at the end of the track rose too high.
Luckily for us most of this track is in forest so we didn’t get too wet as we raced down the track, occasionally losing our footing and slipping on the wet rocks.
We reached the Architect Hut in an hour and a half, slashing the time it took us to hike in. We had forgotten parts of the second half so the hike felt like a new part just kept appearing, but eventually, after slipping through widened mud patches from the rain, we made it to the river crossing before the torrential rain storm.
Battling the rushing cold water up to the knees, swatting vicious sandflies from the ankles, and running along the stones in flip flops to the car in the rain, we made it. And couldn’t be more thankful to see Subalou again.
Just 4 hours from leaving the hut, we were on route back to Fox, where we stumbled desperately into the welcoming home of Cam, my Grottage shedmate and Ohau patroller. Many MANY thank yous later and maybe some tears of gratitude we were invited to stay for some Fox adventures over the next couple of days…
Copland Valley Track:
7 hours one way
Well maintained track – Intermediate
Be prepared for an ankle/knee deep river crossing at the start! Track begins as a muddy trail but gets better after about 1 hour.
Welcome Flats Hut:
This hut has been recently been upgraded to accommodate 31 bunks over four share rooms. This is a normal serviced hut, but gas and cooking equipment is not provided so campers will have to bring all their own gear.
You need to book this Hut in advance on the DOC website. $15 per person per night. Highly recommend 2 nights! The wardens will charge you double price if you just turn up.
Campsite available for $5 per person per night. Sierra Room is a fancy private 1-4 person share room with gas and gas cooker, pot belly stove, wet back shower and kitchen/cooking equipment. $100 per night.
Bring enough food and water for a little longer in case you get stuck at the Welcome Flats Hut. Prepare for bad weather.