Gloom. Mist drifting up the valley, with darkly overcast skies. The prospect of rain.

Now I’m wondering if I’ll get my car down the Wairau River valley with those few potentially nasty creeks to cross before getting to the highway.

In the meantime, I’ve 14 km to the suspension bridge over the Leatham River suspension bridge, then eight or so kilometres to the highway. That will keep me going for the morning.

Packed up early because I realised it might be a whole bunch of walking for the day. The only part I wasn’t intending to hike was the 20 or so kilometres up the highway to the Rainbow Road. Obviously little point in wandering along a highway, however sporadic the cars may be. Better to stand by the Leatham Road turnoff, that I drove past on my trip into the Leatham a few weeks before.

My pack still seemed mighty heavy, even with only a few days of food remaining. I’d originally packed 14 days, but had dipped into the stocks for the more tasty lunch morsels.

Tent, sleeping mat, and a mass of electronic stuff, two power banks, and numerous batteries. Plenty of fuel remaining.

Drizzle. I was going to get damp one way or another.

Most of the way to the Leatham Road is a marvellous surface that my two-wheel-drive car could negotiate at speed with ease, but clearly the creek crossings would not work. One was tough even for a high clearance version due to a 3 m drop into where the river had undercut, and was now on 45°. Negotiable, but with a degree of apprehension, or at least adrenaline.

None for me in walking out, just the endless plod, initially through mature conifer trees, then beech trees.

Indeed, I was fully soaked by the time across the suspension bridge over the Leatham River. Despite the rain overnight, neither the Branch nor Leatham Rivers were significantly higher, and both were running clear.

I had lunch, gnawing on the remnants of my salami and cheese, and forcing down a muesli bar.

Now just the 8 km to the highway. Maybe someone would be going out.

No. They were heading in. Five vehicles in a couple of bursts.

All were four-wheel-drives, and one was emblazoned with the name Wilder Life, although the driver and passenger seemed overly endowed with the comforts of life as they cruised along. But they would probably have never picked me up if they had been heading the other direction, being so overloaded with essentials for that wild life.

Now only another 3 km to the highway.

The drizzle had stopped when I made it to the highway around 2 pm after more than five hours serious flat road effort.

The cars didn’t stop. At least initially.

Life can be full of surprises, and a huge four-wheel-drive pulled over 100 m down the road, turned around and picked me up. Sandra quickly assessed I was not an axe murderer, although it’s almost inevitable that it is the hitchhiker who is dispatched in New Zealand.

Almost at the Rainbow Road turnoff, she announced I was to get a ride all the way to my car. She had been up there in the past and seemed unfazed by an 18 km each way detour. I was not about to dissuade her.

“They will never find your body up here,” I joked, but by that time she knew I was no threat.

Instead, she talked about tramping with her father as a child, so maybe she recognised something there. I marvelled at my good fortune and the kindness of strangers.

My car started first pop.

I checked my watch. Just after 3 pm.

Funny how life can work out.

I didn’t quite do as much as I had originally dreamt about on this trip, but, then again, I’d had some truly marvellous nights out.

That calm night camping at the tarns will linger in my memory banks for a long while.

The 13 deer.

Meeting up with Nick and the team at Top Misery Hut.

Peter and Linda at Bottom Misery Hut.

Yeah, all along, a hugely memorable trip.

Now, just the drive home.

← Day 11 | Greigs Hut