Mt Thomas summit

Date: 11 November
Distance: 15km
Time: 4.5 hours

On work trips to the South Island, we usually extend the trip and try to fit in a few hikes or runs – to make the costs of getting there a bit more feasible. And to further cut costs, we usually camp at DOC sites or stay in huts.

Gerry looked at a few options beforehand and put together an itinerary, subject to change, of course. DOC campsites are usually very basic, often with only a toilet, mostly long-drops, sometimes running water, other times water from a stream, but usually no hot water or showers. So we utilise public swimming pool showers or other public showers for a good ol’ scrub down after roughing it for a couple of nights.

After a long day getting everything sorted, sleeping only about four hours, we drove down to Wellington to board the Bluebridge ferry at 7am. I love Bluebridge as it is privately owned and operated, and cheaper, albeit slower than Interislander (which is government owned). Hardly fair competition. It was rainy on the way down and the crossing wasn’t any drier. Luckily we had literally no wind which is fantastic when crossing the Cook Straight. It was very misty and we couldn’t see much, so settled inside for a plate of hot fries (which was close to, if not the best, I’ve ever had!) and a coffee.

Arriving around 11am in Picton we still had most of the day ahead, so drove through to the Wooded Gully campsite about 50km west of Christchurch. It is in a conservation area and contains a few day and overnight walks from the picnic area. We booked in, pitched the tent and started dinner. The Wooded Gully river was right next to us and we watched the gray sky turn to darkness with heavy clouds ready to start raining.

In the morning, daybreak welcomed us with soft rain on the tent flysheet – just about my favourite sound. Especially if you get to spend the day cosy in your sleeping bag with a good book. But, we opted to go check out some of the walks in the area. The most popular one is probably the Wooded Gully Track. About a 5.5km track up the gully, coming back the same way. But two other tracks on either side of the Wooded Gully Track seemed more appealing and we decided to take the one in the east going up (Summit Track, allowing us to reach the summit of Mt Thomas) and the one on the west coming down (Ridge Track). Luckily all the tracks join at the ridge making it easy to change your mind in terms of which routes you want to take or how long you want to walk for.

After a bit of a sleep in, we left shortly before 11am on the Summit Track. It was very misty and not long before a light drizzle accompanied us through the forest and up the very steep hill. I find the South Island to be mostly cold and this occasion was no exception. A very steep incline (at least 25° for most of the way) made sure our hearts and lungs got a good workout, and warmed us up in the process. This part of the track is through a pine plantation, and it was only near the top that the vegetation changed to Manuka/Kanuka and podocarp.

With imminent rain on the loom, a couple coming from the front still commented that “you better get up there before the predicted rain hits us”. His words were barely cold when the light drizzle turned into a proper drizzle. Luckily there weren’t much in the way of wind, but it was nonetheless rather cold. Starting off with just a thermal top, Buff and a rain jacket, I soon had to don a light down jacket, and also a beanie and polyprop gloves.

After about an hour and a half, we reached the top of Mt Thomas (1023m). Presumably we should have had scenic views over the Canterbury flats, but instead we were engulfed in a solid mist bank.

From the peak, the track links up with the Ridge Track which we then followed. It is amazing how disorienting mist can be. Had we not had a proper laid out path, we could easily have got lost as so often happens in NZ with its changeable weather.

A few kilometres on the ridge veering slightly downhill, brought us back into the beech, manuka and podocarp forest. What I thought would be a longer but less steep decent, turned out to be longer, yes, but equally steep. My quads got a good wake-up call, and being cold and wet made minor motor movement almost impossible. It took a fair while to get our date bread out of a ziplog.

We stood under a dripping tree to have a bite to eat and a drink of water, and it turned out that wet moss is the best hand cleaner around for the likes of sticky date bread.

Back at the camp, we took of our soaking wet shoes, shoved them underneath the car and jumped in. Gradually peeling off all the wet layers and replacing them with dry clothes. Unfortunately this particular DOC site didn’t had any form of shelter so we had to take cover next to a massive leaning tree that provided a few centimetres of shelter to boil some water for coffee to warm us up.

A good outing. Unfortunate about the mist as I’m sure it will be lovely up there on a clear day. But, we just have to take the weather as it comes, eh?

In terms of my hip; it wasn’t happy with the light backpack. It was especially sore the two days after. But to be fair, we have been spending a lot of time sitting in the car which I’ve found is in any case not good for my hip.

Time will tell.

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