All it took was a moment’s inattention for Jane Evans’ Te Araroa journey to be over.
It is the one piece of gear that you hope will never be used. Trampers often moan about the cost. However, when walking Te Araroa, a personal locator beacon (PLB) becomes a safety net. It provides peace of mind to your family and friends while giving you the confidence to head into the hills with a spring in your step.
I was in the South Island heading to Hope Kiwi Lodge feeling somewhat euphoric. In recent days I had crossed the spectacular Waiau Pass, with views extending to forever.
Leaving Nelson Lakes National Park with Lake Constance sparkling far below, I had farewelled the dense beech forests, avalanche paths and tumbling mountain rivers of the last few days. Now, Canterbury beckoned. It was the first time I truly had a sense of walking through our land, across a map, travelling Aotearoa.
Repeating my mantra – “walk mindfully” – I carefully descended the pass and all the way down the Waiau Valley. Wild horses roaming through their grassy paradise got up close and personal. I sidetracked to the St James Walkway to meet friends where I celebrated my birthday.
Alone again, I picked up the trail heading to Arthur’s Pass with my first stop, Hope Kiwi Lodge, just 2km away. I was on a flat, grassy section of track by the river wondering why my left knee felt sore when I stepped into a hidden hole and turned my right ankle. Suddenly, my left knee felt fine.
The immediate pain was followed swiftly by annoyance, despair, frustration and disappointment. Less than 30 seconds later, the sandflies arrived. I tightened my boot, pulled myself up with my walking poles and crying, sweating and frequently swearing, hobbled pitifully to the hut.
Two hunters were returning and were ecstatically telling me about the huge stag that had appeared over my shoulder beside the river. “Didn’t you see it?” they asked.
I could only shake my head and mutter: “I’m injured.”
By the time I had a bandage on and was hopping around with my poles, they were more sympathetic.
I spent two days at Hope Kiwi Lodge, a beautiful two-bedroom Lockwood Hut set in a wide grassy clearing near Kiwi River. I enjoyed the solitude and the peaceful valley. I may not have been able to walk, but at least I was still in the mountains. I read everything, twice. I stayed in the hut except for difficult, painful excursions to the toilet. Other trampers provided company and conversation – and a sounding board to bounce ideas off. Should I wait it out? Stretch my food for a week then try to reach the road? The hunters said they would call DOC and tell them, in case they were coming to the hut anyway.
The second night, after talking tiny house living with hut mates, some fellow TA trampers looked at my foot. It was swollen and bruised. They told me straight I would not be walking with a pack for a good few weeks and I should call a helicopter.
I waited until 3pm the next day before activating my PLB, hoping for a miracle and feeling like a fraud – it was just a sprained ankle!
As soon as Kath, the medic, leapt off the chopper I felt at ease and knew I had made the right decision. She took one look at my ankle and reiterated what I had been told the night before.
It turns out I had broken a bone and when the doctor in Christchurch told me that I would be in a moon boot and on crutches for a month, my Te Araroa trip dissipated like mist from a mountain lake.