Event: The Great New Zealand Trek - Ophir to Lawrence
The Great New Zealand Trek covering the length of New Zealand which began twelve years ago at Cape Reinga as a fundraising mission for multiple sclerosis, continued this year towards its goal of Bluff. Ophir, a small historic gold mining settlement in Central Otago, hosted the arrival of some 320 trekkers, from where we would follow the pink ribboned route, finishing in Lawrence seven days later.
Sadly though, this year’s Trek began on a melancholy note with the passing of Hepa Paewai shortly before the event’s first night in Ophir. Hepa had been a long time supporter of the Trek and in the past few years taken on a leading role in its organization and especially route planning. Many a hill has been has been renamed after him, in his dry manner of down-playing its rise.
So with many Hepa Hills in front of us, the route left Ophir, reputed to be one of the coldest places in the country and drew us south. Fortunately we didn’t experience -21 degrees that first night, as was recorded some years ago. But hotties, thick sweatshirts and warm socks did come in very handy after sundown.
We began wandering along ancient gold trails, stark rocky outcrops and through a land the locals call a desert. It was indeed a harsh, stony, dry environment. Yet amazingly wild thyme grew in masses wherever a smattering of soil lay.
This was once a popular herb the Chinese gold miners had used as food flavouring. Now having escaped the confines of a garden wall, it grew everywhere. We had just missed the flowering season but its aromatic scent filled the air.
Colour peeped out as from all places; yellows and browns of rock lichens, pinks, blues and oranges from flowers I couldn’t name, and greys and blacks of the schist, sheep and watery tarns. Contrasting against the greens of grasses and crops were the shiny whites of the huge mushrooms and rotund puffballs.
The quantity of the mushrooms growing had to be seen to be believed. They were the giant horse mushrooms and the giant puffballs. Never have I seen them in such sheer numbers, along with their growth in such huge rings. It just added to the imagination as the size of the fairies in these circles!
Our wonderful caterers, Lovely Grub Location Catering accepted boxes full of these dinner plate sized mushrooms to add to our breakfast.
Central Otago is a plethora of ruins and remains from the 1860s gold mining era. Our trail took us past iron relics and along old roads shored up with schist. It went through abandoned water races, beside empty lonely buildings and alongside the fastest volume of rushing water in the country, namely the Clutha River.
Census night caught up with us and the delivery of several boxes of official papers required much attention. The acquisition of pens to fill the boxes in correctly took even longer and as to our address that night? That was the hardest question of all.
Rest day in Roxburgh was a welcome break to catch up on washing or relaxing. Many enjoyed the retail opportunities or explored the local region by whatever means of transport they could acquire.
Local ‘Jimmy’s Pies’ were sampled and the Op Shop did a roaring trade. A visit to the Museum was very popular and extremely interesting.
Even the historic part of the local cemetery showed a fascinating insight into a life long ago.
Day 5 saw us all leaving camp again resuming our objective in getting closer to Bluff. The terrain had now changed significantly from the harsh, rocky, desert-like landscape to lush, rolling, cultivated farmland. Crops of turnips, swedes, kale, lucerne and chou moel-
lier were growing for extra winter stock feed.
We could have been in Tuscany, France. However in Gondwana times this area was part of an inland sea, the rolling land once the seabed. That accounted for the fossilized oyster shells I discovered.
The weather continued to be kind to us in a southern sort of way. The nights did prove colder, the tops of the hills definitely cooler, but the sun did still shine and the wet weather gear only came out of its wrappers on occasions. Gumboots proved handy around some campsites, gloves and beanies kept extremities warm on the chilly mornings.
One such cold, foggy morning saw the beginnings of a zumba exercise class to keep the blood moving. Even the sun struggled to make its presence known for some time that day.
Local businesses along the route welcomed an influx of trekkers sampling the wares on offer, be that a cold beer, a hot chocolate or a famous southern delicacy of a cheese roll. Meanwhile back at camp, the hard working volunteer crew had raised the massive marquee, erected tents, sited the showers and toilets, had the bar up and running and checked the caterers trucks were level. The Help-X international volunteer workers proved their worth over and again.
Just out of Lawrence, the small town’s manicured sport’s ground was the location of our last night’s camp. It came complete with a fountain after one energetic marquee crew member drove a spike into the water main!
What started out as one man’s dream has now become the adventure of a lifetime for so many people. The days begin early; they are long and often hard and Mother Nature can throw a spanner in the works at any time. The success of this event is only possible because of so many dedicated people; from the Trek Trustees to sponsors, landowners, local Councils, volunteer individuals, businesses and the trekkers.
So many people give up their time to make this Great New Zealand Trek actually happen, I would need several more sheets of paper to name them all, and I would still be in danger of forgetting someone! I dare not try for such a list.
The Malaghan Institute of Research stands to benefit from monies raised in their search for a cure for Multiple Sclerosis. Dr Anne La Flamme, head research scientist from the Institute, joined in again for a few days bringing both daughters this year to taste the adventure.
To Hepa Paewai we remember you on every hill top. To his family, Kitty Johnson his partner, the Trustees and organizers who all stepped up to fill the breach at such a sad time, we honor, support and salute you all.
Next year sees the culmination of this odyssey. For everyone who has been part of this journey from Cape Reinga, it will be a goal well accomplished. Book 16 – 24 March 2019 in your diaries now. Follow the Facebook page
Above: A perfect lunch stop. Below left: We could have been walking in Tuscany! Below right: Bridget takes in the view.
Above: Disappearing into the mist. Below left: A rock ion the shape of Colonel Gadaffi. Below right: Frances under a giant mushroom.