Bigger Badder Boulder

[Another pre-Bill meltdown post that I haven’t had the chance to put up till now…]

In my “quest… mission… thing” to visit as many LOTR filming locations as possible while in New Zealand, I headed up to the north of the South Island and Kahurangi National Park to see where the Fellowship took a breather amid spooky limestone rocks, Boromir giving Merry and Pippin a lesson in swordplay before they had to hide from Saruman’s winged spies.

Or so I thought.

My atlas and LOTR location guide lists that particular spot as Mt. Olympus, accessible by helicopter only, but a DOC source I had listed it as Boulder Lake, a tough two-day tramp. Foolishly trusting DOC, I drove Bill out to the trailhead and started walking. And walking. And…. walking.

My incredible DOC source (and I don’t mean “incredible” in a good way) alleged the hike was a mere 12km, or about eight miles. If that is so then I am Oprah Winfrey’s lovechild.

I’ve been tramping enough, on enough rough trails, to know when I’ve walked 12km and I seriously doubt the trail was anything shorter than 16km, which might not sound like a big difference, but when you’re climbing on tree roots and loose rock with a full pack, trust me, it is.

DOC can’t even agree with itself… trail times listed in various DOC brochures, trail guides and signs were given as five, six or eight hours, and the DOC woman I talked to in Nelson said it was more like ten hours. Ten hours to cover 12km? That should have sent up a red flag. Swiss hippies I met on another trail the following week told me they’d skipped Boulder Lake because the DOC woman in Takaka had told them it was accessible only by helicopter, just to add to the confusion.

The trail started easily enough, following an old 4WD road up a gentle incline into the hinterlands. Still fairly easy, it then moved into grassland and forest riddled with limestone ridges and crevasses. Then it began the Up. Climbing about 1000 meters over what felt like 5km, the trail led over a couple exposed ridges but kept mostly to steep and slippery forest until finally opening onto Cow Saddle. It was a hot day, and there was no water to be had anywhere, making for a parched afternoon.

Once up on Cow Saddle, the trail continued to climb to another ridge and then sidle a steep scree slope with a drop-off of hundreds of meters. There was a howling wind as well, but the views to Boulder Lake, the Lead Hills and Gladiator Peak, with the aptly-named Dragon’s Teeth beyond, more than made up for any discomfort.

Finally, in the last kilometer, the trail dropped down to the lake, at the opposite end of which sat the eight-bunk Boulder Lake Hut. Which I had, I am delighted to report, entirely to myself. I slept well, waking only once to the sharp cry of a male kiwi right outside the hut. Boulder Lake is one of the areas where conservationists have relocated Great Spotted Kiwi. I thought of running out to see it, but decided to stay put… I didn’t have a red lens for my headlamp and didn’t want to upset the light-sensitive bird. It was enough to hear its call and know that it was out there, in the wild, where it belonged, apparently doing okay.

The next morning I set off without my pack up a sharp limestone ridge toward the Lead Hills and Clara Lake, hidden from view at first. I went looking for the LOTR site but never found it – later I learned that particular location is indeed on the nearby but inaccessible Mt. Olympus, so thanks, DOC, for yet another scrap of misinformation. In the end though, I didn’t mind. I spent the day bouldering and rock climbing and enjoying the sticky, smooth limestone, which is so much nicer to scramble over than crumbly schist or scree.

After another peaceful night with the hut to myself, I set off the following morning back down the trail. Following the lakeshore, I missed the turn for the trail over the ridge and had a time backtracking to find it, but even that was okay because, in doing so, I came upon a rock wren. I’m no birder, but I knew it was a rock wren because there was a flyer in the hut with a picture of one. DOC is doing a survey of the species and is asking anyone who sees one to send them a photo with time, date and location of the sighting. Yeah, I’ll get around to that as soon as you proofread your literature, DOC. No, seriously, I sent in the photo and am excited to be part of something all wildlife-sciencey.

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