When my brother laid eyes on me for the first time in a year, he saw a broken woman. A woman who had spent the past week and a half jet-lagged, sleep-deprived, alcohol-addled and constantly-socialising her way through New Zealand’s glorious South Island in a complete visual, emotional and physical assault on the senses. When Mark walked back into my life, I was slumped half-dead in a seat in the reception area of the Rendevous Hotel, gaining increasingly worried looks from the desk staff as I sat there dribbling in a stupor. Despite all this, I have never been so glad to see someone quite as much as I was glad to see my big brother. Although we regularly Skype and chat on Facebook Messenger a fair bit, I’d almost forgotten just how exuberant and wonderfully entertaining he is – which went some of the way to drawing me out of my Contiki coma.
Now, did my brother (who by the way is a doctor and probably should notice the signs when someone is near breaking-point from excess consumption of EVERYTHING bad and notable lack of consumption of anything good) take it easy on his poor little sister? Did he fuck. After spending a suitable amount of time ridiculing me about the size of my suitcase (note: Mark loves to take the piss out of me about everything so this was a common occurrence during LJ & MJ on tour), and then trying to cram said suitcase into his small car with him, his lovely fiance (who was his girlfriend at the time), all their stuff and me to contend with – we began our journey to Akaroa.
The trip from Christchurch to Akaroa (approximately an hour and a half to the East) is absolutely stunning and very hilly – well the bits I saw when I wasn’t passed out in the backseat. En route we stopped off for pizza at a gorgeous little restaurant called ‘Hilltop Tavern’ which, as it’s name suggests, is atop a hill looking out over Barry’s Bay in Akaroa. The pizza was lush, the sun was shining, the view was magnificent and I was reunited with my big brother – I don’t think there’s much more I could have asked for in a lunch break. Once the pizza had been devoured, and Mark had started to turn a nice shade of pink (being blessed with the red head gene like myself, we cannot sit out in the sun without cream on for more than a second without turning lobster – a fact my brother always conveniently forgets), we descended into the charmingly beautiful seaside township of Akaroa. Although a great place to visit in its’ own right, Akaroa is also the gateway to walking the Banks Peninsula track. At this stage, all I knew about the track was that Mark had booked the three of us onto the two day trek and that there was going to be some pretty stunning scenery. At this point I was blissfully unaware of how hard it was going to be to walk 35km in two days, with a giant pack on my back and 2 climbs from sea level to 600km over the course of the track. Let me tell you, ignorance is such bliss. Anyway,I will get onto the hardships of the track in my next posts, for now I was having a jolly old time.
The Banks Track private walk is not cheap – see here for details. However, you do get a lot included. Starting with parking in Akaroa and a transfer from the town to your first night’s ‘hut’ accommodation. I knew that I would have to leave my suitcase and decant into a portable backpack, I’m not that clueless. However, when faced with the reality of actually having to carry around 2 days worth of stuff, including food and a sleeping bag, I must say it was a bit of a lesson for me. Mark immediately vetoed my wish to take my make up bag with me (a decision I later came to be grateful for but don’t ever tell him this) and balked at my suggestion that I bring any other toiletries barring a toothbrush. I’m definitely a ‘home comforts’ type of girl and find the idea of not taking a shower and washing my hair, with both shampoo and conditioner, everyday vaguely abhorrent. I’m not what you would call a ‘rough and ready’ type – something which I think Mark was very keen to teach me to be. I did eventually whittle down my toiletries and clothes to just the bare essentials but it was a struggle. Just to give you an idea (and maybe offer some advice) – for the two day hike I took a pair of three quarter length walking trousers, two plain t-shirts, spare hiking socks, flip flops for when we reached the rest stop (I actually cannot stress enough how glad I was to ease my feet into said flip flops after walking for tens of km in my walking boots), walking boots (obvs), a fleece, waterproof jacket, waterproof trousers, pjs, a long sleeved top and jeans. I quickly realised that anything I did not use was just a dead weight on my back and, in that circumstance, I finally learned how to pack light. There’s one vital piece of equipment I just have to recommend here and urge you to invest in if you’re going trekking – a travel towel. Don’t skimp out on your travel towel, buy a well-made one, even if it costs more . At the end of a long day of trekking, the last thing you want is to take a nice, hot shower and then have to dry yourself off with a sopping wet towel. I don’t know much but I know this.
Once we had assembled our backpacks we went to meet our minibus which would take us to our accommodation for the night. On the bus was another couple who, sensibly, had opted to undertake the trek in the usual 4 day time frame. When we revealed to them that we were doing the trek in 2 days, I couldn’t tell if the look that passed over their faces was one of admiration, or whether they were wondering if the strange British people were missing a couple of marbles. I suspect it was the latter. When we got to the accommodation I do have to say I was pleasantly surprised. Divided into 2 lodges – 1 for the 4 day trekkers and one for the insane people (aka 2 dayers) – Onuku Trampers’ Hut, whilst rustic, did not lack any basic amenities. As an added bonus, because we were the only 2 day trekkers on this particular weekend, Mark, Jen and I had a lodge hut to ourselves – meaning they had one bedroom and I had the other. Now, when I say bedroom I’m not talking hotel style. The bedrooms were literally just 2 sets of bunk beds with pillows and sheets provided (hence why you have to carry your sleeping bag with you). There was a kitchen attached to the bedrooms and showers in the 4 day lodge. Sadly, the toilets are located behind the building in a little shack – the walk to which in the dark reminded me of too many horror films I have seen so I ignored my protesting bladder and neglected to frequent the toilet for the entire night (no easy task considering the best part of a bottle of wine I consumed).
The first night’s accommodation is set above the bay at Akaroa and the views are spectacular. The evening was blissfully warm and sunny and the three of us cracked open a bottle of wine and just sat in the sun having a lovely catch up. Mark and Jen then demonstrated their status as experts in multi-day trekking as they produced a feast from their cavernous backpacks – no pot noodle for us. Stuffed full of food and wine, in a relatively comfy bunkbed, wrapped up safe and warm in my sleeping bag, I was lulled into a sense of security that first night – one that, inevitably, proved to be false.
Tune in next time for tales of near-death slips, noisy penguins and the transformation of my brother from respected doctor, to overbearing ‘military sergeant’.
Cya next time,